Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Why Does The Democratic Party Deserve To Get Shit On After Losing America To Evil

This is from an exchange on Facebook this morning, after someone had earlier questioned my political awareness. And for the record, it isn't the person I wrote this post in response to: And the reason they do is because they deny the reality that is staring them in the face. Let me share my experience from the 2008 Presidential Caucus I mentioned previously.

My caucus consisted of two very distinct groups. There was the Obama group - who, while of various ages, were predominantly younger than myself (I'm 48), reasonably gender-balanced and of many different and/or mixed ethnic backgrounds. Meanwhile, the Clinton group was almost exclusively white, female, and beyond child-bearing age, save for one Southeast Asian couple that, judging by the look on the husband's face as his wife harangued him in their native tongue, was THIS close to either divorce or murder-suicide. Oh, and the Obama group dwarfed the Clinton group, and Obama won my precinct 31-7 on its way to winning the state via tie-breaking superdelegates.

In the wake of the caucus, the Nevada Democratic Party leadership whined to excess about how unfair the rules suddenly were - rules they'd created. The main whiners were Jill Derby and Dina Titus, Clinton dead-enders to the last. Despite gaming the system to benefit their preferred candidate, the system worked as it should and the correct candidate won.

Now repeat that on a national scale. Burned by the outsider campaign, the Clintonistas quietly set to work entrenching themselves even further into positions of power to further their goal of getting "their" candidate into office instead of the best candidate. Eight years later, Bernie Sanders is the outsider with a young, multicultural grassroots campaign that is energizing a nation like..... waitaminute - does this sound familiar to you? And we all know what happened. The DNC treated the Sanders campaign like trash and did everything they could to derail him, and in the end they only succeeded by the barest of margins.

Now I know what you're probably thinking - you're thinking "Oh, Joe's a Berniebro who's all butthurt that his guy didn't win the nomination and probably voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson". No, I'm not. I'm a Democrat. I voted for the Democratic candidate. He WAS the better candidate, but then again a dead jellyfish would've been a better candidate against a cocaine-fueled twitter-addict manbaby with a tiny flaccid orange penis. But Clinton won the nomination, and enough butthurt did exist out there, so all Putin had to do was just.... roil up the butthurt enough to get the Berniebros to either sit out the election or vote third-party in protest. And the cocaine-fueled twitter-addicted manbaby with the tiny flaccid orange penis won because there was just enough butthurt on the left to win otherwise traditionally liberal states by razor-thin margins - in total, about 70,000 votes over the handful of states that fell to the Murkan Xtian Republicanist scum.

Bernie Sanders would have beaten orange micropenis. How do I know this? When the Deseret News of Salt Lake City released polls that showed as such last summer. Think about it for a minute. Utah - DEAD RED UTAH supporting a Democratic candidate? That should've told the DNC everything they needed to know, but instead of doing the right thing, they doubled down on Clinton even though they knew all along that the Murkan Xtian Republicanist sheeple have been conditioned by decades of hate-talk to vote against anything with the name Clinton attached to it. And now we have a cocaine-fueled, twitter-addicted manbaby with a tiny flaccid orange penis running us into the ground on behalf of his master Putin.

For the record, I don't hate Mrs. Clinton. Not at all. I think she would have been a fine President, and in no way am I smearing her as either a candidate or as a person. Instead, I am criticizing the machine built in her name for failing to see that she wasn't the best candidate available. And on top of that, I am criticizing the people that were duped by Putin's false-news machine to either vote against her, or not vote at all. I know those people very well - conversations went like this:

THEM: We can't let (orange micropenis) win the election!
ME: So you'll vote for Clinton, then?
THEM: I'll never vote for her!
ME: Why not?
THEM: Because she's a dirty rotten cheater! And her emails! I wanna vote for Bernie Sanders!
ME: He didn't win the nomination. And didn't you hear her talk about her emails for eleven hours in front of a hostile Congressional panel?
THEM: That's not fair! I'll vote for him as a write-in candidate!
ME: Didn't you see him on TV yesterday saying "pretty-please vote for Clinton"?
THEM: They're paying him to say that! They're paying him to say that!
ME: So you're just gonna lay back and let (orange micropenis) fuck us all blind then, right?
THEM: No way! We can't let (orange micropenis) win the election!
ME: Didn't we just go over this, y'know, like thirty seconds ago?

Let's just say that I know from experience that you can give yourself a concussion from facepalming yourself.

That's why they get flack, Jesse. Because they killed the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg. Because they lacked the intestinal fortitude to make the right decision for America.
I should also point out that the Corporate (center-right) Democrats are continuing to shit on Progressives, and further alienate them from the party, which will only strengthen Putin's grip on America through his Murkan Xtian Republicanist proxies.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Vain Attempt At Maturity, Part Two

Who knew that you could fuck up apple cider?

I won't name the brand, but while I was at work the other night at the Safeway above downtown Port Angeles, my boss and I noticed a small floor display of "hard" ciders for sale. A four-pack of various flavors in little five-ounce cans for a buck. We figured that it was worth the try on a couple of fronts - not only could they be drunk, but I also figured that they'd be good for cooking bratwursts. Of course we only noticed this at about four in the morning - the sale of alcoholic beverages in Washington State is not allowed between two and six in the morning - so we figured that we'd have to come back the next night to buy some. But since Joy had a doctor appointment during the day, I tasked her with buying a few of these four-packs.

She wound up buying five of them, and we've chose to sacrifice one for taste testing. And to be quite honest, it tastes more like ass than cider. Honestly, I don't think that the taste of alcohol is something that I'll ever be able to stomach fully, and I'm totally okay with that. But there are ways to tone down that ass. Y'see, we have a Sodastream machine at home, and while it's primarily used to make soft drinks - Joy likes Cola and Root Beer while I like making my own version of Mountain Dew Livewire, spiking their "Fountain Mist" syrup with Orange Soda syrup - you can also just make plain soda water with it for other purposes. Like making vodka-and-cranberry with soda. She'd bought some Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Concentrate in twelve-ounce cans some time ago, and we just didn't have much use for it until now. I took advantage of that by adding a little of the concentrate and soda water to one of the little cans of hard cider, then poured that over ice into one of the Coca-Cola tumblers we got from our cruise last year. It took a bit more of that concentrate than I'd expected to make that ass taste go away for the most part. And Joy loved it when I let her have a sip. I think the recipe was like this:

- Five ounces hard cider

- Two tablespoons cranberry juice concentrate

- Eight to ten ounces of water.

Stir and pour over ice.

Not that bad, though it could use a tad more of the concentrate. And since it's about three-thirty in the morning as I type this, I can assure you that I'm not going anywhere or doing anything. The pajamas are on, I'm watching Queensland Reds playing Melbourne Rebels in some feisty Super Rugby action Down Under - the ESPN app on Xbox One is fucking awesome - and I think I'll go light that damned pilot light so I can have hot water for washing the dishes in about half an hour. Welcome to the weekend on the graveyard shift, my friends.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Coming To An Understanding Of Alcohol, or A Vain Attempt At Maturity

Sometimes I think that I was too good growing up. But then again, there really is no "good" or "bad" behavior growing up when you grow up largely outside of the social constructs of adolescence. I had few friends, fewer still that could actually trust with anything more than my name. By the time I reached high school there was simply no place within its hierarchical circles - I wasn't anywhere close to popular with any particular group, even the "outcast" groups, and while my years in marching band were certainly enjoyable, even there I stood outside the cliques within the band. I'd been marked as a "narc" by my classmates because my mother worked at the high school as the secretary to the guidance counselors, and because I hid from bullies at lunch in the guidance office every goddamn day. I only learned this several years after I'd graduated. Ironically enough, I've only become friends with many of those in my graduating class later on, at an arm's-length distance through Facebook.

