Sunday, April 27, 2014

What Happens When I Travel For Work

I recently had an incredible opportunity to do a trainer exchange of sorts at a Popular Aquarium in San Diego.  I had been looking forward to this trip for several reasons:

1) It was a great Professional Development Opportunity (PDO)
2) It was in San Diego
3) It is always awesome to see how other facilities do their thang
4) It was in San Diego
5) It allowed me to see family I don't normally get to see
6) was in San Diego

If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me

So I guess you could say, I sort of like California.

Lots of people travel for work, and when they do, it never seems to result in strange happenings.  Wait, I take that back.  My dad has had some pretty insane stories (mostly traveling around the Middle East).  So perhaps I inherited the Misadventure Gene from my dad as it pertains to professional excursions.

While I'll briefly touch on the trainer exchange (because it inspired another Middle Flipper post I'll do next week!), I'd like to in full discretion share with you some of the experiences.  "Colorful" experiences.  Ones that show my bizarre luck and my hopeless space cadetedness.

I'd known about this trip for a month.  When I received the itinerary in my work email, I was excited that while it wasn't a very long trip, it was long enough for me to do my PDO and spend a little time with my aunt and uncle.  I immediately told them the dates I'd be in town and I planned to pack in as much wildlife viewing as I could the two day trip as I could.  When the work schedule came out for the upcoming weeks, I eagerly anticipated the week where it had my name and "San Diego" written next to it for Wednesday and Thursday.  My boss was kind enough to ask me if I wanted to come in late on Friday, since I wasn't getting in to Pensacola until late at night.  I was smitten and totally jazzed.


I arrived in San Diego late Tuesday night with minor drama.  I had the privilege and honor to eavesdrop on a very tense phone conversation a young woman was having with a nameless victim about how awful her traveling experience had been.  FIRST, she didn't know they didn't serve MEALS on planes.  SECOND, the plane she was about to get on didn't even have WIFI.  

"Can you &%*ing believe this?" she asked her phone.  Pause.  "It's like, I expect to have wifi.  I mean, with all that's going wrong on this plane, do you think that's like a sign it's going to crash?"

After I landed, I walked outside to wait for the shuttle bus to take me to the Rental Car Place.  It took a while to get there, but the evening was so nice and um, hello, I WAS IN SAN DIEGO, so I didn't care.  When the shuttle finally arrived, I was about third in line.  The woman who lead the way was struggling to get all of her bags consolidated, but the rest of us patiently waited for her to fix her stuff so she could get on the bus.  She was after all, first in line.

She turned to the man behind her. "Oh, you don't have to wait for me! This will take awhile.  Go ahead."

So he did.

And she was still dancing with her luggage when it was my turn to get on, so I walked onto the bus.

All of a sudden, I hear from behind me, "Okay I didn't mean EVERYONE*! But WHATEVER!"  

Starring...the woman at Rental Car Place

Afraid for my life, I bolted for the back of the bus and tried to hide in a corner as best as I could.  When we arrived at the Rental Car Place, the Luggage Grumpy Lady got off first and was first to be helped, which meant I got to listen to her say things like:

"What do you MEAN, do I have car insurance?  Of COURSE I don't, that's why I bought insurance through you guys!"

But somehow, I made it through the evening without making anyone else angry and I made it safely to my aunt and uncle's house (but not before setting off motion sensor lights and waking up people in a house I THOUGHT was my aunt and uncles but uh, wasn't).

The next morning, I got up really early so I could go to Del Mar Heights to enjoy the scenery and hopefully find some dolphins surfing the waves.  I spent about an hour there, enjoying the view and writing in my journal.  And I did these things while I consumed my Daily Caffeinated Beverages and a liter of water.  By the time I needed to leave to make sure I got to Popular Aquarium with plenty of time, I was really feeling the caffeine and sheer massive quantity of water I'd consumed.


"I'll drive to Popular Aquarium, then I'll find a place to stop," I told my bladder.

"Alright," it replied.  "But you better drive fast."

You know how it is when you have to be somewhere at a certain time, and you're nervous and excited, and it's for work, and you just have no clue how long it's going to take to get to a place so you leave really, really, early?  And you drive really fast?  That's basically what I did, so I rolled up to Popular Aquarium with lots of time to spare with a bladder that was now at critical mass.  

"DO SOMETHING!!!!!!" my bladder yelled.

