Canada, O Canada!

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


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

Vancouver Day 2

Thursday September 5

After breakfast at our hotel, we bought tickets for a hop on/hop off bus, and walked a short distance to their stop. We rode the bus to Granville Island, where we had another short walk to Bridges restaurant for lunch. Dad was intent on having all the seafood he could get, so he often had either salmon or fish and chips.

After lunch, the Pittmans hung out at the restaurant, while the other four of us wandered around Granville Island. We found shops, farmers market stalls, a distillery, postcards, a glassblower, a paper shop, and lots of other fun places.

Back at the hotel, we enjoyed a dinner of antipasto and snacks. We had bought some cheeses and interesting salamis at a charcuterie shop on the island. I bought a gin- and green olive-infused salami. It was good, but I can’t say the olive flavor really came through. We added some other snacks and crackers, and I ordered a small pizza that David and Lee went and picked up. It was a good day, and a fun way to see a part of Vancouver.

Friday September 6

We returned to the hop on/hop off bus tour. The Pittmans decided to stay on the bus for the whole circuit, before returning to the hotel for lunch and to relax. The four of us got off in Stanley Park, where we walked around, saw the totem poles, and had a wonderful lunch at the Stanley Park Tea House. Then we had to head back to the hotel, because Lee’s parents were due into town that afternoon. They were joining us on the cruise, departing the next day. The first bus that came by was full, and we couldn’t get on. So we called a taxi to take us back to the hotel.

We learned a lot about Vancouver from the bus drivers. The movie industry is quite large there. Last year there were about 36,000 jobs available in the movie industry. And about 3500 of those jobs were not filled. (Sidenote: if you work in show business and can’t get a job in LA, consider Vancouver!)

There are some high-rises on the waterfront, with condos, very expensive, and the buildings only have a 10% occupancy rate. Many were bought as “safe houses or bolt holes,” by people from other countries, and are sitting vacant. Local people opened stores and businesses on the ground floors of these buildings, but due to the low occupancy rate, ended up going bankrupt and out of business.

Back at the hotel, Dave and Lee took the rental car to return to the airport, preparing to meet Lee’s parents. They had arranged for a shuttle to drive the four of them, plus the luggage, to the hotel. Meanwhile, the other Karie and I were on a mission of our own. We rode a couple of taxis and did some walking, in a quest for some supplies Karie needed. Unfortunately, Dave and Lee and Lee’s parents somehow missed each other at the airport, and his parents ended up taking a taxi to the hotel while David and Lee waited at the airport. By the time everyone figured out where everyone was, it was late enough that we decided to split up for dinner. Lee and Karie taxied to the Gastown area where they went to the Black Frog Pub, which looked fabulous. The Pittmans and we went to a local pub, which I won’t tag, because it was pretty lame. The food wasn’t great, the service was even less great, and it did not have Guinness.

Then we went back to the hotel and to bed, to prepare for embarking on our Alaska cruise tomorrow!

Thank you for reading!

Back to Work

It’s been over a month since I posted, but what a month it’s been! Pasadena, Vancouver BC, Alaska, Maine …

As I write, we’re in a suburb of Chicago. It will likely take me a few days to catch up to the present (and to get back in the habit of writing every day or every other day).

We got home from Colorado at the end of August and spent a few days catching up on things around the house as well as laundry. Then we drove south to Pasadena to visit our friends and to attend the Fresno State vs. USC football game. It was a long-planned weekend, combining several favorite pastimes.

We left Altadena first thing Sunday, and drove to Amber and Martin’s home in Visalia and visited with them for a couple of hours. Grampy got to wrestle and play with Zach and I think they were both worn out by the time we left.

One of the reasons we got an early start was that we wanted to stop by a memorial open house for a long-time friend that was happening that afternoon. Jerry and Roni were good friends of ours when we were young marrieds. They were a little bit older than us, they already had kids, and they were really great role models to us for marriage and parenting. After Dave started on the Highway Patrol and we moved to Southern California, we drifted apart except for occasional Christmas cards. When we moved back to the Valley, we had dinner a couple of times, then Jerry and I connected again on Facebook, which is how I learned he had passed away and about the memorial open house his family was hosting. Even though we hadn’t spent any significant time with Jerry and Roni in over thirty years, (except for the two dinners), it was such a pleasure to hear others talk about Jerry and to know he was still the man we had known and loved all those years ago: kind, generous, irascible, unable to hold a grudge. His son and daughter and grandkids and wife shared stories. Jerry and Roni have invested themselves into the lives of teens and at-risk kids. They’ve sent kids to camp, helped them get enrolled in college, find housing, buy books. Jerry and Roni are the real deal. They didn’t sit around talk about what programs should be funded or how to fix society. They just went about helping the people God put in their path. It was such a blessing to be there. Jerry will be missed and we promised to get together with Roni when we’re back in town.

