Wednesday, March 25, 2009

December 2005 Trip Report, Day 1: A Day of Firsts




I felt a bit like Monk, but we had my alarm, Sheri's radio alarm (set to a station playing Christmas music), and a third alarm which was out of arm's reach all set to make sure we got up at 4:30. And they all went off within 30 seconds of each other. I asked Sheri how she slept…she said "not too bad" and then asked the same of me. I immediately went into a kid's voice and said that I couldn't sleep… I was too excited (referring to a commercial for WDW from a few years back). For the first of probably 358 times that day, she rolled her eyes at me. At least it wasn't a slap or a punch.

The car was already packed from the night before with the exception of just a couple of carry-ons. We drew straws on who was going to wake up Aaron, and he luckily started stirring a bit on his own. GREAT!


Not a good sign.

I became the world's worst dad and made him go potty as soon as he woke up. I think he slapped me. I left him to Sheri to get dressed while I started warming the car up (it was about 16 degrees Fahrenheit). To avoid killing myself, I wisely opened up the garage door prior to starting it up, and…


Great…snowing on a travel day. No prob…it'll be sunny and 70 in just a few hours. We got to Central Illinois Regional Airport (a nice 9 minute drive in fresh powder) and found a parking spot. I looked for the bus that takes folks to the terminal and saw him dropping off someone. I told Sheri that we should just wait in the car until he comes around, and he'll come and get us momentarily. The bus starts back through the parking lot and stops…waits for a car that enters, and follows it to pick them up.


Okay…I'll stand outside by the rear of our SUV with the door open so maybe he'll see us. Now, I'm dressed for Florida weather…long-sleeve t-shirt with a windbreaker, and I'm standing in snow and wind. The bus takes the passengers to the terminal and then starts a slow trolling through the lot. I run to the end of our row, slip on some ice and nearly impale myself on an antenna, and start waving my hands at the bus. …he saw me! I run back to the Santa Fe and start unloading 4 bags to check and 4 carry-ons. Aaron's first bus ride lasted all of 2 minutes, but it counted, and we were in the terminal.

One of the nice things about a smaller airport is that the flights are usually small, so check-in is usually a breeze. Not so when you have 2 adults and a sleepy child that wants to be held. So we lug everything to the American Airlines line (only 1 other person there). We leave the stroller at the entrance to check-in and lug everything else up to the counter. Check-in was a breeze, and our seats were next to each other. I love small airports.

Boarding passes in-hand, we grab our carry-on items and head for my first real worry point: Security with Aaron. Now, Aaron is carrying Spikey, a plastic Stegosaurus. I joked with Sheri about whether that was legal or not. Having flown a number of times in the months prior to this flight, I take the DVD player out of its bag, take off my shoes and belt and make a perverted comment to Sheri about what all I'm taking off (eye-roll #2), and we get through security.

Then Aaron saw the escalator…and RAN right to it. I have no shoes and no belt on, and a 2 year old is sprinting for his first thrill ride of the day. One of us lunged and barely got a hold of him before he made his way up the escalator and probably in the boarding queue for the departing Air Tran flight. We quadruple-check to make sure we have our wallets/purses/DVD players/dinosaurs/carry-ons/etc, and we make our way to the escalator. Aaron wanted to go down and ride again, and Sheri and I both thought it was going to be a long day.

The Air Tran flight had just left, and I was pointing out the runway and the plane and the taxi lights (I love flying…remember?), and Aaron really didn't care at all. He was content jumping from seat to seat. I watched some of the ramp action and thought back to when I was a ramp rat at the old terminal at the same airport for Frontier and Air Tran Airlines. I remember being the only one willing to de-ice the planes, the youngest one certified to perform ground security and manual weight/balance calculations for Frontier, how much I loved bringing in the planes, how much I hated all the gate-checked strollers just prior to boarding, how fun it was flying non-reven…

Hey…wait a minute…stroller? STROLLER!!!!! HOLY CRAP WE FORGOT THE STROLLER AT THE CHECK-IN COUNTER!!!! I told Sheri what was missing, and I headed back for the counter (thank God it's a small airport). Aaron, of course, wanted to go with me, but that would have involved getting me AND him through security again. I walk out of the secure area and a rapid walk and see a security guy between the Air Tran and American counters. And I saw no stroller where we parked it. Great…it was probably being detonated somewhere out back, and blue shrapnel was about to rain down any minute now.


