I was in New Orleans a few weeks ago on business. I flew in on Sunday (July 20) and left the following Saturday. Sunday night, I walked the 2 blocks from my hotel to the start of Bourbon Street. I walked from Canal Street all the way down Bourbon StreetRue Bourbon until I got into the gay part of town. It was still light out, but even so, you could tell that not too much was going to happen. It was, after all Sunday.
I got a Po’ Boy at some random establishment that actually had jazz. Then, it was back to the hotel to get ready for the next day—I had to be at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to set up our exhibit. After the exhibit was set up, we had the rest of the day to goof off. So, I pulled out my camera, and my buddy and I walked all over New Orleans and, of course, the French Quarter.
I was surprised to see that every corner didn’t have some dude on a trumpet…that is how I have always envisioned the Crescent City. I was saddened to see (hear, actually) nothing but loud (and I mean fucking loud) rock & roll and dance music spewing into the street as forcefully as the air conditioning. We did pass a few joints where you could hear jazz, but they were few and far between, and they were competing with the melodic chords of Van Halen and some rave remix. What little jazz I did hear was great. I love jazz.
We went to a bunch of restaurants including Red Fish Grill, Cochon Restaurant, Ralph & Kacoo’s, Crescent City Brew house, Mulate’s, and Café Beignet. Of course, we had Hurricanes at the famous Pat O’Brien’s (although we were there early, so there were no dueling pianos. That was kind of sad). Even though I ate well, and paid dearly for it (both figuratively and literally), I have to be honest…I was rather disappointed in the food. I mean it was tasty and all, but I felt that I have had better “Cajun” cuisine up here in the District.
The rest of the time was dedicated to actual work, but in the evenings, we ended up back on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Overall, it was a fun experience. I got to see New Orleans, which I’ve always wanted to do. I had my first taste of moonshine. I had a shot of Catdaddy first, but it tasted like Tequila, so the waiter brought me a shot of Virginia White Lightening. Man, did that taste fantastic. I also rode on a mechanical bull at the Bourbon Cowboy. So, now I have scratched 2 more things off my Things To Do Before I Die list.
As calm as it was (given that I was there during the week and it’s not Mardi Gras), it was clear that debauchery is still a constant, and that people still party all day and all night. New Orleans definitely missed out when it came to taglines. I think that “What happens in Nahlins stays in Nahlins” is much more apropos than Vegas (granted, I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but still).
All in all, I had a good time. I was disappointed that there wasn’t as much jazz as the city is known for. I was also sad that I didn’t get decent, proper Creole and Cajun food. I understand that after Hurricane Katrina the Crescent City ain’t what she used to be, but at the same time, things are happening again down there. I can only hope that the next time I go, even more folks will have returned.
Last week, RC and I went on vacation…WHOOOOT VACATION!! This year, we went north again, but actually ventured out of the country this time round.
Friday, July 21, 2006
RC flew in late in the evening. I was actually impressed because Southwest was on time for a change, and I thought that we would be home at a reasonable hour. (She usually comes in on the flight that gets in around 11:30 in the evening, but said airline doesn’t seem to ever actually land until after midnight.) I knew that it was too good to be true, and sure enough, the conveyor belt that the luggage comes in on decided it had had enough and quit. So, while Southwest finally cooperated, the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport didn’t. We got home late, went to bed late, and of course…
Saturday, July 22, 2006
woke up late.
RC told me (not suggested, not implied, not recommended—TOLD ME) to call Budget and let them know that we were running late. “No, it’ll be fine,” quoth Jo Cose. “OK, but you really should call,” saith RC. So, right, moving right along, we get to Budget 2 hours late, and of course the car is gone, and RC is kind enough not to say “I told you so,” which, I kept telling her that she should say.
We decide to get breakfast and head over to Silver Spring. We went to Caribou Coffee, where RC got a bagel and coffee. I stayed in the car and called Budget to see what they could do to help me. Well, it turned out that there were still cars available at their store at BWI. Since RC has AAA, we got a bit of a discount.
We had some time to kill, as I told the woman on the phone that we would be picking up the car at 2 pm (so there would be no reason that we would miss the time). We headed back to my apartment, played on my computer for a bit, and then we finally headed up to BWI to get the car: a Ford Fusion. RC told me that we should follow the signs to the car rental return. No, I insisted, we need to go the terminal first to do the paperwork. We walked the entire length of the concourse and didn’t find the rental offices (you see, once upon a time, they were all in a row on the luggage claim level). So, I asked someone and discovered that we needed to take a shuttle over to another building, which incidentally, was the same place that you return the cars. Once again, RC had the perfect opportunity to throw a big ole “I told you so” into my face, but again she held back. RC drove the rental and I drove my car over to the ’rents’ apartment, where we dropped off my car (as a side note, I’d like to mention that the ’rents were kind enough to get my tire fixed [there was a nail in it] and rotated while I was away—kudos to them). Since we were there, and RC was once again hungry, I invited the ’rents to join us for lunch. They met us at Noodles & Company in Pikesville. They didn’t eat, but wanted to spend time with us.
We finally got on the road around 4 pm. Not too far off the mark as we were planning to leave around 9 am. Everything was going well until I made the mistake of letting RC drive. Now, please don’t misunderstand. I love her dearly, and very honestly, I admit that she is a very good driver; however, she apparently doesn’t do too well at toll plazas. We were in the middle of the plaza heading for the tollbooth when she decided that she wanted to be at the far right of the plaza. So, without warning, she decides to cross multiple lanes for traffic. All I remember is us being pretty much perpendicular with traffic and a big-ole pickup heading straight for us. I was screaming “BRAKE!!” as loud as I could. We survived just fine.
We drove and drove and drove and drove some more. We stopped at many a rest area where we could consult large maps on the wall that told us how far we’d traveled and how far we had to go. Finally, around 11 pm, I couldn’t take it any more, and we pulled off the road and got a room at the Comfort Inn & Suites. The room kind of smelled a little funky, but it was cheap, and breakfast was included.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
We were up early and partook in the aforementioned free breakfast. I played on my computer trying to get a bunch of MP3s onto a disc so we could listen to them in the car. I wasted a lot of time, but whatever…we were on vacation.
We got back on the road heading north. We stopped in Lake George, NY. It’s really lovely there, and we had thought about either going parasailing or taking a boat ride, but in the end, we just walked around town. RC had to get coffee, and then she had her fortune read in an arcade. It started to drizzle, but that didn’t stop us. We walked down to the water and found a restaurant to have lunch: King Neptune Pub. We sat on the patio, which afforded a beautiful view of docked boats, the lake, and the mountains on the far shore. We heard the tour boat’s horn blast as she came back to her berth. The sun had returned, and it was perfect…if only the food was as good. RC got a Reuben, and I got a ham and cheese. Sadly, our meals were mediocre at best. While our waitress (server, sorry, didn’t mean to be politically incorrect) was friendly and acknowledged the delay, we sat for a ridiculously long time waiting for our sandwiches to come. In fact, I had to go and feed the meter before we were fed because we were concerned that it would expire before the meal came.
Once we paid the bill and left the restaurant, we walked around some more of the shops. I got a sample of birthday cake ice cream. It was AWESOME—real icing, real birthday cake (and the white kind, not yellow!). RC wanted a caramel apple, but they didn’t have any. So, she decided to get a candy apple instead, even though this was not what she wanted. Needless to say, she took one bite and decided that she didn’t really want it.
