Vacation Part 4 – Mike Murphy and the Cliffs of Moher

The alarm on my phone rang at 5:30am and I immediately reached over to turn it off. It turns out I had already been up for a few hours. It would take a few extra days for my sleep schedule to get on track, initially my internal clock was somewhere in Eastern Europe rather than Ireland.

We called a cab and headed for the tourist office. Our walk the previous night had proved that unless we wanted to start walking around five in the morning, a cab was needed to get to the tour departure point. Our cabby wasn’t very talkative, he just drove us and overcharged for the trip but I was too tired to realize it at the time.

As we climb out of the cab we look around and realize… there aren’t many people there. We were early. As it turns out, I had confused departure times for the tour so we had arrived at the pickup spot roughly an hour early. Oops. Sorry honey.

The Dublin Tourism Office is the pickup spot for a number of tours by various companies to a number of different destinations around Ireland. Eventually our bus rolled up and the driver popped out to proclaim “Extreme Ireland! Cliffs of Moher!” And so we got on the bus, excited for our day. Once the bus was loaded he closed the tour bus door and off we went.

Lots of people were dozing so Mike, our tour guide, didn’t talk a great deal but he did some initial introductions before winding down and letting people doze during these wee hours of the day.

“I’m Mike Murphy, some people think that’s a fake name but it isn’t. It’s really mine.” Mike seemed to be in his late thirties and over the course of the day shared many stories with us. He grew up in Wexford, or “Wexico,” as apparently it is jokingly referred to. He comes from a family of farmers and he grew up working the farm as the youngest of a large Irish family.

Mike was fun tour guide but he did have a habit of telling a joke and then telling it again a few minutes later. I’m not sure whether it was part of his charming host personality or if he genuinely forgot he had already told the joke but it was something I remembered.

The tour was an all day thing, we got on the road around 7 a.m. and didn’t return to Dublin until 8 p.m. The bus took us across Ireland the country to the west coast. Along the way we stopped a few times, first was just at a gas station which had some food options and was a chance to stretch our legs. Next was a stretch and sightseeing stop in Limerick.

During the short stop in Limerick we saw King John’s castle from across the river, but we didn’t get close to it.

King John Castle

After that, it was time for the Cliffs. Words can’t do the the Cliffs justice. As it turns out, the Cliffs aren’t the highest cliffs in Ireland, those are elsewhere. The Cliffs of Moher are the longest high cliffs in Ireland, they run nearly 8km which is what leads to the spectacular vistas such as the top photo on this post.

I walked a fair ways along the Cliffs while Katie opted to stay back and not keep going. There is a walking path which extends beyond the official Cliffs of Moher site. When you reach the end of the official area they make it very clear that it is dangerous due to the winds on the cliffs, people die every year because they are stupid. I ventured as near the cliff’s edge as I dared, roughly a foot or so from the edge trying to get some awesome photos. Disclaimer: I’m an amateur photographer using a professional grade camera. I did the best I could.

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Eventually, I turned back to go find Katie before it was time for the tour to depart to grab lunch. Up to then the weather had really held out. As it turns out we were treated to some fairly wonderful weather during our time in Ireland, while on the chilly side it was far from unpleasant and, for the most part, the rain held off.

We ate at a brasserie style pub where I ordered my requisite Guinness and enjoyed a true Irish meal.

Let’s talk for a moment about me and beer. I am, on the whole, not a beer fan. I believe I have an allergy to beer, my throat feels like it closes up after just one or two drinks. It’s not like I have trouble breathing, but between not really liking the taste and that feeling in my throat – I’m not exactly driven to drink beer. Normally when I do try to drink beerh, I stay far away from dark beers, so Guinness is quite an unusual drink for me. Perhaps my allergy would abate if I drank more beer but I’m not planning to work on it with any great vigor, I’ll keep to my Scotch which affects me far less.

1383658_10100666454950859_1807728656_nExcept while in Ireland, where I felt obligated to order a pint of Guinness. As it turned out, I was able to get about three quarters through it before calling it quits. I’ll consider that a win.

