Grumpy Vacation Adventures



Okay, we are somewhere off the coast of Mexico on the S.S. Buffet. At sea day. Was woken-up by my iPod alarm, which I’d forgotten to turn off. In a dubious sign, the shuffle feature randomly picked the theme from “Titanic” to wake me with.

The ship has a "fine art" theme. Copies of famous paintings and statues everywhere. Obviously, this includes some 16th-17th century nudes. So everywhere we went for the first few hours on board the kids would giggle and say "look! boobies!".

Dining room has a copy of Michelangelo's sculpture "David", so all 3 kids had to point out that you could see his winkie.

Our cabin has a "partial view". This means we have an excellent view of the side of an orange and white lifeboat. If you look downwards, though, you can see the ocean going by, but that's all you can see, no matter where you are. Even in port.

At one point Marie used the toilet, then wandered over to the window and told her brother Craig she could see her pee going away in the ocean. I swear.

Last night Camp Cruiseship had their welcome party in the single’s disco, which was closed to adults until 9. So me and the kids danced the Hoki-Poki and other popular numbers. Highlight was the occasional 20-something males and females who came by in their best "I came on this cruise to get LAID!" outfits, who hadn't read the door sign about the kids party. They seemed pretty damn horrified to see a bunch of parents and small children doing the Hoki-Poki in what they thought was the hot pick-up spot.

The singles' lounge, oddly, is decorated in a theme of famous torso's, like the statue of Venus de Milo. So every 10 feet on the wall are headless, armless, legless, male and female torsos, in bright pastel colors. And every table is held up on the neck of a headless torso, too. At one point we saw our oldest, Frank, fondling our table. Anyway, it looks odd. Like a room designed by an ax murderer.

(click to enlarge)


Is there some kind of law that requires cruise lines to always book 1 semi-demented toothless old guy who's been out in the sun way too long and has a remarkably bad collection of baseball caps? You know, ones that say "I got married for better or worse. I couldn't do better, and she couldn't do worse", or that have plastic dog poop on the brim. This is my 5th cruise, and he's on this one, too.

During dinner tonight the wait staff broke into a singing number, in which they twirled napkins over their head. So Marie did the same, knocking over a glass of water and hitting the girl next to her with a greasy napkin. I suspect that family will ask for better tablemates tomorrow.

Tonight I was lying in bed leafing through the nightstand book about Cruiseline, Inc., it lists brief profiles of all their top executives and captains. A number of the entries end with phrases like "he is married to Anna, a dancer he met while serving on the S.S. Overeat." After a while, I wondered if this is a corporate perk. "You did a great job, Lars. Here's your dancer".

Another odd feature of the book was the paid ads in it for places like Newport News Shipbuilding "where we perform maintenance and repair on all large vessels. Call us to schedule yours" or some company that advertises "we're the world leaders in anti-fouling paint for ocean liners". If I owned my own cruise ship WTF would I be doing on this one, you bozos?

That's all for now.


Still going in circles on the S.S. Buffet.

Apropos of absolutely nothing: 2 days ago we left our house for the drive to the airport. I was in charge of setting up the navigation gadget in the car. Our GPS system has a bad power cord connection which results in it randomly turning off. Mrs. Grumpy somehow discovered this was easily corrected by licking the connection head before hooking it into the doodad.

So I was pissing and moaning about the lack of enough Diet Coke for me to wake up, and was hooking up the GPS thing at the same time. In doing so I licked the power cable, unfortunately AFTER I'd already plugged it into the car and started the engine. So I took the voltage from a running car battery across my tongue. This definitely woke me up.

So anyway, we are still meandering aimlessly off Mexico, with several other floating hotels. Occasionally a freighter wanders by. I can only assume that the sight of cruise ships going in circles is (at least to freighter crews) a sign that you have almost reached the end of Mexico or the U.S. territorial waters, sort of like passing Ellis Island on the way to New York.

Tonight was the formal night to meet the captain. This is some odd tradition I've never understood, and I suspect it's not the highlight of the trip for him, either. Will Turner, one of Cunard's more legendary captains in the last century, once referred to the passengers as "a bunch of bloody monkeys". But my son Craig loved the idea of getting dressed up, and I learned it's the only time on the ship where the drinks are free. So we went, and I kept our waitress busy.

The captain stands at the door, smiling, shaking the hand of everyone who wanders by, then moving on to the next person. Just behind him is an attendant with a large bottle of Purell.

Anyway, the captain then got on stage and gave his little speech ("Thank you for choosing Cruiseship Lines, good night"). Then the band began playing dance music, and invited anyone to come up and dance. I was working my way through yet another free drink when my right arm was torn from it's socket by 8 year old Marie, who just LOVES dancing.

So I got dragged on stage, and Marie went wild. The ship was rocking, the rum was kicking in, and we were at the front of a 2000 seat theater. Marie has an interesting dance style, which basically consists of jumping wildly about regardless of the music being played. And she wanted to dance every number. So half the audience thought I was a drunk Dad with a daughter who was either hyper, tone deaf, or seizing. The other half probably thought I was one of Warren Jeff's cousins on my honeymoon.

Afterwards we took the kids to tonight’s lounge show. They had warnings all over that parents should know the costumes would be "revealing". For the record, their definition of revealing was about as revealing as a 1957 woman's 1-piece swimsuit.

Gotta love it. The ship is covered with pictures and statues of nude men & women, you hang out by the pool watching college girls in thong bikinis made of dental floss, and they still want to warn you about the costumes at the musical show.

Marie also has developed a habit of looking out our cabin window with the partial view several times each day and solemnly announcing "we're moving". As long as the direction is horizontal and not vertical, I guess this is good.

And that's the way it is.


Okay, we were in Puerto Vallarta today. It's an improvement over Ensenada, as it doesn't have a large wreck half-sunken in the harbor (for those who care, the wreck in question is the S.S. Catalina. Due to financial mismanagement it somehow ended floating in Ensenada harbor a ways back. I first saw it, afloat but obviously rusty and abandoned, on my first cruise in 1993. On my 2nd cruise in 2003 it had partially sunk, and on my most recent cruise there in 2007 it was on the harbor bottom, though most of it was still above water, rusting away, and harboring a large colony of sea lions and their bodily wastes).