Next we walked up the hill to the Fort William Henry Resort. We just sat there for a few minutes taking in the view of the lake. I tried to take a picture of the two of us with the self-timer on the camera, but I’m not sure if turned out or not.
We finally got back in the car and headed north.
After another eternity behind the wheel, we finally got to the American-Canadian border. We were very lucky that the young lady who processed us at the border was quite attractive, and she had that sexy French-Canadian accent that we would hear time and time again during our stay. She started out asking questions as all immigration officers do, and in usual fashion, RC took over and answered them before I could. Now, I know that when RC reads this post, she will be annoyed with me for saying this, but the truth is that it was humorous, and I had absolutely no problem with it. The only caveat to that is that the immigration chick didn’t stamp my passport, and since RC was running the show, I didn’t get a chance to rectify this…c’est la vie.
We’re finally in Canada, and they are very nice there: there were several signs reminding me that the speed limit signs were in kilometers per hour and not miles per hour. With little warning, we crossed the bridge and were in downtown Montréal. With less effort than I expected, we found our hotel, the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal. It was way swank, and RC loved it. I think she was sadder to leave the hotel than to end vacation…but I’m getting ahead of myself. We pull in and begin to remove our luggage. The doorman practically grabbed my suitcase out of my hand. Now, RC and I are in agreement that we don’t like others touching our luggage, and we are completely capable of taking our own cases to our room. I said to the guy, “it’s no problem, really.” He put the cases on the trolley and said, “Now it’s less of a problem.” Of course, by the time the baggage arrived in our room, they knew who I was, and called me “Mr. Cose.” This greatly impressed RC.
Once we settled in, we decided to go out and walk around to get our bearings (well, OK, so I could get my bearings anyway). We walked down to Rue Sainte-Catherine where all the nudie clubs are, and found our way to Rue Crescent, where all the restaurants are. We settled for Allo Inde and it was a damn good choice (NOTE: The website says that they are on Rue Stanley, but it was actually on Rue Crescent—1437 to be exact). We went with a prix fixe menu for 2, and when it came, I was a little concerned because it looked like there was very little there. In fact, we couldn’t eat it all. I made a poor choice with the wine (but in my defense, I know fuckall about wine), but the meal was great.
We headed back to the hotel and had a nightcap at the hotel bar, Le Petit Opus Café Bar. We were the only ones in the bar, and after bringing our drinks (a piña colada for RC and a G&T for me), the bartender came over to make sure the piña colada was OK—he’d never made one before. After our drinks, we called it a night.
Monday, July 24, 2006
We were up once again bright and early. Because I was with RC, we of course began the day in typical fashion: at Second Cup. I swear, it’s like she can smell out a coffee shop from a mile away. We spent a good deal of time getting her coffee at what seemed like every Second Cup in Montréal. Oh, we also got an awesome blueberry muffin there (the last one in fact!).
RC loves to buy and read travel books, so she had her Frommer's Montréal & Quebec City 2006 with her. Chapter 8, “Montréal Strolls,” has 4 walking tours. We did “Walking Tour 2: Downtown” today. It was pretty fun. We walked all over the downtown area and saw a bunch of cool looking buildings. As the tour took us back to Rue Crescent, we popped into Thursday’s for some food (OK, another NOTE: I just checked the receipt to make sure that this joint was on Rue Crescent [yea, I’m that much of a geek] and it says that it’s located at 1430 Rue de la Montagne…I give up on trying to figure out the addresses in this damn town). I got le croquet-monsieur (a toasted ham and cheese sandwich), and RC got la baguette au jambon et brie (a ham and brie on a French baguette). They were pretty good, but mine was loaded with toasted butter. I’m not sure how to explain how this is different from toast with butter, but it is. This type of bread usually upsets my stomach, so RC was kind enough to trade ½ her sandwich for ½ of mine.
We headed back to the hotel after finishing the walking tour. RC wanted to play in the pool, so she headed down to the pool while I worked on my crossword for a bit (yes, that’s a euphemism, but I’ll leave it to you to figure out). She was so excited at the pool because they asked her for her room and name. She gave them the room and said she was Mrs. Cose. I’m not really sure why she was excited about this, especially given the fact that she doesn’t want to change her name when she gets married. I joined her at the pool, and no one asked me for my name or room number…hmmmm. We played in the pool for a while. There was a young, overweight child in the lane next to us who kept yelling, “Daddy, Daddy, watch me” or “Daddy, Daddy, time how long I can hold my breath.” RC, in her usual way, pondered what it was about pools that makes kids beg their parents to watch them do things.
Once we were bored with the pool, we headed upstairs, showered, and dressed for dinner. We walked down Rue Sherbrooke O to Boul Saint-Laurent. We walked up Boul Saint-Laurent to Rue Prince-Arthur, a pedestrian walk (at least the direction we went) that was lined with restaurants. As usual, we couldn’t make up our minds and ended up walking back down Boul Saint-Laurent to a quaint place named Restaurant Cafétéria. I got a filet mignon that was awesome, and RC got some kind of pasta (imagine). She got a sour apple-tini, and I got a gin and tonic. We sat at a table that was against an open window, so we had the breeze, got to see the people walk by, and I was asked for money by a bum. RC really liked the restaurant because the waiter was cute…whatever.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel. We stopped at a candy store for RC to ogle the merchandise. The proprietor wouldn’t let us leave until we tasted his gelato. It was worth it! When we finally got back to the hotel, we went to bed.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
For some reason, I was in a particularly good mood this morning, and I walked down to Second Cup and got RC coffee. This is an even nicer effort on my part when I inform you that I try very hard to get RC to quit her caffeine habit. When I got back to the hotel, she was almost ready. We walked down to Boul De Maisonneuve and had breakfast at Eggspectation. While I would normally complain since there is one right down the street from my apartment, I have come to discover that they originate in Canada, so it’s OK.
After breakfast, we walked down Rue Sherbrooke to Boul Saint-Laurent and headed over to the Old City. We walked through Chinatown (what they call Quartier Chinois). At this point, we began “Walking Tour 1: Vieux-Montréal.” We walked past La basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal and down to the water, but it was hot, and RC doesn’t do so well in hot. So, we decided to bugger off on the tour and just sort of walked a bit on our own. We were getting hungry, so we found a nice place to get out of the heat: Le Pierrot Express. It had a water fountain in it. We didn’t sit near the fountain, but it was still cool. We sat upstairs, outside overlooking Rue De La Commune and the water. We both got wraps, and had a good time eavesdropping on the folks next to us. It was an older man and woman (I would guess a couple) and two early teen-aged boys. From the way they were talking, it didn’t appear that they were the kids—it was rather odd, but fun to listen in on.
After lunch, we walked down to the water to see about a boat ride. I was a little disappointed to learn that the boats were the same design that one finds on the Seine. That is, they are glass enclosed; so basically, you are sitting inside. I wanted to be on a real boat and feel the breeze and smell the water. Also, it looked like rain, so we decided that the boat ride wouldn’t be worth it. We walked over to the Centre des Sciences de Montréal and had our picture taken. They have digital cameras mounted to the side of the building and Xs on the ground where you should stand. For CAN$2, you can get your picture taken and download it from their website a few days later. That’s pretty cool. RC is always complaining that she doesn’t have any pictures of me without my sunglasses on, so now she does.