After lunch, while everyone else was finishing eating, I snapped a few photos from the town outside before we loaded up again. Our next stop was to visit a unique piece of terrain called a karst. Karsts form by the dissolution of stone by water. It was just as we began approaching the karst that the weather changed and the rain clouds rolled in. At the moment the doors opened it was dry but there was no telling how long it would last, so I raced off to snap pictures.

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Apparently the day before a fisherman was swept out to sea at the karst. The Irish Coast Guard were there monitoring and I assume watching for any sign of him. I was up on the karst plateau snapping photos when I looked out to the water and realized that the rain was getting very close to us. So I began snapping photos like a mad man before dashing for the bus.

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Once we rolled away from the karst we visited the Corcomroe Abbey. It was built in 1182. The abbey was commissioned by the Irish King Conor nu Siudane Ua Brian, who is also buried there. Legend goes that he executed the five masons who built the abbey to prevent them from creating a competing masterpiece.

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The above photo is one of my favorite from this trip. I had run ahead of the tour group so I could get into the area before the others and was able to get this wonderful shot.

After we visited the abbey it was time to turn back and begin the ride home. We all settled back into the bus for the long ride, pretty much the entire bus dozing off during the ride at one point or another.

We had a great time on the tour, once we got back to Dublin we grabbed a cab back to the hotel, ordered dinner, and settled in for the night.

Something that I never really considered, and eventually learned, is the fact that there are people in Ireland who have lived there their whole lives and who have never seen the Cliffs of Moher, or the Giant’s Causeway for that matter. It is silly but I had assumed it was just one of those things that everyone in Ireland would have seen. But as I thought about it I realized it’s like anything else – there were major landmarks in Florida I never saw despite living there the vast majority of my life.

I am so thankful to have seen those cliffs, and barring them falling into the sea – I will eagerly look forward to seeing them again in my next visit to Ireland.

Next time: I talk about getting sick in Ireland and the Giant’s Causeway.

Vacation Part 3 – Getting to Ireland

Part 3 of this series talks about our trip getting to Ireland including an unplanned meetup with a friend who also happened to be at the airport.

(Be sure to check out both part 1 and part 2 if you haven’t read them yet.)

So the reason for our trip to Ireland was that we could piggyback our vacation onto the Magic Pro Tour Theros event. It was taking place in Dublin, Ireland, and it happened to be taking place the day after my third anniversary. So it seemed like a great idea to turn this into a vacation for both me and for Katie.

I’ve only been to Europe a handful of times and of those times I’ve never been to the UK or to Ireland. Katie had been to Ireland once before but it had been a long time and there was plenty she didn’t do. So, together we headed for Ireland.

Unlike our flight in, thankfully the flight out of Jacksonville went perfectly fine. It was another small plane again but it was empty enough that we had space and we were able to catch a few Z’s before arriving in Dulles.

I’m someone who checks in pretty regularly on Facebook while I travel. It’s good for posterity, government tracking, and letting my friends and family know where we are and that we are safe. So, when I checked in at Dulles, I got an excited message from Allison, a friend of ours, from Orlando. Allison was on her way to Dulles for her own flight to LAX on her way to Australia for the next leg of Beyoncé’s tour. Allison is a light rigger and currently on tour with Beyoncé.

Because I didn’t adequately examine our flight schedule, I didn’t realize Katie and I had a five hour layover in Dulles. A mistake I won’t make again for a while. However this extra time proved excellent because it allowed us to catch up with Allison.

Allison & Katie

Left: our friend Allison. Right: My wife Katie

A brief aside about Alison: When Katie and I were moving away from Orlando Allison stopped by to see us on our last night before leaving. We were taking a break from packing. She brought us some cookies and a mix CD for the road. That CD is one of the the few CDs that is still in the car, we break it out whenever we have a sizeable drive ahead of us. The cookies? They didn’t last nearly as long.

A brief aside about Dulles: I’m not a big fan of Dulles. In fact I’m not a big fan of any east coast hub airport except Chicago. I don’t like Newark, Dulles, or even Atlanta.

