Planes & Boats & Trains …



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Planes & Boats & Trains …

Notable sayings:

I saw it in a Documentary …

Severe Calm

BWANA BAWB

I’m special … in an ordinary way

Ship’s Clock – three four-hour increments (12, 4, 8), chimes on half hour, 8 bells = end of 4 hour shift

Damn His Eyes

Joy For Sale On Brigid’s Bed

Goddamit Matthew

It’s Easy If You Know How

Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn
Saturday 6/6/09 … Naweedna to Anchorage …

Translocation Day


Before the trip started, I found myself sort of mentally walking through the process of getting there. As you probably know, we don’t fly much. In fact, the last time we flew was six years ago when we went to AK with Brian and Amy. Before that, well it was at least a couple decades. Nope, not much for the flying thing … unless it is something monumental like a trip to AK. Anyway, I was thinking that we would be going from Rochester to Minneapolis to Anchorage without ever setting foot on the ground. That just seems incredible … and … almost true.
When we booked our flight, we told the agent at AAA to get us the best connections for the lowest fare – regardless of time of day. She amazed herself by finding daylight flights that were cheaper than the red eye like we did last time. Okay, sign us up … and set us up with window seats; we want to see the terrain this time.

A quick perusal of our tickets revealed one of the drawbacks to long, daylight flights: they leave early. We were told to be at the airport one to two hours before departure. We also needed to allow an hour for getting to the airport. That meant we had to get up at … wait for it … THREE AM – truly the butt crack of dawn. We were driving down Naweedna’s driveway at 4:30 and arrived at the airport a little after five.

We planned to leave the car in one of the airports lots – the Economy Lot – and take the complimentary shuttle over to the terminal. We pulled into the lot, picked up our ticket and parked the car where the attendant directed us to park. The shuttle arrived behind us as soon as I pulled into a slot. Whoa, way too fast for neophytes. The Senegalese (?) driver quickly threw our baggage in the rack and handed me piece of paper with some undecipherable-by-me notations on it. I handed it to Janie and never saw it again until we got back from AK.

We were flying Northwest (NW), and the check-in was complicated by the recent NW-Delta merger. Do we go to the NW desk or the Delta desk? We saw no NW desk, just a desk with a blank space where the NW sign should be and way down below eyesight, a red sign that directed NW passengers to go to a Delta desk. Got our bags checked, our tickets processed, and were off to go through security. There was a sizable backup, so they opened up a new line just as we were ready to go through. I was the first with the new guy. I’d been telling myself NOT to try humor with these security people, but I just couldn’t help myself. I sauntered up to the uniformed black man and said, “You opened up just for me?” He gave me a scowl like you’d expect from a guy just starting a long shift at this ungodly hour. No more attempts at frivolity for me. I stripped and walked through the detectors. Oh, not supposed to strip, just take off my shoes and empty my pockets of metal objects? But my zipper is metal … that’s okay? How was I supposed to know? What about my fillings? Oh, no problem, eh? Okay, I’ll put my clothes back on. What if I’d had a penal implant or a rod up my ass? Just go through … you want me to just get away from you? Hmmm, I feel the same way. Hey, you gotta gun; use it. Why do the masses have to suffer for the sins of the few? Don’t want to talk about it. Okay, okay I’m movin’ on … I hate authority.

We were scheduled to board at Gate 2 – Rochester is a fairly small airport –big only in its own mind. The waiting area spanned both Gates 1 & 2 and there were several people already gathered. We noticed that there were two NW planes parked outside and a flurry of activity between pilot and service personnel behind the counter in the waiting area. Finally, a woman announced that our flight would be boarding at Gate … a seemingly long pause … one and a half. What? It turns out there was some problem with the actual boarding ramps so we had to take the stairs down to the tarmac. Once there, we walked, in the open air mind you, over to one of those old-style portable step things, which we climbed to get on board.
Ah, but before all that happened … we kind of thought that if you were first to board, you’d be sitting in those confined spaces with the stifling air for the longest time. Thus, we sort of hung back and let most of our fellow passengers go first. When it got down to just a few of us, we popped in behind a guy who looked like he knew what he was doing. When we got down to the tarmac, there were no other passengers to follow, just a bunch of Orange Stick guys and baggage handlers. We were between two planes, both of which had portable steps and open doors. Which one is ours? The guy we were following paused a moment and headed for the plane on the left. We heard someone yell, “Over here.” We did an about face and headed toward the other plane – with a total lack of confidence. It turned out to be just fine, but we’d gotten off to a somewhat unsettling start. First, my conjecture about flying to AK without setting foot on the ground (paved or otherwise) was kaput and then there was the confusion over Gate 1.5 and which plane to board. Then I wondered if our baggage was equally confused. Yeah, seasoned travelers we are NOT.