The guard smiled and said he was just about to page me. He had moved the stroller into storage not long after we forgot it, so it was fine. I REALLY love small airports!!!

I walked back to the security checkpoint with the stroller opened up. As I handed the agent my ticket and I.D., she commented that I was missing something. Huh? The stroller's empty…where's the baby? I calmly told her that we decided to check the baby through to save on the airfare, and she started laughing. The person behind me almost physically jumped, however. I don't think he realized that I knew her from working at the other terminal.

I got back to Sheri and Aaron and asked how he was doing. Of course, Aaron started crying when I left, and Sheri was left alone to console him. He had nearly worn himself out…luckily he only cried for a moment (he was tired) and was nearly asleep. I tried livening him up by showing him the plane that we were going to be flying out on. He wanted to play with his toy airplane instead. It was missing one of the horizontal stabilizers, and it may have made some of the passengers uneasy because he had that plane doing loops and hard landings and everything!

As we waited for the plane to board, we see Sheri's former employer walking around. Sheri used to be an office manager for a couple of doctors (who were married to each other), and she left because she couldn't take the stress any more. I told her to go and say "hi" to them, and she hesitated a bit. I told her not to worry because they were probably on the same flight and had seats in the row right behind us.

I should be a fortune teller. We got on the plane, and, sure enough, they were seated right behind us! I started egging Sheri on to say something, and she would respond with "later, okay?!!" I couldn't carry this out too far, though, because Aaron had quickly figured out how the seat belt works. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. We hadn't even taken off for the first leg of our trip, and I was already thinking that the passengers would liken Aaron to the infamous "Jeffrey" from Bill Cosby's Himself (hilarious comedy skit!). The sun was starting to come up, so I was pointing out some other things on the ramp. Our departure time comes and goes, and we're still sitting on the ground. Sheri's starting to get a bit nervous because we only had a 40 minute layover window to get to our gate at ORD. I told her that they just needed to de-ice the plane, and we would be on our way…plus they pad the time for the short commuter flights…once we get in the air, it's only a 25 minute flight.

Well, as luck would have it, they only had one person doing the ramp that morning, which meant that the de-icing was taking forever. I hate small airports.

Freshly covered in ethyl goo, we fire the engines and head to the active runway. Sheri looks at me and asks me what I think Eric was doing. Uh oh - missing the other kid already. I tell Aaron what to expect (we're going to go very fast and then go in the air). It was his first plane ride, and I'm curious as to how he reacts. During our taxi, Aaron's telling me how fast the plane is going, and I'm trying not to laugh. He listens very intently to the safety briefing from the flight attendant, and I give him the picture card to follow along. That held his interest for about 35 seconds…great, he's got my attention gene. We take the active and blast off, and Aaron's grin is huge as he gets pushed back in the seat. We make our turn northward to Chicagoland and Aaron drifts off into dreamland…PERFECT as he needed to sleep.

I look over at Sheri…. Okay, I'll be the kid and look out the window in amazement. I fly (virtually online ) this route all the time and usually can tell what approach we're lining up for. We descended into soup the minute we entered the Bradford 3 arrival near the BENKY intersection at 11,000 feet (WAKE UP!), and I overestimated a turn, so I didn't realize we were landing on the best runway for the American gates (rwy 27L) until we were within 1 minute of touchdown.

SCREEECH! Sheri was completely unconscious until the moment we landed, and it's a good thing she had her seat belt on. She was scared out of her wits! Being the caring husband that I am, I laughed at her. She made a slapping motion and mouthed an obscenity to me . Aaron also woke up, and I showed him all the planes at O'Hare. He brought Spikey up to the window and started showing him everything in that imaginative-yet-so-serious way that only kids can do. Sheri started talking with her former employer finally, and we carried on a short conversation with them while we taxied to the gate.

Now before I go any further, I should probably explain that Sheri and I are high school sweethearts that have been married for 8 1/2 years, though we've been together for nearly 16 years. We act like we're fighting all the time, but it's (mostly) just fun. Her punches/slaps are all good-natured and (mostly) not too painful .

