Country in the City

Tuesday Oct 1 – Thursday Oct 3, 2019

The day after our event in Monee was October 1 and we had the day “off.” I did my monthly ag reporting job all morning while Dave did his usual trailer fussing/tweaking. I also blogged and we found the workout room. I walked on the treadmill while he rode a stationary recumbent bike. 

Our hotel was in the town of Countryside. It was fairly centrally located to the event venues I was given ahead of time. And it worked out pretty well for the venues I was given later, too. We were on Joliet Road, which is part of Historic Route 66. We also got curious about Joliet Prison. It was not near us, but we considered going there if it would have been open for a tour, or even if it had a gift shop. Alas, the timing didn’t work out for us while we were there. The jail closed in 2002 and has been used in several movies. It hosted a big music festival last summer.

Wednesday, Oct. 2 was the day making us nervous. It was our big “show.” It was the state PhRMA conference. PhRMA is a trade association for about thirty pharmaceutical companies, and is also one of our sponsors/partners for the trailer. Our bosses from DC were also coming. And it was in downtown Chicago at a hotel. We were not sure about driving the truck and trailer downtown during the morning commute. Our local contact suggested getting there about 6:30 am, to get the trailer into position. We had clearance from the hotel to park under a porte cochére outside the convention center entrance.

Dave had made a friend at our hotel, a truck driver he met while having a cigar outside. Bob was from Texas, but he drives all over. He said the best time to go downtown is 4:30 a.m. Dave and I agreed to leave our hotel at 4:30. It was a good decision. We sailed into town with little traffic, found the hotel with only one wrong turn, but were able to quickly correct since there was no traffic to contend with right there. We parked where instructed. We’d been told the hotel staff had been informed about our dimensions and we were assured we’d fit.

We did. Barely. The trailer has two heating/AC units on the roof. One of the units had inches to spare above it, but, yes, we did fit. 

As soon as we parked, we went into the hotel on a hunt for coffee. It was about 5:15 a.m. and nothing was open yet. Of course. Finally, a little before 6:00, the hotel cafe had coffee ready and our DC consultants arrived. We got all set up and then proceeded to wait.

And wait. And wait. IMG_3330

Our bosses arrived around 8:30. We got caught up and I met the big boss for the first time. We’d only spoken on the phone before. A few PhRMA staff came out about 10 a.m. for a tour. They were definitely impressed and promised to tell attendees about us. 

The bosses went into the conference and gave a presentation, and at lunch time, we finally got busy. So, so, busy. We had groups of 8, 10, and I think even one group of 12. The trailer is big, but it’s not that big. At one point we had three tours inside. One just beginning, one in the middle, and one ending. Everyone, as usual, was quite impressed.

We met the consultants we’d be working with in Florida. By 2:00 the stampede had died down and we got to have lunch. The DC consultants brought in Portillo‘s hotdogs, a Chicago specialty. They were very good, with that “snap,” you’ve heard a good hot dog must have. The rest of the afternoon was fairly steady with ebbs and flows. By 6:30, it had mostly stopped and our bosses hit the road back to DC. The wind had also picked up and it was getting quite chilly. We had to stay until 8 pm, but by 7, I was frozen. I went into the conference center, found a place to sit and warm up, and told Dave to come get me if I was needed. He never came, so at 8, I went back out, we loaded up, said good-bye to our DC consultants, and went in search of dinner.

When we’d wandered around the hotel earlier that morning, (it’s on the river which has some beautiful sights).

We’d seen an Irish pub, so we walked there. We shared a Reuben sandwich which was delicious. Since it was so late by the time we left the city, it was again super easy with little traffic. Thank you, Lord! We were exhausted by the time we got to the hotel and our bed.

Thursday, our event was in the early evening, so we spent the day much like Tuesday. I worked, wrapping up a couple of freelance projects. Our presentation was at a soccer field, home to multi-teams of all ages of kids practicing. Our local contact checked it out ahead of time. It was on the south side of downtown Chicago and there was no way we could get the trailer down those narrow streets, so we compromised and brought a popup tent and some of the props from the trailer. It turned out to be a very windy evening and we had zero interest from the watching parents.

Our local contact walked around, passed out flyers, told parents what we had, but still nothing. We had a photographer who was there specifically to take pictures of the “crowds” at the event. I asked a young woman walking by if I could pretend to talk to her for a photo op, but even that was declined. The photographer ended up calling his wife and she got out of the car with their two-year-old, so we could stage some pictures.

