American Idol Finale Trip — Day One

28 05 2011

It was finally the morning of the day we were to leave for the American Idol finale. I had things to do, however. Before crashing at 2:00 a.m., I was about half-packed. It turned out to be a wise choice. I got up at 6:00, 45 minutes before the alarm was set, but the excitement and adrenaline had started to churn. I got up and took some extra time to print off some items I was going to need for my sign for James and to see if I could locate a heart that had the symbolic puzzle-pieces within from the internet.

At 6:45, attention turned to getting Patrick up and ready for school, a process that normally takes 1-1/2 hours each morning. Although 15 years old, because of his autism, he still needs assistance with aspects of his routine, like making his oatmeal for breakfast. Although he can pour in the milk, I still need to measure out the milk. He also has not been able to give himself a bath or shower, something about which I need to have a consult with his school. At 8:10, we left for the 45-minute drive to school (one-way).

I was worried about Patrick. On Monday, he developed these strange tics, the likes of which I had never seen before. They had calmed down a bit on Tuesday, but there were still evident. Someone on Twitter asked me if I was going to cancel my trip and I said, “Hell no.” If the tics were still there when I got back, I’d make an appointment for him the following week to go to the pediatrician.

I have gone away from Patrick many times in the past. I do not miss him while I am gone, most especially on short trips. Maybe it is more appropriate to say I miss him, his smile, his laugh, but I do not miss the caregiving. When I finally do find time to get away every couple of years, it is because I’m desperate for respite. Saying goodbye to him that morning, however, I had to hold back my tears and I got all choked up because I was worried about him and his tics.

On the trip home, I stopped at the bank and CVS. After getting home, I had to still call the medical supply company to place an order (because I knew Jeff would forget as it is normally my responsibility), and I had to contact the physical therapist and occupational therapist about an upcoming evaluation we were pursuing. There would be a long Memorial weekend after I got back and I know some places would close on Friday to extend that weekend. I also had to call TSA to ask them about some of my medications and their quart-bag rules. I had not traveled since the adoption of the quart-bag rule. I take protein injections before I eat twice a day so I needed to know the procedure for the needles going through security. I was a little anxious about the pat-down procedure because of my post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from my assault back in 1988. I made sure I was wearing waterproof mascara so that if this did happen and I was crying hysterically about it, I would not have raccoon eyes.

The time on the clock had me worried that I would have trouble being done on time. If I have learned anything with my time with our local Fox 26 Houston station, you should always be camera-ready. My friend was going to pick me up since she lived further back in The Woodlands and was anticipated to get here at 12:15. I was done at noon, which was quite impressive considering. The usual anxiety of going away on a trip was not here this time. The only missing element to this trip was my husband, Jeff. I always thought it was his fault.

When my friend was not here at 12:15, I was not worried. When 12:30 passed and she had not called yet, I was getting a little worried. I purposefully round-up my numbers when I’m calculating when we need to leave to allow for such possibilities. I decided if she was not here by 12:45, I would call her.

I left a note on our kitchen bulletin board to my family that I loved them and would miss them and left my husband a honey-do list that included picking up thyroid medication for the dog.

My friend, Glicel, pulled up sometime between 12:30-12:45. Her son, John, was kind enough to take a picture of us to begin the chronicle of our journey. We were off!

Me and Glicel getting ready to leave my house

Me and Glicel getting ready to leave my house

Glicel had gotten in touch with her cousin in Los Angeles who was going to pick us up from LAX and take us over to her house for dinner and maybe some sightseeing. I have known Glicel for 19 years; our children have grown up together. Of all the people in Texas who know me, she knows me the best. I took a deep breath and said, “You remember about my problems with smoking, right? She does not smoke?” Glicel didn’t seem to think so, but she had not seen her cousin in more than 20 years. I needed to be sure not only did she not smoke, that no one has smoked in her car, no one smokes at her house, etc., and proceeded to go into my travel experiences when these things have happened. Glicel would call her from Phoenix to find out and we decided if anything was even in question, Glicel would go visit with her cousin, and I would just go to the hotel and relax. I was glad I was with a really good friend at this point who understood.

Terminal A at George W. Bush Airport (previously known as Intercontinental Airport, thus the IAH designation) is the least traveled of all the terminals. The night before I joked with Glicel that I checked the weather and unless there was a mechanical problem with the plane (which fed into her fears), it looked like there should be no delays. I need to stop opening my mouth and saying words like this to the universe.

We got through security pretty quickly and without any problem whatsoever. Big sigh of relief. We arrived at the gate and the plane was to leave at 3:00 to Phoenix and would fly onto Sacramento, with the gate door being closed at 2:50. I took a call from school to let me know that the school had gotten tickets again to an Astros’ game (funny enough it was Astros versus the Dodgers) and if I thought Patrick could go. I called Jeff to make sure he filled out the permission slip to send it back and that it would allow him to stay at work a little longer that day.