We triple-checked everything and made sure we had our belongings and made our way out to the madness that was O'Hare during the hub transfers. We threw Aaron in the stroller despite his protests and found our gate. We had some time so I convinced Sheri that the McDonald's in the H-K concourse was close enough to grab a bite. Potty breaks for Sheri and I (Aaron had a pull-up on and insisted that it was dry), and off to McD's. We got the food and started eating it on the walk back to the gate. We had a few minutes before the boarding, so we finished eating, and then we decided that we should try to take Aaron to the restroom. I took him and headed to a couple of companion restrooms, and the line was 3 deep, with everyone changing diapers. So I headed back to Sheri and told her that I was going to head down to the next set of bathrooms.

Of course they called our group to board about 15 seconds after I started off.


Okay…we'll get in the plane and get up in the air, and then we'll get him changed. We ended up in the first row of coach (no seats in front of us, so all the carry-ons had to be stowed in the overhead). Aaron agreed to put Spikey in there. Another delay as we had to get de-iced…but much longer than anticipated. We departed about 40 minutes later than scheduled. By this time, Aaron's pull-up was about to explode, and his back teeth were likely floating. Before we could get him to a restroom, they started beverage service. And a few minutes later…

"I'M WET!!!" in a panicked voice.

To anyone who may have sat in seat 7E on an older American Airlines MD-80 on December 16th from Orlando to Chicago, please accept our sincerest apologies. He was 100% correct when he said he was wet. We cleaned as best as we could with what we were given and told the flight attendants in the hopes that they would change out the seat cushion before the next people sat. Sheri took him to the bathroom and changed his clothes (she had to become a contortionist in order to do that in that small a space...I applaud anyone in the mile-high club), while I blotted and cleaned the seat.

Aaron then went to sleep again for about a half-hour (YAAY), and I started working on my book of sudokus ( I tried explaining to Sheri how to do them, but it was basically ) while Sheri read some romance book (yawn). When he woke up, he asked if we could see Daisy Duck now (Daisy Duck??? Where did that come from?!) I told him we'd try to see her. Perhaps DaisyDebbie would be a good alternate in case we don't see the real Daisy Duck. We threw Toy-Story in the DVD player and gave him headphones…that kept him occupied for about 35 minutes. Sheri pulled out the big guns and gave him some new books to look over. That kept him fine until the descent when he experienced his ears popping for the first time.

He started to tell me something and then immediately got this weird look on his face. He said it again and then started getting nervous…"I CAN'T TALK!" My guess was that he couldn't hear himself as well as he normally does because the pressure in his ears started building. I tried all the tricks (yawn, valsalva, chew, etc.). He was getting more and more worked up – he was genuinely scared. I decided to show him what I learned at the Air Force Academy during my preliminary flight training. I showed him how I just took my bottom jaw and jutted it out in front of me as far as it would go. He mimicked me and kept on doing it all the way down and was fine.

WHEW Disaster averted.

The pilot told us we were going to land north, which meant more time in the air and a later arrival (grrrr...I growl a lot to avoid cussing like a sailor). I was on the west-facing side of the aircraft, so I had a good view. I saw Universal and pointed it out to Sheri, and I looked on the horizon for my first glimpse of WDW. THERE IT IS! Space Mountain! And there's the Dolphin and the big Epcot Golf Ball! I'm like a little kid. We turn base and final and land, and I see my first , and Sheri is as excited as me. As we are guided in, I make special note that the guys working the ramp are in shorts…another good sign! I mention the guy wearing shorts thing to Sheri, and she becomes the kid with her face glued to the window.

Aaron was unimpressed at pretty much everything.

One of the good things about sitting in the first row of coach is that you get to elbow everyone else out of the way once the first class passengers deplane. Twenty seconds and three bruises later, we're on the jetway with our stroller (good timing!) and trying to figure out which flippin' direction to go at MCO. We decide to take our time and not rush around. We had originally planned to tour Epcot that day, but American Airlines changed our flights, and we lost about 2.5 hours of touring time by arriving later than our original flight. We decided to see what we could see without any insanity. As we stroll through the A-side gates to the tram, we're getting passed on both sides by families looking like they'll die if they don't get on WDW property before 1:30 pm. I made a crack about how those rushing families are ruining my vacation (inside joke between wifey and me regarding DIS) and actually got her smiling. I sing the theme to Chariots of Fire and arrive at the tram about 15 seconds before it showed up. Everyone was so fixated on getting on the tram they lined up where the last one departed. I looked and saw that it was arriving on the left and walked on…before the throng of folks realized it.