So we had a great view of the harbor. On one side of the ship is a beautiful view of boats and beaches. And on the other a Costco, Wal-Mart, and Sam's Club.

We watched as tourists jumped off the ship in droves, some hardly waiting for the gangplank. They looked like they were ready to use knotted sheets to get out of their portholes if need be. And where did they go? To the special sale at the Tanzanite Jewelry company? To the amazing deals on one-of-a-kind jewelry at the Diamond Import Wholesale Company? To the swim-with-dolphins tour? Fuck no. They all went to Costco, Wal-Mart, and Sam's Club.

This is a peculiar feature of Americans, the desire for the familiar after we've payed a fortune to get away from it all. We’ll go to some exotic locale halfway around the world to dine at a McDonald's or Starbuck's.

We were going to stay on the boat. Unfortunately, the cheap walkie-talkies we'd bought at Big Lots years ago no longer worked (if they ever did), and so we needed some. They don’t sell them on the ship. So I went to Costco, too.

It was sweltering. 95 degrees and 98% humidity. And through this muck I walked to Costco. Fortunately, due to the ease of my membership card and a credit card I bought the walkie-talkies easily, with no Spanish required. I was somewhat taken aback to notice they were $798, but then realized this was in pesos. I have no idea what the exchange rate was. The $2.50 hot dog special at home was $19 here, so I tried to convert that roughly, and am guessing I payed roughly $70-$90, but it's not like I was in a position to do comparison shopping, either. I just hope like hell I don't get my credit card statement in a month and find I really DID pay $798.

The "walk" signals on the streets are interesting. They feature a moving graphic of a man running, and the longer the signal is on, the faster he runs. I was hoping to see if a truck mowed him down when the light turned red, but was running through the intersection myself at this point.

A local brand of bread is Bimbo. I swear. So you see billboards and other signs with a picture of a pretty young woman holding a loaf of bread, and under that it says "Senorita Bimbo!"

So I got back to the ship. After lunch we lounged by the pool, had another lunch, and while the kids swam I futzed with the walkie-talkies. Several times male voices speaking Spanish cut in on our frequency. After a few minutes of this I summoned my vague knowledge of the language and said "Yo no tengo las enchiladas". Mrs. Grumpy was horrified, and threatened to kill me if I did it again.

The walkie-talkies opened up an interesting new world. There are only a finite number of frequencies, but a lot of people on board use them. So you end up unintentionally eavesdropping, like with a police radio. Odd snippets of conversation that drifted by as I read my book included, "Bill, did you pack the pliers?", "Jim was asked to leave the library, again" (no other details given, either), and "Suzy, I'm going to go change my tampon". Thank you all for sharing.

The kids have been attending the onboard Camp Cruiseline, and love it. One of the registration form's questions is whether or not they can swim and are allowed in the pools. In spite of this, they don't actually ever take them swimming! So why do they want to know, anyway? In case they fall overboard? "Hey Natasha, I think it was the Grumpy kid who fell off the railing. Go get their file to see if they can swim."

In the afternoon, after mini-golfing with the twins (they gave up on trying to watch Pokemon cartoons in Spanish in the room) I went to the shore excursion desk to ask about the swim with dolphin stuff. At that point the twins began loudly fighting over something, and so I asked the guy if they had any sort of "swim with sharks" excursion for children. He politely looked through a sheet of papers, then said no. Sheeesh.

At dinner tonight Frank ordered the chocolate melt cake. This is basically a partially baked chocolate cake with a gooey liquid center, surrounded in melting ice cream. When I glanced over I was horrified to see that here, in the main formal dining room, my child was eating it WITH A STRAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So I stopped him, and explained about manners, and told him not to eat his chocolate cake by sucking it through a straw. So instead he picked up the whole bowl and drank it.

It was getting about 9:30, and the S.S. Buffet was getting to leave dock. At this point one of the more puzzling announcements was made over the ship's PA system: "Attention, Mrs. John Smith, in cabin #1234. Please notify the purser's desk immediately if you have not yet returned aboard".

Why on Earth do the men’s rooms in the public areas have "do not put sanitary napkins in the toilet" signs in the stalls?

The night ended with Marie having so much free pop, juice, ice cream, and fun in evening Camp Cruiseship that she forgot to pee before bed. So while writing this I was startled by her sleep walking and urinating on the floor of our cabin. That was the only pair of her PJ's that we brought, too.


Today we were in Mazatlan.

The view from our cabin, surprisingly, was different today. Instead of looking straight down into water (which we'd been doing since boarding the ship) we were looking straight down onto concrete. I could only assume we were in port or had had a serious navigational mishap.

My first view of Mazatlan, out the window of the dining room at breakfast, was a giant cement dock covered with such attractive things as mountains of rotting rubber tires, rusting freight containers, and billboards that said "eat at Senior Frog's"

As we ate, a band of about 20 musicians showed up to play at the gangway. Most were obviously hung over. They were pleasantly off key and unsynchronized, and at one point a trombone player tried to do some sort of spinning dance move and fell over, knocking over 2 other musicians in the process. This only improved their playing.

There were a few small shops inside the port area, to allow tourists the pleasure of buying cheap marionettes without having to travel into the city. Mrs. Grumpy and I decided to incarcerate the kids in Camp Cruiseship, and go out there. At some point, for unclear reasons, she decided we would take an “air-conditioned comfort trolley tour” of the city. The guide said it was a 2 hour drive of the city's highlights (which turned out to be quite a lie, sort of like Gilligan's 3 hour tour).

They wanted $25 per person, so she paid the guy cash, and he said he'd come back with our tickets. He then disappeared, and I assumed that was the last we'd see of him and our $50. Surprisingly, he showed up again a few minutes later, and gave us our tickets. He also told us the tour included all the beer, pop, bottled water, and margaritas we could want. So off we went.

The "air-conditioned comfort" trolley turned out to be a diesel bus without working air conditioning. It was 97 degrees outside with 98% humidity. The comical part was how the driver and tour guide (Fernando) both kept insisting the air conditioning was working fine, in spite of remarkably obvious evidence to the contrary (like the fact it was a frigid 99 degrees inside the bus). In fact, they insisted on keeping the windows closed to help improve the efficiency of the nonexistent air conditioning.

