Like We’re All Half Crazy and All at Least Half Alright

I am not sure how many years my friend Terri has been asking me to join her for the Marco Island SoapFest, but this year, I decided at the last minute (about two months beforehand in Amanda-time) to go for it.

My primary reason for going was to spend another fantastic weekend with Terri, Christy, and Heather, since we had such a blast during the Best (Worst) NYC Trip Ever. I had also never been to Florida, and thought this would be a golden opportunity. (Thank you, tax refund.)

The catalyst for the trip was the Marco Island SoapFest, bringing actors from all four east coast soaps (Guiding Light, As the World Turns, All My Children, and One Life to Live) together for a fun weekend benefitting several children’s charities, most notably the Eimerman Educational Center, which provides outreach for children with autism.

I lucked out and scored a comparatively cheap flight right out of Lynchburg with a connection through Charlotte, so I parked my car at the office and Daddy dropped me off at the airport Friday morning. Since US Airways (and a lot of other money-grubbing airlines) have instituted fees for checked baggage, I refused to fall victim to their ploy and shoved everything into a rather large carry-on. That was also one way to ensure that my luggage actually made it to Florida with me, and I didn’t have another ordeal like the one in New York last fall. I even managed to abide by the liquid rule (nothing larger than a 3oz container, and all containers must fit into a quart-size ziplock bag. My biggest bottle? Anti-bac, of course!). I was pretty proud of myself:

I had a three hour layover in Charlotte on the way down, which I passed by grabbing a bagel, propping my feet up on my suitcase, and enjoying the miracle and wonder of my iPod (forget the wheel; this is man’s greatest achievement):

I made it to Fort Myers airport without incident, where I met up with Heather in the main terminal and grabbed a late lunch at Chili’s while we waited for Christy’s flight to arrive. Then, we hopped in our rental car (a Charger – why on earth didn’t I take a picture of that?) and used my awesome phone’s GPS to navigate to the island, which was about a 45-minute drive.

We stayed at the Hilton Resort, and all of the staff were extremely friendly and attentive, from the valet who welcomed us, to the bellhop who attended us and upgraded our room (and our view) simply because we asked nicely. We immediately threw the balcony doors open and took a breath of fresh ocean air.

Heather and Christy had made plans for dinner Friday night before I joined the trip, so I decided to use the time for a walk along the beach. All I had to do was step out the back door of the hotel to get to the beach:

The sand was actually more shells than sand, so I was glad to have my flip-flops, but I did slip them off long enough to walk barefoot through the surf. I explored until it was time for sunset, and then I went camera crazy, snapping photos from various locations I had scoped out beforehand. The beach was not nearly as crowded as I expected (especially for sunset), but I did find a few couples to incorporate into my photographs. And yes, as I hinted with one of the pictures below, I did take some time to just sit in the sand and watch the sun dropping down towards the ocean.

After sunset, I wandered up the street by the hotel looking for some dinner. Nothing jumped out at me except for the fact that I was tired from very little sleep the night before and my feet were starting to hurt, so I just went back to the hotel to relax for the evening. Heather and Christy were kind enough to bring some food back for me, and we hit the sack to rest up for the long day ahead.

Once we finally got up on Saturday and checked to see when Terri would be arriving, we decided to head out to the beach. I am honestly not that much of a beach person, but since most of my trips keep me going non-stop, trying to see all the sights and make the most of every moment, I must say that it was wonderful to simply lay on the beach, soak up the sun, listen to some Ryan Adams, and watch the waves. So, most of my view Saturday afternoon was this:

Terri arrived at the hotel a bit frazzled from her trip, but just in time to get some beach time before we all started getting ready for Saturday night’s dinner at Bistro Soliel (at the Historic Olde Marco Inn). It was a dressier affair, so I’d like to take this moment to give a shout-out to my awesome friend Jessica who loaned me her LBD (little black dress). I got several compliments on it!

We were at a VIP table with John Driscoll, a fellow Virginian and an all-around likable guy. He just scored a great gig on The Young and the Restless, which he was supposed to be keeping under wraps. He quickly realized that, thanks to the internet, we knew more about his forthcoming job than he did! We enjoyed dinner (which I must say was delicious) and got a chance to mingle around the room a bit.

Beth Ehlers (formerly of GL, now of AMC, and one of my lifelong favorite actresses) flagged me down from the next table over to say hello. We kept trying to catch up, but a lot of fans were coming up to her, so we decided to try again later!

After dinner, there was a Q&A session and an auction. Earlier that day, the actors had volunteered their time to paint with some of the children, and the resulting artwork was up for bid. Most of the paintings (by autistic children of all ages) were quite good, even if they were of rainbows or fish or flowers. Some of the paintings were downright impressive, but one in particular (of Wolverine) went above and beyond:

I didn’t bid on anything because I didn’t have the extra money, and most everything went for several hundred dollars if not into the $1000 range. Many of the actors bid personally, which was generous since all of the money was going to such a great cause. Some of the children were even present to display their paintings, and of course garnered hearty applause from the audience – and loosened some purse strings as well. Thorsten Kaye sent bids soaring high for Ricky Paull Goldin’s jacket (which he wore as Gus on GL), and won it. His design is to use it to taunt Ricky, who is quite a bit smaller than Thorsten. I hope to hear about the “part two” of that particular story.