Okay…let's re-cap. So far, Aaron has had his first bus ride, his first two airplane rides, and now his first tram ride. All he needs is a boat ride, and I think he has the perfecta for transportation in one day.

We get off the tram and decide to give Aaron another potty break. WOW...he's still dry…he went 2 hours (including a nap) and was dry. As he went potty on the big toilet, my eyes were nearly watering up.

We take the elevator down to level 1 (which is what I memorized to get to Magical Express) and started looking for big white hands...and found nothing. After a little searching around we found it, and I went to check in. They only sent vouchers for Sheri and me, which meant that Aaron would probably have to stay at the airport until we flew back. (I expected a slap for that one from a guy with big white hands). No problem, though…Aaron was on the manifest, so he had a seat. The bus was there, and we loaded up. Aaron's now on his second bus ride (he considers himself a pro now), and he's bouncing off the seats (literally). It's on to Mouseworld!

We get close and stop at the light by the Gaylord Palms. I commented to Sheri that it really looked a lot like a smaller version of the Gaylord Opryland hotel/resort (a timeshare that we stay at sometimes is right next to Opryland). Aaron looked out and exclaimed "Cinderella's castle!!" That got a decent laugh from the bus.

We stop at the All Star Sports, and Aaron asks if this is our stop. Sorry, bud…not yet. Then All-Star Music. Nope. Then All-Star Movies. Aaron climbs off the bus and runs right into the lobby sans parents. Grrrrr. I got into the check-in line, and Aaron and Sheri followed. He played with the ropes/stands and talked with a little girl in front of us. Being a pessimistic realist, I fully expected to get to the front desk just to have them laugh evilly at me and tell me that the reservation was cancelled and that there were no rooms available for a 40 mile radius. It was about 2:30…just over an hour from wheels down to the hotel…NIIIIICCCCEEEEE but something had to go wrong here soon.

We get to the front desk, and I give the gentleman our last name. he gives Aaron a balloon, which calms him down just enough for us to get checked in. He said our room wasn't ready yet but we could get into another one if we liked. I looked at Sheri and asked where each room was. "We can get you into Love Bug now, or you can wait for your room in the Buzz building."

I nearly . I put a request in for Buzz back when we booked with AAA and fully expected to get something else. In my meekest voice, I asked if we could wait for the Buzz room. Sheri was just as shocked as I was. I guess that's what I get for reading the Resorts board on DIS. He saw that Aaron was still 2 and asked Sheri if she scrapbooked. Now, Sheri has a Pavlovian response to the word "scrapbook" or any derivation of it. Her eyes lit up and said "YEP!" The guy at the front desk proceeds to tell us that they typically don't do this, but he was going to make a key for Aaron so we could have it for a souvenir (no charging privileges…sorry kid). "Awesome," I thought. Much, much more on this later. We had a message regarding the Candlelight Processional package that we had booked for that night, and I made sure the dining plan was set up. We headed to the near-empty food court, where I more or less mentally flipped off the South Beach Diet and grabbed a rice krispie bar in the shape of a Christmas tree. We bought the requisite mug for $11.99 and got a couple other items and charged everything.

It's about 3:15 now, and we decided to do a potty break again (still dry WOOHOO). I went to concierge and got the CP package taken care of there. We checked all of our carry-on items except for the stroller, a backpack, and the camera. We didn't have room to stow Spikey in a bag, so we asked if we could just check that too. In my mind, I had visions of Spikey narrating the first day…getting zapped through security at the airport…having Aaron tell him about the planes…getting stuffed in the overhead compartment…and now getting thrown in a dark room with lots of other bags and cussing us out nonstop.

It was time for our first experience with Disney bus transportation. We found the line for Epcot and got in. 20 seconds later, the bus pulled up. I mentioned to Sheri that everything was going too well and that I was waiting for the bus to explode or something. We got on and immediately realized how good of a decision it was to bring the smaller stroller. It didn't hold as much as the bigger one and was a little harder to push, but it folded up nicely and didn't weigh too much. I did a little dance in honor of my genius and hopped on the bus. And away we went.

