When I thought I heard someone calling my name, I woke with a start. It was still dark and I panicked that someone had discovered me in my camp. I later found out it was John calling out to me at around 4:20am, well before I needed to be awake. It woke me up anyway. I called Nick at 4:40am as I promised to make sure he was awake, which he indeed was. I had a shower and breakfast at John’s, then we were off to Nick’s place. Nick was already in his Camry, ready to go, so I parked my van and we all piled in.
After filling up with petrol, I took the driver’s seat, Nick was front passenger DJ and John and Chester took the back seat. Nick had been as excited about sharing some of his favourite music with me as I was about the rocket launch. He played all sorts of Jazz and piano music, including his favourite singer, Bob Seeker. Most of the songs I didn’t know, but it was great listening. We watched the sunrise as we got off the main highway to avoid traffic and drove through fields and towns. After a rest area stop, we were all ready for a second breakfast, so found a Maccas about an hour out from our destination. I was glad I’d set the departure time for so early so we had time for all of this, it meant we could relax. I had a big breakfast which was better than I expected by Maccas standards and Chester remained poised hopefully underneath the table for some crumbs.
The last hour of the drive went quickly and as we neared Port Canaveral, it became very clear that we weren’t the only ones here to see a rocket launch. As we came over a drawbridge, I could see the NASA assembly building and pointed it out to the tourists. Shortly after, cars lined the highway and Nick mentioned that he is not a fan of big crowds, which is why he avoids events such as these. I assured him all would be well and despite his suggestion to stop where everyone else was, I continued on right into Port Canaveral, where yet more cars lined the streets with police cars patrolling the road to make sure all was in order. We found a park near the end and the boys were ok to walk the few hundred meters back to the main viewing area by the water. It was 9:40am, we were at T-minus 20 minutes. Nick had to go for a nervous one so told me and John to go on and that he would catch up. We joined the crowd heading towards the beach.
I instructed John to stay on the road and wait for Nick while I went down to the beach to suss out a good spot. It wasn’t too crowded and I reckon I’d picked a good possie. I went back to tell John where he’d be able to find me and I went back to hold the spot while he waited for Nick. Back on the beach, I was standing behind a couple in their 50s on deck chairs so I had an uninterrupted view and the man next to them had his phone out listening to the commentary from NASA. I got talking to the commentator about where the rocket was and he pointed out the tiny tower in the distance twelve miles away. I thanked him in advance for his ongoing commentary. I then crouched down and started talking to the couple and found out their son Dave works at Space X so he was sending live updates to his folks via text message. I’d found the technical center of the beach! The Mum even let me look through her very expensive binoculars at the rocket. So good were the binos that I could read “Space X” down the side of the rocket. The excitement was building.
After the commentator took a photo of me, he took one of the Mum and Dad, both of them making sure they had their Space X paraphernalia (in the form of a t-shirt and a jacket) on. They are such parents! We were only seconds away now and you could feel the anticipation in the crowd. My heart started beating noticeably faster and the crowd shifted nervously making sure their cameras were set on their tripods and their iphones were pointed in the right direction. The commentator kept us informed and the messages from Dave all said “Go for launch”. Soon we would be feeling the first vibrations…
“T-minus 20 seconds.”
“T-minus 15 seconds.”
“Hold! Hold! Hold!”
“Launch aborted at T-minus 13 seconds.”
The feeling in our small camp was one of “Oh, well that’s a shame” and my heart rate slowly returned to normal. There would be no launch today. Us well-informed people looked away from the launch pad and to each other for emotional support. Most others on the beach looked on, checking their watches to see if they had the right time. Word quickly spread that it was all over. There had been a problem with the thrust vector control system, which is probably just fancy wording for something wasn’t lined up properly! I heard rumours that there was a secondary window to launch tomorrow morning, but I said goodbye to my launch mates and John, Nick and I joined the band of disappointed spectators, our heads down except for one final yearning look over our shoulders at the rocket that wouldn’t go.
On a positive note, our spectating spot seemed perfect so I was happy about that. Nick was in good spirits too, not at all that disappointed that we’d driven for three hours to see a rocket from twelve miles away, then go back the way we’d come. We joined the long line of cars all trying to get out and for once I admired the policemen for their ability to make it a seamless exit for everybody. There was nothing left to do but go back. We sat in traffic for about half an hour before we got going on the highway again. Nick played DJ again, playing some laidback Jazz music to mellow us out from our anticlimactic experience. We opted for the highway on the return trip for something different and hit traffic in Orlando when we passed by the multiple theme parks that surround the highway. After the traffic there was rain and lots of it. It dumped down for at least half an hour with drops like bombs. Half an hour from home, we stopped for another Maccas break for a late lunch. Twice in one day will do me for the rest of the year I think. I’m so sick of buying food!
The rest of the trip was seamless but I felt sorry for Chester, couped up in a car all day with nothing to entertain him. Nick and I dropped John off at home and I said my goodbyes to him and Chester. I will stop in and see them in Rhode Island when I head back to the east coast in a few months. I dropped Nick back off at his place and didn’t stay long, getting straight into my car after saying goodbye.
For the first time in over a week, I was alone. To be honest, It felt great.
As stupid as this sounds, I drove back exactly the way I’d come, back to Orlando where I had a Craigslist sale lined up for the surfboard. Since it was already 3pm when we got back to Nick’s place, I figured I might as well stick around for the second attempt at launch and sell the surfboard so that something out of today was productive. The two hour drive was made shorter when Derek called and we talked about selling shares in America. He had more experience than me and I was happy to get some really good advice which I needed since the Tesla share price has sky-rocketed (no pun intended) recently! By the time I got off the phone, I was driving through Disney World to the Craigslist girl’s house. The complex was huge and I have no idea who would have the desire to live anywhere near here, but there are many housing complexes around!
I found Courtney’s apartment and knocked on the door a few times before her housemate came to the door. She had a pretty face, but nothing in her head. Once she figured out who I was, she told me Courtney wasn’t home and that she could take the surfboard for her, but when I mentioned payment, she said, “Oh, she’d have to pay you?” Ummm…. That’s usually how selling stuff works. I called Courtney and she was on her way. By the time she arrived, I’d gotten the surfboard off the roof. She didn’t inspect it too closely and handed over $100. I’d bought it for $180, so I was happy to recoup some of my loss. The van looked naked without the board, but I was happy to be rid of it, better gas mileage for the Astro!
I was starving for dinner and sick of driving (as you could imagine) so I looked for the closest Walmart and drove straight there. It was easily the biggest and busiest Walmart I’d ever seen, even had a view of a ferris wheel and at 9pm, I heard fireworks going off. I did some shopping and spoke to Jon about my launch experience. He was happy to hear I was sticking it out for one more day, but agreed with me that if it all goes to shit tomorrow, I am walking away. Shopping done, I got on the phone to Mum and Dad and heard all about the Lions auction that went off without a hitch, my spreadsheet doing its job and Mum and Dad walking away with a Landrover for only $180!! There are a number of jobs lining up at the farm for me to play with when I get home. I just hope Dad doesn’t get to them first!
Before bed, I made contact with Alberto, a guy who we’d interviewed at Tesla to join our team just before I left the company. For reasons I won’t elaborate, he unfairly did not get the position, something that reinforced my decision to leave the company. I was happy to hear he’d been hired at the Gigafactory and he’d got in touch through LinkedIn. It was great to chat with him, a freshman at the big T, with me at the other end of the spectrum as alumni.