When the plane was not boarding at 2:20, I knew something odd was up. Eventually they made the announcement that the plane would be delayed by an hour and anyone having to make a connection needed to step forward. We did. There were 3 lines, but they were not moving. The man holding up our line was at the desk for a half-hour. People were getting very agitated after awhile because they did not have enough help and if the plane was going to be loading up at 4:00, everyone making a connecting flight could not be serviced. We had lovely conversation with several people around us, keeping our spirits high. Even if this got us into Los Angeles late, the finale would not be until the next day so we were okay.

When it was finally our turn with the airline personnel, we asked what was wrong. She said there was a problem with the emergency slide they were trying to fix. Glicel seemed nervous to even get on a plane that had a mechanical problem, but she was okay. The ticket agent said 1) if this plane was fixed before 6:00 p.m., we would be on this original flight, just late or 2) if this plane was cancelled, they would get us on the 6:00 p.m. flight to Phoenix. Either way, we would not make our connecting flight at Phoenix to LA. This is when I wish I had internet access or a Smartphone. For some odd reason she put us on a Delta flight leaving at 8:05 p.m. Phoenix time (10:05 p.m. Houston time). Remember this because it is important information for later in my story. We thanked her for her effort and decided to go grab a little bite to eat.

Waiting in line for 2 hours to be rerouted

Waiting in line for 2 hours to be rerouted

That morning, I had a light breakfast — pistachios and a banana. I chose to eat at McDonald’s, a snack- sized fruit and walnut salad. There were not too many things appealing to a very strict diet at those fast-food stands. Glicel called her cousin to let her know it looked like our plane would not be coming in until 10:30 Los Angeles time. Her cousin said that was too late for her. In the meantime, I called LA Market (Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant) and cancelled our dinner reservations and proceeded to call the hotel to make sure they knew we were still coming and to not give our room away, another precaution and lesson learned from a previous trip in Seattle (but that time, despite telling 5-star hotel we were coming in at midnight and had a credit card to reserve the room, they gave away our room and told us they could send us to a hotel in the suburbs because all the hotels in downtown Seattle were booked).

Sometime between 5:00-5:30, the plane finally boarded. My friend took the middle seat and I took the aisle seat. We snapped a picture to show how excited we were to leave.

On the plane

We've finally boarded!

In Phoenix we got off the plane (maybe it was about 6:30 Phoenix time) and looked at the board to find out what gate Delta’s flight was leaving, but could not find it. However, I saw that the airline on which we were traveling had a flight leaving at 8:00 for LAX and I did not understand why we were not booked on that plane. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “That one must have been full.” I also saw that one was leaving at 6:50, but I figured she did not book us on that because she was afraid we would miss that, especially if we had to leave on the 6:00 Houston flight.

Phoenix from the air

Beautiful view headed into Phoenix

Landing in Phoenix

Phoenix is a beautiful city

I suggested we walk some more and maybe the boards further up would tell us about where to find Delta. In Houston, they have all the flights leaving on the board and what airline and terminal and gate. We stopped at See’s Candy to ask the man there where the heck was Delta. He informed us we would have to leave this terminal, take a bus, and then go through security again. That did not sit well with me. I said, “Seriously? You guys do not have a walkway or a tram that you can just hop that will take you to any of the terminals like we do in Houston? Nope. I then asked a security person that who confirmed the same thing. But then I got to thinking –wait a minute–the airline personnel did not give us boarding passes for Delta so how in the world would we get through security. We decided to go to another US Airways desk. They told us that before going through security, we would have to stand in line at the ticket counter to get our boarding passes. I asked why we could not go on their 8:00 flight. We were told it was full, but…… and they told us to quickly quickly go the customer assistance area two spots down from them. We gave the man the abbreviated version of the story. He said yes the 8:00 flight was full, but the flight FROM THE GATE WE JUST LEFT was going to LAX and why didn’t we stop at the ticket counter THERE to ask. He yelled for an electric cart to speed us away back to that gate (which was pretty far away). The guy had the cart on full throttle.

As we pulled up, there was no one at the ticket counter. The door was shut. I watched a minute later the ramp being pulled away.

