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Dreams Deferred

August 1, 2012

The whole way to Washington, DC, Sam and I both had a weird feeling that we had forgotten something important. As soon as I got into bed Monday night, I realized what I had forgotten: my pillows. Last year, bringing my pillows from home turned out to be one of the smartest moves of the whole trip, ensuring a comfortable night’s sleep in even the most decrepit motel (and there were certainly quite a few vying for the title of Most Decrepit Motel). The Econo Lodge we stayed in Monday night was adequate, but the pillows were lumpy and it was not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.

[Side note: One thing I’ve learned from staying in motels of all kinds all over the country is that there’s very little brand consistency at the bottom of the food chain. A Comfort Inn or a Microtel or whatever in one place can be very different from a place with the same name a couple of states away. Sometimes they’re nicer than I have a right to expect, and other times, well, not so much. Tonight, for example, we’re in a Sleep Inn that, quite surprisingly, has a vast, well-appointed lobby, a gym, a pool, a free hot buffet breakfast, and conference facilities. I’ve stayed in other Sleep Inns where the only conference I could imagine being held there would be the local chapter of the national crack whores union. Econo Lodge, though, is pretty consistent. An Econo Lodge in Oregon is pretty much exactly the same as an Econo Lodge in Virginia. They’re always pretty bare bones with virtually no lobby, rooms you enter directly from the outside, a continental breakfast that consists of only cold cereal and toast, and a price that’s pretty cheap yet still about $5 more than it seems like it should be. It may barely adequate, but at least it’s consistently so.]

Anyway, after a day with a lot of driving followed by a mediocre night’s sleep, today was designed to be pretty easy: Colonial Williamsburg, followed by Busch Gardens, and very little driving. All the official marketing copy says that you need 2-4 days to see Colonial Williamsburg. This is complete BS. I mean, the place is huge and there’s plenty to do and you probably could spend 2-4 days there–as long as you don’t have children. Because no child I know is going to spend more than one “vacation” day learning about colonial times. Immune to the marketing boilerplate, Sam and I planned to spend about 3 hours in Colonial Williamsburg. When we got there, the first thing we did was head to the information desk in the visitors center and ask what we should focus on, considering we had only a few hours. The man looked at me and said, “Well, to see Colonial Williamsburg you really need 2-4 days.” I looked back at him with an expression that made it pretty clear we were serious about the three hours. And then he saved my life. OK, not my life, but a large amount of my money. He suggested that instead of spending $68 total on one-day tickets for the two of us, I spend $4 total on tickets for the hop-on-and-off shuttle bus that runs in a constant loop around the grounds. Without day passses we wouldn’t be able to enter many of the buildings, but we could still wander around, talk to “townspeople,” and get a pretty good feel for the place. Genius!

For me, the biggest draws were the governor’s palace, which housed Thomas Jefferson and various Virginia governors back in the day, and the downtown area where they have a bunch of shops and taverns and have costumed employees act out reasonably authentic scenes from the era. I would have loved a guided tour of the palace but I doubt Sam would have, so that part worked out pretty well. And we both enjoyed the downtown area, although we almost missed out on a couple of reenactments because they’re only for people with day passes. I say “almost” because, well, we kind of snuck in anyway. We saw a quill-writing demonstration, some swordplay, and an argument about possible revolution that was over Sam’s head.

And here’s the best part: because we weren’t really supposed to be there we stayed toward the back of the crowd, which enabled us to “overhear” some commentary by “uninvolved” colonists who were standing behind us griping to nobody in particular about the events in front of us. This, to me, shows the Colonial Williamsburg folks are major league. It’s impressive enough that they reenact these historical events in such authentic detail, but planting extra colonists among the audience to add both extra flavor and illumination shows is the kind of thoughtful touch that makes Colonial Williamsburg the kind of place that I’ve known about since I was a kid while Colonial Yorktown, which is literally just a few miles down the road, is a place I never heard of until I practically drove past it today.

Perhaps the most interesting part of our stay there, though, was when Sam chose soap as his souvenir. Yup. Pomegranate-scented soap, roughly the size and shape of a tennis ball. He saw it when we walked into one of the apothecary shops and he was so amused by the shape and the seeming randomness of the available scents (lemon, magnolia, burberry, and pineapple were the others) that my 10-year-old boy chose to own his own soap. Between the bus tickets and the soap souvenir, I can’t decide which is the best $2 I spent today.

The performances got me thinking, though, about the actors in them, and how they feel about their jobs. Presumably each one of them was once in high school or college dreaming of becoming a professional actor. In a sense that dream has come true and has died at the same time.

I had the same thoughts a few hours later when, as we wandered Busch Gardens, we stumbled upon a pretty entertaining ripoff of Stomp, this time set in an Italian restaurant with musician chefs and dancing waiters.


There they were: professional musicians, professional dancers. Are they living their dreams, getting paid to perform and hearing the applause of hundreds of people every day? Or are they settling for a pathetic gig, not good enough to make it big like they had hoped? I’d bet the answer depends on which performer you ask.

Busch Gardens, in case you’re wondering, was fun. But it left me just as confused about what makes Sam tick as I was when he opted for soap as a souvenir. He told me several times how awesome Busch Gardens was, and he didn’t want to leave, but he didn’t do very much while we were there. There are about half a dozen incredible roller coasters, but Sam doesnt like roller coasters. (That was fine with me, because I don’t either.) There were a few areas for kids, but most of the stuff there was too babyish for him. And for various reasons he didn’t want to go on many of the in-between rides. Normally I would have been fine with this, but after spending only a few dollars at Colonial Williamsburg I was in for some pretty severe sticker shock at Busch Gardens. Admission to most amusement parks is somewhere in the $30-50 range, but Busch was $68 for each of us, plus $13 for parking. And you know those big souvenir cups of soda that come with free refills at most parks? Those free refills are $1 each at Busch Gardens. They even charge $5 to blow warm air on you when you get off the water rides. And the ratio of shops and vendors to rides has got to be at least 6 or 7 to one. The place makes DisneyWorld look like a nonprofit. I spent close to $200 there, and I didn’t even buy food. And it rained for an hour or so. We did manage to find a handful of rides to go on and some other fun stuff to do, and I will say that the place is physically beautiful. Still, between the paucity of in-between rides and the ungodly prices I’d rank it pretty low on my list of amusement parks I’ve been to. Somehow, though, Sam loved it. Certainly his optimistic view is related in part to the fact that, in the one carnival game I allowed him to play, he won a soccer ball so hunormous that we had a rather comical moment trying to get it into the car when we left.

He raved about the place after we left–he even thanked me (unsolicited) for taking him there. Very little of this day went the way I expected, but for Sam it was a dream come true.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeremy chwat permalink
    August 1, 2012 9:01 am

    Great piece! One of your best entries. Hope the trip continues going so wel and drive safe!

  2. Yehuda Lazar permalink
    August 1, 2012 1:49 pm

    Which carnival game was it? I one time won the bottle ring toss game, but gave away the huge bear because I didn’t want to walk around with it all day.

    • ABH permalink*
      August 1, 2012 3:42 pm

      He had to kick three soccer balls past a moving wooden goalie in the tries.

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