The Great Salt Lake Escape

**This story won 2nd in humorous travel stories at my work. The prize? An iTunes gift card. Woo!**

Summer of 2009, my boyfriend (now husband), and I, decided to take a weekend trip to Utah. We wanted to get away from the Texas heat and enjoy a little “winter” weather. What did we know about Utah? Well, not only are the temps a lot cooler, but it has mountains and the largest salt lake in the western hemisphere. The largest! I was pretty sure I read somewhere about all the healing wonders of salt in said ginormous lake. I couldn’t wait to go float on my back gaining holistic healing superpowers. Ahhh!

I had magic dreams of the Great Salt Lake. Watching the sunset on the beach, absorbing the magical minerals into my pores, and breathing in the pure mountain air with my honey by my side. We would enjoy all the gorgeousness of nature together. I just knew, knew, I would be the earthiest gal around. Restored, renewed and ready for the orange ozone alerts upon return Texas.

Flying over the Great Salt Lake to land in Salt Lake City, I could see the lake from the sky. It lit up with the setting sun and it was spectacular; blue and pristine. I about jumped out of my seat in glee. There it is! The Great Salt Lake! Right there! Awesome! We planned to trek the next day to Antelope Island – home of the Utah buffalo – and apparently, antelope too (heh). They all live happily ever after on the Great Salt Lake. What fun!

At the rental car counter, Hertz offered my boyfriend an upgrade to a Jeep Wrangler, top removable, it was a sweet deal. Oh yeeaah! He really wanted a Jeep Wrangler, plus I could see us on the road to the beach, wind whipping our hair, shades on as we cruised the lake front – ultra cool. Yes! We took the upgrade.

The next day, we make a stop at Wal-Mart for beach gear. We pick out straw towel sets with matching pails and buckets. We take the top off the Jeep. The sunshine is beautiful and bright through the roof. Perfectly clear blue skies for a perfect drive to the lake. We head off to an island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake – Antelope Island. Weee!!

My first clue that I should have done a tad bit more research than Wikipedia was when the SMELL hit us like a ton of bricks. Not only was it the worst thing I have ever smelled (and I grew up with LOTS of dogs – HOUND dogs), but it went on for MILES. The entire area around the lake was marsh. The marsh was full of BIRDS. The birds – well, they were full of poop unspeakable evil – let’s just say, they had serious intestinal issues. Must have been something they ate. Since the top was off, there was no closing the windows. We held our breath, which? Turned out to be a very good thing.

Enduring and labor breathing along the road to the Great Salt Lake, we finally catch a sheer glimmer of beauty through the icky marsh. About that time was when a firestorm of BUGS enveloped the Jeep. Not just the Jeep, but the windshield, the side mirrors, our clothes, our hair, ears……… everywhere. This was no ordinary swarm of bugs, this was a massive attack of gnats pumped up on minerals. It should have been our second warning to stay away from the Great Salt Lake. But nooooo. We kept going. Eyes squinted. Mouths closed.

We started noticing these swarms more and more, not just on the road but everywhere else. In bushes, and roaming the countryside in clusters of intimidating wing spans. I started feeling uncomfortable the closer we got. Not to mention, still picking off the kamikaze gnats tattooed to our clothes and foreheads.

Arriving next to the Lake, I couldn’t help wonder if another bug bombing was on the way. Outside the Jeep, we had zero protection. Not even the windshield. I get out ready to duck for cover. Every step tentative. The air at the lake felt odd. It’s flat, no sound, no echo. More bugs here and there, but no roving gangs in sight, just loners. Then there were the birds. Loud birds. An island off the island of birds. Yes, more birds! Then the lake itself up close and personal just looked stank. I didn’t even want to put my TOE in it. To get close enough to do that, I had to step over algae and foam, and guess what? Yeah, more bugs. Bugs covered the top of the sand on the beach and bugs of a different kind roamed in the lake. They were like mini seahorses, but deformed and atomic looking. Scary.

It was a ghost town on the beach. No one. In the middle of summer. Now, I knew why. Regardless, I was determined to stand in the Great Salt Lake, no matter what guts it took. I marched my way over by way of the least contaminated path through the foam, the mud, and more waves of flying bugs from my disturbing footsteps. Swallowing hard, I removed my shoes and socks, then stepped my bare feet into the Lake. Next to Jason, I stood there. Trying to feel peace. Trying not to be creeped out. Trying to take in the wonder of the Great Lake. It lasted for about ten seconds. Then we hit the road faster than the bugs could follow us (I hope).