The free drinks, as it turned out, were NOT on the bus. The bus dropped us off to "explore the local culture" (which consisted of several large diamond and silver stores), where they offered bottled water from a local municipal source, thimblefulls of beer, and margaritas made with Fresca & Tequila (I swear!). One place had Diet Coke, which I asked for. I discovered that Mexican Diet Coke has a unique flavor enhancer, namely aluminum foil, added. I left the can on the counter. I went to take a leak (I considered drinking my urine as a survival tactic, since I at least know where it came from), only to discover that the toilets were of the robust kind that can't handle toilet paper. So there's a big wastebasket full of used TP next to the potty.

Outside the store was a cart selling ice cream, with a sign listing the flavors in English. They included "cheese" and "burned milk" ice creams. Mmmmmmm.

As I'm writing this by the pool, the ship's calypso band has just started a reggae version of "Sweet Caroline". These cruise lines REALLY need a policy limiting the number of times the pool band can play "Red, Red, Wine". And perhaps banning reggae versions of ANYTHING by Juice Newton.

Anyway, then we were driven along a beach, where the locals have built monuments to all things of importance in Mazatlan. I am not joking. There was a large statue of a shrimp, another of a taxicab (I swear!), and even one of a beer-brewing tank. All they needed was a memorial to the unknown tourist, who died in a van without functioning air conditioning.

At one point we drove past a decrepit building, which looked like an earthquake trashed it, with a sign over the door "Dr. Gonzales. Neurologico". I will never criticize my tiny office again. We also saw several realty signs, advertising homes for sale by Jesus. I won't say anything more.

Oddly, there is only 1 Señor Frogs restaurant there, but 8 stores selling "eat at Señor Frogs" merchandise. WTF?

The drive back to the ship was somewhat comical, as the guide announced that while we were in the last diamond shop the van's air conditioning had suddenly broken. I am not joking. He was sorry, but not sorry enough to refund money, or even admit it had been broken all day (or possibly since 1987). To help keep us cool he opened the windows AND the large folding doors he was standing next to. So we were speeding down the highway with Fernando leaning against the open door frame and talking into the microphone. I'm sure if we hit a bump we would have heard some interesting, though brief, Spanish phrases on the intercom. From what I can tell of local driving, a traffic accident doesn't qualify unless a minimum of 1 limb is severed.

Seeing the S.S. Buffet in the distance, dwarfing all the buildings in Mazatlan, was a beautiful sight at this point. After getting off the bus Mrs. Grumpy had to restrain me from causing an international incident with the tour company. We were glad to get back to sea.

I took Marie and Frank up to mini-golf. We were in a crowded elevator, and I asked them if they wanted to stop for ice cream on the way to the course. Marie said, "no, I have a stomach ache. But it's not as bad as when I was camping with Grandma and got diarrhea." Then, trying to be helpful, she turned to the middle-aged lady behind her and explained "diarrhea is when you have to poop a lot."

Playing miniature golf with Marie is difficult, because she usually hits the ball off the course, and occasionally the ship. She often hits other passengers. I then reprimand her for hitting the ball too hard and striking someone. So she starts crying so pitiously that the wounded person will come over (still holding an ice bag on their head) and say "It's okay, honey, it didn't hurt that much" or "I'd broken that ankle before, anyway".


Today the S.S. Buffet was in Cabo. Our last 2 excursions off the ship (see last few posts) were just so much @#$%!!! fun that we decided to just stay on board.

On the way to breakfast this morning I passed a cabin with a sock over the door handle. I had no idea guys still did that. It was quite nostalgic. Last time I saw that signal was when I lived in a dorm at BSU (Big State University) in 1985. In this day and age I guess I'd figured guys had developed a more technologically advanced way of saying "do not enter, I am scoring" (or at least trying to make others think you are).

It was comical, especially when 9 year-old Frank asked me why there was a sock on the door (I told him they needed laundry done). I briefly toyed with the ideas of exchanging it with the "maid service please" sign on another door, or even going to the ship's store and buying a whole package of socks to put on every door along that hall to make it look like some sort of humpfest was in progress.

There is actually a lady, I swear, who brought a FUCKING SCALE on the ship. She weighs herself BY THE POOL every morning, and loudly announces her current state of chubbiness. Since the numbers keep going up, I can only assume she is looking for a sympathetic response. But no one else responds. I think they're all afraid she'll offer to weigh anyone who speaks up.

In the afternoon I started playing cards with Craig and Marie by the pool. They became indignant, feeling that since they'd seen a room labeled "card room" downstairs, we shouldn't be playing cards anywhere else. In fact, both were concerned security would haul us away for even having possession of a deck of cards anywhere but a designated card room.

So we went to the card room. There was one family playing bridge, and a group of blue haired elderly ladies playing Mahjong. Craig immediately went over to inform the grandma club that it was the card room, and they could get in trouble for playing non-card games.

I hurriedly grabbed an empty table, dragging Craig away from theirs. I sat down to play steal the bundle with them. I had my back to the wall, and the twins were facing me. Unfortunately, in my hurry I hadn't noticed I'd sat down beneath some 17th century painting of the roman god Mercury, wearing nothing but a hat. So Marie suddenly shrieked "Look! You can see his penis!" Then they both began cackling hysterically.

At this point I began getting some icy glares. So I gathered up the cards and kids, mumbled an apology to the Mahjong League of Death, and ran out.

The day wrapped up with a party for past guests, which involved free drinks, so I had several. There were also hors d'ouvres. A pleasant young wattress kept coming by our seat with a tray of things (it was too dark in there to see what). When queried she said "They’re chili fish". I had no interest at all in them, and said no. So she put one on my plate. As soon as she left I quickly moved the plate to an empty table, so she immediately came back to offer me another chili fish. This time I apparently managed to communicate my complete lack of interest, and she pleasantly wandered off, only to return 1 minute later to ask me if I'd like a chili fish.

