Last weekend, my wife and I boarded a Gulf Coast Tours charter bus at 7:30 in the morning and rode with 18 of my fellow employees to the annual Christmas Party in Atlanta.
Ryla had accommodated their new division in Mobile, Alabama with a free ride to the party and discounted hotel rooms, so employees could enjoy the annual Christmas party with the regular attendees of so many years of the Kennesaw location. While some Mobile employees opted to drive their own vehicles, I took advantage of the free bus ride. The charter bus was as comfortable as most buses can be, with a friendly driver, DirectTV and a good DVD player and sound system. The driver made sure all passengers were comfortable and accepted requests for thermostat changes, music changes, and movie hosting as we drove the six hours in a mostly pouring rain up Interstate 65 and across Interstate 85. We made a stop in Montgomery, Alabama for a quick breakfast at McDonald’s and a cigarette break and then continued on to Atlanta.
The city of Atlanta is a travel nemesis for yours truly. My first trip to Atlanta when I was 19 was a disaster. I got lost late at night and traveled along I-285 in endless circles and missed exits. Exits I took, became confusing mazes of inner city streets with dangers on every corner. Upon arriving back at my stay that long night; I slept and then the next morning packed my bags and went back to the little town of Caledonia, MS thoroughly defeated; vowing never to ever go back. The vow lasted over ten years and my next trip to Atlanta was a “clenched-hands-around-the-steering-wheel” trip as I conquered my fears and made my way to every intended destination with out incident. From that time on, each trip to Atlanta has been more comfortable, but always in the back of my mind, was the fear that the Interstate and Exit Monster would grab me and send me back into a “Land of Lostness”.
On this trip, The Monster attacked our bus driver. He missed an I-85N exit and we began an hour journey trying to find our hotel. He maneuvered the large bus down tight streets giving us an unintended tour of Atlanta. We passed the CNN Building and the Aquarium, stopping once to shout out to a pedestrian for directions. The pedestrian had the appearance of someone who hardly knew where he was, let alone know where we were headed. At about this time, 10 of our fellow passengers had a quick-draw and fired up their Verizon Wireless Droids, AT&T iPhones and LG enV3 cell phones and began to access Google Maps, VZNavigator, and GPS turn-by-turn directions and began giving out directions to the bus driver. In another half hour, we pulled into the Waverly Renaissance Hotel. I hurriedly exited the bus, grabbed a cigarette, and slowly let my adrenalin and blood pressure decrease and my fingers finally unclenched. I had escaped The Monster once again, and the driver appeared unscathed from the ordeal.
The hotel was a fine Marriott facility appointed with typical luxury hotel decor–glass, marble, brass and gold. The atrium was decorated with Christmas trees, garland and lights. The atrium rose into the sky as the floors circled the area. We rode the glass elevators to the eighth floor where our room awaited.
Our room was an extremely nice King room made affordable by the discount the company received. Since it was just a week or so away from our anniversary, the wife and I wanted to enjoy a nice hotel room away from the teenagers for a night and the room was inviting upon arrival and seemed to say, “Hurry back from the party.” We unpacked and hung up suit and party dress and dress shirt and performed the usual routine of laying out toiletries and emptying pockets and exploring the room’s amenities. The only insult was the $6.00 bottle of FIJI water and the obnoxious price tag warning that if you break the seal, you would be charged…and the warning on the writing desk that a $250 dollar charge would be assessed for “recovery”, if I lit up a cigarette in the non-smoking room.
While, Mrs. Robison lounged in the room, I headed back downstairs and outside into the cold, windy rain and lit up a cigarette in the smoking area outside the front of the hotel. I stood there with several other smokers; all complaining about it being too cold to smoke–yet we continued to smoke and talk.
After long hot showers, make-up and tie- straightening we headed to the Ryla Christmas Party at around 8PM looking quite fabulous and sexy. (Sorry, no photos–we had some camera problems; but take my word for it)The hotel had set up numerous food stations in the Mezzanine lobby serving sliced turkey and dressing, chicken tortellini with an Alfredo sauce or a sun-dried tomato base and southern fried boneless chicken breasts, all with appropriate vegetables and assorted breads and rolls.. The unique station was the Mashed Potato station serving mashed potatoes in a martini glass with a full compliment of cheeses, scallions, bacon, and other assorted toppings and sauces giving the eater a hot mashed potato “sundae.” A cash bar sold some quite expensive drinks along with the free lemonade, coffee and tea. Six bucks for a Budweiser limited my “making merry”.
As dinner progressed, Mark Wilson, President and Owner of Ryla Teleservices, and his wife gave out employee awards including a brand new 2009 Kia automobile. The automobile had been promoted over the last several months with other incentives for performance and employee longevity. Wilson spoke of the company’s first smaller Christmas parties and how the company had grown in the last few years to needing the entire floor of the hotel to accommodate the crowd. After the dinner and desserts, (My wife sampled three cakes and I had the banana mousse pudding) the party began with dancing, drinking, and socializing. The DJ led the party-ers with line dances, slides, and other reasons to go “low to flo’.”
After talking with fellow employees and making a few trips back outside to the smoking area, we bidded everyone “Good night”, and rode the elevators back up to our room. A simultaneous wedding party was also being held that evening and we could hear THAT party spilling out into the lobby during the night. Obviously, the alcohol was free for the wedding guests.
Sunday morning allowed us to sleep in until around 9AM, but our schedule had us leaving the hotel at 10:30 for a small tour of the Ryla company facilities and a pastry breakfast in nearby Kennesaw. It was nice to see the work conditions of my Georgia call center counterparts and get a feeling for the scope of business and other clients that Ryla serves along with our efforts back home in Mobile. We boarded the bus at around 12 and began our bus ride back home. The trip home was without incident, missed exits or appearances from The Atlanta Monster.
The weekend was nice. I hope that next year the company decides to host a Christmas party in Mobile for just the Mobile employees. More of our location’s employee’s would be able to attend at a lower cost without a hotel expenditure. But, if I have to travel back to Atlanta again; I’m ready. It could be next year’s Christmas party or just another weekend trip…Bring it on, Monster!