One of the things I dislike about Dulles is that if you have to walk from one end to the other, it feels like miles. So for example, if we have to go from one end to the other to meet a friend, it can be quite tiring to wade against the current while carrying carry-ons. But for Allison it was most certainly worth it. I just don’t like Dulles.

The Large-Hadron Collider built in Dulles airport.

The Large-Hadron collider built inside the Dulles airport.

So we met up with her in the terminal and grabbed a bite to eat. She caught us up on her life, told us why she was carrying a bagpipe (it was small and in its case, in fact I didn’t even see it – she might have been lying.) But she also told us about her trip to Ireland and the tour she had taken.

She booked through a site called Viator. Basically it’s a central website for booking tours while traveling rather than having to book it through random questionably trustworthy websites. During her trip to Ireland she said she was a big fan of the Cliffs of Moher tour, with that word of support we decided we would do take it too.

Eventually Allison had to leave for her flight to LAX. We bid her farewell and snapped a goodbye photo. However it was not a simple event for her either. As she discovered, her plane had technical problems and there was no other way for her to get to LAX to catch the same connection to Australia. So she was forced to spend another day in DC so she could fly the next day. So we got to see her again as she left the airport, but that was again in passing.

We had such a great time visiting with Allison that I’ve resolved to always accept opportunities for airport meetups on coinciding layovers. They are wonderful chances to catch up and just generally awesome.

Once we sent Allison off for the second time, Katie and I continued the never-ending layover. I explored Viator and eventually booked reservations to the Cliffs of Moher as well as the one to the Giants Causeway.

Now, I am not normally one to take part in large group tours. Normally they’re disappointing, over costed, and generally sub par experiences. But I decided to do these for a few reasons. The largest of which is that I didn’t want to rent a car, and since both of these venues were far from Dublin, this made good sense.

Eventually our layover ended and we were allowed to board for Ireland. As with most flights from the US to Europe they set it up so we would fly overnight and arrive in the morning. The flight went fine, I slept fitfully some though it wasn’t a lot. I did a fair bit of reading, finishing Alexis Ohanian’s Without Their Permission. Dublin airport was nice, the airport was fairly empty as we arrived. We went through customs and were welcomed to the emerald isle.

After collecting our luggage we found a cab and off we went to the hotel. The cabbie, Declan, was entertaining and told us quite a bit as we drove. He drove a Mercedes and was retired, now just being a cabbie to make some extra money.

Declan the cabbie

His name was Declan, officially the most Irish of names ever created.

We got to the hotel too early to check in so we dropped our bags off and, half asleep, went down to the hotel restaurant to eat lunch. We were bone tired but we needed to stay up most of the day to help get our sleep schedules on track. The secret to adjusting your time zone is to force yourself to be exhausted at the new timezone’s sleep time. I know of a friend who will stand for hours on end to avoid risking falling asleep while sitting somewhere.

After eating and sitting for a little while we got into our room. We took a quick nap and then rested and relaxed watching TV before deciding to head down to the Dublin Tourist Office to scout where we were meeting the tour in the morning. Based on Google Maps it was just 3.3 kilometers (roughly two miles), so we decided to get some exercise and walk down to check it out. We walked by the Royal Dublin Society, which would be the event venue later that week and then walked by a few embassies including the US Embassy. Eventually we found the spot, it was a corner outside a very old stonework building and near Trinity College.

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Our hotel was a converted boy’s school from the 1800s.

We found the spot and realized that walking it was not a reasonable plan in the morning. If we were meeting them around 6:30 then we would need to wake up early enough to allow us to get ready for the day and walk down there. So we decided to cab it the next morning.

As it would turn out, whether it was from timezone confusion or just excitement at the tours, I wouldn’t sleep much that night.

Next time: the Cliffs of Moher and a few other sites we saw.

Vacation Part 2 – Georgia

As a kid I visited rural Georgia the way some kids went to summer camp. On our vacation I returned to those memories and spent quality time with my grandma.

(Be sure to start with part one if you haven’t read it already.)

