Category Archives: True Stories

Anecdotes from my past and present.

Attempting to be Sue

Posted on September 23, 2010 by

One of my sisters is the sort of person who can go to Istanbul, head for the bar where she has arranged to meet some friends, and then get there only to discover they aren’t there because she forgot about the International Date Line (silly International Date Line!) and is 24 hours late. Sure, you’re thinking, anyone could do that! But this sib’s particular enviable superpower is to walk a block, look around the neighborhood, choose another bar, walk in and find the friends happily sitting there. No harm, no foul–in fact, much rejoicing.

I planned to find the Walk for Life through the same kind of jovial reckoning on Sunday. I set out in plenty of time, and was even on the train with a fellow choir buddy. But I had my mind on other things, and I lost sight of her. I ended up on the wrong side of the park, and by the time I got through to Badger to ask for directions and apologize, I was kilometers away. Like almost eight kilometers away, according to the GMaps pedometer.

So… no singing for me. It was a glorious walk. I saw oodles of purple sea stars, and an especially gorgeous heron. (I didn’t have my camera with me, but here’s his stunt-double.)

Stanley Park - Heron

I guess you could say I managed the cheery laissez faire tardiness, but not so much the part where I stumble in, on time, for our next concert a day later. (I also bruised the tops of my toes because I was wearing singing shoes, not walking shoes, and I had doubled up my socks because I was afraid of being cold. How’s that for a neat trick?)

Cruising back in time… to Victoria!

Posted on August 28, 2010 by

Victoria was a bit of a pit stop, as cruise moments go… the ship was there for about four hours in the evening. With that in mind, kelly-yoyoKelly and I had decided the thing to do was make straight for Munro’s Books. My uncle came along for the hike–between one thing and another, we hadn’t spent much time together over the course of the preceding six days.

It was a pleasant and scenic walk. We saw the Legislature, naturally…

and, in accordance with B.C. tourism laws, I took the obligatory shot of The Empress Hotel!

We happily dropped a pile on books before Munro’s closed, and decided that was enough. (Note to any Victoria readers: I did sign the copies of Indigo Springs they had in their sf section.) Back to the ship we went, in a nice taxicab.

We used to go to Victoria from time to time, years ago. It was a handy and inexpensive tourist-type outing for us. Then life shifted, and all our trips Vancouver Island became family focused, taking us to Qualicum Beach instead. I have been wanting to go back, and it was nice to get a glimpse of the city, but a proper visit is still on the Gotta Do list. The bookstore was, of course, lovely. If I was gonna do one thing, that was the right one. No complaints there!

But there’s so much more to visit & revisit: Craigdarroch Castle and the Royal BC Museum (Where the Past Lives!), and flower-mad as I am, it’s a little crazy that I’ve never made it out to the Butchart Gardens.

Any of you have a within-reach tourist locale you’ve been meaning to get back to?


Posted on August 25, 2010 by

Now that I have been home for a stretch, Ketchikan is starting to seem like something that happened a long time ago.

My favorite thing, hands down, was getting to see salmon spawning for the second time ever. Kelly and I went on a camping trip to Port Alberni with her parents, oh so many years ago. We had fun, and came home with many stories, and even saw bears. I was amazed by the fish, and have always hankered for a second look. So… spawn ahoy!


Ketchikan is pretty. Its riverside boardwalk reminded me a bit of San Antonio, which probably means I haven’t been on a sufficient sample of riverwalks.

My cousins had been keen to see a bald eagle (the caged one was not so exciting) and I was scanning for birds all along. It hadn’t sunk in that this is, on the one hand, an eccentricity of mine–“We have to stop! I heard something peep in that bush!”–and a skill I’ve developed over the years. I was also faintly surprised to learn they don’t have eagles in San Francisco. They’re common here, and I think of our ecosystems as being very similar. Anyway, I spotted this one winging it to a tree, and it was very obliging and pose-y.


The four of us walked upstream to the Ketchikan hatchery, declined to pay for the tour, shot fish from a very stinky beach, and were generally amazed by nature in action. Then we puttered back for another dunk in the hot tub and loafing with books by the ship’s windows, looking for whales. (Did I mention we saw lots of humpbacks, and a few orcas? They were just too far off to make any of my shots great.)

