museums

Fiction: Children of Wax: Part 1

“The hottest day of the year,” Wes said. “And, of course, the A/C decides to give out. I swear, by the end of the day, we won’t have a museum – we’ll have a giant pool of wax. I don’t want to be the one who has to clean that up.”

“Neither do I,” Jake replied drolly. “Did you ever hear back from that college you applied to?”

“WE applied to, and, yes, I’ve got the envelope in my bag…I can open it now. I’m sensing good news.”

“Let’s hope so.”

“‘Dear applicant,’” he began as Jake cringed. “Must be one of those ‘form letters’ I keep hearing about… ‘Thank you for your interest in our school. We re…gret t-to in…form you that…’”

“It’s okay,” Jake said putting his hand on his fiancé’s shoulder reassuringly.

“No,” he said rebuffing said hand. “It’s not. We were supposed to go t-together, and now… and now, we can’t. Just go. Check the galleries, make s-sure nothings melted yet…”

 

Jake Norway went through the galleries (normally Wes’ job) straightening wigs and repositioning dummies. He knew his fiancé would tell him they “looked sad” for some reason, but he’s been working there long enough to know that was usually the result of either a slid wig, misaligned eye…or the viewer’s imagination (like Wes with his silly paranormal “reality” shows).

As he was evaluating the Appalachia scene (the one directly behind Rodney’s), he heard the restroom door slam loudly. Fine, nothing strange about that, he’d be out in a minute or so…but he wasn’t. However, he did hear an unfamiliar voice shout his name from that general area – despite the fact that the museum hadn’t actually opened yet. Spooky, but more than likely just his imagination…

He got into the gallery where Daniel was and heard his name called again, but in a much louder, more urgent voice. He then, having finished his tour, checked the restroom next to the curator’s office to see an unconscious Wes sprawled on the floor holding a pocket knife in his hands as blood spurted from his wrists…

Oh right, he pulled his cell phone out and frantically dialed 9-11, hoping it wasn’t too late…

 

While the doctors were still treating Wes, Jake returned to work the next day to find that his replacements had set up a bunch of fans in the museum (even though fans do not actually “cool” air, they just move it around). There was a large, relatively new oscillating fan in the lobby and several older, smaller fans set up in the individual galleries plugged in the loose, aging outlets.

“Idiots,” he said seeing the ragged extension cords (that looked like the rats had been chewing on them) duct taped to the floor. This was an obvious fire hazard, but he couldn’t leave to replace them as he was the only one working there that day. He probably didn’t want to see the job they did cleaning up the restroom.

He continued his inspection, noting that he thought some of the figures in the first room seemed worried. “Happy,” “sad,” or “angry” were common interpretations, but “worry” was new to him. Bah, he was probably just projecting his own feelings on some lifeless pile of wax.

He goes back to the lobby and checks his e-mail to find an ominous looking message from the park owner…

 

Wes woke up sometime later to find himself standing rigid and immobile on a small platform in the museum lobby across from where Jacob and some other dude was sitting. Was that Kenny from the go-kart track or Brice from the putt-putt course or…it didn’t matter, he was probably dead anyway.

Then he realized, the reason he was awake now – the ring on his left hand was gone, and he just saw the smug little shit (no older than Rodney or Sara) leave the museum with his mom. That bastard was definitely going to pay for that, and as much as the others tried to dissuade him, he decided to follow him around the 3rd rate park – making damn sure the punk thief saw him.

Finally around 11pm, as said thief was playing an online game, his system suddenly shuts off and he could see the reflection of a certain red-haired boy lying on his bed in the black monitor holding the power cord in his left hand.

“You know what I want. You may as well give it to me – call it an even exchange.”

 

“Absolutely not,” the boy shouted. “This PC cost my parents $8500, this ring will pawn for less than $200.”

“It’s not about money, my fiancé saved up for months on a part-time minimum wage to buy this ring for me. Frankly, you can’t put a price on love.”

“I don’t care about you and your gay, faggot ass lover.”

“Damned straight…err, not straight. Augh, it doesn’t matter, boy knows a good thing when he sees it.”

“I don’t care about you. I want my power cord back. NOW!”

“Phillip Ryan Thatcher,” his mother said sharply as she entered the room. “What the hell are you carrying on about? Your father and I are trying to sleep. Now go to bed before I bring your father in here.”

“Go on, tell her. It’ll be fun.”

“No,” Phillip said (to Wes).

“Don’t talk back to me, young man. You do not want your father up here.”

Suddenly, there was a noise of loud footsteps on the stairs.

“That’s it,” she continued. “You’re really in trouble now…”

 

The footsteps stop a few feet from the boy’s door, but neither of him nor his mother saw anyone come in leaving both vaguely unsettled.

“Who are you,” Wes asked cocking his head slightly.

“George,” Phillip’s mom blurted as he (unbeknownst to her) stepped into the doorway.

“Dang it,” the fair skinned boy with shaggy brown hair and a dirty grey uniform shouted in his thick Southern accent. “For the last time, my name isn’t… you can see me?

“Um, yeah, and your little thief here can see me so you may as well tell me.”

“I am not a thief.”

“What was that,” his mom asked sharply.

“My name isn’t ‘George.’ It’s Jonah.”

“George? Jonah? They are kinda close.”

“Jonah,” Phillip asked. “I like it.”

“We were half-right,” his mother added.

“Not the point, the point is your antics woke everyone up.”

“HIS antics,” Wes said pointing to his left. “He’s the one who stole my engagement ring off my finger. Wants to pawn it for $200.”

“I did not ‘steal’ anything. He’s a fucking mannequin. What the fuck does he need an ‘engagement ring’ for anyway?”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Jonah said. “You can bet that if someone stole one of my possessions that I’d be mad too.”

“You’d better not have!”

“Three against one. Better hope your dad doesn’t come in here.”

“Like I care what some 60-year-old thinks.”

“Six-TEEN!! I’m SIXTEEN not 60. Stop making me older than I am.”

“TEEN,” Wes said. “He’s three years older than you are.”

“He’s sixteen? I thought he was supposed to be some grizzled old vet.”

“Don’t you dare mock his service.”

“I did not ‘mock’ his service.”

