Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How I Know I Would Die in a Game of Quidditch

I’ve officially benched myself. To the sidelines, Rebecca! Out of the game.
I’m the one who will now hold your bag while you get in on the action. I’m the one waiting outside.
It went like this.
My 9 year old, Max, has spent the last 7+ years immersed in some aspect or another of the magical world that J.K. Rowling created. It started simply enough. Max showed a fascination with brooms as a toddler. One of my brothers, quite innocently, showed Max a clip of Harry Potter speeding through the air on a broom in one of his Quidditch games. Observe the result:

Imagination + some homemade props + Photoshop = happy Max (2007)


At the county fair was the actual guy who made the brooms for the first Harry Potter movie.
Max just about died. (2009)

And the monster just kept being fed. Little Max soon discovered that wands could be crafted from just about anything and as the boy grew, so did the obsession. For his 9th birthday, we finally allowed him to read the last book in the series, though he can still only watch the first four movies.
Then a few weeks ago, a culmination of extremely serendipitous events led Max and I to the front gates of Universal Studios, home of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts castle. We were accompanied by two expert theme park goers. Professionals. No joke.
Keep in mind that I’ve been living in the Caribbean for the last three years. My pace is slow at best and I stopped measuring time by how many things I was able to accomplish in a given hour long ago. Caffeine is not to make me more productive, but to keep me awake through the mid-day heat.
Having already planned to be there upon opening at 9 am and to stay until 10 pm closing, once inside the gates, my dear professional-theme-parkers got down to business.
“Okay,” ProThemeParker#1’s voice was serious—like we were in over time of the final play-offs, using the last 10 seconds of our last time out—“we have to hit the rides first because the lines are always shorter in the morning.”
“Okay,” I hesitated wondering what I’d gotten myself into. 
Before I knew it, ProfessionalThemeParker#2 was holding all our bags while ProThemeParker#1 dragged Max and I behind her into a line. What we were waiting for, I didn’t know. It soon became clear that we were about to ride on a roller-coaster designed to simulate dragon flight. I began to feel like the worst mother ever. Not only was this my son’s first roller-coaster ride, it was his first amusement park/county fair/anything ride. First. Ever. Oh, you’ve never swum before? I’ll just toss you in the ocean!
I began to feel extra terrible when we sat down, then were strapped in with steel bars, excessive padding and two different kinds of restraints. I remember screaming a completely insincere “Woo-hoo!” as we spun upside down for the fourth time thinking, “God, I hope my son is still breathing,” at which point I then yelled, “Breathe, Max kid!”
This is it:

Photo credit: http://orlandoinside.com/universal/dragon-challenge-roller-coaster-1.jpg

“That was interesting,” Max turned to me as we stumbled out of our restraints, having survived the ride.
I felt like I had Dengue again and a stomach flu and vertigo. At the same time. I wandered aimlessly, grabbing ice from the drink displays and dropping them down the back of my shirt as confused theme park employees looked on, mouths agape at my brazenness. 
“Well,” ProThemeParker#2 contemplated my health, “Let’s just go on the Hogwarts’ Tour.”
Okay. I can handle a tour.
The “tour” looked suspiciously like a very long line, weaving through a fake castle. When it became clear to still-nauseated-me that there was another ride at the end of the “tour” I pulled a uniformed employee aside and in low, serious tones asked, “Ummm… is this a roller coaster?” My eyes darted back and forth.
“Oh, no, no, no,” she patted my arm reassuringly. It just moves side to side and backward and forward. She motioned her hand, parallel to the ground, with slow, gentle movements to indicate its directions.
Well, that’s a relief. I was fairly certain I could handle a small step above Disney’s “It’s a Small World Afterall” ride, which is exactly what I heard the nice park employee just describe.
I talked myself through and out of hyperventilating when steel bars, padding and lots of buckles were again involved. It was done. There was no getting out of this one. Oh how I wished to leave my body in that moment.
The employee was right—and oh-so-very-wrong. It wasn’t a roller coaster. Technically. While I only saw about three seconds of the screen in front of me, I’m told it was a simulation. Apparently we flew with Harry, dodged dragons, fled from giant spiders, dodged the Whomping Willow and went after the Snitch in a Quidditch game. Unfortunately, I didn’t pass out. I just had my hand over my eyes the entire time.
About 4 seconds in, I spit up a little in my mouth. I had watermelon for breakfast about three hours prior. That’s enough time to take on quite an intense smell. I consciously kept my mouth shut until I felt the ride lurch forward violently and I spit toward the floor. Two seconds after that, my belly was in full rejection mode. I began to puke. The same strategy didn’t work this time as the mere quantity of vomit could not be contained in my mouth. And by that time, I had no idea which way was down.
I puked and spewed and hurled six times. Six. In a matter of minutes. At about my third release, the cute 21 year old blonde next to me screamed, “What was that?!”
“Oh God,” I vomited again, “I’m so sorry.”
When the ride finally stopped, I could barely pull myself out of the seat. And nobody wanted to help me either. Not only did my stench permeate the delicate nostrils of the hundreds of people around me, but the very sight of me was not PG. In my immense wisdom, I had worn a pair of white shorts, now thoroughly soaked in my own watermelon-chunked-vomit. My t-shirt, my hair, my shoes. Nothing was spared.
The blondy I’d puked on was one of our dear ProfessionalThemeParkers. She hadn’t signed up for that master’s course and, thoroughly disgusted, had run from the ride in search, I assume, of bleach and a pressure washer.
Apparently they take pictures of you mid-ride. This guy's candid shot:

