The Vanishing Point

Posted by Danny

It was ego, sure male ego that made me do it.

Stephanie was invited to the lake with friends for the weekend and DJ, Michelle and I were looking for an equally exciting activity to fill our Labor Day hours.  As I pondered our time, interests and finances, I landed on a day trip to Water Country USA in Williamsburg, Va.  Not too close, not too far away and an outdoor experience (versus the indoor Great Wolf Lodge disaster from February) was all too appealing.  With some coaxing, Jesse decided to come along for the ride.

 The pinnacle of excitement for me came at 5:45, fifteen minutes before park closing.

We had walked by Vanish Point, a slide that takes off from a 75 foot tower nestled in the back corner of the park, several times during the day.  This was the description on the sign at the entrance to the attraction:   Get ready for the ride of your life on Water Country USA’s epic new drop slide: Vanish Point. Inspired by the point on a wave where water and gravity form a perfect partnership, this summit supplies a wicked wet way to drop out of sight.  You can step into a skybox where you fall down when the floor drops out beneath you.

Although I was curious, had Jesse not been there, I would have kept my 45-year-old, ground loving self at the bottom of that tower of terror.  But once he decided to take the plunge, my ego simply wouldn’t let me sit the attraction out. 

“I’m going, you in?”

“I don’t know, you know I’m not a fan of heights.  And the girls really need a father.”

“OK.”  He turned toward the long staircase.

“I’m in!”

We started the climb up the mountain of stairs.  My knees a bit wobbly from fear; Jesse and I tailed a gaggle of 9-year-old boys – excitement buzzing around them like bees on a honeysuckle vine.  Not only was I motivated by wanting to keep up with my brother-in-law, but there was also something motivating about this group of kids.  I could picture myself with Adam Fair, Jimbo Martin, the Mask boys and my brother – the Berkshire Road Gang – from my childhood.  If we’d only had the chance to conquer this challenge as kids.  Our closest adventure to Vanish Point was jumping off the dead tree stump in Adam’s yard with the sprinkler gradually dampening our bodies.  I had to do this for them.

The anticipation was palpable as we reached the staging area.  We were so high, I swear I could see Mt. Rushmore in the distance.

 An attractive college student in her bathing suit was at the helm.  One by one she loaded the boys into the Star Wars type tomb of doom.  My turn was nearing.

Jesse:  “Do you want to go first?”

Me:  “Yes, I need to get this over with.  Goodbye.”

She opened the door.  I gently pressed on the mechanical floor with my foot to make sure it was locked.  I knew within seconds it would fall out from under me, dropping me to what could be my death.  I climbed in – glancing at the lifeguard – a nice final image if this was the end.

“Cross your legs and put your hands over your chest.  And remember to lean back.”

I had entered an upright coffin, albeit a wet one.  

She closed the door.  The male guard at the controls glance toward me, my hangman.  I was guilty.  Guilty of stupidity.

Whoomp!  The floor vanished.  My body darted down like a missile heading toward Cuba, my stomach lodged beneath my tonsils.

I tried to open my eyes but the force was too strong.  Within seconds I was at the bottom, water permeating my body through every orifice I owned.

Stand up quick man!  Look cool.  People are watching.  You’re wet all over, they can’t see the tears.

And Jesse right behind.

“How’d you like it?”

An unconvincing, “It was great” fell from my mouth.

“Too bad the parks closing – we could do it again.”

“Yeah.  What a bummer.”

Stranded on I 95

Posted by Danny

This post is dedicated to my daughters who I’ve cracked on mercilously through the years for inconvenient bathroom stops.

I was trapped!  Heading down I-95 North to West Virginia, it was 9 pm and I was alone.  The kids rode with the grandparents earlier that day.  I was ready for the six-hour drive, my  i Phone newly filled with 1,900 of my favorite songs.  Kenny Chesney keeping me company.