“His uniform is grey, but his hair is dark brown. Give it a good cutting, and he’d look damned sexy. Don’t worry, kid, as you’ve probably heard by now, I’m already engaged…”

 

“Who are you talking to,” Phillip’s mother said. “I said nothing about his service. I swear boy, I love you, but you’re starting to worry me here.”

“You mean like this kinda service,” Jonah said closing the boy’s dresser drawer loudly and tossing the ring to Wes who catches it making them both visible for a moment.

“Thanks, Jonah,” he said sliding it onto his finger. He turns to Phillip’s mother, bowed and continued: “Sorry for the interruption, Ma’am. Oh, and Jonah…”

“Hi,” he said waving awkwardly as he realized they could see him, but, for the life – err, afterlife – of him he couldn’t think of a single thing to say after that. Thankfully, he didn’t need to as Wes continued:

“You’re more than welcome to visit me in the park if you need me.”

And with that, Wes disappeared triumphantly followed shortly by a slightly embarrassed Jonah who quietly shut the door behind them passing Phillip’s father on the stairs…

 

Several days later, Wes stood guard as his former colleagues sat down for their weekly staff meeting. The first item on the docket (which his former fiancé had no interest in entertaining) was “strange occurrences” around the museum/park.

“Well,” Jacob said skeptically. “There’s only one fair way to settle this. We need to bring in fair, impartial outside observers.”

“You mean like those paranormal investigators I saw on TV,” Kenny asked (didn’t he work rides?).

“I was thinking more along the lines of scientific investigators…”

“Oh, come on,” Brice said (the mini golf course wasn’t good enough for him?). “It would create buzz for the park – plus, wasn’t Wes a huge fan of that show?”

“Um, yeah,” Kenny chimed. “It’ll be a fitting tribute. You should totally call them after the meeting.”

“Fine,” Jacob sighed as he looked up and thought he saw Wes’s statue smiling at him cheesily. “Compile a list of anything suspicious or ‘paranormal’ that you think the so-called ‘ghosts’ did around the museum and/or park and I’ll present it to them IF they come.”

 

As the TAPS team entered the aging amusement park, a young employee with caramel skin handed Dave Tango a map, imploring him to “enjoy his stay.”

“Hey, thanks.”

“Hey, Dave,” Steve Gonsalves asked. “Who are you talking to back there?”

“The employee over there, the one who gave me this map.”

“What ‘employee,’ the park is closed today?”

He motions to where the young man was standing, “what the..? He was JUST here a moment ago.”

“Your imagination is acting up on you again, Dave.”

“Then where’d I get this map from,” he said showing it him. Steve grabs it from it his hands impatiently.

“Hey, wait, there’s two here,” he said handing the one back to Tango before opening his own to find a large drawing of a spider tucked into the inside of the brochure with the word “Boo” written below it.

“What’s going on back there,” Lead Investigator Jason Hawes asked.

“Nothing, Jay.”

“Good, catch up, we’re trying to find this ‘museum’ place.”

 

“My map says it should be around the corner to the right.”

“When did you get a map,” Co-founder Grant Wilson asked. “We didn’t get a map. Did we, Jay?”

“Oh come on, I couldn’t possibly be the only person to see him standing there!”

“So, around this way… and to the right,” Jay said ignoring Tango’s outburst. “Looks like some kind of food court and…it should be right…around…THERE! Looks like your map was right, Tango.”

“Um, thanks, Jay.”

“Let’s get inside,” he said opening the door and practically pushing them inside. “You two can go first.”

“Yeah,” Grant agreed half-jokingly. “Keep you two from causing any more trouble.”

 

“Um, guys,” Tango said peering into the main gallery. “This is him.”

“What?”

“The kid I saw at the entrance.”

“Oh, yeah,” Jacob said. “That reminds me of something I was going to tell you anyway. He was one of our last arrivals, and I still remember the first thing Wes said when we unboxed him was ‘doesn’t he look like he should be standing at the gate-’”

“‘…Handing out maps,’” Tango continued holding up his for the group to see. None of them noticing the boy in question smiling subtly (…except the cameraman who happened to pan up during the exchange).

“Um, yes,” Jacob said awkwardly. “He then insisted on leaving a pen and notebook in the room while we went out to the floor. When we came back, there was writing in it. No clue how it got there, but it wasn’t any of our handwritings.”

“Interesting…,” Jay said.

“Wait, do you still have this notebook,” Grant asked.

“In the desk drawer, I can get it if you want.”

“Please do,” Jay said. “It would be a great help.”

 

“Do you mind if we take it with us,” Grant asked.

“Why,” Jacob asked. “It’s only two pages.”

“Still. Anything you could give us would be a big help towards our investigation.”

“Whatever, you can have it. Now, if you follow me, I’ll introduce you to them personally. This is the main gallery, the expansive Virginia Beach scene on the left, the manor house scene on the right and the models from both of these scenes are in the notebook.”

“What about the kid on the raft,” Jay asked of the relatively small endcap.

“Huck here is just a mannequin, but around the corner is our Appalachian scene leading into the Hollywood and Ole’ West dioramas.”

“So, anything reported back here,” Steve asked wondering if his cords would reach this far back.

“Nope, but the next room where our newest model, which was apparently part of some planned robotic display give some visitors ‘weird feelings,’ yet none of the reporters say they were ‘scared’ or ‘intimidated’ by it.”

“So, he’s not bothering anyone,” Jay asked.

“No, but if you follow me,” Jacob said leading them through the archway to the lobby. “I can show you the rest of the park…”

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Categories: Autism, entertainment, museums, writing | Leave a comment

Fiction: Children of Wax: Part 2

Later, as the two lead investigators entered the main gallery, there was a loud knock on the museum door.

“DA FRICK,” Wes shouted.

“Hey, that’s MY line,” Grant shouted back.

“You two,” Wes said pointing to the two younger spirits. “Keep them busy. I’ll see what they want.”

“Right,” they said smiling mischievously.

“‘Keep them busy,’” Grant said testily. “What are we five?”

“Well,” Jay conceded. “At least, we know how many we’re dealing with now.”

“Oh,” Wes said pointing to the older boy. “…And make sure they don’t follow me.”