It was around this time that Kelly and I also embarked on making a list of shipboard observations:

–The hot tubs aren’t exactly scorching.
–They mix the drinks strong!
–This does in fact make the comedians funnier, though Merl Hobbs is quite good. Sadly, Merl’s internet presence consists of a poorly put together Myspace page with no video content that I can see, so I cannot prove this to you.
–The ASL interpreters of Merl were even funnier.
–Three and a half turns around the sundeck is a mile.
–They really want to sell you stuff.
–Including pictures! Bands of roaming photographers, some accompanied by people dressed as pirates, orcas, bald eagles, etc. are waiting to pounce on you. The next day, the pics are up in a gallery: $20 for an eight by ten.
–Little girls crushing on my cousin’s supersmart 13 year old, who is living for a September 4th Green Day concert.
–It turns out that Green Day sounds an awful lot like Rush.
–Bingo every day. Trivia quizzes. A spa that threatens to remove 8-10 inches from your body with a seaweedish treatment.
–A very nice and knowledgable naturalist who lets you know whenever there are whales about, and who then reminds you the ship has binoculars for sale.
–A TV in every stateroom with a route map on channel 14 and a live feed from the front of the ship on channel 15.
–Also pay per view. When Kelly was sick we watched Greenberg.
–Pay Per View’s inevitable consequence–Cineloathing: Greenberg was so not worth $9!
–Low ceilings. Long corridors. Towel animals. (Photos to come!) To my surprise, plenty of elevators. Lots of mirrors. Music feeds that loop on a really short cycle, so that we have now heard The Doo Doo Doo by the Police a zillion times in our chosen reading area. On the Lido deck, we had Mamma Mia, much Beatles, and oldies galore.
–A profusion of U.S. accents that make you want to drawl.
–A video arcade whose Aliens game was broken. How sad is that?
–A spectacular floor mosaic leading into the sorta non-denominational chapel.
–Extremely attentive wait staff who really don’t buy into the concept of skipping dessert, and who are obliged to either dance or sing for us after every meal. I couldn’t help feeling it was mean to make the waiters sing and dance.
–A deeply punitive attitude toward the cousin with food allergies.
–Woefully adequate food. Unimpressive decaff espresso.
–OTOH, Tea! Whenever I wanted it. Nice and hot.
–Seeing other cruise ships in the night.
–All the thousand colors of the sea, from deep violet, through the greys, into the blues and greens.
–Orange quarter moon hanging over the ocean, leaving a smeary ochre line on soot-grey water.
–How did I not know that Alaska has its own time zone?
–A briefing on how to successfully get off the ship.
–A magician who taught the kids tricks–a nice guy, who was able to talk the thirteen year old into trying escargot
–A strong tendency to always go with middle of the road as opposed to edge.
–Hideously slow, deeply overpriced, satellite Internet.
–One cold soup offering every night. Lots of iceberg lettuce.
–A rule that ships must stop in one foreign port per cruise–hence the stop in Victoria.


Posted on August 22, 2010 by

Continuing the theme of fragmented Alyx vacation posts, I’d like to note that Skagway has about 900 people.

Our ship had nine hundred staff and more than two thousand guests. And when we ambled out into the town that day, there were two comparable ships and a piker at the dock. Six thousand plus tourists at once. I think that qualifies as an invasion. I certainly wanted to run away from us all, and I was part of the hoard.

Juneau, by contrast, is home to a cozy 30,000 souls. You could actually look around and see people there who looked like they might not be tourists or those pandering to same. Our look-around had a couple of highlights–local bookstores with prominently-displayed posters of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Sarah Palin memorabilia, and a store with some lovely prints by local artists, of whom my fave quickly became David W. Riccio. There were also non-human residents, who found us boring:

After we checked out downtown, the cousins and I caught the Mount Roberts Tramway up, way up, eighteen hundred feet, I believe, enough so our mammoth home of a Carnival Spirit looked tiny!


