Category Archives: Experiences
It’s impossible to do something out of the ordinary when you’re 51 years old without someone saying “is that on your bucket list?” It’s like they believe that I’m going to kick the bucket just because I’m older than they are! Certainly I drink too much, I eat too much, I drive too fast, but I still expect to live forever! But why does running a marathon, jumping out of an airplane, buying a sports car, and doing a pro-am night at a comedy club become a bucket list item? Maybe I just want to challenge myself!
For years, I have come up with ideas for comedy. I do my best work riffing with a friend or one of my brothers in a very spontaneous way. When I’m with a small group, I come up with some hilarious stuff! But my audience is clearly biased towards laughing at me. They know me, they know my twisted mind, and the still like me. So how do you transfer that spontaneity to a structured, easily translated comedy bit at a local comedy club? You can’t! You can’t take a “had to be there” moment and turn it into a comedy bit that strangers will find funny. That’s the challenge of doing stand-up. Making strangers laugh.
I finally decided that I was going to enter a pro-am night at a local comedy club. There were about 15 people who were just like me. Some of them had experience while others of us were rookies. Some were really, genuinely funny while others struggled to get laughs. While I was in the audience waiting for my turn, I would laugh for the comics out of courtesy because that’s what I would want for me. I have no fear of performing in front of a group of strangers, I have a fear of failing in front of a group of strangers! Now that I’ve written that, I see how ludicrous that statement is! If the audience is a “stranger,” why do I care what they think? Failing in front of people you will never see again is not a problem! It’s actually a strength. You can free yourself to be yourself when you know you’re trying to impress strangers! Fuck them if they don’t think you’re funny!
The video of my first attempt at standup is at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=3930959439355 I’m pretty sure it’s public, so you should be able to see it.I was really nervous before it was my time to go up there. I had a lot of friends come to see me and I didn’t want to let them down. But once I got up there, I relaxed and had a great time! Since then, there are lots of people who are offering me jokes by saying “you can use that the next time you’re up there.” Everyone, without fail, has said “I’d like to do that but I don’t have the balls to do it. You must have some big balls!” I don’t know how the size of my balls became a topic of conversation, but, thanks?
I guess the moral of the story is, if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will always get the same results. If you stretch yourself, you may be surprised by how much you’ll grow.
I’m calling 2012 my year of living dangerously. I took the plunge and got re-married in June after being divorced for 15 years. I took an even bigger plunge when I jumped out of an airplane for the first time in my life. I survived both scares and the result has been completely opening me up to just about any experience I can find. I am playing with life now and having the best time I can remember! It all started with marrying a woman who gets me and wants me to be happy. It accelerated when I jumped out of the plane. There’s something about an experience that could bring about my death that made me come alive!
I went with three friends. We used a Groupon to get a discount for tandem skydiving. In hindsight, that may not have been the best place to use a coupon! We were in trouble if they decided to cut expenses to give us the discount! Would we be jumping out of the plane because they ran out of gas? Would the four of us have to use one parachute? Would my tandem partner be just another Groupon customer? How exactly was this a good idea? I spent the time we waited by watching the parachute packers do their thing. They seemed to know what they were doing, so I left them alone. I spent the rest of the waiting time going to the port-a-potty to relieve my nervous bladder.
Finally, it was my turn to go. The plane we were in was just big enough for two of us and our tandem jumpers, so we couldn’t all go at the same time. The friend I went up with had already done this, so I felt a little better going up with her. I tried to ignore the fact that she seemed as nervous as I felt! They put an altimeter on our wrists so we could see how high we were climbing. They told us we would jump at about 10,000 feet. All they way up, I kept looking at the altimeter like I was a doctor getting ready to call time of death. I felt every little movement of the plane as it hit even the tiniest turbulence as we climbed. My friend told me later that my tandem partner was using this time for a cat nap! Damn Groupon!
When we hit 9,000 feet, my tandem partner made me sit on his lap so he could clip me onto his harness. I then sat between his legs awaiting further instructions. At 9,500 feet, he opened the door we were about to exit. My heartbeat was pounding and I was about to hyperventilate. Hearing him breathing harder didn’t help! He had already told me what to do when the door opened, but actually doing it took some effort. The only thing that kept me moving forward was the thought of humiliation if I stopped! I turned toward the door and let my legs out the door. He told me to tuck my feet under the plane. All I could think of at that point was, “I hope my shoes don’t fall off!”
With him firmly clipped to me, all it took to exit the plane was for him to scoot his ass on the floor of the plane. At one point, I was dangling outside the plane until the final push sent us falling. We did a somersault and then got into flying position. At that point, my nerves turned to exhilaration! I had to force my mouth closed because there was so much wind my cheeks were flapping! The noise of the wind was incredible. The view was unforgettable! After about 30 seconds, my dude pulled the string and opened the parachute. He had me take the steering controls and taught me how to use them. We then took a spin, circling high above the earth. I don’t like spinning, but that was pretty cool.