“Yessir,” he said pounding “Shave & a Haircut” onto the wall behind him as Wes left and the other two pounded their response simultaneously on each side of the wide doorway on the opposite side of the room.

“Actually,” Jay said moderately impressed. “That’s not bad… but can you do it again?”

 

“Jonah,” Wes asked incredulously. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“You said ‘if I ever needed anything’…”

“I didn’t mean TONIGHT! Can’t you see we’ve got a film crew here?”

“I didn’t choose to have my house burn down, and I sure as hell didn’t make my way all the way out here just to go back and haunt some ruined shell.”

“Okay, fine, just calm down, and I’ll see what I can do for you doing the scene change. Just stay there, and don’t interfere with production – that’s MY job. So, yeah, just – just stay there and I’ll be back shortly. Okay?”

“Okay…I guess.”

“Good, I shouldn’t be long in there. I promise.”

“Hey, Jay,” Steve said into his radio.

“Yeah, Steve”

“Is everything all right where you are? We thought we heard arguing near your location.”

“Possible, we had some knocking outside the building a while ago. Could you two come by and do a perimeter check?”

“Um, sure, no problem”

 

Meanwhile, Wes comes back inside and signals to the older boy to come over: “Just him,” he whispers. “You two keep going.”

The blonde headed boy approached Wes, pulling on the back of Grant’s jacket as he passed.

“What the…someone just pulled on my jacket. If that was you, could you give me another sign of your presence – like pulling on mine or Jay’s clothes?”

“We got a kid outside,” Wes explained. “…But I don’t want to distract too much from your fun here.”

“Gah,” Grant said as Riley tried to pants him. “I said ‘pull ON’ not ‘DOWN.’”

“They must really like you, Grant,” Jay quipped as he and their cameramen laughed.

“Great, you’ve had your fun at MY expense. Now can you try pulling on JAY’s clothes?”

“I just want to get him into the storeroom without being seen or heard. The problem is: I’m probably going to need your help to do it…”

 

“Hey, there you are,” Tango said entering the museum.

“We finished the tour of the perimeter,” Steve continued. “…And there was nothing unusual there.”

“We’ll check the tapes later,” Jay said. “Now you two go change the digis, and we’ll go check out the ‘Midway’ area.”

“Good,” Wes said as they left. “Now’s our chance. Get in here now, you should be safe here in case they co…”

“Who’s that,” Jonah asked pointing to a broken mannequin (non-human) in the corner.

“Unlike these two here,” Wes said nodding towards Riley and Sara. “He doesn’t have an ‘official’ name, but I always called him ‘Johnny Reb’ since he was in our Southern scene.”

“Works for me…”

“He does kinda look like you,” Riley said tilting his head slightly.

“Well,” Wes said. “That was easier than I thought… and, now, if only we had room for him somewhere…”

“How about that slot across from Daniel,” Sara asked. “He always looks so lonely over there by himself.”

“I always kinda felt bad for him,” Riley added. “As he’s essentially left out of everything.”

“I guess it’s settled then,” Wes said. “Assuming we can find an extra outfit back here…”

 

“Hey, guys,” Jay said into his radio. “It’s about that time. Time to wrap up and get some sleep.”

So, while the two Lead Investigators were off collecting digis, Tango and Kris Williams were off working in the now brightly lit museum.

“I know it’s gonna sound weird,” Tango said handing her a coil of wire he’d stripped off the otherwise pristine floor.

“I know,” she said with a cheeky smile as their cameraman laughed. “And, that’s why you love you.”

“Not me, I mean this room. It’s, um, different. I’m not sure how, but something seems a bit… off he…AUGH!”

“What?”

“I swear someone just tapped me on the shoul… hmm,” he said turning around quickly. “Wait…when did he – err, it – get here?”

“You mean he wasn’t there on your tour?”

“Um, no.”

“Are you sure? It’s not like he could just walk out here on his own.”

“Yes, I’m ‘sure.’ It definitely was-”

“What’s going on in here,” Grant asked entering the back gallery. “I’m not going to have to separate you two, am I?”

“Oh, thank God you’re here. We have a question for you…”

 

“So,” Jacob asked skeptically as he sat down next to the small monitor the producers set up for them. “Find anything ‘paranormal?’”

“Well,” Jay said. “We’ve actually found a few things. Almost all of it here, the rest of the park was absolutely quiet.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, we can show it to you now, get your opinion on it. Maybe you know something we don’t.”

“Possibly.”

“Anyway,” Grant said. “This is a video of Jay and I exploring this gallery over here.”

They play the footage of them entering the gallery and a loud knocking on the door which startles both of them.

“See if you recognize this voice.” Jay said. “He clearly was expecting that as much as we were.”

“DA FRICK” Wes shouted.

“I should. He was my fiancé, and a huge fan of yours I might add.”

“Um, thanks, I guess. Wait, did you say ‘fiancé,’” Grant asked.

“Yep, and he’s standing right behind your little monitor.”

“You mean like he was real – not a mannequin – a REAL person?”

“Yep, as were Riley, Sara, Rodney and Chad.”

“So, you know their names then,” Jay said.

“I should. I work here…”

 

“Hey, that’s MY line,” Grant shouted as Jay resumed the tape

“You two,” Wes shouted.

“That would probably be Riley and Sara, they are the two newest additions. One of your colleagues claims to have met him on the way into the park.”

“Right, Dave Tango, yes,” Jay said resuming the tape. “Good memory.”

“Keep them busy,” Wes continued.

“‘Keep them busy,’” Grant said testily. “What are we five?”

“At least,” Jay conceded. “We know how many we’re dealing with here.”

“…And keep them from following me.”

“That would probably be Chad, the blonde kid dressed as the lifeguard. He’s the oldest one here at 19, and the default ‘protector’ of the younger ones.”

“Yeah,” Jay nodded. “That makes sense. The rest of this doesn’t, so we’ll skip it for now, and move onto the next clip…”

 

“What the…someone just pulled on my jacket. If that was you, could you give me another sign of your presence – like pulling on mine or Jay’s clothes?”

“Gah,” Grant continued as some unseen force tried to pants him. “I said ‘pull ON’ not ‘DOWN.’”

“Any ideas who could have done that,” Jay asked.

“Not really. However, since that notebook I showed you was presumably written by Riley, I’d say he was the most likely culprit.”