From there we walked up to Place Jacques-Cartier. RC’s Spidey senses started tingling, and she sussed out the Ben & Jerry’s. Fortunately, she came to her senses in the nick of time and realized that she would be better off to get something a little less American. So, we went next door and got a crêpe with a scoop of pistachio gelato inside and French vanilla on top. The vanilla was good; I don’t think RC really liked it, but since she put that nasty pistachio in it, I couldn’t finish it for her.
I’m not sure the sequence of events, but at some point, we ended up, once again, in a coffee shop, and RC got some kind of chocolate croissant. I didn’t want to, but I broke down and got some gelato.
On our way back to the hotel, it started to rain, so we ducked into the Place-des-Arts Metro Station. Now, I’m all for taking the Metro (in fact, I have a small obsession with subways and metros, particularly the London Underground, but that’s a different story), but what lay before us was something out of a fantasy. If you like shopping malls, you will have an orgasmic rush of excitement when you experience La ville souterraine. Now, I love malls almost as much as I love metros, and I was like a kid in a candy shop. We walked from the Old City to right near our hotel completely out of the rain. It was awesome! Unfortunately, we only stopped when RC wanted to (which means we stopped at a coffee shop so she could get coffee—but I got a Clearly Canadian Blackberry so I was happy.
When we got back to the hotel, we called a restaurant that a friend of mine recommended and got reservations at Laloux. This time, we drove to the restaurant. I had printed out directions from Mapquest, and of course they were out of date. There was construction, and the major road we needed was closed. But, we made it there just fine. In the end, it was not far from where we had walked the day before, so we could have easily walked it again, but that’s just how it goes when you’re in another country.
RC liked it better than I did, but it wasn’t bad. We started out with some kind of fusion egg roll. It wasn’t bad, but it was ridiculously expensive for the size; two small pieces came on a small platter. They were really good, but we could have stood for a few more. We each got a glass of the house wine: me red, her white. For our entrees, RC got the filet mignon, and I settled for some kind of chicken. I didn’t realize it was going to be full of sauce (tasty sauce mind you, but lots of it nonetheless), and my chicken was somewhat dry. RC got dessert (of course) and coffee (of course). After hearing about all the cheeses they had for dessert, she settled for crème brûlée. She had ordered a café au lait, but a little teeny, tiny cup showed up. As this was coffee, she was content to drink the espresso. When the waiter realized the mistake (about ½ way through that teeny, tiny cup), he brought the café au lait over and exchanged it for the espresso. Obviously, RC was flying high for quite some time. So, we did the only thing one should do when they are doped up on caffeine: we went gambling.
We drove back to the hotel and got a cab out to the Casino de Montréal. There were lots of flashing lights, lots of people, and lots of noise. The highly caffeinated RC was like a playful kitten; she didn’t know where to look first and everything caught her attention. We played the slots for a while, and then we headed upstairs where there was this big ole horseracing track in the middle of the room. Upon the track were miniature horses and jockeys. On the wall was a monitor that played animation of the race. You bet on the horses you think will win. It was kind of hokey, but all the tables were full. The young woman next to us I think was getting annoyed at our jabber: “how does this work?”, “What’s this button for?”, “Where do I put the money?” Then on our 3rd race, we won about CAN$2. I’m sure she wasn’t happy about that, but then again, she seemed to have been doing all right.
We got a cab back to the hotel, and enjoyed the ride as we got to go over a bridge and see Montréal at night. It has a great nighttime skyline.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
We were again up and out early. We headed over to get RC a little hair of the dog that bit her the previous night. So, we went to her favorite spot in Montréal: Second Cup. After that, we embarked on “Walking Tour 4: Mount-Royal.” Now, if you are reading this entry, then you know me well enough to know that I’m not much of an outdoorsy kind of guy. But, I have to admit that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. We quickly ditched the walking tour because the trails were not clearly labeled nor was the tour in the book. Nevertheless, we made it to the top and got a majestic view of Montréal. I took some pics, so once I’ve processed them, we’ll see if they turned out. We got an Asian tourist to take our picture, but she got scared because she held the shutter release down too long, and the camera is set for continuous shots if you hold the button down. It was pretty funny—not that we could understand what she was saying to her companion. We went into the pavilion and got drinks and a snack before venturing back down the hill.
On the way down, we paused at the little lake and walked around that. Then, even though we were following the signs, we seem to have taken a wrong turn and ended up further over than where we started. Of course, it was even hotter in the baking sun than it was on the shaded trails, so RC wasn’t doing too well. Fortunately, I have a very keen sense of direction, and I was able to get us back on track, but not before making her walk in the sun much longer than her melanin-challenged skin should be exposed to the sun. We paused along the way on someone’s stoop in the shade, and she was good to go.
To escape the oppressive heat, we ducked into the Underground City to have lunch. Even though we had no idea how we actually made it from the Old City to the Hotel, somehow, today, when we randomly entered the Underground City to have lunch, we ended up at the same café that we had stopped for coffee the other day.
After lunch, we went back to the hotel to freshen up, but were soon off again. We walked down Rue University to Rue Saint-Jacques and headed over to the Old City. We went directly to the Pavillon Jacques-Cartier to get tickets for the ghost tour. After we bought the tickets, we headed out to get some dinner. We popped into the café St. Paul, which coincidently was on Rue Saint-Paul. RC ordered a burger avec fromage, and I got a smoked meat sandwich, apparently a delicacy in Montréal.
After dinner, we headed back to the Pavillon Jacques-Cartier to meet up with the tour. While we were waiting, we decided that it would be prudent to get money so we could get a cab after the walk. I left RC in the shade and ventured off to find an ATM. Since all the ones I found were the independently operated ones that you see in stores, none would accept an international bankcard. I met a very nice American couple along the way. They were at 3 of the 4 ATMs I tried; they were having the same problem. I went back to see how RC was doing, and she decided that she wanted an ice cream from one of the local vendors…we bought one for CAN$4. With still more time to kill, we walked along the promenade and watched all the street performers sing, dance and do whatever else they were doing as they tried to separate passers-by from their money.
Finally, the tour began. There were two guides who broke the group up into the tour in English and the one en Français. Our guide was dressed as the long deceased wife of a British general stationed in Montréal. I think that without the wig or make-up, she may have been cute, but it was hard to say. She was a little creepy, though, in that she was without shoes. How she was able to walk that far over cobblestone, grass, concrete, and the occasional manure is beyond me. I think I liked the walk more than RC did, but we were in agreement that it was relatively hard to hear the guide. Also, while she was good and animated, she was clearly French-Canadian, and her accent coupled with her attempt at a cockney accent didn’t help. We had a few rather obnoxious children, but kudos to their parents for doing something about it.
After the tour, we headed, once again, back to Pavillon Jacques-Cartier to enjoy the fireworks. Apparently, there was some international competition going on, so we watched that. I was amazed that the show lasted over ½ an hour. I wish I had brought my camera and tripod. But then again, I would have had to shlep them, so when I think about that part, I don’t really regret it too much.
On the way back to the hotel, we found a bank. I got money and we headed for the nearest cab. The guy took us to the wrong hotel, but since it was around the corner, we didn’t think he was really trying to rip us off.
After all that walking in the heat, we were beat and went straight to bed.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
If you guessed that we were up early again today, you’d be right. But this time it wasn’t for good reasons: we had to pack.
