Monday, June 4, 2007


(Note:  I finally got me some free internet access, so there's going to be a lot of posting today.  Sorry I couldn't post in real time and space them all out.)

I'm grumpy today.

Got up fairly early this morning. Wanted yogurt for breakfast. So far, I've managed to have a container of Yoplait every morning on the cruise. In fact, it's been nonfat Yoplait, whereas I normally go in for the lowfat. So I've been starting my mornings a bit ahead of the curve diet-wise. (Just as well, considering everything else I've been eating.)

Juneau does not have yogurt. OK, not entirely true, but there's no easily accessible yogurt. My dad and I walked all around downtown Juneau. (When I say "downtown" Juneau, I mean Juneau where all the shops are. It's tourist Juneau. All the big cruise shops dock in Juneau, and there's a whole area of shops that sprung up to cater to them.) We found a few liquor stores and corner pharmacies, but none of them had yogurt. Both a liquor store and a corner pharmacy told us that the nearest yogurt was available at some health food place four blocks away. Uphill. By this time, it was pushing 11:30, and we had to be on the bus for the airport at noon, so I took a pass on the yogurt.

Bus dropped us off at the Juneau airport. (Bus ride was amusing. Included the delightful story about how the Juneau airport is the only one in America to have had a mid-air collision between an airplane and a fish. Seems an eagle had picked up a salmon and, when it saw the plane approaching, figured it was better off dropping the fish and getting the heck out of the way. Eagle dropped salmon, plane hit salmon. Embarassing conversation followed when pilot called tower and reported colliding with a fish. Amusement follows as folks in the tower look through the FAA manuals and discover there is nothing in there governing midair collisions with fish. Apparently, now, thanks to the Juneau airport, the FAA now categorizes fish as midair collision risks. Coulda just been a fish story, but we thought it was a hoot.)

Get to the airport. Pick up our bags. Check in. Go upstairs to pass through security....

.... OK, look, I don't want to make any broad generalizations about particular demographic groups, but I'm really starting to wonder if it isn't the case that, as you get older, you just lose track of that gene that pays attention to the fact that other people exist. Observe: There's a TSA guy at a table at the entrance to Security. An older woman, and her even older mother (from the cruise) stop to have a chat with the TSA guy. And I mean "a chat." She's not asking the TSA guy any travel related questions. She's asking if a particular TSA guy is on duty that day. As she apparently knows his mother and is supposed to give him a hug from his mom. TSA guy says he knows the guy, but the guy isn't on duty. Lady doesn't accept this as an answer and explains how she knows the guy's mom and the bit about the hug and, in the meantime, the crowd is lining up behind me waiting to get into Security. She's oblivious to it. A few people even walk past me (and them) in order to get through Security. TSA guy doesn't stop them, but I'm afraid to just blow past a TSA guy at Airport Security. Finally, the woman and her mother give up on the hug-delivery, and proceed to security. There are two lines. I am directed (unfortunately) behind them in the same line.

The woman manages to pile up her belongings on the conveyor belt. The mother -- not so much. (I assume she has, actually, been through security in the past, as she would have had to fly in to get on the cruise in the first place.) She piles her stuff in about six baskets, and takes up all the room on the tables, so that I can't even start preparing my own stuff. She leaves her shoes on the side of the table, then whacks them with her bag, sending one of the shoes flying into me. She does not apologize. She just picks it up and moves along.

She goes through security. I go through security. Before I manage to pick up all my stuff from the conveyor belt, the next TSA guy grabs the mother's bag for a hand-search, saying there was "a little bit of a problem item" in her bag. The woman -- I shit you not -- starts asking this TSA guy about the guy she has to give a hug to. It is at this point that both the woman and her mother realize they left their ... it's an Alaskan knife with a curved blade. Picture, like, the curved blade on one of them medieval-looking hatchets, except with a much shorter handle for kitchen use. I think it's called an Ulu. Anyway, they left their Ulu in the mom's bag, and TSA had a bit of a problem with that. I say "excuse me" a few times and sidle behind them out into the terminal area. Last thing I heard, they were asking the TSA guy if they could stop their checked bag from getting on the plane so they could shove the Ulu in it.

Once inside Security at the Juneau International Airport ("international," we're told, because they sometimes have a charter flight into Canada. Not a big airport. Six gates.), I continue my Quest For Yogurt. There isn't any. There isn't any food, even, excepting for what you can get out of a vending machine. I shove six quarters into a machine and am rewarded with a fairly decent (and nicely-chilled) apple.

We fly to Anchorage. We are told the plane will be met by a Cruise West employee, who will get us to the hotel and handle the baggage and all that other stuff for the land portion of this cruise. There are two Cruise West employees waiting outside the gate. (They have TSA I.D.s so they are allowed within the Security area. I am impressed.)

