134 TweetUp, Take 2!

On the Monday the 9th, they announced the new launch date would be Monday the 16th, around 3 in the afternoon. Daddy said he had to help the sistercreature move home from school right around then, so wouldn’t be able to go. (Somebody got their priorities on wrong! 😛 )

I still wanted to drive back down so I’d be able to get around without begging my aunt/uncle or the tweeps for rides, but the parents were none too keen on me roadtripping with other tweeps, (even though I had been talking to them for ages, spent a few days with them in person now, and everyone had to pass a Federal Government background check to get into the tweetup!) and even less amenable to me driving alone, and no friends from home were available for a random vacation that week, so I talked my aunt into letting me borrow their extra minivan once I got down there, and started scrounging for cheap flights.
"Baby Party" Invitation

The plan was to fly down either Sunday evening (or super early Monday morning if it was significantly cheaper), since I’d been co-planning a “baby party” for Rachel and Elliott, to be held Sunday right after church, so wanted to stick around for that. (You’re not hallucinating, the last post did say I rushed home from the first one for Rachel’s baby shower, and now I’m talking about another one… sort of. That was a small family-and-close-friends sort of shower, this one was a bigger church-wide celebration for almostMama AND futureDad.)

This is the invitation I drew (pretty adorable, if I do say so myself!), which we snuck into church bulletins on a Sunday we knew they wouldn’t be there:

Conflict! D=

Then, we tweeps were informed that we might be able to have another shot at seeing the RSS retraction (well, re-retraction!)… which was scheduled for noonish the day before launch – AKA, exactly when the party was happening! The real trick was “might”. Being there for RSS retraction and getting to be that close to a shuttle on the launch pad would be an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, if it turned out we could, especially since there will literally only be one other space shuttle on a launch pad ever again… but did I want to miss a party I helped plan for my best friends for a maybe? A long-shot, even? Dilemma! (And we didn’t even know when we would find out if we could go, to at least decide if I could wait to find out before finalizing plans!)

The more I thought about it, the more I was leaning towards taking the chance that the maybe would pan out, skipping out on the party to get to Florida in time to make the RSS retraction if we were allowed to go. I mean, logically, seeing RSS retraction up close and unobstructed would be a literal once in a lifetime opportunity, while baby showers are clearly not, and in this case, not even limited to once for this baby! And I did technically fly a thousand miles to make it to that one…

Besides, Rachel is almost as excited about all my crazy NASAtweetup adventures as I am!

BABY SHOWER vs. SPACESHIP

Ultimately, no matter how awesome the friends and anti-cheese the shower, that right there should have made it a no-brainer. But, after all, I am the master of making simple decisions way more epic and convoluted than they have any right to be… and then the maybe did solidify into a yes, I saw a picture from a previous tweet-up of how close we would actually be, and I was sold. I found a super cheap flight on Spirit airlines for early Sunday morning, arranged a ride straight from the airport to Kennedy, and told my fellow party planners I wasn’t actually going to be present at said party.

Meanwhile, it occurred to me that I was going to get a new camera. Not so much a decision as a realization – I’d wanted a nice digital SLR for a couple years, but my inner cheapskate would always slap me upside the head, point at the price tag, point at my bank account, and laugh. “Someday…” I’d think, wistfully. And then, an epiphany of sorts:

If you are EVER going to spend THAT much money on a camera,
it BETTER happen in time to take some pictures of that frakking space shuttle.

Instinct had always said wait until I was a “grown up” with an income I could actually survive off of outside my parents house… but honestly, the value of a camera is not in the camera, it’s in the pictures. What makes it worth the money is how you use it, and I did want to get a nice camera eventually, so in a sense, I would be being a bad steward of the hypothetical future camera if I missed my chance to photograph one of the last space shuttle launches and a ton of other cool stuff, just because I waited too long to buy the camera.