We were in the air, it was daylight, let’s look out and watch the world go by. Wait, what’s that? The wing? OMG, we were seated Smack Dab In The Middle of the right wing. Nonetheless, we were able to get a good view of Niagara Falls as we winged our way to Minneapolis, a NW hub. We’d taken similar Rochester to Minneapolis to Anchorage flights back in 2003, so we sort of knew what to expect. The next physiographic feature we were able to identify was Lake Michigan. Then the terrain started showing that familiar rectangular road pattern so characteristic of the prairie. Next we saw the skyline of The Twin Cities. We came in on the north side of town and the airport is on the south side. Thus, we took a complete loop around the city center. It was especially well displayed because the plane was banking with us on the low side so the whole image was nicely displayed between the edge of our little window and the wing.

These connector flights utilize small planes. This one had something like 70 seats and they were all full. When I sit out in the meadow and watch the jets leaving Rochester, I get the feeling that I’m looking at one of those aluminum cigar tubes with wings. That’s what they look like, and that’s what they feel like when you’re in one. These are amazingly small seats when you consider we Americans have been Super-Sized into a 30% obesity rate. Fortunately, on this flight, it was just Janie and me in our aisle, and we are doing our part to keep the obesity rate down to only 30%. Wonder what it will be like on the bigger plane when we have to share with someone else.
The Minneapolis airport has changed a lot in the last six years. It has gotten much larger and, well, for want of a better word, more sophisticated. We had three hours before our next flight, so we decided to walk the airport and check out possible places for some breakfast. This place is like a shopping mall. There were shops, stores, and restaurants of virtually every description. Did you know there are Fox News shops? We certainly didn’t. We treated them like the plague they are … even walking on the opposite side of the corridor.

Whew, this place is so big, we got kinda tired by the time we found the gate from which we were to depart and then amble around looking for a place to eat. Tired enough to settle. We saw a menu displayed outside a Chili’s and discovered some breakfast entrees. Okay, this will do. Janie got French toast and I ordered the Breakfast Taco. The waitress, as she is trained to do, asked if we’d like sausage. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear Janie’s response, so both of us ended up with sides of sausage. There must have been a pound of it. Holy crap, and I mean that in the best sense, what a lot of meat – and we can’t take it with us – externally. Amazingly, we both managed to peck away at it until if finally disappeared. You know what, it was actually pretty good. Especially when dragged through some of Janie’s excess syrup. Ummm, I could use a little of it right now …

We’d been told that complimentary food service had been discontinued. That’s just fine with us; who needs to eat again after such an indulgent breakfast? But what about liquid refreshments? We weren’t interested in alcoholic beverages or even pop/soda/liquid sugar; rather, we were concerned about water. I couldn’t imagine them charging you for water but every one of the gazillion places that sold water had a sign saying how much cheaper this water is than it will be on the plane. So, just to be safe we purchased a bottle of water. Now how much do you suppose you’d have to pay to buy … WATER? You all probably know, but we are new to this since we make our own with our built in RO system. We shopped around and discovered that there was a brand and pricing agreement for all the shops. I don’t recall the maker, but I certainly remember the price: 25 oz for $2.25. Okay, that doesn’t sound too bad until you do the math. $2.25/oz works out to $11.25/gallon. Jesus Christ, I’m paying more than twice as much as I’ve ever paid for gas. That’s just ridiculous … plus it was a really ill-designed bottle that we had to toss once we were done with it. Nope, couldn’t even recycle it.
It was raining in MN when we arrived. I felt sorry for the Orange Stick guys out there in the wind and rain. What exactly is it that they do anyway? In this age of technology, do we really need these likely drug-addled, hung-over young men waving their Orange Sticks to tell the pilot where to park the plane? Aren’t they like the brakemen, firemen and caboose guys of our railroad past?