We stuck it out to the bitter, windy, cold end before we packed up. For unloading, Dave had had to park the truck in the middle of a narrow street, then we hustled getting everything out. After that, he moved the truck to a school lot around the block. Now we did the same in reverse, told our photographer, his wife and daughter, our consultant, “Thank you!” and headed out. I’d found a restaurant that looked not too far from our hotel for dinner. It had good reviews, so we unhooked the trailer at the hotel and sallied forth once again.

The food was good, if a bit slow to arrive,  which seemed odd, since they weren’t very busy. It was nearly 9:00 by then. I had a raw veggie and cheese appetizer plate while Dave had chicken wings. The employees next gathered in a room nearby with their own dinner plates. Dave commented that there seemed to be a lot of employees for so few customers. We finished eating, paid the tab, and saw an exit out the back, which was closer to where we parked. That’s when we discovered the crowded and very busy pub in the rear of the building, which explained a lot.

We were still bouncing between Google maps and our trucker app, CoPilot. You may remember Google sent us to a very low bridge in Indianapolis, so we tried to use CoPilot. But CoPilot is a lousy app. It just is. I tried to like it. But half of the addresses I put in, it can’t find, so it chooses a random nearby address, or just gives us, “City Center.” That’s not very helpful. And when my phone is hooked into the truck’s display screen, whenever the CoPilot app wants to tell us a direction, it hijacks the radio and won’t return it. We have to manually return to the radio station. I figured out pretty quickly to mute the directions, but still … Anyway, given that we were going to many suburban locations, we made CoPilot our default map app. But then …  Monday. Going to Monee, it sent us to a dead end street. We were able to turn around and find an alternate route, but … Strike 1.

 

 

Chicago! Chicago!

Our first Chicago event was in a small suburban town called Monee. I asked our hotel desk clerk how to pronounce the name of the town. Money? Moany? Mownae? She wasn’t sure, so that was no help. Our event was early evening so we had most of the day to unpack and settle in to the hotel and get our bearings. We went to Target and stocked up on snacks and water for the truck.

I had a couple of hours to work in the afternoon, then we headed to Money. Moany?

We were still using Google for highways, but using the trucker app for towns and cities. Because remember our “adventure” in Indianapolis and the low bridge?? So I had the trucker app open with the Monee address. We were rolling along, lalalalalala … and it told us to turn on to a road that was barricaded. Permanently. No entrance. This was the Indianapolis low bridge situation, but in reverse.

We were able to go past the blocked off road and turn around (no small feat with a 32′ trailer). I closed the trucker app and turned to Google. We were only a few minutes late. Our consultant, Heidi, was waiting for us at the venue. A community center. We knew Heidi from Iowa so that was a quick “Hi-good-to-see-you,” and we set up quickly.

All of the Illinois events were set up in cooperation with local/state/national legislators. This was our first event in several weeks. But we quickly regained our rhythm. I only forgot one drug hiding place on my first tour. But … as we learned in Indiana and Colorado … the local people don’t know exactly what we offer. They don’t know how to publicize the trailer. We had a fairly low turnout, but those who came through were enthusiastic. I had a village trustee and another local official who took the tour. They stopped after the first five minutes so they could tweet/post on social media in an effort to get more people out.

We were about to pack up as a few more people trickled in. I took a small group through at few minutes before the official end. As I was wrapping up at the end of the trailer, David started a new tour at the front. We have a policy of never turning away anyone, but it was already past our official end time. Oh well. We have a mindset that God knows who needs to see this and it’s not our trailer, it’s His. So if David was giving a tour, then the person on the tour needed to be there.

Heidi and I packed up the outside accoutrements. The sun set. We paced. We chatted. David and the woman were still inside the trailer. Heidi and I talked about the Iowa State Fair, where we’d seen each other last. We caught up on all the personal tidbits we knew about each other (her mom loves the outdoor furniture she bought at the fair, by the way).

The woman Dave was giving the tour to finally poked her head out of the door. Whew! But no. She was just checking on her kids in the car. Because we don’t allow anyone under 21 years old to take the tour, she’d left her kids in the car. With supervision, of course. And she checked on them regularly.

By the time she stalked out of the trailer, David was smothering laughter and she was seething. He told Heidi and I later that she’d opened her home to a couple who needed a place to live. They were drug addicts and homeless, but had promised to stay clean while in her home. They didn’t keep their end of the bargain on several issues so she and her husband were forced to ask them to leave.

After the couple left, as she was cleaning out their room, she saw stuff. She didn’t think much about it. As Dave gave her the tour, she’d see something and say, “No! Are you kidding me?” He’d say, “No. This is real.” She’d respond with a story or anecdote of what similar evidence she found when she cleaned up after this couple moved out of her home. It matched what we were showing nearly exactly. It was comical and sad and all too true.