Come to find out, the Great Salt Lake is also known as “America’s Dead Sea”, and home to three things; birds, brine shrimp, and algae. The only creatures that can live in a lake with that much salt concentration. It is as gross as it sounds. I didn’t get much minerology therapy, but I will say the mountains are very nice. Park City!

Our great escape ended on the summit – bug free.

*I feel the need to add an edit to this post. Salt Lake City is amazing. Wonderful, kind people. Beautiful Mormon temple with an incredible history. The mountains are breathtaking and there is SO much to do there. A weekend is not long enough. Just scratch the Great Salt Lake off your to do/to see list.

Wordish Wednesday

Kids of Summer

Every year since Sydney was about five years old, we said good-bye, as she spent time in the summer with her Dad, her Nana, Aunts, Uncles, and many cousins. This is typical of divorced families, as it something usually set in the divorce decree. We pack our babies up and send them to Dad’s for a month.

Summer after the divorce.

It’s part of the divorce life. For me, it wasn’t so bad. I got a break from single parenting and her Dad got to really live with her for a while. Sydney loves her Dad.

Image from Facebook.

She loves to spend time with him and he is a wonderful man (hey, I have to give myself some credit, I did marry him, right?). We get along, not because we are all that (although we are very good friends), but because we both love this little girl soooo much. It is our desire to make life easier for her. So as ugly as the divorce was, we made it work for the best. After a year, we didn’t even go by the custody papers. He could spend time with her, whenever he wished. And the summer month of custody got longer. The one month turned into two.

It was hard when she was little. I didn’t call every day. I felt she was with him, and needed that alone time. Usually she was out-of-town, either on trips with him, or visiting relatives in Oklahoma. I’m not sure when she started going to Gulfport Beach, Mississippi. Maybe, when she was ten or eleven years old. Her Aunt, her Dad’s sister, lives there, and wanted her to visit. It’s an hour from Pensacola, Florida. It’s on the beach. Lots of fun touristy things to do. Plus, who wouldn’t LOVE being spoiled by an Aunt who only has one niece.

So off she would go every summer, somewhere, mainly the Gulf Coast. Her Dad moved there last year, so her trips to Gulfport – more regular. Spring Break, and summer. Yeah, tough life, huh kid?

Image from Facebook.

This year was no exception, she left at the beginning of June. In honor of her sweet sixteen birthday, her Aunt took her on a cruise for five days. They had a party for her on the boat. Seriously? This kid lives large.

Image by Facebook.

One of the port stops – Cozumel, Mexico.

Image by Facebook.

The cruise is not all. She typically gets to attend every concert venue at the Hard Rock Hotel. Has met multiple celebrities back stage. During the day, she gets her choice of the pool, water park, or beach. Then, weekend, or day trips, to Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Mobile. Her summer is filled with precious memories. I couldn’t ask for anything better for my daughter, to get to live, and experience life at many places, and with many different people.

The last two years, summers have been a little more bearable. We have text messaging, and Facebook to keep in touch. Both of us have an iPhone 3GS, we can send short videos and pictures. It has kept her up-to-date on Brownie and her (almost) step-sisters.

This is the first year (since 1999) that I have spent time feeling sad and REALLY missing her. Maybe as the clock turns, and her summers come to end (as she knows it and me), it’s harder.

Maybe, I just miss my buddy that makes me laugh and goes to the movies with me. I miss our favorite meal; Penna Rustica at Macaroni Grill. But really, I miss her company most of all.

Pretty soon, she will be working, driving, graduating, and moving on to college, or a career. Summers end. For good.

Image by Angel Lia’s Photography.

I miss you Sydney!

Jason’s summer month with the girls (experiencing the flip side of divorce has been so different) is also coming to a close. As you can see from some of the posts, we had some great times. Water parks, movies, mini dates, and playing princess at the nail salon. Three more days and the girls go from every night sleeping at Dad’s except four; to four nights sleeping at Dad’s. It is going to be a big change for us all. We have really squeezed every drop of fun out of this summer. It will be hard to see them go, especially knowing how long the gaps are in-between.

I’m sure it’s the same for Sydney’s Dad. The good news is…….he is moving back to Texas. Being nine hours closer to her Dad, Stepmom, and little brother will be a dream come true.