At this point the orchestra announced they were opening up the floor for dancing, so again Marie dislocated my shoulder to drag me onstage. Muttering a silent prayer that none of my patients were watching, I went up again. So we danced in front of 500 or so past guests. At one point Marie lost her balance and grabbed my shorts for support. Unfortunately, I was wearing shorts with an elastic waistband and no belt. Miraculously, I grabbed them just before they were lowered too much, sparing the past guests a view of my undies and possibly reasons to try another cruise line.

So we went back to our seat, and a cruise photographer (his name is Whackjob, I swear) immediately came over to get a picture of Marie and I. He fired a trillion megawatt flash at me from point blank range, blinding me for several seconds. All I could see was a bright light surrounding me, and briefly wondered if I'd died. I quickly realized I'd done no such thing when a voice through the blinding light suddenly said "Chili Fish?"

I really like cruising. Too bad the lines aren't interested in having the services of a neurologist on board. Maybe they could have a stroke-themed cruise ("you're planning on having a stroke, sir? Well, on Cruiseship Lines we have a special ‘stroke at sea’ cruise, featuring an on-board neurologist and MRI").

Any interested cruise lines please email me.


At sea, going in slow loops back toward LA. Today was our last day on the S.S. Buffet.

After breakfast I entered a trivia contest (I won). It was run by the activities director, who kept misplacing things and forgetting questions. At one point I jokingly said, "I'm a neurologist, let me give you my card", and the crowd laughed. After the contest she cornered me. Said she had epilepsy, wanted to know what I thought of Depakote. That will teach me to keep my mouth shut.

You know it's time to go home because the amount of water you displace getting into the hot tub is a lot more than it was on day 1 of the trip. And those hot college babes in tight thong bikinis? After 7 days of nonstop meals they don't fit into their bikinis very well, and are now the size of shipping hazards.

A phenomenon you see on the last day are these forlorn 16 year old couples wandering around, holding hands, or staring into each other's eyes over a Diet Coke on the Promenade deck. They never knew each other until a few days ago, and now they feel like here, on a cruise ship, they've met their soulmate, and can't bear the thought of going back home to their respective home towns of Slotmachine, Nevada and Los Taquitos, California. And in 2 weeks they'll have a vague memory of each other, "oh yeah, this is a picture of whathisname, that guy I met on the cruise"

Why does every issue of the daily newsletter "Cruiseline Capers" list the captain's name on it? It's not like it should be changing from day to day. Is this to reassure you that there was no mutiny overnight? If there was, would they put the new captain's name on the newsletter ?

After a round of mini-golf Marie and I went up front to look over the bow. Occasionally you'd see a dolphin leap up, or rarely a whale surface and blow air. She, unfortunately, has now decided that EVERY whitecap on the ocean is a dolphin or whale. So when she sees whitecaps  (which is often) she begins screaming that she sees a whale or dolphin. Mrs. Grumpy and I have learned to ignore her, but when she does this so many other passengers drop what they are doing and rush over to look that you expect the ship to tilt.

To wrap up our last day, we went to a comedy show in the main theater, where they were just finishing a round of Bingo. They were trying to get 5 numbers in a row. We all know how to play bingo. Apparently, it's simplicity is beyond the IQ of a lot. We would see people jump up and yell "Bingo" and start screaming wildly. So the person in charge would wander back to find they only had 2 or 3 out of 5 numbers in a row. This actually happened quite often. How stupid can you be? Or were they hoping the director would say, "hey, you only got 3 of the 5 numbers, but since you were willing to jump up and make an ass out of yourself we'll give it to you, anyway."

The day concluded with an excellent dinner, but by this point we were getting tired of food. You find yourself looking at the menu of prime rib and lobster and want to ask for a big bowl of Kellogg's Colon-Blow cereal instead.

So, from somewhere off Baja Calfornia: Merry Spring Break to all, and to all a good night.


Day 1

We met my parents in San Diego this year. They’re staying at a Residence Inn, but Mrs. Grumpy had made reservations for us at a different place miles away. The clerk she booked it with told her it was in a "safe, family, neighborhood".

When we got there after our 2 day drive it was nice to learn that local families felt safe in a hotel bordered on one side by Les Titties Gentleman's Club and on the other by the Vick Hubcap Emporium and Doberman Stables. It was also reassuring, when we pulled through the barbed wire automatic gate, that the hotel was patrolled by an armed ex-convict walking a Rottweiler around the parking lot, and there was a line of couples at the check-in desk who looked like they were only planning on using the room for 30 minutes at most. The clerk reminded me of Pee-Wee Herman's character in "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie".

Mrs. Grumpy, concerned our children might be allergic to Rottweiler teeth, immediately called my parents and begged them to find us a room at their hotel, explaining that I wasn't comfortable with the pleasant looking place she'd picked out (LIAR!). Fortunately, there was plenty of space there.

We went over to that hotel. My mother was waiting for us by the curb, and had thoughtfully brought a large metal luggage cart out for us. We loaded it up with all the junk a family of 5 travels with: clothes, extra clothes, clothes I've never seen before in my life but magically appeared in our trunk during the drive, hangers, Nintendo DS, DS games, DVD movies to make them watch (at gunpoint if needed), a portable DVD player, Lunchables, Uncrustables, Inedibles, magazines, books, coloring books, puzzle books, stuffed animals, medicines, suntan lotion (3 strengths), 2 cell phones (with both car and wall chargers), bags of toiletries, snacks, 12-packs of Diet Coke, coupon books, hats, sunglasses, pool toys, sand toys, hotel room toys, crayons, pencils, paper, juice boxes, a roll of film (WTF? we only have digital cameras!), my faithful laptop, AA batteries, AAA batteries, batteries of a type not seen since Edison made them, books, cameras, glue, tape, and other assorted items Mrs. Grumpy felt was essential. By the time we were finished the luggage cart was sagging in the middle and looked like it was on the verge of collapse. And so while Mrs. Grumpy led the kids off I went to pull the cart up to the room.

After dragging it around the parking lot looking for a ramp a few times, I asked my mom how she'd gotten it off the sidewalk. She said she hadn't seen a ramp, and had just pulled it down. This was easy when the cart was empty. But it wasn't now. And I'd be damned if I'd unload it, push it up on the sidewalk, and reload it. So off I went on a 12 mile hike pushing the Grumpy Expedition 2009 luggage down onto a local street, around a restaurant in front of the hotel, and finally up a ramp in the handicapped space on the far side of the building. And of course the place's only elevator was located on the other side of the hotel, back near our parking space. By the time I found our room I was half expecting to see my picture on a milk carton (“last seen pushing a luggage cart with possibly stolen goods”).