We finished the close-up quickly, told Heidi good-bye and headed back to Countryside. In the meantime, we’d given tours to the local police chief and two of his officers, a village trustee, one of the village employees (Parks & Rec?), and a few parents. All of them were amazed and impressed at what they learned.

All in all, this first event in Monee (Mawnee!) was (in my opinion) successful, even if we didn’t have a large turnout. And even if the local legislator who helped set it up didn’t show up for the event. We talked to people, we educated people, we connected to people.

And that’s what it’s about.

Thanks for reading!

Back to the Excellent Adventure

When we came home for the Alaska cruise, we expected to go back to the Code 3 drug education trailer a couple of days after we got home from the cruise, probably September 17. That changed to September 29, which turned out to be God’s plan all along, since we didn’t make it home until September 21.

We’d been home from the cruise two days, just about caught up on laundry, when we got a call Monday afternoon: could we leave Wednesday or Thursday, the 25th or 26th? I drew a big sigh, revised my to-do list and said we could leave Thursday. Which meant actually leaving Wednesday because for this trip we were flying out of San Francisco, which meant renting a car in Fresno and driving to SF, staying in a hotel near the airport the night before.

The cat had just started speaking to us again. I apologized profusely to him and promised him lots of shrimp or chicken or whatever he wanted when we got back in November. He was not impressed.

I changed our rental car reservation and looked for a hotel near the airport. Well. That did not go well. Everything was super expensive. I think because it was last minute. We’ve stayed near the airport before and not paid anything near those rates. I finally got something through Priceline for double our usual budget. Except while we were on our way to pick up the rental car in Fresno Wednesday afternoon, I got an email that the hotel was reneging and would not be able to accommodate us. So back to searching. I finally surrendered and paid triple our usual rate for a Holiday Inn Express with a shuttle that would take us to the airport at 5 am.

We had an uneventful drive into the city, dropped off the rental car, rode the light rail into the airport, caught the shuttle to the hotel, and checked in. We had to leave before breakfast the next morning, so the front desk staff offered to have a breakfast to-go bag ready for us. We accepted, then went to sleep in our very expensive room which was not worth it since the hotel was being renovated and we were in the midst of a construction zone. 

Everything went smoothly the next day, except the to-go breakfast bag was a myth. We left SFO on time and arrived in Newark where we were transferring to a connecting flight to Portland, Maine. We grabbed a quick bite and had just enough time to find the adjunct terminal and our gate with a row of gates for the smaller, commuter flights. We chatted with a young man going to Jacksonville, Florida. He had left Italy and was eager to get home. We were all watching scrolling announcements that due to high winds in Newark, the FAA was restricting arrivals and that was impacting departures. Which didn’t bode well, since we were supposed to be boarding and there was no action at our gate.

Sure enough, the announcement came a few minutes later. Our crew was on a delayed arrival. We’d be delayed at least 45 minutes to an hour. What to do? Find a place to sit and have something to drink. We ended up next to two men who were also on the Portland flight. One was a very loud talker so we had no choice but to eavesdrop. He traveled a lot for business and was headed home to a town outside of Portland. The other man was younger, from Boston, and headed to Portland for a wedding that weekend.

Our Code 3 assignment in Portland was to pick up the trailer where it had been parked a couple of weeks previously, and drive it to the Chicago area. We had an event scheduled for Sunday, September 29th, so we had two days to drive about 1000 miles. Since we had done that a week ago, Bellingham to Fresno, we sort of knew what that was like. But now we’d be pulling a 32′ trailer. Although, we were back to the original trailer that handles so poorly in the wind.

Our personal goal in Portland was to have some lobster. Our flight was scheduled to land at about 7:15 pm, so I’d looked up a couple of restaurants close to the airport that had good reviews and we were ready. But with every announcement, our lobster dinner window was getting smaller.

We finally were called to board. Whew! We got on a bus that carried us out to our plane. David asked another passenger for a dinner recommendation, but he hadn’t lived in Portland for about 30 years, he said, so he was no help. I noticed his luggage tag was his business card and it said Harper Collins. I was just about to ask him what imprint or what he did for them, but didn’t have a chance. The flight was short and we were soon in Portland. The truck had been left for us in the parking garage and the key was taped to the back bumper. It didn’t take us long to find the truck or the key, but the key had been wrapped in 32,000 layers of duct tape (only a very slight exaggeration). It took longer to unwrap the thing than it took to find it. Then, the remote wouldn’t unlock the door. Dave had to open the door with the key, which set off the alarm, until he turned on the ignition. That seems weird to me. If you have the key, why would the alarm go off? Anyway, we were finally in Portland and looking for lobster. I found a restaurant that had great reviews in downtown Portland that was still open, (it was about 9:30 by now) so we headed there. The area was super cute and looked like it would be fun to browse in the daytime.