Parents, the summer is wrapping up. The kids will be coming home. If you are like me, they return, older, taller, and more mature. Your heart does a little flip-flop, because HOW could they grow that much, that fast. Every year it’s the same astonishment. One thing that won’t be a surprise, that first hug – it’s the sweetest I know.

Can’t wait! See ya soon, Syd.

A child’s dream to see the world

I can recall as young as ten years old wanting to be a flight stewardess. That was the dream that I had. A dream to travel. A dream to serve. A dream to explore the wonders of flying through the sky. As I got older my dream was to still be a flight ahem attendant. I also wanted to go to Boarding School in Switzerland. HA. I got flight attendant information from the back of a Seventeen magazine. I studied all the height and weight requirements. I studied all the airlines and their base cities. I KNEW everything there was to know about flying the friendly skies. It was all I wanted to be.

When I graduated High School, I was 17yrs old and guess what? I still wanted to be a flight attendant and travel the world. So I went to a Travel Academy in Houston near my sisters house after I graduated. It was about six weeks long. I was taught the basics of being a reservation agent which included city codes and geography. It was fantastic information. I picked it up right away. Made A’s and the teacher was very considerate of the two in the class that wanted to be flight attendants and not travel agents or airline employees. He was scouting for us jobs as well as the others. He found a job fair for Eastern Airlines at Houston Hobby airport. We thought it would be good experience so off we went.

Let me just say, I had NO idea what a job fair was. I did not work in high school except for an hour of babysitting my senior year. My only other job experience was working at Peppermint Park near my sisters house, an indoor fun land for children. It had mechanical rides, a ball pit, and pizza parties. It was a tons of fun (can’t believe they shut it down). So here we are, me a country bumpkin from Byng America, my friend from a much bigger town let’s say, and we enter the conference area of Hobby airport to find a LONG LONG line of women and men dressed to the T’s, holding resumes and brief cases and looking very very professional. Ooops.

They were waiting in line to enter into a HUGE room that had tables in a U shape where flight attendants upon flight attendants sat interviewing each person as they walked up. Whoa. This was pretty overwhelming. I wasn’t prepared at all for an interview but I thought to myself, this is good experience, and waited in line with the rest of the 150 people in the first session.

The interview in the big room was one on one with a flight attendant at a table. They either keep you or drop you simple as that. It’s your one shot. They announce the names of who is being held for more interviews after the first session but you have to wait until after the second session for the second interview (which made my friend who didn’t get picked VERY unhappy). They call back maybe five names out of the total of both sessions (approx 300). I was one of them. Unbelievable! Was my dream really this close so young?

The second interview was frightening. All of those flight attendants at tables surrounding the room earlier are now gathered at one big table in front. We are required to stand up and not only interview in front of all the flight attendants but also in front of the other people picked as well. Did I mention how BIG this room was? Yikes!

They ask us to give a speech about ourselves less than 3mins long. I think mine went, probably in a very hick way, “I’m eighteen from Oklahoma and that’s about it so far.” Ok so it wasn’t that verbatim nor was it brilliant but it WAS short and they did laugh at whatever I said. I guess it didn’t matter if it was less than 3mins long because mine sure was. But wouldn’t you know, I get a call a week later that I was hired? Seriously??? Yes it was no joke. I would do a month long training in Clearwater, Florida then head to my base city which was NEW YORK. Wow! That was slightly terrifying but what the heck. I was ready to bust out of hickville, sell my car , find some roommates , and do what I dreamed of doing for most of my born life.

Apparently God didn’t get the memo. Eastern Airlines flight attendants went off strike and they gave all the flight attendants their jobs back. Good for them. Bad for me. I found out Thanksgiving that I was ?? laid off ?? not hired?? not going to New York ?? not living my dream. I was on a list as back up in case I was ever needed (since they went out of business they never needed me).

That was pretty devastating but I’m not a quitter! I immediately starting looking up what airlines hired at eighteen years of age (very few come to find out due to the serving of alcohol). I applied to all two of them and in the meantime decided to look into a travel agency job while I waited to turn 21 and apply to more airlines. Thing is, I was in Dallas now, where my best friend from high school and her husband moved to, my travel school was in Houston. The majority of computer reservation systems are based on what city they are in. American in Dallas is Sabre. Continental in Houston is System One. I was trained on System One in Houston. Now I was in Dallas where most agencies used Sabre. Argh! I might as well have not gone to travel school at all. I might as well pick another career because the two were not similar at all.