He taught me how to slow our decent so we would have a soft landing. I didn’t believe it, but we landed as if we were sitting down onto a couch. It was much softer than I expected. I then waited a few seconds for my friend to land, which gave me a good perspective of what I just did. They packed the equipment into a pickup truck and had us jump into the bed of the truck. I wondered about the safety of riding in the bed of a pickup, but I let it go. When we got back to the starting point, my two other friends were there for high fives all around.
My first thought was, that was an awesome experience, but I’m not sure I want to do it again. I will most likely do it again next summer because I like doing things with my friends and peer pressure will force me! The longer term impact of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane was how it opened me up to doing things that scare me or challenge me. I’ve been running marathons because of the challenge, but they’re no longer scary. I’ve done karaoke both drunk and sober, so that’s not scary. I believe the next step in conquering the scary challenge is doing stand-up comedy which is something I’ve always said I wanted to do. I never did it due to the fear. Spoiler alert – I’ve done it and it was awesome!
Do what you fear the most and find out for yourself that you can survive and maybe thrive from the experience. I know it works for me!
- Top 10 Survivors Of Skydiving Accidents (toptenz.net)
- Wounded Warrior double amputee fulfills dream with tandem skydive (charlotte.news14.com)
- Local woman skydives for 90th birthday (utsandiego.com)
As you must all be aware by now, the New York City Marathon, the marathon of my dreams, was cancelled last week. You might think I’d be supremely disappointed. I was, but I made the most of the situation and ended up having a fantastic time in the City!
Alana and I flew in on Friday morning. We weren’t even sure the flights would be landing at LaGuardia considering it was under water a few days ago! Everything went off without a problem and we made it easily into the city to check into our hotel. I don’t know if every hotel room in NYC is small, but our room was SMALL! (How small was it?!?!?) It was so small, we had to give up the bathroom privacy we have at home. While we’re at home, doors are closed, fans are turned on, noises are muted. In the hotel, every tinkle echoed through the room! The cool thing about the room was that with a push of a button, the bed slid up the wall into a modified couch. It was like having our very own Craftmatic Adjustable Bed!
After checking in, we walked to the marathon expo. This is where you pick up your race bib, timing chip, and free marathon t-shirt. That’s the easy part. You can’t leave the expo until you weave your way through all the vendors selling souvenir shirts, jackets, hats, shot glasses, gloves, you name it, they sell it. I spent a lot of money on my souvenirs because you only do the NYC Marathon once, right?
We then tried to find some dinner. You would think it would be easy to find a great restaurant in NYC. However, we were with our friend and fellow runner, Gina. Finding a restaurant that all three of us agreed on was the hard part! We walked up to a restaurant, read the menu in the window and said, “meh, let’s keep walking.” We found ourselves nearing Times Square when Alana and Gina started getting text messages saying the marathon was cancelled! My friends suck because no one texted me! I found out later that I received a ton of sympathy from my friends on facebook, so it’s all good. We didn’t believe the news at first. The websites we looked at weren’t updated in real time, so they didn’t have the info. Finally, we had enough confirmation to digest the fact that the marathon was really cancelled. We spent the entire dinner looking at our phones and texting people. The cancellation was soaking into my reality now. After the anticipation that started in April when I found out I was in, I now knew I had to wait another year.
So what would you do if you were in my running shoes? I’ll tell you what I did – we stayed and had a blast! Now that I knew I wouldn’t be running a marathon on Sunday, I used Saturday to explore Midtown Manhattan. I walked from our hotel at the corner of 10th Ave and 42nd Street to the Empire State Building and back again. I walked from the hotel to The Late Show With David Letterman studio. When I got there, the doors were open and they were taking lottery applications for Monday’s taping. I thought, “I made the NYC Marathon by lottery drawing, so maybe I’ll be lucky again.” They took my application and told me they’d call me on Sunday. I got the call and we made it into the taping! That experience is an entire blog entry all by itself, so stay tuned.
Sunday morning, Gina and I ran from the hotel to Central Park. We ran nearly 8 miles before we saw that the mile markers were still up in the Park. We ran from mile 25 to the finish line and took a few pictures. It was a sad sight to see what might have been. We ran back to the entrance to the park and saw large groups of people preparing to run their own marathon in the park. The original NYC marathon was four laps around Central Park. So, 100s of people were getting ready to do the “Run Anyway Marathon.” We soaked in the energy and headed back toward the hotel. I ended up running 10 miles, so I was kind of a slacker. I showered and headed back to Central Park to take pictures and video of the runners.
