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November 16, 2006

Alabama and Mississippi 2006 Day 1: Los Angeles to Mobile

Thursday, November 16, 2006
Last night I visited the doctor to get my ears flushed. I was having blockage and hearing issues with my right ear, and I was worried that something nasty would happen like an exploding eardrum or something similar. So today I was happy when I woke up pain free and fully hearing out of my right ear. In fact, my right ear now hears better than my left ear – go figure.
Daniel took me to the airport and I arrived just in time. I checked my bag since I did not want to deal with the whole liquids-in-a-plastic-bag fiasco. I try and be as prepared as possible for the TSA security checkpoints. Nothing irritates a crowd more than someone holding up the entire line.
After checking my bag I made a surprising discovery in my backpack – a bottle of Febreze. Now I have traveled with this little travel-sized container as far back as Japan. The only problem is that this was now illegal to carry on the plane so I had to throw it out before getting to the screening area. I can’t figure out why airports like LAX have quickly moving security lines and smaller airports like Phoenix and Orange County have lines that take forever. Thankfully, I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat before I got on the plane. In the old days, a cross-country flight guaranteed some sort of food – not anymore!
The flight to Dallas was smooth and uneventful. I plugged in my iPod and tuned out the rest of the world. I did catch myself starting to snore a few times, so hopefully no one noticed. I did peruse the SkyMall catalog and found a few gift ideas for the holidays as well as something cool for myself. I always look in the catalog, but never really get anything – maybe this year will be different.
Upon landing in Dallas, I discovered that my beloved trAAm was no more. They have replaced it with an uber-modern Skylink system. It is a wonderful upgrade that makes traversing the thousands of American gates at the airport, I just think they should have kept the name. I landed at the new Terminal D, which was very nice and mall-like as all new airports tend to be. Unfortunately it made Terminal B look that much dumpier when I arrived to catch my connecting flight to Mobile. After some water I tried unsuccessfully to connect to the T-Mobile hot spot. Apparently DFW does not believe in free wireless internet – boo!
The flight to Mobile was on a small plane that I had to duck to walk down the aisle. We were slightly delayed pushing back due to someone needing to get a sign-off card. It reminded me of being at work when the guests were ready to go onto the ride and we were still trying to get that last signature. There was one person on the plane that thought he was funny and generally annoyed most of the passengers as well as the lone flight attendant. I think it would be scary to be the only flight attendant on a flight since I would not have someone to help me if things got unruly. It was nice to have the single seat with no one around me.
I arrived in Mobile at 7:10 and had 20 minutes to make it to the Ruth Chris Steakhouse where Alex was hosting the bachelor dinner. I raced to the rental car desk and picked up the keys to my 2007 Chevy Cobalt, figuring by the time I was done, the luggage would be there. It was 7:30 and still no luggage. Finally it came at 7:45. I had tried to call Alex to tell him to save me a spot, but it rolled to voice mail. I finally got to the restaurant at 8:10 and they had just received their food. I squeezed into the table and ordered the Filet, which was great. I also had an awesome ice cream/chocolate cake dessert which was great – could have been the best ever if it had some hot fudge instead of chocolate sauce.
We then headed over to a Billards place to hang out, play billiards, video games, and air hockey. I managed to win once at both billiards and air hockey so it was a good evening all around. I wish I wasn’t driving because I would have had something to drink from the bar. We then headed back to the hotel where I got checked in and discovered that it was a nice business hotel complete with ample room and free wireless access. Soon after checking emails and such I fell fast asleep – determined to rest a bit before Saturday.

November 17, 2006

Alabama and Mississippi 2006 Day 2: Wedding Preparations

Friday, November 17, 2006
Despite my best efforts to get up early to head over to Mississippi, I ended up sleeping in until after 11. Alex called to check up on me and we decided to head out and get something to eat before we made it over to the Men’s Warehouse. I had called Mark’s mom who then transferred me to Jen’s mom who gave me directions to the mall.
Alex and I decided to head over to the Waffle House near the hotel. I had a strange feeling inside the restaurant. I had eaten at the Waffle House in Phoenix before without any strange vibes, but at the one here in Mobile I was definitely getting the “These guys are not from around here” vibe from the workers and the other patrons.
We then headed out to the Men’s Warehouse located in the Bel Air mall just off of Airport Blvd which is one of the main roads in town. We were surprised at the crowded parking lot, but we chalked it up to the fine residents getting a head start on their holiday shopping. As we pulled around the corner into a row we got to witness some fine quality holiday spirit. As car #1 and car #2 approached the same spot, car #1 decided to let #2 take the spot. Just as #2 was about to take the spot, car #3 zoomed in and took the spot. While #3 was trying to get into the spot they managed to hit the car in the spot next to them. Alex was squirming a bit in the passenger seat so we decided to park in a clear section of the lot.
Inside the Men’s Warehouse we saw Mark and his dad who were getting their tuxedos as well. The staff were all nice and we got our tuxedos without a hitch. I did notice a police officer wandering around the store. As we were leaving, we chatted with one of the workers and discovered that a short time before we arrived, someone had stolen a leather jacket. She said that is why all of the workers were a bit on edge. Alex and I looked at each other and decided it was time to leave. We dropped off the tux stuff in the car and then decided to hit the mall and do some shopping for my replacement Febreze as well as a card for Mark and Jen. After picking up what we needed and Alex got one of his nails smoothed out (it is a long story) we headed back to the hotel to drop our stuff off and then head over to the Wedding Rehearsal at the Mobile Botanical gardens.
The Botanical Gardens were pretty nice and it was fairly cool out in the woods. Everything was mapped out and I met the bridesmaids and some of the other family members that were around for the weekend. During the rehearsal I discovered that there was a bit of a dress code for the restaurant we were heading to later for the rehearsal dinner. Once we were done, I decided to head back to the mall to use my $50 Gap gift card Mom had given me for my birthday to get some pants and a shirt. I figured I could get something for work and as a bonus it would work as something for the dinner. The folks at the Gap were kind enough to let me change clothes in the store and then we proceeded to the dinner.
At Pillars restaurant, we met up with Colleen who was in town from Georgia. She goes way back to high school with Alex, Mark, and I and it was good to see her again. Dinner was pretty darn good and I had a cosmo to finish the evening off. It was then time to head back to the hotel. It was just after 10pm and some people wanted to go out, but I opted for returning to the hotel since I only had one more attempt to go to Mississippi and I didn’t want to miss it.