I staggered into the room, covered in sweat and desperately needing to pee. The clan looked at me with their best "where the hell did you go with the luggage" glares. It was hot in the room, and Mrs. Grumpy was over in the corner fighting with the air conditioning unit. It only had a power button, but nothing to control temperature, and was blowing warm air. So while I gratefully stumbled into the bathroom, she called maintenance.

They sent up a guy who showed us the temperature control, which was in a large wall-mounted box, marked "TEMPERATURE CONTROL" positioned in plain site that we’d somehow missed, or thought was a piece of abstract art, or something. We were idiots. He didn't tell us that. But you could tell he wanted to. I know the look. I give it to my stupider patients all the time. I'm sure tonight I'll be posted on his blog "Grumpy Maintenance Guy".

After such an exciting day we took the kids out for a deluxe dinner at McD’s. We pulled into the drive-thru. It was awesome. We heard this:

Mrs Grumpy: "We'd like 3 chicken chunk happy meals".

Male voice on speaker: "Okay, that's 3 chicken happy meals and what did you...” (cell phone ring noise) “Hello? Hey bitch! I'm at work! Don’t call me here! You think I got nothing better to do than listen to you yap!” (coworker's voice in background) “Hey! Keep your ugly nose out of my business and go flip some burgers or something! Sorry ma'am, what did you want to drink with those happy meals?"

Good night, Colonel Kurtz, wherever you are.

Day 2

Breakfast at Residence Inn. I love the smell of Diet Coke and artificially processed waffle-flavored batter in the morning.

Today we went to Legoland. It should be noted here that today’s post is not as funny as you might expect. At some point at Legoland your kids wander into an area where they can sit and play with Legos and Duplos (which they want to do for hours), and you suddenly realize you just took out a 2nd mortgage to pay for them to play with Legos and Duplos at Legoland, which they can do at your house FOR FREE. And that ain’t funny.

Driving there we discovered my son Craig is under the impression that any car with an “Obama” bumper sticker is actually the one that the President is riding in at that moment. Since a lot of cars still have them on, Craig is now wondering why the C-in-C is following us all over California. [Please note- this paragraph was written to show childhood silliness, and is not meant to express either a red or blue viewpoint. I do not want this blog to be a political war zone, and political comments from either side will not be published.]

I left Legoland’s address in our room, but our Garmin GPS gadget has an entry for “Legoland”. I punched that in (hoping that it wouldn’t take us to Legoland Denmark). For mysterious reasons it took us to the delivery entrance. So here we are, in a mini-van, in a line of delivery trucks and other Garmin using mini-vans, trying to find our way to the regular parking lot. While the kids went nuts because they could see Legoland over the fence, and couldn’t figure out why we weren’t getting out of the car and going in. By the time we got in to the park my parents had fallen asleep on a bench at the entrance while waiting for us.

I was in line for the Dragon rollercoaster when my cell phone rings. It’s Mary back at my office. Dr. Unka, a cardiologist in my town, is looking for me. So I called him back.

Dr. Grumpy: “Hi Unka, this is Ibee Grumpy.”

Dr. Unka: “Ibee, one of my patients had a stroke this morning. He’s over at the hospital, and I need you to consult on him.”

Dr. Grumpy: “Thanks, Unka, but I’m at Legoland”.

Dr. Unka: “Is that at the mall?”

Dr. Grumpy: “No, it’s in San Diego.”

Dr. Unka: “So when will you get here to see him?”

Dr. Grumpy: “I’m on vacation.”

Dr. Unka: “Well, he’s had a stroke. Couldn’t you just fly home for a few hours to take care of this?”

Dr. Grumpy: “Unka, I’m not going to take a day off my trip to see a consult. Why don’t you call the neurologist on call?”

Dr. Unka: “I don’t trust him.”

Dr. Grumpy: “I’m flattered, Unka, but I can’t come back for 1 patient.”

Dr. Unka: “Okay, I’ll keep him at the hospital until you get back.”

I love Legoland. It gives a parent hope. Some days you think your kid will never grow up to find a job he’s capable of, and here there’s a park built entirely out of Legos, some of it quite remarkable, and you realize that maybe this is something your child can do. I know mine can spend all day building stuff with Legos, then losing them in the sofa cushions. So why can't they do this for a living?

(click to enlarge)

Mrs. Grumpy brought the kids a snack consisting of crackers and 2 flavors of instant spray-on cheese. They ate the crackers and had a fight with the spray-on cheese (like it was silly string) while standing in line for “Captain Cranky’s Challenge”, showering other riders with artificial dairy products. I dragged them out of line to keep other happy families from killing them, and put them on a water ride to hose down.

If your kids like Splash Mountain, DO NOT take them on the log ride at Legoland. It has to be the wimpiest log ride, ever. It is never a good sign when the log ride can only have 3 logs going at a time.

They have a ride called Bionicle Blasters. This is a tamer version of the Disney teacups. But my kids, always interested in any ride that might make me nauseas and vomit in public, got me on board. It was a windy afternoon, and the ride wasn't too bad until a large hairy animal suddenly flew into our car. My horror was replaced by shock when I looked up and realized that it was the hairpiece belonging to a sheepish appearing bald man in the car next to ours.

I took the kids on the Legoland mini-golf course. Never a good idea with Marie (for those of you who aren’t aware of her golfing skills, read the last 2 paragraphs of this post). On the 5th hole she teed off like she was trying to hit the ball to Catalina, narrowly missing a pregnant lady and knocking a chunk off the claw of a Lego statue of a grizzly bear. I put the chunk back in place and returned to the game. And carefully helped Marie swing on future holes.

After our exciting day at Legoland, my Dad wanted to take the family to a nearby Italian restaurant. It was in a strip mall, and had a sign in the window that said "We Make Our Own Sausage". This is not normally a big deal, but the next business over in the strip mall was an animal hospital. I suggested going to Costco for pizza, but got voted down. But I still didn’t try the sausage.