Aren't they cute? My only regret is not seeing my own photo and purchasing a copy for posterity.
I'm kind of morbid like that.
“Rebecca,” I heard ProThemeParker#2 tell me, “Stay here. I have to go find ProThemeParker#1. Don’t move.” I understand that there are thousands of people in the park and it is all too easy to get lost. And I no longer have a US cell phone. So I stayed put, despite myself. Where?
ProThemeParker#2 had asked me to stay dead center in the middle of the busy gift shop where all riders exited through. Each one passed me, holding their noses, looks of horror on their faces. Some shielded their children’s eyes. I’m fairly certain you could see parts of my body through my soaked shorts that even a skimpy bathing suit normally covers. Like I said, decidedly not PG.
When ProThemeParker#1 was finally found, she made it clear that she had to get new shorts, as did I. But she wanted Dr. Seuss shorts.
Since I insisted on buying her the shorts (what is the traditional sorry-I-puked-on-you gift, anyway?), we left the perfectly good Harry Potter gift shop. I was paraded through Universal Studios to an entirely different section of the park, “PATHETIC” neatly printed across my face as people moved out of my way to spare their olfactory senses or lest they ruin their children’s dream vacation with such an unsavory sight.
ProThemeParker#1 found a gift shop she liked and I bought two pairs of shorts and one t-shirt (vomit had only gotten on a small section of her shorts) for US$75. Gulp. I almost puked again as I handed over my VISA card for what were essentially pajamas. But they were clean pajamas.
In the bathroom, I did the best paper-towel bath I could since it was only noon—another 10 or so hours before we had planned to leave the park. The stench of my puke lingered for hours afterwards. Or perhaps it was humiliation I smelled.
I shall never, ever, ever "tour" Hogwarts again. Ever.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Innocence. And Claro.

For Carolyn. Again.

While most of our Claro issues have either been resolved or are irritating parts of our lives that we simply tolerate, the company still manages to raise its ugly head every once in a while and force us to look it in the face. Ew.

As many of you know, one of Claro’s downright criminal and annoying business tactics is to send its customers what are essentially spam texts.
“For just 30 pesos a text, receive the hottest pick-up lines of the day.”
“Want to know today’s score? Click now to sign up for just 15 pesos a text.”
“Feeling lonely? Chat with a special friend now!”

Why is it criminal? Two reasons, one of which will leave your mouth agape. First of all, no matter how many times Josh and I have tried, it is impossible to blacklist/block/not receive these texts. You have to receive them. Period. Secondly—you ready for this?—each of these texts unblocks your keypad. That’s right. You can sign up for “Daily Bootylicious Photos” without even knowing it. The text is received and if you accidentally push “Ok” instead of “Back” (as read the response options on my phone) while the phone is in your pocket, then you’re signed up. And all of a sudden you’ve spent half of your monthly cell phone budget on a service that horrifies you.

So, a couple months ago, they started sending texts along with all of these other spam texts saying that if we didn’t enter our cedula number (read: equivalent social security number) to “validate” our phone number, we would lose our phone number. Poor form? Absolutely. I also didn’t believe it. Validate my number? Give me a break. Now you’re just making stuff up.

Turns out, it was real. My friend called me and asked if I had “validated” my number yet. Um, no. Well, if you don’t, she told me, they’ll take away your number. And you have to do it by tomorrow. Of course.

I found myself in a line that wrapped around the building in the midday heat in the middle of downtown. Because of course it could only be done at the main office. I patiently waited as we slowly inched inside the building, taking several steps back a few times. Several women in front of me thought it was a good idea to call all of their relatives and tell them they were saving them places in line. Bless.

When I finally got inside I swapped one discomfort for another. The air conditioning was a welcome break from the heat, but my innocent eyes were completely assaulted (C’mon, it’s my blog and I’m allowed some creative embellishing). On the main wall of the open office space is a large, flat-screen television. A higher-up had decided it would be a good idea to put on the Dominican equivalent of MTv—read: a whole lot T&A, booty-shakin’, oh-so-scantily clad women. That’ll keep most people “entertained” for the hours they’ll be standing in line. Being a Dominican kind of line (forget any personal space), which I no longer mind as much assuming there is AC, I was sandwiched between two men whose mouths kept dropping open as they stared at the screen.
When I reached the first booth, ClaroEmployee wrote down my name and let me inch onward in a line that wrapped around the large room. 

Even though we are required to be in a line, it apparently has no bearing on when you will be helped. You must wait for your name to be called. While many Dominicans have fabulously long names, mine always gets shortened to just “Rebeca” since my last name is clearly too difficult to bother with. I spent the next hour smooshed between these two men as we s l o w l y moved forward, listening to the bump&grind music while names like Jose Luis Rodriguez Alvarez or Mercedes Paola Bonilla de Jesus were called out over the intercom. 

Standard procedure was to call out the name twice and wait 10 seconds. Usually, someone would emerge from the line, but if they didn’t, their name would be called a third time followed by a five second pause. Then, assuming that person was no longer there, would say, “So-and-So has gone!”

As I waited in that ClaroDanceClub in the middle of the day, they called out the best name ever. Some people just have fantastically awkward, amazing names. Forget baby name books. Some parents are just that kind of creative/eccentric/weird/borderline crazy.

I heard over the intercom, “The Innocence of Jesus! The Innocence of Jesus!” No exaggeration. This woman’s (I assume female) name was La Inocencia de Jesus. Then a third time. The wait. And as three women swiveled their hips, wearing just corsets and thongs, on the tv screen, the ClaroEmployee said over the intercom, “The Innocence of Jesus has gone!” Indeed.

I held my laughter, but only until the next name was called and I lost it. I kid you not. Who did they call next? Who had stuck around after Christ’s innocence was gone?

“Conception! Conception!”