There were people on facebook who thought the runners should have gone to Staten Island to help with the recovery effort. I disagreed. I saw people from Mexico, France, Russia, and I don’t know how many other countries running together in the Park. I saw small crowds of people near the finish line cheering on the runners. I saw the world community coming together to make the most of a bad situation. Running is therapeutic to me on a regular day. Coming from Ohio was no big deal. I’ll come back and run it next year. If I came as far as they did, I would make sure to run in NYC as much as I could! If you feel guilty about not helping, do what we did and send money to the Red Cross. Run long, run free, run happy!
- Despite nixed NYC Marathon, runners run anyway – and offer aid – CBS News (cbsnews.com)
- Runners disappointed and frustrated by late cancellation of ING NYC Marathon (charlotte.news14.com)
- Marathoners Run 26.2 Miles Despite Cancellation Of NYC Marathon; Others Volunteer On Staten Island (newyork.cbslocal.com)
On September 15th, I will go to another Rush concert. My son, Nick, bought the tickets and we’ll be on the floor of The United Center in Chicago. I will be seeing a concert in the same arena the Chicago Bulls play! Not that that’s important, I just find it interesting. As hard as I try, I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen Rush in concert. It has to be more than 10 times, but I really can’t be too sure. That made me wonder if it was possible to list all the concerts I’ve been to. I’ll give it my best shot.
1976 – Kiss – This was my first concert. I went with Shawn Honnerlaw and we worked our way to the middle front of the crowd on the floor. This was at Riverfront Colosseum and, since it was before the Who tragedy, tickets were general admission. I had an up close and personal view of Kiss in their days before they became caricatures of themselves. Gene Simmons had his 6-inch platform shoes on, Paul Stanley had his shirt open so you could see his chest hair, Ace Frehley was “Space Ace” and Peter Criss sang “Beth.” I’m pretty sure it was the “Detroit Rock City” tour. Bob Seger opened for them, which I find endlessly confusing and entertaining as to why anyone would pair these two.
1977, 1978, 1979 – Rush – Rush was touring and coming to Cincinnati on a regular basis in the mid to late 70s. They toured in support of “2112,” “A Farewell to Kings,” and “Hemispheres,” their 4th, 5th, and 6th studio albums of their now 20 studio albums. The only opening act I can remember is Primus, who now do the opening theme song to “South Park.” If you see Rush now, they don’t have an opening act and they take an intermission and come back and play another couple of hours! Back then, Rush played all of their best songs to date and they played them well. Looking back on these concerts and comparing them to the most recent concerts I’ve seen of theirs is like seeing a Rookie of the Year play compared with a Hall of Fame player play. They’re both awesome in their own ways. One other difference is, in the 70s, I saw Rush play while I was under the influence of marijuana and/or acid. So, saying that, I’m not even sure I remember being there!
1978 – Queen – I saw Queen in Dayton, Ohio with a couple of friends. This was the era of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody to Love,” (I’d put Freddy Mercury‘s vocals on this song up against anyone today and know he’d kick the shit out of anyone), “We Will Rock You,” and “We Are The Champions.” During the part of “Bohemian Rhapsody” when Freddy wasn’t singing, he left the stage only to reappear by rising up from below the stage and then just destroying the rest of the song! You can’t see that here, but here’s a link to a 1975 performance that captures most of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pttN9RkUvAw
1979 – Van Halen – I saw Van Halen’s tour in support of their first album. Seeing Eddie Van Halen play “Eruption” is still a concert highlight for me. David Lee Roth was on his game then and he made an amazing front man.
1979 – Commodores – Okay, not every concert I went to was awesome. Can anyone guess why I went to this one? That’s right, a girl made me take her! The only songs they had that were popular at that time were “Brick House” and “Three Times A Lady.” Let’s play the guessing game again. Which of these two songs did she come to hear? Ding, ding, ding – you are correct – “Three Times A Lady!” We left as the crowd was still applauding that song. The funniest thing about this concert was that we were late because I got lost going there. It was in Dayton and I wasn’t sure exactly how to get there. We didn’t have Garmins back then and I wasn’t going to stop for directions. When we got there, some funk band was playing. I wish I could remember who it was because they were putting on quite a show!
1979 – Kiss again. I was asked by my mom to take my brother Carl to see Kiss. Judas Priest opened for them. When he went to the bathroom, the guy to Carl’s left offered his joint to me. I declined, knowing that I would be driving us home. On the way home, Carl said, “so that’s what I have been smelling coming from your room!” What can I say, it was the 70s!
1980 – 1983 – I was in the Army during this period and I was stationed in Columbus Georgia. Columbus is a city 100 miles south of Atlanta and it’s fairly close to the Alabama border. The city exists to serve the soldiers at Fort Benning where I was stationed. During this time, I saw 38 Special, Thin Lizzy, Nazareth, and Molly Hatchet. While trying to remember which bands played there, I used google and found Alabama Thunderpussy. I really wish I could see them! Also available in Columbus Georgia was live professional wrestling. We went to see some of those events and the real show was the crowd! They were so into it and so into their wrestler that they were shouting and cheering and having a great old time! From my seat, when I wasn’t watching the crowd, I saw every fake move by the wrestlers. These guys weren’t the top of the line pros, so we didn’t get the best, but it was great fun!