I knew the urge to tinkle was coming, but I didn’t realize the traffic that was in front of me.  Nor did I understand the lack of exits between Richmond and Fredericksburg, Va.  I was in a hurry.  I’d heard bad things about stopping at rest areas at night, besides, the next one was 43 miles away.  There seemed to be no other option. 

I eyeballed my McDonald’s cup.  Yep, I still had the lid.

I didn’t realize how difficult it would be while in transit.  Moving, while moving, is nearly impossible.

I drank the last bit of Diet Coke and strategically placed my fountain drink holder.  Stop , then go – there were brake lights everywhere.  I glanced at the cars around me.  It was dark, the semi driver next to me couldn’t possibly see.  I’m sure he’s done the same thing, he drives for a living!

Almost…then a horn.  I’d forgotten to press the gas and was lagging behind the car ahead of me.  I sped up, my bladder contracted.

Think about something relaxing.  A day on the beach – not helping!  I don’t do that on the beach.  Picture the bathroom – yellow walls, a window, a tan tile floor.  Whew… relief.

Oh no, the cup is filling yet I’m not empty.  Can I stop mid stream?   


Oh man. 

No wonder girls pee in their pants.  Sometimes there just isn’t a better option.

Home Sweet Capon

Posted by Danny

This is one of the most interesting weeks of the year for our family.  It’s Capon Springs week!

Lisa’s mother has been going to Capon Springs, WV, the third full week of August for sixty years.  Many of the same families return year after year to this sacred ground where nothing changes.

Each morning at Capon you awaken for flag raising at 8.  The 200 guest gather round as the tape recording of  a mezzo soprano belts out the Star Spangled Banner. 

All meals are served family style – you want eggs?  No problem.  They make them any way you ask.

The nine-hole golf course has a beautiful view of the West Virginia mountains.  The spring fed pool is kept at a chilly 68 degrees.  They call it refreshing; I call it sterilizing! 

BINGO is Wednesday night.  When the caller yells “B 4,” the crowd responds in unison “and after” as they have done at least since I started going in 1993.

There is a one mile fun run, croquet, ping-pong and a mixed doubles shuffle board tournament.  The final game is played on the last night of the week with a huge crowd of spectators.  Lisa and Jesse were always partners.  They made it to the finals one year but lost.  Lisa said she didn’t mind because the runner-up got homemade cookies as their prize.  The winner had to endure a jar of apple butter.

It takes a while to grow in to Capon.  Perhaps it’s because any prospective spouse is required to be approved by an unknown committee of old-time Caponeers.  I was sweating like a pig my first long weekend at the place, fearful that I’d get nixed – it didn’t help that there’s no air conditioning (or TV, or internet, or cell phone service). 

My kids love the place.  They roam with little supervision – it just seems safe.  There aren’t locks on the doors.  You purchase snacks on the honor system. 

I liken it to the resort (I use that term loosely) in Dirty Dancing, just a bit more primitive.

This week is bitter-sweet for me.  Two years ago at Capon was when Lisa’s stomach started to really bother her.  In fact, we made a doctor’s appointment for her from their pay phone.  The call that began the end.

Lisa loved Capon more than any other place on this planet.  And because she loved it, I love it too.

If you ever need to find me the third full week of August, you’ll know where to look.  I’ll likely be on the fifth fairway of the Capon Springs golf course looking for my ball in the rough.

The Elevator Button

Posted by Danny

What is it about an elevator button for a kid?  It’s like hitting the winning lottery ticket.

I was at a hotel in New Bern, NC, on Saturday night with the kids.  We parked, grabbed our bags, checked in, and it began.

“I get to press the elevator button!” Stephanie exclaimed.

“No, I want to!” Michelle shouted.

“You guys, it’s a four-story building.  This isn’t a big deal” I explained.

As we approached, I could see the look on DJ’s face.  She was casually in the lead.  Neither of the others would suspect.  I saw it but couldn’t get the words out before her long, 14-year-old arm with outstretched finger pressed it before either of the others knew what had hit them.

“Dad!  DJ pressed the button!!!  I called it first!!!  It’s not fair!!!”  my middle child loudly reasoned.  The youngest just in tears.