Before leaving, we still had one more thing to do: get bagels that are apparently unique to Montréal. We walked over to get them, and they turned out to be pretty good. On the way back, we stopped in a pastry, and RC got her pain au chocolat that she had been looking for the whole time. We went back to the hotel to finish packing and check out. She finished her bread before we left the room. Apparently, she took a small bite to taste it, and the next thing she knew it was all gone.
We checked out and got on the road heading south. It was pretty easy going until we got to the border. Not that it was bad there, but it was about a ½ hour wait until we finally got to the immigration officer. After looking at our passports, asking if we had anything to declare, and checking our trunk, he welcomed us home and wished us a safe journey.
As far as I can tell, Waterbury, VT is really only famous for 1 thing: the Ben & Jerry’s Factory is located there. We stopped and took the tour. It was absolutely amazing to me how many people were there. At the end of the tour, we got free samples of Apple Pie ice cream. We started to stand in line to get full scoops, but it was long, slow, and disgustingly hot. So, after the tour, and after seeing the Flavor Graveyard, we again hit the road.
We drove and drove and drove and drove some more. Since we were doing this side of the trip during the day, it was much prettier than when we drove up through New York (which is pretty as well when you can see it). RC liked all the mountains and trees. Finally, somewhere in Massachusetts, we stopped for dinner at an Uno Chicago Grill. Once sated, we drove a little longer. I felt that we shouldn’t drive into the middle of the night and get a room, only to sleep for a few hours. So, when we got to Connecticut, we stopped at a Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell, CT. On our way up to the room, RC noticed some errors in the sign for coffee in the elevator. I took a pic of it for the GrammarBlog.
We went to the bar for nightcaps. RC had a martini, and I had a gin and tonic. She was pretty drunk…it was quite entertaining and fun.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Friday was pretty quiet. We returned the car (now that we knew where we were going), and headed back to my apartment. We got biryani from Tiffin, a great Indian restaurant near my apartment. We watched TV, ate our rice, and went to bed.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Finally, we slept a little late. RC wanted to go to Annapolis, but somehow or another, we ended up going over the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge (or just Bay Bridge, as we affectionately call here in Merlind). We were going to go over and come straight back, but the traffic was insane going the other way, so we kept driving east. We finally ended up in St. Michaels, so we got out and walked around. We ate lunch at some dive diner called Chesapeake Cove Restaurant. RC got a cream of crab soup and a BLT (but turned it into a BL), and I was set to get the cheese steak, but our waitress (and she was definitely a waitress, as were all the chicks working there—but more of that anon) talked me into getting the lump crab omelet. The crabmeat was good, but the omelet was only so-so.
After lunch, we walked a bit more: through some shops and down to the water. RC got lemonade from some kids that were selling it on the street. The little girl started to cry because she drank out of the cup instead of giving it to RC. The one little boy took over her job as her mother picked her up and started holding her. The other little boy was dressed as a mage (not my word—that was what the sign said “get lemonade from a mage” or something similar). RC asked him to do a magic trick. He had good form for the first part, but still needed practice for the second part.
Our drive back was a piece of cake; there was no traffic at all.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
We’ve already started talking about the next vacation, so stay tuned. I’m hoping for Europe, but we’ll see.
After being pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to return to Florida to see the launch, I found out Friday that I was going to be able to go. Of course, I already had my tickets to go to St. Louis to see RC. I was supposed to leave there on Monday anyway, so I figured that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I left at 10 am instead of 1 pm. Fortunately, I was right, and RC wasn’t too mad at me.
RC and I had a very nice time while I was out there visiting, and we ate in some very nice restaurants. We went to BARcelona, a tapas restaurant. It wasn’t too bad, but the party next to us (we were actually in a makeshift table, so we were sticking out into the aisle) were very loud and rowdy, but they were somewhat friendly and having a good time. The food wasn’t too bad, but they forgot one of our dishes, so we had to wait a while. I think the tapas places in DC are better. We also went to Duff’s for brunch. That was quite yummy, and it’s always nice to have ancient lesbians wait on you. (Returning home from there was when we passed the S & M Groceries.) We went for a long drive to who-knows-where (which is when we stopped at the gas station with the very possessive bathroom). At some point we turned around and headed home (which is when we passed the best billboard I have ever seen). We ate dinner at Phil's Bar B Que in Eureka. It was pretty good, but the joint was filthy (but then again, I guess that that is how greasy spoons got their name, right?).
The next morning we had to be up early because I had received a message on Saturday when I landed that the travel people at work had not received my signed orders, so there was a possibility that I wouldn’t have my tickets in time. They told me to call at 7:30 eastern time, so I was up at 6 central time. Anyway, as you can imagine, it all turned out OK. Since we were up early anyway, we went for breakfast at First Watch, which is RC’s favorite place for brunch.
I got there, found my co-worker, got some Chick-fil-A, and rented the car. We headed straight for KSC. The rest of the day was spent talking about logistics, and it was then that I discovered that I needed to be in the same place I was last week. I needed to redirect folks from the Causeway to Banana Creek, as everyone got an upgrade. Actually, I already knew that part; what I didn’t know was that I needed to be there at 5:30 in the friggin’ morning! Oh, well, it actually wasn’t all that bad. After the meeting, several folks went out to dinner, but I knew that I needed to be up early so I headed back to the hotel (yes, you guessed it, I was stuck at the stinkin’ Best Western again), got some carry-out, and then walked up and down the beach for about an hour and a half. I was truly amazed at thhe number of fat people on the beach. The number of those people who were wearing bikinis was rather desturbing. But the saddest part was that so many of them were children. I mean, I have no one to blame but myself for being fat, but these little girls and boys can't fend for themselves. My mom says that that is akin to child abuse. Anyway, after walking along the beach for a good long time, it was time for me to go to bed.
I didn’t actually get to sleep until after midnight. The damn walls in that hotel were paper thin, and the kids above me were playing tag or something…running around and stomping their little piggie feet. I finally went up there and begged them to stop running around. I tried to be nice and acknowledge that it wasn’t really their fault, it was that dump of a hotel we were staying in.
Anyway, I made it to my designated spot on time and less cranky than I expected. It was pitch black, and it was absolutely beautiful…expect for the fucking mosquitoes who were enjoying the smorgasbord that was me and the two women I was with. Finally, as the sun rose two cops came by to hang out with us, and one of them had bug spray that seemed to do the trick.
Finally, the time came for me to part ways with the women and the cops, and I drove over to the place where I was to meet everyone and get on the bus to head out to Banana Creek. I arrived in time to find out that some folks were stuck in traffic, and that I was the person assigned to wait for them and drive them out to the viewing area. Fortunately, they weren’t that far away, and they were all very friendly. Once they arrived, we piled into my car and drove out to Banana Creek and found a nice place to park and got to the bleachers with no problem.
Did I mention that it was like Africa hot out that day?
As the clock ticked ever closer to launch time, the bleachers began filling in earnest. Laura Bush, and her brother-in-law, Jeb, walked right past me and sat down about 5 seats and 1 row up from me. OK, so I didn’t vote for her husband, but it’s still pretty cool to be a stone’s throw (sorry, I should probably use a better term than that) away from the First Lady of the United States.
