Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Kaboom Town: A terrifying tale of fireworks, fire ants and rollaway beds

A family battles oppressive heat, terrifying crowds and cruel stinging beasts only to lose their youngest child in a freak elevator accident. Sounds like a perfect recipe for a horror movie, right?

That was last weekend.

4th of July. America's birthday. Or, as I now think of it,

The Worst. Holiday. Ever.

It all started out, as many bad ideas do, with a trip to Sea World. Every summer, my husband and I debate where to take the kids (2 boys, 8 and 6) on vacation. Every year, he suggests trying someplace new and every year I lobby for Naples, Florida. What can I say? I know what I like. Uncrowded beaches, Cuban food, and, it must be said, the best tacos in the world. We live in Texas. We don't joke about things like tacos.

This year was no different. He wanted DC and New York. I didn't want to spend precious vacation time chasing a six year old through Manhattan. He wanted East Coast, I wanted the Gulf Coast. He suggested North Carolina, but the sharks beat us there. Finally, I had a vision (panic attack). This was our first summer living in a house with our very own pool, why go anywhere? Instead of cramming family time into one frenzied week, why not take off Fridays, chill chez nous and enjoy long weekends all summer? I pictured poolside playdates with popicles and sangria. Channeling Karen Blixen, I thought:

I had a pool. In Texas.

Knowing, of course, that my husband would think this plan sucked, I proposed we kick it off with a road trip somewhere we'd never been. And that place was Sea World, San Antonio. Clearly, I'm a masochist. No one with any real sense of self-preservation would propose a trip to Sea World over the biggest holiday weekend of the summer. But I know my husband. Go big or go home is his M.O. And you can't get bigger than Shamu. So I booked it. We were set. We told the kids, they were happy, and all was good.

Then I got sick. Sinus infection, bronchitis. 3 miserable weeks, and suddenly it was time for Sea World and I was still coughing up a lung or two. So, plan B. (really, more like plan Z at this point, but who's counting?). We offered my sons a choice: go to San Antonio with Dad and I would stay home and rest or - EVEN BETTER KIDS - see the biggest fireworks display in Texas, a mere 15 minutes away in Addison. Even typhoid moi could hack that. So it all came down to Orcas or Mommy. They chose me. But then, Shamu's not paying their allowance.

I booked a hotel to avoid traffic and to make it an ADVENTURE. On Friday, July 3rd, we dropped off the dog, packed our bags, and headed down the road toward the Hotel Intercontinental. What would we do first? Swim in the pool? Jump on the bed? Hit the Kaboom Town fair, reported to be chock full of carnival rides, corny dogs and a daredevil air show? Life seemed so full of possibilities.

And then I checked us in. The line at the front desk should have been my first clue. Families everywhere, clutching tote bags, toddlers, pool toys and cases of beer. But, hey - that was us, minus the beer (ok, fine: mini boxed wine had been stashed in the cooler bag in case of emergency). When I finally made it to the front and learned we were in a room with one king bed, for the four of us, I tried not to get upset. I asked for a rollaway bed. After all, we were here for fun and fireworks, not hanging out in the room. Plus, my husband was sure there was a couch.

Ten minutes later, after waiting for an overheated elevator, we entered our room. If by "couch" they meant a small chair with smaller ottoman, tucked into a corner next to the "we're calling it a king" sized bed, then sure, there was a couch. There was also a phone that did not work, not enough towels and the room was too hot. I'll admit it, I was frustrated by the accommodations, but as my spouse so gallantly reminded me: "Hey, this was your idea, I went along with it, so let's have fun." Wise words from someone who had already spied the pool scene on his way in from the parking garage, and opted to stay in the room and wait for the rollaway bed while I took the boys swimming.

Because yeah, the pool. Picture a small L-shaped pool with a wooden deck. Now picture 200 people in that pool, about 30 of whom had squeezed into the hot tub, most of them under 5. Because nothing goes with hot tubs like toddlers and swim diapers.

My kids were loving it. Or at least from what I could see, since they ditched me the moment we hit the pool and disappeared into a sea of swimsuits and beer cozies. I found my youngest, frolicking in the e-Coli-warmed waters of the hot tub. "Come in, Mommy!" he urged. But alas, I couldn't see a spare inch of cement and also? I was already hot. And I'm talking body temperature. I did not have nearly enough self confidence or tattoos to pull off the swimwear some other braver (drunker) ladies than I were sporting. To them, I say bravo. To me, I say stick with the tankini.

After 30 minutes of constant head-swiveling to make sure my kids weren't drowning, alternated with tubercular coughing that earned me more than a few stink-eyes from the other moms, I called it. "Come on, kids," I said with all the bravado I could muster, "let's dry off and go to Kaboom Town!"

We left the pool and walked back toward the elevators. I noticed quite a few people in traditional Indian dress milling around tables laden with brochures and merchandise. According to a nearby sign, there was a conference going on. A meditation conference.

Yeah. Let that sink in.

One gentleman sported a sign around his neck saying "silence." I had to wonder who planned this and was it someone's idea of a joke? "Y'all should totally have your quiet meditation conference in Texas over 4th of July! It'll be AWESOME!" I hoped they already knew how to meditate, because judging from the now block-long line of folks waiting for check-in, it was gonna take a lot o' deep breathing to keep it karmic in this mess.

