Gainesville was incredible. Although we didn’t have enough time to experience much of the night life or the popular restaurants, I was still amazed at the beauty of this Florida campus. I’m a sucker for palm trees, tons of sunshine and perfect weather. Besides all the live shots and lugging of equipment, it almost felt like we (Kamen, Marty and I) had driven seventeen hours to a vacation spot. Our hotel (Days Inn in Starke, FL) was clean and had a brightly colored exterior. It was 80 degrees every day, an escape from the chilly Columbia, Missouri weather. We were trying new things (Kamen and I ate alligator) and eating a food usually mistrusted in mid-Missouri: fish. While Marty and Kamen worked on their live shots, I drove up and down University avenue, admiring all the night life and the amount of options UF students had from which to choose to spend their Friday nights. With so many things to do besides go to class, I asked myself how on earth anyone graduated from this school.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium looked incredible from the main entrance on University Avenue. Palm trees accompany you down the walkway into the glass front of the almost 90 thousand seating capacity stadium. Statues of UF Heisman Winners on the side of the stadium (Tebow, Spurrier and Wuerffel) posed in a couple of our pictures. Butterflies flapped around my stomach Friday night as I dreamed up of what the inside would look like along with what I’ve seen on TV from previous Florida games played in the Swamp. I liked how the stadium was planted inside of campus. I pictured pools of orange and blue flooding through campus streets on Saturdays as fans filed into the stadium. I loved every second of being in Florida that Friday night.
But Saturday would be ncredibly disastrous.
I don’t know exactly when the Gainesville trip downfall started. Perhaps it was pre-game when the map on the back of our parking pass led us to the wrong place to park and three different police officers led us in three wrong directions. We didn’t get into the press box until 45 minutes before kick-off of the Florida-Missouri game. Perhaps it was during pre-game meal when I discovered I had traces of pancake syrup in my freshly curled hair (girl problems). Maybe it was with 45 seconds left in the 4th quarter of the game when James Franklin threw his fourth interception of the game, resulting in a loss and a handful of mopey football players in post-game interviews for the fifth time this season. Maybe it was because a loud truck was running in the background of all the interviews, messing up all the audio on my twitvids (reporter problems). Maybe it was because we had to skip Satchel’s pizza for live shots on all three shows (6,9, 10pm) on KOMU that night, all three of which were conducted by rookie producers. Two of the live shots were cancelled because Notre Dame’s contract with NBC and careless producing back in Columbia, leaving us with three wasted hours we could’ve been spending eating delicious Satchel’s pizza that STL Post-Dispatch’s Vahe Gregorian raved about from the night before.
Ben Hill Griffin stadium was no longer incredible to me by 11:30pm EST that Saturday night. I was ready to get the heck out of Gainesville, away from the stadium where we had been for what felt like ages. I wanted to shower and rest for the 17 hour drive back to Columbia. As we were packing up the equipment (tripod, a mess of cords, camera, batteries, back-packs), the toughest question of the day is asked: Where are the car keys?
We unpacked everything, we traced all of our steps, looked around the parking lot where the car was parked (about 100yds away from where we were set up for live shots). We looked in bushes, trash cans, in the street. We repeated all of this about seven times until panic eased its way in to our nerves. The keys are impossible to lose, they are designed to not be lost, attached to a big huge blue disc and big black zipper wallet. It was 1 o’clock in the morning and we still couldn’t find them. I was the only one with a phone that wasn’t dead. I texted my mom warning her about the situation, that we might be in Gainesville longer than we expected. These car keys were our only way of getting back to Columbia in the morning. She suggested we call AAA, they could connect us to a locksmith. We exhale.
Marty calls AAA, he paces up and down the block as Kamen and I speak optimistically about the situation. The locksmith will save us, we’ll get back to our hotel and we’ll be back on the road to Columbia in no time. Marty walks away from us as he speaks to the locksmith. When he returns to our spot by the Heisman statues, and with a deflated look on his face, he tells us AAA and a locksmith won’t help us unless we have the registered owner of the vehicle present. This was a massive problem because the registered owner (KOMU) of the vehicle was a thousand miles away. We start to panic.
Marty calls our news director Stacey Woelfel and breaks the news to him. We can’t find the car keys and AAA won’t help us. Marty begins to pace again and walks up the block to continue the conversation with Stacey privately. Kamen and I start to panic, I’m ready to cry. Marty walks back to us, this time with his hands on his head, his face white as the uniforms Missuri wore earlier that afternoon, sweat coming down from the sides of his face. “Stacey said we will have to book a hotel for the next two nights and one of us has to fly back to Missouri tomorrow with the satellite backpack so that it’s there in time for election coverage on Tuesday. Stacey will FedEx the keys on Monday.”
My eyes welled up with tears. Gainesville was no longer a beautiful place. The palm trees were masked by the dark late night sky, it was chilly with the sun nowhere to be found and now we were going to be trapped here forever. The three of us sat in silence, panicked silence, until I saw a cop turn on to a street just north of the stadium from where we were panicking. With no shoes on (my boot heels destroyed my legs by midnight), I ran a block toward the police to get his attention. I beg him to help us find these keys, that we will be stranded here for an extra few days if we can’t get into our car. He immediately starts helping, using his flashlight and walking around the outside of the stadium. A half an hour into the key search accompanied by cop, I look up 24 hour locksmiths in Gainesville. My plan was to sweet talk my way into convincing one of these locksmiths to make us a key, even though not a single one of us owned the car.
I call the first one listed, a groggy middle-aged sounding man answers. I introduced myself to this man who I had clearly woken up. I tell him the story, tell him how we’re stranded, how we’ll be trapped in Gainesville if we don’t get into this car and get a key made. He asked for the make and model of the car and asked if we were ready to pay some money. I quickly said yes and he assured me he’d be out front of the stadium in 20 minutes. I exhaled into the phone and told this complete stranger I loved him about about forty times before we hung up. I run to Marty, Kamen and the kind police officer and giddily let them know that AAA is full of crap and a locksmith is more than willing to help and will be there soon. We all hug in excitement and the police officer wishes us safe travels back to Missouri.
Infront of the Heisman statues, The three of us laugh and slap-happily discussed the disaster of a night we’ve endured. Bronze Tebow, Spurrier and Wuerffel laughed at us and this horrific night. As I’m recanting my conversation with the locksmith to the boys, a strawberry blonde, younger looking, slender man walks up to us. As he walks toward us, asking if we’re with KOMU, I spot the car keys, the big blue disc, the black zipper wallet, all in his hand. We all freak out and bombard this man with a million questions about where he found the keys and when. He claimed to have found them in a trash can over by the parking lot where the car was parked, the same place Marty had scanned over and over throughout the night. I was suspicious about this guy but didn’t care too much. The keys were found and we would be on our way back to Columbia in just a few hours. This incredible disaster of a day was finally over.