OK, obviously the GOOD vs. EVIL thing was just a cover story. You want The Truth? I could do the whole Jack Nicholson rant but that's old and tired (like me). It will be easier if I just tell you the fucking truth.
IN A NUTSHELL: The company that my girl friend works for met all of it's 2006 goals and rewarded all of it's North American employees (and 1 invited guest each...about 1200 people total...me included) by flying them all down to sunny Orlando, Florida for 4 days of meetings, exquisitely catered breakfasts, lunches and dinners, open bars, free activities, world class entertainment, and just an all around great time.
My own conservative estimate is that this had to have cost the company at least a brazillion dollars.
I won't divulge the name of the company my girlfriend works for, or even which industry in which it would be classified. I'm quite certain that they would not want to be connected with my lame ass blog in any way, shape or form. I don't blame them. I feel the same way. That’s why I use a pseudonym and an old picture. Suffice it to say that they are a profitable company doing good things and they know how to treat their employees.
Girl friend spends Tuesday night at my place since I am closer to the airport and our flight leaves at 7:10am, which means being at the airport by 5:10am which means getting up by 4am.
I take 291 up to 435 and head for the airport. She keeps telling me we are going the wrong way. I keep reassuring her that I know what I’m doing, gently telling her the signs are misleading and everything is OK, there is no problem. Everything is fine.
FUCK! I went the wrong way! I took 435 South instead of 435 West. FUCK, FUCK, FUCK!!! I take a huge bite out of a shit sandwich, admit I’m wrong and start high-tailing it north as fast as I can legally go.
We make it to the airport on time and check our bags at the curb to save time. I don’t tip the porters. She goes back and tips them a couple of bucks.
We make it out of KCI on time and change planes at Chicago Midland (sorry Iwanski…didn’t have time to say hello…would have loved to have met you and MHP…maybe next time).
At Orlando Airport, I have my (untipped checked bag) promptly, her (generously tipped and checked bags) ain't there. We wait, we check another gate, we check at the baggage office, no bags! She has to fill out a claim form and just wait. SUCKS ASS!!
In Orlando we are greeted by the shuttle which takes us to the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort. We immediately proceed to the Orientation Desk where we are given our name badges, some details on the week’s activities, and two Amex Gift Checks for $100.00 each, one for me, one for her. To cover “incidental expenses”. Which was great! Awesome, really. However, there’s a sort of predetermined expectation on the “incidental expense” that they are intended to cover. More on that later.
We get checked in, settle into our room on the 19th floor,
freshen up a bit, and then head downstairs to the poolside welcoming reception.
Oh. My. God.
All of the other hotel guests were just shit outta luck because we had sole possession of the entire pool area. There was just an incredible array of food and drink. There was a gourmet mashed potato bar (wtf?!?), custom guacamole with beef, fish or chicken, Cuban sandwiches, beef brisket, crab cakes, steamed shellfish, salads, fruits, deserts, and many absolutely open bars with anything you want, no waiting. I know I’m probably overlooking some of the food offered, but it was just overwhelming. You really had to pace yourself to get a little taste of everything.
Meeted and greeted, put faces to names, mingled, made small talk, talked about the weather, exuded the required social lubricants for the days to come.
Thursday morning started with a HUGE breakfast buffet. The wait-staff were lined up like soldiers for review wishing EVERYONE a GOOD MORNING and directing us to our designated areas with panache and finesse. Made-to-order omelets, bacon, sausage, ham, potatoes, breads, pastries, cereal, yogurt, fruit, milk, coffee, tea, grits boiled in rams blood (just seeing if you were still paying attention). If it’s ever been offered for breakfast, they had it or would get it. After breakfast was the first of The Meetings. The guests were expected to attend the morning session, which of course I did. I learned a lot about the company that (for a left wing, anti-establishment, liberal) impressed me very much. Given the work that they do, I don’t begrudge them a penny of the profit they make. They deserve it.
