Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Summer vacation, day 7

Funny thing about cruise ships... You see people wandering around with food combinations you’d likely NEVER see on land. You’re in the elevator with a guy carrying a tray of ice cream sundaes and Heinekens. Or pass someone with a tray of burgers, fries, calamari, and sushi. Or pizza, margaritas, and a bowl of corn flakes.

There's an awesome dude who works the breakfast buffet. He stands there and hands out trays and silverware as you go in. But what sets him apart is this: instead of just handing it to you and smiling, he runs through a routine. "The time is now 8:54 a.m. on September 25, 2015. Weather today is a high of 62, low of 39, with 20% chance of rain. And it's time for your breakfast." He was so good at keeping up on the time and forecast I meant to ask him for stock quotes and baseball scores.

Today we were in Skagway. This is a charming place where Craig and his hair were thrilled to find a Starbucks within walking distance of the dock. He's following in my religious beliefs as a Caffeineatarian, though we currently belong to different branches.

Like other cruise-ship-driven economies, the place had kitschy gift shops and jewelry stores everywhere.

I do not understand the jewelry store thing AT ALL. You encounter this in every cruise town, regardless of country. Apparently there are people who have nothing better to do then travel to fascinating places to walk into something as exotic as a jewelry store that carries stuff similar to what you can buy at home at the mall for half as much. I don’t know if this is a bizarre human trait or just an American cultural thing.

This ship, like others we’ve been on, has someone who is the professional shopper. This is a person whose entire line of work consists of shopping and telling other people which stores to go to (generally the ones who’ve paid a “promotional fee” (aka kickback) to the cruise line. This ship, in fact, had TWO of them. A husband and wife duo who looked like they stepped off a wedding cake. So, to recap: This pair is paid to live on a cruise ship and take people shopping. Their room and food are included. Where can I sign up?

Of course, this town also had a photo stop:

"He's friendlier than our last waiter."

We took a bus tour across the Alaskan panhandle into Canada, marveling at the remarkable scenery. At one point Frank noticed the tops of the tall roadside poles were painted electric yellow-orange, and asked about it. The guide told him that was so the snowplows could locate the road under 15 feet of snow in the winter. Even with the snowy winters we get in Grumpyville, the kids were in awe at that, and kept craning their necks to see the markings.

The tour guide talked about the Alaskan Gold Rush at length, repeatedly focusing on how many horses died during it. He finally stopped when Marie began bawling.

The view along the road was spectacular, with waterfalls, greenery, towering mountains, and just a slight amount of fog. I decided to try the iPhone's "Panorama" feature, but then Craig walked in front of me.

"It's, um, very Avant Garde, dad"

The tour continued inland for a while, then turned around and came back to the international border. I began getting out our passports as we pulled up to the guardhouse, figuring they'd ask for them. Looking over I realized the Canadian guardhouse on the other side of the road was empty, and the guy in a Canadian uniform was in the U.S. hut playing cards with the American guard. Détente, North American style.

The guy in the U.S. uniform set down his cards, took a swig of coffee, and came over to the window.

Guard: "Morning, Pete."

Driver: "Hey, Steve. How you doing?" (Canadian guard waves) "Hi, Phil."

Guard: "You have pancakes with Mike this morning?"

Driver: "Yeah, we both had to be up early. Several ships in today."

The Canadian guard looked up at a tour bus coming down his side of the road and waved them through as he refilled his coffee.

Guard: "Glad you guys are keeping busy. You be back later?"

Driver: "Yep. This is the first of 5 tours today. You need anything from town?"

Guard: "Could you grab me a pastrami and chips? I left my lunch at home."

Driver: "Sure. You got enough soda here? Or need some?"

Guard: "Nah, Phil and I split a case of Diet Coke yesterday."

Driver: "Sounds good. See you later."

We continued on.