I changed tactics. I started calling every agency in the area asking what system they were on. Lo and behold one answered System One. Score! And it was right down the road from the apartment. Double! I stopped by in person with my resume and handed it to the woman working the front desk in vacations. She took it and was nice and said she’d give it to the manager/owner. She was actually his wife. Triple! She told him he had to hire me. Home run! Well, he didn’t have an agent position open but he did need someone to enter data on hotels into a new software program he was running about tracking hotel commissions. I would also do back up processing of tickets and back up delivery (back in the day of paper tickets). I told him no problem. Starting at the bottom was a perfect place to begin.

It was great for me. I got to learn the city delivering tickets. I got to listen to the other agents on the phone booking reservations and understand how the process worked. I wanted to do more. I was eager to be an agent myself. So I talked to the owners wife in the vacation department. She hated booking Las Vegas trips. I told her I can do it. I don’t mind. Let me book a few and see how it goes. Pretty soon I was booking ALL the Las Vegas packages and went to Las Vegas many times.

Within six months, I was promoted to full time vacation agent. Vacation agents have it made. Vacation agents get to take what they call “familiarization” trips. I was only nineteen years old and they sent me on trip after trip after trip. I went to Orlando (including three day passes to Epcot, MGM ,and Disney World), Puerto Vallarta (all inclusive), Aruba, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Dominican Republic, seven day cruise on an eastern Caribbean route that took me to St. Thomas, San Juan, and Nassau , Bahamas ALL FREE. It was those trips that had me flying on airplanes a whole heckuva lot more that made me realize; I don’t want to be a flight attendant in the air all the time. I want this adventure. I want to be a travel agent and go places for FREE. I’m no dummy! *Man those WERE the days*

I stayed on at that agency for seven years (well past 21). I was promoted within one year to Corporate Travel agent. This was much better. It was quicker paced and you got to know your client and the account. There was loyalty and appreciation. There were lots of changes in corporate travel. It was cutting edge the way the airlines change, the rules change, and the clients change. You had to be on your toes and know the ropes down to every detail. Sometimes your attention to detail is what kept the business.

We had a client that would fly American but American only offered Equal. He was a Sweet n Lo kind of guy so guess what? We had to stuff his ticket envelope with Sweet n Lo whenever he flew American. Yes we DID! Within the next year, I was Quality Control of all ticketing. By the next supervisor and then the owner sold the company.

I ended up changing agencies and going to where the sales rep from our office went to. Pegasus Travel was another family owned business. His motto was to hire agents of management level so they could manage themselves. We didn’t have a manager. He stocked the pantry and fridge with lunch food and drinks. We could wear whatever we wanted as long as clients were not expected. T-shirts and sweat pants? No problem! Seriously! We were extremely spoiled and we all knew it. That’s why the end of Pegasus was such a brutal shock ten years later.

The owner sold us to a mega agency #8 in the United States. No more free food, drinks and casual days. No more one on one with clients. We quickly turned into a call center. Oh, I adjusted to it. I actually made the best of it and was doing very well.

But the sales rep I had followed from my first agency to my second agency went to another agency. Oh boy. I was worried. We had worked together for over 15yrs. But I didn’t want to give up my 11 years of vacation time and seniority. I was even traveling as a floater agent to accounts on occasion. I got to go to St. Louis for two weeks. I LOVED that. Travelling was definitely my thing and if I hadn’t had Sydney I would have done it full time.

In the end, I HAD to follow her. She is, without a doubt, the best in the business. Staying with her is like keeping food on your table. The agency she went to was also a small family owned agency and that made the decision easier (although I still miss my friends dearly). The new agency is a female owned top minority business in the area (go girl power). It was an adjustment to go from big to small again but a new online booking program powered by Amadeus (which was actually System One back in the day) was enacted. I jumped all over that. Technology and something from my past how could I pass it up? Now, I am one of two agents handling all calls on that system. I have nudged myself into that niche market and I am not coming out without a fight.

The Travel Industry took some great falls in the last twenty years. Despite everything, I still love it. Actually, I love it more because of it’s survival. Travel is not as easy nor free as it once was. But I still find every day exciting and challenging. Everyday, with the new technology, we have the chance to up our game even more than before. So many things are at our fingertips. There is nothing I love more than living and breathing travel. It was my dream. It still is my dream. I can’t wait for the next trip.

*I pray you continue to love and live your dreams always*Make the best of it, no matter what direction it takes*