After lunch, I was on my own while the girl friend was back in the meeting for the rest of the day. I took the opportunity to avail myself of the hotel laundry facilities since I had spilled a cup of coffee on my jeans on the flight out of Kansas City.
The girlfriend's lost luggage finally found its way to our room. As did a complimentary iPod shuffle which all of the associates recieved as a general thank you for their hard work.
After the meeting was over, we had time to freshen up a bit before getting on buses that took us to The House of Blues in Downtown Disney.
SIDENOTE: I’ve had a bug up my ass about The House of Blues for many years. I’m a huge blues fan. About 10 years ago me and thebloodsuckingbitchfromhellwhowasmywifemaysherotinhell and some friends of ours all went down to the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas. We always liked it because a) it was free; and b) it was held in October when the weather had cooled off.
While we are down there, we decide to cross the river to Clarksdale, MS on a pilgrimage to the sharecropper’s cabin where Muddy Waters grew up. There we would prostate ourselves and pay homage. Well guess what? His cabin wasn’t there anymore, it was gone.
What’s that you ask? Where did his cabin go?
Well, it seems that The House of Blues came by and snatched Muddy’s cabin and took it on tour.
Yep. That’s right. Muddy was dead in his grave, but his cabin was on tour making money for white folk. MMMM, mmm, mmm. Lawd have mercy.
But I did manage to snag a bit of wood from the foundation and a ball of cotton from the adjoining field. I keep these Holy Relics in a mason jar on a Shelf of Honor in my music room.
OK. Back to the story.
We had the entire H.O.B. to ourselves. The food was spectacular, the bar was open, and we were treated to a private concert by country star Clay Walker.
Now, it was a really good show, but honestly, I had never heard of Clay Walker before that day. I’m just not a country music fan. But he was really good, he mixed things up with a lot of rock, and the place was jumpin’. I just hope that after allowing a country act to perform at The House of Blues, they had a voodoo priest bring in a gris gris bag and a Hand of Glory, so he could cleanse the place by sacrificing a black rooster at midnight or something. Got to rid the temple of that country vibe and it’s “anti-mojo.”
This is the day where I got to choose a fun activity to participate in while the girl friend was in a meeting all day. Sweeeet!! I had a choice between going shopping, going to a spa for a massage and facial, or going to the Richard Petty Experience for a ride-along at 150mph.
I’m a man. We shop like we hunt. We identify what we need, we swoop in, bag it as efficiently as possible and we get the fuck out. Shopping is not a “fun activity”. It is a means to an end.
The spa might have been a possibility. But the massage did not come with a “happy finish” (I asked), and the facial was receiving, not giving (I asked about that too), so I kinda lost interest in the whole spa thing.
That left the NASCAR thing. I’m not NASCAR fan. A bunch of hillbillies wearing unnecessarily complicated eyeware driving around in circles in cars plastered with bumper stickers just doesn’t excite me.
I even went to a race at the Kansas Speedway once thinking maybe it would be more exciting live and in person (plus I was invited by a hot chick who had tickets, it wasn’t costing me anything, and who knows what might happen?).
Actually attending a race gives you all the same boring activity you get by watching it on TV, but with the added bonus of baking in the hot fucking laser-like sun and being surrounded by sweaty, beer-swilling rednecks who really, REALLY need to look in the mirror before they leave the house.
Weight appropriate clothing people, please! I’m just saying.
But, what the fuck.. Maybe it will be more exciting if I am actually IN the car, ON the track, with a professional driver, feeling the G’s. Shake and Bake, baby! God bless sweet baby Jesus!
I had just assumed that we would be doing the NASCAR thing at Daytona, since it was only an hour away.
Who knew that Disney World has its own Speedway? Amazingly enough, the track is NOT shaped like Mickey’s head. Just the lake in the middle of the track.
As we were entering the building to sign in and get suited up, I notice a gate in the chain link fence has a sign that says “Cast Members Only”.
I’m thinking this can’t be good. I’m going to be strapped into a car and accelerated to 150mph and the guy behind the wheel isn’t even a professional NASCAR driver, but a “cast member” who plays a driver at a Disney theme park.