Finally, after 2½ years in the making, the shuttle lifted off as gracefully and majestically as ever: “3... 2... 1... and liftoff of Space Shuttle Discovery... beginning America's new journey to the moon, Mars and beyond... and the vehicle has cleared the tower.” You could feel the electricity in the air as the crowd cheered, hooted, applauded, and otherwise expressed elation over seeing the shuttle clear the gantry. Now, I have never been to a Shuttle launch before, but I have to believe that there was something different about the crowd’s reaction to this launch than to many of the previous ones. This launch was the culmination of years of work, it represented NASA’s return to space exploration. I realize that I really didn’t have anything to do with getting that thing off the ground, but damn if for that moment I wasn’t really proud to work for NASA.
I can’t even begin to describe what it was like to be there. You hear the voice over the loudspeaker tell you that the Shuttle has lifted off, but you don’t actually see anything. Then all of the sudden you notice that the Shuttle is slowly rising, and you watch it creep up ever so slowly until it finally clears the gantry. By the time you realize that it’s moving, it’s really moving and just like that it goes from creeping to speeding. Then, like a distant storm, you hear a rumble of thunder, and you can actually see the sound waves disturbing the water on the creak. Suddenly the sound has caught up to you and it’s a deafening roar in your ears. It’s like standing in the middle of a million firecrackers as they all explode simultaneously.
I took a bunch of pictures of the launch; click here to see the best one.
I just flew in from Florida and boy are my arms tired! Thank you, I’ll be here all night. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.
Seriously, though, I was among the few in my office who were privileged to go down to the Kennedy Space Center to see the Return to Flight launch of Space Shuttle Discovery. Sadly, as you surely know, the launch got scrubbed because of some sensor. Everyone says that it’s better that we are being very careful, but I’m sure that the astronauts just want to get back to what it is that they are trained for.
It wasn’t a completely wasted trip, though. I got to eat at some really good places, and got to do some fun stuff. We had breakfast twice at the Simply Delicious Cafe and Bakery. It was very yummy, and I’m quite sure that RC would have loved it. It very much screamed of her: they served their orange juice in margarita glasses. We also had BBQ, but it wasn’t the greatest. I walked for about an hour on the beach. That was very nice. And I was in Cocoa Beach for a few days (days, I might mention, which may have otherwise found me in my office).
My hotel was awful! I had the distinct misfortune to stay at the Best Western. To say that it sucked would be saying nice things about it. When we got there, we checked in, and I headed to my room to drop off my luggage. I walked into the room, and before I could even let go of my luggage, I turned around and walked out. It smelled so unbelievably foul. It was a smoking room, and it clearly had been used as such for hundreds of years. I headed across the street to the lobby (yes, the lobby was in its own building across the street). The guy behind the counter told me that there was nothing he could do because the hotel was fully booked. I told him that there was no way that I would be able to stay in the room. He told me that I had to speak with the guy from NASA who booked the room. So, I called said person, and he assured me that he would fix the problem as soon as he got there. He was at the Best Western within minutes, and pitched such a fit that they finally caved in and switched me with someone who hadn’t yet registered. My new room wasn’t too much better, but at least it didn’t reek as strongly. The day before we flew out, I went over to the lobby to use the computer and check in at the airline's website. I printed out my boarding pass and headed back to my room. When I got there, I swiped my keycard and nothing happened. I tried again, and still nothing. Finally, after the third time, I started back to the lobby to tell them that something was wrong with my keycard, when some guy and his kid got out of a truck and said, “hey, is that your stuff sprawled on the bed?” Um, yea. Those stupid fucks resold my room before I checked out of it. The other guy and his kid lucked out because the hotel gave them a free upgrade to an oceanfront room. What did I get? I got a new keycard.
The first evening we split up. Several of the gang went out for Cuban; I wanted to go to the receptions, so I opted out (it turned out they never made it). The SEAL Leader, the Virginian, and I went to crash some receptions. We headed over to the Double tree (interestingly enough it was the same Double tree I stayed at last year when I came down to see the MESSENGER launch. See busy weekend part 3 for that story). We couldn’t get into one because the bouncers asked us for our invitations, and we had none, so we pretended that we were just looking around and slowly backed towards the door. We went around the corner to the bar and there we found another party that we were allowed to attend. They had pretty good food: shrimp, chicken, roast beef, sushi, and really, really good cheese cake. Oh, yeah, and it was an open bar.
Later that night the SEAL Leader and I drove onto base and got as close as we could to Discovery, but like the dumb ass that I am, I didn’t bring my camera down at all. Even still, it’s a memory I will have for a long time. We drove up as close as we could get with our Headquarters badges. The guard house was on a road that looked directly toward the pad, and as we approached the checkpoint, there it was, lit up like daylight. It was such an amazing sight to see. I know that I have little (in fact nothing really) to do directly with getting the Shuttle into orbit, but damn if it didn’t bring a tear of pride to my eye to see that bright white Shuttle mated to the Halloween-Orange External Tank, the two white pencil-like boosters on either side. It was so cool. It looked just like a postcard except that it was bigger, more real, and more awe inspiring.
The next morning, 4 of us headed to Grouper’s Corner to assist visitors getting onto busses that would ferry them out to the Causeway. Two of us stayed behind to be at the point of embarkation, and the other two headed out to the Causeway to be on the other end. It was really, friggin’ hot; fortunately, we had water in the van.
At some point very close to the launch, 2 guys came up to us livid. Apparently one was the son of a Congressman, and he had gotten the run-around about where he was supposed to be. He believed that he was supposed to be at the Banana Creek site (where all the VIPs were), but the list showed him as being at the Causeway. Several days ago, I was instructed to call all of the Congressmen who had RSVPed that they were planning on going to the launch and checking to see if they were having family coming separately. The point of these calls was to give them info on how we would get all the Members together with their families. As such, I felt that whether or not Junior’s father was in attendance, he should in fact be at the Banana Creek site. I tried to call several people, but signal strength is quite farkackt down there, so of course I couldn’t get anyone and had to leave messages. Finally, I was able to get through to someone who told me to get them to the area where the busses were picking up folks to go to Banana Creek. So, Junior, his friend, and I jumped into the van and headed out to the other site. Fortunately, Junior and his buddy had done this drive twice before, so they were able to direct me. Rather effortlessly we made it, and I ignored a guard who told me I couldn’t park in that lot. As the time was growing short, and there would have been no way to get back to Grouper’s Corner before the last bus headed out to the Causeway, I was told to just get on the bus that was heading out to Banana Creek. The bus pulled out, and turned onto the main road. As soon as the bus righted itself, it had to stop at the checkpoint. One of the ladies on the bus showed the guard our pass, and at that moment we got the call that the launch was scrubbed, so the driver just made a right back into the parking lot. Junior and his buddy wanted to get back on the road, so I drove them back to Grouper’s Corner (where they had left their car).
The rest of the night was pretty uneventful; we sat around and told war stories about what happened and what would likely happen in the coming days. I was told that there was little chance of me getting to go back whenever the launch finally happens. I figured as much, and that is fine with me. Even though it didn’t launch, it was still pretty cool to be here for the excitement. I’m sure that if I’m still at NASA, I will have other opportunities to see a shuttle launch.
