Thursday, July 26, 2018

On Track to Denali

I was concerned that visiting a major tourist destination mid-summer the place would be packed with people. Alaska included. It seems everyone has been, is going, or wants to visit the 49th state. 

As it turns out the vastness of the land spreads crowds. Restaurants may be crowded, but that is expected in any resort area. And we plan accordingly. Eat dinner early, find places off the beaten path, try odd hours.

Our Holland America tour, eight days on land followed by a 4-day cruise, counts 28 folks. We do not feel pushed around or on a too-tight schedule. 

Hub and I usually plan our own trips. But I admit it is nice to have someone else do all the planning, hand us a sheet of paper everyday with what's happening, where to be when, meal suggestions, room keys…we are definitely getting spoiled.

The train to Denali is outfitted for tourists - comfortable plush seats, plenty of leg room, domed car with second-level seating, slow speed. The lower level dining car is outfitted with tablecloths, cloth napkins, silverware, table service, an interesting menu and good food.

We pass through few towns. Spruce trees, wide flowing streams and rivers, blue lakes, and an occasional home dominate the landscape. 

North of Anchorage the train rumbled through Wasilla, known as the home (past tense) of Vice-Presidential candidate, ex-governor of Alaska, Tina Fey-look alike - Sarah Palin. No Sarah sightings in Wasilla. Rumor places her nowadays somewhere in the Arizona desert.


We did not see Russia. Trees, mountains, and curvature of the earth prevented clear viewing. Sarah must have climbed a high tower to see Siberia.

We were informed there was a 30% chance we would see Denali, previously Mt. McKinley, the highest point in North America. Clouds usually hamper clear sightings. We were lucky. Via the train the snow-capped mountains appeared clear and spectacular, and the following day the view from Denali park was also picture perfect. The weather was warm and sunny, few clouds blocking views of surrounding mountains.

We packed for cool weather, the 50s usual this time of year for Denali, and our weather-appropriate clothes remain stuffed in the bottom of suitcases taking up space. The temperature hit the high 70s and low 80s. 

We went rafting one evening (it is light past midnight) and although the air was warm the water was cold - very cold - 17 hours earlier river waters were glaciers - packed ice - on nearby mountains. We donned dry suits over our clothes, necessary as we got drenched.  The rapids were rated one and two, but we hit three’s (according to our 20-year-old guide and paddler). There was not a calm portion of river the entire ride.

We saw a moose and her two calves walking along the river. In Denali we viewed caribou, bear, eagles, ravens, moose, and humans of all sizes, shapes and ages, most with cellphones and real cameras angling for pictures of the spectacle surrounding them.

Food is always an important part of our trips, and Alaska does not disappoint. We sampled local cuisine - various renditions of reindeer, caribou, halibut, salmon, cod.

Our tour bus, train, plane rolls on. On to the Yukon, Canada.    

No pictures because wifi connection poor. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Hurry Up and Wait…Air Travel Summarized

Why is air travel exhausting, time-consuming, tiring, unfun, bone-wearying?

Or is it just me?

The Philadelphia Airport terminal traversed this afternoon is brightly lit, spacious, not teeming with crowds, yet still the experience can be summed up in a word, OK two words: a hassle.

Enter the terminal and signs direct travelers to a kiosk to check in and print boarding passes and luggage tags. If traveling with no luggage, check in can be done easily at home on the comfort of your couch. With luggage or facing other obstacles - overseas travel, for instance - airport check-in is a must.

Kiosk check-in proceeds smoothly. A customer service agent (big, strong with huge arm muscles) wanders over to assist with our bags. He must have noted our senior citizenship and, although we could wheel our bags to the drop off zone, took pity on our slightly bent bodies. 

Onward to security.

Hurry up and wait…We qualify for TSA pre-check allowing us to get on a special - short - security line, but sometimes we don’t. Like today. For some unknown reason our status never made it onto our boarding passes, so the TSA pre-check armed guard rejected us. We could have returned to the Alaska Air counter and corrected the oversight, but it was a long walk. The security line for others - non-TSA pre-check folks - did not look bad, so we got on the back of the line. And it did move along.

Until it didn’t.

My grandson joins hub and I on this latest adventure. His backpack went through the security machine twice before being pulled aside. He and I watched as an agent rooted around inside and took out a couple of items including a water bottle. With water in it.

A really, really major no-no.

So the two of us were escorted out of the security area into the great abyss of the not-yet-secured. We emptied the bottle in a potted plant. The TSA agent was nice enough to let us back into the security area without waiting on line - which had grown substantially since our initial wait.

Once again we took off shoes and walked through the people-monitor. And I was patted down a second time. No belts, no metal, but my body sparks something in the machine that says - hey, pat down the old lady! This is going to be good

Retrieving our bags we follow signs to our gate. Now hungry and past lunchtime, there is still time for a meal before boarding. 

Walking at a rapid pace to get somewhere - the security line, the gate, the restroom, waiting in all these places, standing in lines, walking again, a bit slower each time, waiting on lines that never recede, our Alaska adventure begins.


We board the plane and settle into seats more comfortable than our usual Spirit Air accommodations. The plane backs out of the gate and begins taxiing.

And stops.

The captain announces there are a lot of planes ahead of us. Get comfortable, relax, we will be leaving soon he says. 

The plane finally takes off. 

We sat on the plane about an hour as it loaded passengers, taxied, then waited for take-off.

Our Alaska adventure begins. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

69,000 and Counting

Computers are awesome. Not so much to younger generations; kids nowadays use devices almost from infancy, and as part of their environment do not consider electronic gadgets extraordinary. Older folks were introduced to computers when returning to school as adults, or at work, or eventually at home.