"Okay okay! I'll find a gas station somewhere!" I said.


"I'm not going to show up and the first impression they have of me is me peeing my pants!"

So I zoomed towards Ocean Beach, the hippie capital of San Diego county, and ran into the first gas station I found. 

"WHERE IS YOUR BATHROOM?" my bladder and I yelled in unison towards the attendant.

"Oh honey," she replied, clearly empathizing with my obvious urgency.  "They are out of order."

"YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!" my bladder said.

"Thank you haveanicedaybye," I said as I hobbled as quickly as I could to my car.



I pealed out of the parking lot and raced towards a public park I'd seen on my way in.  And public parks meant public bathrooms, which at the time sounded like a great idea.

At this point I couldn't even sit up in my seat correctly, so I parked the car in a way that would leave police officers confused and scuffled into the bathroom, tears welling in my eyes as I realized that Bladder and I had triumphed against nature and soon all would be well and good in the Universe.


The sound of gastrointestinal despair shook me out of my momentary bliss and delivered unto me a sight I could not unsee.  And to spare you the gruesome details dear readers, let's just say I shared this bathroom with another older patron who felt free enough in the world to deposit Mother Nature's gifts into the proper receptacle, but with the door wide open. 

I wanted to run away and find another bathroom.

"LIKE HELL YOU WILL!" Bladder declared, and took control of my nervous system and forced me to walk into a stall.

You know how the rest of this goes, because I'm sure you've experienced this sweet, sweet relief before.  And it erased the horror of the vision of my bathroom neighbor, and I could once again feel excited about my day meeting and working with new trainers.

The woman down the way began to make sounds, like maybe she could need medical attention for whatever ailed her.  

"Come on, bladder, let's hurry this up!" I said.  "I don't want to be in here anymore."
"You will leave when I'm good and ready," Bladder replied.

Groan, groan, groan, wailing, more wailing echoed through the dingy, cement public bathroom.  I began to feel bad for her when all of a sudden the groans became moans of passion. 

"No," I reasoned with myself.  "This woman could not possibly be doing what it sounds like she is now doing."

But the moans became louder and louder until it was clear my Potty Pal was not answering the call of nature but was

We interrupt this program to bring you a delightful scene of sea lion pups

Whoops, sorry, this is supposed to be PG.  And my intention was to never force you to experience all the delightful details.  Suffice it to say, the woman's lewd actions and sounds were enough to make my Bladder see reason and I was able to get out of there at warp speed.

After such a colorful experience early in my trip, I was very relieved to have a fantastic day working with many passionate and dedicated trainers.  Of course, I'm lucky because the team I work with is equally as wonderful, but there is something really special about going to a place unfamiliar and sharing a common love for animals and animal care.   But like I said, that wonderful, amazing part of my trip is the muse for next week's blog, so make sure you tune in then.

I met up with my aunt and uncle later in the evening, and we had a wonderful dinner right on the water in Cardiff.  I got to meet my uncle's hilarious Turkish friend, and we enjoyed amazing seafood and yummy wine.  It was a great end to a great day...even though it started with an unusual experience.

The next day, I got up even earlier because I had to leave for the airport midday, and I wanted to check out the seals and sea lions at La Jolla and I wanted to spend a couple more hours at Popular Aquarium before I absolutely had to leave.

Seal pups!!!!!!

I got to see a zillion sea lions and seals, and enjoy the majesty that is La Jolla Cove and Children's Pool.  Man, the people who live in that area are so lucky!  I watched with childlike awe as a couple of dudes did their morning laps in the cove with sea lions chasing their feet!  Right, right, I know what all of you pinniped trainers are thinking: That sounds like the most horrifying experience ever and sea lion bites are not like, the most fun thing ever.  But it hasn't deterred people from doing their regular workouts out there, and it seemed as though they left the animals alone (but due to a loophole in the federal law, the Marine Mammal Protection Act does not protect humans against harassment from marine mammals).

A person just you know, swimming laps while sea lions buzz around him

I spent the morning with the Popular Aquarium trainers, and around 11:15 it was time for me to get ready to head out.  I said my goodbyes, and texted a good friend of mine: "I wish I didn't have to leave!"  Even though I knew I was going back to an awesome place and a job I completely adore.