“DJ!  Why did you do that?”  I don’t know why I asked.  It wasn’t likely that she could explain the psychological implications of wanting to torture her sisters and act as if she hadn’t heard any of the conversation.


Yes, but it is a very important button.  It’s the elevator button.

We have cell phones, i touches, Wii and television remotes, computers at their disposal.  And yet, the coveted elevator button.

I’ve never seen the thrill.  It’s not like silly putty or that goopy stuff that comes in a can – now those things feel really good to the touch.  I even enjoy a handful of playdough, nice and squishy.  No, the button is hard.  It doesn’t even go in that far to the wall; it’s a slight touch.  Maybe it’s the light…

You’ll be glad to know that I made a mental schedule of who got to press the button for the rest of the stay.  DJ wasn’t concerned about being in the rotation.  If she wasn’t going to annoy her sisters, she could go buttonless.

Next time, we’re staying in a tent.

Our Decapod Crustacean

Posted by Danny

We’ve avoided animals like the plague in our family.  Lisa grew up with a dog that had bad gas.  I with a cat named Bunny who had an identity crisis.  And one day when I was in about 9th grade, I got to see my first X rated event when Reagan, our neighbors tom cat, raped Bunny in our driveway.  I did all I could but I just couldn’t stop him.  She never was the same.

One trick Lisa discovered was to give a kid a token pet to appease them.  Two started out with fish.  Our second phase was to give them something they could hold – a hermit crab.  We didn’t really have a phase 3.

DJ got her first when she was about six or seven.  Stephanie followed several years later.  This year, when shopping near Myrtle Beach, Michelle spotted an enormous cage filled with the nasty boogers.  I bet there were 150 of them – climbing all over the place.  One of them changing his shell so you could see his entire body – something I’d never encountered in my years as a crab owner.

I quickly acquiesced to her request hopeful that this would put off the dog conversation for another six to eight months. 

All three girls decided they had to have one – but I was only bankrolling Michelle’s crustacean.  The other two were on their own.

They stood and stared at the choices.  It was overwhelming, like having to pick out your baby from a lineup of cribs.

These days, the store owners have folks paint the crab shells to make them more appealing to the prospective owners.  Which to choose?  They all seemed perfect in their own little way.

The one with a flower on its shell?  How about Superman?  The fuchsia with neon green stripes looks like a winner.  Personally I liked Goliath – the largest one in the cage.  His legs sprawling down the one limb that spanned the axis of the cage. 

“That ones too big dad.  His pinchers could really hurt.”

I went to the counter to ask who would open the container and fish out our choices.

The stout, grandmotherly checkout clerk informed me that the cage was not locked.  “YOU get it out sir.”  The implication was I ain’t sticking MY hand in there.  I’ve seen what can happen.

“So I just open it and get the ones I want?”


They decided on their pick:  for Stephanie the bright pink, DJ wanted Spiderman, and Michelle the one with the dainty pink flower.  I mustered up my courage and wound my arm through the hole – watching Goliath with one eye and my own prey with the other.

Stephanie’s was wild – a poor choice she thought.  “I’ve changed my mind daddy.  I want a calmer one.” 

“Me too,” DJ echoed.  “Spiderman looks angry!”

“I don’t like mine either – I think he’s dead.  Look, he’s just sitting there.”

I go in again.  “Are you sure this is it?”  The decision were made.

“They need extra  shells, a sponge and plenty of food” my checkout friend informed.

Yeah, you’re all about helping now aren’t you?  Clearly grandma was working on commission.

On the way out the door, each one made a last-minute swap.  My patience and bravery were about to expire.

In the car Stephanie informed me that her crab and DJ’s were cuddling…or mating.

“Do they really…” DJ didn’t finish her sentence.

I was glad.  I didn’t need to have that conversation with the grandparents in the car.

