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More on the misadventures of traveling with teens

I came to the realization long ago that I am a magnet for mishaps. I’ve been locked in a public restroom, tricked into running into a men’s restroom at a sports arena, forced to stand outside for hours while my new (to me) house was aired out after a natural gas leak and have survived countless embarrassing events that would send most normal people into hiding.

You learn to roll with the punches and develop the ability to laugh at yourself early on.

One DirectionThat humor kept me going during my most recent travel adventures with two teenaged girls, my daughter Kimberly, 17, and my niece Emily, 16.

I should have known a year ago that this weekend would turn disastrous when my daughter first purchased the two tickets to a One Direction (it’s a boy band) concert in Tinley Park. The concert locale is four hours from our home, near Chicago, but Kimberly at the time had a friend who lived in a neighboring town and the two planned to go together. The plan was that Kimberly would drive to the friend’s house, and her parents would take care of getting them to  the concert. Easy Peasy.

Then, as sometimes happens with teen girls still forming friendships, relationship disaster struck and the two stopped talking. Suddenly Kimberly (who fortunately was the one who purchased both tickets) was left to find someone to go to the concert with – and I was looking at a weekend or overnight trip to the Chicago area.

Kimberly asked her cousin Emily – the two have been close since they were little – and we made arrangements for Emily to get to our house the day before the concert and we’d leave the next morning for Chicago. Our hotel had been booked and was five miles from the concert venue. Check-in was set for 3 p.m., gates to the concert opened at 5:30. We figured we’d get in early enough to do a little shopping in another suburb, check in a little after 4, the girls could get ready and we’d head out. Easy Peasy.

*Tip: “Easy Peasy” apparently means “nothing goes as planned.” It’s recommended you never use this phrase if you’re looking for a smooth event.

We got to Oak Brook in plenty of time, did a little shopping, had a late lunch and headed for the hotel. We arrived at the front desk at 4:25 – and were greeted by 35 teens and their parents sitting in the lobby, looking exasperated. There were girls rolling their eyes, boys playing video games and five mothers swarming the front desk. The clerk looked more than a little frazzled.

Apparently there were no rooms ready. None. The hotel had sold out and for some reason the cleaning staff just … did nothing. Ninety minutes after we were supposed to be able to check in and just one hour before gates opened and no one had a room. Tempers were, in a word, flaring.

We were eventually offered a double room on the smoking floor (it’s Illinois – they still have such things) and, to the girls’ disappointment, I took it. The room smelled of stale smoke and I went out and bought several room fresheners, but we had a room. The girls got ready and we headed out.

20130715_030648It took us 45 minutes to go the five miles to the amphitheater. I’d forgotten how much I hated concert traffic – and this traffic was made even worse by the fact that the venue was on a rural two-lane highway with a single two-way entrance. I got the girls dropped off at 5:45, plenty of time to go stalk the buses and take in the atmosphere.

As I was leaving I was given a slip with directions for pickup. Because of the limited gate area, they required that all vehicles be in the parking lot by 9:15 – just 15 minutes after One Direction took the stage. I got there at 9:10 and the girls came out at 11. Did I mention it was still 84 degrees and I hadn’t packed a water bottle?

The traffic getting out of the arena was worse than getting in and it was close to 12:30 before we were on the road out of the parking area. After stopping for food for the girls – neither of them wanted to pay arena prices for food – we were back in the hotel by 12:45, and we all finally turned in at about 1:30 a.m.

Sleep was short-lived, however, as the hotel’s fire alarms started going off at 3 a.m. We’d find out later that someone pulled the alarm (which is what I had guessed) but the hotel still needed to be evacuated and the fire department needed to be called.

It’s funny, the things you think about when you know you’re going to be standing with a group of strangers outside in the middle of the night. I didn’t brush my teeth or brush my hair, or even put shoes on, but I did put on a bra and change out of my pajamas and grab my purse and phone.

Within minutes we were surrounded by two fire trucks, a ladder truck and a paramedic unit. You know, just in case.

It became obvious there was no real emergency when fire fighters ignored – or actually blocked – a hydrant located just 30 yards from the front door and some of them came out to take their big jackets off.

20130715_032211-1More than a half-hour into our outdoor adventure another thing became obvious: the only thing keeping any of us from getting back to our rooms and nestled into our beds was the alarm – and that apparently none of the firefighters or hotel personnel knew how to shut it off. It was another 40 minutes – and three trips outside to their trucks and toolboxes by the firefighters – before the alarm stopped buzzing and the doors opened wide.

By 4:15 a.m. we were back in our room. I’m guessing by 4:15:30 we were all asleep.

On the positive side, our hotel offered a free continental breakfast. The downside was that it ended at 9 a.m. on weekdays – and thanks to our middle-of-the-night goings-on, we didn’t wake up until 9:30. So much for breakfast.

It was an eventful weekend, but the girls had a good time and it was definitely something to remember. Hotels.com is refunding half my hotel cost because of the snafu at check-in, and I took today off to recover from the 9+ hours on the road driving my niece to my sister-in-law and then doubling back to come home.

I’m just glad I learned to laugh.

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Adventures in babysitting – or I finally got to see Dierks Bentley

Dierks - taken by Mary Strowmatt because her cell phone takes better pictures than mine.

I’m a huge Dierks Bentley fan. Huge. So when I went to review his concert at the Great Jones County Fair in Monticello two years ago and left after two hours of torrential rainfall, I was more than disappointed to learn the next day that he took the stage when the rain stopped at midnight.

Hearing that he was going to be in concert at the University of Iowa, I didn’t miss a beat. I made plans to go to the concert with two friends and we spent more than a month waiting for the day to arrive.

Dierks was, of course, fantastic. Energy simply emanated from the stage into the crowd as he jumped around, ran from corner to corner and urged the audience to not only sing along but to take over some of the songs. I was mesmerized – I spent the week with Dierks’ “Greatest Hits” CD in my car, belting out the lyrics to “So Long,” “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do” and “What Was I Thinking,” so seeing my favorites come to life before me left me awe-struck.

I’ve been to plenty of concerts but few – very few – have played to my emotions. That’s reserved for big favorites: U2, Journey, Bob Seger – and now Dierks Bentley.

It was set up to be a perfect evening. Too bad I didn’t count on the crowd.

I should have realized that when a concert is held in the Field House on the university campus, it would be filled with college students. And not just college students, but those who either had their fill of alcohol before the concert, snuck it into the facility (I was standing by a group pulling cans of Busch Light from the back of their pants) or both.

When Emerson Drive, the band that opened for Bentley, was on stage a highly intoxicated young woman fell into Cara, one of my friends, moved away and then immediately fell into her again. Because Cara reached out to help her stand, they became – in the young woman’s eyes – instant best friends. She talked through the remainder of the concert, either to Cara or to our friend Mary, and at one point we thought she was going to be ill. Nice.

We were able to enjoy hte last few songs Emerson Drive played before they finished and the lights came up as Bentley’s crew got the stage ready for him. The crowd was lively, singing along to the recorded music playing over the speakers. Then the crowd got even more lively as a giant hulk of a young man started throwing punches and what I first saw as one man punching another turned into a group of arms flying and bodies landing on each other.

The hulk was carried off by security officers just as Dierks Bentley took the stage.

Perfect timing. I let  rain storm get in the way of seeing Bentley two years ago. I wasn’t about to let a bunch of rowdy students ruin it for me again.

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