Saturday, November 26, 2011

Top 5 Recent Trips- #4: Cross USA Visiting Spree

IMAG0396.jpg by gkhamilton
IMAG0396.jpg, a photo by gkhamilton on Flickr.

Click the “Play” arrow directly above for a video of me on the field of Dallas Cowboys Stadium making an endzone to endzone touchdown run, all while recovering from a bum leg. I have no shame. Scroll halfway down this BlogSpot post for a second video clip of me getting little too excited to be celebrating in the endzone.

Kathy and I met up at the Portland Airport on Sunday night, May 1st with Copenhagen, Denmark in our sights. Poland was our backup plan, with a possible day or two in Amsterdam on the return trip. How quickly plans can change.

President Obama broke the news across all the TV channels just minutes before Kathy arrived at PDX that Sunday night:IMAG0264.jpg Osama bin Laden had just been killed by U.S. Navy Seal Team Six, and a televised terror alert was issued for all Americans traveling abroad. Some extremist Muslim cleric made a retaliatory statement proclaiming that anywhere Americans are spotted in the world, they will be killed. Whatever.

I was unfazed. But with PDX passengers’ eyes still glued to the TV screens, my coworkers at the Delta ticket counter staff that night unanimously condemned my foolhardy plans to leave for an overseas trip that night. Kathy was also growing more than a little concerned. And, on the final day of my Delta swing shift, my own excitement for the Europe trip was ever so slightly dimmed by some sad goodbyes that I had just shared with people that I had regularly looked forward to seeing at PDX in the evenings.

Taking Kathy’s reluctance into consideration, the world-traveling Hamiltons decided to do the unthinkable: Fly standby all over the place for a week without leaving the country.

I was scheduled to speak at Warner Pacific’s commencement ceremony the following weekend, so we’d have cut our trip short and keep moving.

We drove home from the airport that night, prayed, brainstormed a list of dozens of the friends whom we had promised to hook up with “next time we’re in the area,” and sketched out a potential list of U.S. cities for a lightning round of visits. Here’s how the week played out:

Salt Lake City, Utah

After a hailstorm of texts and Facebook messages prior to being seated in Business Class on our flight to Salt Lake City, we missed the opportunity to connect with my friend Joe by a matter of minutes after arriving in the SLC airport.

We scrapped our self-imposed “Maximum 12 hour rule” for alerting friends of our visit in favor of a relatively generous 48 hour notice. The original shorter notice was intended to allow our friends a plausible reason for graciously declining a hookup. Wasn’t that considerate of us?

IMAG0268.jpg After getting kicked off a city bus that was headed downtown, we returned to the SLC airport for dinner and hopped on a red eye flight for…

Atlanta, Georgia

IMAG0270.jpg The early morning stop in Atlanta was completely unplanned, so we didn’t bother to see if any of Atlanta buddies were available. We quickly decided to continue on to visit Kathy’s brother, Tony in…

Washington, D.C.

IMAG0288.jpg After flying from Atlanta to Washington, DC in Business Class, Kathy got her first view of our nation’s capital on a mid-morning stroll through the city. Kathy had already given Tony a courtesy call from PDX airport to give him a heads up about our potential visit to D.C.

IMAG0284.jpg Tony met us at Potbelly’s for lunch so we could catch up over sandwiches and chips, agreeing to store our carry-on baggage at his desk in the General Accountability Office near the White House. With lightened loads, we parted ways with Tony and spent the day ticking off a few of our must-see sights, including Capitol Hill, some of the Smithsonian museums, and that little shack they call the White House.

IMAG0303.jpgIMAG0307.jpgIMAG0327_edited-1.jpgIMAG0311.jpgIMAG0335.jpg In defiance of the snipers perched atop the White House roof, Kathy nonchalantly tossed our Delta standby itinerary (revealing our names, printed in bold letters) onto the White House lawn. Okay, she claims it was the wind. Either way, we were relieved to see our names evade the No Fly List for our next flight.

Come to think of it, those scrambled F16 fighter planes WERE flying rather close to our Business Class windows (or maybe the windows were just dirty?) as we flew through a fierce thunderstorm into…

Atlanta, Georgia

We had listed for our evening flight into ATL at the last minute, with impossibly short connections to nearly everywhere that we wanted fly that night. We decided to forego hooking up with any Atlanta friends in search of fairer weather.

As we ran for the departure gates in the ATL airport, I called up Kristin Cook, a college buddy from my Warner Pacific days, to ask if she and her husband Philip would appreciate a drop-in at their new place in Dallas. She excitedly threw out the welcome mat for us over the phone.