Believe it or not, there actually were advantages to my plight. Because I was a complete outcast, I was never really subjected to the peer pressures associated with small-town adolescence. And because of that, I never acquired a taste for alcohol. I never got drunk, or buzzed. I was too scared to do so, even if I'd been given the opportunity to do so. It didn't help that my entire family either were drunks, or remain drunks to this day. And to be completely honest, I have no contact with those of my family that didn't go on the proverbial wagon. My sister maintains her sobriety well enough, though fears of relapse have meant that she'd never seen me play a gig in her life until just a few years ago, playing in my last cover band with Ron DeFrang and John Eddy in the old back room at Coog's Budget CD's downtown. My dad went with her to those meetings for several years, but eventually he developed a more mature relationship with the spirits than he had in his younger days. In other words, he knows his limits and has the discipline to not exceed them. Too bad that it took him this long to figure it out.

And me? I was straightedge without even really knowing it. I like to say "I invented straightedge - you're welcome". I was just an outcast beyond outcasts, listening to loud and obnoxious music while not indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, albeit more because I couldn't afford them than because I didn't want them. And then I met Joy - a fellow outcast beyond outcasts. She'd have a drink occasionally, but to this day I can still count on one hand every time in our quarter-century together that I've seen her that drunk, and I'll still have fingers left. As she's gotten sick, she's said to me that occasionally she kinda regrets not partying in her younger years - she never got the chance to really have fun because she became a wife and mother too soon. And I wonder to myself if I feel the same way. I remember a wine-tasting tour we took on a brief vacation to Sonoma County in California, and feeling utterly useless. Why? It's not like one sip would turn me into a wino, genetic predisposition to alcoholism be damned! But on my uneducated palate, white wine was acidic and red wine was overwhelming. It was a waste of my time. I cook with alcohol - red wine into burgundy beef or osso bucco, white into my alfredo sauce, a little mirin into my teriyaki or bulgogi. But I don't drink. Ever.

But I'm forty-eight years old. Fuck that. I do feel like Joy - I never got the chance to party, so why not at least take a step or two in that direction. I do know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but it's time to stop being such a goddamn stick in the mud. I've worked up the balls to actually try a drink every now and then. But the taste of alcohol is abhorrent to me, which reminds me of what several people have told me when I said as much to them. You don't drink for the taste, they said. You drink to get drunk. Well, I don't want to get drunk. I just want to achieve understanding. Something that I could actually enjoy imbibing once in a while, after a hard night's work, to help me unwind after slugging down a few quarts of Coke through the night just passed.

Fortunately, the adult-beverage industry has a niche for me. Lighter, more flavorful alcoholic beverages have been around for decades now, wine coolers and flavored malt beverages, but now things are getting gloriously weird. As in "hard soda" and "hard tea". We're not talking a bottled Cuba Libre here, we're talking alcoholic soda - in the words of one brand's advertising pitch, so you can live hard. Ish. I'm trying out things in that direction.

First up was Mike's Hard Orange Soda. It tasted good - for about a second. Then it tasted like ass. Eventually I figured out that the only way to drink it was to drink it fast. Then I tried one of Joy's Raspberry Smirnoff Ice drinks. I actually couldn't taste the alcohol in it, and found that I could actually enjoy the flavor of it and drink it at a relatively leisurely pace. I think I'll buy another pack of those this coming weekend. And for shits and grins, I tried making a mixed drink a little bit ago before I sat down to type this out - a kinda-sorta Bloody Mary, a tablespoon or two of vodka into a six-ounce can of Spicy Hot V8 over ice. Yech. Adding a second can of V8 didn't save that mess from tasting like paint thinner. What a waste of perfectly good V8 - my braising liquid of choice for pot roast. I think I'll stick with the raspberry stuff for now. Or maybe that's as far as I want to go. It's time for bed as it is.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Headed Down The Coast

Every once in a while you just have to go. Stop worrying about things for a moment and go have some fun. Live outside of your comfort zone – or get back in to it, if need be. So Joy and I decided to shake off the cobwebs of winter for a few days and head down to the Oregon Coast to celebrate our twenty-third wedding anniversary in and around Seaside, Manzanita and Tillamook. Between Seaside and Lincoln City, Tillamook County is really the only part of the Oregon Coast I've never been to, and Joy probably hasn't been down here either. I've gigged in, stayed in or at least driven through just about every part of the Oregon Coast, and this gives me an opportunity to revisit some good times and places, as well as recharge the old batteries while I just veg out with the woman I love.

Home for the next few days is a suite at the Sunset Surf Motel on Ocean Road in Manzanita, quite literally right across the street from the beach. Joy found the place on Hotels.com, and we simply couldn't pass up the relative bargain of a suite with a full kitchen being only ten buck more a night than a basic hotel room. And we're just a few blocks from some very nice shopping and dining options. But it did take a while to get here, though. All in all we spent almost nine hours on the road, from Port Angeles through Silverdale, Shelton, McCleary, Aberdeen, Raymond, South Bend and Naselle before crossing the Columbia River across from Astoria.

A few observations about the trip down:

Dear sweet baby jeebus we both love having a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Silverdale.

The Kurt Cobain Memorial Landing (along the muddy banks of the Wishkah, natch) is smaller than I thought it would be and somewhat less-than-advertised – which goes a long way toward describing the ambivalent and uncomfortable relationship the City of Aberdeen has with the legacy of its most famous son.

Highway 101 south of Aberdeen is utter garbage, and a wet winter has given it more slides than Wild Waves. WSDOT will have to spend a fortune on making that road tolerable again.

Astoria looks much nicer than it did back when I played there at the Red Lion Inn with Powerlight, and across the bay, neighboring Warrenton has grown considerably since then.

Seaside is still Seaside. A working-class town with a tourist-trap downtown that I still adore. We'll have to explore it more here in the next few days.

Manzanita is a fucking jewel. An expensive one to be sure, but a jewel nonetheless. But not without its faults. More on that later.

And we can't wait to see Tillamook and the cheese factory, no matter what the state of their Visitors Center is.


Well, we pretty much described the trip down already, so let's just start off with the first full day of our stay. Manzanita is a small town. Really small. As in a population of about six hundred or so. But on a weekend like this the population probably doubles if not triples in size as tourists pour in from the Willamette Valley and elsewhere, filling the hotels, rentals, campsites and whatnot. Even wind and rain doesn't deter them. And while tourists like us fill the town's coffers full of coin as we shop and eat to our heart's content, it also causes a bigger problem. Y'see, there's a housing crisis going here. Simply put, there aren't enough housing options for those who choose to live here full-time that might actually have to make a living that doesn't necessarily make you an income in the six-figure range. And apparently this is happening all up and down the Oregon Coast, but especially in the smaller boutique towns where there isn't much room and property is expensive – too expensive for normal people, that is. Affordable housing appears to be pretty much non-existent here, and I noticed a lot of “for sale” signs in front of houses in the area – probably people that had moved here before the property values went through the roof and are being forced out not only by the high cost of living here, but by the universal corollary of high property values – high property taxes.

