By Stephen Martin

This article is the second in a series of articles about The Birthday Project. You can read the first article here.

Looking back now, Kevin and I probably should have discussed our different ideas of travel a little more before we left. Or at all. We planned nothing. I proposed that we tour the U.S. for a week, letting the airline ticket clerks choose our destinations. Kevin agreed. And that was that. We had no real conversations about how this plan would work.

Although the whole idea was to have no expectations, it would have served us well to get on the same page with major things, like how long we would stay in each city and whether we would fly during the day or night. I knew it would get complicated, fast. But that was the goal. And I never even considered where the challenges would come from.

Even though we could have discussed the basic details ahead of time, we didn’t want to ruin the spontaneity of the trip. And we were busy getting prepared anyway. There was no time for setting expectations. This would come back to bite us, badly.

With no idea what we were doing, Kevin booked a flight to Orlando, and I reserved a rental car since there were no flights that would get me to Orlando early enough on Saturday. We wanted to fly out on our adventure from Orlando because it has a large number of flights throughout the U.S., and I needed to be back in Orlando the following Saturday for a birthday party my wife had planned for me.

I took three t-shirts, two pair of shorts, three pair of underwear, and three pair of socks, plus the clothes I wore to the airport. Despite using compression packs, extra jeans wouldn’t fit in my backpack. So I only had the pair I wore. Other then a bathing suit, travel-size tooth paste, deodorant, shaving cream, and camera equipment, nothing else would fit. I figured we would do laundry half way through the trip.

I finished teaching my last class before Spring Break on Thursday. I was excited that, at least for this year, the students’ travel plans for the break had nothing on me. This was going to be an adventure.

I got a late start on my drive to Orlando Friday evening. Leaving at 5 pm was my goal, but I didn’t get on the road until about 7 pm. I arrived at my dad’s house, outside of Orlando, at about 2 am. Since Kevin’s flight arrived at 11:36 am Saturday, I could sleep in a little.

After a good night’s sleep, I left my dad’s house at about 9 am, planning to stop and see my brother before I met Kevin at the airport. Sean, one of my younger brothers by ten years, was running a double marathon (swim, bike, run) in Clermont over the weekend. He had started the morning before at 7 am, gone all night, and was expected to finish sometime in the late afternoon. I know it sounds crazy. Maybe it runs in the family. I missed the event last year, so I really wanted to show up as support, if only for a little while.

I was able to find the state park where the marathon was happening and located Sean. He was doing well, but, as you can imagine the hours of running had become monotonous. I decided to take a two mile lap with him. Once we completed the course I headed out for the airport. I was running late, but had accomplished my goal of seeing Sean.

When I got to Orlando International Airport, Kevin had already landed. I was running about a half hour behind schedule, and Kevin was antsy to get going. I returned the rental car. We then weighed our bags out of curiosity. Kevin’s weighed about 25 pounds, while my slightly smaller backpack came in at about 20 pounds. We didn’t bring any suitcases or other bags. All of our stuff was in our backpacks. We didn’t want to have to check any bags at airports, but most importantly, we wanted to avoid having to haul more stuff from place to place.

At 12:15 pm we googled which airline was the largest carrier at the Orlando airport, figuring they would have the most flights, and, therefore, the most random chance of more destinations. Southwest Airlines it was.

During the week we discussed the fact that I wanted to film the entire trip. Vlogging had become a hobby of mine. I had already recorded three short films about The Birthday Project, and wanted to record a final film about the adventure.

Kevin was fine with the video cameras, but we knew the ticket clerk might not be. People tend to get leery when they are being recorded. The previous week, as a test, I had gone to the Charlotte airport and asked a few ticket clerks if they would choose my destination if I asked them to. Three out of the four I asked agreed to do it. The other one wasn’t comfortable with choosing where I would go. However, in that test, my daughter was doing the video recording. She’s cute. Kevin and I are not.

When we got to Orlando we knew we needed a ticket clerk that would be agreeable, even with the cameras. If we chose the wrong clerk, we could end up in a dark room all afternoon, explaining our crazy plan to the TSA. We had to get this right the first time.

Kevin spotted a young lady who he thought might be comfortable with having two cameras in her face while she chose our first stop on our U.S. tour. At 12:30 pm we walked up to the Southwest ticket clerk, handed her our credit cards, and told her that we wanted her to choose where we were going. We were completely surprised by her reaction.

You can read Part 3 of the story here.