After dinner we went back to Legoland, only to find it had closed for the night. That’s early for an amusement park. I can only assume that it was past bedtime for the guys who build the big Lego stuff.

Our attempts to read and relax back at the hotel were shattered (along with a glass candy jar) when a swordfight broke out in our room.

And that’s the way it is.

Day 3

Today we went to Seaworld. Traffic was light, but people here drive like children.

We were in the usual line to get in, with a group of obnoxious teenagers in front of us. As soon as they got in one of them ran over to the first souvenir booth and blew a wad of money on a HUGE Shamu stuffed animal. Literally 8-10 feet long and 2 feet wide. After walking away with her prize it suddenly dawned on Einstein and her friends that this was not something they could comfortably drag around with them all day.

So they decided to rent a locker. It was obvious (to all but this group) that they were too small to hold Shamu. This was quickly becoming the best show in the park.

They hauled mammoth Shamu over to the lockers, which were the size of an average high school locker. And into this they tried to cram a stuffed animal bigger than a Volkswagen. Simple observation showed it wouldn't fit, but they sure tried, pushing Shamu in head first, tail first, dorsal fin first. Of course, none of this worked, but one had to admire their efforts. They then went to ask for their money back on the locker rental, but couldn't get a refund. So they put their purses in, instead.

At this point the locker attendant, who I'd assumed was enjoying the show as much as we were, ruined everything by suggesting they put Shamu in their car. They thought this was a grand idea, and carried monster toy off. They were back a few minutes later, still lugging Shamu, because they'd left their car keys in the locker.

Sea World has these expensive "interactive adventures" where you can be a trainer for a day, assisting with the care and feeding of dolphins, whales, and various other flora & fauna. I could just see myself working the "Wild Arctic" polar bear display:

Dr. Grumpy: "So what are we doing now with the polar bears?"

Trainer: "It's their feeding time. Don't worry about the locked door, we'll be back for you later Mr. Grumpy!"

Dr. Grumpy: "It's DOCTOR Grumpy! Hey, open this door! HEY! HEY!"

Ar the Cirque de la Mer show a family in matching baseball caps sat next to us. During the act a clown went over and lifted up the father's hat. Not only was dad bald, but he had a wad of money under his hat for safekeeping. The clown and Dad both looked pretty surprised when a bunch of $20’s fell out. The clown quickly gave the hat back and went to find another victim.

There is nothing as embarrassing as having your kid go up and loudly ask the attendant at the penguin exhibit why Sea World’s penguins don't dance like the ones in "Happy Feet". Mrs. Grumpy and I pulled paper bags over our heads.

Apparently assholes go on Summer Vacation, too. The kids and I went on the “Journey to Atlantis” roller coaster. There was a guy in our car who was on his cell phone when he got in, arguing with someone at the other end. He wouldn’t hang up, and the attendant came over and said, “Sir, I can’t start the ride until you put the phone away”. Mr. Asshole yelled back “It’s an important call, damn it!”. Then people in line began yelling, and the attendant came over to take Mr. Asshole off the ride. So he put the phone in his pocket, and the ride started.

As soon as we were on our way, of course, he whipped out the phone again and began talking to somebody “Yeah, the dumb kid who runs the ride made me put it away for a minute”.

We hit the first big drop, and the phone flew out of his hand, disappearing into the water 50 feet below. It was awesome. As we left the ride I watched Mr. Asshole arguing with a superviser that the park was at fault for him losing the phone, and demanding they buy him a new one. I hope like hell they don’t.

After this we sent the kids off to the playground, while I went to pee. The bathroom music was “Play that Funky Music, White Boy”, and I got to watch the guy at the urinal next to me trying to pee, disco dance, and sing, all at the same time. Like watching a gong show audition.

Later in the day we went over to see the Budweiser Clydesdales (yes, they live at Sea World). There was a small fenced pasture in the back, with a solitary horse wandering slowly around it and a security guard leaning on the rail. He was being chewed out by a crazed man insisting that the pasture was too close to the rollercoaster, which was terrifying the poor horse (who didn't look at all terrified). The guard was trying to be polite, but obviously had no idea how to respond to this irrational fruitcake. The guy actually finished off by saying that he was going to write a letter to both his congressman AND the Audubon Society (really!) What is with people?

If you buy ice cream at Sea World they give you these great plastic bowls, which Mrs. Grumpy loves to have at home. Since ice cream here is expensive, and we’re trying to save money for next week’s cruise, she’s been watching to see if anyone abandons some at a table so she can nab them.

Late in the day she grabbed me to say that she’d just seen some tossed into a trash can, and (of course) wanted ME to get them.

So, doing what any parent would do, I told Frank to go get them (Hey! That’s what kids are for!). Unfortunately, as he walked over to do so, a guy with a rake came over and mashed down the garbage so they were beyond his arms’ reach.

I prayed none of my patients were watching, walked over, and pulled them out of the garbage myself. And then I looked at Frank and loudly said “Frank! Mom told you not to throw these away!”

When in doubt, blame your kids. If they’re not around, blame the dog.

Day 4

 This morning we grabbed a table outside to have breakfast. When the twins failed to materialize from the buffet room, I went searching for them. To my horror they'd set-up camp by the hot water spigot, giving free (and unsolicited) lessons to passersby on how to make hot chocolate while blocking the coffee urn (which is what most people were looking for). I dragged them off, restoring access to caffeine.

After breakfast we went back to Sea World, for day 2 of our pass. I produced our 5 tickets, and the wrinkled crone at the gate chewed me out because we have to give fingerprints that match each ticket, and since I hadn’t written each person’s name on the appropriate tickets “this will take forever to sort out, and you’re already holding up the line”.

Fortunately, we all got through on the first try, in spite of the fact that Mrs. Grumpy and I got through on child tickets and Frank and Marie used adult ones. So either we all have the same fingerprints or Sea World’s fingerprint-ID security system isn’t nearly as good as they think it is.

