Shortly after I arrived at the hotel in Orlando, Mike knocked at the door. We hugged. It was fantastic to see him. We quickly started talking….which is pretty easy for this fast talker to do.
I was very close to his mom, my aunt, Lorraine. She was a nut like I am. She loved to read, taught me how to dance, and took me to my first nightclub. (And yes I was underage, but I didn’t drink! Honest, I get drunk on cranberry juice. )
Anyway, Mike and I were together all of ten minutes when I sprung it on him, “Hey Mike are you up for an adventure?
Being a journalist who is not afraid of a story he said, “Sure, what?” I told him about my mission to see the shuttle. He loved the idea. He was game. I knew he’d have the family spirit.
To accomplish this mission, we’d have to do a little investigation. We went downstairs to the ballroom where my talk was to take place. I met with Scott from Toastmasters and told him of my plans. He said, “Watching a shuttle launch is amazing, there’s only one problem. The highway that leads to the space center becomes a parking lot. Even if you got there on time, it would take a good four to five hours to get back. Trust me I’ve done it.”
I quickly calculated that in my head. “That would put me back here at 8:45 p.m. Darn that wouldn’t work.”
Scott and Jay Finkelstein the manger of the Rosen Centre Hotel suggested that we could see the shuttle from the fifth floor parking lot of the hotel. Somehow that didn’t sound as exciting. There had to be another way.
I told my fiance, Steve, of my plans. He said that if we headed out toward Titusville, we’d get a better view. Meanwhile, Mike’s friend Jerome had texted him that he was going to see the shuttle and view it from his friends penthouse apartment in Titusville. Then the clincher came, he asked if we’d like to join him. It was a no brainer. The space gods were with us.
Still, the timing was still going to be tight. As we were trying to figure out how to get to the shuttle launch in warp speed, our next break came. Steve called and said he checked the NASA site and it turned out that the shuttle was taking off at 2:20 instead of 3:45, and my presentation was not taking place till 9 p.m.. This opened up a window of opportunity. I told Scott that I might be a little late for the 6 p.m. dinner, but I’d definitely be there for my keynote. He eyed me suspiciously and I just smiled. He didn’t ask and I didn’t offer, but I think he knew I was going.
That night, Mike and I hung out in Orlando night scene. We went to a really cool restaurant and just talked for hours about the paths our lives had taken. It’s really amazing to see someone you haven’t seen since their childhood and really like and be proud of who they’ve turned out to be.
Mike stayed over that night. The next morning after a quick breakfast we were on the road. We left at 11:00 a.m. but to our surprise the roads were already packed. We didn’t anticipate traffic going out, just coming back. It was not a good sign, but we were determined.
We kept touching base with Jerome. He said it took him a long time to find parking and that Titus ville was a zoo, over 300,000 people were heading in that direction to see the final launch. Mike and I looked at each other and nodded. “Keep driving.”
We kept checking the clock and listening to the radio as we inched our way towards Titusville.
It was 2:00 pm. when we got off the Titusville exit. We still had another 15 minutes to make it into the city, find parking and then try to run to the friend’s apartment. I looked at Mike. Mike and I made a decision to park along the highway at the next clearing, and watch it from there. Our plan was to see it, flip it, and make a quick U turn escape and beat the traffic out, and be back at the hotel before they even realized I was gone.
At 2:15 p.m. we pulled over to the side of the road. Apparently so did about fifty other cars. The excitement was building. As if on cue, cameras came out in Ninja style all pointing skyward. People were standing on the roof of their cars to get a better view. I would have except Mike had a convertible which made it a tad difficult.