Clarence, Pilot of the Shuttle Bus

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I recently went to a work-related conference in Orlando with my colleague Brenda.  We spent our days networking and our evenings blowing money at Downtown Disney and the nearby outlet mall. It was a fun-filled experience all around, even down to the shuttle bus ride back to the airport at the end of the conference.

Now, I realize that one wouldn’t normally think of a shuttle bus ride as entertaining, however Clarence was not your average shuttle driver and this was not your average shuttle ride. Unlike the staid, monotone shuttle driver who escorted us to the hotel when we arrived in Orlando, Clarence saw himself as an airline pilot, flight attendant and tour guide wrapped in one.

As soon as we pulled out of the hotel parking lot, he grabbed the microphone and began giving us what was obviously a practiced, albeit somewhat unintelligible, spiel in broken English. He first explained how to adjust the seat backs to maximize our comfort. Next, he pointed out the lavatories located at the back of the bus, should any of us be unable to make it without a bathroom break for the duration of the ride (20 minutes).

I was certain a demonstration of the correct usage of the oxygen masks was forthcoming, just in case the cabin should lose pressure once we reached cruising altitude. Instead, Clarence skipped the safety tips and moved on straight to the amenities, namely that there was a roll of paper towels available for our use. Unfortunately, he failed to indicate the location of said roll, but much to my relief, when I voiced concern about our ability to handle spills or other paper-towel-necessitating-disasters without this key piece of information, a fellow passenger quickly came to the rescue pointing out that the roll of paper towels was located on top of Clarence’s jacket, behind the driver’s seat.

Having covered the availability of the paper towels, Clarence next discussed the route to the airport…in excruciating detail. He recited each street and freeway we would be using, reminding me of a human navigation system. He even pointed out interesting local sights, such as the back of the Orlando Convention Center. Clarence definitely had my iPhone’s Siri beat. Or was it Suri? Jet lag was getting the better of me, since I couldn’t figure out the difference between my cell phone information system and Tom Cruise’s daughter.

Surely, like any good pilot, after walking us through the route, Clarence would next provide us with a report of the weather at our destination 11 miles away. Nope; to my disappointment, he left this part out, forcing me to come to my own conclusion that the weather was likely not notably different at the airport than it was at the hotel.

In place of a weather report, he instead made sure to advise us at least 3 times of the location of the rental car return (across from Terminal A). This proved somewhat befuddling as we were all on the shuttle bus, because we had no rental car. On the other hand, maybe he felt the airport rental car return is an Orlando hot spot that everyone should see. Brenda and I wondered if we should check it out.

As we approached the airport and the tarmac came into view, our trusty pilot took the time to address possible concerns we might have about flight delays. He promptly declared that our flights would all be departing on time. This was not based on any communication with the airport control tower, but rather, due to the fact that 1) he saw no planes lined up on the runway and 2) it wasn’t raining. While we appreciated his efforts to reassure us, it was not clear to either Brenda or me if this prediction would hold true in 3 hours, when our flight was actually scheduled for departure.

Shortly before exiting the freeway, Clarence made sure to clarify which lane he planned to turn into (the right lane) and announced twice that he would be using his Fast Pass. While initially neither of us knew what a Fast Pass was, we later discovered that this pass was a critical part of the shuttle experience. This was because it allowed Clarence to enter the shuttle bus drop-off section of the airport terminal. Without this pass, who knows where we’d end up. Most likely the rental car return.

Once we were safely through the Fast Pass gates, he informed us that his goal was to park in either of his favorite spaces, B21 or B22. With his passion and attention to detail, I was concerned about how he might react if both of these spaces were occupied. Would he completely melt down and go on a tirade about the inadequacy of spaces B1 – B20 and B23 – B30? To my relief, space B21 was free, and we were spared emotional outburst.

After the bus was parked, Clarence handed us our luggage and we made our way to check-in. Turning the corner I saw long lines at the TSA checkpoint and gulped audibly;  TSA appeared to be the real local hot spot. That said, noting the grumpy faces of the staff as I showed my ID and boarding pass, I doubted they would let us take any selfies at the body scan machine. Nonetheless, the security pat down definitely had the rental car return beat. I walked away thinking Clarence’s spiel could use a few updates.

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