When a car accident seems like the better bad thing . . .

I've been meaning to write a new post for the past few weeks. I wanted to recap my February trip to Orlando. That seems like a million years ago now. But for the record, the trip was mostly great. My youngest sister couldn't make it, but my middle sister and my niece made the journey. Before they arrived (I flew in a day ahead of them), I went to Animal Kingdom with a friend who lives in the area. I had never met Ashley in person but we've known each other for almost 15 years. We both have May 2005 kids and met on a BabyCenter "birth club board" back in the day. Spending a day together wasn't awkward at all. Conversation flowed and we had a great time!

My sister arrived later that day and we headed straight to Disney Springs for dinner and drinks at the House of Blues. It was warm enough to walk around outside - ahhhhh. The next day, we got up and headed to Universal Studios. We kicked off the day by riding the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, an insane coaster that starts with a 90-degree vertical climb. A Mardi Gras celebration was underway so that made the day even more amazing. At dusk, we hung out and watched the parade, catching bead necklaces from the folks on the colorful, brightly-lit floats.

The trickier part of the Florida trip was getting my niece there. She is a student at Penn State and turned 21 a few months ago. My niece is a brilliant student (she took so many AP classes in high school that she walked into Penn State with enough credits to be a sophomore) and is in the honors college. However, in a momentary lapse of reason, she lost her ID in a bar. So, we were worried she wasn't going to make the flight because the replacement ID hadn't arrived yet. She was able to fly after all (she had an expired ID and got through with a warning) and arrived in Orlando in the wee hours of the morning.

The next day, Friday, was my birthday. My sister went all-out and brought all kinds of festive "50" decorations - napkins, sparkly pin, tiara, you name it. My niece played a sweet little ditty called "Birthday Bitch" for me. We then headed to my favorite place: Disney's Hollywood Studios. When we drove into the parking lot, the cast member saw my "50" pin and upgraded us to premium parking. Woot! I had gotten us fast passes for my favorite ride, Tower of Terror. Getting to ride Tower of Terror on my birthday . . . I was as happy as I'm even capable of being. The whole day was a lot of fun. So many people wished me a happy birthday, including a Green Army Man in Toy Story Land.

It started to rain right after sundown so we decided to head for Disney Springs for dinner. It was Valentine's Day so we knew it would be packed no matter where we went. It took an eternity to find a parking place. The first restaurant we tried had a very long wait but we found a Mexican restaurant with a table available. We had a nice dinner and then walked around for a while, window shopping and such. The rain started again and it was getting chilly, so the three of us decided to head back to the condo we were renting. Our condo was in Kissimmee. I rented it through Air B-n-B and it was very nice - three bedrooms, gated community, etc. By the time we made it out of the parking lot and onto E. Buena Vista Drive, it was around 9:30 p.m. Here's where the trip took a downward turn.

Traffic on Buena Vista was heavy. The light ahead turned red and cars began to slow down ahead of me. I braked. The SUV behind me did not. We'd been hit from behind. I don't remember what I said, but it probably wasn't PG-rated. I maneuvered onto a strip that was between the merge lane and the flow of traffic. My sister got out and spoke to the driver of the other car. We weren't injured but it was hard to know exactly what to do. I called 911. Had I been in my own town, I would have called the non-emergency number but at the moment the situation seemed urgent. The 911 operator passed me to Florida Highway Patrol. FHP was kind enough to inform me that if I didn't get off the road, I would be cited for impeding traffic. So, some kid plowed into my rental car, on my birthday no less, and I'm about to get a ticket? Great. I called Allstate and Budget. Both indicated a need for a police report before anything else could be done.

I pulled over into the Cirque du Soleil parking lot and the other driver followed me. I have to say, he was a very nice kid. Just 18. It was his first road trip with his girlfriend. He was driving his parents car. He was very apologetic about the whole thing. We all thought that FHP would be on the scene shortly. We ended up waiting three hours. They never came. Eventually the other drive had had to leave anyway. He'd already given me all of his information and we were in touch by text. It started to seem pointless to stay when the other driver was gone. Ultimately, I called to cancel the request for a trooper. They told me that I could just file a report online.

