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.
That 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.
It 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.
More 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.