We flew out of BWI Sunday (June 5) morning on Southwest Airlines and landed at Manchester Airport in New Hampshire around noon. We went to the Enterprise counter and picked up our rental, a Mazda 3. It’s not the most expensive car they make, but it was really nice, and I got to drive most of the time (OK, so the one time I navigated, I missed a step and we passed the turn. RC decided that we should more properly use our skills and I got to drive). Anyway, we picked up the car and drove about 5 hours north to Bar Harbor, ME (although it’s pronounced “Bah Ha-bah,” we never actually heard anyone say it that way). We stopped along the way so we could see the ocean. The tide must have been about to come in because it seemed like we could walk a mile out before we touched the water…not that we did since the water temp was in the high 50s. We ate lunch at McDonald’s. As we drove to Bar Harbor, ME, we got hit by torrential rains; it was not fun. Fortunately, we made it to the hotel without any problems.
We stayed at the Acadia Inn, which wasn’t too bad. The folks were somewhat friendly, the room was a pretty good size, and the bathroom was huge. We had a free continental breakfast both mornings, so that was very nice—I had blueberry muffins and Froot Loops both mornings. Unfortunately, things turned ugly the second morning: no hot water … but, I’m getting ahead of myself. We went out to dinner the first night at a lovely little place downtown called Galyn’s Restaurant. A little, hunch-backed man who definitely blipped my radar as being a member of the Tribe seated us in the back, away from the door and windows as it was rainy, damp, and cold. As RC has lived a very deprived life and never had lobster before (OK, so she is from a landlocked state, but still…), we ordered the Lobster Cocktail for an appetizer. It was quite yummy, but a little over-priced (but she enjoyed it, so it was worth it). I got the Tarragon Chicken, and RC got Garlic Shrimp Linguini. We skipped dessert.
The next morning (June 6), we were up bright and early. She went to read the paper and drink feculent coffee while I showered and watched TV. Then we were off to Acadia National Park. I am not normally an outdoorsy person, but it was very pretty. We went to Thunder Hole, but it wasn’t very thunderie (we were going to go back the next day, but we didn’t). We drove through the park, over mountains and ponds and to the ocean. We also did a little hiking. We walked all the way round Jordan Pond, and then we went to Jordan Pond House where RC had blueberry tea, I had chai, and we both had popovers. They were friggin’ awesome! Then we drove all round the island (well, our part of the island anyway). That night we dined at the West Street Café. They had specials like clam chowder or mussels for appetizer, whole lobster with 2 sides, and blueberry pie for dessert…mmm blueberry pie. I got the mussels and RC got the clam chowder. She also had a blueberry beer (it just tasted like beer to me).
Tuesday (June 7) began with the aforementioned anecdote of no hot water. The cold water wasn’t just cold, if was friggin’ frigid. I washed my hair and the important bits (arm pits and crotch). It wasn’t the cleanest day, but what can you do? RC did pretty much the same. We originally planned to go to Isle au Haut but instead decided just to eat at a small cafe on Main Street in Stonington. RC had grilled cheese and soup, and I had a burger. Both our meals cost less than the lobster cocktail two days before. Then we went to Rockland where we checked in at the LimeRock Inn (LimeRock is correct, BTW, it’s not Lime Rock). We stayed in the Petit Manan, which was a nice enough room, but rather odd. The toliet was in a little vestibule between the door to our room and a pocket door that didn’t actually work. The oddest part was that the shower was in the closet (I guess that is what the Brits mean by Water Closet). Other than that, it was fine. After checking in, RC took a shower and I sat out on the porch swing reading a Bed & Breakfast trade magazine. I found what I thought were good deals on buying a B&B, but RC overruled it. Next, we walked into downtown, and before I knew it, something came over me like a fast moving dark cloud on a sunny day. I think I was just dehydrated, but I really have no idea. We went to a Mediterranean restaurant called Amalfi, and once I had some food in me, I began to feel much better. We had mussels for appetizers, then RC got a spinach manicotti like dish, and I got the House Paella (chorizo, chicken, shrimp and mussels). We rounded dinner off with a very enjoyable crème brulée. We walked around town a little more and went back to the LimeRock Inn and sat on the porch swing before going to bed.
Wednessday (June 8) found us eating waffles for breakfast. It was sort of weird eating breakfast with the other guests, but RC assured me that that is all part of the B&B experience. I guess…
We drove back to Camden to go to the Camden Hills State Park. The view was truly spectacular! We saw the ocean on one side (Camden was far, far below us). You could also see the harbor and Penobscot Bay. On the opposite side was Cadillac Mountain. I wanted to have our picture taken with the Bay in the background. A random woman was kind enough to offer, but sadly, a photographer she was not. She managed to get a lovely picture of her thumb rather than of RC and me. Also, frighteningly, I somehow got a big ole tick on me. He was on my head and I picked him off. I tried to throw him out the window, but the bugger managed to get back in the car. On our way out of town, we stopped at some random hobby shop on the side of the road. I was hoping that they would have a cool ship model, but they were more geared to radio-controlled airplanes. Oh, well. We pointed Camden to our stern and headed down the sea of concrete to our next destination: Bath, ME. In Bath we went to the Maine Maritime Museum. It was pretty cool. We had a nice demonstration of how a ship is launched off the ways by some old geezer who seemed very excited to have someone to talk to—but, he was very monotone, and I had a hard time paying attention…and there was a big ole spider crawling around. We had a snack out of the candy machine, and I bought a CD of sea shanties at the Museum’s shop (it wasn’t very good).
After the Maine Maritime Museum, we headed out to lunch. We went downtown, and after giving up on a restaurant RC wanted to find, we settled on a BBQ joint that smelled a whole lot better than it tasted. It wasn’t bad, though, and we had a nice lunch.
We ended the day by driving into Portland, ME. We thought we were lost, but as we turned the corner, there was The Inn at St. John where we stayed. After checking in, we walked around downtown and had dinner at Soffritto Creative Italian. We started the dining experience outside, but as the sun went down, it got very cold. By the time our food came, RC and I were freezing, and we asked the waitress if we could move inside. After that, the rest of the dinner was fine.
Thursday (June 9) we woke up and headed downtown again. We found a great parking space in a parking garage that was about an hour’s walk from the water. But it was a great location for when we finally came back. On our walk downtown we stopped at a coffee shop and I got mad because it appeared that no one was working on my order. Fortunately, our next adventure was good and that made up for the lousy service at the coffee shop.
We went on a boat cruise around the harbor and got up close to many of the lighthouses that dot the harbor. After taking almost an entire roll of film on lighthouses and islands, we retired to a great little restaurant called Duck Fat. Everything that they deep fry, they deep fry in, obviously, duck fat. I had the Wolfe's Neck Farm Maine Meatloaf Panini. RC had the Ham & Cheese Panini. We also got some fries and for dessert, we had Beignet, which was, of course, fried in duck fat. It was so very yummy.
After lunch we walked over to the Portland Art Museum. It was a pretty neat museum; they had all kinds of exhibits: paintings, sculptures, statues, and a house museum. RC particularly liked the impressionist paintings. After the museum, we went back to the hotel to freshen up a bit before going to dinner. We rounded out the great eating day with dinner at Street and Company. After dinner we walked around town and browsed a bookstore around the corner from the restaurant.