Our next plane was much larger. We had a six hour flight with 172 of our new, closest friends-we’ve-never-met ahead of us. When we found our seats, we discovered our aisle companion was a youngish man of average proportions. We took up residence in the two seats next to the window, which, as you might expect, were over the wing. As it will turn out, all of our assigned seats were on the right side of the plane … and above the wing. Hey, it was raining anyway. Maybe it will clear up when we get to the Canadian Rockies and we will be able see a little something between the edge of our window and the very expansive surface of the wing below.

In the meantime, I distracted myself by calculation how much the airline was making on this flight. There were 174 seats, all of them occupied. I don’t know how much they charged for this portion of the flight, but it must have been between $500 and $1,000. That means they were grossing anywhere from $87,000 and $174,000 for what, something like an 8 hour commitment? Why are they having such economic difficulties? Obviously because not all flights are so fully packed or expensive, right? Whose fault is that? Oh, look there are some mountains …
The Rockies slowly gave way to the Wrangell-St Elias range. If you Zoom in, select Satellite, turn on Photos you will see pretty much what we were seeing … only a lot better, because the Google photographer was not seated over the wing. Glaciers, lateral moraines, medial moraines, aretes, cirques, bergschrunds, horns, ice fields, crevasses … all the stuff we used to show in GSci100. We flew over the heart of the range, and if you follow along on a trajectory toward Anchorage, you will see the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound (PWS). PWS was cloud covered when we passed over. However, we didn’t figure that out for a long time. The clouds were low, just over the water. They were probably experiencing fog down on the sound. From above it looked just like the ice fields we’d been looking at, only much larger. I just couldn’t believe there were ice fields that large. Eventually, we caught a good view of the ground-fog lapped up onto a mountain side. Ah, they ARE clouds, NOT ice fields. Whatever, it was an impressive display … as was Anchorage as we banked and flew in over Fire Island on our way to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport – yeah, THAT Ted Stevens.

We arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule, but B’n’C were already there to greet us. Their now familiar system is for Char to take up residence at the baggage claim area (we could throw her a curve by only bringing carry on) while BAWB stands by the car out in the pick up area. Sure enough, there was broadly grinning Char trotting over to greet us. We did a group hug while jumping up and down – sort of strange for 60-year-olds I expect. I excused myself long enough to claim our bags. I was relieved to find them – as we were making the flights, I’d been joking with statements like, “Wonder where our bags are now?” They made it, but they were among the 25% or so that are opened for inspection. I could tell because the little handle cushion Janie had made for my bag was missing and the zippers were arranged differently – not centered like I always leave ‘em – go figure, eh? I took the time to search the contents for the technology I’d stashed away inside. It was all there and we were ready to meet BAWB at the car.

Hey, I know that car. B’n’C flew into Buffalo back in, 2003. We picked ‘em up and brought them over to Naweedna. One of the purposes of their trip was to buy our car – the Ruby Mica Pearl Subaru Outback. BAWB had AK plates and all. After we had our visit, toured the area, and took a trip over to see Mikey & Mare, B’n’C headed out in their new-to-them car that they had immediately christened Carmen – after OSU’s alma mater, Carmen Ohio. They had arranged visits with various people and places in OH, MO, AZ, and CA. Although they had planned to leave Carmen in Seattle so they’d have a car on their frequent visits, they were having such a good time, they opted to drive Carmen all the way to AK. BAWB likes to point out that they averaged less than a hundred miles a day, so you can do the math yourself. Suffice to say, it took them months to get from Naweedna to Mizewell – a whole set of tires worth of driving.
The point of this story is that BAWB was standing beside our old car. We greeted him with another round of jumping and hugging, and then we greeted our former vehicle. I gotta say, it looks much better than it ever did when we owned it. When we went to put our bags in the rear, we were greeted by a cargo area nearly full of beer, wine, a cooler with precious meats and cheeses, and a ton of muffins and breads – all from Costco. We are going to eat and drink well …