I thought about going with one of those in-between sort of cameras, with a decent optical zoom and more manual functions than a point-and-shoot, but without interchangeable lenses, but then my mom agreed to chip in a couple hundred bucks as my slightly-early birthday present, so entry-level legit dSLRs were a bit more doable. So I perused the interwebs a bit, asked twitterfolk for their opinions, and ran around to every store I thought might have a decent camera trying to figure out which to get. It would have been nice to get another Canon, so I could use the lenses on my film camera too, but I was ultimately wooed by the Nikon D3100 (plus 55-200mm lens for some nice zoom), which seemed like a better camera than the Canons in the same range – and then was on sale at Best Buy for a hundred dollars less than that!

And then there was panic.

Spirit Airlines is cheap, in every sense of the word. The ticket price is very reasonable, comparatively, but/because they charge you extra for everything other than getting your arse from Point A to Point B. For a hopefully 2 day trip, with access to a washer dryer if needed, I didn’t need a lot of stuff, and Spirit wanted at least $28 for even a carry-on, so I figured I’d try to avoid that, and just cram everything in my purse, but I needed to clarify that I could have both my rather large purse and camera bag without paying anything. Spirit’s website was not helpful, so I tried calling them, which was less helpful. (Automated menu was broken, no matter which button you pushed, when you finally got a human, it seemed to be the same guy who barely spoke English and couldn’t understand my question!)

So I turned to the rest of the internet… which just made it worse. Not only could I not find an answer to my question, I could not find a single positive review of Spirit Airlines. Besides complaints about nickel-and-dimeing, which I was okay with because the total still ended up cheaper than any other ticket, last minute anyway, there were horror stories about planes getting delayed for days because of weather or mechanical problems and Spirit refusing to put passengers on alternate flights or refund/compensate or do anything to help, cabins being horrendously dirty, seats being even more crammed and uncomfortable than usual, and the staff being generally unpleasant.

Also, in the midst of this, I discovered I didn’t know where my drivers license was, which I’d need both to get on the plane at all, and to get into KSC. Spent the better part of the day before I’d leave looking for it, getting yelled at for not having it with me at all times (it’s not like I need to see it regularly, so I just hadn’t noticed it wasn’t in my bag), trying to pack, and generally freaking out. Eventually my dad found it under a seat in my car, where I had looked, but apparently not well enough.

Getting there: AKA, more panic.

The flight was to leave at 6am, from the Atlantic City airport, so I figured we should leave around 3am to have time to get there and get through the airport… and since I rarely get to sleep before then, just didn’t plan to. That evening, I went over to church to help set up for the baby party I wouldn’t be at, and then came home to finish packing (and conceded to maybe having to pay for a carry-on backpack, if they wouldn’t count that as the personal item in addition to purse and camera bag… the rules were really confusing!)

I knew I had told my dad when and where I had to leave from, so when I went to wake him up and he said we didn’t have to leave for an hour yet, I figured he knew what he was talking about… but when we were getting in the car close to 4:30 and I asked him if he knew how to get there or needed the GPS, and he looked at me like I was a moron, I realized he thought I meant Philly, and had forgotten the flight was from AC, and I had been right with my original time estimate, so now it was going to be a miracle if we got there before the plane left at all.

Thankfully, traffic at that hour is pretty non-existant, the airport was slightly closer than Dad thought (he was thinking of a different one another side of the city, apparently), and I was able to call the airport itself, who had no way of getting in touch with the Spirit people at the gate (???) but did assure me our ETA would leave me enough time to get through security and to the plane in time, which I did. *phew*

Spirit’s lines were confusing as crap, and the lady directing traffic was bitchy and condescending about it, but I had ditched even more of my stuff in the car so I could get through faster, so with just the purse full of clothes and camera bag, 1 Days to LaunchI got through security pretty quickly, and ran frantically through the airport, only to discover there was still a frakking line at the gate! >.<

The plane wasn’t nice, by any stretch, but it wasn’t disgusting or noticeably more uncomfortable than other coach seats, and did manage to leave on time and arrive in Orlando in one piece and on schedule. My ride’s flight was not, and rental car confusion added further delays, so I had a nice long while to sit in the parking garage waiting to leave, but we still made it to KSC and the press site a few minutes before we needed to be on the bus to the launch pad!

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