As you can imagine, I didn't get much sleep that night. Every time I'd wake up, I'd think, "Did that actually happen to me? A car accident on my 50th birthday?" The next morning, I decided I'd better get the ball rolling. I called FHP to confirm where I needed to submit the accident report. I mentioned that we'd waited three hours and wow, did that set her off. "Ma'am. Some people wait up to EIGHT HOURS for a trooper." Florida friends, you have my sympathy with this nonsense.

I found the form online and realized that a fillable PDF was going to be tough to complete on my phone. I decided to head to a Fedex so that I could use a computer. I did some Googling, grabbed my file containing my car rental information, and headed out. The car was still drivable, though I had my concerns about the bumper being detached on one side. I arrived at the Fedex location and quickly found out that it was inside a resort. And of course there was no parking. I pulled up another location and drove there. Also in a resort. Grrrr. I decided maybe I should just suck it up and go inside. Then I learned that this experiment would cost me $24.00, the daily parking fee for that particular resort (if I want to stripped of every cent, I'll hang out at Disney, thanks). And what if this location was just for packages and didn't have computers? I called Fedex and asked them to direct me to a location that was not inside a resort. The woman on the other end seemed very confident as she recited the address. Also. In. A. Resort. I was just about fit to be tied. I called Fedex one more time and this time was given correct information.

I spent the next hour or so wrangling this stupid form. While it was technically possible to fill it out online, it was like an elaborate practical joke. Some of the fields didn't expand enough for me to see what I was typing. There were different font sizes everywhere. I printed a hard copy and filled it out by hand. Ultimately I submitted the crappy electronic version and a slightly better handwritten version. I emailed the form as instructed. I receive an auto-reply letting me know that they don't give case numbers for self-submitted reports. Son of a biscuit. This whole Fedex adventure was a colossal waste of time and also caused me to miss precious hours with my sister, who was flying out that day.

When I got back to the condo, I called Allstate. At long last, a friendly voice. I mean, I know I pay them to be nice to me but I have to say, this lady was incredibly reassuring. She felt terrible that I'd sat in a parking lot for three hours. She didn't seem concerned about the lack of a police report. She gathered information from me and got the claim started.

Meanwhile, I needed to figure out what to do about the car. Next, I did something pretty stupid. My sister asked me if the trunk still opened (so that she could load her suitcase). "Sure, I think so," I said, using the key fob to pop the trunk. Well, of course it wouldn't close after that. I was kicking myself for my stupidity. My sister ran to a nearby market and picked up some duct tape. I duct-taped that bugger shut. You can imagine how pretty the grey tape looked against the white car. I called Budget about swapping the car but they were profoundly unhelpful. I decide to drive my sister to the airport and then go straight to Budget in hopes that they'd be more helpful in person. Two other fun details that I should mention: the car knew that the trunk wasn't latched and therefore went "beepbeepbeepbeep" all the way across town AND I belatedly realized that my iPass unit was not compatible with the SunPass tolls, which mean that I had been running tolls without realizing it.

To their credit, the Budget people seemed wholly unalarmed about me pulling in with a dented, taped up vehicle. They filled out a report and sent me and my niece on our way with a new vehicle.

Finally, after nearly 24 hours of drama, the feeling of dread in my chest started to lift. I was eager to make the best of the time we had left. We went to dinner at Dixie Dharma - I highly recommend it if you're ever in Orlando. The food is amazing and it's very eco-friendly, something that means a lot to my niece, who is in the process of changing the world. After dinner, we visited the Pulse Nightclub memorial, which had evolved quite a bit since my last visit. Back at the condo, we hosted a visit with my niece's aunt (my sister's sister-in-law) and cousins.

The next day was our final day in Orlando. We had tickets for Epcot and decided that we'd suck everything we could out of our visit to the theme park. We shopped, we split a couple of vegan meals, and we even rode the Finding Nemo ride. We did a lot of the stuff that I'd bypassed on previous visits. We even watched a movie about Canada. Eventually, the day had to end and it was time to take my niece to the airport. I can't begin to articulate how much it meant to me to have this time with her. I'm tearing up just thinking about it. She is facing a lot of big decisions in her life right now. Soon she will be out in the world (she interned in New Zealand last summer and even applied for an internship in Paris for this year) and it just feels like it will be a lot harder to see her.

