trip was promising an amazing adventure. If for no other reason,
it wasn’t just one trip… it was taking shape as three trips in
just under two weeks.
days… September 28th through October 10th.
with Ellen and Richard… and six days based out of Ocala total,
with a four-day journey to Savannah in the middle.
then… finishing in Orlando… meeting up with Donna and Joe, catching
some Mickey Mouse Halloween excitement, and three nights on the
Richard… Donna… Joe…
Moss and city squares… theme park and not-so-scary hijinks…
we’ve got the travel diary to prove it.
first… you need to know something. These will not be the normal
travel diaries. We’ve got four of them. Three, beginning here,
are based in Florida. And the fourth, from the middle of this
trip, you can find in the Travel
section of the site by looking for Georgia.
the end… there will also be all of the usual fun columns and coverage
that you always get here at the Backpack. But for now… we’ve got
a plane to catch…
one – Friday, September 28, 2012
is not the first time I’ve been awake at 4am on a travel day.
It’s happened before.
needed to head out for an early flight previously. And I’ve stayed
up all night working on projects I wanted wrapped up before leaving.
But this time…
don’t recall any other time with the alarm waking me at 4am so
I could head in to work.
I’m moving well before sunrise to get myself out for an 8-hour
day before returning to get Terry and head off to Warwick and
believe the motto that no good deed goes unpunished. But if you’d
rather -- a 4am wake-up call and a full-day of work are not the
first indicators you’d check off as signs of good things developing
for the start of a vacation. (But I’m ahead of the story. Let’s
get to Green Airport.)
flying Southwest… and before I even tell you the full story I
want to take a moment to thank the folks working for this fine
airline. Big round of applause. I am going to tell you right now
that they went above and beyond, and quickly addressed our concerns
and problems when we called them. I want you to know that as you
follow our adventures. There was an issue… not a good one, and
one with several layers… and the representatives we spoke with
provided an answer. And I want to thank Southwest for that. Back
to our departure…
not raining… it’s waterfalling. Torrential downpour as we leave
our house. Still raining by the time we’ve dropped off our car,
and Dad is taking us to the airport.
check in and go through security, and find ourselves pretty much
set with a bit more than two hours to go until our flight. Nothing
out of the ordinary there… except maybe the rain… as we generally
try to arrive roughly two hours ahead of the departure time.
haven’t eaten since leaving the house around 5am though, and it’s
now after 3pm. So Terry and I get in line at a Quizno’s counter,
order a sandwich, and sit down for a few minutes. By 3:30pm we’ve
eaten, used the restrooms, and are walking toward the gate.
of background information… Terry broke her wrist a few months
back, near the beginning of the summer. So though I normally,
gladly, accept the duties of pack mule for her, I am being extra
cautious as this trip begins.
we start heading to the gate, Terry is cleaning up our table while
I grab our bags and start walking. The end result is that we have
a good 50-feet or so between us when I glance to the side of the
walkway and spot a problem.
quick look at the departure board and I can see the word “delayed”
next to our flight details. I stop and begin to scan for more.
By the time Terry catches up to me, I’ve figured out that they
are showing a 4-hour delay. We’re not leaving around 5:30… it’s
going to be closer to 9:30 now.
stop at the gate, confirm the delay, and head to a bench to try
and make some phone calls and adjustments. In order to pick up
the pace a bit for the story while Terry and I regroup, I present
some bullet-point nuggets for your consideration.
and Richard are already in Orlando. They left the house to
head in for dinner… planning on eating, maybe getting a bit
of shopping done, and then picking us up. The regular flight
would have landed just after 8pm. We’re not scheduled to leave
now until well after our original flight would have landed.
The new flight will arrive after midnight.
makes a joke about our luggage. See… when we confirmed the
delay, the gate agent told us somewhat casually that the plane
that was supposed to come to Green Airport and become ours
had been diverted. Amazingly… apparently… no one knew of the
delay about 30 to 45 minutes ago, because when we checked
in they took our bags, weighed them, tagged them, and placed
them on the conveyor belt without a sign or a whisper of a
flight delay. Basically, Terry’s joke revolves around the
concept of being early, checking in bags, and then having
them sorted and stacked and on their way to a plane that doesn’t
exist. She wants to know where they are going to end up.
announcement is made over the terminal speaker system. As
if Terry hasn’t poked the superstitious bear enough with her
luggage joke, the information sounds pretty strange to us.
