Saturday, February 20, 2010

The AMAZING RACE to ASAE TECH 10...The Tom Morrison Story

It all started at 11:00 pm on Monday night. It was 3 days before the start of the 2010 ASAE Tech Conference in Washington, D.C.  I was looking forward to having a great birthday on Tuesday, and then leaving on Wednesday to catch up with many great friends within ASAE and Young Association Professionals (YAP), while learning the newest things I needed to know to take my association to the next level of social technology. I knew the weather wasn’t the best, but I wasn’t too worried about it.
As I was sitting on my couch, enjoying Facebook with some friends, watching television, a friend who knew I was going to DC, sent me two words through Skype that changed my entire week.  She simply said, “You there?”  Looking back, I couldn’t imagine what was to come from those words.

As I replied, she began to share with me that flights which were set to take off Wednesday morning at 6:20 am, were never going to make it out because of weather in Washington D.C.  She strongly suggested I get on the phone with AirTran, and seek to move my flight up 24 hours.  I said, “You mean like 7 hours from right now?!  Tomorrow is my birthday and I don’t want to travel!”  She replied, “If you want to make it to Tech Conference, it’s your only choice.”  Being the spontaneous person that I am, and knowing how much ASAE and my friends mean to me, I jumped and said, “I’m going to do it!”

For the next three hours, I was on the phone with AirTran.  Finally at 1:30 am, I got someone on the phone and was able to find a seat going to Reagan National airport leaving at 6:20 am….only 4 hours from now.  After hanging up with my confirmation number, I’m thinking, “I CAN’T GO TO SLEEP, AND THIS IS CRAZY!”  But I wanted to go to the Tech Conference, and nothing was going to stop ME!

Around 4:30 am, I made my way to the airport.  Everything began to go as planned.  I checked in, went through security, bought my Starbucks, and boarded the plane on time.  After landing in Atlanta, I got some breakfast to quench my appetite.  I was hopeful, yet cautious, knowing that with every hour that passed, the snow was getting closer to Washington D.C.  At 9:45 am, I proceeded to walk to my gate for my 11:00 am flight, where I learned that the flight had just been cancelled.  To top it off, there were no more flights through AirTran to any of the three D.C. airports today, OR tomorrow.  I was struck with shock, and wondered what to do.  The gate agent said that I could stay until Thursday and fly out then, or they would send me back to Jacksonville for free.  My friend who Skyped me the night before, sent me a text as to see if I was going to make it with the weather issues.  I replied, letting her know that my flight had been cancelled, but not to worry - I would get to DC at all costs!  I was going to make it to the conference and see my friends!
It was now 10:30 am on Tuesday, and I’d been up for almost 29 hours without sleep - and this is where the Amazing Race began!  With a cancelled flight, I immediately called Delta and was able to book a flight from Atlanta to Baltimore for 7:25am the following morning.  Knowing I had that flight, and that it would most likely be cancelled, I went to work on finding another way to D.C. that day.

My next mission was to locate my luggage, which was now in limbo with my flight being cancelled. Checking with the baggage clerk, they indicated my bag would eventually come out the baggage return system.  As I was waiting for my bags, I overheard someone say they were flying to Richmond, VA.  I immediately pulled out my iPhone GPS and found out Richmond was only 100 miles from D.C.  I thought, “I can make this happen.”  Upon learning this encouraging news, I called my association friend, Jamie Notter, who’s in D.C., and asked his opinion on the conditions tonight if I drove in from Richmond.  He shared that the snow was moving in fast, and that it would be a roll of the dice, but may be worth a shot.  He and I agreed that I needed to call another association friend, Ben Martin from the Virginia Association of Realtors, and ask his thoughts about driving from Richmond to D.C. today since he was making the same drive also.  I hung up with Jamie and got on the phone with Ben.  Ben assured me that things wouldn’t be good later, but if I was going to arrive at the time I planned to, I should be OK to drive from Richmond, and D.C. shouldn’t be under snow yet.

