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Alaska’s Travel Diary

Friday, 17 Jul 2009

Location: USA

MapJoe’s Remembrance Written July 6, 2009 (transcribed by Gwynne trying to read Joe’s print only access off and on…sorry about the lateness of the posting.) Today is July 17th. This was written aboard the Columbia Ferry from Bellingham to Skagway.

First you notice the clothes. “Outside” Magazine Chic. Well –manicured Hair. Designer eye wear. European? Maybe….You hear Spanish, German, English…..Children new and improved versions of their beautiful parents. These are the Neiman Marcus version of the maritime travelers. These are the cruise people off of their sleek ships looking for some bargains in Ketchikan.
The cruise people lie in sharp contrast to the ferry people. The ferry people didn’t just stroll off of the ship into ‘downtown Ketchikan’. They walked ---over 2 and ½ miles to get there. The ferry people are the Walmart versions of maritime travelers. You’ve got your working class folks, your practical folks, your bargain hunters, your locals, your bikers, your teachers, your teachers, your outdoorsmen, your military families, your retired veterans, your lonely hearts, your hopefuls, your pleasers, your rastas, your natives, your slackers, your seekers, your everyman. The ferry people are AMERICA.
We’ve got lots of characters on the Columbia:
The biker lady ---The Biker lady rolled into the Bellingham station wearing black leather chaps, a leather jacket, black biker boots, a red face and red hair. She looks like she’s about 5’7’ with boots and just south of 200 lbs. Somewhere between Bellingham and Ketchikan, she changes into civilian clothes, jeans and a sleeveless shirt. The large patch on her shoulder hints at a recent biopsy or melanoma. At Wrangell she approaches a 50 something traveler near the stairs at the back. “Hey, I thought I lost you!” She tells him. “I came by room #____ like you told me but you weren’t there!” His lack of eye contact indicates he didn’t want Biker Lady to find him. He makes some lame excuse. No telling if she buys this. At Juneau Biker Lady roars towards downtown. She rides alone! Did she make a connection? Does she want one? Does she have much time?

The Know-It-All: She knows this stuff. She’s probably a retired, probably a professor/teacher. She leans forward as a Tongass Ranger and Interpreter, Constancio (He doesn’t look Hispanic) lectures the audience. She exchanges information and laughs at herself. She looks expectantly and large-eyed at the other participants. Alright!! She exchanges information and laughs at herself. She looks expectantly and large-eyed at the other participants. Alright! We got it that you know the differences between various dolphins and porpoises. We hear that you know the origins of ‘the folks who named them’. Your esoteric questions that stump Constancio don’t endear us to you. Enjoy your marine-trivia superiority quietly. I didn’t take this trip to feel stupid.

The Scouts --- The scouts are the work-horses of the vessel. If this were a war ship, they’d spot enemy threats. On the Columbia, they spot wildlife, lighthouses and other points of interest. You can spot a scout easily: posture-alert. Tools-binoculars and cameras with telephoto lenses. They lean forward in their front row seats and along the ship’s rails looking, waiting. Then they see something! They stand, point and casually give the location: Humpack-10’oclock. Scouts don’t rest. The entire front row during our new guide, Amy’s lectures never stop loking, watching, waiting, hoping to be the ones! They one who spots the next whale or porpoise. They they can wake the other sleepy travelers and roust the others from their books! Reminding the rest of the sailors about all that lurks just outside our windows.

Here comes a scout now. She’s got her hat turned backwards. She has the requisite camera. She has a level of energy mandatory for the line of work. She spotted the first whale on the voyage. She is the lead Scout ---TRACY!

Home school: They stand apart from the others. Two parents around 50 years old. They have this look tht says Northwestern: Seattle or Portland. They’re three children, blonde-haired, blue-eyed. Right out of the Von Trapp family! These kids with the clear complexion and confident demeanor (girl around 10, boys between 14-17) could be the kind of Aryan perfection that Hitler would’ve paraded during the ’38 olympics. The kids seemed to get along with each other too well. The parents seemed 100 percent in control. The mom’s youth orchestra t-shirt serves as a reminder of the children’s superior genes. Those interlopers in the Columbia---these castaways from the cruise ship---these highly evolved humans can only belong to the home-school crowd.
Old Lovers--- They sit in the front row. They’re both around 80. They talk quietly to each other. A sporadic comment…a soft chuckle. They lean against each other in the warm evening sunlight. No need for many words. They feel each other’s presence. They appreciate their time together. They know!