Southwest is announcing that passengers will be compensated
for the delay. All of this has happened and the clock hasn’t
reached 4pm yet. That’s some 90-minutes-plus ahead of the
original plane leaving and they have the next flight scheduled
with times plus we’re already hearing they plan to compensate
passengers. (And… back to the first point… keep in mind that
they didn’t tell us the flight was delayed less than an hour
ago when we checked in. All this accomplished in 30-45 minutes?
and I get in touch with my Dad. Fortunately Mom and Dad don’t
live too far away… so after confirming with the airline that there
will not be some unexpected miracle and a plane showing up at
7pm, we head off to meet him and a few hours of waiting in more
hear those stories of companies that answer social networking
complaints right away? I settle in on Dad’s computer and begin
a social networking storm of Facebooking and Twittering and ampersatting
hear back from a couple of friends. Nothing amazing… “sorry to
hear about the delay”… “lucky that the parents had their house
nearby instead of being stuck at Green”… and so on. Nothing from
Southwest. But honestly… I didn’t expect anything from them right
away. Let’s review…
got to the airport. Four hour delay. That’s all we really knew
at that point. We might be upset, but that isn’t something worthy
of a quick response.
people that have ever experienced true travel delays and miseries,
a four hour delay while getting something to drink and spending
time with Dad isn’t exactly an awful evening. While not the way
we want it, it’s Ellen and Richard that have it rough for now…
because they could have stayed home, and it isn’t worth it for
them to try a round trip to come back later at this point. Heck…
we even got to pick up a card for Ky’s birthday so Dad could mail
it for us… so we’re getting some to-do stuff accomplished.
-- no answer from Southwest to a post or five? I get it.
but this story has merely been pushed off the top of the hill.
The journey down the mountain… and picking up speed… is about
head back over to the airport around 7:30pm. Since we left the
building, we don’t have bags to check this time but do need to
go through security.
go to the desk at Gate 19, and a Southwest agent is there with
a stack of travel vouchers. She’s nice enough -- but let’s face
it… there is only so much patience and convincing sincerity a
person can convey when a flight has been delayed four hours, everyone
in front of you was on that plane, you’ve already spoken to dozens
of people with a “we’re sorry about your experience today, please
take this voucher and join us again” apology, and you still have
dozens of vouchers left in your hand for customers yet to return.
our delay, Terry and I had been talking about this already-decided-voucher
concept and something just wasn’t ringing as true. We’ve gotten
vouchers and such on trips before. It wasn’t that they were offering
them… even as far back as pre-original-flight-time… that connected
as wrong. Instead it was the idea that in less than an hour everything
had been settled, and it seemed to indicate a feeling that everything
was neatly wrapped up with ribbon on the letter of apology envelope,
and that was that.
as the woman at the Gate 19 desk hands Terry our two vouchers,
Terry wants to know if she can ask a few questions. No one was
in line… we were once again really early for the departure time…
and the two of them strike up a conversation for four or five
she’s doing that… I spot someone I haven’t seen in about twenty
years. I used to work in a hospital. And one of the nurses… we
haven’t been in contact, so I’m guessing we last spoke in 1993…
is sitting in the waiting area at Gate 19 with some members of
to see her… Terry arrives… we continue talking and catching up
on some names for a few more minutes, and then the rest of her
group shows up and all of us begin looking for places to settle
down. Terry and I walk away from the group at the gate to an area
with a table, and I break out the cards so we can play Canasta
for a bit while waiting for boarding to start.
tells me the woman gave her a number to call for customer service.