After the tour I stopped at the station to divest myself of some Diet Coke, and found I was looking at this sign:

Back in town the boys were under the impression this historical place was offering a different kind of tour:

There was also this interesting exterior made up of sticks nearby:

And another photo stop:

Years ago we were on a cruise that stopped in Sitka. I miss that, as I guess the big ships don’t go there. It was a neat little place without (as of 2005) too much of the tourist crap that you see all over Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan. And, even cooler, is this: by land area, it’s the biggest city in the U.S. More than 6 times the size of Los Angeles, more than 9 times the size of New York, and with a population of roughly 10,000. So it's a great place to live if you like a lot of distance between you and your neighbors.

Actually, for those of you hoping to say “I’ll take ‘Biggest American Cities by area’ for $500, Alex” keep this in mind: The 4 biggest U.S. cities by area are ALL in Alaska: Sitka, Juneau, Wrangell, and Anchorage. Interesting factoid there.

After returning to the ship, Mom and I went to play trivia, something we tend to do at every opportunity (trivia & game shows of various types are a 2-3 a day thing on most cruises). We both like it. Most sessions are about 30 minutes, and you’re only playing for bragging rights. It would be nice if they gave you a free cruise or tour, but they’re not. So they give out chintzy trophies, key chains, water bottles, chip clips, and or lanyards.

Usually they’re run by 1-2 members of the cruise director's staff. These are attractive, late 20's to early 30's genetically engineered Replicants designed to always be happy, hyper, and smiling. I imagine they’re kept in a special room where, between shifts, they receive intravenous Prozac and triple-strength espresso.

The guy who usually ran the trivia was Mickey. I have no idea where he was from. His English was quite good, but his accent was such that he pronounced the word “focus” as, hysterically “fuck us.” Which probably made him the least ideal choice to run trivia.

“Try to focus on the question.”

“The answer will come if you focus.”

“Everyone focus on the screen.”

It was pretty hard not to crack up. Since I spend my days in the office doing that, I’d left the ability at home, and kept snickering.

Some people, for whatever reason, take shipboard trivia seriously. One question had Elvis Presley as the answer. A group misspelled his last name as Pressley, with the result being that a guy in a Metallica T-shirt held up the game complaining that the team with the incorrect spelling should be disqualified.

Dude, chill. You're playing for a cheap made-in-China water bottle.


Anonymous said...

No old, grumpy lady today? I picture her as Miss Weezer from Steel Magnolias.

clairesmum said...

so now when I hear the word 'focus".....glad I don't work for an eye doctor!

J said...

I had a statistic professor in college with an accent who pronounced success as suck-sess and (talking about coin flips) the probability of getting head vs the probability of getting tail.

College class, bunch of 19 and 20 year olds. Much snickering.

Whelk Lad! said...

Now that weed is legal in Alaska, I think you're going to be seeing more and more of those interesting food combinations on cruise ships. Shopping in cruise ports should be more fun too.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the trivia games aboard as well and had to chuckle at your observation of how competitive some fellow passengers got for that dinky plastic trophy-ette. The best trivia games I can recall were ones next to one of the many bars on the ship and contestants were three sheets to the wind.

Bobbi said...

That Camp Skagway building is gorgeous!

jen said...

What branch of Caffeinatarian are you if you aren't St. Arbuck's? St. Peet's? St. Caribou's?

Moose said...

I see in your last picture that you met my cousin, Martin. He's been in the tourist trade there in Alaska for some years. We don't keep in contact much, as he's always out on the streets.

migraineur said...

Jen- he's devout to the diet coke-atarians

As for the cruise jewelry, I would get the coupon for the freebie, and whichever was prettiest, pay to upgrade into a necklace (about $20 usd) really cheap for a nice souvenir that I know I'll use. Not to everyone's tastes, but I don't need any more t shirts or coffee mugs

Anonymous said...

Heh heh Moose, there's quite a few 'cousins-twice removed' and other long lost relatives up there, for sure. That photo is about as close as anyone should get to a dead or stuffed moose. Children from grammar school are taught never to get downwind of a moose, due to their fierceness especially of mothers and their calves.

Fireweed has been legal for years in AK. It grows all over the place up there.

Anonymous said...

Either Marie is tiny or your boys are very tall!

Merkaba said...

"Focus" pronounced like that might have been South African.

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