The Jolly Roger

Posted by DJ

This past week, we have been at Topsail Beach with my moms’ side of the family.  We have many traditions when we go to Topsail, such as Putt Putt, Dairy Queen, crabbing, and burying each other in the sand.  This year I may have established a new tradition!

The Jolly Roger Pier is about a 10 minute walk on the beach from our rental beach house.  Generally, we chose a night to take the entire family for a walk on the pier, which we did as planned.  I curiously asked my dad what time the pier closed.  He said he didn’t think it ever closed – crazy people fished all night long.  “In that case,” I said, “let’s go at midnight!”

“Why would I do that?”

“Everything is more fun at 12:00 a.m.”  He’s getting really old.

So after everyone was asleep, except for my dad and me, we sneaked out of the house, and walked down the dark beach to the pier.  He was right, there were a few folks there fishing. 

We didn’t stay long, but we had fun hanging out.

I will definitely try to continue this tradition. (Whether I will be successful is debatable.)

Sunday Post 24: Stuck in Reverse

Posted by Danny

We’re at Topsail beach this week with Lisa’s side of the family.  We’ve vacationed here, in the same rental house, for about a decade.  The owners aren’t much for redecorating so every piece of furniture, every kitchen utensil, every knickknack seems to symbolize a part of our past. 

My mother-in-law and I can picture Lisa doing the girls’ hair as she sat on the not very attractive off-white leather couch.  The floral vacation sheets I dig out of the trunk in our bedroom have seen years of sandy, slightly sunburned bodies.  The white 80’s style lace on the pillow cases matched the stack of t-shirts Lisa lived in this week.

4:00 – 7:00 pm is my absolute favorite time of the day on the beach.  The strong breeze seems to blow the summer heat away.  Not too cold, but cool enough.  Lisa knew I loved this time of day and each afternoon would head back outside with ice-cold drinks in hand.  We’d spend hours talking about the kids, dreaming of the future, planning our escape from the problems of life. 

Looking back on it, I realize we didn’t have any.

Today I sat alone – my thoughts consumed with her.

Lisa’s mom said she heard of a song entitled Stuck in Reverse.  Sometimes that’s where we all live. 

Grief is a circle; you move forward and circle back.  Perhaps not to the beginning, but sometimes mighty close. 

I’d give both of my eyes to have her back.

My Big Tent

Stephanie and Michelle entering the foyer

We just returned from our fourth annual Memorial Day Weekend camping trip.  We started this tradition with four other families and have hit different North Carolina parks each year.

I’m not sure why we go.  None of us are really camping people.  We’d be much more comfortable at the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne, Fla.  Of course, this is easier on the pocketbook, and I guess we all want our kids to spend some time outside looking at stars and enjoying nature and stuff.

One thing that keeps me from being a more frequent camper is the lack of adequate bathrooms.  In fact, on the way to Jones Lake in Elizabethtown, we took a 30 minute detour to my parent’s house in Fayetteville for one last pit stop before closing down the old plumbing until we got back home.  I called my dad to tell him we were coming and to stock each bathroom with a new roll of Charmin.  When we hit the driveway, we noticed the sign he’d hung on the door – “Clean Restrooms Available!”

I was glad we made that stop.  At the campground, the men’s bathroom had stalls but no doors; at least I didn’t see any from where I was standing (I didn’t actually go back there).  I have a phobia about no stall doors.

One time when I was the director of the Cary YMCA, I was making my nightly rounds.  I hit the men’s lockerrom and as always, began flushing all toilets since our male members seldom did.  I hit the three urinals and the first stall quickly – I was in a hurry as always.  When I flew into the second stall – the door was wide open –  much to my surprise, there was a man sitting there.  I didn’t really glance up until I was nose to nose with the dude.   

I ran to my office and stayed there until thirty minutes after the building closed.  I left all bathroom patrols to our maintenance staff from that day forward.

That incident scarred me.  I wonder how he’s doing.

Our family at the West Entrance

About six years ago my father-in-law asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  I suggested a pup tent built for two.  DJ and I had joined the YMCA’s Y-Princess program, and I knew we’d have to camp together once a year.  I told him there was a small tent, just our size, for $20 at Target. 