They had talked about things like our checking in but no one telling
us then about the delay and other general stuff, and it was a
basic conversation since Terry knew there was nothing that could
really be done right now. The trick is… Terry is still standing
next to that superstitious luggage bear, and she has a feeling
that the bear might have a stick of its own. So, she was happy
to get the number to use -- get to Florida, settle in, get some
rest, and then look back over things a day later with the place
to call in hand if it still seems frustrating.
wrap up our card game after three hands with me winning. Terry
says something about the game not being official… but we both
know we won’t get back to this specific game. It’s time to take
our place in line.
got a good spot early in group A… we actually do pay the $10 per
person each way fee since history has shown we’re not always near
a computer 24-hours ahead of our flight time. So far, it has worked
out quite well and been worth the extra money.
start talking with the woman next to us in line. She tells us
she travels between Florida and Rhode Island every other month.
Turns out she was booked on this same flight in late July… and
ended up with the same delay and same explanation. She believes
there is something going on -- maybe two flights with low reservations
getting merged with the result rearranging where planes are located
and how they can be utilized when needed, or perhaps some other
type of scheduling mishap that is moving assets and leaving Green
a plane short at certain points in the schedule -- and, in the
end, she is saying that this wasn’t some last-minute adjustment.
She doesn’t know the frequency, but she does know it isn’t a one-time
course… this plays right into the feeling that Terry and I have
of the settlements and efforts seeming pre-determined and routine.
How do you know you’re going to have vouchers and a four-hour
delay 90-minutes both before the original flight would have departed
and exactly as the delay is announced? Well… it’s less of a trick
if you know of the delay days in advance and not minutes. Not
saying that is what happened… not saying they don’t have a clear
policy that allows seamless transitions and answers -- just saying
this woman’s experience and theory matches up with the idea that
some people on the Southwest side weren’t exactly surprised by
this afternoon when a delay took place. Anyway…)
board the plane, and as it begins moving to the runway I start
counting. Now… obviously Southwest isn’t handing out cash. Some
of the people on this flight won’t use their vouchers. That said…
23 rows, 6 seats per row but only about 4 or 5 in every row. I
estimate they printed over 100 vouchers with a value north of
flight was good overall. Smooth and fine and nothing exceptional
get to the baggage claim area and our luggage is soaked. We don’t
open them up to see if they’re wet inside and out (though we fear
the worst). Instead… for this moment… picture pieces of luggage
with rivers of water running off of them as you pick them up.
It’s like someone sprayed them with a hose just prior to putting
them on the belt.
on though -- it’s not raining in Orlando.
was raining in Warwick. All afternoon. And… thanks to the delay
and how we experienced it (remember, we weren’t told of any delay
when we checked our bags)…the bags could have been outside a couple
of times and exposed to some pretty heavy rain.
now? How are the bags this wet on the outside? They should have
dried a bit… it should have soaked in… whatever. Go take a bag,
pour a bucket of water over it, and let it sit in your living
room for three hours. Then pick it up and shake it (as if moving
it from a plane to a trolley, and then a trolley to a conveyor
belt). Now… after all that… is there enough water left on the
outside to create little rivers as you pick it up?
met Ellen and Richard and are just happy to be on our way to their
house. Sam is thrilled to see us and bouncing around even though
it’s six-hours past his normal bedtime. He’s so happy he’s actually
hopping sideways out of the garage so he can watch us as Richard
takes him for a walk.
open our bags… and I don’t need to tell you, do I? Of course.
Our clothes aren’t wet. They’re drenched.
are soaked in all of our bags, with items wet throughout… some
of the clothes have been stained… and there’s a broken mirror
and smashed boxes. A few of the boxes were destroyed by water
starts doing some laundry, and after a couple of hours we finally
drift off to sleep.
Saturday will be a little less exciting and a bit more fun.
two – Saturday, September 29, 2012
wakes up and makes a phone call. She talks for about thirty seconds
to a Southwest representative, gets referred to a customer service
number that’s available Monday through Friday as a special help
line, and hangs up.
a few minutes, we head to see a friend’s new house that is nearby.