“They must really like you, Grant,” Jay quipped as he and their cameramen laughed.

“Great, you’ve had your fun at MY expense. Now can you try pulling on JAY’s clothes?”

“They didn’t,” Grant added bitterly.

“Of course not,” Jacob said. “It was a distraction. Not sure from what, but they clearly didn’t want you interfering with it.”

“We have ONE idea,” Jay said getting up, signaling his camera guy over and heading over to the back gallery. “Not sure how we could have missed it, but this figure definitely wasn’t there when we started this investigation.”

“Sure, as heck wasn’t MY doing. I’d never let a model out on the floor with an outfit like that…”

 

“So, what does that mean,” Jacob asked as they sat back down at the folding table the producers set up for them in the lobby. “Is the park ‘haunted’ or not?”

“I can’t speak for the rest of the park,” Grant said conciliatorily.

“But,” Jay continued. “We think this museum area is defin…”

“Nurse! NURSE,” Jake shouted as Wes slowly opened his eyes to find himself in a hospital room. “Come quickly. He’s moving. He’s opened his eyes.”

“Augh.”

“Shush, you’ll be alright. The doctor said you were lucky, you should have lost twice the amount of blood you did.”

“Dan…yule…”

“Daniel? The robo-”

“Actually, he hates that word… anyway, he slammed the door when he realized what I was… doing, s-sorry…”

“It’s okay. Don’t try to talk.”

“…And immediately starting shouting… your name and then talking to me… holding my arms tightly to prevent… b- blood from coming out until… you got to the door… What happened to him… anyway?”

“Well, you see, it’s a bit complicated.”

“Really?”

“Yes. You see, the park was sold to some outside developer who plans on demolishing it to build ‘vacation condos’ along the lake.”

“What?”

“Sorry, I haven’t even gotten to the ‘strange’ part – or parts – yet…”

 

“Heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure are all normal. I’ll alert the doctor of the news.”

“Thank you, Phillip,” Jake said. “As I was saying, the strange part – the first part of it anyway – was that someone moved the broken ‘Johnny’ fr…”

“Jonah.”

“YOU gave him that name.”

“I’ve since been corrected.”

“Anyway, the ‘model,’ as you call them, was moved back on the floor for whatever reason. No clue why, it just was. The second and arguably more important is that since they couldn’t fix the A/C, they plugged in fans all over the gallery.”

“But… fans just move air around.”

“Exactly, and since they were as old as the wiring here…”

“What,” he asked with a weak laugh. “The building caught fire or something?”

“Yes,” he said annoyed at having his story stolen from him. “…But, when the firefighters arrived, they found five fully intact figures on a bench outside the building.”

“Five?”

“Yes, five – Chad, Joh- sorry ‘Jonah,’ Riley, Rodney and Sara –”

“What about Daniel?”

“Um, yeah, I was getting to that…”

 

Two weeks later, Joey and company enter the third-rate theme park in the middle of nowhere. Near the entrance, they saw a blonde-headed boy stocking maps in various languages for what was probably the last time. When he saw them, he sighed, took three off the top of his box and handed them to the trio.

“Sorry to bother you,” Joey said. “My name is Joey Westin, and I’m looking for my brother. I’m told we was in one of your attractions.”

“A lot of people work on rides here,” Jake said.

“Actually, I said ‘IN one of your attractions.’ I know it’s gonna sound ‘weird,’ but he was my hero and I’ve been trying to find him since he was, um-”

“Robo-OW,” Jimmy said.

“What did I tell you about using that word?”

“Sorry.”

“Anyway, his name is – or was – Daniel, and I was going to say broke his leg…”

“You don’t mean Daniel the, um… animatronic from our museum?”

“Possibly. Last I heard from him, he had just failed his qualification exam for the fire department for not rescuing enough ‘dummies’ from their simulated fire. So, anyway, if you can tell me where he is…”

 

“I’d love to,” Jake said closing his box. “But, the museum burned down two weeks ago. There were no ‘humans’ inside – living ones anyway – but the fire department said when they went inside there was a boy dressed as one of them who apparently said, ‘THIS time, I did get all of them,’ before disappearing in a ‘column of light.’”

“Trust me,” Andrew said. “We’re more than familiar with that column.”

“…Or, at least, HE is.”

“So,” Joey said. “If you could tell me where he is, that would be a great help to us.”

“You see, when they pushed into the building, they found a charred body blocking the back entry to our main gallery. The second one of them touched him, he fell apart. I-I’m sorry…”

“Thank you anyway,” Joey said turning away disappointedly.

“Wait,” Jake called. “He was a hero. He saved my fiancé’s life, and all of the known ‘human’ figures in the museum.

“Oh, and I know it’s not much,” he continued, reaching into his pocket and handing Joey a shiny golden badge. “…But they found this is in what little remained of him…”

Joey pins the badge on his shirt, and his body starts glowing faintly. He looks up, smiles and says: “Thanks, Danny, but I’m nowhere near done yet…”

Categories: Autism, entertainment, museums, writing | Leave a comment

Norfolk: Day 4 – Portsmouth and other disappointments

It’s just after 10am, and I am standing on the dock outside the newly renovated Waterside Marketplace waiting for the ferry to cross the Elizabeth River to Portsmouth. The weather app on my phone says its 65 degrees and cloudy, but the chilly ocean wind makes it feel colder than that.

The small paddleboat arrived around 10 past the hour, it dropped off about a half dozen people and let the three of us who were waiting on dock onboard. The inside had a rusted floor with benches along the sides. Apparently, there were more benches in the center of the boat at one point, but they were removed, possibly to make room for the three beaten up fare boxes. The bench wasn’t all that comfortable, but it didn’t matter since it was only a 10 minute ride across the river to High Street landing.

Portsmouth is a charming, quiet town that kind of reminded me of a cross between Federal Hill and Fells Point. Unfortunately for me, I was visiting on a Thursday morning so nearly everything was closed: The Naval Shipbuilding Museum (for refurbishment until “early 2017”), The Lightship Portsmouth (open weekends only), Virginia Sports Museum (permanently closed) and a half dozen “historic homes” (also open weekends only).