We saw how this impacted the community first-hand as we wandered up and down Laneda Avenue, one of the town's east-west connectors between US 101 and the beach. We came across a little pizza place called Marzano's Pizza Pie, where signs indicated that they no longer were a proper restaurant, and instead only served their wares to-go. Why, you ask? Because they simply couldn't find enough people in the area that could run the place to their level of satisfaction, and when it came down to brass tacks, the only way to save the restaurant was to actually stop being a restaurant. A coffee house next door had a sign apologizing to customers they were having a hard time finding qualified staff and as such weren't able to stay open as long as they'd otherwise want to be. Everywhere I looked I seemed to be seeing “now hiring” signs, both in Manzanita and up in Seaside – and the oncoming tourist season probably had those businesses especially worried about finding those skilled workers. They'd have to come in from Seaside, Tillamook, or even Astoria and Warrenton, because there's no place for them to stay here.

Okay, enough depressing talk. Time for lunch. We'd originally considered a normal-sized lunch, and the local tourism office recommended the San Dune Pub to us, but after a surprisingly large hummus-plate appetizer filled us up, we figured we could save our appetites for dinner. The San Dune Pub is a gem. Warm and cozy, packed with a lunch crowd, it felt like the kind of place we could easily have lunch at every day if we so desired. Hell, it could be our home base if we ever chose to live there. But our suite does have a full kitchen, so we'd be completely idiotic if we didn't put it to good use during our stay.

And then there's the beach. The Beach. Here in Manzanita, the beach is broad and smooth – at low tide probably a good hundred-plus yards from the dunes to the water itself. We braved the wind and a mist that turned to a blowing rain to walk down to the waterline, and a wave suddenly had Joy in up to her shins, I should note that there are signs out warning beach goers about an increase in potential “sneaker waves” that could potentially pull the unwary out to sea. But it was just a giggle to us as she waded back to safety as I stepped back as fast as I could to keep my shoes from getting wet. And we were both getting soaked with water one way or another, so after this adventure it was back to the hotel room. Joy took a nice long bath, and I vegged out in front of the TV, warming back up before venturing north for a proper anniversary dinner in Seaside. Joy was dead-set on prime rib, and I wasn't about to disappoint her.

And then sticker shock set in. Did I mention that Spring Break is starting up this weekend? Tourists and school kids bouncing around from place to place like mad? And the other thing bouncing up was the prices in the restaurants. I tells ya, living and working in Reno like I did for so many years – it spoils you with comparatively cheap prime rib dinners in the casinos. We were routinely seeing prices of $30 and up for even measly eight-ounce portions in the Downtown Seaside restaurants. Higher cost of living is one thing, but this was bordering on highway robbery. But we were able to avoid the sticker shock and still get what we wanted. All we had to do was drive about four miles south of Seaside, where the Sea Breeze Restaurant filled both needs and bellies for a very reasonable price – almost half what places downtown were willing to charge. We sat in the bar and watched the final minutes of the NCAA Basketball Championship semifinal between Oregon and North Carolina, and saved enough money that we could order dessert and an adult beverage for Joy.

We're just about to fade out, so I'll end the day here and pick up where I left off tomorrow. But I'll give you a hint about tomorrow's adventure:

It involves cheese. Lots and lots of cheese.


Oh, yes. The cheese.

At first, we almost didn't go. Joy was still tired from the day before, and I didn't mind taking a rest day between our side trips. But why come this far and not go the final twenty-five miles or so down to Tillamook? So we drove through some quaint little towns – places like Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway Beach, Garibaldi, and Bay City – on our way down to the Tillamook cheese factory. Apparently going through their visitor's center is something of a rite of passage in the area. Too bad for us that the actual Visitor's Center is being demolished. A temporary center has been set up nearby, while a new permanent center is being constructed with an eye for opening next year. The temporary visitor's center does a good enough job of telling the story of how a humble collective of dairy farmers in an isolated corner of Oregon became a nationally-recognized brand, but I guess we missed out on whatever made the old visitor's center special. Personally, I do know what a dairy farm is like, though it's been an age since a distant summer vacation to my great-uncle Elmer Trosdahl's dairy farm outside Clitherall, Minnesota. But I do remember the barn full of cows, the care he took in milking them every day as part of his local co-op, the big scary bull in his separate pasture – the one that my dad helped get drunk one night by replacing the water in his trough with beer – and other sights, sounds, and smells, pleasant and otherwise.

And after learning about the process of milking comes the payout – free samples of their products, plus the opportunity to buy lots more. We bought t-shirts, some cheese curds of a type I'd never seen before, and a little key-chain bottle opener that doubles as a fingernail clipper to join the collection I carry with me. We topped that off with some ice cream to go – Tillamook Mudslide for me, and Marionberry Pie for Joy. Wouldn't have been right any other way.

On the way back we picked up another treat, this one from the Tillamook County Smoker's factory-outlet/gas station – really. Who doesn't love smoked meats? Okay, put your hands down, vegans. We already know. A couple bags of pepperoni sticks for about less than half of what we'd pay for them anywhere else. Not a bad deal.

We talked about the idea of moving here on the way back. Just another daydream. WE both agreed that a place like Manzanita or any of the other towns along the coast would simply be too expensive to live in, not to mention the difficulties in Joy finding new doctors and specialists to get care for her illnesses, not to mention finding my fat white ass a job. Honestly, I still feel like I lucked into my job. We aren't leaving Port Angeles any time soon – it'd probably take a lottery win to get us out of there, and even then that wouldn't take us very far, because I don't think either of us really want to live anywhere outside of the Puget Sound area. Maybe in and around Olympia at best.

Neither of us is sure as to what we want to do tomorrow. Joy doesn't want to “waste the day”, but it's a vacation – we can do whatever we want to. And that includes doing nothing at all. It's not like we have to go bungee-jumping or anything like that, or go somewhere and spend a bunch of money. We can just kick back and rest. Or we can go back into Seaside – the crowds should be a little smaller on a Monday. When we went there yesterday, we walked by the placed I used to play in when I was in Powerlight. Back then it was Girtle's, named for it's owner Bob Girtle. He was a good enough guy, and I always liked playing there. The restaurant occupying the space now is called The Twisted Fish. I really do want to walk in there and see how the place has changed. But it isn't gonna kill me if we don't.

I'm also beginning to plan our trip back home. I'm not entirely sure what route we'll take. At first we considered going into Portland to have dinner at Jackrabbit, the new restaurant of celebrity chef Chris Cosentino, and his first venture outside of the state of California. But after finding out that dinner there could set us back as much as fifty to sixty bucks a person, that kinda tempered our enthusiasm for the idea. But Portland is a great restaurant city, and we have lots of ideas for other places to go, not to mention the suggestions we've gotten from friends with better knowledge of the city than we have. And then there's skipping Portland altogether and taking another route home. I remember driving home from gigs in Seaside and Astoria, and about a mile or so past the western end of the little town of Clatskanie there was a little Korean-American restaurant with the name “Myong's Seoul Food”. That was always good for a laugh. But a quick check of Yelp shows that the place closed down. But we can still pass through there and take the bridge over the Columbia River to pick up I-5 at Kelso and Longview, and from there head north to Olympia and/or Tacoma before heading home. Or we could just go back the way we came – but I hated that drive. The road is just nasty as fuck.

