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In Your Face, Irene – A Reservation with a Hurricane

by Geneva Rinehart
September 2, 2011

Everyone loves a good summer road trip, after all what’s not to love? You have the open road, adventure at every mile marker and the anticipation of your intended destination.  I am just back from a four-day weekend, roundtrip Atlanta to Philadelphia for the wedding of one of my oldest and dearest friends; a highly ambitious trip trying to pack 30 hours of driving into a 72-hour window with enough time to visit with family and make a wedding. Unless you’ve been out of the country or under a rock you probably know that last weekend Hurricane Irene slammed into the East Coast.  We’ll call this hiccup No. 1.  As last week drew closer to the weekend it was becoming apparent that weather was going to be an issue not just for the wedding but for travel in general. Then Thursday came news of beach evacuations all along the East Coast. We always travel Interstate 85 to Interstate 95, but knowing what normal traffic is like on Interstate 95 on a good day and memories of snarled beach traffic from when we lived in Washington, D.C., aren’t distant enough to chance it. Introduce hiccup No. 2. So we find an alternate route at the very last minute, deciding to take the mountainous, more scenic Interstate 81, a straight shot from North Carolina to Harrisburg, Pa.
As we’re driving we’re monitoring the weather situation, checking to make sure the wedding is still on and getting the latest reports from our family in Pennsylvania. I heard, “Turn around and go home,” from two parents, two friends, a boss and a complete stranger. The mayor was closing down the city; transit will be shut down. As if in unison the choir is singing, we don’t want you here….go home!

About five hours into our trip the inside of our vehicle started getting really warm. No, more than warm, it was hot. At some point along our drive the air conditioning just stopped working. Since we were spending the night with family I called their local Toyota dealership to see if, one, they are even going to be open in the morning, and two, could they schedule an appointment to look at the car? I got a “maybe” for the first question and a “definitely not” for the second. Seriously, hiccup No. 3.  While I am on the phone with the Pennsylvania Toyota dealership we happen to pass a large Toyota dealership on Interstate 81 in Statesville, S.C. We think how fortunate, so we stop. Imagine this: a family of four who left at 6:30 a.m. and have been driving now for almost six hours. I believe we were a sight as we pulled in the service bay with our car filled with everything from snacks to movies to all kinds of other miscellaneous stuff. Toyota customer service is always great but these guys were very kind to get us right in. Unfortunately, we soon were told that it isn’t anything that they can fix without pulling apart the entire dash console. We’d already been stationary now for two hours. By this time Hurricane Irene has slammed through the Outer Banks and the mid-Atlantic region was next. What do we do?  The warning sirens are going off in my head.

Should we continue on without air conditioning and into this massive storm that by this time we know is going to be historic? Sane people would turn around and say, enough adventure for me, thank you. Take me home. Actually I believe I did say that about three times by this point. And then amid all the hiccups and tired waiting and the hot car ride I got a text from my friend, the bride, the reason we were making the trip in the first place. She was going through all the emotions of a bride the day before her wedding coupled with the weight of this historic weather event that like it or not was going to happen.  She had been trying to avoid the news and the stories of other brides who had to call off the big day.  She had checked with the hotel. It was going to stay open. All the vendors had confirmed. The wedding was going to happen come hell or high water, or perhaps both. This is an understatement but she was stressed. She needed to know we were coming no matter what. She needed us to be there. So back in the hot car we went.  We figured if we lost a few pounds along the way that was a bonus. After a grueling 17 hours we finally parked the car for the night in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The next morning we headed into the city passing lines of cars on the Schuylkill Expressway heading out of the city. We were in a group of about five cars making our way in. I’ve never made it into Center City in such record time!

We arrive at our hotel and check in. There are about 30 dogs in the lobby. It turns out the Hotel Palomar is a pet-friendly hotel and all those dogs are New Jersey evacuees.  After check-in we had to find my favorite Philly food, a cheesesteak, and as we walked in the rain to the nearest Tony’s sub shop we saw three other bridal parties leaving the other hotels on the block. I have a newfound respect for doormen. We had an exceptionally wonderful doorman, Bradley, at the Hotel Palomar. I swear he worked 24 hours straight and kept a smile on his face the entire time. He was at the door every time we went in or out, hailing cabs, helping guests, holding the door and umbrellas in the fiercest wind and rain. The guy made bank this weekend, which may explain why he was smiling! I know I appreciated all his help, and lucky for us, the wedding we were attending was contained at the hotel.  As the storm came closer we were really glad we didn’t have to venture out. I was pretty much all out of adventuring by this point.

At 6 p.m., without any additional hitches, the bride walked down the aisle of the 25th floor of the Hotel Palomar and the wedding ceremony began.  While we enjoyed cocktails on the 24th floor for the next hour the hotel staff turned the 25th floor back into a ballroom for the reception. Every staff employee was warm, hospitable and completely calm. This was nothing out of the ordinary. It was assumed that they had to be working on a reduced staff, but honestly service was never reduced.  Many of the staff stayed at the hotel so service could continue. They did a fantastic job making us forget the storm outside. All the while the eye of the storm was passing to our east, the band played on, the dance floor was full, the hotel staff did its magic, and the only evidence of Hurricane Irene were the swaying chandeliers.

Everyone loves a good road trip. I think it is because you really don’t know what adventure is waiting for you around the next corner.  Would I be rested and completely justified if we had played it safe and turned around? Sure, but how often to you get to party on the 25th floor during the eye of a hurricane?

Geneva Rinehart is Vice President and Managing Editor of Hospitality Upgrade magazine.

Geneva Rinehart
Hospitality Upgrade

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Other Articles from Geneva:

If HITEC Were Five Days; A recap of personal experiences from the Hospitality Upgrade and Hotel-Online Staff / Geneva Rinehart / June 2011

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