That left the Arts & Culture Center (which was “between exhibitions”), the Virginia Children’s Museum, the TCC (Tidewater Community College) Gallery and the exteriors of various buildings. Oh, and I could purchase cheap looking, neon colored t-shirts at the visitor’s center which is coincidentally where I had to go anyway to get the ferry back to Norfolk – and it was only 12:30 (it would have been noon if I hadn’t stopped for lunch at Jimmy Johns on High Street).

I arrived back at downtown Norfolk around 1:25 where it was a balmy 69 degrees with partly cloudy skies, and I was nowhere near ready to pack it in for the day so I walked over to Nauticus (though most of the parks were closed off due to construction of the various tents for next week’s Harborfest). I walked up the ticket counter and the somewhat disinterested cashier sold me a normal base ticket for $15 (included a movie and a limited tour of the attached battleship). I couldn’t decide if I wanted a snack or to just upstairs to see the exhibits on the 3rd floor first so I chose the latter.

The museum itself is hard to quantify. It has some exhibits that are geared towards kids (like the entry on port Norfolk, the touch a shark tank or the small “aquarium” area – which makes the former National Aquarium in DC look HUGE by comparison), but the majority of the labyrinthine museum space is ship life, Naval history, Naval recruiting and the nearby Naval base – not many of which would be of interest to the 3-12 set.

The exhibits are small, superficial and dated with broken or worn out “interactives” and little to no flow between the tightly packed exhibits – which you can’t really skip as there is only ONE path through the exhibit area (as I found out when one of the barely crowded rooms was too noisy for my tastes). The only place in the gallery that wasn’t claustrophobically small was the end where the theater, the NOAA exhibit and the stairway to the actual Hampton Roads Naval Museum\walkway to the USS Wisconsin (which were both on the second level). Though I didn’t partake in either this time as I fell asleep in the 3d movie and took that as a cue to head back to the hotel… at 3pm in the afternoon.

Not yet, first I stopped into their gift shop (my favorite part of their museum), and then I went into their café next door… but they were closed so I looked around thinking I might be able to take some snacks back to the room with me. Then a black man in black shirt hauling a large trash can behind him comes up behind me:

“Ya know,” he said. “We got a full menu.”

“Yeah, thanks, but it’s closed. There’s no-one back there.”

“What was that? I said look up there. We got a full menu up there,” he said pointing up to the large black and white sign hanging from the ceiling that I’d have to be blind to miss (I couldn’t read it with my crappy vision, but I couldn’t miss it when I came in).

“And it doesn’t do me any good if it’s CLOSED because there is NO-ONE back there.”

“’No-one back there?’ I work the café. I’D be the one ringing you up. Now, if you want to order something. Order it.”

With that said, I immediately turned around and decided to get dinner in the hotel and then get a start on my packing. It’s going to be another long day of traveling tomorrow – and my toes aren’t even remotely healed yet…

Categories: adventures, Advocacy\volunteer, Autism, entertainment, ferry, museums, Norfolk, sensory processing disorder, transportation, Virginia | Leave a comment

Photos: Orlando Holy Land Experience

This was actually a difficult shoot to chose pictures from as their campus is quite striking (even if there’s nothing to DO there). I couldn’t find any really good photos from Universal portion of my trip so I’m quite lucky these turned out as well as they did. I would have preferred a little more variety, but it’s not exactly a big park (it’s roughly the size as the OPEN portion of DHS).

 

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Categories: adventures, entertainment, florida, museums, Orlando, theatre | Leave a comment

Bird feed and cannon fodder

I left the apartment at exactly noon, and was surprised to find the neighborhood buzzing with activity: Road work in front of my building, crews installing power boxes for Artscape (see separate post) and even a purported “waterline break” on Bolton Street. I arrive at the light rail station and just as I finish paying for my ticket I can see the train pull around the corner. It’s called “timing” and every once in a while I accidentally do well with it.

It was a Cromwell train and it was packed with black hats and orange T-shirts. I know this is Baltimore and they are going to an Orioles game (including an adorable 7yo sitting across from me who looked like he was going to explode with excitement), but it always disappoints me to see orange without the requisite green\white (see my header image, one of them anyway).

Not surprisingly, the entire area around Convention Center was packed with people in tents selling “Tay-shots” and an army of people with coolers selling “eizz woddah, cod sotta and Gottahaid” (Gatorade, though I initially thought they were shouting “God-I-hate” which is fitting for a Canes fan describing a UF product).

I eventually made it to Harborplace which was slightly busier than usual but still slow for a weekend in summer. Sure there were street performers (of varying quality) and tourists getting their pictures taken in front of Ripleys or the tall ships or with that ugly fish thing in front of Barnes & Noble… but the place still felt dead.

I went over to Maryland Science Center even though the show I wanted to see wasn’t for another 2 hours. They have IMAX – in fact, there were three shows between my arrival and when the planetarium show started at 3:15…unfortunately, I’d seen them already so I went back to Harborplace to find something to eat (which is good exercise AND it kills time).

I arrived at Five Guys at 1:04pm, and it was a madhouse though, oddly enough, not a single person was wearing orange (though your friendly neighborhood blogger was wearing a green\white overshirt). There was a long line at the register and an even longer wait (11 minutes) to get my overpriced fast food, but then again it filled time…yet somehow I was out of there by 1:30pm.

I took a slow walk through the souvenir shops. They have some interesting stuff down there (not that I’d buy any of it), but what really struck me was that they took out both the “skybridge” over Pratt Street AND, more infuriatingly, the M&T branch that was at the base of it (seriously, there are – sorry were – only two M&T locations downtown – the one on Pratt and the one on Howard). I almost picked up a copy of Baltimore magazine at B&N, but I didn’t feel like carrying a bag around with me the rest of the day advertising myself as a “tourist.”

There was zero line to get into MSC, though there was a large black and yellow air cannon parked next to the window, and I actually had more than enough time to use the ATM, restrooms and roam the gift shop ($25 for a 12 year old IMAX movie, really?) before my show started. For the record, I and the seven other guests attending the show were on time, but the doors opened two minutes late which I suppose isn’t too bad for a tourist trap. I wished I liked the show better, as it had an interesting topic (the quest to get people back to the moon by an unspecified “deadline”) but felt more like an infomercial than an actual movie (see TheInternship, 2013).