A small pot of spaghetti made a nice dinner, and now we're just chilling. Joy's watching Netflix on her computer – my old one – while I type this out. There's enough pasta left for seconds, and I think I might oblige myself to a second helping before going to bed. It's been a good enough day, I guess.


We stayed local today. A sojourn down to the beach, and a walk further up and down Laneda Avenue to see what we could see. We bought Daisy (our rescued Havanese) a few treats at Paws On The Beach, got a light lunch at Manzanita News & Espresso (excellent coffee and pastries, and bonus points for the very cute and... perky barista) before heading home to a nice curry for dinner. We could have gone elsewhere, but I don't think either of us had the interest or endurance for another car trip before spending all day tomorrow in the car getting home.

All in all, this was a good trip, and well worth the expenditure needed for this suite. It really isn't much of a suite, and I've certainly been in bigger hotel rooms than this, but it does have a full kitchen, the bed is plenty comfortable, we fucking loved the shower, and location, location, location. Being right across the street from the beach made picking this place an excellent decision. And I even got to have my bucket-list moment early this morning – listening to Dark Side of the Moon on my headphones while sipping a Coke and gazing out into the vast depths of the mighty Pacific. Okay, it wasn't really stormy out, and I had a different drink in my hand. Close enough. I'm satisfied. Now it's time to pack everything up except what we need for the morning – a change of clothes and stuff for breakfast.

I think we'll go in to Portland after all, despite my hemming and hawing about it earlier. After all, there's an Uwajimaya just off the Sunset Highway (US-26, the highway from Portland out to the Coast), and a zillion different restaurant options. Going to Jackrabbit is still an option, but one that's being knocked further and further down the priority list as the real world rears its ugly head and intrudes back upon our lives.

There will be a few things we'll miss. We missed out on the pizza place just down the street, and I really did want to go in to The Twisted Fish and ask if anyone knew what happened to Bob Girtle. There were a few other things, but I can't really remember them at the moment. I just know that this was a good trip. I'll try to make the trip home as pleasant as possible, though I know it'll take us all damn day to get home. Then it's time to stay up late and get my body clock back in sync with work, because Wednesday night means I'm back on the job, resetting the Safeway in Port Townsend.


Well, we're home now. Trying to slow down and relax a bit after a long drive. We wound up pretty much skipping Portland altogether, just stopping at the Beaverton branch of Uwajimaya to pick up a few odds and ends. Joy wasn't hungry, so we just kept moving north until we hit Centralia, where we had a late lunch at Casa Ramos. We didn't stop again until I needed gas just outside of Silverdale, and we didn't stop again until we got home.

Daisy was more than happy to see us, but then she started acting weird. Shaking, like she was afraid of us or something. We know that our neighbor Brad treats her well and kindly whenever he puppy-sits for us, and Daisy plays with his dog Bailey, and his girlfriend and her daughters. I don't want to suggest that something bad happened, not at all. I think she's just dealing with separation anxiety, and perhaps some post-traumatic stress from her previous owners. I never did tell you how she came into our lives. Joy was talking with a guy last summer about service dogs when he mentioned that he had an older female Havanese that had once belonged to his in-laws. They'd both passed the previous year, he was trying to find a new home for her, and among those that professed interest in the dog, he chose Joy to take her in. Daisy was naturally pretty skittish, and a quick examination revealed a nasty bulge on her flanks – a broken rib that had never healed properly, the result of being mauled by a bigger dog, he told us. We've gotten her medical records released to us, but the ID chip in her is still registered to her former owners, and the guy we get her from has yet to produce the documents we need to change the ID chip over to us. We've also noticed that she acts fearful around men, and whenever Joy is using her cane, so we've come to the conclusion that dude's father-in-law may have abused Daisy – perhaps he hit her with a cane or some other object. And we were only gone for five days. I get the feeling that any trips we take in the future will have to be with her. Which will limit what we do and where we go for the foreseeable future. But that's a cross I can bear for the time being, because it's getting harder and harder to take Joy any great distance.

But we did enjoy the trip. We may be able to visit Manzanita again in the future, but right now all I'm really worrying about is getting my body clock back on graveyard schedule. Time to fire up the coffee pot!

Friday, November 25, 2016

It Never Ceases To Amaze Me.....

Just how stupid some people are. Stupid, conditioned like sheep led to the slaughter. At this point, I'm just waiting for the nuclear fireball overhead to cleanse the planet of the infection called humanity.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Out To Sea

I have no idea that it's been so long since I posted anything to this blog. So much has changed, but so much is still the same. The job is still good, Joy's still not good healthwise. We have a new trailer, one that's much more functional than the old one. And then there's what you'll read in the rest of this post: a ten-day Mexican Riviera cruise we took at the end of February. I kept a diary of the trip, then promptly forgot about it once we got home. I found it again yesterday, finished the last few entries and edited it a little bit for clarity. Here it is!

Cruise Diary

The Preamble

This is something that at the same time I am completely unfamiliar with yet completely familiar with. I know that's a strange thing to say, but to know why I said that, you have to know me. Having lived almost half of my life out of a suitcase, driving from one casino/bar/resort/what have you to the next, I understand the nature of things here, what's going on. A cruise liner like the MV Grand Princess is very much a resort afloat with all that entails – restaurants, pools, hot tubs, cabarets, theaters and (of course) a casino. What's strange to me is the perspective. Up to this point I've always been the employee, albeit in the tertiary way that only an entertainer is. The free agency of an entertainer is liberating in some aspects, but in others – specifically job security – it can be frighteningly constraining. Now I'm a paying passenger, along with my wife Joy. Being on the receiving end of the service is something I find almost a little disconcerting. In so many words, I've never been the one that's been looked after.

But here I am, along with about three thousand other passengers and over a thousand crew aboard the Grand Princess for the next ten days, puttering down the Pacific Coast to the ports of Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas before returning to San Francisco. I'll do my best to write down the whats and hows and whys over the next ten-plus days, as well as how I'm feeling and acting in response to events and surroundings.

Day One – Traveling From Seattle To San Francisco, Boarding, Departing San Francisco

This day started earlier than either of us really planned. The day before, Joy and I drove down from Port Angeles to the southern suburbs of Seattle with her best friend Delane. She'll take our car back to Port Angeles after dropping us off at a place called the SeaTac Inn and “borrow” it while we're away. I'm not entirely sure I can trust her ability behind the wheel, because we have a running argument about how efficient her old Taurus wagon is, which by extension means I don't trust her driving. She claims it takes her half a tank of gas to get from Port Townsend and back, while I once drove it from Port Angeles to Seattle via Tacoma, then filled it up on the return leg in Tacoma on only six gallons of gas (slightly more than half a tank) with a resulting fuel economy of 31mpg – more than double her estimated fuel economy. I think I know who wins this argument, but Dee is a stubborn old mule.