After wrestling the truck into a parking spot, calling our boss to ask about the key fob (turn the ignition on within 10 seconds of unlocking the door and the alarm won’t go off)  and we were finally ready for our lobster dinner.

IMG_8420Only to find that they sold lobster rolls. Not lobster dinners or lobster tails. Well, beggars and choosiness, yada yada. We had lobster rolls and they were great! The lobster was sweet and tender and delicious. Our personal goal accomplished, we headed to our hotel.

The next morning we drove the twenty minutes to where the trailer had been parked, hooked it up and pulled out. We planned to make it to Buffalo that night, about 8 1/2 hours of driving. We debated trying to fit in a stop at Niagara Falls, but we just had too many miles and not enough hours to get to Chicago. Until Friday afternoon, when we got news that the event in Chicago Sunday had fallen through! All of a sudden, we had an extra day to get to Chicago. Which meant we were going to Niagara Falls! Of course, it’s our nature to never be satisfied, because now we were trying to figure out a way to fit in a visit to Hamilton, NY where Dave’s father was from and where Dave’s cousin lives. But that was too far off our route, by the time we got the news.

Saturday morning, we left the trailer at our hotel and drove to the US side of Niagara Falls, a NY state park. We spent a couple of hours walking through the park, along the river and to the tops of the three main falls, Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridalveil Falls.

It was fabulous, and I’m so glad and grateful we got to do that. I’m just sorry we didn’t have our passports to see the falls from the Canada side. But that seems greedy, since we had no idea we’d even be able to stop.

It was after 1:00 by the time we made it back to Buffalo, hooked up the trailer and hit the road again. We made a quick stop at New Era Field to take a picture in front of the Buffalo Bills field.

Now we were headed to Toledo, Ohio, about four hours away. After the eight hours yesterday, that was pretty easy, and left us with only about four more hours for Sunday to get to Chicago. We don’t get a lot of notice about locations and times for our events, but Friday I’d gotten a loose schedule and was able to find a suburban hotel about half an hour from most of the events. And it had a huge parking lot, which is a plus with the trailer. It worked out great. We stayed there a week and a half total.

Starting tomorrow, our Chicago events! As always, thanks for reading!

 

Homeward Bound

Thursday September 19 – Saturday 21, 2019

Thursday – We had to get from Canada to the US so we could rent a car to drive one-way to California. I found a bus called Bolt that offered service to Bellingham, the first stop inside Washington. It was about a two-hour trip from Vancouver. I booked four tickets for 11:30 Thursday morning. We had breakfast at the hotel, checked out, called a taxi to take us to the terminal.

When I booked the tickets, I requested “Special assistance,” for Mom and Dad, since there was no option for wheelchairs. We got to the terminal in plenty of time. It also serves trains and Greyhound. We found some seats, bought water, waited. Dave found where our bus was going to load, and saw the driver. The driver … hmmm … how to describe the driver?? Driver/standup-comedian? Driver/self-appointed tour guide? Driver/Immigration consultant? Driver/snack taster?

First Dave was watched as the driver wandered through the lineup area and said he’d soon be there to board the passengers, so he and I got in line. Our tickets said we were in Boarding Group “S.” We were scheduled to leave at 11:30, boarding at 11:15. Unlike an airline, although we had a “boarding group,” we didn’t have assigned seats. So we did want to be in line so we could sit together. Mom and Dad came and joined us in line about 11:20. At 11:35, the driver still hadn’t returned and the passengers were looking all around, exchanging glances. Were we in the right area? There were Greyhound buses around, but only one Bolt bus and we were by it. So we had to be in the right place. But where was our driver? Finally, I saw him coming into the terminal from across the street. He’d been buying his lunch.

He came and opened the luggage bays, instructed everyone how he wanted us to stow our luggage, and put his lunch into the bus. We loaded our bags and got back into line. Then the driver announced how we’d be boarding: “In alphabetical order! Beginning with …??” He waited for us to answer. Finally someone said, “Ummm … A?” “Yes! Everyone in Boarding Group A, come on down!”

Dave and I looked at each other. What the heck? We were Group S! And I’d asked for special assistance!! Mom and Dad had been standing for fifteen minutes, at least, by that time. Then he called for … “Group B! Come on down!”

After a few more minutes, he motioned to the rest of us to go ahead, like we were waiting for an invitation. We said, “We’re Group S.” He said, “Oh. Then you were first. S is for Special Assistance. Why didn’t you say something?”