November 18, 2006

Alabama and Mississippi 2006 Day 3: Biloxi and the Wedding

Saturday, November 18, 2006
After ignoring my alarm for a bit, I finally got my rear out of bed and headed out to explore Alabama;s neighbor: Mississippi. I was excited to get to state number 29! Before leaving, I decided to get a quick breakfast downstairs in the lobby. It was free and I always try and get the free breakfast at least once when I stay in a hotel. I ran into Mark’s family who were all down there excited about the wedding. They wondered what I was doing up so early, and I told them I was going for a quick road trip.
Off I went down the freeway! It was actually a pleasant drive. I managed to find a good radio station that did not play banjo or Jesus music as most of the stations were playing. It only took me 30 minutes to reach the state line. I saw that there was a welcome center at the first Mississippi rest area, but I passed it before I realized it. Driving by, it looked like I missed a treasure since there was a huge building that seemed to be choc full of good stuff to see. Since I made good time, I decided to head to Biloxi since I had seen several signs indicating there was some casinos. I wasa not sure what to expect, but when I got there I was completely floored.
I knew that Hurricane Katrina had slammed into the gulf coast, but I did not realize that even as far away as Biloxi there was utter devastation. Here it was over a year later and most of the town was still rubble. Almost all of the beach front homes, condos, and businesses were either gone completely or just a pile of rubble. I was amazed. From the billboards it looked like things were back to normal, but only a few of the casinos were actually open, and they were the only things that looked like were involved in heavy construction. I drove around and took it all in and snapped a few photos. There was even a monument to the victims that was created by the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition show (go ABC). I wanted to explore more, but it was time to head back to Mobile for the gala wedding.
On the way back, I stopped at the visitor center on the Alabama state line. I chatted with a nice lady who worked there and got some maps as well as some other visitor propaganda for the Mobile Bay region. There actually was quite a lot to see in the entire state – perhaps I will have to hit the north part of the state when I visit Tennessee sometime.
I made it back to the hotel with an hour to spare to get ready. Mark was a bit nervous and was running around trying to get organized. We helped him get everything put into Alex’s room and then headed out to the wedding site. Jen was on scene so we had to be careful to sequester Mark in the dining room. Alex and I felt like we were the secret service escorting the president around the compound during a crisis.
Finally everything was ready to go and the ceremony went off without a hitch. I was glad I spotted Colleen behind me at the ceremony so I could get some photos. I discretely handed her my camera and she took some cool photos. Later on, I discovered that the camera was set into black and white mode, but it added a distinct flair to the photos. Afterwards, I got to meet the family in the receiving line and then partook in an especially good dinner. It was buffet style, but as a member of the bridal party we had the food brought to us. I chatted with Mark’s brother Matt during dinner and it was nice to catch up on what he was up to. I also noticed that he does a few of his brothers’ mannerisms unconsciously. At the end of the evening, there was some dancing and cutting of the cake before the masses started to leave. There was a great band that performed most of the night and when they went on break someone had a laptop with iTunes hooked into some serious speakers with some general party music.
All in all a great night. We headed back to the hotel and had a bit of a nightcap in Mark’s parents room and then headed back to our own rooms for bed. It was kind of sad since I knew we were all heading out separate ways. Alex was leaving at 4am so I wouldn’t see him in the morning. Mark and Jen were off in a different hotel enjoying their wedding night so I knew I probably wouldn’t see them at all either. Hopefully they will move back to the states so I can see them more often.

November 19, 2006

Alabama and Mississippi 2006 Day 4: Heading Home

Sunday, November 19, 2006
My last day in Alabama dawned and I decided to head out and do a quick drive-by of the downtown area before I headed out for the airport. It was a brisk, cold and windy day with a temperature in the low 40s so there were not a lot of people out and about. Also, in Mobile, most of the businesses do not open on Sunday until 11 or so and since it was only 9am my only companions were some tumbleweeds and a few brave wanderers. Downtown seemed like a nice place and I snapped a few photos. I noticed they were building a huge skyscraper right along the bay. I wondered if it was such a good idea considering the propensity of hurricanes and certain misc/other weather phenomenon that happen on a regular basis.
I then headed for the airport and turned in my trusty Chevy Cobalt. The airport was pretty empty and in my daze forgot that I had a half bottle of water in my backpack. After some looks from the security and a check of my bag, they let me through. Nothing worse than a seasoned traveler getting caught! The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I was sweating a bit about my flight connection in Dallas since it was fairly close. Also, no one was able to pick me up at the airport so I was trying to figure out how I was going to get home once I came back to Orange County. Any fears were put to rest when I made it to the gate for the other flight in plenty of time. I wish I had more time to get food since it is no longer free on American, but I survived.
I ended up taking a taxi back home for under $25 and was able to get home and relax from my adventure.