We were there by the big golf ball before we knew it. WOW! We get off and head to guest relations. I try showing Aaron Spaceship Earth, but he's more interested in the birds eating dropped morsels of food. We walk to the bag check and go through that and get in line for ticket thingy. I have never done the biometric thing before, and I recall how much trouble Del (Robin's know...Delswife...KEEP UP, PEOPLE!) has with these things, so I don't know what to expect. I ask the person manning the machines if we need to do anything special since it's our first time using the tickets. "NOPE! Just slide the fingers…" And within 3 seconds, I was in Epcot! I pulled out Aaron's birth certificate to show them that he was only 2, and they just gestured him in without looking. They did look a little surprised that I had documentation of his age. I just wanted to let them know I wasn't trying to sneak someone in.

Okay…we have a brand new 1 Gigabyte memory card in our camera, and we wanted to use it! We succumbed to peer pressure and took pics over by the topiaries.

Now it was about 3:45, so I looked around and tried to figure out what to do. I have heard that sometimes birthday guests can sometimes get up to the front of lines (I was new to the parks, not counting the one time Sheri and I went in 2001 and did the walk into the park and stare at a map for 20 minutes thing), so I figured I'd sacrifice some dignity and get a birthday pin. We went under Spaceship Earth and headed over to Guest Relations. An older gentleman asks if he can help us, and I tell him that I'm afraid to mention that it's my birthday as I pull out my wallet to show him my driver's license. He gets this grin on his face, and it's then that I notice the balloon animals on the counter nearby.


He the proceeds to make this "hat" and tells me that I have to wear it for at least 20 seconds while someone gets a pic.

I didn't notice the phallic structure of the balloon hat at first, but Sheri is just giggling. Unintentional as it was, even non-perverts could see it. The gentleman also makes something for Aaron to hold, and we're on our way out. The hat was cumbersome, so the best place to carry it was actually on my head. I am now walking through Epcot with a penis on my head. About 30% of the folks passing by had this look on their faces.

We have 4:45 ressies at Mitsukoshi Teppanyaki, and it's about 3:55 now. I decided to see how the line was for the Disney Visa meet and greet in Innoventions West. NO LINE!!!! Aaron has no idea what was behind the curtain, nor do we to be perfectly honest. We get Aaron out of the stroller and tell him to go into the room. I was expecting a line of people for one character. Aaron looks inside the curtains...pauses...and RUNS inside as fast as his little legs could carry him!

It was just us, a character watcher, a Photo Pass guy, and MINNIE AND GOOFY! First character would Aaron do?

Aaron simply would not let go of them...he hugged them for a good minute or two.

Yeah...that right there made the entire trip worth the cost. I immediately started planning the trip to bring Eric down.

We got a couple family photos (photopass guy insisted that I wear the penis-hat) and went to the photo place to get the freebie.

Okay…4:25, and we have to get to Teppanyaki by 4:45. Aaron's done every mode of transportation except boat, and, sure enough, there was a boat about ready to depart to Morocco with room (again, the timing was perfect!). We hop on the boat and it shoves off. We make it to our ADRs at 4:43, and Aaron falls asleep at 4:48.

I got to choose the restaurant for this since it was my birthday. We decided to splurge and go with Teppanyaki because I love the Kobe chain of Teppan dining. We were floored with delight when it came out that we could use the dining plan for the CP package. We got seated with 2 other couples (both local Floridians) and struck up a conversation with them. Aaron, meanwhile is drooling on my shoulder and snoring away. No prob…he needs to rest so he can see the cooking display.

We got a younger chef who did her best. She really tailored the show to keep Aaron's attention. She tapped out the Mickey Mouse theme while putting pepper on. She kept the tail on one shrimp and had it waving at Aaron, and she poured some extra sesame seeds in a row toward Aaron...she called it "Sesame Street" (I almost slapped her).

Aaron liked the show and actually ate some zucchini. They noticed my pin and gave me a free piece of cake there…it was completely unexpected and really nice of them to do that!

We were all taken care of with the Dining Plan and made our way out to catch the 6:45 showing of the Candlelight Processional. While heading down to the first floor, the Japanese drummers were at it, and we saw the Christmas tree being lit across the lagoon (good timing…I'm sensing a trend here). We get in line for the dining package passes, and I park the stroller about a mile away from where we were in line (near the American Adventure). Aaron looks at me and states that he wants to go home and see Eric. Again...uh-oh. I talked to him about seeing Cinderella and Belle and all of them, and he makes sure I include Daisy in there.

