Thursday, April 6, 2017

50 for 50: Pre-9 -- Getting the F*ck to Atlanta to see Molly

As loyal(ish) readers of my Facebook page know, I was supposed to get on a flight from Knoxville to Atlanta around 3:30 yesterday afternoon.  Then 4:30.  Then 6:00, 6:30 and 7:00.  Then, no really, we'll board at 7:30.  We'll board at 7:45 for an 8:30 takeoff.  We'll update you again at 8:30.  We'll update you at 9:00.  Oh, sorry about the cancellation.

As early as 4:00, Steve had offered (half-jokingly, I assumed) to drive me to Atlanta.  Around 9:00, with Delta customer support putting everyone on hold (the storm had caused the cancellation of something like 300 flights), and no rental cars to be had at the Knoxville airport, I was thinking that, um, yeah, maybe I'd need to take him up on it.

The problem was that the storm was NOW approaching Knoxville, and words like "hail" and "tornado warning" were being thrown around.  Steve was willing to drive me, but needed to wait another half hour to see if the weather would clear.  More time passed.  I got my luggage back, my refund (Delta couldn't get me on another flight until after 5:30 p.m. the next day), and noticed that there was a nice little covered walkway from the baggage claim to the airport Hilton.  I was WIPED from my eight or so exciting hours in the Knoxville airport; Steve was estimating another 45 minutes before he could get me; and that Hilton was looking super-enticing.  I opened up the Hilton app and ended up booking their last room -- a nice disabled-accessible room.  Grab bars 'round the john; light switches lowered; the whole bit.  I walked over while lightning crashed all around me, then crashed in the room.

Steve, bless him, picked me up around 6:00 in the bloody a.m. for our three-and-half-hour cruise to Atlanta.  We were aiming for early because I'd pre-purchased tickets for the Atlanta Aquarium at the Early Bird Discount rate, and you could only use them if you got to the aquarium by 10:30.  Seeing as I didn't want to drag my luggage around the Aquarium, Steve needed to drop me at my Atlanta hotel first.

And he did, at just after 10:00.  I checked in and went up to our room.

Now, unlike the Knoxville Airport Hilton, we actually NEEDED an accessible room here.  And we booked one, too.  A "Suite Mobil Accessible Roll Shwr" room.  Several e-mails with the manager before arrival confirmed that this room in fact, has a roll-in shower and toilet grab-bars.  Arriving at the room (which did, in fact, have the little wheelchair icon on the door, so, yeah, this WAS their accessible suite), I find that BOTH of the bathrooms have regulars tubs -- no roll-in shower.  And each has a single vertical grab-bar on the wall near the shower -- nowhere near the toilet (and not likely much use for the shower, either).  They flat-out LIED to me (or switched the room and thought we wouldn't notice).  Weasels.  

But, no time for that.  I had to get going to get myself to the Aquarium in time.

Now, Molly and her mom were driving here from Alabama.  They hit a bunch of traffic and were running late, so I was going to talk about sneaking her in after the Early Bird deadline.  But I had some trouble actually talking to someone -- because you had to go through security and mobs of people just to get to someone who would look at your ticket.  And I realized I couldn't just meet Molly after security, because her mom was going to the hotel (rather than the Aquarium with us), so I needed to meet them at their car to hand off a room key.

This seemed UTTERLY IMPOSSIBLE (especially when there were three different roads on which they could be driving) until, by magic, the car aiming down the street started cheerfully honking at me.  (No.  Way.)  Molly was quickly dropped off; Patterson -- her service dog -- also dropped off; the hotel key was exchanged; and we tried to get Patterson to take a quick toileting break before we went to the Aquarium and tried to sneak in 15 or so minutes after the ticket deadline had passed.  Patterson was having nothing to do with it, and we were trying to rush to the Aquarium, so we didn't pay this much mind.

(That right there is FORESHADOWING.)

Now, I haven't seen Molly in over a decade.  She's another internet friend from forever ago -- we met in person in about 1995, and again a few times after that.  We even travelled to London together once.  But it's been bloody ages.  No time to catch up, though -- we've got to get in before the tickets die.

So:  Molly's got Patterson's leash; I've got Molly's chair (and a vague idea of where the entrance ramp is) and we book on through security.  Ticket Lady takes our Early Bird tickets without a second glance, and we're IN!

