Presently, someone wandered by and asked if I had been at the iCarly event last night. I said I had, and he shook my hand and said he thought he recognized me as a big bidder for the day on the set. It turns out he was the winning bidder, but didn't really have any friends or family who enjoyed iCarly. He said he'd try to find out if I could come with him, as I was obviously interested enough to be willing to put down major money. We exchanged contact info.
Finally the ticket windows opened up, and I went to the USAir window to try again to get my flight changed to terminate in Charlotte (where I would be catching my flight to Florida) instead of Dulles. It was still impossible. So I asked if I could just have my luggage marked to come off at Charlotte. The agent looked very flustered and asked why I would want to do such a thing. I explained that I'd be abandoning the Charlotte-Dulles segment and catching some other plane. She snapped "I don't want to hear about that!" and turned away. Hopefully there won't be anything in my luggage that I can't carry on the plane.
Fortunately, I didn't have any problems with security, and I had brought a compact suitcase, so I just brought it on the flight with me. In Charlotte, I got off the USAir flight, jaunted across the airport, and boarded the Airtran flight to Orlando, the boarding pass to the flight to Dulles unused. Andrea had preceeded me to Florida, the plan being for me to rent a car and come meet up with her. So I went to the car rental desk, expecting problems as presumably everyone and their brother had come to Florida for the space shuttle launch. By this time, NASA had approved one more flight, so if Congress would agree to fund it, this wouldn't be the last launch. But at the time, it still might be. However, the car rental people were super, and said I could have a choice of several nice cars, or for a nominal surcharge, I could upgrade to "Bumblebee", a bright yellow Camero convertable. I took the Camero, and headed out to Andrea's hotel with the top down. I ended up doing a couple of drivebys while we got coordinated, and she saw me go by in it, so I didn't get to see her surprise.
This was to be a dawn launch, so the buses would leave Orlando around midnight for the cape. We did some shopping, napped all day, then got up around 9PM for a massive dinner, gathered up our things, and drove out to the shopping center where the bus would meet us.
The ride out to the cape was fun, everyone was in a good mood, and we didn't mind that traffic was slow - we weren't driving, and the launch was several hours hence. The routine at the space flight center was familiar to us, from the scrubbed launch we had attended before. We all got off the bus, went through security, and bummed around the restaurant and gift shop for a while until it was time to go out to the viewing area. The last time, we had gotten nearly to the viewing area before they announced the postponement, and the bus turned around and took us back.
This time, the bus got to the viewing area, and parked, along with a solid line of buses, three wide, all the way down NASA Boulevard. We piled out, with our folding chairs, cooler, cameras, binoculars, scanner, etc and picked a nice spot. We were going to be here for a few hours until morning brought the launch. I actually managed to nap a little bit, spending the rest of the night chatting with people, listening to the scanner, taking pictures of Endeavor on her launch pad, and shivering with anticipation.
As the sky began to lighten, a bunch of people started oohing and pointing to the river - a dolpin had showed up! I took a few pictures of the sun rising behind some clouds off to the east, the sea of people, and the rows of cameras with huge lenses.
As morning wore on, those clouds rolled in; we hoped they would dissipate before the launch. Finally, it came time for launch. The countdown went smoothly, fizzygeek had one camera in her hand, and the other on the tripod, I had my binoculars, we were ready!
Right on schedule, Endeavor lit her boosters, cameras clicked madly, there was a flash of flame and a burst of smoke, and Endeavor started to lift for the sky, accompanied by cheering and clapping.
Soon it climbed free of the huge cloud of smoke and steam and started gaining speed.
I watched the shuttle climb all the way to the clouds through the binoculars, getting a wonderful view. When it pierced the clouds, the clouds glowed from the flames, to more cheering.
Just when it started to quiet down a little, the shuttle reappeared through a hole in the clouds, moving swiftly now.
The crowd cheered its brief reappearance, just as the sound hit us. As close as we were, reflected by the cloud cover, it was an intense, thrilling, all-emcompassing sound. I looked over to fizzygeek and just basked in her gorgeous, utterly happy smile. She turned to me and announced "Wow. I'm shaking." We both were. We just stood there for a bit, taking it in, watching the corkscrew of smoke curl, with one blob looking to us like a thumbs-up.
Then it was time to gather up our stuff and make our way back to the bus. The bus ride back to Orlando took quite a while, as everybody was leaving the cape at once. Everybody was swapping stories and showing each other pictures they had taken. Even effectively shooting blind, as fast as her camera would go, fizzygeek got a series of amazing stills, and the video caught the entire path, up into the clouds, and the peek through the hole.
When we finally got back to Orlando, tired but thrilled, we went to Waffle House and had us a big breakfast. The waitress noticed I was absolutly loving the hash browns and asked if I wanted even more. I did. Then we went back to the hotel and basically slept all day again.