The SeaTac Inn is pleasant enough to suit our needs, though the mattresses were far too firm for my liking. It's not at all unpleasant, but they could invest in memory-foam mattress toppers and do wonders for their reviews. We tried to get to sleep at about nine or ten that evening and wake up at about three in the morning for a three-thirty shuttle, but we woke up at midnight and simply couldn't get back to sleep for anything in the world. We took the first flight out of SeaTac at six in the morning, and touched down in San Francisco a few minutes before eight.

We were surprised to find Princess employees waiting for us as we left the baggage claim, and they helped us into a shuttle bus after suggesting we get some breakfast first. We were deposited at the Herman Cruise Terminal a little before eleven, and brought aboard ship a little after noon. We were surprised at this, because we thought that we wouldn't board until two. I think that this was the first glimpse of just how much Princess would spoil us.

We knew that the average cruise ship cabin isn't very big. Even plunking down the extra cash for an Extended Balcony cabin – nearly $1,300 per person, whereas inside cabins were going for rates in the five hundreds – had us thinking that we'd still have a pretty small cabin. But the surprise was on us when we opened the cabin door for the first time and found something pretty comparable to any motel room we'd inhabited over my years on the road. This was because this was more than just a regular EB cabin, it was actually a Disabled EB cabin. This means additional room for a wheelchair to maneuver about the cabin, ramps to the bathroom and on both sides of the balcony's sliding glass door. By cruise-ship standards, our cabin is pretty fucking spacious. By cruise-ship standards, the bathroom is pretty fucking enormous. And the balcony is pretty fucking glorious.

Day Two – At Sea, En Route To Puerto Vallarta

We rested, mostly. I think that I slept ten hours. We moved our clocks forward overnight to Mountain Time (UTC+7:00) and will move them forward again another hour to Central Time (UTC+6:00) after Thursday night. The food here varies pretty dramatically, from high-end fare in places like the Crown Room and Sabatini's to a serviceable buffet and various themed mini-restaurants on several decks throughout the ship. We've developed an affection towards the Michaelangelo Dining Room, and have begun to meet new people and proposed to dine with them on a regular basis. During the day, we were more-or-less cornered in one of the hot tubs by a really Jeebus-y couple from Stockton. Joy handled herself admirably in what was a pretty polite religious debate. All I got for my troubles was a sunburn across my shoulders.

We saw our first show tonight, a comedy show featuring a stand-up by the name of Steve “Ain't” White. As the nickname suggests, Steve ain't white. I'd never heard of him before, but he claimed to have quite a rep. I think he struggled somewhat with his show, unable to really get his show into gear for any extended length of time without having to deal with some doddering oldster wandering to their seat or some drunken heckler. Joy thought he was hilarious to the point of a coughing fit, and when he learned that we were from Washington he opined that her coughing was due to her excessive pot smoking.

If he only knew. We still bought his CD, and finished the night watching The Martian on a giant LCD screen overlooking one of the ship's swimming pools. Here's my three-sentence review of The Martian:

Matt Damon is left for dead on Mars and struggles valiantly to escape the shadow of Ben Affleck. Which as we know is impossible, because Ben Affleck is Batman. Nobody can escape Batman.

Day Three – At Sea

We bought some trinkets today. Well, not really trinkets. The ship's stores put on sales – if that's what you want to call them – in the dining rooms during their off-hours. Joy bought a floppy hat and a neck purse, which are both pretty useful things to have for our upcoming shore excursion in Puerto Vallarta. The shawl/wrap/pashmina/whatever she bought, probably less so. And how did we pay for this? With our room keys, of all things.

It's pretty ingenious, actually. Princess has a system where charges and credits to our shipboard account can be added directly by scanning our “cruise cards”, which double as our room keys. Part of our total expenditure for the trip included placing $500 on our shipboard account in advance – if only that had collected any sort of interest in the two months between booking the cruise and actually boarding the ship. The ship does not take cash or any other sort of payments while at sea, and we'd actually paid for extra packages to cover gratuities while on board, we still tipped cash for excellent service. Another perk we paid for was an unlimited non-alcoholic beverage package, which gave us both large Coca-Cola-branded tumblers that can be refilled at any bar at any time with any non-alcoholic beverage save for tea from the upscale tea lounge/library on the Promenade Deck (Deck 7).

Tonight was the first formal dinner of the trip. The ship enforces (albeit in a rather relaxed manner) what they call a “smart casual” dress code for the main dining rooms and the more upscale restaurants that aren't a part of the standard dining package, which for me means open-necked shirts and well-kept jeans or slacks. “Formal” is a pretty alien concept to me, because my first formal-dress occasion was my wedding. I'd never gone to a formal dance in school, something that still irks me to this day. But that was then and this is now, so it's time to put on the smooth suit I bought at the Van Heusen outlet store in Bend back before Christmas. An $800 suit for $180 – not too shabby if I may say so myself. My sunburned shoulders didn't really appreciate it, but I looked good enough in the mirror. We dined with a nice couple from the Spokane suburbs that we'd met the night before, and they joined us for karaoke at the Explorers' Lounge. They have a cruise-length karaoke contest going on, and given the poor level of talent last night, I figured that I'd walk away with the show. I thought I'd done pretty well, but the night's winners were a woman who couldn't carry a tune in a bathtub but looked good doing it, and a doddering oldster singing a tuneless love song to his even more ancient girlfriend. No doubt that he got a strong sympathy vote. Perhaps I should have chosen a less obscure song. Perhaps I'll go back later to compete again. I don't think my ego was bruised that badly, but no contest is truly fair – especially when there aren't any impartial judges.

And now, a few words about doddering oldsters. When we first boarded the ship, I was quite convinced that I would be the youngest person on board. And while that was eventually proven false, I'm still far younger than the average passenger. That average passenger is much, much older than me – we're talking retirement age and up – and the vast majority of passengers are white, though there is a sizable group of Chinese-American passengers on board. Very few African-American passengers – most of them being a single extended family traveling together – and a mere handful of Latino passengers. There are a few younger adult passengers, even a couple of straight-up dude-bro types. I've only encountered a couple of teenagers, and maybe a half-dozen infants and children traveling with their parents. Let's just say that an obnoxious metalhead like me tends to stand out in this crowd, albeit more because of my lack of gray hair more than anything else. The crew is a polyglot bunch – the Captain and much of the Senior Staff is Italian, though there are officers from South Africa, Croatia and India as well as other places. The only thing the Service Staff have in common is a reasonable command of English, and while the largest contingent are from The Philippines, they're a mix of people from every corner of the globe – other than the U.S. and Western Europe. While I have been told that there are eleven Americans working for the ship, I have yet to see anyone from the “first world” in a Princess uniform outside the occasional glimpse of a member of the Senior Staff. Not that I have any problems with that. As long as they do their jobs well, they could come from Mars for all I care.

One more thing. Given that the average age of the passengers is.... well, old, why on earth does the ship have a discotheque? Who would go? I know that we probably won't go. Being a DJ on a cruise ship must be a pretty boring job most of the time.