I spent the day hobbling around the park, due to Mrs. Grumpy stomping on my foot for trying to help a lady. We'd been going into the Shamu show, and some woman, who erroneously thought I looked helpful, came over and asked me if there was a difference between the 8:00 pm. and 10:00 pm "Shamu Rocks!" shows. I told her the 10:00 show was for adults only, and was called "Shamu Fucks!" That’s when my foot began hurting.

Why is it that my kids are too chicken shit to sit in the splash zones by themselves? And when I want to sit there, how come that’s suddenly the only time all day they won’t?

My Dad is always fun at these places, because he firmly feels you should be out of there before noon so he can go take a nap. When I was a kid, and stupid/naive/both, I believed him that a major amusement park would never be open past noon. Around 11:45 a.m. he’d say “Okay, that was the whole park, let's go somewhere for lunch and a nap". And then I'd go home and tell my friends about the 3 rides I'd been on, and they told me about the 45 they were on and the fireworks show at night, and I'd stupidly accept my father's explanation that they must have gone to a different park by the same name. It wasn't until I took my own kids to Disneyland that I realized the rides ran into the afternoon and night.

But my Dad has a truly remarkable talent. He can get into anything, regardless of what’s required to do so. He has the amazing ability, without saying a word, to look like he knows what he's doing and is where he's supposed to be. One year, on a Hawaiian vacation, we were driving around looking for a place to have lunch. He noticed a cruise ship in the harbor, parked in a lot near it, and led our family right past the ship’s guarded gangway and to the buffet. The security officer, who was checking everything that moved for a ship's ID, waved us through when my dad smiled and nodded to him. We ate there, and then strolled off and drove back to our hotel for his nap. On another trip he got us into a $25 per person luau with the same ability.

It was late afternoon at Seaworld and there was a Junior Achievement group having a private function at a pavilion, with a dinner buffet. There was a guard at the door, asking to see event tickets as people went it.

Mrs. Grumpy, my Mom, and I were walking past it, and suddenly noticed my Dad was inside, eating dinner and sitting with a group of parents. We didn’t know he’d even returned from his nap yet. As soon as we saw him we decided to try and join him, but were immediately stopped by the guard, who asked for our event tickets and photo ID's. My Dad stood inside laughing at us, then wandered over and said to the guard "It's okay, Bill, they're with me." The guard immediately smiled and let us through, so we had dinner with Junior Achievement.

How come the men’s room urinal has a sign above it explaining (in both English and Spanish) the dangers of drinking alcohol if you're pregnant?

While waiting in line (again) the twins began hitting each other, just as I noticed this sign nearby:

When I asked the employee standing there I was told that I couldn’t trade my kids in for another set. Is that false advertising or what?

On the way out we stopped to see if anyone had turned in Craig’s lost baseball cap. Another Mr. Asshole was in there, arguing with the manager on duty. He wanted his money back on the grounds that, after spending a full day at Sea World, he’d decided there weren't enough rides to make him happy.

Because we’re going on a cruise tomorrow, we had to do a bunch of laundry tonight. So Mrs. Grumpy and I took turns in the Residence Inn laundry room.

I gotta tell you, these other Residence Inn travelers are laundromatically aggressive psychopaths (or maybe they're still angry over not getting coffee this morning). If you aren't there they'll actually pull your wet clothes out of a machine, toss them on the floor, and reset the machine with their own load.

So I got a book and a shotgun and set up camp to protect, wash, and dry. We had a lot of laundry, and after a while other people using the room began to assume I worked there. They asked me for change, directions to the zoo, and how to get out coffee stains (I suggested a mixture of bleach and Bisquick, and if it ruined your shirt, you should have known better anyway).

Day 5

So we parted from my parents, and are now off on our cruise. Normally we don't do 2 cruises in the same year, but recession rates won't last forever, and as an American citizen I'm obliged to support some sort of industry. So I might as well have fun at it.

We drove to the port today. Due to whiny children we stopped at a Burger King for lunch. While we were waiting in line 2 cops came in for lunch and got in line, too. The next thing I knew Craig was pointing out that all the kitchen staff were running out the back door. So I told the Legion of Whiners to shut up, get back in the car, and that we’d eat on the ship since it was already paid for.

And so we boarded the S.S. Humungous and are off. Same route we took in March, 2009, but a different ship.

This is SO pathetic. The poolside bartender on this ship is the same one who worked on our last cruise (on the S.S. Buffet) in March. So after boarding Mrs. Grumpy and I went to get our Soda Cards (giving us unlimited Diet Cokes for the trip, an essential part of our existence). I walked over, he looked at me once, and without even asking brought me 2 Diet Cokes and rang me up for the Soda Cards.

Equally pathetic was checking the kids in to Camp Cruiseship, and having one of the directors say: “Oh, it's those twins who fight all the time. They were on the S.S. Buffet, too.”

We wandered around the ship. I took the kids up to the minigolf course, where Marie immediately showed that her golfing skills hadn't improved since Legoland. Her first shot went off the course and into a pool shower 1 deck down, almost killing the crewman who was cleaning it.

The ship hadn't even finished boarding, but already people were partying. The pools and hot tubs were full. The miniature golf course had a line. Every pool chair was taken. The band was blasting. People were carrying trays of food and drinks everywhere. AND WE HADN'T EVEN LEFT PORT YET! It occurred to me that Cruiseship Lines could market this as an all inclusive vacation and not even go anywhere. You could just board the ship and party for a week, without burning a drop of diesel. I personally would love a 1 week cruise where we never pulled into port. But that's just me.

As we wandered around the ship, we saw a woman heaving her lunch overboard. This is not a good sign when you haven't even left port yet.

This ship is huge. And very, very, very pink. I have no idea who designed this thing, but they really liked pink. It makes this ship just ideal if they hold a Gay Pride Cruise. It's an improvement over our last cruise on the S.S. Buffet, though, where the theme was "random paintings of naked people".

This ship (not including the passengers), however, is not lacking for naked people. The inaugural Camp Cruiseship kid’s party was held in the main nightclub, which allegedly has a Hollywood theme. This consists mainly of naked art-deco statues in various colors, sort of like life-size Academy Award Oscar trophies, lined up on a red carpet outside the door.