AAARRGH. We smiled. Through bared teeth. “Because you said it was alphabetical order. And S is after A, B, C.”

Mom and Dad were able to sit in the “Special” reserved seats right behind the driver. Dave and I were able to sit together, but in the back of the bus. It was a fairly peaceful drive for the first hour or so. We filled out a US Customs form. I was being super conscientious, listing everything we bought on the cruise, which was mostly shirts and various souvenirs. As we stood in line, it occurred to me: technically we bought those in Alaska, in the US. Not in Canada, so they weren’t foreign purchases after all. Duh. But I’d already filled out the forms. Oh well. And it really was a non-issue. They’re not worried about a couple hundred dollars worth of T-shirts, ball caps, salmon jerky, and a Christmas ornament.

We arrived at the border. The driver pulled into the bus lanes. Because we were in the back, we didn’t hear his instructions clearly, but gathered that we had to all get off, take all our belongings and luggage into the building, go through Customs, then we’d reboard, and continue on into Washington.

As we got off, Mom and Dad were still on the bus, in their seat behind the driver. We told them they had to get off, but they said the driver told them they didn’t have to get off unless they wanted to stretch their legs. We shrugged and said, “Okay.” We went ahead and disembarked, pulled all our bags from the luggage bays, and stood and waited. Apparently the driver did tell the people up front that there was no rush to go inside the Border Protection Building. That they could walk around, stretch their legs, then come and get in line when the line wasn’t so long. Wrong. Because when people disappeared around the corner, agents came out of the building to round them up and get us all in line. The rule is On the Bus or In the Building. There is no Stretch Your Legs. Or Take Your Time.

So we ended up being the very last people in the line. Because of this doofus driver. Obviously it was his first trip across the border. If he’d known what he was doing, because we were Group S with “Special Assistance,” we should have been first in line, instead of last. My folks had to stand in line for an hour. It was so frustrating.

We finally got to Bellingham at about 2:15, only 45 minutes late. We got an Uber to the Bellingham airport, where I’d reserved a car. It didn’t take too long and we were on our way in a Dodge Journey. Except we hadn’t had any lunch. So we found a Subway, grabbed a bite, and headed south.

We had reservations for the night in Tacoma. Which put us in Seattle commute traffic. It took us probably an extra forty-five minutes to an hour to get to Tacoma. But we finally made it. We normally stay in IHG properties. Holiday Inns. Holiday Inn Expresses. Staybridge Suites, etc. In Tacoma, it was a Holiday Inn, with a restaurant so we had a quick dinner and went to our rooms.

Friday – We had breakfast and hit the road. Since we’d be in Oregon at lunchtime, I looked for a McMenamins that wouldn’t be too far off the road at the appropriate time and found one in Eugene. It was ten minutes off I-5, near the University of Oregon. You would have thought it was in China, from all the griping from the driver’s seat. But once we got there, ordered, and ate, everyone was happy. And we got to see the Duck’s stadium being refurbished.

Dave and I had driven to Portland in 2013 and stopped at an amazing rest stop on the Klamath River, just inside the northern border of California, so we wanted to stop there again. Except we weren’t sure if it was in California or Oregon. Okay. I thought it was in Oregon, he was sure it was in California, and he was right. We found it and it was as beautiful as we remembered. We had a nice break, then continued to Yreka, our next stop.

After checking into our Holiday Inn Express, we asked for restaurant recommendations. The clerk gave us a couple of choices. We had seen one of them as we got off the freeway, a Mexican place, so we headed there. It was great! We could see stadium lights across the freeway, so after dinner, Dave decided to go watch the local high school football team play. He enjoyed watching the Yreka High Miners lose to Klamath Falls High.

Saturday – Breakfast in the hotel and we were back on the road. We had a fairly uneventful drive south. We stopped for lunch in Stockton at a Denny’s that must have been uncharacteristically busy, because after we were seated we were ignored, so after ten minutes we left and went to the Jack-in-the-Box next door.

We got to our house in Madera at about 3:00-ish. Moved Mom and Dad’s luggage to my car, and I drove them home. Dave drove the rental car to the Fresno airport and I picked him up there.

Lee and Karie had been able to keep our original reservations so they’d been home since Sunday, almost a week. They’d been busy helping friends with a move, painting, scrapping popcorn ceilings, preparing to host a birthday party, but they’d dropped off some welcome home snacks for us.

So once we were back from returning the rental car, we started a load of laundry, I did a quick shuffle through the mail, and we pretty much collapsed. Which means, we took the Harjo snacks to the back patio along with the cribbage board and a deck of cards. And life was good.

