Christmas Vacation 2: Tampa Takeoff

It seemed for most of it that this year would be one in which I remained grounded. No air travel. If that had happened, it would’ve been the first time since 2011 and only the second since prior to August of 2004. I can’t really say what it is about air travel that I find so evocative and desirable, but I suppose it has to do with the likelyhood of meeting new and fascinating people. Plus, that initial feeling of flight is matched by few other things.

One thing I have done frequently this year is ride the rails. I made round trip Amtrak trips to Charlotte in March, late June, late July, mid September, and Thanksgiving. On the Thursday following Christmas, I make my way onboard the packed Charlotte/Raleigh run for the last time in 2013, so that I can get back to Raleigh/Durham International Airport for my flight to Tampa Florida.

I do meet someone on this trip. I at first think she is a kid, but as I listen to her voice, I am actually not able to determine her age. She says she’s knitting a sweater that will be her own.

She first tells me that she generally likes to stay quiet, and then that she is going to sleep. I get the hint, though she’d said that I hadn’t been bugging her when first chatting, and pull out my phone to read and tweet for the duration of the trip.

In Durham, after debating with myself for a time, I opt to have my taxi driver to take me home so that I can swap out the giant bag of clothes I’d taken to Charlotte for a leaner set more suitable to warm climates. I also take out bulky items from my carry-on, so that it can slide comfortably under the seat in front of me.

My driver and I have agreed on a departure time to the airport of 4:15, as I have a 7:30 flight and she doesn’t wish to battle rush hour traffic in trying to get me there. I am not surprised though that she is already sitting outside at 4. She doesn’t play around when it comes to time, and works hard to make sure that her loyal customers get to where they need to be when they need to be. She kind of canned someone that had been working under her, because that person opted to take someone else home from the megabus when she was to take me after my DC trip. I really do respect that and her.

At the airport, the driver pairs me with another passenger so that she can skidaddle back to her cab before she is ticketed. I enjoy conversing with this passenger, who is going to Chicago, as we inch our way through the line toward the check-in kiosk. She says that she runs her own business, and suggests that people like her do have a need for folks who are learning to build websites, as I am. I’m always relieved to hear this. We exchange contact info and part ways before reaching the security line.

At the line, I make the mistake while attempting to take off my shoes of leaning against the pole that brackets the scanner, setting it off. I probably nearly cause a security breech, but all ends well. I am through and to the departures lounge fairly quickly after this.

I had already decided that I would purchase something to eat, in what I now call the price-gouging area. For a not-so-big cheese burger and perhaps 15 fries, I pay an insane $10! But, it does hold me for a little while.

After a slight delay, about which I learned through the Southwest Airlines iPhone app, we begin the somewhat chaotic boarding process. I thought before doing this that I wouldn’t like the idea of not having assigned seats, but actually it is nice as I can then choose the exact configuration I prefer: a right-side window seat. This optimizes the chances that I will be able to hear the passenger sitting next to me.

Prepare for Takeoff: Audio

A man chooses to sit beside me, not saying much other than to alert me that the flight attendant has arrived for beverage service. I get some sprite, often a bad idea but not too punishing to the bladder this time. I just recline a bit and disappear into my story until we arrive.

Once on the ground in Tampa, I have an agent escort me to the Super Shuttle counter, where I have reserved my ride to my friend’s apartment via their very usable iPhone app. I am informed that my wait for a van will be 30 minutes, but in actuality it’s about 5-7. I certainly wouldn’t have minded anyway.

As usual, I play with Ariadne GPS as we bounce through town, myself and a female and male passenger. Everyone else is quiet. My friend resides in the Northeastern corner of the city, not far from the University of South Florida, and the airport is in the Southwest. So, it’s about a 20-minute ride.

I meet my friend, actually they are also a male and female, in the guy’s place. They stay within walking distance with each other, and so visit quite often. They hook me up with a couple of slices of pizza hut’s Stuffed Crust, and we chat deep into the night about any and everything. This is my second time visiting them, as I had also done so while they resided in Flint, Michigan. They are fun.

Friday finds me rested on a couch bed, again after a night of odd dreams. I think I dream oddly whenever I’m not in my own bed. I awake a little after 8 to listen to local radio and some of NPR’s Weekend Edition on Tampa’s NPR affiliate, WUSF.

I shower, and then we venture out into the rainy day to acquire some food. We choose to go to Steak and Shake (Audio), because it is relatively close by. In addition to the mentioned chili cheese dog and fries, I also have a big, strawberry and banana milk shake. She chooses a brownie shake on recommendation of our server, and he opts not to have a shake at all. I think he polishes hers off, though.

I can’t come to Florida without spending some time outside. I try to on Friday, playing with the phone for about 45 minutes, but eventually give in to the gloom. While it is definitely warmer than in North Carolina, the lack of sunshine means that it is still a bit on the cool side. So, I spend the rest of that day inside, listening to Bowl games and having more food, this time a sausage pepper trio sub from Domino’s. I am fine with this, as I wanted mostly to unwind and unburden myself.

I will wrap up my Tampa trip in a subsequent entry. And then, hopefully, I’ll wrap up 2013! I guess that’ll likely happen on New Year’s Day, but we shall see.

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