Day Four – At Sea

Breakfast in bed for Joy for the second day in a row. We've moved our clocks forward twice since leaving San Francisco, and we'll remain on Central/Mexico City time for the next several days. Being at sea, with nothing to break the tedium outside, I've noticed a few things. Watching sports is pretty interesting. Princess' cable-TV package includes a few movie channels, several news channels, and the Caribbean feeds of ESPN and ESPN2, the latter of which is basically the US feed of ESPN. But having the Caribbean feeds gives me access to sports and competitions I might not otherwise see without paying through the nose for online pay-per-view streaming. This weekend's action includes Six Nations rugby, and had we have chosen a later date for the cruise I could have watched the ICC World T20 Cricket Championships. Cricket is not everyone's cup of tea, but I've grown to appreciate the direct ancestor of baseball over the last few years.

Joy's not doing very well right now. She didn't take her meds for three days in a row, and only got back to them yesterday, taking doses in the morning and before going to bed last night. After breakfast she went back to sleep and doesn't want to get out of bed, so for the most part I'll be left to my own devices. I can deal with that.

Today the ship passes Cabo San Lucas by only a few miles on its way to Puerto Vallarta. It's kind of odd to me, but it's not my business to tell them when and where to hit port or not. We'll be in Puerto Vallarta in the morning. Hopefully Joy will be ready to go for that. We'll be on a guided tour for most of the day, then left to do a little shopping and dining along the waterfront. Since we're talking about a tourist zone, I doubt that I'll have to use what little Spanish I remember from high school. It's really shitty, one of many bad memories I have from those days.

I need to get some air.

Day Five – Puerto Vallarta

It's a pretty fair-sized city – at least from my perspective, maybe about the size Tacoma, or maybe the Reno-Sparks area. There was a little mix-up at first, as the staff charged with letting passengers disembark from the ship kept sending us from one end of the ship to the other as though one hand didn't know what the other was doing. But eventually we made it off the ship and to the row of tour buses parked just beyond the terminal's fences.

The tour we took was a pretty straightforward tour of the city – the main square, the seawall they call the Malecón, the old Catholic church of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, a drive along the coastal highway a few miles out of town, a few opportunities to shop for jewelry (this cruise seems obsessed with jewelry) and other trinkets. I was able to steer Joy away from buying some pricey opal rings, but neither of us could pass up the sandals she bought. So what if we got hosed on the price, paying fifty bucks? At least the money went to the people who actually made them, as in the people standing right in front of us. I'll take that any day over buying another shitty shirt made in China.

We finished the tour with a stop at a beachfront restaurant that seemed to not last nearly long enough to enjoy a plate of fajitas with chips, salsa and guacamole – all of which were pretty fucking good. In retrospect, I feel really shitty right now because in the hustle to pay the tab before the bus left without me – the whole meal cost 336 pesos, which at the current 17:1 exchange rate is about twenty bucks, I spaced out and forgot to add a tip. I think seeing the “$336” - yes, Mexico uses the dollar sign for their currency – gave me a case of sticker shock. The tour guide Jesús and his driver Nacho (a common nickname, usually for Ignácio) did a fine job of schlepping us yanquis back and forth, pointing out the sights, helping Joy in and out of her wheelchair. I hope they got a good chunk of the sixty bucks we paid Princess for the tour.

I felt a moment of sadness as a family of hawkers came into the restaurant (whose name I completely forgot) and set about to sell their wares to us, their daughter selling packs of gum, like right out of the George Lopez bits I heard on the comedy channels on my satellite radio. I wasn't too sad about it though, because in the forty minutes we were there they wound up making some pretty good money off of the doddering oldsters that dominated our tour group (along with everything else on the boat, but you've already heard me whine about that). The square that the restaurant sat on the edge of was holding an arts-and-crafts fair, and we both wish that Jesús and Nacho would've let us linger a bit longer there, because I'd seen some pretty cool stuff there, if only briefly. We thought about buying some 222's (that's acetaminophen with codeine) at a pharmacy at the terminal, but the fact that they wanted fifty bucks for a bottle of thirty tablets was a deal-breaker. So much for things being cheaper in Mexico.

We thought about going back aboard the boat to drop off our things and make another trip outside, but Joy's will was flagging, so we made a beeline for the hot tubs, and now we're watching Guardians of the Galaxy and Inside Out in our cabin. What the fuck is it with Pixar movies? Cute as all get out, but they have such depth to them, to the point where it's almost impossible to not cry once during one of their movies. At least they didn't show Up – half the passengers would've committed suicide after watching the beginning of that movie.

I'll be getting her up here in a bit to take her to a magic show, followed by dinner. And their karaoke contest has a second round coming up. Maybe I'll take another swing at it. I know that I'm a better singer than most anyone on this boat not being paid to perform. If the imbeciles vote for some other dementia case or talentless cougar over me, I'll just shut the fuck up and walk the fuck away. Yeah, I'm being a little egotistical about something I shouldn't be, but I was a professional singer and drummer for twenty years – I have legitimate talent. Squalling like a branded calf is not the same.

I should take a moment to talk about how much we're getting spoiled by the staff here. Last night, we tried out one of their high-end restaurants, the Crown Room steakhouse. Instead of paying for the individual menu items, we each paid a “cover charge” of $25. Sounds steep, right? You don't know how deep the rabbit hole goes, Alice. First we ordered lobster cake appetizers that could easily be entrees if they decided to put more than one on a plate. I got a very nice salad next, while Joy got a french onion soup that was easily one of the best I've ever tasted. I ordered a sixteen-ounce Kansas City Strip steak, while Joy ordered a fourteen-ounce ribeye, both cooked to a tender medium-rare – seriously, anyone who orders a steak any other way is delusional, and anyone who orders one well-done is a complete fucking moron. Donald Trump likes his steak well-done, for example. Need I say more?

And then they added the lobster. I saw four-ounce lobster tails on the menu and was perfectly fine with not ordering them, and I remember saying that I was fine without the lobster tails. But they brought them anyway. Four of them. Remember the scene from Jaws where Sheriff Brody is shoveling chum into the water and the shark pops up, and he says “I think we're gonna need a bigger boat?” That's what I was thinking at that precise moment. At the end of the day, we got a meal that would've cost us well north of $100 - $150 for fifty bucks. I can live with that.

Another one place has become a regular haunt for us, the Leaves tea house and library. This another place where you have to pay for drinks, though a pot of tea for two to three bucks is hardly a back breaker, especially when they throw in the dessert tarts and cakes that come with the tea. Meanwhile, we can borrow books from their smallish but largely complete library to peruse at our leisure. The only down sides to Leaves are that while the library is always available, the tea service is only open when the ship is at sea instead of hopping from port to port, and that there are more books by professional wrestlers (a Mick Foley novel and Dave Bautista's autobiography) in the library than there are by Frank Herbert. Not good.

Day Six – Manzanillo

From what I can see from our table at the terrace behind the Horizon Court Buffet, all the way at the aft end of the ship, Manzanillo is a port city. There's a massive container port directly in front of me (behind the ship) that's from my perspective seems to be easily on a par with the Port of Seattle. The container port has its own specific inlet of the harbor while the rest of the shoreline is studded with vacation condos. Grand Princess is berthed on the south shore of the harbor, well away from the container port and its traffic. The south shore of the harbor is little more than a series of hills, though I can see a massive set of smokestacks between a gap in the hills. I can see houses climbing up the sides of these hills, and I can imagine living in one of those houses quite easily. If only.