On Friday (June 10), we went to the famous Becky’s Diner for obvious reasons. We bought the tee shirt. We took the ferry over to Peaks Island and walked around the island, but it was very hot and after a short time and an ice cone, we headed back to Portland and once again got on the road…this time heading to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We checked into the hotel, the Anchorage Inn, and then headed down to Hampton Beach. We walked along the boardwalk (well it wasn’t a true boardwalk in that it was cement and not wood, but you get the idea) and we ate great beachy junk food like saltwater taffy. I also had the privilege of ogling hot underage girls in skimpy bathing suits. We ate at some not very good restaurant on the beach. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. After dinner we headed back to the hotel and went swimming is the very small swimming pool. After swimming a bit and freezing, we headed back to the room and watched the Food Network.
On Saturday (June 11), we woke up and headed into Portsmouth, where we discovered that there was a really cool street festival going on. Almost the entire downtown was blocked off and there were booths lining the streets. RC thought the festival was put on just for us! We walked all around and got free hats from the Portsmouth Regional Hospital, looked at cool paintings with maritime themes painted (supposedly) by local artists, and ate some Indian food from a street vendor (although the food stalls were run by restaurateurs). RC had a virgin piña colada, which made her very happy. Sadly, she also got sunburnt. After walking around the town and watching a really cool lift bridge in action, we decided it was time to move on to our next destination. We got back in the car, got back on the road, and drove to Manchester, NH. we got severely lost trying to find the hotel, and then all of a sudden, it was right there in front of us…it was most amazing. After we checked into the Comfort Inn, I wanted to head back up the road a piece to the porn shop we passed, but RC nixed it. Instead, we went out for pizza (it was sit-down pizza, not carry-out). We had a calamari appetizer first. It wasn’t too bad. Then we went back to the hotel and went to sleep.
Sunday (June 12) was the worst day of our trip by far. We woke up and headed back to Manchester Airport to return the Mazda 3 to Enterprise. RC was worried that we would be charged for the big dent in the license plate that we noticed back at the LimeRock Inn. I was, of course, right, and they didn’t even notice it. After returning the car, we headed into the terminal and waited for our flight back to BWI.
We are already planning the next trip; probably for New Year’s. When I say “we,” I really mean “me”—RC did all the planning for this trip, so I get to plan the next one. I can only wonder at this point where we will go next…
I went to NYC Sunday night. Because Saturday and Sunday were the Seders, I couldn’t leave for New York until late. My dad drove me to the train station in time to hop the 9:40 train. I didn’t get into the City until after midnight. I stayed at the Club Quarters, Midtown. It was quite nice and had a very European feel to it. It was on 45th between 5th and 6th. As I was walking down to Times Square on Monday morning, I walked by Connolly’s Pub and Restaurant, which is where Black 47 plays every Saturday night. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there on a Saturday.
Anyway, I was in NYC because I had to take a training course for my job. It was called “Stepping Up to Leadership,” and it’s really designed for secretaries, but that is how it works when you were an administrative professional for 2 years. I was really expecting to hate it and be bored to tears for the whole 3 days. But, I have to say that it was actually pretty fun. We had a good group who were all interesting, and all wanted to participate, so that made it much better than it could it have been.
So, this is a real abbreviated entry of 3 days, but all I really did was go to class, go to dinner, and go back to the hotel to go to sleep. As I made it to the gym every day last week, I am happy to say that I went down to the “fitness room” (that is, a room in the basement that had 2 treadmills, a bike, and a stairmaster) Monday and Tuesday—45 minutes each day on the treadmill!
Today, instead of going to work, I went to the Holiday Inn for an all day retreat. I honestly thought that I was going to luck out and be left behind to man the phones. As such, I did not pay as much attention as I perhaps should have to the agenda. Needless to say, I did not have to stay in the office to answer the phones, and I attended my very first retreat. I found it an incredible waste of time.
We got to the meeting room around 8:15 in the morning. The room was arranged for maximum communication. Food along the back wall—coffee, tea, juice, bagels, and Danish. Chairs arranged in a large circle in the center of the room. Tables scattered around the room prepared for us to use as group space and for lunch. Tables on the right wall set up for the lunch buffet. Along the left wall the facilitators, standing by a table that held nametags, pens, stickers, and Post-it® notes. I created a nice nametag with an orange smiley face on it. Upon the Post-it® notes we were supposed to write one goal we had for the day. As I mentioned, I really had no idea what the retreat was about, so I wasn’t sure what to write for a goal. I asked the facilitator if “Get up tomorrow morning” was a worthy goal, and she said sure. I chose to cheat and look at what others had written (we had to post them on the wall, so they were available for all to read). I settled on the trite “to become a stronger member of the team.”
Next, we sat in the aforementioned circle of death—I mean “theatre in the round” as the Ring Lady called it. Because 2 of the 35 of us were new, we had to go around the circle and say who we were, where we worked, and what our goal for the day was. Of course to go clockwise or counterclockwise would have been entirely too easy, so Facilitator 1 procured a nerf ball that looked like a small, spongy Mars. The ball was tossed around the circle and whoever had the misfortune to catch the ball had to commence with the monologue. There is little humor in my office, and only one person made a real joke at this point. The Dude (named for the frequency with which he uses the word) caught the ball, looks very serious, and says, “Hello, my name is Dude, and I have a communication problem.” It was priceless, and I gave a hearty guffaw as people slowly began to get that it was just a joke.
We broke up into groups of two and interviewed each other about times either in our NASA career or elsewhere where we were a part of a team and how it was a wonderful experience. I wanted to pair off with someone I didn’t know all that well who might be interested in trying to get something out of the task. Alas, Dude was too far away as was the SEAL Leader, or any of the others I would like to have worked with. DogLover cornered me and there really wasn’t any way out. She “enlightened” me that at all costs I should only have positive things to say at these retreats because that is all they (management) want to hear, and I should always bear in mind that no one at the office is my friend. They aren’t my enemies, but they will all (her emphasis) turn on you in a heartbeat; I should not trust any of them. (I felt that I was talking to another person from my past, who will remain nameless.) She was just telling me what her mother told her when she first started working.
I talked about my experience as a stage manager in college and how it was a wonderful team experience. I mentioned that theatre is a great example of proper teamwork since the most important thing is that the stage is set properly when the curtain goes up. In the heat of the moment, it’s more important to get that couch off stage than to worry whose job it was…find out what went wrong after the show. Do whatever it takes so the audience sees only a wonderful show. DogLover talked about her dog shows and how she and the dog make a team, which is built on a relationship, not respect, not trust, not friendship, only relationship. I helped her tease this out into an intelligent thought.
Next, 3 2-person groups merged and we introduced our partner to the rest of the group. From the 6 introductions, we needed to find common themes, discuss them, discover what sorts of things we all needed to have a good, strong team. From there we came up with ideas that would help create such an environment.
This led to the only original thing the facilitators did. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing so far that the facilitators didn’t get straight out of a book. I can’t figure out how these people make so much damn money. Anyway, we had to take all of our ideas and pretend that it was 5 years in the future and write a headline praising our office and the first 3 sentences of the newspaper article.
Finally we returned to the circle where the nerf reemerged. This time, instead of saying who we were and what our goal was, we had to say what we would take away from the retreat and mention one specific suggestion that we would commit to working on. Again, everyone was overly serious. When the nerf ball came to me, I said that I would definitely commit to drinking at the Happy Hour idea. Then I decided to end my experience in a serious, sincere, and positive manner and praised the group for their creativity and their hard work trying to make a great office even better.