After the excitement in Jacksonville it was time to travel to a sedate, rural, tiny town in southeast Georgia.

The first stage was a trip to see my grandmother and spend a few quality days with her in the small town of Nahunta. I’ve had ancestors in or around Nahunta for centuries. My great grandfather, James M. Ammons, had a farm in southeast Georgia not too far from where grandma lives now. The family was farming folk through and through. Grandma recalled the one time her family had tried to grow a cash crop: cotton. They grew it, picked it, bagged, and stored it waiting for the buyer to come around. She said it was hard backbreaking work and that she hated every minute of it. Unfortunately for the family there was a leak in the shed and the cotton got moldy before they were able to sell it, ruining its value. They never tried a cash crop again. From her stories it sounds like my great grandfather was an opportunist farmer, he didn’t have any singular crop he grew, he just farmed to support his family and coincidentally make some money.

My grandma, Betty, was the youngest of eleven kids and today she is the last one living. I only have clear memories of two of her siblings: Aunt Hazel and Uncle R.L. Uncle R.L. was the closest thing I had to a grandfather for much of my life, but it wasn’t an especially close relationship. Aunt Hazel was nice enough but was not someone I bonded with when seeing her, she had a tiny chihuahua dog named Sugar that she took everywhere.

Grandma

Before Katie and I moved to Seattle we would have grandma ride the train down to Orlando three or four times a year so she could stay with us for a week or so. I loved spending time with her and just having her around. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to do that was a serious factor for me to consider when deciding whether to move across the country or not.

Grandma was born on Oct. 6, 1930. She was the salutatorian of her 36-member graduating class. She claims she was robbed of being the valedictorian due to school politics. She grew up not far from where she lives now, though she spent a number of years living in Tampa, FL before returning to Georgia in the early nineties. This year she turned 83 and still lives on her own and drives herself where she needs to go. She loves gardening and is, aside from Katie, the most important woman in my life.

One of my fondest memories growing up was spending weeks with her during my summer breaks. The parents would drive up and she would drive down, we’d meet up at I’d be handed off at a central-ish spot to back home with her. I’d spend maybe a week or two with her, seeing my cousins and extended family. Everyone in town calls her “Ant Betty” (misspelled for pronunciation.) In many ways I think of those times as a sort of summer camp for one. I spent a lot of time outside. I shot air rifles, rode dirt bikes, played games. While also watching some TV (lots of The Price is Right) and reading books. All while spending time with my grandma.

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Since I’ve grown up, I’ve driven through Nahunta a number of times while going from Orlando to Atlanta. I would stop to pick up grandma on the way but I hadn’t spent any real time there in almost twenty years.

Nahunta, in my memory, is a speck of a town and while the town has grown some – it is still quite small. According to the 2000 census, it had less than 1,000 people living in the town. It is the small town you might see on television. The economy is low with many jobs coming from lumber, the egg plant (putting eggs into cartons) or farming. I remember grandma telling us about when they got their second stop light in the county, it was a big deal. Now though the town has grown. Now there is a Dairy Queen within walking distance of grandma’s house. That isn’t to say it has seen a lot of growth, just some growth. The library is in the same building as it was in my childhood. The houses remain unchanged and mostly trailers. The roads are mostly unchanged, some got paved, some remain dirt. As it turns out it hadn’t changed too much, just bits and pieces.

When I told grandma that we were coming to visit she was excited. She suggested we could stay at the local hotel: the Knox Hotel, which as it turns out is the only hotel in town. The next nearest town with a hotel was Waynesville, an only slightly larger metropolitan area, and yes – the use of metropolitan here is completely ironic and sarcastic.

The Knox Hotel doesn’t have a website. It isn’t staffed 24 hours a day. In fact they don’t take credit card. When I called to see about booking our room they took my name and the dates of our stay and said they’d see us there. The woman said it all in a syrupy southern drawl that tugged at heartstrings as I hadn’t heard a voice like that in a while.