The show got out at 3:40pm, and I had more than enough time to sit at one of the benches and write out some of my thoughts about the day before heading downstairs. I really hate sitting down on the lower level as it always gives me a splitting headache. I know it’s the noise (as there is no other word for it) and that it would be a LOT worse on a “busy” day, but I am so glad I don’t have to work there on a daily basis.

The show was actually delayed for several minutes to allow them to “clean up the theater” from the previous show (which had also started late), but my “MSC headache” was too bad for me to care. However, I was extremely disappointed in the fact that I was the only person in the theater (even though I heard several people talking about seeing the film). I was out of the film at 4:45pm.

I was midway way down the steps from an unabashedly jingoistic movie about the British bombing Fort McHenry when I heard an almost deafening “BOOM” from about 20 feet below me. I knew it was “only” the air cannon (which was applauded heavily), but I was literally halfway through a step when I jumped and nearly fell face first down a full flight of stairs (thank god, I happened to have my hand on the wooden rail otherwise I’d probably be dead right now).

When I got to the bottom of the steps, I was still literally shaking, and I could sense people staring at me. I walked quickly around the back of the ramp, across the front of the lobby covering my reddened face with my hat and tried to assimilate myself into the mass of orange shirts and black hats flooding the promenade…

Categories: adventures, attractions, Baltimore, Bolton Hill, Inner Harbor, md science center, museums | Leave a comment

A little art goes a long way

I arrived at Tampa Art Museum at noon. I’ll say this for it, for a building that big the museum itself is surprisingly small. In fact, it reminded me of the old Miami Art Museum over at Government Center with its rotating collection of temporary exhibits. TAM split its second floor galleries between two exhibits, but I’m not reviewing either of them (sorry).

After 15 minutes of wandering through their two galleries, I was back downstairs where I decided to try the lunch offered at their café (the one in the hotel, home of the only Starbucks in downtown Tampa, was closed when I left). The food was better than I was expecting it to be, but, more importantly, it was also surprisingly cheap for a venue like this so it’s a double win. J

I left the café around 1pm (it would have been sooner, but the waitress tended to disappear for long swaths of time), and followed the Riverwalk to my next destination…assuming I could the entrance.

I could see the building as it has a large collection of pictures on its side, but the actual entrance to the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts was unmarked…except for a single sign on what looked like the building’s main entrance pointing to an unassuming side door marked only by a doormat with the building’s logo on it.

I wish I could say I was impressed with the museum’s interior. Granted, it’s second floor reception area is bright and airy, but the four main exhibit areas were small and almost felt like dead end hallways rather than actually galleries. Then there are the secondary areas on each floor which the one on the first floor just has ads for past exhibitions leading to the narrow “Member Showcase Gallery” and on the third level it was simply a door blocked off with a sofa.

It took approximately 10 minutes to see the entire museum. After that I went back to the air conditioned room and started packing up my things and writing down my thoughts on the desk next to the air conditioner. A blogger’s job is never done…

Categories: art, florida, museums, photography, Tampa | Leave a comment

Missed connections

Everything about today was off, which stinks since it was the only good day this weekend (rained all day on Friday, snow expected on Sunday).

I left the apartment at 10:48am, made my way down the hill towards Charles St and as I began eating my sandwich, I could see the northbound circulator zipping by the window. I thought nothing of it until I was finished eating and made my way around the corner just as the same bus was pulling away from the curb. Great, now I’m stuck waiting out here in the cold until…I checked my phone for “next bus” time (which, naturally, wasn’t working), and when I looked up again there was another southbound circulator pulling up to the curb.

I arrived at Inner Harbor at 11:31am and the first thing I saw when I disembarked the bus was the westbound circulator passing above me on Pratt St. This time it really was a 15 minute wait (not counting my time walking to the stop), and, because they realigned the western part of the route and renamed some of the stops, I had no clue where I was going when I got on.

I disembarked at the renamed Mt Clare St (which was located in front of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, but now two blocks away with a different name) at 12:01pm just as the whistle of the departing 12’o’clock train blew. As you can guess by now, that was the train I was hoping to catch when I left this morning.

So I enter the museum and a young man sells me my ticket for the exhibits, holiday layouts and the train ride to Mt Clare House (the only reason I was visiting the museum today). I wander around the roundhouse looking at all the elaborate holiday layouts which all looked almost exactly like they did last year (to be fair, all S-guage layouts look like cheap plastic junk to me). Then I went outside, walked around their permanent outdoor layout and got a quick snack in their café before it was time to board the train.

I made my way to the platform, told the ticket taker I was going to Mt Clare and he told me to take the car on the right. The attendant saw the Mt Clare ticket, and he directed me to the door on the right. I walked about halfway through the first car until I found an open seat with an unobstructed window. I sat down and about a minute later the train whistle blew and we began our slow and initially scenic ride through west Baltimore. As the train passed into less scenic area of the route, Frosty made his way through the cars to wave and have his picture taken as his grumpy-looking handler gave out lollipops (just to the kids).

Ten minutes into the trip, the train stops for a minute or so and then begins moving backwards (technically forward as the engine was facing the wheelhouse as we left). I asked the conductor when they were letting people off and he hems and haws and eventually gets around to saying I missed back when we stopped.

So the train pulls into the same station it left 20 minutes ago with me still on it. I step off the platform the conductor pulls me and an older couple aside as he proceeds to wish the rest of the guests a good day. Eventually, a manager comes over gives the three of us was a halfway sincere apology and instead of a refund he offers us complimentary driving directions so we can drive ourselves there in our own cars on our schedules. This is, of course, really nice of him because if I take the 2pm train, I’d have no way of getting back.

That’s when I had to tell him about the accident that nearly took my life and how the state awarded me for my pain and suffering by revoking my license. I literally cannot drive so if I don’t take the train I cannot get there (unless I leave the museum, wait around for a cab, give the driver precise turn-by-turn directions, pay him for my time and tip them for the pleasure of their being rude to me). He then offered to “let” me ride again and they would make sure I got off at the manor (apparently, they run a special, unadvertised pick-up-only trip to the mansion at 3pm).