Then it’s off to a favorite place for lunch.
arrive at Harry’s
Bar & Grille, and Terry and I make a decision
to split items. We get an order of the She Crab soup, bacon wrapped
scallops, and some wings. (Ellen went with the She Crab soup,
and Richard opted for blackened wings.)
it has been in the past… the food is really good.
step outside and I spot a boxer out for a walk. “Boxers are cute”
is Tigg’s observation. (Yes… there have been some very early discussions
about a friend for Molly and Gus. Very early.)
and Richard are learning… well, actually, they already knew this…
Terry and I can be a handful when we’re tired. Today though, we
are just unstoppable. Comments and sarcasm and one-liners all
over the place. It’s not that we’re upset or even cranky…we just
get a bit goofy… and beyond the lack of sleep, the whole Southwest
situation had us up washing clothes plus there still really isn’t
a resolution. So when something funny or strange or in even a
slight way noteworthy happens… well… we’re all over it with an
inappropriate running commentary.
have long contended that Ellen and Richard should be pitched to
networks as a reality television show. I don’t know how to describe
it to you in a way that really captures the full experience. I
can share plenty of stories -- because once Ellen gets talking
to herself and Richard begins mumbling… these are rarified levels
of comedy. Someday I should just tape it from the back seat as
we drive around.
afternoon Ellen is driving. That alone should tell you we’re in
for it. (She happens to be a horrible passenger for most people
-- don’t know why, but my driving doesn’t seem to bother her as
much. She is also easily the most aggressive driver of
the four of us. This is a woman that will turn right at a red
light when she wants to go straight -- needs to go straight
-- just because she doesn’t want to wait at the light.)
today’s episode, Ellen is asking Richard for directions, then
deciding he’s wrong and more or less turning exactly the opposite
of his suggestion. When… time after time… it turns out he’s right,
she’s getting mad and increasingly frustrated. Kind of like this…
“Which way is the gas station
“Well, you can turn here or at the next light, but either way
you need to go left.”
We’re further down the road than that. Do you know where we
are? I’m going right.”
Ellen moves the car over a lane and then turns right.
“Oh s**t, it was to the left.”
Richard… wisely and showing tremendous experience… says nothing.
you have to really know Ellen (and Richard) to understand I’m
not being critical of Ellen. Love her. Great woman. I’m just trying
to bring you along for the ride. She gets into a zone, moving
along at warp speed, and then when she asks you a question there
is just no way you can answer in time… because as she’s asking,
before she’s finished the question, she’s already made decisions
and started moving the car based on her expectations of your answer.
and I have settled in to the day and we are in a ridiculously
silly state of mind. Since lunch, I’ve been making up lyrics for
a would-be Ellen and Richard Show theme song. As Ellen
is asking Richard how she can turn the car around to head the
other way and get to the gas station, Terry has joined me in a
and Sammy Sticks.
It’s the Ellen and Richard Show!”
front, Ellen and Richard seem amused by the song… but… Richard
has just told Ellen to take a right, she went left, and now we’re
finding out that left was not the correct choice.
at this point of the day that I’m going to save you some time.
We made a quick stop to check out some cowboy boots. (Didn’t buy
anything.) Went into a kitchen supply store. (Bought enough that
I have no idea how we’re going to be able to get everything home.
Mind you… especially since we arrived after midnight… this is
our first day in Florida and dinner is still a couple of hours
away.) And now…
arrived at Hobby Lobby. Since her first visit to one, it’s become
Terry’s favorite store. We’re going to be here a while. So if
you have something to do… feel free.
we get out of Hobby Lobby, we decide to spend the evening playing
some games and that we’ll order a pizza.
and I win a game of Hand and Foot (version of Canasta) without
a count. Then Richard and I are off to pick up a stuffed double-crust
pizza with ricotta and garlic knots from Pavarotti’s Restaurant.
It was ok… but nothing special. It’s mainly here to document it.