 

Canada, O Canada!

Saturday, September 14–Wednesday, September 18, 2019,

SPOILER ALERT: EVERYONE IS FINE!

Our last morning on the ship. We woke early and had a quick breakfast at the buffet. We had requested the latest disembarkation time possible and had also requested wheelchair assistance for our folks. The wait for available wheelchairs was only slightly shorter than when we boarded, but we did eventually disembark, get our luggage, and find our way to the taxi line. This time we did have curb service, unlike when Sayeed dropped us off.

We had a flight out of Vancouver for the next afternoon, so we checked into our hotel near the airport. We had another “learning” experience courtesy of our taxi driver. The fare from the port to the hotel was $37 and change, Canadian dollars. I handed the driver my credit card. He asked for cash. Dad pulled out his wallet and offered a large US bill. The driver said he only had Canadian bills for change. I gave him $45 US for the fare, which included a (I thought a nice) tip, since he’d been helpful with our luggage and had asked questions about the cruise and seemed interested. It only occurred to me later … the fare in US dollars was less than $28. So I gave him a $17 USD tip, equal to $22 in Canadian dollars. Lesson learned.

The Pittmans and Padgetts walked to the nearby McDonalds for lunch while the Harjos went a bit farther away and also did some shopping. After lunch, we relaxed for a while, then walked the opposite direction to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. The hotel was in a very Chinese neighborhood and we passed at least four other restaurants, but hotel staff had suggested this one. It was quite authentic and very good. Dad asked for coffee. The waitress asked if he wanted, “Hot or cold?” He said, “Hot.” She then asked, “Hong Kong or American?” He responded, “Never mind, I’ll have a beer.” We didn’t know coffee could be so fraught with choices outside of Starbucks.

The food was very good. We ordered an assortment of dishes to share. A chow mein, a fried rice, some shrimp and vegetables. We started with three dishes and the waitress said we needed a fourth. So we added something else and, of course (because we didn’t learn our lesson from the taxi driver) we ended up leaving the equivalent of one full order of food as leftovers behind.

Back at the hotel, we turned on the television and some of us watched, some of us read, some of us dozed. Dad still hadn’t been feeling well, but hadn’t said much.

At about 4:20 Sunday morning, he woke us up and said he wanted to go the hospital. David and I jumped out of bed. David got dressed while I (tried) to call the front desk to ask for an ambulance. The phone in our room wouldn’t work. I finally just went downstairs and asked the desk clerk to call an ambulance. He did. He asked what room number. I told him, “823.” He looked at me a moment then said, “We don’t have 8 floors.” Duh. I don’t know where that came from. “Right. 423.”

I hurried back upstairs and got dressed. I could hear the phone in the room ringing, and Mom trying to answer it, but not connecting because the ringing didn’t stop. We decided that I would go to the hospital with Mom and Dad while David would stay at the hotel to tell the Harjos what was going on, contact the airline if we needed to cancel/change flights. Again: Duh.

The fire truck EMTs were first to arrive, but the ambulance/paramedics were right behind them. They took Dad’s vitals and info, loaded him on a gurney and out of the room. Downstairs, I asked the front desk clerk to call a cab for me (knowing I would pay with a credit card, because … NO MORE CASH PAYMENTS FOR TAXIS!!) The fireman in the elevator told me Dad would probably be taken to Vancouver General because they had the cardiac unit and Dad was a cardiac patient.

Dad was loaded into the ambulance. Mom got into the front to ride with him. David and I conferred quickly. I forwarded him the info about our flights and our trip insurance information, so he could cancel our flights. My taxi arrived, and I asked him to wait because I needed to confirm we were going to Vancouver General. After about five to seven minutes, the ambulance pulled away, but I hadn’t been told where to go. The fire truck fired up their engine to pull out. I waved and hollered, “Vancouver General?” The same fireman from the elevator nodded and hollered back, “Yes, Vancouver General.”

I got in the cab, told the driver, “Vancouver General,” and we took off. As we left, I saw that the ambulance had not actually left after all. They were still in the parking lot. But … maybe it was a second ambulance? That I hadn’t seen? I decided to go ahead to Vancouver General. It was early enough that there was very little traffic. So little that at one intersection, the lights wouldn’t change for us to make a left turn. We had a red light. We waited. And waited. There was no traffic coming from either direction. The driver backed up and pulled forward again to try and trip any sensors. Then we waited some more. And waited. He reversed and drove forward. And we waited. He finally put the cab into Park, opened his door, and ran to the curb, pressed the button for the pedestrian crosswalk. The cross traffic green light immediately turned yellow. And also immediately, a car appeared coming from the opposite direction. So even though we finally had a green light for a left turn, we still had to wait. Sigh.