Late that night, I flew back home and stayed overnight in a hotel near the airport (I arrived at around 2 a.m.). The next day, I headed home to resume my regular, non-Florida life. Other than the car accident, it was a great trip and I feel really fortunate that I was joined by two people who are so precious to me. If we ever do this again, I'm hopeful that my wee baby sister will be able to come along, too.

In the weeks following my return, we proceeded with our normal activities. My daughter had two show choir competitions out of town. She got into an a capella choir at school and I drove her to the 6:45 a.m. rehearsals every Thursday. She is also in a girls' choir outside of school, and those rehearsals are on Sunday evenings. I went to yoga. I took my dogs to the groomer for nail trims. I upgraded my license to the new Real ID at the DMV. My daughter competed at Solo & Ensemble and qualified (as part of a duet) for a spot at the state competition. Major highlight: I bought her a prom dress. Her boyfriend is a junior and invited her to prom. The dress cost more than I had planned to spend, but she looks just beautiful in it. We got together with friends for a game night on Leap Day. We turned our clocks forward. I attended a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting. I bought plane tickets for a trip in July. My daughter joined the track team at school and went to her first few practices; she was elated to find that she ranked quite well among the sprinters. I visited a cat sanctuary. I fell while digging through my purse for my keys (it was on a sunny Saturday afternoon, downtown, directly in front of a restaurant, so I'm sure no one saw me). I tore the knee of my jeans and told myself that I'm just like the cool kids now.

And then. And then. The virus.

I've seen the heartfelt posts on Facebook about how we should appreciate this time at home with our families, how we should be glad to have life slow down for a while. I fully understand the catastrophic nature of the virus. I know it's no joke, and I am taking it seriously. I already worked remotely (for a company in Denver) so nothing changed for me there. I am very glad to have a job - so many people have lost theirs. Still, I feel like it's permissible to lament the (temporary) loss of daily life. I'm a very event/task-driven person. I get shit done.

I keep wishing that my daughter were a toddler again. Then I could hide everything that's happening and she would be none the wiser. But, she's almost 15. The first week of the quarantine was spring break so we didn't have to worry about her education right away. The school district is switching to remote learning in the coming weeks. I worry that she'll struggle to stay focused if she's not in a classroom.

Meanwhile, track practices have ended for the meets that will never happen. Rehearsals have ended for the concerts that will never happen. And then, of course, there's prom. In a bid to pretend, for a moment, that life is still normal, we dropped the dress off for alterations last week. We know that prom, originally scheduled for April 18th, is very unlikely to happen. However, I've talked to my daughter's boyfriend's mom and we are determined to make something happen once the quarantine is lifted. Even if they just go out to a nice dinner and we take lots of photos, it can still be a special night for them. My heart really breaks for the high school seniors. For my daughter, there will be other track seasons, other concerts. For the seniors, they've waited years to enjoy the perks that come with that last year of high school. Ah, so many things to lament.

The other morning, I found myself really wanting to have a good cry. It's all so surreal, isn't it? I'm eager for the weather to warm up a bit so that I can at least get outside and walk the dogs. I try not to focus too much on the inconveniences that have been heaped on all of us because, I mean, people are dying from this thing. I worry about my parents (both sets). My brain swings from one extreme to the other. One minute I'm wondering what will happen when we run out of toilet paper and the next minute I'm reeling over the latest news. Speaking of which, I'm on a news detox this weekend. I'm not trying to put my head in the sand, but there is no good news and I notice I've developed a permanent headache that emanates from the spot directly between my eyes. So, I take my escapist moments when I can. Last night I watched the new Bert Kreischer special on Netflix. Laughing at highly appropriate things was exactly what the doctor ordered. Or what I ordered, anyway.

Me and My Blondie at Epcot

My sister, after dancing with some Mardi Gras performers


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