And so it is with Mom, 93-years-young and a laptop user. When troubled by a computer issue she calls my sister the computer geek, or hub, almost a computer geek, or when desperate me. Or more wisely her go-to computer nerd who makes house calls. He, however, charges $.
Mom’s latest computer issue involves emails.

Hub and I visited Mom a couple of weeks ago. Mom mentioned emails were slow to load on her computer. A quick review of her AOL account discovered the problem.

Mom rarely deletes emails. She assumes that someday she will have the time to carefully review messages she does not have time to read when initially viewed. Mom receives lots of emails. Over the years she got on multitudes of lists, and as a result receives all sorts of solicitations and ads daily. And there are ‘real’ emails from friends and family, volunteer organizations, temple...

Mom had over SIXTY NINE THOUSAND - 69,000 - emails in her inbox.  

That must be some kind of record.

I had no idea how far back the emails dated because all of them would not download at once. Emails needed to be deleted before older ones appeared onscreen.

So we started deleting. However Mom wanted to review almost every email before removing. No mass deletions allowed. One by one we deleted...After working for hours exhaustion forced a halt to the process. The project was going to take days. Maybe weeks. At what point would Mom allow anyone to delete all old emails? Perhaps never. I surrendered and went to bed, bleary-eyed from staring at the screen. 

The following week my sister continued the ordeal and began making progress. Emails surfaced from April 2017. How far back would emails go?

Checking and then deleting emails in a separate saved folder (Mom had no idea how they landed in a different folder) the answer emerged: 2009. Store ads and coupons dating back years would no longer be useable. Stores went out of business. Coupons long past expiration dates would not be accepted. But I am sure political organizations would appreciate her donation. Retrieving messages from now-departed individuals was unexpected and sad. 

The task continues. I doubt Mom’s inbox will ever read less than 1,000. Maybe she can slash the quantity to under 10,000. But I don’t believe she is spending much time on the project.

Meanwhile her computer nerd stopped by – on a Sunday! – and improved the efficiency of her machine. 

I have a feeling her inbox is once again growing exponentially. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Celebrating Our Diversity

The Fourth of July is a uniquely American holiday, a celebration of the bravery, the boldness, the vision of our country’s founding leaders. Most were affluent yet dissatisfied with conditions defined by the King. Many did not realize their defiance would lead to a permanent shift from colony to independent country.

We celebrate the occasion with a day at favorite summer haunts – parks, beaches, campgrounds, our own back yards.

Hub and I attended a concert of patriotic songs and old favorites performed by the local symphony orchestra. Scanning the program I wondered about the origins of the songs’ writers and composers; at least one was an immigrant. Currently the Administration works hard to bestow negative traits on folks seeking to enter the country. My foreparents came ashore penniless yet succeeded in providing a life for themselves and their families that did not incorporate crime, drugs, or any of the litany of evils the President showers upon immigrants and people hoping to come here. 

What wonderful music would we have missed if the following individuals – or their parents’ - were banned from the country?

The orchestra performed a medley from Aaron Copland’s 1942 ballet Rodeo. Copland’s parents emigrated from the Polish/Lithuanian regions of Russia. A bit of worthless trivia: the music was used as background in the 1990s Beef, It’s What for Dinner advertising campaign.

Rousing renditions of John Philip Sousa’s Liberty Bell March and Stars and Stripes Forever followed. Sousa’s father was born in Spain of Portuguese parents. His mother was born in Bavaria (Germany).

The musicians played a medley of official Armed Forces songs - the Army’s The Caissons Go Rolling Along, Navy’s Anchors Aweigh, the Coast Guard’s Semper ParatusThe U.S. Air Force, also known as Wild Blue Yonder

The U.S. Army Air Corps (now the Air Force) needed an official song but could not pay the commission for an original song. Budgets were tight in the Depression year 1938. Liberty Magazine stepped in and sponsored a contest for an official song. Composer Robert MacArthur Crawford – born in the Yukon, Canada – won. 

Francesco Maria Scala, born in Naples, Italy around 1819, embarked on a naval career as a musician. However, prone to seasickness, he resigned. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps Band and eventually became the band’s director. Under his direction the band played what became the official marine song, commonly known as From the Halls of Montezuma

The program ended with an audience sing-along of God Bless America, by Irving Berlin. Born in Russia in 1888, Berlin arrived in the U.S. at the age of five.

My folks came to the U.S. as immigrants, aliens, and became citizens.
I was born in Boston, a citizen, went to Hollywood and became an alien.
-      Leonard Nimoy
In America anyone can do or become anything!

There are today and always have been voices declaring the open door should be tightly shut. Sometimes the negative calls win. One example - the 1924 Immigration Act set quotas based on 1890s census data, effectively eliminating immigration from most areas of the world, except certain European countries.

Echoes of the past haunt us today, but we are a resilient nation. Calmer, more tolerant views will prevail. Eventually...

It is never too late to give up your prejudices.
-       Henry David Thoreau

I end with Neil Sedaka’s 1975 song The Immigrant, and a picture. 

An assortment of disorganized, vibrant flowers from my garden. 
A lot of different flowers make a bouquet.— Muslim Origin
The Immigrant
Neil Sedaka
Harbours open their arms to the young searching foreigner
Come to live in the light of the beacon of liberty
Plains and open skies billboards would advertise
Was it anything like that when you arrived
Dream boats carried the future to the heart of America
People were waiting in line for a place by the river

It was a time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room
That people could come from everywhere

Now he arrives with his hopes and his heart set on miracles
Come to marry his fortune with a hand full of promises
To find they've closed the door they don't want him anymore
There isn't any more to go around
Turning away he remembers he once heard a legend
That spoke of a mystical magical land called America

There was a time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room
That people could come from everywhere

There was a time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room
That people could come from everywhere