Thursday, November 5, 2009

Florida Trip: Day One (28-Oct-09)

So I’ve spent a few days trying to figure out how best to write about my recent Florida trip, which was a huge mass of wildly divergent experiences, and I think the best way is to simply break it down by day.

The trip started, for me, Tuesday evening (Oct. 27th) by boarding the Victoria Clipper, always the best part of these cross-continental trips. The Clipper is like a luxury ferry that zips along at 30 knots/hour directly from the Inner Harbour (practically our doorstep) to Pier 69 in downtown Seattle. The journey takes three hours, and at night there’s not much to see (and the nights are starting earlier and earlier now), but it's pleasant, comfortable and basically everything air travel isn’t anymore. You can read my rant about air travel here.

I arrived in Seattle about 9pm and decided to take public transport to the airport. This meant climbing up three very steep blocks, but after the ride it was good exercise. The bus arrived and took me to “the Tunnel,” aka a transportation hub under one of downtown’s major malls now called the Westlake Station. Here you find a combination of busses and electric light rail, and think to yourself “now this is what I call a real city!”

At some point in the future, I should be able to grab a light rail train all the way to the airport this way, but that final link is not yet complete, so instead you ride the rail to Tukwila station (cost: $2.50 including the first bus) and then take a free “shuttle” bus to the actual airport. Easy and cheap (particularly compared to taxi!).

So I got to the airport well before my midnight “red eye” flight, and took the opportunity to survey Seattle’s airport. Overall, I rank it very highly: lots of tasteful public art, clusters of restaurants that provide variety at various budget levels, and plenty of internet stations (though sadly no free wifi). I enjoyed a light dinner, found my gate, plugged in my various electronics to charge and waited patiently.

About four hours later I found myself in Dallas, where regrettably my arrangements called for a three-hour layover. Nothing to do but survey the airport, and again I was reasonably impressed, not least because of the dramatic change of “tone and style” between the Pacific Northwest and Texas. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just ... different.

DFW (as it's known) is actually built with a major interstate highway passing right through it, leading to a rather clever “triple-8” design that requires a “people mover” train to get anywhere. They also stack their restaurants (I kid you not! See pic!) and generally make good use of their space. No free wifi (again), but not a bad airport at all. You could do worse (and I did -- we’ll get to that later).

So now it's 7:30am local time, and time to board the flight to Orlando. Amazingly, even this crack-o-dawn flight is quite full, making the second time I will have to sit almost motionless for hours on end. At least the flight arrived quite a bit early.

We got into Orlando and found the airport there in rather a shocking state of disrepair (I found out later they are remodelling all the terminals by literally ripping out the walls and shops and essentially starting over). Rather than have someone meet me at the airport at noon on a workday, I was travelling light enough to just take the #41 bus which goes up Semoran Boulevard (slowly) all the way to my preferred safe haven in Altamonte Springs, the Hampton Inn (run by my good pal Tristan). Heather and I have stayed at many Hampton Inns over the years (seriously, we could write a book!), but this one is by far the most personable and service-oriented, going well beyond what most HIs offer. Hamptons are not the fanciest or most luxurious of the Hilton family of hotels, but this one is definitely one of the most friendly and guest-centred you will ever encounter. End of plug. :)

I used the Hampton as a way-station to relax and take care of some business until I could meet up with my mother-in-law. The #41 Lynx had given me a chance to survey the popular commercial strip of Semoran, and I could see once again that the economic recession had really taken a toll on central Florida: lots and lots of vacant buildings, incomplete construction or changes of business to a distinctly lower-rent makeup, combined with the absolutely insane heat (90+ degrees F / 33+ degrees C) in late October!) was hard to take at first, though once you get into the Winter Park area things start to look the same. Still, even in the “richer” parts of town, closures and unoccupied buildings (sometimes whole strip malls) were a common sight.

After checking in with Tristan, I headed over to the local AT&T store (to get a new US cell phone number for my iPhone) and then to Jason’s Deli where I had a baked potato the size of my brains (no, I’m not kidding). This involved walking a total of a half-mile each way(see map). I will never know what in heaven’s name I was thinking. I do this sort of thing all the time in Victoria, but I’d totally forgotten that survival in Florida depends heavily of getting from one freezing-cold air-conditioned spot to the next with as little contact with the outdoors as possible, and I was completely un-acclimated to the heat and humidity after two years away. I’m sure I must have looked to the AT&T staff like a crazy disheveled homeless person -- did I mention I was wearing an all-black outfit featuring a long sleeve t-shirt? I’m lucky I’m not dead.

In time, Cindy-Mom came along and took me back to Rubin HQ in time for me to change clothes, shower and get ready for that night’s event, a live appearance on WPRK-FM (Rollins College), my home station where I did a show called “Chas’ Crusty Old Wave” for most of the 1990s (now available as a podcast, as regular readers know). I’d been back to the station a few times before, most recently on my April trip, but this time I’d be co-hosting with a fellow called Phantom Third Channel, an online pal I’d not met in person before.

As it turned out, we hit it off like a house afire, and had very compatible musical tastes. Between us I think we produced a very entertaining combination of old-New Wave, new-College Rock and enjoyable conversation about the way things change and yet stay the same. I will post the show shortly as a downloadable (or streaming) AAC and MP3 on my Crusty Old Wave website you can either stream or keep for future listening (or you can subscribe via iTunes).

After a wonderful couple of hours, it was time to head home, and once again my time away from Florida led to me to make two egregious mistakes. First, I expected that now that night had fully settled in, that the temperature would drop down to bearable levels. WRONG.

Second, I assumed that because busses ran down Fairbanks and up Semoran during the day, that this would continue on until at least midnight. Again, hopelessly naive. After waiting a while for the Fairbanks bus that never came, I headed over to another iconic Winter Park landmark, the Pink Art Deco 7-11. Amazingly, the man behind the counter there instantly recognised me despite having been away from Orlando for years and away from Rollins for over a decade. I must have spent a lot more post-show time in that 7-11 than I remembered!

So, I’m melting like the Wicked Witch of the West outside the 7-11 where it’s 88 degrees (31C) when I get a call from Cindy-Mom, who offers to rescue me! YAY! She comes down and takes me back home, where after a quick video-call to the wife (praise be to wifi and iChat!), I finally hit a bed, 30 hours after beginning my trip. Slept like a log until ...

Oh, but wait: that needs to go in tomorrow’s tale. Stay tuned!


Helena said...

Chas, long ago when you first moved to Canada you lamented at there not being a Taco Bell(ch) in Victoria. Hopefullly, you had your fix of gorditas and quesadillas in Orlando.

chas_m said...

Sadly I didn't! Along with a bunch of other things (and people) I wanted to see but didn't have time. Didn't even get to our all-time favourite sushi place, Fuji Sushi!

Next year (there will be another convention next year and I plan to make sure Heather can go), we will get to all that stuff because we'll actually plan enough time for it all! :)