This is the only way we'll see Manzanillo. Joy is worn out from yesterday, and just getting to breakfast – even with me pushing her wheelchair – cost her what little energy she had to spare this morning. She'll stay in bed for the remainder of the day, though a tequila tasting in the Explorer's Lounge this afternoon has her interest piqued. That won't take place until after the ship has left for its third port of call, Mazatlan. It's over three hundred miles back up the coast from Manzanillo, so the ship is leaving port at four in order to make it to Mazatlan in the morning. I think that I'm okay with skipping Mazatlan as well. Cabo San Lucas is where we both want to get off the ship and explore. We've had a running joke that maybe we'll find Sammy Hagar passed out underneath the bar at Cabo Wabo.....

One of the things you find out about cruises that the brochures don't tell you is the chance encounters with people that you probably don't know, but have so much in common with that it's almost eerie. During dinner tonight at the DaVinci Dining Room – we were sent there because the Michelangelo was packed solid – we were paired off with a couple that had moved from the Seattle suburbs to Reno, and at least one of them had grown up in the Puyallup area. We'd learned that some beloved local shops in Reno had gone out of business, their building bulldozed. We found that John Ascuaga's Nugget – sold to new owners by the Ascuaga family only two years ago – had been sold to another new ownership group, which is never a good sign. This couple were on their forty-fifth (!) cruise, and gave us sage advice for cruises to Alaska, which we may consider in the next year or so. And they were on the whole quite a charming couple. I would only hope that the others we've dined and spoken with would think of us so kindly. But between her visible tattoos and her neo-paganism, that might be something of a turnoff for the average passenger on the Grand Princess.

I find myself thinking a lot about getting back to Seattle after the cruise is over. Of course having to deal with the security bullshit will be.... well, bullshit. Trying our best to get Alaska Airlines to move our flight up from 8:30pm to something a little more humane than spending nearly ten hours waiting at SFO for our flight home. And that flight home will be crowded as fuck. On the flight to San Francisco, we were so packed in cheek-to-jowl I swear that the poor woman next to me must have felt like I was molesting her every time I so much as moved. I kept my phone out of my pocket for the entire flight because I thought she would slap me if I even considered putting it back in my pocket. But we'll have two nights in Seattle, and we both want to go do something downtown that night if at all possible. I'll have to give my old buddy Ed Durgan a call and see what he and his wife are doing that night....

Day Seven – Mazatlan

Another day on the boat, another chance for the crew to spoil us. Neither of us planned on getting off the boat to explore Mazatlan in the first place. Breakfast in our cabin, a little sun on the Lido Deck (Deck 14) before a couple of cheeseburgers from the Trident Grill. As the sun went down over the horizon and ship left port, we watched a James Taylor concert on the giant video screen above the pool on the Lido Deck. From there we watched vocal impressionist Tony Pace sing his way through several decades worth of music in the Princess Theater. We capped the night off with another of the ship's high-end restaurants, Sabatini's. Their Italian cuisine was simply awesome, and another server left with a large tip for his exquisite service and good humor.

I'm cutting this entry short because we have to get up early in the morning to get ready to debark for Cabo San Lucas.

Day Eight – Cabo San Lucas

I think that we left earlier than absolutely necessary. We were off the boat a little after eight in the morning, well before most of the shops had opened. But the hawkers were out in their full fury, and between them and the tourist shops we spent well north of a hundred dollars on jewelry and clothing. Mostly silver bracelets, which we'll give to the kids and granddaughter, and a couple of caftans for Joy. I only wanted a hat, and that's exactly what I got. I'd also wanted to get lunch at Cabo Wabo, but it wasn't open yet, and even then it looked kinda run down. The heat began to get to us about then, and we made our way back to the tender dock after maybe an hour and a half on the ground.

However, things didn't necessarily get any better. Exhaust fumes from the tender on the return trip got to Joy, and I was able to get her back to our cabin before she got too sick. She's been asleep pretty much ever since. That's the sad truth about traveling with her – her limited energy limits everything we do. Everything.

We got our debarkation advisories delivered to us while we were away. We'll have to have our suitcases packed and tagged before 8pm Thursday night so Princess can collect them and get them ready for sending them ashore, and we'll need to be out of our cabins for good by eight the following morning. They included some tourist information about San Francisco, but we won't have much time for any sightseeing unless we can find an alternate means of getting our stuff to the airport. Which does actually bother me a bit, but not that much.

We got to see our first production show on board tonight, a Motown review called Motor City. It was a good enough show, but I was more interested in the band. This was the same house band that had played the night before for the vocal impressionist, but now they were rolling through classic Motown tunes with tons of energy. And naturally, I found the drummer to be focus of my interest. Dude was killing it. The dancers were okay, though I scarcely paid them any attention. At one point in time I apparently had a dancer in my close vicinity, and Joy asked me if I liked what I saw, and I told her I simply didn't notice her because I was completely focused on the band. The show's two male singers were okay, though my old bosses Mike Hill and Arthur Hayden would've wiped the floor with them as both singers and dancers. I'm quite sure that if Mike were sitting there with Joy and I watching the show, he would've enjoyed it, but he would've given me a few “child, please” looks as the male singers took a few liberties with lines to avoid singing notes they couldn't hit. The other passengers may or may not have noticed, but I did, and I'm sure Mike would as well. The two female singers had no such problems with vocal ranges or capacity. I did notice that they were actually stronger singers than their male counterparts – either that, or the guys' microphones weren't dialed in right by the lounge's sound tech.

Now if only the sound crew could have done something about the ventriloquist we'd seen a few hours before. Joy had told me that “hey, not everyone can be Jeff Dunham”, and I told her that she was right. Watching this guy's act was like watching him converse with a psychotherapist that existed only in his head yet had somehow leaked out into the real world. I tuned him out after about the first ten minutes of his act, when he trundled out a dummy tied to a child's lawn chair – who knew that we'd get an impromptu demonstration of the Japanese rope-bondage art known as shibari along with the act?

Day Nine – At Sea, En Route to San Francisco

Today was a good day – there's really no other way to describe it. The Leaves tea lounge and library reopened, giving us ample time to relax and read while sipping mint tea. Thank the spirits and totems that I have the Kindle app on my phone. With its Kindle Unlimited service – think of a streaming service like Rhapsody and so on, only with books instead of music – I'd started a free trial just before boarding and downloaded several books in a variety of categories to read at my leisure. Dad let me borrow a few books as well – Ready Player One was too depressing to get past about thirty pages, and I haven't gotten to the book about the rowing squad from the 1936 Berlin Olympics – so I was pretty much set. Joy found a few novels that she read for hours on end. I do like reading, but I swear that I've read more in the last week-and-change than I have in the last few months leading up to the cruise.

We got the chance to talk to Tony Pace in the Piazza, the vocal impressionist we'd seen a few nights before. He's a pretty good guy, and I think that he appreciated the chance to talk shop with a fellow professional musician instead of just making idle chit-chat with another tourist. We told him we'd catch his act again tomorrow night, and I'd make damn sure to yell “FREEBIRD!” at the most appropriate moment. That or maybe “ZEPPELIN!” or “BOWIE!”