He eventually delivered me to Vancouver General and took my credit card without a murmur. I found my way to the ER, asked for Dad, but they had no record of him. Of course. So he hadn’t arrived yet. Which was odd. But that just meant he probably was in the ambulance I passed in the hotel parking lot. So I sat and waited.

Vancouver General is a typical urban hospital. I saw … patients from all walks of life there while I waited.

After about ten minutes, an officer asked for names, did some radio chatting and told me Dad had been taken to Richmond General. She directed me where to call for another taxi, which I did. The new cab arrived very quickly and took me to the new hospital and that driver also accepted my credit card without asking for cash. I guess it’s just drivers at the docks who use the cash scam. 

Dad had apparently “crashed,” in the ambulance and they spent some time in the hotel parking lot working on him before transporting him to the hospital. I don’t know if his crisis event made the paramedics decide to take him to the closer hospital (Richmond General) instead of Vancouver, or if the fireman gave me wrong info accidentally.

Mom and I spent Sunday at the hospital, most of it in the ER. We finally went to the cafeteria to get something to eat around 10 am. David was at the hotel dealing with the airline, telling the Harjos what was going on, helping them get off okay to the airport for their flight home, asking the hotel for another night or two for us, or at least getting a late check out while he found somewhere else. I called the travel insurance company and was reassured that everything would be taken care of. In the meantime, David texted to say our hotel was booked and couldn’t give us anymore nights. But–they found us a room at a hotel near the hospital! David transferred all our luggage by himself to the new hotel. 

The new place turned out to be perfect. It was expensive, but we shared a large double room with Mom. It was literally next door to the hospital. We could walk there in three minutes. And a huge, gorgeous park was nearby so we’d see rabbits as we walked.

                      

 

It was still near the airport, so there were lots of hotels around. Which helped with finding dinner places when we were dependent on our feet or taxis or DoorDash for meals.

After several hours in Richmond General ER, Dad was transferred to a room. He ended up spending several days there.

In the ER, a fireman sidled up to me. “Please tell me you have insurance,” he said. I nodded. “Yes, we do. They have excellent insurance.” “Good. You wouldn’t believe the number of Americans who say, ‘But it’s Canada, the health care is free.'” He shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way.” He went on to say Dad was really sick when they picked him up. The fireman also questioned me about the cruise, said they were essentially, “petri dishes,” of germs and gave me the impression that Dad’s issues weren’t related to his heart, that he’d picked up a flu bug or something else on the ship. He was wrong.

Dad had another crisis event Monday morning. He had an angiogram Monday, and an  echocardiogram Tuesday.  

Tuesday was our 42nd anniversary. We went to a nearby hotel for dinner. It was lovely, even though it was not how we’d planned to spend our anniversary. Wednesday was David’s birthday, another day spent not as we’d planned. Dad was released Wednesday, but without clearance to fly. 

Overall, Dad got excellent care. We had opportunities to chat with Canadians about their health care system and we got to observe it up close. It some ways it seemed 20 years behind the US. Supply carts were in the halls, unsecured. The rooms were wards, 4 beds to a room.Patients could watch television on a 1990s blocky computer monitor for $7 CAD 😉 a day. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. It’s just different. The people we talked to admitted they had to wait months for procedures, but you could buy additional insurance that would speed up the process.

Anyway, once Dad was well enough to be discharged, we discussed our options. Wait a week until he could fly. Take a train home. Rent a car and drive. But you can’t rent a car in Canada to drive one-way to the US. We ended up taking a bus to Bellingham, WA (hoo boy–this post is already too long but that bus trip deserves its own post. Customs … !!), then renting a car, and driving the 1000 miles home.

We left Vancouver around 11:30 AM Thursday morning, September 19, and arrived in Bellingham around 2:15 PM.

Next up: The journey home

Alaska, continued.

Thursday, Sept. 12 – Friday, Sept. 13, 2019

Thursday was our last port day, in Ketchikan. We had booked a crab feed and the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.

This time, Dave and I got off the ship a little early with Lee and Karie, to explore Ketchikan a little bit. It’s a fun and rustic town. We visited some souvenir shops and just wandered the downtown area. At the appointed time, we met up with our folks and got on the bus for the half hour ride to the George Inlet Lodge for our crab feast. I do like crab, but the last few years the crab we’ve gotten in California has not been great. Well. The Alaska crab was phenomenal. Sweet and tender and delicious. I ate most of it plain, with very little butter. It was perfect just like that. The crab feast included a salad and cheesecake.