I realized though, that I had just enough time to check out one show.  The sea lion show was starting, so I headed over.  I found a spot high in the stands so I could see the entire stage, knowing I'd get inspired for our own sea lion show.  But all the while I was walking to the stadium, walking up the stairs to my seat, and while I waited for the show to start, I'd been trying to check in for my flight on my phone.

The internet connection was bad, so I thought that was the reason I could not find the "check-in" button on the website.  I changed my seat.  I looked at my itinerary.  But I couldn't check it.  That stressed me out a little, because I like getting that kind of thing done long in advance, but I knew I had plenty of time.  So I relaxed and enjoyed the sea lion show, which was hilarious and creative.

...but I'm still freaking out about my flight

By the time I'd reached my car, which I'd parked on the polar opposite end of where I exited, I was sweating and freaked out because Siri wasn't listening to me and giving me directions to the Rental Car Place and I was terrified of missing my flight.  I hit a little bit of traffic too, and had to wait in line to get gas for the car before I could return it.  By the time I got to the lot, I only had about 40 minutes before my flight was supposed to take off.  OH GOD.

I returned my car, trying to fend off the very friendly attendant who wanted to tell me about hey, he has a friend named Cat! But her name is Catherine.  Is my name Catherine?  Right on! That's crazy! He has a friend named Cat! But her name is Catherine! She is really nice!

I peeled away from my new friend and got on the bus, now totally dripping with sweat and convinced I was going to miss my flight.  More and more people piled on, NO! LET'S GO LET'S GO LET'S GO! I screamed in my head.

We pulled into the airport about 15 minutes later, and I ran off the bus not realizing I was in the wrong terminal.  Visions of the MacCallister family running desperately through the halls of O'Hare to get to their flight to France filled my brain as I tried to locate the American Airlines counter.  But, again not realizing I was in the wrong part of the airport, I hit a dead end and started swearing out loud.

There I am!

Then, I saw the ticket kiosks, glowing in the sunlight.  I quickly punched in my information, knowing that I could make this flight if only I just got my boarding pass NOW and not LATER.  The screen brought up my itinerary, then flashed off.

"WHAT???" I said out loud.  I hit the side of the computer.  "What happened?? WHAT IS HAPPENING?"

A little slip of paper shot at my hands.

I snatched it up.  It read:

"We like that you're early! But please check in no earlier than 24 hours before your flight! Thank you for choosing American Airlines."

I stared at the sassy message for an eternity.  WTF? I'd never gotten the message before.

Ain't nothin' sassier than a...bratwurst?

I looked back at the computer, which now displayed the home screen.  I looked back down at the paper and saw it.

The departure date.

It was for the next day.  

A wave of shame and embarrassment swept over me.  How could I have missed this?! For a month, I was convinced I was leaving on Tuesday night, and coming home Thursday night.  And this little sarcastic sheet of paper a computer tossed at me said, "No Cat, you hopeless blond.  You go home FRIDAY."

Point taken, good sir!

I called my boss and explained the situation, about how I'd clearly never learned to read properly, how I'd already returned the rental car, and how I just can't think of any way that he'd ever let me live this moment down unless he experienced some kind of major head trauma such as decapitation.  Luckily for me, my boss is awesome, so he thought it was hilarious and said, "Well, looks like you get a few extra hours to enjoy yourself!"

It took me a while to get a shuttle back to the Rental Car Place, and then I waited in line for about 40 minutes only to walk up to the clerk and (I'm not making this up) introduce myself as, "Hi, I'm probably the dumbest customer you're going to have all day."  

I explained the situation.

"Oh," he said, very seriously.  "Don't worry, you're definitely not the dumbest person I've had all day."

I am even dumber than these people

I eventually got a car.  I debated going back for more trainer exchange fun, but it was later in the day.  So I decided to pack my remaining evening and early morning with two whale-watching trips, where I saw long-beaked common dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, gray whales, and more sea lions.  It was the only thing I could do to distract myself from my ridiculous oversight.  

A long-beaked common dolphin with her calf!! We saw over 1000 of these guys!! IT WAS AMAZING

Extra hours meant extra pup photos!

An hour before I had to drop of my car on the CORRECT date, I got to see a pod of these guys!

And luckily for me, the remaining hours of my trip did not involve strange people in bathrooms, and I did make my correct flights on Friday, and I connected and was inspired by an entire staff of trainers, so all in all I'd say it was a winning trip.  

And that's what happens when I travel for work.

* There were a few choice words here, but this blog is intended for PG audiences

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