The Atlanta thunderstorm delayed our outbound flight just long enough for us to list ourselves and slip onboard. We lifted off back into the night to be tossed around by the thunderstorm as we escaped Atlanta to land in…

Dallas, Texas

IMAG0345.jpg Philip and Kristen really knocked themselves out on this one. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, they drove 45 minutes each way to pick us up at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, set us up in their decked out guest room, and loaned us their air-conditioned car (!) the next day so we could drive around the Dallas area to our hearts’ content.

On Day 4, after a startling tornado-warning siren wakeup call IMAG0351.jpg and quick stop at regional joint Whataburger, we made a beeline for the one stop on this trip that was actually planned: the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

IMG_8110.JPGIMG_8122.JPGIMAG0374.jpgIMAG0384.jpgIMAG0363.jpgIMAG0417_edited-1.jpgOf course, we sprung for the Dallas Cowboys Stadium VIP Guided Tour. It was the only way to gain full access to the field, locker rooms, the VIP clubs, Jerry Jones’ private booth, and the Press Box.

They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and I won’t even attempt to list all of the shattered “world’s biggest” records in Cowboys Stadium. It was simply astounding, just like my Dallas Cowboys.

Click the “Play” arrow on the video above to see a brief clip of my ridiculous celebration dance in the end zone of Dallas Cowboys Stadium. Can you blame me for getting my money’s worth on the stadium tour?]

s41079cc153783_58_1.jpg Lena wouldn’t be born until 9-10-11, so touring Cowboys Stadium was one of the highlights of my year up until that point.
…Resume Flashback

Over BBQ ribs on the town that evening, Phillip and Kristen talked us into staying an extra night at their house in Dallas before flying out to our next spot. They didn’t exactly have to twist our arms. We really enjoyed their company and hospitality, and friends are more important than improv itineraries.

With an unplanned bonus night of restful sleep under our belt, we easily beat the sunrise on Day 5 with a 45 minute drive to DFW airport, a trip to Atlanta-- no time to catch up with our ATL friends this time, either-- a quick layover, and Business Class seats on a morning flight into…

Vegas, baby, VEGAS!

We hadn’t seen our friends Brent and Jennifer Anderson since I was teaching our young married couple’s class at First Church of God in Vancouver, Washington. IMAG0465.jpg Jenn picked us up at the Las Vegas airport so we could catch up over breakfast at their upscale house in the ‘burbs. As was the case with the other friends that we visited that week…even the unmentioned ones that we ran into in passing… there was so much of their lives that we had missed out on. Kathy and I can and have traveled to Vegas whenever we want, but the glitz and glam of the Strip can’t compete with quality time with good friends.

Later, hit the Strip we did. It was Cinco de Mayo all day in Vegas, and we made it our goal to revisit as much of Vegas on foot as we Mexi-CAN.
IMAG0513_edited-1.jpgIMAG0493_edited-1.jpg We made stops for lunch at B.B. King’s House of Blues IMAG0498.jpg AND at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo, where the blaring rock music sporadically faded for a serenade by a house mariachi band. Taking in the kitsch of the Vegas Strip was fun, as always.

IMAG0520_edited-1.jpgIMAG0532.jpg Later, we made the mistake of delaying our evening plans with Brent and Jenn to watch Treasure Island’s evening performance of "Sirens of TI." Look, I love big explosions and high flying stunts as much as the next guy. But this badly lip-synced, absurdly sexed-up update of Treasure Island's previously fun pirate adventure show left us with the most irritating theme song in performance history clawing at our brains for the rest of the evening. Fans of the original T.I. pirate adventure need not apply.

IMAG0536.jpg The highlight of the day, by far, was heading out to the Tuscany Grill that night with Brent and Jenn. The place eventually shut down for the night, so we stayed up late with them afterwards, sharing many of the joys and sorrows that helped make us who we are. We couldn’t have picked a more perfect way to wrap up our week.


IMAG0551.jpg Our morning flight from Las Vegas to Atlanta on the morning of Day 6 was one of the few times that we got bumped back into Coach Class. No complaints here, especially with the roomy bulkhead seats. Even though it was our fourth stop in Atlanta for the week, you guessed it, we yet again opted out of finding friends to hit up for a visit. Being more accustomed to long international flights, we were getting exhausted from a week of bouncing around from city to city.

I wanted to rest up for speaking at Warner Pacific’s commencement ceremony the next morning, so we decided to hop on the first flight from Atlanta with open seats in Business Class that was headed for…


IMAG0552_edited-1.jpg A flat tire greeted us in the PDX employee parking lot. I changed more than the tire that day, though. After 15+ years of world traveling, I had changed my whole perspective on flying standby.

I’ll never stop craving my next overseas adventure, but there are so many places to be discovered and rediscovered right here in the United States. Maybe we should consider taking more vacations within our own country.

Nah… That can wait. Let the world traveling resume!

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