1984 – The Police – To go to this concert, you had to send in your name for a lottery drawing. They picked my name and I went with my best friend from college. We ended up sitting in assigned seats behind the stage. Since the stage was open, we were still able to see everything but it was from the back. It was nice to be in the concert, but not the same as being on the floor in front of the stage. Knowing that I won the lottery and was allowed to buy tickets and then finding out it was behind the stage was like waiting for Christmas morning and then being told Santa wasn’t real and opening my presents full of t-shirts and underwear.
1986 – George Thorogood and the Destroyers – this concert was held in a smaller venue in Cincinnati called Cincinnati Gardens. They were here for two nights to record a live album that was issued later that year. I went with the same friend who went with me to see The Police. Remember how I was complaining that we were behind the stage there? At this show, we were in the 7th row on the right side of the floor seats, directly in front of a huge speaker. George was an outstanding guitarist and he even played with the guitar behind his head and back. They also had a great saxophonist playing on many of their songs. Everything was great until we left the building and realized we both just lost half of our hearing! My ears were ringing for about two days!
Skipping ahead to 2000, I took a date to Ozzfest at Riverbend Music Center. On the main stage, we had Pantera, Godsmack, Incubus, and Queens of the Stone Age to name a few. The night was capped off my Ozzy himself! On the second stage, I saw Kittie and Disturbed. During the Disturbed set, my date decided it was time to go crowd surfing. She was lifted from the back of the crowd and surfed all the way to the front! I found her eventually, but she wasn’t in a hurry to leave the front of the stage. This wasn’t the kind of girl you would take home to mother. She had a tramp stamp that included her name so, and I quote, “guys will remember my name when they’re doing me from behind!” When I picked her up, she had to get something from her car. I noticed she had a car seat and empty beer bottles in the back seat. We had a fun day, but that’s the last I ever saw of her.
From the mid-80s to today, I went to a lot of concerts. I can’t remember exactly when, but I’ve seen:
- Neil Diamond
- Barry Manilow
- Vertical Horizon with Sister Hazel
- Kid Rock with Uncle Kracker
- Barenaked Ladies
- Beck with The Flaming Lips opening for him
- Three Doors Down
- Puddle of Mud
- Wolfmother (with my middle son, Alex)
- Matchbox Twenty with Sugar Ray
- Foo Fighters
- Cake with Gomez opening
- Them Crooked Vultures
- Green Day
I’m sure I’m leaving some out that I’ll remember later. The bands I regret never seeing include Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Pearl Jam (I’ll see them next time they’re within 500 miles), and REM.
So, what were your favorite concerts?
- Wednesday Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (myblogexactly.wordpress.com)
- Concert Review: Rush, Valley View Casino Arena, San Diego (therepublika.com)
- VAN HALEN: 40 Years Of The Great American Rock Band Book Available (bravewords.com)
So many things happened on our honeymoon. People have asked me, “how was your trip?” As I explain things to them, I realize how little I remember what happened! I remember everything we did, I’m having trouble remembering which place it happened. I’m really glad I wrote a daily entry on this blog so I can remember what the hell happened on my honeymoon!
Here are the odds & ends of the trip:
1. On the ship, the elevators weren’t connected to each other. Usually, you push one button and it would control every elevator on the floor. On the ship, there was one button for the first elevator, another button for the next two elevators, another button for the next two elevators, and one more button for the last elevator. Every single time I wanted to get on an elevator, I started with the first button and pressed all four buttons to maximize my chance to get an elevator. On the flip side, as I rode the elevators, we would stop at a floor and no one would get on! I’m guessing that there was another asshole who did what I did and found a different elevator first.
2. Karaoke contests are frustrating! On the ship, we had three nights of competitions with a final night where the top two finishers of each night competed in the finals. I sang every night! The audience would vote for their favorite and the top two finishers went on to the finals. I believe, and I’ve been told, that I’m a pretty good singer. I have years of experience singing karaoke. I sang songs that the audience would like to hear and not songs I like to sing. Every single night, I sang and every single night, I was not selected in the top two! The only thing that kept me sane was the people who came up to me the next day and said, “Hi, Jim! I loved your song last night”" or, “I really enjoyed your singing.” So why the fuck didn’t you vote for me, you assholes??? Given my years of karaoke experience, I have seen a huge variety of singers. I believed every night that I sang better than all the singers who went to the finals. I’m conceited that way.