Today I am awakened by the clang, clang, clang of church bells (a setting on my clock-radio), but I was already on the way to rousing. I am very excited. I have never been on official travel before. I have never seen Orlando before. I have never flown in a non-commercial jet before. I have never seen Kennedy Space Center before. I have never seen a launch before. I am not very excited, I am over excited, and so I have woken up earlier than I need. It is 7 am, and I do not need to be at the airport until 2:45 pm. But I have lots to do.
It is 10:00 am and I’m showered, shaved, packed, and have eaten breakfast. I’m bored now, but it’s too early to go to the airport. So, I watch TV, talk on the phone, and finally make lunch. At 1:00, I leave for the airport, and of course, there are delays on the Red Line. I should have left earlier, but I make it to the airport, and the correct hanger, with about 10 minutes to spare.
We board the Cessna, an 8 passenger private plane that looks like a miniature Air Force One. It has the blue stripe along the fuselage and in big, bold letter is written “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” We are in the air and the land is falling away before you even realize it. It is amazing how fast these little planes go.
As we approach Kennedy Space Center, I can see out the cockpit window, and the runway looms ahead. I am told that it is the one that the Space Shuttle uses when it lands at Cape Canaveral. Even before I began working at NASA, I was a rabid, zealous, one might even say passionate, fan of the space program, and there is something awe-inspiring about landing where the Space Shuttle lands. We taxi off the runway and stop right next to the MDD, the Shuttle Mate-Demate Device, a machine that lifts the Shuttle off the 747 when it is ferried back to KSC. That, too, is amazing to see.
After getting to the hotel, checking in, and dumping our luggage, we are off to Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar—-a local restaurant-—for what we are told is one of the best places to eat in Cape Canaveral...if this is true, I can’t imagine what the rest of the restaurants in the Cape are like. I had blackened mahi-mahi. Most of the group had drinks before dinner, and about 3 bottles of wine were consumed throughout dinner. It will be a long night, so I choose water. A couple was our hosts for dinner, and they drove us in their cars to the restaurant. A word to the wise: if you have big, smelly dogs who shed all over your car, vacuum and fumigate before inviting guests to sit in it. I had to breathe through my mouth, and I still have dog hair on my black shirt.
After dinner, we return to the hotel to freshen up, and then it’s back to KSC to see where the MESSENGER mission will be observed, meet the director and his deputy, and listen to a lecture by the PI for the MESSENGER. All of this was very interesting, and the lecture was fascinating. I have forgotten how exhilarating it is to hear someone speak so passionately about their love (this is somewhat common in academia, but extremely rare in government. Think about it, how many people are impassioned by pushing paper and thinking up acronyms?). There is a nice spread of food laid out in the lobby, and I have some meatballs, a chicken wing, several stalks of celery, and copious, myriad, one might even say lots, of white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.
Finally, around 1 am, we head out to the observation field. We are about 1 and half miles from the launch site, and next to the media with their cameras and cool vans. It’s not a very nice night with Alex off the coast of the Carolinas, and while we can see the Delta rocket lit up on the launch pad, the sky is overcast and foreboding. Needless to say, at T –4 minutes (and 2 minutes remaining in the built-in 10 minute hold) the launch is scrubbed due to anvil clouds (I am no meteorologist, but it seems dreadful, and I have images of Thor banging his hammer on these clouds). We are all upset and shuffle dejectedly onto the bus to return (again) to the hotel. I hit the pillow just before 3 am.
I am up at 8:30 and head upstairs to breakfast. Then it’s off to the lobby to wait for the rest of the group. I see the Leader in the lobby, and he tells me that we have permission from the office to stay tonight and try to see the launch again. As the folks come down to the lobby he tells them this and, to my surprise, there isn’t as much excitement as I had anticipated. The other guy from the office tries to contact the pilots to see if they can stay (for if they can’t, there’s no need to even discuss the possibility). In the meantime, we head back to KSC for our tour of the facility.
We drive all over the Center. We get up close and personal with Atlantis, and are able to watch technicians work on her as they double-check all of the black tiles that cover the belly of the Shuttle. We go to the huge 540 ft. building where they mount the Shuttle to the External Tanks. We see the original Launch Control for the Apollo missions (this is also where they filmed the Mission Control scenes from Apollo 13). We get right on the launch pad where they launch the Space Shuttle. Then we have lunch, and make our way back to the plane.
We all get on board, stow our bags, and strap ourselves in. The pilots taxi us out to the runway, and as they begin final preparations for take-off, they get a call from the tower that the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is closed and there is about an hour and a half delay. We aren’t leaving now until about 6:30 pm.
I take advantage of this time to get a lecture from one of the pilots on all the controls of the cockpit. I am as ecstatic as a kid in a candy store. I don’t get any of it, but it’s so cool. Because I’m in the cockpit, I’m not privy to the conversation happening in the cabin, but apparently the folks have changed their mind, and figure if we are going to be delayed so much, we might as well push on through and try to watch the launch again.
The pilots return to their hotel to get some more rest, and we return to ours to squat. We do not get rooms, and after relaxing in the lobby for about an hour, we head off to a movie. We see The Village. It’s not bad. Then we are off to the Outback. Finally, at about 12:30 am, the bus returns again to pick us up and we head out to the site where we were last night to watch the launch again.
Tonight it’s a clear sky. We can see stars. We can see the craters on the moon through binoculars. We sit and talk to the pilots. We sit and talk to KSC employees. We sit and talk to some media folk. Finally, the moment has come for Mission Control to make a decision. We hear over the speakers, “Green across the board, MESSENGER launch is a go.” We head up the hill and watch as the lights around us are shut off. The voice on the speakers says, “T minus 5, 4, 3, 2.”
Night becomes day as the boosters (6 of the 9) spark into life. The light from a mile and a half is effulgent, lustrous, one might even say bright. It burns the retina. The air is still, and the plume hangs in the sky like a white, puffy worm. As the rocket ascends higher and higher, we hear, softly at first, and then louder and louder, the sound traveling across the expanse. As the sound waves hit us, I can feel the fabric in my shirt and pants ripple with the force. Before you can even blink (or the burn on the retina fades), the rocket is almost out of sight. The fire fades as the fuel is spent. Just as the flame disappears, the other 3 boosters ignite and we can just see the original 6 disconnect from the rocket. Then all is night again, and the sky is lit by the moon’s shine alone. The plume still hangs in air, defying both gravity and wind.
After a moment, we board our bus for the last time. We all nap during the 20 minute ride back to the runway, and finally we are aboard the plane again. The wheels go up about 3:10 am. Almost everyone sleeps. I, however, stand just behind the pilots, and enjoy the view out the cockpit window. I see a lightning storm below us off our starboard side. We see a bright light in the sky that I insist is a UFO; the Leader informs us it is more likely the International Space Station, which can be visible from the ground (but we are 40,000 ft up, so it is more visible). Finally, we see the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that connects Maryland to Virginia. The wheels are already down, and we are about to touch down. Alas, the pilot tells me I need to go sit down now. But what an exciting opportunity (one few but pilots get to witness). We arrive just about 5 in the morning, and by the time I say good-bye, get the bus to the Metro, get to Gallary-Place/Chinatown (only to discover that the Red Line, which has been running for 15 minutes, has a 15 minute delay), get to my stop, walk home, get undressed and crawl into bed, it’s 6:30 am.
I set the alarm for 11:30 am and try not to think about having to go to the office later this afternoon as my head falls to my fluffy, comfortable, waiting pillow.