After lunch, we got back on the bus and returned to Skagway where we had a short walk to the lumberjack show. It was a little corny, but very entertaining and those guys are definitely athletes as well as entertainers.

After the show, we wandered back to the ship. I detoured into a Christmas shop and bought an ornament, then it was time for dinner. It was also “Orange Night.” Passengers were encouraged to wear orange and come to a party in the BBKing Lounge. The orange was to celebrate the ship’s Norwegian “heritage,” and Norwegian treats would be served.

Karie and Lee were stunning. I had an orange top and Dave had an orange shirt, but he was tired and opted to go back to our cabin after dinner. Lee, Karie, and I went to the Orange party for a while and had a great time.

Friday

Our last day at sea we cruised the inland passage on our way back to Vancouver. Dad wasn’t feeling well and spent most of the day resting in their cabin. The seas were pretty rough all night. We had a time change, from Alaska time back to Pacific time. David and I slept in and skipped our regular breakfast in the dining room and went to the buffet.

We enjoyed the day, relaxing some more. I did some reading while David had a cigar and watched the scenery. Then we made plans to meet up again where he introduced me to a woman he’d met in one of the observation decks, Edith Wallace. She’s a musician and songwriter and we had a delightful conversation about life and goals and second chances and art and writing and spirituality and trusting.

Then we went to high tea. It’s served every day in the dining room, but this was the only day we made it there. It was very fun to enjoy the tradition. I don’t think I’ve taken tea since our trip to Ireland and the UK in 2017.

 

We had an appointment to look at some photos we’d had taken Wednesday evening. We only bought a couple because they were expensive, but they were also really, really good and we haven’t had pictures taken in a long time.

We ended the day with dinner and some time in the Billboard lounge and BBKing, then we had to pack since our luggage had to be out in the hallway by midnight.

Tomorrow, we disembark and say goodbye. It’s going to be a sad day …

More Alaska

Wednesday Sep. 11 – Thursday Sep. 12, 2019

Wednesday we had an excursion planned for our day in Skagway. We got up, had breakfast, and prepared to disembark around noon, or just after. We were supposed to meet the tour at the dock and then either ride a bus or a train to the White Pass summit and then ride the opposite mode of transportation back.

Lee and Karie disembarked before us, to explore Skagway a bit. I got a text from Karie that they heard a rumor that a train had broken down and tours were canceled. So we zipped up to the excursions desk to get the scoop, but it was shut down so all the employees could be on the docks, helping passengers.

We went ahead and disembarked, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

Sure enough. A morning train had broken an axle and was blocking the tracks. Our tracks. We had the choice of skipping the excursion or taking the bus up and back and getting a partial refund. We decided to go ahead and take the bus.

It was a beautiful trip, full of amazing and rugged scenery. We saw more glaciers and glacial lakes and made plenty of stops for pictures. And, to top it off, we got word that the broken train had been moved and we’d be able to ride the train back to Skagway after all!

So it worked out perfectly. And we had a small refund on our cruise tab at the end, too.

Anyway, this trip does go into the Yukon territory (in other words–Canada) so we had to bring passports and Canada Immigration officers boarded our bus to check everyone’s passports and paperwork.

The train ride down was spectacular. There was a narrator/guide who told us over a sound system what to be looking for and historical facts about the railroad. It was built to carry Gold Rush miners into the Yukon. It was built very rapidly, for the time, but even so, the Gold Rush was over by the time it was completed. The engineer behind it had a high regard for the safety of the employees and they had a much smaller loss of life than other railroads constructed during the same time period.

At one point, the guide announced we were coming up on a bear on the right side of the train. Everyone leaned over to look out and I saw it! It was small and standing right next to the tracks. I think I was the only one in our party to see it.

By the time we pulled into the Skagway station, it was nearly dinnertime. Our excursion included a stop at the Liarsville Gold Mine camp, but because of our delays, we decided to skip that portion and head back to the ship for dinner. After dinner, we visited the BBKing Lounge again, then off to bed.

Thursday was cruising Glacier Bay. Talk about amazing views! We spent time in front of Margerie Glacier and saw a couple of calvings. That when chunks of ice break off. We could hear the cracks and pops before the ice fell, as well as the splash when it hit the water.

We spent the day relaxing, watching the scenery, and enjoying the peace.

Glacier Bay is a National Park, and several Park Rangers came aboard to give talks and information to passengers. I happened to be reading in one of the empty bars (empty because it wasn’t open yet) and had a great view of when their boat came to pick them up and return them to shore.

That evening was the second gala evening. We enjoyed lobster for dinner, though I neglected to take a picture.

It was a great day, and one I thoroughly enjoyed!