3. Meeting people is fun. During the first night on the ship, this friendly young woman asked Alana and me if we wanted to be on their team for a music trivia competition. She and her sister were on the cruise with their parents. The older sister was one of the karaoke singers who beat me on the first night. Her younger sister also sings, but didn’t enter the competition. They were both adorable and we struck up an on-board friendship that made me want to adopt them! I even told their parents that I wanted to adopt them! I have three wonderful sons, but if I could have had a couple of daughters, these two would be exactly the type of daughters I would want! Also, at every stop on the trip, I was able to go onshore and find an extremely interesting person or couple to talk to at a bar.
4. Food is just not that important. The main source of food was the buffet. When you entered the buffet, they gave you enormous plates! If you put a normal amount of food on this plate, it looked like you barely had anything on the plate! So I ended up filling the plate! I would taste something and if it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever tasted, I pushed it aside. I estimate that I ate about 25% of the food I put on my plate. One time, I found a small round dessert plate and put my food on that. It was loaded with food that I liked and it was just the right amount. Another thing that happened is, I wasn’t worried about getting hungry because food was always available! This made me take even less food because I knew that if I got hungry later, I could always go back for more. I ended up eating less during the trip than I would have eaten at home!
5. I had a distinct feeling of “disconnectedness” during the trip. The TV channels on the ship were very limited. The cost of an internet connection was $100 for 200 minutes. You don’t browse casually at 50 cents a minute! So, I spent the entire trip with very limited access to Cincinnati news, which includes how the Reds and Bengals were doing. The ship forces you to be a part of the ship’s culture and they don’t want you to or care if you know what’s going on at home.
6. Too much togetherness is not necessarily a good thing. When Alana and I are at home, I spend a lot of time in my man cave and she spends a lot of time upstairs doing her thing. When we were forced to be together in the same room at the same time, we were ready to kill each other by the end of the trip! We laugh about it now, but there was a lot of frustration by the end of the trip. The key to our relationship is a strong desire to be together balanced with a strong desire to be alone periodically. If we can’t get the alone time, we don’t want the together time! The fact that we both know this and want this is a very, very good thing!
I’ve enjoyed writing about our honeymoon and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. I’ll have some pictures posted on Facebook soon. You can follow me at facebook.com/jim.whittenburg We just posted our wedding photos, so the honeymoon photos might take a while! Thank you for joining us on our excursion.
I woke up early so I could do my weekly long run of 16 miles. Doing this after drinking the beer I drank the day before is never a good idea! I hydrated and headed out the door. Unlike my Denali run, I had a plan this time. I knew that it was 2 miles from our hotel to Stanley Park. This park is huge! They have a running/biking track along the sea wall It was fairly busy for a Sunday morning. At the start of my run, the view of the ocean and the sky and the light at that early hour almost made me stop in my tracks! I kept going until I came to a fork in the trail. I couldn’t figure out what to do, so I continued to follow along the ocean. That wasn’t the right way to go! I followed the ocean for as long as I could, but then I was forced to run toward downtown. The rest of my run had me stopping a lot to figure out which way to go. I got lost once or twice, but I made it!
When I got back to the hotel, Alana told me that our flight was cancelled! She made one phone call after another to United Airlines to see what was going on. Since our flight was going through their partner, Air Canada, United had no idea what was going on. We decided that we should probably get to the airport by 5:00 for our expected 11:55 flight. Before doing that, we had to do one more touristy excursion. We took a short bus ride to a suspension bridge a friend recommended. It was okay and I took a few more pictures, but it involved a lot of walking and climbing up and down stairs. Usually, I’m good with that but today’s run kind of made me feel like I needed a walker to get around!
On the bus ride back, we decided to get off before our scheduled stop so we could get some lunch. Alana pointed to a café and I agreed, but it looked from the outside like it was a soup, salad and sandwich type of café. When we went in to ask for a seat on the patio, we were greeted by an attractive woman in a tight, short, black dress. After we sat on the patio, Alana said, “Did you notice that all the servers have tight black dresses on?” What I should have said was, “No, Baby, I didn’t notice.” What I said was, “Yes, and they had the same uniform at yesterday’s lunch. I guess they hire only hot women who look good in tight black dresses.” She glared at me. I changed the subject by discussing how both restaurants must be owned by the same company. I refrained from taking their pictures. The restaurant turned out to have a chef who won Iron Chef. Many of the items on the menu were marked to show you his personal creations. I chose a burger and it was the best burger I had on this vacation, with yesterday’s burger a very close second. Amazing stuff!