Not really a recommendation.
were early for picking up the pizza, so I wandered into Publix
and came out with a half-pie (Mango Key Lime… Publix is awesome)
and Otter Paws ice cream. Great ending for a goofy, fun day.
three – Sunday, September 30, 2012
and I have decided that we’re going to spend the final three nights
of the trip in Disney. We kind of knew we’d be there for a night
or two already. And the Mouse offers a great shuttle service to
and from the airport. (Disney’s Magical Express)
we were working on setting up our travel dates, originally we
were going to stay about nine or ten days and leave on October
7th or 8th. Some of you might quickly understand that was Columbus
Day weekend. As we checked on flights, the prices for coming back
were enough that we decided to stay until Tuesday or Wednesday
-- after some research, it wasn’t much more than just the cost
of the flight on Monday for a couple of extra nights in a hotel
and the cost of the flight on Wednesday.
we hadn’t decided was what Ellen and Richard might do as far as
joining us for a portion of the time in Orlando, and the day we
would head that way. We have tickets for the Halloween event at
Disney on Monday night… Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party…
and everything else is open. Now it is settling in that Ellen
and Richard are going to drive us to Orlando on Sunday, but need
to think about whether or not they’ll spend that night with us.
where things start breaking in a great direction. We were planning
on staying at what Disney calls a “value resort”… one of their
All-Star locations. Terry gets Gina on the phone, and she has
a surprise for us…
gives the phone to me since I had done the research on it. When
asked what I was looking for, I explain to Gina that I think the
All-Star Movies Resort had the best prices I saw with availability
for the nights we wanted. She explains that while she does have
that same rate, it isn’t true for that being the best price. Disney
has just opened the last section of their new Art of Animation
Resort, and she can offer us a room in The Little Mermaid section
for less than we were expecting.
take the room, and I talk to Gina for a few more minutes. She
walks me through the details of the Magical Express.
is turning out to be a pretty good day.
has been craving Chinese food, which she normally can’t trick
Richard into eating. Today though… she has rigged the voting to
get the two of us to agree with her. So we head out for a quick
lunch of Chinese food, and then stop in one of the antique malls
nearby. (As to the food… it does seem to be true that finding
good Chinese in Florida can be a challenge. It was ok at Wok N
Roll II… prices were really good… and we would go back. But it
wasn’t really good or something to advise you to seek out, and
wouldn’t be a first choice for us. More of a nestled-in-a-strip-mall
kind of establishment that fulfilled a craving we had.)
end up spending a couple of hours wandering through the booths…
often laughing hysterically at the memories created from some
of the older novelty items like themed drinking glasses, lunchboxes
and toys. Terry finds a few things for the boys… and it’s pretty
much official. We were in trouble after the restaurant store yesterday
for her to have any room in our luggage, and I knew it was bordering
on a miracle once we came out of Hobby Lobby… even with us bringing
an extra, empty bag. Now? After a few treasures obtained in the
antique mall? I see no way we’re getting everything packed for
Connecticut. (Of course… that’s Terry’s department… and she’s
insisting we’re fine.)
a while we head back home… have a steak dinner that couldn’t be
beat… and sit down for some cards.
discussing the events that will begin on Monday morning -- the
start of the trip to Savannah -- Richard and I win the game of
Hand and Foot by 200 points.
and I are playing dueling laptops as the game ends and conversation
continues. We’ve both been a bit easy-going about finding things
in Savannah to do up until this point. Not sure why. Just have
been. (Maybe it’s part of the magic of the city -- “A
Tale of Two City” -- and the spell it casts
evening we’re kicking ideas back and forth… Lafayette Square and
the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist… looks like there might
be a couple of railroad museums… City Market… and generally we’re
just trying to get a feel for the city.
we get ready to head off to bed, we’ve decided to target J. Alexander’s
in Jacksonville for lunch. (An old favorite from our
trip to Fort Lauderdale.) And, we’re looking
seriously at Paula Deen -- The Lady and Sons -- for dinner.
now though… the first weekend of the trip is wrapping up. It’s
been very low-key, and we are having an awesome time so far.
~ ~ ~
want to conclude this entry with a quick note… there isn’t going
to be an entry for days four, five, six and seven. Well there
is… but not by that name.
Terry, Ellen, Richard and I are headed for Savannah, Georgia.
That’s right… we’re taking a trip within a trip… an adventure
during the adventure… heading out on a distinctly separate journey.
So… to continue this storyline, look for “Welcome
to Savannah – Days One, Two, Three and Four”
to continue the travel diary in order, with “Days
Eight, Nine and Ten” taking over when we return
to Florida. (And yes… there will be some separate efforts from
a “Best of…” to an overview about Savannah.)