By then I was livid. The lack of communication in this airline was astounding. Somewhere between the time we were re-routed on Delta and the time we boarded the plane in Houston, someone decided that the plane we actually were sitting on was no longer going to Sacramento, but rather decided it was going now to LAX. There was absolutely NO announcement on the plane of such a thing happening. We should have never gotten off that flight. I was completely in the dark that there were other flights on the same airline going to LAX until I reached the terminal in Phoenix. In the meantime, my friend was in line at another ticket counter close to this gate and shared the story. Apparently the 8 p.m. flight on this airline was NOT full. We just could not sit together. Book ’em Danno. We did not care we could not sit together. Why did at least 4 other ticket agents not tell us, “The flight is pretty full and I can get you on there, but you just cannot sit together.” I traveled a great deal in my lifetime and when traveling with others, this was always said to us and then the choice could be ours. This sure beats having to leave the terminal, go on a bus, go to another terminal, wait in line at the ticket counter, get a boarding pass, go back through security, etc.

The plane leaves late, but just by another 20 minutes but we were FINALLY in Los Angeles and the weather outside felt beautiful. Since LAX is usually bustling with celebrities at all hours of the day and night going to and fro, I kept a watchful eye out. We decided to take a cab instead of Supershuttle because I did not want to spend another few hours driving around LA taking others to their hotels.

In LA

Waiting for our cab in Los Angeles

As we get in the cab, the man says, “I prefer cash.” I said, “Don’t we all. Do you take American Express?” He again said he preferred cash and I lied and said, “I don’t have any cash, and if that was a problem, he needed to let us out right now.” (My brother-in-law the next day told me he could have gotten into a lot of trouble because there is a city law that they cannot refuse a fare at the airport). Whether he then had an attitude or this was his usual behavior, he proceeded to drive like a maniac. I thought I was going to have to grab Glicel’s hand. It felt like I was back in New York City. We were missing other vehicles by inches.

We were noting at how many people there were at this late hour and all the different names of airlines, some of which we completely foreign to us, trying to distract us from the driving of this cabbie.

Midway to the hotel, I just got a really bad vibe about this cab driver. I leaned over to my friend and told her I was not going to use the gift card for the cab fare but my own Mastercard because I just had a funny feeling. My sixth sense is rarely off. It was the same feeling I got that I was going to win this American Idol finale contest.

At this late hour, the bright side is there was little traffic and once we got clear of the traffic at the airport, we got to the hotel rather quickly.

As we were checking out with the cab driver, I noticed he swiped my card twice, claiming the first one you could not see the numbers. I’m glad I did this. If any weird charges start showing up on my credit card, I’ll know EXACTLY the source. I don’t believe I would have the same protections with my gift card.

The hotel was beautiful. They had us in room 963 (which was oddly the month and year of my friend’s birth). We saw a commotion over in the lounge (it was about 11:30 now) and decided we would put our bags upstairs and then go on a search for something light to eat. Our room was so beautiful. Here are some pictures:

Our hotel room

The bed was VERY comfortable.

The bathroom

The bathroom was very modern

Another viewpoint

Our room from the door's point of view

Our view looked into downtown LA versus the Nokia, which turned out to be a good thing because there were flashing lights and spotlights that we would have to contend with being on the opposite side of the floor while trying to sleep. The bathroom door was very interesting. After playing a game of shadow puppets, we decided that if one of us was using the toilet, the other one would not go near the door (not a pretty picture! LOL).

Transparent bathroom door

The transparent-like bathroom door

Shadow puppets

Playing shadow puppets on the bathroom door

The lounge area had thinned out. The next day, from some people in the business center, I found out that Cat Deeley, the host of So You Think You Can Dance, was there and that James Durbin was there for some part of the night. There were also rumored other people but this particular individual did not see them so considered that to be rumor. I was bummed when I found out. The restaurants were closed, so we headed back to the hotel. It looked like maybe room service was our only option. However, we were told the lounge “The Mixing Room” over in the corner had a small menu from which you could order so we headed in there. We ordered a margherita pizza (personal sized). My friend ordered a glass of wine; I ordered water. I ran back up to the room to take my medicine. The pizza was taking a long time, and the waitress brought us over some popcorn because she knew how starving we were. Once it did arrive, the pizza was delicious. It came from Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant apparently even though it wasn’t officially open (I guess they do room service in the evening). When we got the bill, they had apparently compensated the price of the pizza because of the length of the delay, which I thought was terribly thoughtful but unnecessary, but since it was our first break of the night, I welcomed it with open arms.

Skewed picture

This picture came out weird looking, but I thought it was very interesting.

Lounge

This is the area where the celebrities were at earlier in the evening.

The Mixing Room

The Mixing Room

We headed up to the room, and I ran down to the business center to use the computer for a few minutes, then back to the room where we snuggled in and drifted off somewhere in the 2:00-2:30 range (which my body felt like 4:00-4:30 range). The next day held an enormously busy schedule. We set the alarm for 10 o’clock in case either of us slept solidly so that we would have enough time to shower and meet my brother-in-law for lunch at noon. I had no problem falling asleep that night.

(To be continued — Day 2).


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