At the airport, we were lucky enough to get an Air Canada agent to help us understand what happened to our flight. Our original 11:55 PM flight wasn’t going to leave until 1:30 AM, which would make us late for our connecting flight in Toronto to Cincinnati. So they just decided to re-book us for a flight TWO DAYS LATER! In their defense, they called Alana who had her phone turned off. We decided that it would be best to get on the 1:30 flight and then wait until 5:30 PM the next day to go home. I never thought I could nap on airport terminal benches, but I found a way! Before they shut all the restaurants down, we grabbed some dinner. Afterwards, I went to the bar to have some liquid nap fluid. I ended up sitting next to a guy who lives north of Vancouver. Way north! He needs a bush pilot to get him home kind of north. He was a very friendly guy but I was fixated on his thick Canadian accent. It was another interesting conversation among a huge number of people I met on this trip.
Arriving in Toronto, we tried to check into our next flight. We were told to go away until 1:30 at the earliest. There was absolutely nothing on the outside of the terminal for us to do and very limited breakfast options. The only slightly acceptable place for breakfast was a Tim Horton’s and we didn’t like how long the line was. We found a small place that sold coffee and we ate a stale sandwich. I then found out that Alana can sleep anywhere! She put her head down on the table and went to sleep for a couple of hours. I woke her up only because I had to find a men’s room. Once we were able to check in, we got though customs and into the baggage screening area. We checked two bags, so this Jamaican man near the checked baggage drop off area yelled, “Hey, I’ve been looking for you! Come over here!” We went over there and joked around with him, and then he said, “Do you ever watch the show House? You look just like him.” I said, “Yeah, I kind of get that a lot.” I don’t get it as much when I’m clean-shaven, but I had about 14 days of growth on my face because I didn’t shave on this trip. So when I’m an asshole to strangers, they must just assume I’m him and give me a free pass. I like that!
Home finally, we dropped our bags and collapsed. Going on vacation can be exceeded only by coming home. You don’t know what you miss until you can’t have it. Things like a computer with a reliable wi-fi connection, a comfortable couch with a remote for the TV that has hundreds of channels, a comfortable bed and non-lumpy pillows, a toilet that flushes cleanly on the first try, and freshly ground coffee in the morning instead of that god awful coffee I’d been drinking for 11 days. It’s good to be home!
Finally, we are on solid ground to stay! I was up at 6:00 AM because the captain told us that we would approach Vancouver at dawn. There was a highway bridge that was supposed to be something to see because it was the lowest bridge the ships are able to go through. Once I saw that, I was not impressed. We drove over this bridge on our way to the airport on Day 11 and the bridge is more impressive from the road! However, the view of the Vancouver skyline was absolutely the best view of any port on our trip. The sun was just beginning to rise over the mountains to the east and was already reflecting off of the Vancouver skyline. I went back and forth taking pictures of the skyline and pictures of the sunrise over the mountain. It was impressive! Then I watched the ship do a 180 and back into the dock. I’d like to see our Captain parallel park in Cincinnati with cars waiting for him to get out of the way!
We disembarked and grabbed a cab to our hotel, which ended up being about a 15 minute walk. We had too many bags to walk because we kept buying t-shirts and hats and shot glasses at all the ports. Before we left home, Alana packed our bags within an inch of their lives! Trying to re-pack the stuff we brought with us would have challenged Daniel the Contortionist (“The Rubber Boy”) to get back in the box after eating from the ship’s buffet for a week. So Alana bought an extra large gym bag to help with the overflow. A day or so later, she decided that the bag needed wheels so she bought a different gym bag! These two bags were critical for us to make it back home with everything, but checking them cost us an extra $50. We better use these damn bags again!
We had tickets to get on a “Hop On/Hop Off” sightseeing trolley. Our plan was to check into the hotel, and then I was going to go for a 16 mile run while Alana took a nap. However, the room wasn’t ready and wouldn’t be ready for a few hours. We checked our bags and went on the trolley. To do this, we had to walk back to the ship and turn in our vouchers for tickets. Let me tell you a dirty little secret about the cruise lines. They sell you “excursions” in such a convenient way that it just makes sense to pre-book your excursions through the ship. They bill the credit card you give them and you just get off the ship and go. At each port, there were multiple kiosks selling the same activities and more! Because we already paid for the trolley, we had to take the trolley instead of the “Fun Bus” parked behind out trolley! This was the start of the Trolley Ride From Hell!!!
We stopped at multiple hotels as we weaved our way through town. The driver was courteous enough to tell us a few interesting things about the tops of the buildings regardless of the fact that we weren’t remotely able to see what the hell he was talking about! There is a building in Vancouver that planted trees, shrubs, etc., on the top of a building. This fascinated our driver but left us unimpressed. We had two stops that seemed to be interesting. One was Granville Island and another was Yorktown. We skipped the first and then I got too hungry so we stopped in Yorktown. This was a beautiful harbor with lots of places to eat. We picked the first place we saw that had decent enough food and beer. The food was better than decent, it was the best hamburger I’d eaten in a very long time! I took note of the servers (I’ll discuss part two of this phenomenon tomorrow) - all very attractive women dressed in tight, black, short dresses. If they had cleavage (and they did), they displayed it proudly. It was like an extremely classy Hooters with one MAJOR exception – the food here was incredible, while Hooters is inedible. It’s like Hooters employees are prostitutes while the Yorktown employees are escorts. They both give you something as long as you have enough money, but one of them makes you too ashamed to tell your friends you went there.
