Sunday, December 9, 2012

Epic Date Night Fail!!

It all started with me getting an idea. Pam and I had had a really trying couple of weeks. Date night was coming up. I finally had more than 15 cents in the checking account. “I know!!”, I thought. “I’ll surprise her with a trip down to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens!!” A perfect idea. Romantic, beautiful night, a road trip, Christmas spirit everywhere. What could possibly go wrong? As date night ideas go, this was a win-win.

It was 65 degrees when we left the house at 3:15 in the afternoon. Although its tough knowing how to dress in this kind of weather, at least we wouldn’t be freezing our tails off like the first time I took her to Christmas Town. That was three years ago, and from everything I’d heard, the thing has gotten bigger and better every year since. The lights were going to be amazing. Pam had even downloaded a Christmas Town app that gave us all the details on the great shows that we couldn’t wait to see. There was the traditional Jingle Bell music of “Deck The Halls“, and a show telling the real Christmas story called “Gloria“. They even had a song and dance show for atheists called, “The Santa Claus Is A Capitalist Tool And Jesus Is A Myth Extravaganza“, performed by some outfit called the Pagan Players. (Just kidding) We were getting stoked!

We sailed down 295 onto 64 east without a hitch. Pam tuned the radio to Lite 98 to hear Christmas Music. Of course, they were still going full throttle with their “sob-a-thon” fund raiser for the Children’s Hospital, but eventually they began to play the standards. We started playing this game where we tried to name the artist to every new tune. I’m great at that game so it was no contest. A particularly beautiful rendition of “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” came on, sung by a soulful female voice. I said, “That’s either Lena Horne or Ella Fitzgerald.” Pam answered, “Lena Horne”. About the time that the little scrolling song and artist identifier thing revealed that it was Ella, I noticed a sea of red taillights ahead of me. After a couple of minutes 64 had become a parking lot. The sign up ahead said, “ Busch Gardens 1.5 miles”. I glanced at the clock. 4:10.

No reason to panic. Hey, it’s a popular attraction, beautiful night, lots of people anxious to see the beautiful lights and get into the Christmas spirit. We were in no hurry. It’s not a race, after all, just two people looking for a nice romantic night and some quality time together. Lite 98’s reception began to crackle and pop. No problem. Pam cranked up the Pandora Christmas station on the old smart phone. 4:25.

The car directly in front of us was one of those huge four wheel drive buses that rich west end women drive all over the place. The Denali, Escalade-type thing is perhaps the most useless vehicle ever made seeing as how the chances that one of these women will ever take it off-road are about as high as my chances of winning a Pulitzer Prize. However, this particular Titantic sized beast was performing a helpful service since it was blocking my view of the road ahead. Therefore, I couldn’t actually see just how terribly doomed we were. Ignorance is bliss. 4:40.

Wow, I thought. It’s been thirty minutes, and we still haven’t made it to the exit. Maybe there’s an accident. I must remain calm. Don’t want to ruin the mood by becoming “Angry-Driver Guy”. That would be a huge date night buzz-kill. Just listen to the festive music and hold Pam’s hand reassuringly. 4:50.

“At least it will be dark when we get there so we’ll be able to see the lights right away”, I offered with a nervous laugh. Suddenly the duplex on wheels in front of us bolted out of line. Then the enormity of what we were facing was laid bare before our eyes. A snaking double line of taillights stretched out in blurred intensity for another half a mile, all the way to the $14 parking toll plaza. There was a flashing light that screamed out something about the possibility that the parking lot might reach capacity, in which case no reentry would be allowed. What? Why would anyone want to do this twice? Reentry?

I was in the right lane. The left lane naturally moved consistently, while we right laners would sit for 40, 50 seconds at a time with no progress whatsoever. Typical. I never pick the right lane. At fast food joints, I always pick the lane with all the indecisive people. “Get the combo, you idiot!!” At the movies when I want some popcorn, I always pick the line with the spaced out slow-motion hipster guy with the ironic eyes and the earlobe plug the size of Rhode Island. Now, I had picked the right lane, the one that was absorbing the incoming traffic from 60. In a flash of desperation and, I admit, the beginnings of panic, I made a bold lane change when the driver of a van in the left lane made the mistake of sending one too many texts. Now, we were going places baby! Steadily inching forward at a robust 8 miles per hour. 5:10.

We were so close now, we could taste it. I rolled down the window with my twenty dollar bill at the ready. The toll collector was a matronly woman with white hair and an expression of practiced nonchalance. 5:20.

Wait. What was happening? Several frantic people in glowing orange vests were waiving their arms wildly as they ran out in front of the toll booth. Several cars with flashing roof top lights appeared a hundred yards ahead. Men materialized with traffic cones. Our white-haired toll-collector was not impressed. “That’s it,” she said. “They’re full.” 5:25.

It had taken us an hour and 15 minutes to move 2 miles and when I finally reach the promised land I am denied admittance. Now I’m the first guy in line to begin the u-turn onto the service road to go back home. I am literally the first reject. Ever the optimist, my wife says, “ Actually this will work out fine honey. Says here that these tickets are good until December 31st. We can come back one day next week when I’m not working. Traffic will probably be a breeze on a Tuesday.”

This is what happens when well-meaning husbands get ideas. I was able to save the day by making a last second decision to head into Colonial Williamsburg. We got a table on the patio at Berret’s under the propane heaters. Cheesy grits with shrimp and boneless ribs, an admittedly odd combination, but one that worked well. Duke of Gloucester street was lovely, and date night was saved.