A few words about Costco. B’n’C are connoisseurs of all things fine. They are not your ordinary purchasers of the least expensive stuff that will serve the purpose – especially when it comes to food and drink. They are avid – almost rabid – promoters of Costco’s services. We were convinced of that on our last trip, and the love affair has only gotten deeper in the last six years. We are converts and have been since our first exposure – Costco hotdogs are delicious. However, we do NOT have a Costco in WNY. Nor do we have an Ikea, but that’s a different story. Every home-prepared meal we had was exceptional, and our comments always went something like this: “Wow, this is really good. Let me guess, from Costco?” “Yep.” Damn, who do some people have all the luck?

Back to Carmen, BAWB has an old Caravan that he uses as a utility vehicle to haul things, mostly between home and boat. He got vanity plates for it that say, “DUNNO”. Now if and when anyone asks him for his license-plate number, he just gives them with a blank look and says, “DUNNO.” That’s our BAWB. Well, the story continues. He got new plates for Carmen that say, “WATZUP”. The idea is that when both vehicles are in their two-car garage, they can have a conversation: “WATZUP?” “DUNNO.”
Car Photos: Photo Photo
On the way out of Anchorage, BAWB remembered a bakery that just opened up. He knew about it because it’s owned by a former park ranger he knows, Jerry Lewanski. It is called Fire Island Bakery after the big island that sits out in the bay west of Anchorage (Map). BAWB thought is was just over here … somewhere … well, look-a-here, there it is. Brand new and lookin’ good. What the hell, let’s go see what’s bakin’. What was bakin’ was a whole lot of very good looking stuff – exotic stuff that I can’t possibly remember the names of. Jerry came out from the back and started slicing off samples of various hunks and chunks of delightful-looking goodies. Guess what? They tasted even better than they looked. Of course we bought a bunch of stuff without regard to the several trays full of Costco stuff in the back of Carmen. We ended up have a delightful brunch of Fire Island Sticky Buns on our first morning in AK (with extra sticky goo of course). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After leaving the bakery, and between bites of our on-our-way-home ‘snacks’, B’n’C announced that they were selling Mizewell. Shock and horror. Actually, it makes a lot of sense. The house is of the age that maintenance becomes an issue. They have the boat, which also requires a fair amount of attention, so the additional work and expense is getting to be a bit much. The house is a bit larger than they need, and they spend as much time on the boat, Clementine, as possible. After years of boating and still hungering to do more, they’ve decided to give living on the boat year-round a shot. If that proves untenable, they will rent a condo or apartment somewhere. Whatever, they’ve decided to part with Mizewell, and it has just been put on the market. I took a bunch of parting pictures of Mizewell knowing that we would not be seeing it again. Unfortunately, I forgot to take inside pictures, so you will just have to take our word for it, it is very well designed and appointed, as you might expect.

Mizewell Photos: Photo Photo Photo Photo Photo
Our day was capped with a delightful meal washed down with a bottle of Crios Torrantes. Never heard of it? Me neither. It was delightful and we are going to be looking to get some for ourselves when we get back. We yapped away for some time – words liberally lubricated with wine – until Janie & I realized the time. It never gets dark in AK this time of year, so it is very deceiving – hey, it’s not even dark yet; pour me another glass, please. That can lead to a long night and a very slow next day. We know from experience. Thus, we opted for bed a little after eleven. We’d been up for twenty of the last twenty-four hours. I think that is enough.
But what a day it has been. Six years in the making, twenty hours of wakefulness, eight hours of flying, over four thousand miles traversed, four time zones crossed, a gazillion smiles experienced, and we were happily ensconced in Mizewell, their future ex-home, with our past, present, future, and hopefully never ex, dear friends. Whew!
Sunday 6/7/09 … Chugiak …

