AJ's social work conference in Ocean City, Maryland, was scheduled a little later than usual this year. It seemed like a good idea at the time; after all, who thought we'd have a record-setting Frankenstorm at the end of October?!?
As usual, we turned it into a family trip. Mom & Dad headed out to OC with AJ & the Pipsqueak the day before the conference, and I followed on Friday. (I worked last weekend, so I took Friday as my comp day and -- perhaps presciently? -- added Monday as a vacation day). My drive was my first chance to try out several new toys: the GPS that I bought about a month ago, my week-old iPhone 4S, and a batch of iOS apps dedicated to either Ocean City or user-reported traffic problems.
A quick aside: if you live anywhere in the DC metro area, you know "the" way to OC is to head east on MD Route 50. Oh, sure, there are variations (I prefer to turn off on Route 90 just a few miles shy of the coast, coming in on the northern end of OC's main drag) -- but it's really a straight shot across the Bay Bridge and through or around a few towns, then ending up smack-dab in the middle of OC.
So, of course, my GPS insisted on having me turn off an just about any podunk side road I passed, convinced that I needed to get as close to the Atlantic Ocean as possible before actually pointing my vehicle in the intended direction. I'm glad I knew the route and ignored the GPS -- even giving it a few (increasingly impolite) comments about its ability to help me navigate -- or I probably would've been on the road at least 1-1/2 hours longer. At least the traffic reporting app was helpful...!
Anyway, I managed to reach the hotel just in time for an Evening Tea that was part of the conference, and the Pipsqueak happily latched onto me and gave me a workout carrying her around. (Dude, your niece is getting bigger -- and heavier!) She also demonstrated her skills as an elevator operator, pushing all the proper buttons with just the bare minimum of coaching. We had dinner at one of the few all-you-can-eat seafood buffets open off-season (not the one we were looking for), somehow managing to limit the Pipsqueak to five desserts -- none of which she actually ate -- before heading back to the hotel for the night. Shortly before we all bedded down, I decided the pretty scene of the nearly-full moon shining on the smooth ocean surface was too pretty to not record with my camera.
We didn't see many signs of the approaching Frankenstorm (although we had The Weather Channel on TV most of the time we were in the room), and headed down to breakfast. When we finished, Grandma walked Miri to the conference room so she could hug Mommy goodbye for the morning (one look at her face as AJ walked away from the breakfast table convinced us all that would be A Good Idea), and then all the non-Social Worker members of the family piled into my car for a quick drive to the southernmost tip of the city.
We visited a jewelry store where I turned out to be the only member of the family who wasn't on a first-name basis with the proprietor (who I'll refer to as the Nice Jewelry Lady), who cooed over how much the Pipsqueak had grown since her last visit. Despite it being business as usual (although they would be closing much earlier than usual), there were already plywood panels up on many storefronts, along with a few signs similar to the one outside the jewelry store's entrance.
We slowly walked a short distance up the boardwalk, then returned to the hotel for the box lunches provided by the conference. (By the way, none of us were crashing the party or freeloading; AJ had paid for us all.) Most of the conversation revolved around the approaching storm and everybody's concerns about being able to get home safely -- most of us had forgotten that the Bay Bridge is closed to traffic if the wind reaches 50mph, and forecasters were saying that was a very real possibility the next day.
After some discussion, AJ gave Mom a specific wish list for the jewelry store because she didn't think she could get there herself before their new closing time and she returned to the conference. The rest of us watched the Weather Channel for a little while in our suite, then returned to the boardwalk for a while. We visited the jewelry store again (where there was more boarding-up activity underway), then wandered along the boardwalk. We didn't do a lot of shopping, but the Pipsqueak did have a lot of fun playing in the sand despite the now-unbroken blast of wind coming out of the north. (At one point, after I purposely messed up the instructions for making Sand Cakes, Miri reared up to her full height, put her hands on her hips, and impatiently asked me, "Now what did I teach you?!?")
Sometime around 1:30-2:00 in the afternoon, we realized the sky was a lot grayer, the wind was a lot sharper, and the surf was definitely picking up; even some of the gulls were finding perches instead of kiting overhead looking for tidbits. We made a quick stop for fries at Thrasher's, then headed back to the hotel for their free High Tea (and a scheduled conference break that would let AJ join us). A clear indication of just how much the weather had changed was my ability to take a photo with my camera aimed directly into the sun at midday... and watching the surf climb almost halfway up the beach behind our hotel.
At tea, AJ told us there was so much concern about Sunday's weather forecast that the entire conference had been rescheduled; they were simply going to push through until 6:30-7pm to finish everything on the agenda, and Sunday's activities would be limited to the pre-paid breakfast at 7:30am. We negotiated the Lack of Mommy Time with Miri, and set out to keep her occupied indoors the rest of the evening. For a while, we played "normal" indoor games, including building & knocking down towers with soft foam blocks -- which Miri insisted she wanted to take a picture of with my camera.
We had dinner at the buffet we had intended to visit the previous night, arriving just about the same time as the rain we'd been expecting. After wiping out several pounds of steamed crab legs, we drove through the rain back to our hotel -- leaving the restaurant staff behind us taping door seams shut and putting up plywood panels on the windows. Before turning out the lights, we did what we could to get ready to get outta Dodge as soon after Sunday's breakfast as we could. After some discussion (while Miri played with my phone, of course), we decided to avoid the Bay Bridge and head north on a more land-based route through Delaware so that my first experience driving my new-ish RAV4 through serious crosswinds would not be on a long bridge perched high above the Chesapeake Bay.
We all got up at 6:30am, and as the skies began to lighten I realized the scene outside was totally different from what we had seen the previous morning. The sky was grey and coated with clouds, the ocean was a steely grey color with big waves & whitecaps visible from the beach out to the horizon, and when the waves broke the water ran all the way up to the base of the dune separating our hotel from the beach. (The odd blue tone of the photo is due to it being a long exposure at high ISO setting with low levels of early-morning light -- believe me, everything was an ugly grey!)
A greatly-diminished number of conference attendees slowly congregated over the breakfast buffet (almost half had already left), and we all commented on how angry the ocean looked -- the photos below were taken through the windows because the deck had been closed due to high winds.
During breakfast, we received news that our planned route home was now the main route for a mandatory evacuation of almost 50,000 Delawarians & tourists and decided the Bay Bridge wasn't such a bad idea after all. Loading our two vehicles took much longer than planned because we couldn't fit onto any of the passing elevators jammed with other departing guests and their luggage, but I finally pulled out of my parking spot at exactly 9:47am and we drove home in tandem without major incident.
Okay, there was the 10-mile backup due to an overpass on Route 50 having only one navigable lane, and the quick potty stop that caused while we were still on the "wrong" side of the Bay Bridge... and the time when I realized I was so tired I was actually driving at 65mph with my eyes closed... but we made it all the way home without major incident. Mom & Dad and I made the rounds of several supermarkets up near AJ's house, eventually finding the last two packs of "no refrigeration needed" milk boxes within a multi-mile radius (and returning to AJ's house with said milk as quietly as possible because the Pipsqueak had finally fallen asleep), and when I got to my house I had to ask my next-door neighbor to move his car out of my reserved spot... and then I finally dragged my carry-on upstairs and began trying to get all my laundry done & devices fully charged before the weather has a chance to knowck out the local power grid.
So, in closing... that's an accounting of this year's version of the Pipsqueak's annual Ocean City conference, and here's wishing all of you a safe, problem-free week as Frankenstorm Sandy passes through.
My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅-- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!