We left our plucky Hindu neighbors behind and entered the belly of the beast, AKA, Kaboom Town. I was picturing a few rides, maybe a bounce house, and some food vendors. What I was not picturing was a mini state fair, complete with long admission lines, purse searches and total chaos. Thickly crowded already at 5, when the gates had just opened. Shoving past food lines, the kids spotted the Midway and before I knew what was happening, I was abandoned with the blanket to "save our spot" while the hubby and kiddos headed for the tilt-a-whirl. I hunkered down to do more coughing and watch the family next to me plop what looked like a three month old baby on a pillow (aren't those, like, illegal for babies?), while some dude in a suit juggled nearby.

What seemed like hours later, my own family returned, sweating and red, hungry and thirsty. I took the kids on a quest for corny dogs, as they whimpered about how tired they were, and I tried not to lose them in a surge of patriotic tank tops. We made it through 2 foot-long corn dogs before accepting the reality that yes, Virginia, there is a hell. And it is called Kaboom Town.

The escape route is a blur, but I'm sure we traveled miles to get out of that park. I vaguely recall a vendor hawking plastic swords. I may have bought one. At that point, arming the six-year-old seemed like a good idea. Stumbling free of the melee, we spotted an ice cream truck, standing like a mirage in a bank parking lot. We stopped. There was a line. And then, a lovely line of parachutes floated into view. As we watched, I became aware of a strange stinging sensation. "I think something bit me," I said.

My husband, wearing the angry expression of someone waiting on a dozen people to buy rocket pops with debit cards, asked impatiently, "Well, what are you standing on?" I looked down.

An ant hill.

I was standing on a fire ant hill.

I jumped off, foraged through my bag for water bottles, which I emptied onto my burning toes. A couple young men lounging nearby elbowed each other. "Oooh, girl. That's gonna swell." Yep. Pretty much.

I hopped up and down on my toes till the damn popsicles were purchased. Also? The air show started. Zooming planes, death rolls, blah, blah, blah. I could have cared less. All I knew was that my @#$% feet were on @#$$% fire.

We limped back to the hotel. My youngest wanted to swim again. Why not? At least my feet would be cool. So we suited up and headed for the elevators. One opened, but I noticed it was going up. "Wrong one," I pointed out as my youngest stepped inside. "Come back out!" He froze.

And then? The doors started to close. I stuck out my hand, thinking the motion would stop the doors. I thought wrong.

Seeing no slowing down in the door motion, I yanked back my hand just in time as the doors closed ... almost. There was a half-inch gap left, through which I could see my son put his hands to his face as he let out one quick scream.

"Don't worry!" I shouted. "Hit door open! Hit door close!" Nothing worked. We called downstairs. One engineer came. Then two more. They wrestled with the doors. They muttered words like "fire department" and "malfunctioning." They called 911. I tried to cheer up my son by telling him he might get rescued by firemen! (Maybe that was more for me). Glass half full: all this adrenaline was doing wonders for my cough.

Finally, the three of them yanked open the doors enough for him to slip through. I hugged him. We fled to our room, where I declared, "Enough! This ends now, we're going home."

"I'm already ahead of you," my husband replied. "We're all packed."

"We're going?" my youngest asked. "But I wanted to go swimming!" he wailed.

"We HAVE a pool. You can swim at home!" My husband offered.

"But I wanted to swim here! It's more fun!" He continued to cry, "And I wanted ... I wanted to sleep in the rollaway bed!"

My oldest son and I exchanged glances. I looked at my husband. "He's the one who got stuck," I said, sighing. "If he wants to stay..."

So we went BACK to the elevators, a bit more cautiously this time. Well, I was more cautious, Mr. Invincible just skipped merrily onto the next elevator without a care. Ah, to be six. This time, the hot tub was closed and marked with yellow caution tape. I suspect the swim diapers.

An hour later, I had pried them back out of the pool again and we were sitting in lawn chairs on the top of the hotel parking garage with our cooler, stocked with juice boxes, bottled water and oh yes, the emergency wine.

Which I promptly broke out.

The fireworks were spectacular.

And when they were done, my youngest happily crawled into the rollaway bed and went immediately to sleep. My husband, our 8 year old, and I all squashed into the bed. I think my pillow might have been made out of a sand bag, because I woke up with a stabbing pain in my neck.

By 6:30 am, we were mostly awake, packed and ready to go. "I want out of here," my husband said. "I don't want to shower here, I don't want to eat here, I just want to leave." I had to agree. All that was left was to wake up my other son.

"Five more minutes," he mumbled.

"C'mon, bud," I said, "it's time to go."

"Aww, do we have to leave?"

"Yeah," I said as I urged him out of bed. "We're kind of done here. We want to go home."

He cast one mournful look around the room before we left, saying, "I wish we could stay longer, this is the best hotel ever."

"Really?" his older brother asked. "You got stuck in the elevator!"

My youngest just shrugged his skinny little shoulders and said, "Yeah, but I sure did like that rollaway bed."


So yes, we survived Kaboom Town.

We made it home in one piece, blistered toes and all.

On our windshield, incidentally, was a meditation brochure, which I totally meant to read .. but the dog ate it before I had a chance.

As God is my witness, I will never go to Kaboom Town again.

I will sit by my pool, sipping something while calmly, peacefully watching the boys swim.

Don't worry, though, I haven't ruled out family fun.

Because next month?

The kids want to go to Great Wolf Lodge.

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