We had some trepidation about the hotel leading up to the visit. We had no idea what to expect and in the absence of information we imagined all the worst case scenarios. As it turns out, the Knox Hotel was quite nice, though perhaps a bit quirky. For example, the first night there we had to contend with a number of trains rumbling down the tracks right behind our hotel. The beds were built on frames out of lumber and not the most comfortable of places to rest (though far from the worst I’ve slept on.)

Knox Hotel

The goal of our visit was to spend quality time with grandma. I hadn’t seen her in over a year, and it had been two years for Katie. A few months ago we had had a health scare with grandma such that I went so far as to notify people at work that I may have to make an emergency trip to see her. Thankfully that all seems to have passed and she is still able to putter in her garden, but it struck home the urgency with us needing to go see her.

We had been expecting her to attend a family wedding which Katie and I were missing due to our time in Ireland, up to that point the plan was to make the visit just something Katie and I were going to do. When we discovered she wasn’t going to the wedding, the plans changed to include time with dad, Carol, and potentially a visit from my baby sister, Charlotte. Even with the changes to the plan, I had one main goal and that was to spend time with grandma to talk about our family history, and look through her family photos and genealogy records.

The south is I believe, in many people’s minds, a cartoon of itself. Certainly you can find Confederate flag trucker hats on beer bellies. Of course you will find low income living. Racism, while much less than it once was, still exists. But not every southerner is Honey Boo Boo. Far from it. You’ll find southern hospitality is as strong as ever, neighbors go out of their way to help each other as well as strangers.

While grandma lives on her own, there is a small army of family, friends, and neighbors, who check in on her and help her out. From doing laundry, to running errands, to cooking meals, to just checking in on her – she is surrounded by good people who care about her.

We met some of these people, a young family of five from West Virginia. The father and mother were my age if perhaps a year or two older, and they had three high energy bouncing kids. The mother regularly helps grandma with chores and errands and she enjoys redecorating grandma’s apartment by moving photos around and rearranging things.

One of the things grandma wanted for her birthday was to go to her favorite store: the plant store. She wanted to buy snapdragons to plant in her garden. So we made quite a production of going, cramming all five of us in the car. In my mind I was imaging a Home Depot garden section with rows and rows of plants. I think all of us were thinking of something along those lines. What we found though was a feed store which happened to have roughly ten feet by three feet of various potted plants for sale outside.

Sure enough they had snapdragons, so we bought up all they had. Two sets of six plants. They didn’t have very many and she was said about it, but she said she would come back next week after they restocked.

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After that, Katie and I loaded up the car and took a quick trip just the two of us. We headed to an island off the coast of Georgia called St. Simon’s island. The island holds a strong place in my memory of those weeks I spent with grandma. We would go out there for primarily one purpose: a used bookstore. The island itself caters to vacationers and retirees, though it too had grown up some since I had last been there and looked like it had grown to be slightly more suburban.

The drive was maybe 45 minutes from grandma’s. As we drove onto the actual island we drove right by an Ace Hardware with a garden section. “Let’s stop and see if they have any more snapdragons.” Sure enough they had a much larger stock of snapdragons so we picked up six more sets of six and paid the hefty $13. With those safely situated in the trunk we finally reached St. Simon’s main “square.” As we walked up it I was looking around, remembering so much and looking for the bookstore.

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In the annals of my mind, on the long list of places I have bought books, this store is enshrined near the top. To discover that it was still in business was a real thrill. Unquestionably the store’s glory days, whenever they were, were behind it. The shelves were a bit more bare than I recall. But I was surprised (I don’t know why) to also discover that it was the same woman, sitting in the same chair, running the store. We chatted briefly with her about how I remembered coming to the store so long ago and Katie found a book about the history of the English language which I bought for a very fair $4.

After the store we walked down to the pier, just to see it again. It isn’t anything amazing, it’s just a pier – but it holds a place in my childhood memories. After seeing that the pier remained intact we walked around a bit more, got some frozen yogurt, while I recalled stories from our visits there. There is an old lighthouse on the island and I can remember going up it once as a kid, but it didn’t hold any lure to me now.

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We drove back and delivered the flowers to grandma. She was surprised and excited to have more flowers to plant.