One other thing about the trolleys that we noticed on the short time we were passengers was that every seat was taken. On almost every stop, unless someone got off, the passengers waiting to get back on were out of luck and had to wait for the next trolley that was likely to be full as well. Knowing this, we decided to take a walk along the shore line. We found a water bus that would take us to Granville Island for $7 one-way. That sounded like a good idea at the time, so off we went. If I lived in Vancouver, I would avoid Granville Island even though their Granville Market was a smaller version of our Findlay Market. Great locally owned shops with a fantastic variety of food, but theirs was overrun by tourists! We decided to keep walking to see what else was there and I spotted Granville Brewery. Being a beer aficionado, I had to stop to sample the local brew! Alana sat across from me as I sipped my IPA and she was in obvious pain, as in, “I hate this place, I hate this island, I just want to go back to the hotel,” kind of pain.
After one beer, we figured out how to get the hell off the island and walked to the trolley stop. As expected, the first trolley came up with a full load. Some got off to go to the Island, but there were already double that number in line in front of us! Now I was the one in pain! I began venting my frustrations for all to here, “This is fucking bullshit! How do you run a trolley without enough seats to handle this amount of business?!?” It was then that a guide working for the trolley company told us another bus was coming to pick up the overflow. Just as it was about to arrive, I tried to get Alana to come with me and get a cab. The minute we got out of line, the overflow bus arrived. I can’t repeat everything I said at this point, but it wasn’t pretty! I turned around and got back into a position that was roughly the same as it was before we left the line and we managed to get on this bus. There were still people waiting who were unable to fit on the trolley. Meanwhile, as we waited in line for our god-forsaken trolley, a Fun Bus rolled by with plenty of empty seats! We managed to figure out which stop on this tour got us closest to the hotel and we hopped off. The driver tried to give me their map, saying, “Do you plan to get back on the trolley?” I responded as politely as possible, “We won’t be back on this trolley, thanks.” I’m sure that as he drove away, the passengers who remained shared a laugh about my tirade. At least I hope they did!
Two very good things came about because of this miserable experience. We drove past a Terry Fox memorial, which had a bar/restaurant across the street that was a place I knew I had to go! Terry Fox was a Canadian who had a leg amputated due to cancer. He embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres, and ultimately cost him his life, his efforts resulted in a lasting, worldwide legacy. The annual Terry Fox Run, first held in 1981, has grown to involve millions of participants in over 60 countries and is now the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research; over $500 million has been raised in his name. As a runner who raises pennies, by comparison, for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I loved being able to walk back to his memorial and spend a moment reflecting on what he did for cancer research.
Then, I walked across the street to the bar. It took a while, but I struck up a conversation with a young man sitting to my left. My first beer was an IPA, but I decided to experiment and get a darker beer along the lines of a Guinness, only lighter. He started to tell me how darker beers are better for you because of the antioxidants. It was 7:20 at the start of this conversation. I know this because I was hungry and I texted Alana to tell her where I was. She was still in the hotel room sleeping and recovering from the complete lack of sleep you get while on a cruise. I texted her that I was going to get dinner and I’d join her for her dinner when she was ready. I continued talking to this man and found out he was part Cherokee and part some other tribe. He was from Houston, but he moved to Vancouver three months ago. To make a very long story a little shorter, he made me re-think my preconceived viewpoints of life just by asking me questions that forced me to challenge those viewpoints in my own head! I bought him a beer and we talked until 8:30. At this time, I realized that Alana may be ready for dinner by now! My new friend and I exchanged Facebook contact info and now we’re Facebook BFFs.
Do yourself a favor. If you find yourself in public – it doesn’t have to be a bar, but that’s where you’ll find some very interesting people – talk to them. Really talk to them. At home, I don’t go to bars every night. While on vacation, I found myself in many different bars while Alana recuperated from the day’s activities. That person sitting there, either alone or as a couple, has a strong desire to connect with someone. Strike up a conversation and see what happens. Sometimes, the person just wants to be left alone. Other times, you can create magic. Go create magic for someone! Your reward will be 100 times greater than what you just did for the other person. For me, this trip became all about creating magic moments. I’ll have more to say about this soon. For now, I’m dealing with jet lag and I have to get to bed!
After pulling away from the Ketchican dock, we knew we wouldn’t be on dry land again until we got to Vancouver. So, we had to plan for our activities without the benefit of an excursion. I got up early so I could get to the treadmill before anyone else. I got to the gym at about 10 minutes before they opened and found a line forming already! I managed to score a treadmill and ran for 45 minutes. I usually run 45 minutes on Wednesday evening, but after my day in Ketchikan and my night on the ship, I wasn’t able to run then! Waking up dehydrated to go run on a treadmill so I could sweat for 45 minutes, made me even more dehydrated!