There's a Dolphin Show starting in about a half hour, so we go to see it.  We make a wrong turn (because Sharon stupidly thinks that the ramp leading toward to the Dolphin Show will not, in fact, end with four stairs going down), but we eventually find an Aquarium volunteer who is happy to escort us to the other volunteer who is happy to escort us up the elevator to the special wheelchair seating section at the Dolphin Show.  Patterson curls down next to Molly, which puts him in front of my feet, and he's starting to work his Adorable Dog charm on me.  Whenever the audience hoots and hollers his head perks up and he looks around, as if to say, "What's that noise, and do I need to protect my human from it?" but he calms quickly and tucks his head back down.

The Dolphin Show is super cool.  I'm particularly impressed by the dolphin who likes flipping in the air.  It's beautiful.  And the dolphins look to have a genuinely loving relationship with their trainers.  

After the Dolphin Show, we go through the Ocean Exhibit, which is really incredible.  We walk through the "tunnel" part and see fish all around us.  We go to "touch a shark and ray" exhibit (we have to maneuver the chair "upstream" against a bunch of people going the other way, but we manage it; Patterson's a champ) where another happy volunteer brings Molly around the side so she can reach over and touch a small shark.  

We finish this exhibit and ask someone (another happy volunteer) how to get the dog outside for toileting, and then bring him back in.  She says we have to go to the Guest Services Desk and get our tickets stamped, then exit (through the gift shop), let the dog do his business, then come back in through the zoo that was security.  This seems CRAZY.  Molly thinks it would be better if I do it myself, but that's an awful lot of me alone with the dog, and I have no idea if he'd listen to me giving him the toileting command.  We wonder if there's anything else we want to see in this aquarium, as we might as well just leave.  The happy volunteer suggests the one thing we should see are the Beluga Whales, upstairs.  We ask Patterson if he can keep his legs crossed for one last exhibit before we get out of there.

(Foreshadowing.  A valid storytelling technique.)

This volunteer doesn't quite know where the necessary elevator is, so hands us off to another one, who happily takes us upstairs, down a hallway, into a ballroom where there is a huge window through which you can watch the Beluga Whales.  A nice man in a Captain America hat offers to take our picture in front of them.  (The lighting sucks, but you get the idea.)

There are Tiger Sharks in another window in the same ballroom.  We look at them too.  We exit the ballroom and Patterson poops right there on the carpet.

I ... run to the nearest happy volunteer and politely inform him that the service dog had an accident.  He's remarkably cool with it, and goes for cleaning help.  Molly stays with Patterson and keeps pedestrians away from the, um, stuff.  In classic closing-barn-door-after-horses-gone action, I run our tickets downstairs to Guest Services, to get them stamped, so we can take the dog outside to tinkle.  (Hell, one accident was enough.)  But the first volunteer wasn't quite right -- it isn't your ticket that gets stamped, but your hand.  And while I have both our tickets, I only have my hands.  I get stamped, realizing that I'm going to have to take Patterson to pee, despite our best efforts to avoid this.

I get back upstairs.  The evidence is gone, and Molly is with yet another happy volunteer.  Now that my hand is stamped I reach for the leash, explaining that I've got to take Patterson outside to pee, and reluctantly headed downstairs toward the gift shop exit.  Not so fast.  THIS happy volunteer happily leads me and the dog (at a trot) out a secret back door into the parking lot, calling to the attendant along the way, "Service dog!  Long story!"  We take him outside; he does his business ("do you think that's enough?" asks the happy volunteer; "I have no idea" I reply, realizing that the two of us together have zero knowledge about Labrador bladder size); and we jog back in.  In retrospect, perhaps this whole thing would have been avoided if, when we'd asked the first volunteer how to get the dog outside for toileting, she'd have said, "Come with me and we'll do it right now."  

Now that Patterson was no longer rushed, Molly and I caught one more exhibit (something about rivers -- there were piranha and otters and alligators, not in the same enclosure) and I continued to marvel and how, with thousands upon thousands of fish around us, kids kept getting excited about the dog. 

By now the line for the aquarium restaurant had dissipated, so we got some lunch and went back to the ballroom to eat.  (Patterson was under the table, regaining his composure.)  This was our first chance to really chat and catch up, which was great.  Found out what Molly had been up to over the past fifteen years.  

After that, we came back to the hotel.  Had a nice chat with Molly's mom.  Got some Chinese take-out and more chat.  And ready for bed before the actual 50 for 50 tomorrow.

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