Monday (Labor Day) and Tuesday were busy with work and errands and appointments. Monday afternoon I finished my monthly reports for the day job and my computer wanted to install updates so I told it to go ahead while David and I had dinner. I came back a few hours later and the computer was frozen. I could see the welcome screen, sort of. But I couldn’t sign in. It wouldn’t respond to anything. I did a couple of forced reboots. I unplugged the power, let it sit, plugged it back in. Same thing. Argh. Put the thing in the car to take to the Geek Squad Tuesday. Which I did, amongst the other 40 errands I had to do. Along with packing.

Because, dark and early (4:45 am early!) Wednesday morning, we were leaving for Vancouver BC, and our long-awaited Alaska cruise! My kind and gracious brother- and sister-in-law picked up Dave and our friends Lee and Karie, while I drove to pick up my folks and we rendezvoused with both cars at the airport. My sister-in-law took my car to work, then dropped it off at our house later. So we had six people and about 12 bags, totes and backpacks to get through the airport. Everything went fine except I had neglected to remind my folks about TSA’s rule about liquids having to be less than 3.4 ounces in your carryons. They had to throw out toothpaste, hairspray, and shaving cream. But at least it was all things easily replaceable in Vancouver. So we made our 6:40 flight from Fresno to Seattle just fine. We had a long layover in Sea/Tac, where we had requested wheelchairs for my folks, not knowing how far we’d have to walk to our gates.

We had a serendipity in Seattle when we ran into a friend and former co-worker of Dave and Lee’s who was waiting for his connecting flight home to Idaho. That was crazy! From Seattle, we flew into Vancouver. It’s a beautiful airport, and it was our first experience with the mythic super-polite Canadian. We’re a little bewildered about that.

Our wheelchair pushers delivered the folks and their bags to a couple of motorized carts then disappeared. I understood them to say they had to go get two more passengers, but they weren’t clear in their communication. And we waited a looooong time. Just as everyone was confused and irritated, they arrived back. By the time they loaded up the people who needed assistance and their bags, there wasn’t room for the daughter of the third passenger on Mom and Dad’s cart. She walked alongside the cart. As David and I did. Actually, we walked ahead of it and were waiting at Customs. When the cart arrived, the other passenger and her daughter were talking quite loudly, Mom was giving me a LOOK, and the young female driver looked like she wanted to disappear.

I went to help Mom off the back of the cart and to get everyone’s passports. The third passenger mumbled to me an apology for her behavior. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I just shrugged. Well … come to find out, she and her daughter had gotten into a shouting match and had been yelling at the poor driver on the trip from the gate to Customs. As we were gathering ourselves and our passports, the driver went to a supervisor nearby and said she would help our party, but someone else needed to help the other two ladies from her cart. As she was talking us through the Customs kiosk, David asked if she was okay, and she teared up and started to cry. We all apologized for the others’ behavior and tried to help. We tipped her generously. When we observed the daughter talking to a supervisor, we also told a supervisor that nothing was this young woman’s fault. Mom told the daughter that their behavior was inappropriate. The daughter nodded and didn’t disagree. I really don’t know what got into them, except the mother/wheelchair passenger wanted her daughter to ride on the cart too, and there wasn’t room. It was a 4-passenger cart. Two Pittmans, her, and the driver and there was no more room. So that put a dark cloud over our arrival in Vancouver.

The walk from our gate to Customs was beautiful. They have displays about nature and the environment of British Columbia. The rest of Customs was easy and uneventful. Because of the delay, Lee and Karie had collected all our bags, so they were waiting for us.

We then schlepped everything out of the airport and across to the parking garage to the car rentals where Lee had reserved an SUV. It held all six of us and all 28 of our bags (they multiplied on the journey–I shared the far rear seat with some of them). On the walk, there are some really cool sculptures of rocks with handles attached, so they look like luggage, backpacks, briefcases.

We got to our hotel in downtown Vancouver and checked in, and found an Irish pub for dinner, where we had good food, Guinness, and watched one young man wait on all the tables.

It was an early night for us. We were all tired, emotionally and physically.

Tomorrow: Our three days in Vancouver.

Thanks for reading!