Sometimes, the only thing interesting on the ship is to go on the deck by the pool and have a beer. You could tell how the ship was rocking by watching the water in the pool splash over first one side and then the other, back and forth for a long, long time. That got boring in about 30 seconds. People watching at the pool was endlessly entertaining! There was a pack of teenagers who stayed together all week as if their lives depended on being part of the pack. I reminded me of “March of the Penguins” who huddled together during winter so they could survive the cold. Except this pack was loud and silly. They showed up together at a comedy show and sat in the front row. It ended up being just as entertaining watching them than it was watching the comedian!
Also on the swimming pool deck, we had the older crowd wearing an interesting variety of clothing. Many of them were smart enough to sstay covered up. There was more than one woman who decided to pull her shirt up to sun what looked like a bag of tapioca pudding. Ladies! That’s what tanning beds are for! Worse, I saw all the older men with their skinny legs and large, shirtless, bellies. Why, men? Why? Finally, there were a few, very few, who were flaunting their goods for all the world to see. Good work!
After I got bored, I decided to schedule a massage. This massage was with the blessings of my beautiful bride, but I still had to pay for it. One very obvious thing about this ship is that there are a LOT of Philippinos working in service positions. There are also a few British, but the vast majority of the waiters/waitresses are residents of the Philippines. So, I was expecting a similar type massage – a small Philippino woman. I went at the appointed time and filled out the required paperwork. They gave me a robe and showed me to the changing room. I tthen went to the waiting area where I waited with two women, all three of us in our robes.. I didn’t see a single man in the area! What is wrong with the men on this boat? Then, my massuse arrived to take me back to the room. I was surprised to find that I was about to get a massage from a very attractive blonde woman from South Africa who had a charming British accent. At this point, dear reader, you may be wondering about a “happy ending.” This was not the case, in fact it was a “sad ending.” After the massage, she said, “You just missed some whale sightings off the side of the boat.” I’ve spent hours and hours taking about 1,100 pictures over the side of the ship, and you see whales while I’m getting a massage? That’s just bullshit!
I went back to the room and told Alana how relaxing the massage was. She asked if I got the happy ending. I told her, “no, but I gave her one!” It’s a damn good thing she loves me and gets me like no one I’ve ever known!
Today was “Adventure Kart” day in Ketchikan. It was a two-seat go-kart with a top speed of 35 mph. We were expecting more, but the adventure was still fun. I drove up the hill with all the karts in a line, so I was limited to what the person in front of me was doing. It was a dirt road full of potholes and rocks so it was very bumpy. They told us that Ketchikan never has three days in a row without rain, but today was day three! Had it been raining, we would have been dressed in their rubber suits and come back down the hill covered in mud. Instead, we came back covered in dust which they blew off with an air-hose.
Alana drove down the hill with me trying to get her to drive in the center of the road. It looked to me that the right wheel was always thisclose to going off the road. I kept pointing to the left, but she claims she didn’t see me doing that. I’m pretty sure she was trying to make me fall out of the kart and go back to the ship without me!
We had lunch in a tourist trap pirate themed restaurant/saloon. An older gentlman provided the entertainment. He was sporting a grey goatee complete with a handlebar mustache! He picked up his guitar and started singing a Johnny Cash song. He actually sounded exactly like him!
After a little shopping, Alana headed back to the ship while I headed to a bar that had free wi-fi. After checking in to “The Asylum” on Facebook, a young couple sat next to me. It turns out they are on the same ship, but we hadn’t met yet. They are from Toronto and we talked about the marathon I ran there among other things. I told them that when I was in grade school, we were told that the US was going to use the metric system so we needed to learn it. We shared a good laugh about that!
They asked about life in Cincinnati and I gave them my e-mail address, promising them a tour of the city when they decide to come to town. Soon after that, the wife said, “has anyone told you that you look like a celebrity?” Then, she whispered in her husband’s ear. He said, “What are you doing? He’s a dead ringer! Do you think it’s a secret?” So I said, “Dr. House?” She was so thrilled that I loomed like him that she insisted that her husband take our picture do she could go home and tell people that she met Hugh Laurie!
One of the best parts of this trip has been meeting people. I now have a nodding acquaintance with a woman I met on the ship. We were waiting for an elevator and when the door opened, there was a very skinny Japanese man standing there in his swimming trunks with a towel wrapped around his shoulders. He didn’t look like he had been swimming - he looked like they just pulled him from the ocean after going overboard! He got off while this woman and I stayed on. After he left, I could tell she was about to share a laugh with her friend so I said, “stylish, huh?” They both laughed and now I have to say hello every time I see her.