I somehow managed to snag a window seat for my flight to Tampa to attend the Florida Music Educators’ Conference this week. Often times in the cattle call that is Southwest’s boarding style, you just pray you’re not stuck in the middle seat…often a fate worse than death. As we made our descent, I was grateful for that window seat and the beautiful view of Tampa Bay. This was going to be a great trip, I had no doubt.
Things started out well- the rental car place put me in a new Bug convertible- the perfect car to enjoy the warm winter of Florida. I grew up here, and remember many Christmases where we were in shorts for the holiday. Nothing to complain about- I just slipped and fell on the ice in Birmingham only a few days ago…I’ll enjoy this short visit to southern sun and fun any day.
I booked my hotel through one of those Priceline Express Deals, trying to save money for my university. I’ve had great success with that in the past, so I had no reason to doubt that this visit would be any different. Last year it put me in a fabulous hotel- what could go wrong this time?
When I walked into the Ramada Westshore, it was like walking into another world. A very strange world. I glanced up from the giant divider made of tiny disco ball mirrors and saw that Michelangelo had paid a visit to the Ramada, too. I’ve been to the Sistine Chapel; I’ve just never spent the night there. The lobby was filled with seniors getting ready to head out on a cruise the next morning. I suddenly had a flash of that wonderful movie, The Most Excellent Marigold Hotel, about a hotel in India where seniors came to retire, and all sorts of hilarity ensued. I love older folks (I’m headed there myself), and made conversation with them as we all waited to check in. They were a wild bunch, teasing each other and laughing. I hope they enjoy their cruise.
When I walked to the elevator, I was greeted by two Egyptian statues. Two of my senior compatriots saw me snap a photo of them and started laughing. “Now you don’t see that every day, do you?” No, Sir, you sure don’t. The decor of the entire place was a mixture of Sixties gambling palace chic and Night at the Museum. This was going to be an interesting stay; I could feel it in my bones.
When the elevator door opened, I was taken aback. Instead of walking out into the hushed quiet of thick carpets and muted paintings, I was surrounded by painted concrete and an almost open air design, rimmed with rooms. Lots of them. Loud Indian music was playing, and the aromas of curry and other rich spices filled the air, emanating from the hotel’s restaurant that specialized in- you guessed it- Indian cuisine…oh, and pizza. This hotel was turning into one eclectic melange of strangeness.
The room itself was tidy, but also odd. It’s tough to describe- just a feeling of the Sixties again- especially the ancient air conditioner that popped and groaned and creaked, waking me up all through the night in a panic, thinking someone was opening the door. That, along with the sound of people rolling suitcases along the concrete outside my room and the primal screams and shouts that happened all through the night…let me just say that it was not a restful night’s sleep. What are these people doing up at 2, 3, and 4am?
I did enjoy a wonderful dinner at Seasons 54 as an escape from the madness. After a delicious cedar plank salmon and a nice glass of Pinot noir, I headed the short distance back to my hotel, noticing ‘Thee Dollhouse’, a, umm, gentlemen’s club located next door to the hotel. That would explain the scantily clad young ladies coming out of the hotel last night. That was an education in itself, and the looks and laughs that a couple of the senior gentlemen and I exchanged were priceless. It takes all kinds! It certainly does.
The conference itself has been wonderful. It is great to reconnect with friends and colleagues, some of whom I’ve known since high school. I’ve been coming to this conference since I was in junior high All-State. Now it’s my generation of teachers who are the older ones, the mentors, watching the excited young students experience the wonderful music making that happens at the conference. The circle of life- pretty darn cool.
I head home this evening, then fly to Ohio tomorrow morning for a two-day Board meeting. It will be so nice to be in my own home tonight. This giant bed is too big, and I miss having Dan next to me, both of us being crowded out by our two goofy dogs. I love traveling, love seeing the new sights and sounds (okay, maybe not the rolling suitcases, weird air conditioner, nocturnal yelling, and 5:30am dumpster pick ups), but there truly is no place like home.