It turns out, when I was finished with the manager I checked my watch and it was 1:25pm so I had just enough time to use the restroom on the far side of the roundhouse before heading back to the platform. Oddly enough, now everyone was keen to direct me to the “Mt Clare car” (even though they knew full well where I was headed on my previous journey) which was empty save for one other family.

As I sat down in a seat with an unobstructed window, a worker with an orange\yellow vest told me I “couldn’t sit there” (no explanation given) and then leads me to the front of the car and points to a seat next to the other family. “Sit here,” he said pointing to a seat with an unobstructed view of an informational poster and then promptly left through the end door. If I wanted scenery, I could just lean my head really far back in the seat.

Fortunately, Santa arrived (with the same grumpy attendant from before) to take pictures with the other family but when he was finished with them the conductor opened the train door so all I got from the jolly old elf was a pat on the back and shove out the door.

The mansion, like the 15 foot platform the train drops you off on, was smaller than it looked from the tracks. Granted there were additions, subtractions, restorations and the excavated outline of its foundations (though very little is mentioned of the latter on their website). Like most historic homes, the rooms were roped off with a docent standing at the entrance to explain the purpose of each area. They even had a special wedding gown on display in the master bedroom (which I initially mistook for a part of the bedspread).

As nice as the grounds and period furnishings were, I was there for the “holiday open house,” and I was sorely disappointed with what I saw. I liked how they had musicians in the foyer playing live carols, but the house was barely decorated. Yes, there was a Christmas tree in a corner by the entrance, but most of the wreaths\greens were shoved off into a side room with a plain handmade sign that read “for sale.” Even with the room by room tour, I was in and out of the house well within time to catch the train back to the museum.

I disembarked the train just in time to hear the announcement about closing “promptly in 30 minutes” which was just as well since I was leaving anyway – a full hour behind schedule. I made my way two blocks west on Pratt St to the new circulator stop, and was surprised to see it come around the corner as I arrived at the stop. Naturally, the driver turns to us and says he’s off duty and we’d have to wait on the bus until his “relief driver” arrived (about ten minutes, but at least the bus was heated).

I took the circulator to Pratt\Howard and just as I was coming off a man was standing there telling me he needed change for the light rail. Could I please help him? I considered crossing the tracks and slowly making my way over to Fell’s Point for the boat parade and lighting of the Christmas tree, but it was way too cold to stand around so I headed over to the ticket machines. Besides, I knew I’d probably run into more panhandlers as I approached the harbor.

A Penn-Camden train came around 4:07pm, but it was full. Ten minutes later, another shuttle train arrived – and it was nearly empty. When the train arrived at Mt Royal station, I disembarked without being hassled for change, but finding out that the Starbucks behind the station had closed – an hour ago.

I didn’t get a hot coffee, but it was still warmer back in the apartment than it was outside…

Categories: adventures, Baltimore, BO museum, Charm CityCirculator, holidays, light rail, museums, ramblings, writing | Leave a comment

So busy it’s spooky

I left the apartment just after 11:30am. It was later than I had initially planned, but it adds drama to the otherwise dry story (can he make it? Stay tuned!).

My first stop was the Walter’s Art Museum to see their new Egyptian themed show “The Mysterious Book of Faiyum.” Technically, I had already seen part of the show on Thursday night, but I had such a headache that I couldn’t stay for the rest of it (and I didn’t have enough material for a full blog post about it either).

Fortunately, this was their Egyptian themed “Fall Family Fun Festival” so they waived their $10 entry fee, and garnered a sizable crowd of parents and children in the process though most of the younger kids were kept busy making simple crafts in the main lobby. This enabled me to get through the second half of the exhibit far quicker than I had anticipated so I had to figure out what\where I was going from there.

As I headed north on Charles Street, I ran across a large group of protesters. I have no idea what they were railing against (there are a lot of things to protest in this city) as their chant seemed a bit generic and I couldn’t quite read their signs from across the street. There was no cursory write-up in the Brew when I got back so I may never know what they were chanting about.

They turn off to the right towards the monument and I continued straight uphill before finally ducking into the Starbucks on Preston Street. I was too hot for a hot beverage, but it was too cold for a frozen drink. I didn’t stop to think so I just ordered an iced Pumpkin Spice, and felt bad as I passed the half dozen or so homeless people working the area (carrying around a Starbucks cup tends to undermine the whole “I don’t have any money to give you” canard).

It took me about fifteen minutes or so after leaving the store to find my next destination. I thought a “street festival” would be pretty simple to find, but the 1st annual “Fall Festival” at the newly opened Baltimore Design (High) School was a pretty small affair – four tables, a DJ and a bounce house plus a nominal $5 “donation.” Unfortunately for them, I continued walking (hey, there’s always next year) and eventually circled back to Mt Royal Station, but that didn’t mean my day was over yet…

I bought a ticket and waited about five minutes for a southbound train to take me downtown. I got off at Convention Center and walked over to the Maryland Science Center for their new show called “Mummies of the World.” It’s a fascinating subject, but it tried to tackle too much at one time. Worse it felt hypocritical to admonish visitors to respect the human dignity of the very specimens you brought out for them to gawk at – particularly since the science portion of the show was perfunctory and literally shoved off to the sides.

It was early yet as I left the exhibit, but I still decided it was easier to eat at the museum café than go back to the apartment and make something there. The food was overpriced, but still slightly better than I feared it would be. I put the empty tray on top of the trash can, put my hat back on and then left through the glass doors out to the plaza and started my way back to my apartment…

Categories: adventures, art, Baltimore, festivals, Inner Harbor, md science center, museums, protests, Station North | 1 Comment

Norfolk day 4: Sick as a dog

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling like someone kicked me repeatedly in the stomach. Oh well, I figured, maybe I can go downstairs and get breakfast and it’ll go away. Nope, I couldn’t eat a darn thing…for two whole days.

It’s not like I didn’t try to enjoy the majority of my trip, it’s just kind of hard to do so when you’re constantly nauseous with diarrhea, sore throat and running on a maximum of 2-3 hours of sleep per night because the pain in my stomach was SOO bad. Not only could I not sleep due to the pain, I could barely move as well.

Well, today I felt ever so slightly better so I decided I was going to out and try to do something – even if it killed me. Unfortunately, like Baltimore, nearly every art\tourist attraction in Norfolk is closed on Mondays.