I can't recall if I said much about our Exploration Leaders on the ship. One was Jen, who'd been doing this for years and was an extremely knowledgeable, and personable, individual. The other was Weston, who Jen was clearly training, and who was also clearly not up to the task. Even after Jen would explain an upcoming presentation to Weston, he preferred to watch her do it, rather than do it himself. (And this was cool with us, seeing as she was better at it.) And he preferred to lie to the passengers, rather than admit a mistake or do anything proactive to remedy it. I suspect Weston isn't long for this job.

I mention all of this because we were met at the Anchorage airport by two Exploration Leaders, and it didn't take us long to figure out which one knew what was going on and which one was the trainee. I'll give you a hint: one of them told my mother (and everyone else disembarking the plane) that she couldn't go to the restroom until we were all there so she could check us all in on her magic clipboard.

After the mini-revolt (you do not stand between a bunch of women and the nearest bathroom), I snuck out to the Quizno's shop and bought a sandwich. We then left the airport -- having been told Cruise West employees would pick up our bags and bring them to the hotel. Actually, we weren't the only ones leaving the airport, as someone had set off an alarm (another Ulu through Security?) and an automated voice was telling everyone to evacuate.

We pile onto the bus (bus driver gives us all bottled water -- a nice touch) and are driven out toward the hotel. The inexperienced Exploration Leader is doing the running commentary, with the experienced one quietly giving her corrections every time she screws up. She's also uncomfortable with the microphone -- lots of "ums" and "uhs" and uncomfortable pauses and a 20-second native legend that she drags out to, like, fifteen minutes. (Still, at least she's trying, which puts her several marks ahead of Weston.)

We stop for an hour at an Alaska Museum, which, actually (despite my general grumpitude) was really quite good. Something for everyone, which was a bit of a bonus. My mother quite enjoyed the art; my father enjoyed the items from Alaska's history; and I was enthralled by an exhibit called something like "Artists Without Reservations" -- provocative art by Native American (and Native Alaskan) artists. We all got back on the bus in a much better mood than when we had gotten off an hour ago.

We then were brought to the hotel, where we were handed off to Cruise West employees staffing a desk at the hotel. They had all our hotel keys set out on a table in little envelopes. Grab your envelope; go to your room. Luggage already delivered. Also, we were all booked for reservations and one of five different Anchorage restaurants, and needed info on the shuttle to the restaurants.

Time was of the essence on this. It was about 5:45 and some of us (including my family) had a reservation at 6:00. We needed to run upstairs, make a quick restroom stop, maybe do a quick wardrobe change, and run back downstairs to the shuttle. We were not permitted to do so. Much like the situation at the airport, the Cruise West desk employee would not tell us where to meet the shuttle until all of us had gathered around her desk. She even said we should wait for everyone so she "doesn't have to make the shuttle speech eighteen times." I'm thinkin', "Lady, we're paying you, you can make the damn speech more than once." Time was ticking away while we're all waiting for some of the slower movers in the crowd (who did not have 6:00 reservations) to come in. I got grumpy again. She finally makes the speech, which ends with her looking at her watch and noting that those of us with 6:00 reservations should probably be back downstairs in five minutes so we could get the shuttle. I stare daggers at her, for whatever good it will do.

We run for an elevator and it gets packed full of the first group of 15 or so of us to rush away from the Cruise West desk upon our release. We get up to our floor, I go into my room and find: no luggage.

I go back downstairs. I am met in the elevator by someone else on the cruise who also has no luggage. We get down to the Cruise West desk, where we are informed that, yes, they haven't finished delivering all of the luggage yet, and some of it was still going up to the rooms. (And I think, "Maybe this was something you could have mentioned in your I'm-only-going-to-say-this-once speech.") We go out to the shuttle.

The shuttle does not leave. Indeed, the shuttle does not leave until after 6:00, because they would rather make nine of us late than make a second trip for the one couple who was actually late. (Indeed, someone with a 6:15 reservation got on our bus too. This made us even later, as all of the 6:00 people were going to the same restaurant, but the 6:15 people had to be dropped off at another place on the way. Clearly, there was no thought given to dropping us off first, and then circling back for the 6:15 folks at the other restaurant. I'm noticing a theme here -- the convenience of passengers is of less importance than the convenience of employees and it really starts to irk me.)

I just realized I've been complaining about this stuff for, like, two and a half pages, and I really doubt anyone is going to want to read through the whole thing. So I'll just briefly touch on the lousy table the restaurant tried to give us (squeezing three of us at a table for two right next to the door to the kitchen) and the fact that the restaurant tried to limit us to a pre-set Cruise West menu, when Cruise West had assured us we could use their vouchers for anything off the menu up to $50. We complained, and things got fixed, and we ultimately had a really tasty meal and a good time eating it. We even had some entertainment, as there was a surprise engagement a few tables over. (He had flown up from Arizona to surprise her. The engagement ring was served up as her dessert.)

It's all good now -- well, all good except for I've no idea when I'm going to post this, as I'm only in this room till about 7:00 in the morning tomorrow, and I am so not paying $10 for the five minutes of internet access I'll need. Tomorrow morning, we're off to Denali. With the good Exploration Leader. (Things are looking up.)


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