Sticky Buns & Technology Do Mix


The next morning dawned – can it dawn if it never gets dark? – clear, crisp and sun drenched. Ah, the Great Country in all its glory. We poured our coffee and took up residence out on the newly painted deck where the sticky buns and extra goo had already been laid out. Ummmm, good grits, y’all. We munched away while gabbing about this and that and gazing out at the fantastic scenery. Mizewell, 23110 Sumac Drive (switch to Satellite), is located on the boundary of the Chugach National Forest, so they have wilderness in their backyard.
Photo Photo

This was to be Technology Day. I unpacked the Passport, connected it to BAWB’s computer, and started updating his Maxtor. Once that got started, we had the rest of the day to pursue other technological fantasies like finding an MP3 player for Clementine. While Clemmy is motoring along, they have lots of power. However, when they anchor and turn off the engine, they are at the mercy of their storage batteries. BAWB has been fighting this power problem for years. He’s installed enough batteries to start seven D-9 Cats on a cold AK morning. However, he just can’t run computers and amps off AC for very long and still have the frig and other convenient necessities work. What to do, what to do?

They’d been using a SONY boom-box with a 4 disc carousel, but that unit no longer works after the internal rain (story in a later entry) … and … all the compilation CDs they spent so many hours making delaminated in the flood (yet another story – some people have all the fun it seems). Even if the boom-box and CDs did work, why would anyone want to be limited to just four CDs when you got 55k tracks? Not me, for sure ;-)
The batteries produce DC power, so you have to convert it to AC if you want to run an AC device. Why not eliminate the middleman and get a DC player? Hmmm, where would you find such a thing? Wait, how about an automotive unit? They are all DC. Now we need one with a USB port that will accept an external HD. We started searching the web and found that such things actually do exist. The ones we found seemed to be for playing movies and games in the car. They had small LCD screens and were touch sensitive. Great! How much do they cost? Not so great … the damned things were in the $1k range.
Hey, we don’t need to watch movies on it, and we don’t need the convenience of a touch screen. What they got with USB connectivity that is more reasonably priced? Nothing shown on the web sites. Hey, let’s do the old fashioned thing and call ‘em up. They always want to talk to potential customers. BAWB called and got connected with a very knowledgeable tech guy. BAWB described his problem, and the guy said, “What you need is a …” They went through the power requirements (minimal) and the USB connectivity. The tech wasn’t too sure it would work with a WD Passport drive, but he knew it would work with a Thumb Drive. Okay, where can we go see one and how soon? Well, we had some things to do around the house today, but tomorrow …

B’n’C’s friend Peter called and said he was biking over and just wanted to see if they were going to be home. Sure, come on over. Peter & Chrissie are the people who provided B’n’C with their current feline: Roscoe P. Catt. As you might expect, Roscoe is not your typical cat. You can tell he is ‘different’ as soon as you see him. He just doesn’t carry himself like a normal cat. He is friendly but extremely independent. He is quiet – none of that yelping some cats do when they aren’t getting their way – but he knows how to get what he wants. Yeah, he is his owner’s cat for sure.

Eventually, Peter & Chrissie drove up the drive. Drove? I thought you were biking over. Well, it turns out Peter had a problem with his pedal, so they came over anyway just to see if Mr Fixit had the necessary part. Peter is an avid biker … in AK. There’s avid biking and then there’s avid AK biking. He owns a composite Mt bike with very exotic parts. Still, he thought BAWB might have the screw thingy he needed. Now BAWB could have said, “Oh, I had one of those, but I sold it in the garage sale last week.” He could have said that, but he didn’t. He said, “Oh my, how exotic; nope, never saw one of those before.”
We got to talking and learned that Peter is from Detroit Lakes MN. Hey, that’s in northern MN – just a few miles east of Fargo. We sometimes go through there on our way to ND. We spent some time talking about PHC and the prairie in general. Small world, eh?
The day progressed slowly and eventfully. It was a nice relaxing day; just what we needed after the whirlwind of yesterday. We were getting our AK roots set in and things were working out just fine. BAWB stirred up a bunch of Scallops Flambé for dinner and we settled in for some more great eats, delightful drinks, and entertaining company. Does it get any better? Well, if not, it gets just as good … everyday.

Photo Photo

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