Brown Shirt Man (who I met in Las Vegas back in 2005 and is infamous to my long-time blog readers) caught sight of me during the auction, so afterward I went over to say hello to him. He was as charming as ever, of course. I also said hello to Trent Dawson and talked to him briefly before we left to go back to the hotel to change clothes and head out again.

Since we called for the car around 11:45, our valet smiled and said, “See you tomorrow, ladies!” It was good that we (and by we, I mean everybody but Terri!) got a lot of sleep the night before, because I am certainly no longer used to the night life! Nonetheless, we headed for Almost Famous Mel’s Smokehouse and BBQ for the Celebrity Bartender Bash. That event was a lot of fun, even if it was SO HOT in the building. We chose a cooler corner and stayed in it – unless, of course, the DJ played a great song and we (mostly I) felt compelled to dance. On the dance floor, I remembered why it is great to be one of the few sober people at the bar – you can watch everyone else make complete fools of themselves, and still remember all of it the next day! Among the fun – me and several gay men dancing to Love Shack, and a loud, profanity-laden tirade from a girl who was supposed to be passing out shots, but instead stopped to entertain (and perhaps you could say “assault”) us with her story of how she “voted black” but then apparently realized afterwards that she did not like anything Obama was doing. (Side note: this is why it is usually a good idea to, you know, VOTE ON THE ISSUES and research the candidates so you don’t have a rude awakening six months after you vote black/white/woman/hope/change.) She also regaled us with stories of her home country, Australia, and her hometown, Detroit. (Yes, as in Michigan. Go figure that one.) And after twenty minutes of yelling (10 minutes of which could have been eliminated if she had cut out all use of the F-word), she announced, “This is why I am joining the Navy and becoming a minister.” I could no longer restrain myself and cracked up laughing. I bet she still has a headache from that hangover.

All things considered, we had a wonderful time. I finally did get to catch up with Beth Ehlers for a few minutes. I must say – she seems happier than ever, so I am happy for her. I met some new friends – Cheryl and Tommy – who Heather and Christy had dinner with on Friday night. Together, we had a great time, a LOT of laughs, and spent some more time with John Driscoll, Trent Dawson, Austin Peck, and Jeff Branson (Brown Shirt Man). Aaaaaand, Terri discovered that despite her valiant efforts to sway him, Brown Shirt Man is still mine all mine. *grin*

We ended up closing down the place, and we had all passed the point of exhaustion, which as you know, leads directly to giddy, so we sat up for a while at the hotel eating 5 varieties of pretzels and having ridiculous conversations. I was the first one to fall asleep just before 4am, so we started Sunday with a lot less energy than we had the day before!

To counteract the problem, Heather, Christy, and I headed to one of their favorite diners for a protein-powered breakfast to face the day. Terri stayed behind to pack up, because she was going to head back to the airport that afternoon. (Talk about a whirlwind trip!)

We set sail at noon on the Marco Island Princess for a cruise around the island. This was the third and final “event” of the weekend. I am not sure what the final count was for money raised, but if anybody knows, please pass it along! With just a cursory count in my head, the dinner and the cruise alone brought in several thousand dollars just during the auctions, and I have no idea how much the bar event brought in, depending on how much people were drinking, I suppose! (I was not drinking, but I did shake my moneymaker! So, I was doing my part! HAHAHAHA!)

The cruise was really lovely. Heather secured us a table in “prime real estate” (as John put it) on the upper deck corner of the boat. We were still out of the sun for the most part (since Christy and I are fair-skinned), but we were in the best place to catch a breeze, take in the view, and chat with everyone who passed by there at some point throughout the afternoon.

Heather bid in the auction on the boat and won the painting that John did with a little girl named Tierney. I totally stole this picture from her album from the weekend, but since I took the picture, I think that makes it OK:

After the cruise finished, we had to say goodbye to Terri so she could head back to the airport, and Heather, Christy, and I were once again on our own.

We were also exhausted, so we decided to get some rest. I decided to go sprawl out on the beach with my iPod again, and Heather and Christy rested in the room for a while before heading out on shell-hunting and picture-taking expeditions, respectively.

Afterward, they introduced me to strombolis at a local pizzeria with a very attractive waiter, and then we went on another photo-op tour together. This was mostly for my benefit – and my love of fountains – and I was oh-so-grateful.

By that time, we had enough room to go by the Cold Stone Creamery for dessert. Christy does not have an ice cream shop of that nature in her hometown, so that is a bit of a tradition, too. We were wiped out from the day once again, so we retired to our room, packed our bags, and got some much-needed rest.

Monday morning, we still got to sleep in since we’d done much of our packing the night before, and we spent a little time out on the balcony before checking out and heading back toward the airport.

We arrived in time to have lunch together at Chili’s before going our separate ways.

My trip home went very well. I arrived at the gate at Ft. Myers just as my plane was boarding, and despite having to run through the Charlotte airport from Concourse B to the far off corner of Gate E32b, I still arrived at my gate just in time to board for home – even with stopping in the main terminal to take this photo. (Yes, I do love Jeff Gordon.)

Mom picked me up at the airport at home, and I was back in my apartment shortly past 5:30 on Monday. I loved my trip, but there is always something comforting about being back home!