On Christmas Day, I opened my large box.  Inside was a $350 Sierra Design tent from REI – it slept six – adults.  David doesn’t always get you what you want – he often gets you what he thinks you need.  He makes up his mind, consults Consumer Reports and you get the top of the line!

I wondered what in the heck I was going to do with a tent that large.  It was more square footage than my first apartment.  The east wing had a closet and the dining room sat 8. 

To my surprise, I’ve used the dang thing 15 or 20 times over the years – often sleeping four or more folks.  David ws right, I did need a big tent.  One that I could be proud of.  In fact, one of my camping buddies had tent envy last year and showed up this year with an upgrade.  That made me walk a little taller around the campfire.

I don’t understand why they make tent and sleeping bag covers 12% smaller than the actual tent or sleeping bag.  I busted three blood vessels in my head trying to shove the dang sleeping bags back into the holders.  I nearly pulled my back out trying to squish all the air out of the blow up matress.  I was hugging it with both arms while I squeezed the middle with my legs.  I felt like a boaconstrictor; all this work to make a single matress fit in a carrying case the size of a sandwich bag.

My friend Martin can make wet wood burn. I think he's a Boy Scout or a Warlock.

At 2:30 am on Saturday night, my buddy’s truck alarm went off.  Lights were flashing and the horn was going nuts.  It scared the mess out of everyone – at least everyone in my tent.  I spent the next hour wondering what could have caused that alarm to go off.  I narrowed it down to three things – a mechanical malfunction, a theif, or a big animal.  The third potential was the most unnerving.  Heck, there was a bear walking around downtown Garner last week – imagine what could have been lurking in the woods in Bladen County, NC.

I saw Jeff walk by my tent to go check things out.  I briefly considered getting up and going with him, but I decided it would probably be better just to listen and keep my phone close.  Although I had a great tent, it wasn’t bear proof and we were the closest family to the cars. 

Last night after we were in our tent and the lights were out, the girls asked me to tell them a ghost story.  I shared about Crazy Nell who was killed right there in Elizabethtown many years before.  When I finished, DJ said, “I believe in ghosts.”  And Michelle added, “And the holy Catholic Church.” 

Our minister will be glad to know she’s been paying attention during the Apostle’s Creed.

I wish I could post more pictures but one of the moms there told me if I put a picture of her on this blog after a night of camping that Crazy Nell’s death would look tame compared to what she would do to me.  From her tone and the look in her eyes, I think she was serious.

Can’t wait until next year!  Thank you camping buds.

I'm allowed to publish this picture -these are the clouds that produced 10 inches of rain all over our camp site.

Sunday Post 18: No Ketchup?

On our cruise two weeks ago our ship stopped in Haiti.  It wasn’t the Haiti I pictured in my mind.

The vessel pulled up to a brand new doc on an private beach on the Nortern Side of the Island.  As we meandered down the pier I fully expected Mr. Roarke and Tattoo to greet us with a lei and a mixed drink.

The beaches were white, the water was clear.  There was parasailing, a huge zip line, a market that was clean and well-kept.  Our kids spent an hour in the lagoon climbing up gigantic blow up slides and trampolines.  The grown ups lay single file on comfy beach chairs that were arranged by locals on staff.  We gave them a couple of dollars for their assistance.

At lunch, we stood in line for a Royal Caribbean feast:  grilled chicken, hamburgers on fresh made bread, several salads and corn on the cob.  All was good… until they ran out of ketchup.  How can you serve a hamburger with no ketchup?  As many times as they’ve served this meal over the past year, certainly they have a good read on how many packets of ketchup they need to serve the passengers.  Needless to say, I was annoyed.

I stood and waited – for ten or more minutes.

“It’s coming sir,” they promised.

“This is ridiculous,” I murmured under my breath.

This was ruining my lunch – I couldn’t believe they didn’t have ketchup.

