Floating at top speed

A few days ago I had a drink (or two…) with an old friend. “Let’s see,” she said. “What have you done since I last saw you?” It’s been a month.

The answer is that I flew halfway around the world to dive Papua New Guinea for Matador Network, courtesy of the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority.

Then, after a few days back in New York, I quick-hit Orlando/Cape Canaveral to watch my friend Al get shot into space aboard Discovery. Back in New York, I was glued to NASA TV on Ustream, watching Al become to 200th human ever to perform a space walk (or EVA – extra-vehicular activity – in NASAspeak).

Fabulous, right?

Now I’m back to the mundane stoking of fires around various irons.

Over the past 6 months I’ve gone at one of two speeds: full tilt or brick wall. It’s a change of pace from my traveling life, which was more like a long trip on the highway: Most of the time you’re at a fast but steady pace, though occasionally you speed up to pass, or else pull over to eat or pee or just stretch your legs.

So. Is this a range life, or just life?

Neverending countdown

I arrived in Orlando, Florida, in a state.

I was stressed – about the cost of the trip, about what day the shuttle would launch and therefore what how to manage my hotel, car and flights. It was too much. I decided I would stay only until Wednesday; if the launch was delayed again, I wouldn’t be here to see it.

I was cranky – I had slept just 3 hours the night before and my taxi driver got lost on the way to the Westchester airport…at 6 am we were driving around the Bronx, or Yonkers, or *somewhere*, trying to find the way. We made it.

I was frazzled – When I went to pick up my rental car in Orlando, the $43/day rate that I had seen online the night before was suddenly $80/day. EIGHTY DOLLARS. I freaked out. The rental dude took pity on me and give me the car for $60/day. SIXTY DOLLARS. Good god.

I hopped in the car, my eyeballs like sandpaper, and drove towards Kennedy Space Center in order to pick up my passes and such for the launch.

I was a few miles away when I spotted it. In the distance, across the marsh flats, Space Shuttle Discovery was just sitting there on the launch pad. And that was it. I was an excited little kid. Any crazy idea about leaving before the launch flew right out of my head. I’m here for the long haul.

As you know by now, the launch has been delayed every day since Monday. First there were some mechanical problems. Now it’s the weather – rainy and windy. I’m going crazy with anticipation, getting psyched up every day only to be let down again. If I’m losing my mind, I can’t even imagine what the crew is going through!

In the meantime, I’m amusing myself by meeting Floridians here in Cocoa Beach. On Tuesday evening I went to The Surf for dinner. Like the Sea Aire Motel, where I’m staying, The Surf is a local institution. In its prime, before the Marriotts and resorts and their respective restaurants moved in, The Surf was the place where journalists covering shuttle launches ate their steak or seafood. “They all would come here,” said Alden, the Cocoa Beach native who befriended me at the bar. “Even Walter Cronkite!”

Alden, who works on the NASA shuttle contract for Boeing, is anticipating losing his job after the last launch. It being election night, we and others at the bar drank wine and discussed the horrific Florida economy, the coming NASA-related job losses, the Tea Party, and other depressing subjects. Everyone, however, remains upbeat and tirelessly friendly.

Indeed, since I arrived I’ve gotten sucked in to a number of 90-minute conversations that should have been 2 minutes of small talk. I’m doing more nodding and smiling than I did in SE Asia. There are a lot of old folks down here (many of them, as we all know, ex-New Yorkers), they’re all..friendly. They all seem to need someone to ramble to.

On the other hand, I’ve also met some nice fellow shuttle-launchers. There was a cute scene yesterday afternoon, when I met my neighbors in the motel. I ran into a few of them outside the room, and we started chatting about where we planned to watch the launch. I explained I have VIP tickets, and they were all suitably impressed. From then on, whenever anyone new would join the group, one woman would introduce me: “This is Christina. She has VIP tickets!”

So that’s me, the VIP in room 3.

Anyway, fingers crossed that the launch happens tomorrow. Florida is amusing, but if it’s too cold to go to the beach…get me outta here!