Thursday, June 28, 2012

Riders of the Storm

My husband is not a fan of people. Certain people he loves dearly, many he enjoys, and a few he actively dislikes, but the great bulk of mankind could disappear off of the planet and he really wouldn't mind. This attitude toward others is never more apparent than when we are on vacation.
Last week, we took the kids to the Williamsburg area to visit Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg, and Water Country USA. I have an entire system on how to avoid crowds worked out and will scour guidebooks and websites for info on which days, weeks, and months have the fewest number of people in attendance. This is both to avoid lines and to avoid, well, other people. I was never so sad as when my daughter started school and we had to give up going down the shore the second week of September, when the weather was still perfect, but everyone with a child in kindergarten or above was long gone. We only go to Orlando at off-peak times, we try to go to amusement parks mid-week, water parks in the cool of the morning, and we begin every trip by walking to the extreme back of the park and then moving counterclockwise. Crazy? Absolutely. However, this system works quite well for my little family.
Due to this belief that everything is better when there is no one else around to enjoy it, when the weather channel warned of approaching thunderstorms, we headed straight for Busch Gardens. Mid-afternoon, with dark clouds gathering, we got a front row parking spot and headed into the park in the firm belief that the storm (singular) would pass and we would be left in an empty park. So, off we went, jauntily walking toward the entrance as the thunder rolled and hordes of people streamed past in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, my daughter is afraid of both thunderstorms and being locked inside a closed building, which at that very moment, merged into a single keening overwhelming terror that, combined with a raging nosebleed caused by a sudden temperature drop of 25 degrees, caused her to fall into the abyss of uncontrollable hysteria. Within seconds, the drops of both blood and rain increased exponentially and I had to bring my husband into the women's room to try to try to help me calm the poor child down before she bled to death.  All of this happened before we had arrived at the ticket booth. 
Our immediate goal was to enjoy some of the shows the park had to offer while waiting out the storm. Eventually, we were able to coax my child out of her fear cage with the promise of singing and dancing. We made it to the first show with nothing worse than wet feet and exited into promising rays of sunlight. My son (who had not even noticed his sister's descent into madness and was happy to play in the puddles) had been promised the first ride, so we trekked across the park to his promised land - Elmo's World. Upon arrival, we chose a sunny, dry spot to wait for the rides to reopen. Sadly, this was not to be as a lovely young park employee came over to tell us to seek shelter immediately as another severe storm was on its way. Joy. With his help, we plotted a course to the next show and set off. We had to stop multiple times along our route to avoid the worst of the weather, but the number of people we saw kept diminishing which kept me hopeful that when the storm ended, the park would be our personal playground of delights.
Our final destination was an enormous building that could comfortably hold 1500 that was currently holding about 150. As the park-wide announcements changed from "we are experiencing weather delays" to "we are keeping the rides closed for the safety of our guests" to "please seek shelter immediately",  we were safe and dry indoors while the severe storm raged outdoors. Unfortunately, the 60 mile per hour winds, hail, and torrential rain caused interior flooding near the doors as well as some minor leaks in the ceiling. Finally, finally, the storm abated to the point of venturing forth, hopeful that now we would be rewarded with no lines. As I rushed toward the first park employee I saw, asking when I could expect the rides to reopen, she explained very gently that instead of opening the rides, they were actually closing the park.
We choose poorly.
This of course meant that the next day, the park was twice as crowded. As my son refuses to ride anything but basic transportation-inspired rides (bumper cars, trains, very slow moving boats, or the carousel), I had a rather dull afternoon moving from shady bench to shady bench with him. As my daughter begs to ride anything that goes upside down, sideways, with a big drop, preferably into water, my poor husband had quite a different afternoon. At one point, after I had just enjoyed a breezy 20 minute scenic loop around the entire park on a train watching deer frolic and looking fruitlessly for bears, I found him slightly green and wobbly-eyed as he tried to recover from the latest ride while my daughter waited in line for the next nausea-inducing one.  
In the end, a good time was had by all (even with the crowds). Luckily, our next trip of the summer will be with friends so good that one time (not in band camp), the husband almost punched a guy for me. So even if the Inner Harbor is filled with idiots, my little circle will be that much larger and that much more intelligent. But I will still make them move in a counterclockwise formation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Clip, Clip, Screw