Finally a brave gentleman stepped in front of the buffet line.

“We are out of ketchup.  I am very sorry.”

Unbelievable.  UN-BE-LIEVABLE!

I went to join the rest of our group.  I wasn’t the only one who craved the condiment, but clearly I was the most upset.

I had started on my oriental salad when Michelle walked over.

“Dad, do you see that boy over there?”


“He’s on the other side of the fence.  Why is he waving a plate in the air?”

I glanced up, intending to take only a slight break from my chicken.  About 100 yards away stood a dark-skinned boy, he looked about 8.  He was Michelle’s size. 

Royal Caribbean had done a good job of hiding the fencing and barbed wire that kept him out.  It was painted dark green and there was a large barricade and a paved road between the shelter where we sat and the 8 foot high fence.

As I froze and watched, this boy lifted his shirt and began rubbing his stomach with his right hand, his left still waving the plate in the air.

“Daddy, I think he’s hungry.  We need to help him.  Can I give him my food?”  Michelle was visible concerned, her eyes big – her desire to help immense.  But there wasn’t a way – the barricade too thick, a security guard policing the area.

He’d have been satisfied with a ketchupless hamburger.  Why wasn’t I?

The Navigator of the Seas Part 1: The Not So Good

Posted by Danny

Spring Break!!!!  Whoa-Whoa!!!!

Someone once told me that the best way to keep your kids from getting into trouble during spring break is to get them in the habit of taking a great family trip that week.  I’m doing my best!

Last week we headed to Florida for a five night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas.  I’d never been on a cruise before so this was quite an eye opener.  We really had a great time and I’m going to write more later this week.  But there were a few things I could have done without!

I went with some reservations.  I get a little claustrophobic and don’t really like the idea of being somewhere with no escape. 

My fears were realized when I walked into our room.  It was smallish.  And the bathroom – whew.  The shower was so little I had to wash the front of me, back out into the room, turn around and shimmy back in to wash my back side.  I am convinced that some of the passengers were unable to wash themselves on the boat – there just wasn’t a way.

I’m also convinced that one woman, who quickly garnered my attention (and ever other male on board) at the 11th floor pool, had to wash some of her parts individually as well.  She should have considered that before her surgery.

On night four, late in the evening, the boat pretty much turned over.  I didn’t like that. 

 I was in my room and although I did not fall, I turned sideways, back parallel to the door.  A friend was in a store on the Lido deck (I’m not sure of the name of that deck but I learned Lido from the Love Boat and liked saying it) and the sunglasses display toppled over onto the floor.  Apparently several hundred pair.  The women manning the shop began spouting out what must have been cuss words in a foreign tongue.  My friend wasn’t sure if they were torked at the captian or if they were fearful for their lives.

That night I slept with no covers thinking that if water came rushing in, I’d struggle to get the wet blanket off.  If it weren’t for a couple of Tylenol PM, I don’t think I’d have seen sleep the rest of the cruise after that debacle.

The final thing I wasn’t a fan of was the constant rocking.  It was particularly noticeable in bed and in the bathroom.   At night I sort of felt like my mother was rocking me again – a couple of nursery rhymes and I’d have been sucking my thumb.  It made me feel happy inside.  But peeing on board was like trying to take a leak while on a skateboard.  Number 2 wasn’t much better – tough to read a Newsweek in motion.  You didn’t move much in the shower because each side of you was sandwiched by the wall.

I never got sea sick but had to take a break while ice skating on the Promenade Deck (again, not sure of the real name).  Yes, they had an ice skating rink.  And an ice dancing show – which was remarkable considering it was the size of a school multipurpose room.  Imagine a triple sow cow in your den.

I nearly cried as we walked off the ship on Saturday… for two reasons:

1) I decided it would be faster to carry our own lugguage out of the ship.  I toted eight bags down six floor because we couldn’t get an elevator to stop and then they requried you to walk three miles to customs where I declared two $11 neclaces and a pair of pink earrings.

2) We had to drive 12 hours home.

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