Other than that random trip, the majority of our time was spent with grandma. She took us to eat at every restaurant in Nahunta (except Dairy Queen, we wanted authentic southern food, not chain.) We went with her to visit the Ammons family cemetery, which is in the neighboring town of Waynesville. It’s not a big cemetery but in that acre of land there are dozens of relatives buried together.

I think though my favorite memory from the visit will be the shared birthday celebration with my dad and grandma. Their birthdays are two days (and a few years) apart, so we went to a local restaurant and brought our own cake and ice cream. The restaurant staff were completely accomodating, going so far as to put the ice cream in the freezer and giving us spoons to scoop it with.

We had dinner and then did presents and had our cake and ice cream. We sang happy birthday and had a wonderful time just being together. Grandma turned 83 and dad turned 72.

Birthday

I also spent time this trip making recordings as talked with grandma. I recorded a few hours with her, just letting her talk or sometimes prompting her with questions. She talked about history, our family, her life, and more. As an example, here’s a brief clip from a recording I made where she talks about her father having a warrant out against him.

Eventually though it was time to move on so, on the morning of October 5, we packed our bags and loaded into dad’s car and stopped for one more visit with grandma. Dad and Carol then drove us back to Jacksonville and dropped us off with hugs and kisses, sending us on to the next leg of our adventure: Ireland.

Next time: a surprise airport visit with a friend as we’re on our way to Ireland.

Vacation Part 1 – Jacksonville

Things never go quite as planned, but this might be taking it just a little too far. I talk about being part of the Jacksonville airport bomb scare and how it started off my vacation.

I just got home from vacation and thanks to nearly thirteen hours on planes; I already have rough drafts done for the first four parts of the posts about my vacation. I am guessing there will be seven posts in the series but we’ll see. This first post shares the excitement that was our first day of travel to Jacksonville.


The night before our trip, with the government shutdown on the horizon, I asked if anyone knew whether it would cause the TSA be shut down. I was worried it would cause problems for us traveling on October 1st. Thankfully, it turned out that the TSA was unaffected, and that was the least of the crazy for our day.

So we packed our bags, grabbed a few hours of sleep and woke up plenty early to get to the airport.

I’ve always been someone to arrive early at the airport. Part of it is preparing for the worst. What if we get a flat tire? (Never happened.) What if we get in bad traffic? (Happened but never really been an issue.) What if we get in an accident? (Happened and did cause me to miss my flight.) But even with all that the truth is also I sort of enjoy the airport.

So we get to the airport, check our bags, and head for security. Despite TSA being fully operational on the day, they were woefully struggling with that morning’s traveler traffic. If I didn’t have premier access with United, Katie and I would have a waited probably ninety minutes to get through. It was terrible, and lots of people were frustrated with the security theater. It’s times like that which makes me question all of TSA. How much security do we gain from removing our shoes?

Eventually, we get through the security and get onto our flight. We fly through Dulles on our way to Jacksonville before driving up to the small town in Georgia where my grandmother lives. On our first flight, Katie noticed one of the attendants accidentally dropped a pair of wings. You know, the lapel pins that are almost cliche for kids to get when flying. When she pointed it out to the attendant, the woman just gave her the wings–so obviously I called dibs.

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When we landed in Jacksonville we knew something was amiss because we came to a halt, almost immediately. The Captain came on the intercom and told us something was going on with the airport so we were going to sit on the tarmac for a while as it got figured out. Moments later Katie’s mom, who had been in the airport for a while, texted us that they had evacuated the airport, and she was outside waiting to be allowed back in.

And so we sat on the tarmac. I made use of social media tweeting what was happening, and reading news reports about what was going on. I ended up becoming a news source for people on the plane. Between social media, news websites, and an aunt who lives in Jacksonville who texted me news from the local broadcast she was watching, I knew more than anyone on the plane.