The mountaintop had some nice trails, the usual restaurant/gift shop/bathroom configuration, and the Juneau Raptor Center’s resident Bald Eagle, a bird whose name I didn’t catch but who’s there for good, since someone shot her through the beak, which also took out one of her eyes, which in turn caused her early, permanent retirement from the hunting grounds:

We did a short hike (time wasn’t quite as abundant as it was in Skagway), took some shots, yakked and yakked some more, and generally enjoyed the scenic walk, the sunshine, and the glorious fresh air. It was sunny and temperate (I gather that it was sweltering in Vancouver and Seattle). The ship’s crew had made a point of telling us, repeatedly, that we’d had the best weather of the season. When you get a gift like good weather and this kind of scenery, you just get out and appreciate it.


Skagway: is it real, or is it Playstation?

Posted on August 21, 2010 by

A couple years ago, I went with friends to see The Magic Flute, as directed by Julie Taymar, via The Met in HD, which is–as you may guess–a satellite broadcast of a Metropolitan Opera show to a local movie screen. We walked into the theater, and they had a live feed from the house–the curtain, the stage, the people filing into their places, chattering with anticipation. The sound was perfect, the crowd infectious. I started to get excited. Then weirdness set in. The gorgeous red ranks of the seats, rising to the balconies, up, up, up, were not merely lovely. They were also familiar.

I stopped dead. “I’ve been here,” I said. But I hadn’t. This was before our New York trip.

“Me too!” Kelly agreed.

(Irrelevant pictorial interlude.)


We looked more closely. The memory sharpened. Flames. People burning… what the hell? Then, one of us, I’m not sure who, said: “Parasite Eve.”

Parasite Eve is a horror video game we owned back in our pre-Wii days. It opens with a beautifully animated sequence (which of course can be had on Youtube, Chaos but I loves me my Intrawebs) set at the Met. After the carnage, you scramble around the theater, killing monsters and hunting for clues backstage. That’s right: cartoon memories of a virtual experience were intruding on… well, another virtual experience. I was still in Vancouver, after all, experiencing the opera at a remove.

Constructions of reality. Fake memories of real places, formed in one’s living room. Real memories of simulated real places? Untangle that knot for me, Gordian.

Later, after Parasite Eve, there were MMORPGs. Asheron’s Call, first and most–I played so much I was in game when I learned about the 9/11 attacks.

I am the kind of player who sets their character to running and then bumbles around the landscape, checking the map a lot and hoping I’m not too lost. In the real world, I build up landmarks and figure out where I’m going… if not easily, at an acceptable rate. Computer worlds have a little too much repetition, I suppose. Anyway, I learn the fake contours of these game landscapes quite slowly.

Maps, on the other hand? Can barely read ’em. I can use one to navigate from place from place once I have a route worked out, but I essentially lack the gift for looking at a map and being able to imagine the terrain in 3d. Or any other d, for that matter.

What does this have to do with our recent cruise stop at Skagway? (Mmmm, Skagway. Check out their Tourist Info Center.)

Nice, huh? Okay, here comes my point: Google Street View rocks the universe.

GSV looks to my gamer brain like a slower, more varied, disappointingly monster-free version of Worlds of Warcraft. You can tool around in the real world from the comfort of your couch, using your iPod. How cool is that? In the past month, I’ve spent just enough time in virtual Skagway that I knew what it looked like before I ever got there. I was able to tell where a few key things were located before we ever landed. I knew we would be able to walk off the ship and straight into the funky smalltown cool.

Street View doesn’t take all the fun out of exploring, at least not for me. It doesn’t go into buildings or down the various little wooded paths. We and one set of cousins hiked off their grid pretty quickly on our way out to the Klondike Cemetery, where I got my favorite shot of the day:


Behind the cemetery was the waterfall. I did in fact shoot the waterfall, but the thing I found really compelling was the colony of Daddy Long Legs on this bunch of Devil’s Club berries (sorry, arachnophobes):

Finally, as we reach the end of a very rambly post, here’s a tourist tip for the caffeine-addicted: if Chowhound says an Alaska coffeeshop has the real goods in 2009, there’s no guarantee the same place will exist a year later. However, the Ketchikan Coffee Company looks like it’s there year-round, and they brew very well indeed.