Harry Hamlin was the narrator, and he had a very commanding delivery…very well done. Aaron wasn't that thrilled and was kind of fidgety. He kicked and knocked the camera out of my pocket…the row in front of us gave it back to us, and then I realized the battery case had popped open, and all the batteries were likely rolling down to the main stage. In my mind, I'm imagining the choir starting to walk out of the theater and slipping on the batteries, causing a domino effect until every single member is on their backs. Luckily the folks next to us saw the batteries stopped one row ahead. No harm, luckily, aside from feeling bad for the folks around us dealing with our minor snafu.

The CP ended, and I commented on how glad I was we did it. The trumpeters really added a lot, and the choirs were all really good. Aaron fell asleep about 30 minutes into it and was out for the count. I carried him to the stroller, and we decided to make our way back to the entrance. We hit a potty break for everyone right as Mo-Rockin' was starting their set (good timing). While there, we stopped and marveled at the lights and the tree. Aaron was awake now and was interested in the "quack quacks" in the lagoon.

We all love fountains, and we stayed for a few minutes to watch the fountains in Future World. None of us were expecting the large shots of water coming from right where we were standing towards the center of the fountain. Sheri almost wished she had one of Aaron's pull-ups on at that time as it really scared her. We absolutely loved it, though, and watched them for about ten minutes.

We decided that we had seen enough for the day and still needed to figure out what room we were in. Things had been going so well that I was sure we would have to wait for a bus back to the hotel. Less than 5 minutes, and up came a bus. The folks on the bus were really having a good time…on the trip back, we all sang a number of songs (The Wheels on the Bus, Jingle Bells, Rudolph, etc.). The driver gave us a "bravo" as we pulled into AS-Sports.

At AS-Movies, we headed back to the baggage storage and gave them our ticket. I jokingly said it's the only one with a dinosaur with it, and he grinned and told us that the bags were already in our room. Sheri and I were speechless (in a good way).

I went through the line and figured out what room we were in, and we made our way through the food court (topped off our mug). We saw the Fantasia pool, and Aaron (of course) ran right towards it. I caught up with him and started steering him towards his last major surprise…Andy's Room. None of us had seen it before, so we were all eagerly anticipating it.

Then Aaron saw R.C. … we let him run all the way to it. He climbed in, and we took the obligatory pic of it.

We went through the door, and he sees Bo Peep from Toy Story, only he calls her "Bob". I contemplated running over and looking up her dress to see if Bo or Bob was correct, but Sheri was already on to me and threatened mass pain. He sees Woody and then Buzz. He stopped in front of Buzz and shouted:


Yup…we're staying at the right place.

We get pics of Aaron on the blocks. Now, below, I'm trying to get out of the way so Sheri can take the picture…she snapped it before I was out of the way unfortunately, and here is the result:

We've got me with a penis on my head and the word "Wood" spelled out in blocks-on-steroids. This pic will haunt me for a while...I just know it.

We pulled Aaron from Andy's Room and made our way to our room. It's about 9:30 now, but Aaron's completely psycho with excitement (can you blame him?). I hop in the bathroom and use it.

Anyone who's stayed in one of the All-Stars knows what's coming.

I flushed...

...and the damn torpedo toilet scared the crap out of me!!!! I didn't tell Sheri...I wanted her to experience it herself first-hand.

We hoped that a bath would calm down Aaron a bit, so we put him in and let him play around until he screamed about soap in his eye. He's used to the softer no-tears shampoo/soap.

Aaron got his pajamas on and began bouncing between the two beds . We threw on the bedtime stories channel and more or less threatened him to calm him down. He finally settled down and crashed hard around 10:30. He needed to rest because he had a huge day ahead of him tomorrow...his first trip to Magic Kingdom!

I looked at Sheri, and she looked at me, and we both hopped in bed...turned out the lights...

and fell asleep. Bennet was right in saying that the parents usually fell asleep exhausted waiting for the kid to crash. I quietly cursed him for being correct.

Reflecting on my 33rd birthday and our family's first WDW outing, I was definitely happy. It was a great day with more to come.


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