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…
Sorry I didn’t write over the weekend, but I just wasn’t feeling up to it. I’m really still not, but it’s 9:30 in the morning, and I have finished all of my work for the day (well, I say that, but I think it’s probably more accurate to say that I don’t have anything on my desk at the moment, and I am just waiting for the next task to be delivered), so I need to do something to alleviate the boredom.
Anyway, about Friday:
I got up pretty early (around 7:30—my regular weekend wake-up time), and took a shower, shaved and generally stared in the mirror a whole lot looking at my soon-to-be-different nose. I kept touching my moles, willing my fingers and brain to remember the feel, contour, texture of my moles and face. I watched TV and ate a very light breakfast, all the while my fingers continued to migrate toward my nose and cheek. I cleaned and vacuumed the apartment and washed the dishes. I didn’t want to come home to a dirty home (although, I somehow forgot or ran out of time to do the bathroom—I can’t imagine how that happened). Around 11ish, my parents called and said that they were on their way (my mom insisted that she and my dad be there, which was fine by me). They arrived shortly before noon, and we sat and talked for a bit; my dad flipped channels on the TV. My mom was nice enough to fold my clothes. At last the time had come for us to head over to the doctor’s office. I ran to the bathroom to look one last time at the two moles that had invited themselves to my face 17 years ago and never left. As much as I was prepared to have them removed, I was still going to miss them.
It was a rainy, overcast, and generally dreary day…poetic, I thought. When we arrived at the doctor’s office, we were the only ones there. It was only a matter of minutes before his secretary, a woman who desperately needed to be on the receiving end of a weed-whacker (to remove the copious amounts of hair), asked me to sign the waivers that relinquish the doctor from major liability. I filled out my forms. My dad thumbed through People. My mom thought out loud about getting liposuction.
Soon after signing my life away, the nurse called me to go back to the examination room. I was pretty nervous. I can’t really explain why I was so nervous. I have had these sorts of procedures performed on me before. The very last time, for some absurd reason, I convinced myself that the Novocain would wear off and I would feel everything. I got a little queasy then, and I guess I was afraid that the same thing would happen this time. Needless to say, it didn’t happen either time. When the doctor arrived, I made a comment about being nervous, and he replied, “Why? Have you heard of my reputation as the butcher?” He continued to make these dumb, yet reassuring comments. So far, I give him an A+ for bedside manner. He definitely did his best to put me at ease, and I appreciated that.
Now comes the gory part.
He asked me if I wanted to begin with the most painful part or the second most painful part. Before I could decide (I was leaning toward the most painful), he suggested that I go with the lesser so as to be better prepared for the other. I was not prepared for either. He warned me that I was going to feel a stick. I felt a stick as the needle penetrated what I can only guess (I had my eyes closed since I sat in the chair) was the area between my nose and my cheek (where the pads of glasses rest). Then he said, “Now your going to feel some burn.” It was like no pain I had ever felt before. It wasn’t some burn, it was like a major burn. I wanted to kick my legs, but I tried to be tough. My right eye started tearing badly. Finally he told me it was over and here we go on the worst part. I asked him to give me a moment. We both waited patiently until my eye stopped tearing, and after a second, I took a deep breath and said, “OK.” He again said, “Small stick” and that’s all I heard. If I thought the other shot was bad, this was the mother of all shots. It felt as if he had gone in at the bridge and pushed a red-hot poker straight down to the very tip of my nose. I wanted to scream; I wanted to kick; I wanted to run. I grit my teeth and felt the tears run down the sides of my face. Then it was over and the pain lingered about a second or two longer.
The rest of the procedure went just fine. I can’t really tell you much because I was in my happy place and ignoring everything else. I can tell you that after the Novocain, the next worst part was the sutures. I couldn’t feel anything, but I could hear the thread as it scraped through the skin. Then, in order to minimize scarring as much as possible, he had to pull the sutures tight before cutting them. I could feel the skin pulling as he pulled taught on the sutures.
Then it was over, and my parents and I went home. I told my dad that I wanted a lollipop, but he wouldn’t give me one. We went over to CVS and got cotton balls (which we returned because my dad read the instructions that the doctor gave me and it said to use Q-Tips instead), Band-Aids, Hydrogen Peroxide, Tylenol, and Neosporin.
We went back to my apartment, watched some more TV, and then we headed to dinner. We dined at the Outback Steakhouse I got a rib-eye. It was very, very good.
Even though it was minor surgery, and I only had 2 moles removed, it was still a trauma to my body, and I was beat, so I went to bed and slept almost 12 hours.
As I was falling asleep I wondered if I will feel phantom pains in my amputated moles.
I was so cold. I could see goose bumps all over my arms and legs. My teeth were chattering, and I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes. I was surprised I couldn’t see my breath. That I was sitting naked on my couch probably didn’t help. Finally, a commercial came on (I was watching Space Balls on The WB), and I got up to turn on the heat. As I walked toward the thermostat, arms wrapped round my frigid body, I realized that the sun was blazing behind my closed blinds. As the mechanism that controls the furnace neared, I had a flashback to several hours earlier. I was lying in my warm bed, snuggled under the covers, trying to pry sleep from my weary eyes. I had the radio tuned to WTOP to ascertain the coming day’s weather. As the memory played across my mind’s eye like a community theatre presentation doesn’t, I recalled that it was supposed to be in the 70s.
I couldn’t believe that I would waste the last of the Indian Summer days shivering in the altogether indoors. I bypassed the thermostat and headed straight into the bedroom, where I had already laid out my outfit for the day: blue jeans, an old crew tee shirt from my days at sea, a flannel button-down lumberjack style over-shirt, socks, and underwear. My combat boots were laying at the foot of my bed where I had left them days earlier. I quickly dressed, brushed my teeth, and walked out into the beautiful, warm sunshine that is so uncharacteristic of early November in DC.
After I started the car, I sat for a moment baking in the heat of the closed-up car. I closed my eyes, and for a moment, I felt like Ella and Tigger; I understood their obsession with basking in the sunlight, feeling the heat ooze into every pore, nook, and cranny of my being. Before I could ease myself free of this reverie, I was jolted back to reality with a dull clang of metal hitting asphalt. I got out of the car and discovered some odd metal contraption on the ground beneath my car, vomited out like a metallic hairball.
I figured that with this piece fully removed from the car (now I understood what had been making that odd noise for the past several weeks), it would begin to feel better. Nevertheless, I wanted to have that vet of cars—the mechanic—tell me that everything was OK, so I got into the car and drove all the way to Boteler Automotive in Beltsville. Half way to the mechanic’s, it occurred to me that I had no way of getting home. Too late, I was committed. Besides, the brakes have felt sluggish, and it needed an oil change. The only thing to do was to walk back to the Metro.
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.