With that news in hand, I called Delta and cancelled my Baltimore flight for the following day, went back to AirTran and booked my change of flight to Richmond VA at 1:00pm, booked a rental car from Richmond to D.C., and then worked with baggage claim to get my bag that still hadn’t shown up.  It was noon and I was waiting to get my bag so I could just take it as a carry-on instead of checking it.  As it grew closer to my flight time, it was imperative for me to get through security and on my flight to Richmond.  The AirTran baggage reps were very nice and said, “Get to your flight. I’ll personally see that the bag gets on the 1:00pm flight.”  ...Famous last words.  Having heard the bag was in their hands, I agreed and I was on my way to Security.

As I boarded the flight, I felt a huge sense of relief that I was actually going to make it, and that the worst had taken place on my trip.  Little did I know what was to come!  As norm for this trip, the 1:00 pm flight to Richmond was delayed until 2:00 pm, which put me closer and closer to fighting an incredible snowstorm in D.C.  At 2:10 pm, my flight took off and arrived in Richmond an hour late - 3:30pm.  My excitement at baggage turned into desperation as the baggage gates closed and just as I thought, "my bag didn’t make it".  I thought, “Wow, if I don’t get my bag soon, they’ll have to deliver it, and will never get through D.C. because of the snow.” After checking with baggage, I learned that it didn’t make the 2:00 pm flight with me, but it had made the 5:00 pm flight and would arrive at 7:00 pm.  I asked if they would deliver the bag to my hotel and they assured me it would be delivered within 4 hours of touch down. ...Again, famous last words.   I had planned to go out until midnight with friends so as long as my bags were there by then, I was good to go.

Next mission objective was to secure my car and get on the road to beat the D.C. snowstorm.  As I was at the Enterprise counter getting my car, a nice couple beside me asked if I was going one-way to D.C. They were in a similar situation and wanted to split their car rental fee.  They seemed like a nice couple, so I agreed.  Their son was picking them up one exit before I had to get off to go to downtown D.C., so it worked perfectly for all of us.

As I’m getting in the car, I’m now realizing that I’ve been up for 32 hours and fortunately am not tired, but I am wearing down.  For the next hour and forty-five minutes, I enjoy a great ride and good conversation with a very nice couple. The roads seem safe and the snow isn’t catching because there are plenty of cars on the road. Life was grand at this point.

Upon reaching Exit 7B, we stopped off at the Comfort Inn just off the highway for the couple to say goodbye to me and be picked up by their son.  I ran to the restroom, and got back on the road for the last 8 miles of a seemingly-safe ride in the snow.  The next 8 miles turned out to be 8 of the most treacherous, and life-fearing miles I’ve ever traveled.  As I was driving on the highway, I heard a loud funny noise coming from the wheels in the back, but didn’t think much of it because the car seemed to drive fine.  I chose to ignore it and concentrate on keeping the car straight on the snowy and dangerous highway.  At this point, all my friends were calling wondering when I’m arriving.  I let them know that I was only 7 miles away and would be there momentarily.  ...Little did I know what was ahead!

Having never driven through D.C., I worked my way around using my iPhone GPS.  I was driving very slow, taking everything easy and making good progress.  Everything was fine until I missed the Memorial Bridge overpass...this was when I felt my life was in danger.  As I passed the bridge, I noticed I was moving into roads not well-traveled, where the snow was building fast.  The small Sentra, with tires that couldn’t grip a sticky road, began to slip, slide, and clip the snow banks on each side of me. Over the next 30 minutes I went up and down roads trying to find my way over the water to downtown D.C.  Going back to the Memorial Bridge was impossible as my rental car would never make it back through the snow.  Time after time, my car felt as if it was going nowhere, and I thought I would eventually have to just shut the car off and do whatever I could to stay warm.  At one point, I truly felt that the car was about to stick in the snow in the middle of nowhere, leaving me stuck in sub-freezing weather with no cloths, no food, and no hope of anyone being able to get to me for 2 days.  The thought of waking up in a freezing car under 5 feet of snow, where no one could find me, wasn’t my idea of the 2010 ASAE Tech Conference.  I HAD TO GET TO DOWNTOWN D.C.!