Not good, not good.
Most of the time was spent waiting in line on the side of the track wearing a NOMEX race suit over my regular clothes. If it had been July instead of March, I’d be dead. I finally get to the front of the line where I am fitted with a helmet and a neck brace. Just before heading to our respective cars, I tell the woman who had been in line in front of me for the past hour “Just for the record, my driver is going to kick your driver’s ASS!”
Just trying to throw myself into the experience.
We get in with our drivers and get all strapped in. Driver asks in a practiced southern drawl “Where ya all from?” I tell him where I’m from.
He say’s “Ya all ready for this?” I assure him that I am.
He says “We’re gonna get her up around 150, so you can feel what the Cup Holders feel!” I indicated that he may proceed.
NOTE: This is the exact same script that I have heard every “driver” exchange with every passenger for the past hour.
Another “cast member” points a camera at me through the window. I smile and give him a thumb’s up.
We head off down the track, start going really fast, complete about 3 laps, and its over.
Being the owner of my third Jeep Wrangler, the most impressive part about the entire experience was that the car didn’t just flip right the fuck over and start rolling up hill as we took those corners.
Other than that, it was kinda like your first sexual experience. It was over really fast and left you wondering what all the fuss was about and concerned that maybe you didn’t do it right.
There is no picture of me in racing regalia seated in the car because they wanted $18.65 for them. No thanks. If I want a goofy looking, embarrassing picture of myself I’ll snap one in the mirror just as I get out of the shower.
I went back to the hotel, cranked up the AC, pulled the blinds and slept all afternoon.
After the meeting was over, it was time for “Dine Arounds”. Think of it as “break out sessions” for supper. Each little group picked a place to go eat for the evening.
Remember those $100 AMEX Gift Checks? This is where they came into play.
Our group of 30 chose a place in Downtown Disney called “Fulton’s Crab House”. Not crab shack”, mind you, but crab HOUSE. This distinction is clearly reflected in the prices.
Entrée’s averaged $40-$60 and didn’t even include a house salad…that was extra. Don’t get me wrong, the food was delicious. I had the Fillet of Beef Oscar (charcoal grilled with blue lump crab, béarnaise sauce, pencil asparagus and sweet whipped potatoes $39.95) with some Grilled Gulf Shrimp ($9.95) on the side and a Caesar Salad ($5.95). It was good! You didn’t even have to cut the meat, you just laid the blade on the meat and let gravity pull it through. But I’d have been just as happy spending $4.95 at Burger King and pocketing $95 bucks.
We had an incredible array of choices for Saturday. Disney World, Disney/MGM, Sea World, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Kennedy Spaceport, Golf, Shopping, airboat tours through the swamps, basically anything that Orlando and the surrounding area had to offer. All for free. Just fucking amazing.
We had picked Universal Studios.
When we got on the bus and picked up our tickets, we were informed that it included both Universal Studios AND Islands of Adventure. We could “hop” between the two.
We decide to concentrate on Universal Studios first.
We started with Revenge of the Mummy followed by (in no particular order) Earthquake, Jaws, Terminator 2 3D, Shrek 4D, MIB Alien Attack (where my score was over 231,000 while everyone else on my ride languished between 11,000 and 50,000…LOSERS!) We also did the “Back To The Future” ride which is closing this month. Now we know why. Technology has left this ride in the dust.
We spent over $20.00 on 2 hot dogs, 2 bags of chips and 2 drinks. That was fun. It was basically a toss up between how sick it would make us to go without food or how sick it would make us to pay that much for food. Hunger won. Disney Rat Bastards!
We barely had time to even glance at Islands of Adventure, but it looked really cool.
After we were done with our Day of Disney, it was back to the hotel for our Farewell Reception and Entertainment.
They had been really hyping the entertainment portion of the evening. To the point that a rumor went viral that it would be Jimmy Fucking Buffet! Word was leaked, clues were dropped. It was almost a done deal.
