The adventure began at night.
Eager to stretch my vacation budget I booked a late night flight to Colorado with a connecting flight in Atlanta. The first leg of the journey left Orlando at about 10pm on April 29th. The plan was to get to the hotel by 3am, sleep for 4 hours and get to the bus stop in plenty of time for the hotel shuttle to the convention. My dad dropped me off at Orlando International Airport with time to spare and the short nap I took in the terminal would serve me well.
The flight was late, surprise number 1. As I gathered my carry-ons – this was 1999 so we were still permitted enough carry on luggage to “gather”, a curious gathering of passengers by the window would lead to surprise number 2. People were gathered to stare at the plane, which was riddled with paint scratches on the face and scuffs on the windshield. Seriously, the thing looked like it flew through a thousand miles of hail. Once we boarded, the exterior paled in comparison to the interior. They didn’t call these things “air buses” for nothing. From the tattered seats to the smell, it was just like riding public transportation.
The flight to Atlanta went by, thankfully, without incident. Our layover in Atlanta, unfortunately, was not so smooth. It turned out the lateness of out departure left us only 18 minutes to board our connecting flight to Colorado. Not only were we told the flight was leaving from the other side of the airport, but the automated walkways and escalators were down. I’d heard the Atlanta Airport was pretty big. It was. I’m sure they would have held the flight for us but when you’re in a crowd of redeye travelers and spending the night in Atlanta is not an option, a signed guarantee from the Pope wouldn’t hold holy water. So, we did what any irrational mob would do. RUN.
With the theme from Chariots of Fire playing in our heads (cause one guy was actually humming it) we made it with minutes to spare. Memories of the connecting flight are limited to: turbulence, warm Coke, turbulence, watching Seinfeld on the in flight television system, turbulence, and many futile attempts to sleep — because of turbulence.
Our flight arrived late, how late I don’t recall, but it felt good to know I was finally in Colorado and less than 20 minutes from the hotel. The next order of business was to get to the bus stop and meet the courtesy shuttle to the hotel. Upon exiting the terminal and stepping into the Colorado night, the next order of business was to dig through my carry ons for 2 sweatshirts and an umbrella.
‘Oh well, I’m hear. And it can’t rain ALL weekend.’ … HA!
I marched toward the row of hotel signage at the bus stop looking for mine, The Doubletree. I marched. And marched. And walked. And meandered. And stumbled about. Hmmm, no Doubletree sign. No #@!!*&*%#@ Doubletree Sign! Did the company go out of business during the migration across Atlanta airport? Keep in mind, it’s 1999, cell phones were not a standard accessory. I had no change to use the pay phone and what was the front desk gonna do for me at that hour anyway? No bus meant no bus.
I happened upon another shuttle (Hilton I think) and the bus driver, awaiting his passengers. I asked him where to get the Doubletree shuttle. He wasn’t sure but informed me that the Doubletree was just down the street from his stop. ‘Can I hitch a ride,’ I asked. ‘Well, I’m only supposed to go to the Hilton and back,’ was his response. He smelled desperation, it was all over me. Like a cheap suit… that smelled of desperation. I dug into my pocket and pulled out five bucks. It didn’t smell like enough so I pulled out another five. Behold, my first successful bribe. His passengers arrived and once they were aboard, so was I. We pulled away from the bus stop — THAT’s when I noticed the #@!!*&*%#@ Doubletree sign at another stop. It was vacant so I felt vindicated.
I arrived at the hotel 25 minutes later. I needed a shower, I needed to unpack and I needed to sleep. Guess which one won out. It was still raining outside and I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the drops hitting my window. A few more hours and the Celebration would begin.
… to be continued.