Clockwise, from top left: Riding a “very scary” ride at Sesame Place; standing at the bottom of the “Rocky steps,” which yes, they did run up; thrilled to be seeing Elmo’s World live; meeting Elmo; talking to a First Amendment monument.

Alternative title: Giving Up on a Perfect {Vacation}

Last week, we flew to Philadelphia for a family vacation before Relevant. The reasoning was not that we’d always dreamed of visiting Philly, but that flying to Pennsylvania for a conference was pricey so we might as well make that our family vacation.

No matter where we are, though, the point of any time off is to spend time together. And no matter how many [AHEM] adventures we had while out of town, we did have a great time together.

But you want to hear about the adventures, right? Right?!

We flew out on Saturday, and everything went smoothly. I even managed to find healthy snacks at the airport for Annalyn and me. Trying to find a Mexican restaurant for dinner that night didn’t go so smoothly, though we did get an unexpected tour of some part of Philadelphia.

[Side note: The unfulfilled search for Mexican food was a theme that lasted the entire week. Do people not eat Mexican food in Philadelphia? I don’t know. I realize Missouri is closer to Mexico, but really? I practically wept with joy when I discovered a lovely Mexican restaurant in the airport before flying home. Never have chips, salsa, beans and chicken tacos tasted so good!]

Sunday was our day for visiting Sesame Place. I honestly don’t know who was more excited – Annalyn or me! (Mark was not excited, but was a good sport.) It was a wonderful, beautiful day. The weather was perfect. The character breakfast was awesome (although Annalyn was disappointed to realized Elmo would not actually be sitting at our table and eating breakfast with us). The rides were fun – and didn’t make me motion sick (sadly, this is a valid concern even on kiddie rides). In short, it was amazing.

And then there was Monday. (Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day . . .)

My plan for Monday was to visit historic Philadelphia. History isn’t my thing, but it is Mark’s. And considering he had just endured a full day of the world of Sesame Street, I figured it was only fair. Plus, I was really hoping for more National Treasure and less tenth grade history class.

It was most certainly NOT National Treasure.

We drove to downtown Philadelphia shortly before lunchtime on Monday. We didn’t want to pay for a parking garage, so Mark circled a few blocks until he found an open spot on the street. As he pulled up to the curb, I noticed a sign and said, “Oh, we can’t park here! It’s a towing zone.” Mark said, “We’re fine. It says 7 to 9 a.m.”

We parked, went to the visitor’s center, got lunch (including the requisite cheesesteak, which Mark said was delicious. I don’t like cheesesteaks no matter what city they come from, but the fries and my club sandwich were awesome.), then headed to Independence Center. After realizing how incredibly boring the tour guide was, witnessing him yelling at a family with a little boy and telling them to keep him quiet or take him outside, and watching my own child slowly hit I’m-missing-my-naptime meltdown stage, Annalyn and I left Mark to enjoy the rest of the tour alone. Next we went by the Liberty Bell and speed walked through the visitor’s center. And then? We were done. It was time to go back to the hotel. So we walked back to the car.

And it wasn’t there! It turns out that sign also declared our parking spot a towing zone between 3 and 5 p.m. Guess what time it was? Yeah . . . 3:45 p.m. I will keep this LONG and painful story [kind of] short, but here’s the gist of it:

A very nice man in the visitor’s center got me the number to the Philadelphia Parking Authority (and told me to stop crying). I called them and was told that not only did I have to pay MY towing fine, but I also needed to pay the two other unpaid tickets on the car. I’m guessing those unpaid tickets are what prompted the PPA to tow OUR car and not others parked on the same street. Next, I called Thrifty, where we’d rented the car.

Oh, Thrifty. You know how they say, “You get what you pay for”? Yeah. They are right.

After several calls and a lot of time [fuming] on hold, we got a cab and went to the impound lot. I paid OUR fine after a kind parking authority employee took pity on me. I stood in lines, smiled awkwardly at the other fuming and frustrated people waiting to reclaim their vehicles. I spent quite a long time talking to customer service at Thrifty and stood in some more lines. Mark and Annalyn walked to IKEA across the street for a potty break. (Oh, the agony! Finally I find myself in proximity to the giant furniture store – and I’m foiled! Foiled by the Philadelphia Parking Authority! And a cranky husband and four-year-old!) Then, finally, I thought it was my turn to get the car back.

That’s when Thrifty finally informed me that their policy is that, even if you pay your fine, customers who get their rental car towed don’t get the rental car back. In other words, we were stranded in a [slightly scary, if you must know] city without a rental car.

Thankfully, an Enterprise was located just around the corner, and Mark called right before they closed. We ended up with a nicer car and a renewed appreciation for good customer service. And an adventure.

We went on to have a fantastic vacation that included a whirlwind day in New York City, a run up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (ala Rocky, of course), and lots of family time.

I discovered this week that Thrifty has now charged me $400 more than they should have, so the “adventure” continues. But even that can’t ruin this year’s vacation. It was far from perfect, yes. We blew our budget and got lost in the mean streets of Philadelphia more than once. In the end, though? Our less-than-perfect vacation was exactly what we needed and better than I could have imagined.

Have you ever had a vacation disaster of towed-rental-car proportions? Or worse? (I realize much worse things could happen, but I certainly hope none of them have happened to you!)

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