After 30 minutes of searching for a path through the snow banks, I gazed back down to my GPS, and noticed the road I was on was a straight road that lead over the water to downtown, which put me 1 mile from the Marriott drop-off point for the rental car.  I thought, “If I can make it there, I’m home free!”  I pushed the RPMs hard, pushing the car to the max, to make it through the snow.  I could not get stuck- no one was there to help!  As I arrived downtown, the next 30 minutes was a maze of one-way street,s to find which ones I could actually drive down.  At one point, I saw the turn for the Marriott, which was one block from me, but because my friends called to get an update, I saw the turn too late and had to go 3 blocks away to find a street my car would actually move on.  Finally, I got to the Marriott drop-off point for my rental car!  As I got out of the car to find out where to park it, I happened to look back and notice the back right tire was flat.  I realized that the funny noise I was hearing on the highway was the tire was flat, and I had been driving on it since I got on the highway 6 miles ago!  At this point, I’d been up for 36 hours straight and I really didn’t care.  I proceeded to find out the drop-off point was three floors down the parking garage.  I drove the car with its flat tire to the bottom of the garage, dropped the keys off, and jumped in a cab to the Morrison and Clark Hotel.  Upon arriving at the hotel, I noticed my friends through the door, and they were anticipating my arrival.  As I came through the door, I threw my bag to the floor, dropped to my knees with my hands in the air and screamed, “Thank God I’ve made it!!!”  I leaned over and proceeded to kiss the floor and hug my friends with great relief.

With my journey complete, I freshened up and we all went to dinner as planned.  Upon returning from dinner, I received a voicemail on my cell phone stating that my bag wasn’t being delivered to the hotel. The good news is that it had arrived at Reagan National Airport 6 miles away, but wouldn’t be accessible for 2 days due to the snowstorm.  For the next day and a half, I refreshed my clothes to make the best of a bad situation.  My friends continued to encourage me by constantly saying to me, “Tom, there is something different about you today!”  I love their humor.

To put icing on the cake, after being up 45 hours with no sleep, traveling a 13-hour incredibly challenging journey to reach Washington D.C. for the Tech Conference, ASAE notified everyone at 3:00 pm on Wednesday that the conference had been cancelled.  ...Again, shock set in, but anyone who knows me, knows I would not be discouraged!

With that news, our entire group of 8 proceeded to setup shop in the hotel banquet room where we ate, drank, worked, networked, laughed, made videos, took pictures, and brainstormed social technology ideas and strategies.  As we were looking to make the best of an extremely bad situation, we realized through Twitter that a groundswell effort was being put in play to pull off ‘UnTech 10,’ a one-day technology conference for those who could attend in person, or live via webcast.  As the day wore on, we read and watched through Twitter, as the entire conference and registration began to become reality. As the day ended, we realized that we were actually going to be able to experience a conference after all, and that we weren’t only going to learn about the power of social technology, but we were truly living its power!

As I went to bed that night, I wondered if I would actually have my bag the following day.  Upon waking up, I called the airport, confirmed my bag was there, jumped into a taxi and picked it up at Reagan National.  As I put on fresh, clean clothes, I knew my friends would have the same line as I met them for breakfast.  They didn’t let me down!  “Tom, there is something different about you today - IT’S YOUR CLOTHES!!!”

Needless to say, UnTech10 took off that day with an incredible day of speakers, round tables, interviews, webcasts, and presentations. The conference had it all and gave me everything that I could have expected from a conference, even if it was just one day.  As the rest of the week wore on, I thought back many times to my lack of sleep for 45 hours, 60 hours in the same clothes, nearly being stuck in the snow with no food or clothes for who knows how long, and driving on a flat tire at 60 miles an hour… all the time smiling and saying, “IT WAS ALL WORTH IT!”