Attire for the final night was “resort casual”.
O.K. What the fuck is "resort casual?"
Which resort? Monaco? Or Table Rock? We saw a bit of both.
The dinner was incredible. But it started to all blend together over the last few days. I know it was really good surf and turf, delicately presented and sparingly accompanied, like all good haute cuisine.
But whether it was filet mignon and swordfish with asparagus or hamburger and catfish with green beans, I can’t recall.
When the entertainment was finally ready to take stage, we were all fixated!
Here it comes! And the entertainer is……..
BRUCE FUCKING SPRINGSTEEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh shit. That’s not Springsteen.
It’s Rick Fucking Springfield!
I always get them confused. My bad!
He’s onstage sweating like a Tijuana whore in July, slinging unspeakably moist guitar picks at the audience and singing songs that I vaguely remember as background musak from the mullet-days of decades past.
I get bored, kiss the girl friend goodnight and head for the room.
We exit the accommodations provided by the girl friends employer and strike out on our own!
We transfer from the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort to the Sheraton Suites Orlando Airport.
We are pretty much “over” the corporate, Disneyfied, overpriced, touristy shit and ready to strike out on our own!
We rented a car and headed down to East Lake Fish Camp on Lake Tohopekaliga where we feasted on frog legs, fried gator, pork chops, collared greens, catfish, mashed potatoes with gravy, buttery bread and sweet iced tea with fresh squeezed lemon.
Good Gawd Almighty but that was some good eats! Honestly, it was better than all of the catered, exquisitely prepared and carefully presented food we had had in the last 4 days. Just good ol’ country cooking right next to a lake and a bait shop.
After dinner, we headed east to Cocoa Beach. Couldn’t leave Florida without walking barefoot on the beach.
On the way I could look to my left and see the ginormous Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral. Biggest thing on the horizon! But couldn't get a picture.
On the beach we picked up cool looking shells to bring back as tokens for our kids while dodging the venomous Portuguese Man O’ Wars.
Word to the wise…no matter how carefully you think you are packing wet beach sand in your carry-on bag, it WILL find a way to permeate every single item of clothing.
We’re exhausted. I have plans to wake up early, go rent an airboat for an hour and tour the swampland. It’s just $30 bucks for an hour. But I wonder…does it come with a GPS unit? How do rookies from KC find their way through the swamp? “Oh, it’s just $30 an hour, but most rookies (like you) get lost for at least 8 hours! So that will be $240.00, Guvner! Thanks so much! Have a nice trip home!”
I sleep late instead.
We pack, check out, go to Denny’s for a late lunch where we are mostly ignored by a skinny 20ish waitress who is being hit on by the 40ish construction worker in the next booth.
I return my rental car to the booth where No One Speaks English, receive what I hope will be the correct credits and proceed back to the hotel to pick up the girl friend and take the shuttle to the airport.
That’s when we see The Raccoon In The Palm Tree.
Can you find him?
We get home a half an hour early which is REALLY SWEET!
But then we take the wrong bus to the wrong lot.
They have to take us back to the airport. If they take us to our lot, they will get fired.
We need the BLUE BUS. Not the Parking Spot bus we took, which we took by mistake, but the BLUE BUS. We need to catch it not where we WERE, but where we SHOULD HAVE BEEN…AT THE BLUE BUS! She kept driving the point home with such delight (“Not in the middle where you got on THIS bus, but over on the other side where you catch the BLUE BUS!)
We asked her if the busses were airline terminal specific, or if we could catch any bus?
She assured us that all the “Economy Shuttles” went to all the lots…A thru C. No problem.
WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!
We had to transfer from an “A Terminal” shuttle to a “B’ Terminal” shuttle, Even then, “B9” can be a vastly different area than one would thik.
Finally found my fucking jeep (after being misdirected and drenched in rain), picked up my girl friend and luggage, got the fucking home and got to bed.
I was gone a week. Not a single message on the answering machine. Not one.
It's good to be home.