The professor : This one will fool you. He’s got the eyes, facial expression and shuffle of someone who’s had a stroke. His shirt rises halfway up his back, absent-mindedly under his fanny pack strap. His gray-hairs poke out in several places, the top of his head as if he just awoke. His eye brows have a top layer that falls over the other eyebrows like grey waves. His leather comfort shoes, his camera, his diving watch, his archaeology t-shirt hint at more. I think this adventurer has done some things….has seen some things….I think this is a professor in decline, stumbling along the decks of the Columbia, looking like a vagrant!

Some lessons from Ketchikan: Don’t wear flip flops on a five mile hike. Don’t eat at McDonalds ever. Don’t eat at McDonald’s 20 minutes before your ferry leaves.!!

SAMMY”S Tongass Patch: Sammy competed his Tongass Junior Ranger badge last night. Contstancio presented the badge patch and pencil as Aunt Jennifer proudly stood by. Jennifer prodded, cajoled, found cheat sheets and iron-willed her nephew into completing the required 15 tasks. Sammy worked for this. Jennifer really worked for this! If she were his Boy Scout Parent, He’d make Eagle Scout for sure!

Security –The security at the airport in Portland Maine on 9/10/01 must’ve been like this. Barely a glance at your picture as you show identification at each stop. The guard minding the store as we returned to the boat in Juneau only looked at our ticket! Now that Sarah Palin has resigned her Alaskan governership, who cares?

Bear siting --- In Juneau, 1.5 miles translates to 15 miles in the lower 48. Tracy and I passed on the taxi and chose to hike the 1.5 miles to a grocery store. This march took us along the shoulder of a two-laned highway. Trucks raced passed us threatening to kick up a rock and strike us dead. Trees rose 8 stories on both sides. Tracy noticed an entrance to a park. Both of us saw the hulking black animal at the same time. Both of us chuckled nervously as our black bear turned into a large black dog. No need for groceries after all. Back to the Columbia for safety.

Open Waters. Don gives the required safety orientation at the outset of our Voyage. Proper use of safety vests (Sammy and I demonstrated). Hypothermia suit (Don wears four) Don’s omt vest versus our life vests (ours has a head rest in case we pass out…won’t flip) At some point Don calls our attention to an air/sea-sick bag. We’re travelling in lake-like conditions. The sheer mention of sea sickness smacks of gross overkill and melodrama. I won’t need one of them!
Don advises that we’re going to travel in open waters for two hours. We won’t be traveling in the protected calm waters of the inner passage. Don suggests that if we’re prone to motion sickness to take some meds now. Once again his power of suggestion has no impact on me. Tracy dispenses Dramamine anyway. I reluctantly take my dosage to appease her.

I can feel the open waters immediately. Soft rolls up and down. The mild headache I carried onto the ferry weighs more now. I start feeling that cold sweat that arises each time, watch home videos. ….get to the room in time to get to the bathroom…sit to collect my thoughts…then on cue…Damn you, Don!

Dog- Lovers--- As I write this entry, our dog Willie, languishes in solitary confinement at the Alamo Heights Kennel. There’s no telling what indignities he might suffer during his 8 day sentence. Why does he have to suffer so? We expose him to potential danger because we don’t want to impose our choices on others.

So----as I lay each night: in my ferry bunk, I wonder why some of my fellow travelers have imposed their decisions on me! Each night, all night dogs bark incessantly. They wonder why they’re stuck in their car. They wonder why they’re stuck in their car. They wonder why every three hours they have to crap and pee on the cold steel dock. They wonder why their masters don’t have the decency to board them at a kennel like their brothers and sisters whose masters actually have consideration for others.

Noises in the night-----Sammy wakes up in the middle of the night. “Mom. What is that bangy noise?” Tracy responds sleepily, “It’s probably a thing that’s banging.” Sammy says ‘Oh.” Both fall asleep. Why didn’t Sammy ask his Dad what the Bangy thing is?