During it all, I never felt like I was in danger and wasn’t worried. I mean, we were remotely situated on the tarmac with no one around us. It was just a matter of time before it got straightened out so we had to be patient. That seemed to be the common feeling on the plane, everyone was just relaxed and either talking on their phone or even sleeping. Our flight from Dulles had been just under two hours long, but our time on the tarmac was nearly two and a half hours.

While we waited many people were on their phones texting or calling people letting them know they were indeed safe. Including me. There was almost a phone tree in my family of people making sure we were okay. My grandmother heard about the airport from a neighbor. So she called my dad to see what he knew. He hadn’t heard about it, so he called me and got my voice-mail. As soon as I finished whatever call, or turned my phone on, I call him back and call grandma to reassure them both we were safe and just stuck waiting.

Eventually we are told that we are going to be bused to a nearby “secured location.” Now, I don’t use quotes there ironically or humorously, just to note the verbiage. That phrase feels we are going to be taken to a detention facility. What it really means is that we’re being bused to the Clarion hotel which is directly next to the airport. We arrive to find several hundred other passengers already there. Everyone who has been evacuated from the terminal as well as everyone who has been deplaned and transported there are just left waiting. It’s not a zoo but I had the thought that we would have posed a feeding frenzy if zombies attacked.

Now, my major concern was figuring out how to meet up with Katie’s mom. Katie’s mom was helping us out by driving up to get us and then taking us into Georgia to see my grandma. Katie’s mom wasn’t familiar with either Jacksonville or its airport, and neither was us I. So combine those things with this bomb scare chaos, and I was really worried about how we would meet up. Thankfully the problem was solved for us, the Jacksonville police had already escorted her to the same hotel so we were able to easily meet up.

Now that we had met up we decided to hang around for a few hours in case the airport opened back up and we could get our checked luggage. I even called United to see what they could tell me. I wasn’t expecting any action, just trying to find out if we were wasting our time or how the process would work for getting our bags. Even though the event had begun hours ago United’s phone agents were completely in the dark.

Now, I realize that Jacksonville is far from a major United airport. Also, I realize that Jacksonville is a fairly small airport compared to most airports. But, in this day of terrorism as an ever present concern, it seems like a bulletin about the incident would have been merited. The people were all very professional and apologetic for not knowing anything useful for me.

We leave the airport and drive up to the Georgia border and check into a hotel. We order pizza to the room and just relax, unwinding after our long day, and catching up with Katie’s mom.

So it was the next day that we go back and get our luggage from the airport. JAX was back to normal except for a gaggle of reporters standing around waiting for a press conference about the ongoing investigation as to what happened last night.

What eventually came to light was that the incident started due to a presumably deranged man had a fake bomb in his carry-on. From there, they went on high alert and took two other individuals into custody, one of whom was near my mother-in-law when he was taken down.

Bomber - Zeljko Causevic

Zeljko Causevic stirred up some shit.

What happened was that when the first guy set this whole scenario off they followed protocol and evacuated the airport. So anyone waiting for their flight, or for arriving family, were forced out into the parking structure. As my mother-in-law tells it, she was maybe twenty feet from this man. He was sweating in the Florida humidity and appeared quite agitated. He was talking into his phone in some language she didn’t recognize and pacing rapidly and gesturing widely.

She says that she was planning to offer him a wet nap to wipe his sweat, but when she looked away and then looked back she watched as two officers swooped in from different sides. One took him down and the other pinned him before quickly taking him away. It seems that he was in fact not guilty of anything and released as far as I can find.

All in all, for what was a rather uneventful event for us, it generated a few unusual stories to share and made me wonder what the guy with the fake bomb was thinking?

Was it a statement? Was it a maligned suicide attempt, hoping to be shot by security? Was he hoping to get onto the plane before demanding they fly him somewhere other than what was planned? I have no idea, and I hope I never find out. Life’s too short to spend more time thinking about him and not my own life.

So that was the start to our vacation. It certainly made for an interesting day but was definitely not something I would call a highlight of our trip.

In the next post I will share with you some about my roots in rural Georgia, about and visiting my grandma, and about why she’s one of the most important people in the world to me.

Next time: I talk about our visit to Georgia and share some background around my memories of visiting as a child.