The other night, while flipping channels, I happened upon Extreme Couponing. Now, we all know I watch a lot of crap TV.  While I have been accused of being both a movie snob and a book snob (mostly by people who have NO taste in movies {cough, cough PG}), I am definitely not  a TV snob. I may not watch The Bachelorette, but I watch almost everything else.
To those of you smart enough to change the channel (or to avoid TLC entirely), in each episode two different people go to the grocery store and try to buy as much stuff as possible while paying at little as possible. For example, if Snapple Iced Tea is on sale for $1.00 and there is a coupon for $.50 off Snapple and the store allows the doubling of coupons, then you are receiving that one dollar item for free. If the store does not have a policy that limits the number of either coupons or purchases of a sale item, you can then buy cases of Snapple - all for free. 
Or, if you have a manufacturer's coupon that is MORE than the sale item, say $1.00 off of Snapple Iced Tea, but the iced tea is on sale for $.75 each, then some stores will actually credit you back the $.25 per bottle you purchase.
What I don't understand is why it is necessary to purchase multiple cases of an item. If I need a case of Snapple, it is certainly nice not to have to pay for it. But unless I am throwing one hell of a party for AA members, I certainly don't need more than two, right? Even those lunatics who feel the need to stockpile food and beverages for the end of the world, the zombie apocalypse (Hi M!) , or the Third World War still probably know enough to rotate the expiration dates out now and again. No one wants to face Judgment Day with food poisoning. But you can't possibly drink dozens of cases of Snapple in time to beat the expiration date unless you want to face the end of the world with a mouth full of cavities (and I don't think you can kill anything, undead or not, with bad breath). So why buy more than you need? Last night's episode showed a woman buying at least a dozen gallons of Almond Milk. Isn't that going to expire relatively quickly? Does lack of use negate lack of payment? I certainly think so. I have spent my entire life trying to explain to my mother that just because it is on sale, doesn't mean it is a bargain if you don't actually need/want/use it. She hasn't quite grasped the concept yet but I'm still trying.
Most of the women (and the few men) shown have storehouses of food, cleaning supplies, beverages, and junk food. It's like hoarding, except everything is organized in neat rows. One guy claimed that he donated everything, but he didn't say where or to whom or even how much. I'd be impressed with someone who used their mad coupon skills for good, but even if they did donate the whole stash, it is still unfair to the store and manufacturer  you basically just screwed out of payment. What may seem like a fun game to you ends up being a huge headache for a store manager in a business that already has slim profit margins trying to figure out how he is going to restock the entire Snapple display without the money to pay the distributor.
I also wonder at the wisdom of showing how you screw the system on television. If I owned Snapple and found out someone was advertising how to acquire my product without paying for it, I would immediately contact my marketing team to rectify the situation. No Snapple coupon would be worth more than $.25 and could not be used in conjunction with any other coupon. If I were a grocery store owner, I would immediately set limits on both the amount of coupons allowed (say one per item) and the amount of items allowed to be purchased (say maximum of six).
The coupon craze is conspicuous consumption writ large. The concept of acquiring multitudes of items just to have them, is such an American (and Ferengi) mindset that I can only imagine what other cultures would think of such a TV show. Also, since most of the coupons are for boxed, canned, bagged, bottled, and frozen food, most of what they are eating isn't even healthy. It's all just empty calories filling empty spaces. Either way, I can't imagine this craze will last long. The more the big corporations learn about how the coupons are being manipulated, the more they will change how coupons can be used. When you allow a TV crew to follow your step-by-step process on how to beat the system, it isn't going to take long for the system to change the game.