We had our second Formal Dinner tonight, and I wore a silk jacket that had once been my grandfather's over my white dress shirt and black slacks while Joy wore a long tangerine-colored dress. We dined with our friends Jay and Joan (!) from Deer Park, and I swear to god that I've never eaten this well before, though I noticed something kinda funny. With the exception of that memorable I-think-we're-gonna-need-a-bigger-boat night at the Crown Grill, we've eaten a lot less than I was expecting to. The meals have actually been smaller in terms of portion size, which naturally allows for more courses. Appetizers every night, salads every night (though the Dining Room's interpretation of blue-cheese dressing leaves a little to be desired in my opinion – too much blue and not enough cheese), and don't forget dessert. Even their buffet was better than we were expecting, with surprisingly good Indian food available just about every night we were there, though their breakfasts were at best so-so. Most days we've had breakfast in our cabin. Nothing extravagant, breakfast muffin sandwiches and bananas with coffee and orange juice, and Joy has a bowl of cereal on top of that. Lunch is usually just a cheeseburger and fries from the Trident Grill chased with a Coke. When we're at sea, we usually follow up lunch with long sessions in the library sipping that lovely tea, a bite of cake or tart here and there while reading or playing Monopoly – Joy usually wins. We're at the point where we don't really want to get off the boat now, but at the same time I'm really looking forward to getting home and getting back to work – by the time I get back on the job, I'll have been off work for nearly three weeks. Time to get back on the horse. Time to summon the forces and get the band ready for a gig next Friday, then dive into writing new music for MCFD II: The Wrath of Crysys.....

Day Ten – At Sea

Time to say goodbyes to our favorite crew members, our fellow passengers. Time to leave tips for our steward, a patient Eastern European (Ukrainian, IIRC) named Tsvetomir, and Oni, an Indian we first met at Leaves and eventually saw waiting tables in lounges throughout the ship. The dining rooms were packed to capacity, and we were wise to make reservations well in advance. There was a final show in the theater, the impressionist and ventriloquist doing brief shows. There was a show featuring the talents of various crew members, but we chose to skip it to get an early night's rest.

Coming home from Cabo San Lucas, the seas were a little rough, six-foot rollers almost all the way back to San Francisco. But the ship handled the swells quite easily, and I found it remarkably easy to sleep in, as though Poseidon himself was rocking me to sleep. I knew I was going to need that sleep. I sure as hell will miss this ship.

Day Eleven – San Francisco, Then Flying To Seattle

I woke up a little before seven in the morning to find Grand Princess already tied to the dock at the terminal in San Francisco. We were ready to go, but they weren't ready to let us go just yet, so while we were out of our cabin by seven-thirty, we had some time to kill and availed ourselves to a last trip through the buffet for breakfast. We finally disembarked some time around nine in the morning, and by ten-thirty the shuttle bus deposited us at SFO.

And there we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Did I mention that we waited? You see, when Joy booked the trip she figured that we'd have some sightseeing time in San Francisco, and booked an evening flight back to Seattle. But the sightseeing simply wasn't going to happen, because there wasn't really an option for it. So now we were stuck with a ten-hour wait at the airport. We did our best to find an earlier flight, but were only able to move up three hours, from an eight PM departure to five PM.

Did I mention that the flight sucked? That both flights sucked? That getting through security sucked? That buying a steak sandwich for twice the price I can get anywhere else sucked? Seriously – FUCK Ronald Reagan and the trickle-down economics cult for turning the romance of air travel into something that makes cattle in a trailer en route to the slaughterhouse seem luxurious by comparison. I'm actually kinda glad that Joy's health will pretty much preclude us from taking trips like this again – air travel sucks great big floppy donkey dick. At least the hotel didn't disappoint, though I found myself walking from the hotel to the nearest grocery store late that night to buy TV dinners for the night and instant oatmeal for the next morning.

Day Twelve – Seattle

One big advantage of our hotel is location. All of about two blocks or so to the Sound Transit LINK Light Rail Terminal, where a measly twelve dollars bought us day passes between the airport and downtown. Seriously – why the hell did it take so long for people to agree to build light rail? Fast, clean, reasonably priced – who loses from this? As the train headed north, then east from the airport and down the hill toward Southcenter Mall, I felt kinda like I was watching flying a small airplane down the narrow valley, or watching video shot from a drone's camera. We spent the day wandering around the International District, getting lunch in the food court at Uwajimaya before finding our way to the Seattle Pinball Museum. Joy wasn't nuts about it at first - “what do you mean I have to pay fifteen bucks to be here?” - but after a few minutes she found that she was totally loving it the experience of playing pinball machines from the most ancient to the most modern.

It was a pretty awesome trip, I thought to myself as I lay in bed that night. My first trip to another country – I know, I've been to Canada a few times, but Victoria, BC is visible from Port Angeles damn near everyday – that barely qualifies. And with all due respect, the MV Coho is no Grand Princess. The ship was luxurious like I'd never seen before, the crew cheerful and attentive to a fault. The sights and sounds, new and unique to my eyes and ears. Just the simple act of walking out to the balcony to see the ocean slip past us, gazing out to the horizon at sky, land and ocean felt exotic beyond belief. The trip went off without a single hitch, allaying all my fears that I'd kept hidden from Joy, fears fed by lurid internet headlines of illnesses and accidents at sea.

My only complaint would be that we didn't spend enough time in Puerto Vallarta. We could have spent more time there, but I didn't trust what little of the stuffy high school Spanish I remember - “¿Donde esta el baño, señor?” - to get us anything other than mugged in an alleyway. I think we both entertained the thought of moving there, living in some little place in the hills. But the fantasy didn't last for long. I know better. Joy couldn't really handle being anywhere other than the Pacific Northwest coast for any real length of time.

Looking Back On It

It's been a few months since we got home. In fact, it's the beginning of summer now. The cruise seems like it was a lifetime ago. It almost feels like a dream. And it's a dream we both want to experience again. We're cautiously optimistic toward the possibility of going on another cruise – possibly next summer, up to Alaska. We know what we want, and what we don't want. Unlimited soda, coffee and ice cream? Oh hell yes. Do we need a balcony cabin again? Not necessarily. Flowers and fresh fruits delivered to our cabin? We can pass on that. Do we need to take as long a cruise? No, not really. And I've never been to Alaska. A big bonus to an Alaska cruise is that we have friends who have been there, and more who live and have lived there. They can give us suggestions on where to go and what to do that no guide could tell us. Another big bonus to an Alaska cruise is not having to fly to our port of embarkation. Driving to Seattle or Vancouver is infinitely cheaper, easier, and safer than flying in some overloaded sardine can. Factoring in the flights, the shuttle buses, the perks, the excursions, the tips and side trips, we spent somewhere around four thousand dollars for this trip – we figure that an Alaska cruise could probably be done for at most half that much, if not less. I think fifteen hundred bucks could get it done. Our tax returns could probably pay for it with room to spare.

And out of nowhere, my dad floated the possibility of taking us as well as my sister on another cruise to Mexico in the next few years. I could handle that – just as long as we don't have to share a cabin. Joy says I need a CPAP machine of my own now, my snoring has gotten that bad. There's no way in hell Dad or Julie could handle that.....