According to the guide book in the hotel room, the Norfolk Southern Museum was open on Mondays. I figured with a Frappuccino from the lobby (I found drinking something cold soothed my burning throat and made the nausea go away temporarily), I could walk the 2-3 blocks without much difficulty.

Yes, I made it to the NSF museum with a minute or two before it was scheduled to open. I leaned against the building to catch my breath and as I slid down I could hear a door opening about 20 feet away from me. I initially figured it was the curator or someone coming out to open the galleries for the day.

Then I saw her face, the short, black security guard probably in her late 50s with black pants and a white shirt stormed over to me pointing at me angrily and shouting (eventually wagging her finger in my face):

“HEY YOU, YES YOU!!! THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY AND YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED ON IT! NOW GET LOST – NOW!! I DON’T CARE WHERE YOU GO BUT YOU WILL LEAVE THIS PROPERTY NOW! WE HAVE LAWS IN THIS CITY AGAINST TRESPASSING AND I WILL NOT HAVE YOU VIOLATING THEM ON MY WATCH! DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR? NOW GO! I DON’T CARE WHERE: ACROSS THE CITY, ACROSS THE STREET, I DON’T CARE! YOU CANNOT STAY HERE! IF I HAVE TO SAY IT ONCE AGAIN I WILL CALL THE POLICE AND YOU WILL GO TO JAIL!”

It’s one of those catch-22s, I can’t leave until she stops yelling and she’ll continue yelling until I go away with what’s left of my tail tucked into what’s left of my legs. I limp over to the park and take a seat next to a passed out homeless person (which is what she probably thought I was) for a few minutes until my watch said it was after 10am.

Anyway, I summoned up enough courage to go back, knowing full well this would be difficult regardless of when it was – particularly since it still stings me writing this. I walk into the building and a young black lady in the same stark white shirt is sitting at the security desk.

“My colleague said to not let you in this building.”

“I’m here for the museum,” I said in a calm, normal voice.

“That’s…um, not open today.” she said clearly stalling.

This is another awkward position, I know I’m supposed to say something but I have no idea what. I also know the gallery is supposedly open on Mondays, and that’s she’s clearly stalling for time, but I can’t argue with her about it either (printing error in the guidebook?).

“Great,” I ended up saying. “Now, I just have to find something else to do, but even the river cruises are closed today.”

That’s when I could hear a self-satisfied “humph” from behind me. I didn’t need to look. I already knew who it was from and as much as it irritated me I wasn’t about to make a scene.

I was just going back to the hotel and reading the annual report I hastily shoved in my backpack before the trip. I figured it would probably cover most of the same ground…with a lot less aggravation.

“How do things like that always seem to happen to you?” my mom said somewhat skeptically when I called from the room phone.

I don’t know, believe me, I don’t know….

Categories: entertainment, museums, Norfolk, writing | Leave a comment

Harrisburg Trip: Day 2

I didn’t have any fancy clothes with me so I threw on a polo shirt and hoped for the best. I put my key into the elevator and made my way to the 13th floor. I followed the sign to a small doorway immediately next to the elevator. The door leads down a small hallway to a small room with fancy tables and overstuffed chairs.

The woman at the concierge stand didn’t ask for a name or room key. She simply pointed over to the seating area, saying I could sit wherever I wanted (though there were only about 3 guest tables in the room). I was somewhat disappointed by the selection on their continental breakfast, but the panoramic view of the downtown with the river was almost enough to make up for it.

I finished my meal, grabbed my backpack off the floor and headed downstairs. I decided to take the sky bridge across to Whitaker Center (via Strawberry Square Mall). It was after all the only reason I made the trek to this city in the first place. One doesn’t get to see giant mechanized dinosaurs on a daily basis in Baltimore, but that doesn’t automatically make the exhibit any good, but (you can read the rest of my thoughts here).

When I finished walking around the exhibit, I shoved my pen\notebook into my backpack and returned to Strawberry Square to find something to get for lunch. Sadly, there was absolutely nothing in “The Square.” It was literally as devoid of shops as it was of visitors, the only other people I saw walking through the area were the ones unfortunate enough to work at the food court on the second level (so much for hanging out at the mall on a Saturday).

It was just after noon when I left the abandoned husk of urban land known as “Strawberry Square,” and I made my past the Capitol Complex on my way to the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

One would think that a state the size of Pennsylvania would have a fairly large “state museum,” and you’d be wrong. Granted, the building isn’t nearly as small as it looks from the outside, but it isn’t nearly as immense, encompassing or engaging as I would have hoped. Yes, there were some interesting displays here and there, but the entire museum felt hopelessly dated (circa late-70s-early 80s).

I didn’t really get a chance to explore the entire museum (as it closed at 5pm), but the 3rd floor was Entomology, Geology and Paleontology along with the impressive taxonomy collection of native mammals. 2nd floor was history (civil war), archaeology (presented though a series of life-sized dioramas showing the life of a Delaware Indian tribesman) and technology (I didn’t really have time to go through, sorry). The 1st floor was Village Square which showed various shops in a colonial era town and around the hallway in the middle of their contemporary art wing (also didn’t really go through) was something called the “Brockerhoff House” (a recreation of 18-19th century home life).

I left the State Museum shortly after 4pm, and immediately sat down on the cement wall outside the building to find somewhere to eat on my smart phone. I didn’t really see anything that interested me so I decided to take a walk over to City Island. Unfortunately, no sooner had I come off the sidewalk of the Market Street Bridge it started to drizzling. I was able to make it to the train depot on the other side of the island without getting caught in rain, but as soon as I came off said attraction, it starting raining more steadily (albeit relatively lightly).

Fortunately, I had a rain jacket in my backpack because the rain really started coming down as I crossed the iron pedestrian bridge going back towards the hotel. By this time, it was close enough to dinner that I simply ducked into the hotel restaurant. The service was good, but I wasn’t impressed with the sandwich I ordered.

It was still pouring when I arrived back at the room. I was inside now so I decided to just change into drier clothes and stay inside for the night. I was checking out the next day, and it was a long trip back to Baltimore.

Categories: Harrisburg, museums, Pennsylvania, weather | 1 Comment

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