(click to enlarge)

In reality I'm sure that a line of naked, genital-less, people outside a nightclub would attract a crowd, but I'm not sure I'd want to go into the place. When I first saw them after boarding I assumed they were mannequins that were being left there until they could be posed in a store, but no such luck. They are part of the decor. However the Camp Cruiseship kids certainly enjoyed posing with them, pointing and giggling. Sure got more interest then the lady playing the "Hoki Poki" inside.

I have the oldest kid in the world who believes that the ship's costumed mascot "Cruiseship Clyde" is real.

We had our first night’s dinner in the formal dining room. Our table was situated closely to another family's, so we got to overhear an exciting discussion between a mother and her teenage daughter. Ms. Teenwhinybutt was complaining about a blister on her foot that had popped during the day, and felt no one else in existence was taking it as seriously as they should be. To her family’s horror she suddenly whipped off her shoe and held her foot, with a large red oozing blister on it, OVER THE DINING ROOM TABLE.

This certainly got a reaction from her parents, though I'm not sure it was as sympathatic as she thought it would be, and a waiter quickly brought her a band-aid. I assume he did this more to prevent other guests from being horrified and running away screaming.

I’m going to bed. I’m exhausted from being dragged out to dance with Marie, who thinks she’s a kangaroo when there’s music playing. And she's dislocated both my shoulders.

Day 6

The S.S. Humungous is at sea today.

Craig is sleeping in the bunk bed over me, with the heads overlapping. At some point I woke up to notice his pillow was overhanging the edge by an inch or so. I woke up again a while later, when it was about 6 inches out, then dozed off again. This went on until I was woken by the pillow itself falling on me. I somehow fell back asleep again, only to be awoken a few minutes later by Craig accusing me of stealing his damn pillow, and waking up everyone else. Can I have some Diprivan bought to my cabin?

I have no idea where they get ideas to decorate these ships. On this one the hallways are lined with paintings of people in the early 1920's era, looking happy while golfing, listening to jazz, and sipping gin & tonic on the deck of a steamship. One showed 2 guys looking through a travel brochure for "Beautiful New Jersey- Sunshine, Sand, and Scenery". There is also a great picture of 2 women talking, one with short, bright purple hair, and the other wearing a dress made to look like leaves are covering her breasts. It looked like Mrs. Joker talking to Poison Ivy in a Batman comic.

One elevator painting shows a rather severe looking-woman with a body pose and facial expression that suggest she's either flexing all her muscles at once or desperately trying to become unconstipated. Or both.

If I only have one complaint it’s that this ship doesn’t have a sightseeing deck, like the one we went on in 2003 did:

(Fortunately for me, Mrs. Grumpy doesn’t read my blog).

I love the phone in my room. It has autodial buttons labeled "Guest services", "Room Service", "Housekeeping", and "Spa". If you press "Guest Services" You get this message: "Thank you for calling guest services. To reach room service, please hang up and press the ‘room service’ button. To reach housekeeping, please hang up and press the ‘housekeeping’ button. To reach the spa, please hang up and press the ‘spa’ button.” Isn’t that helpful?

The toilets on these ships are remarkable works of technology. Mrs. Grumpy calls them the "Suckmaster 2000" (her phrase, not a sci-fi porn flick). When you press the button they make a loud whooshing noise and everything just vanishes. You actually feel a draft of air being pulled into the john from under the door. You have to be sure that none of your limbs are anywhere near the bowl when you flush, or the only thing the crew will find is your sneakers.

The scuba diver in me thinks about what an awesome dive this ship would be if it sank. Hopefully not on this trip, though.

I was laying out by the main pool, reading a book and watching the kids swim. And suddenly the overhead Jumbotron TV begins blasting E! and the latest on Jon & Kate! Can't I get away from worthless people of this sort here? Why does this shit have to follow us everywhere? I had no idea who these two losers even were until I heard my office girls talking about them. Why can't I relax in peace on my vacation by the ship’s pool with my Diet Coke, NOT have to listen to sordid stories from the famous and pointless?

This afternoon was the poolside "Hairy Chest" competition. I suggested  Mrs. Grumpy enter it, and will now be finishing the cruise with a black eye (in addition to my broken foot). She later submitted my name as a candidate, but suggested they have a Hairy Ass contest that I could win.

After the pool Mrs. Grumpy, my black eye, and I went to a lounge. We ordered Diet Cokes and listened to a girl with a thick Indonesian accent belting out ABBA. It was awesome. "See dat gril, watch dat seen, she be dat dancing keen". I loved it.

Is there a company that specializes in recording reggae versions of popular songs for use on cruise ships? It's like freakin' calypso Muzak. So far today I've heard reggae Foreigner, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Neil Diamond, and disco. Do they have reggae versions of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", mon?

Wandering through the ship I ended up in one of the overpriced stores, glancing at such useless baubles as Cruiseship Lines stuffed animals, shirts, and shot glasses. They have a small display of overpriced Tylenol, Tums, and other over-the-counter drugs.

It occurred to me that they could be making a FORTUNE if they also sold condoms and Plan B. In fact, this is the perfect environement for both given the large amounts of circulating singles, hormones, and alcohol.

Craig will be a lawyer someday. He can argue with a wall. This morning he walked to the bar with me when I went to get a Diet Coke. A lady was getting a Blue Hawaii, and he argued with her and the bartender that it was turquoise, not blue.

At dinner a dining room supervisor came over to ask us how we were doing. Seeing our walkie-talkies she said. "oh you have walkie-talkies? Do you use them to talk to each other on the ship?"

Mrs. Grumpy smiled, nodded, and kicked my good leg under the table to keep me from being a smart-ass and earning another black eye. I don’t want to be mistaken for a raccoon. That could result in me becoming an entreé in the sushi bar.

Day 7

At sea again.

At breakfast the table near us was occupied by a guy in his 70's and large extended family. After a few minutes he suddenly launched into a loud lecture to his family members (and unfortunate nearby diners) on methods he was using to improve his "spincter" control. He didn't clarify which of his bodily "spincters" he was referring to, leaving such sordid details to our imaginations. His family seemed to take this in stride.

1st point: I really don’t care about your "spincter" or how tight it is, or how much it's been leaking recently, or what you do to keep it tight.

2nd point: It's called a "SPHINCTER" you illiterate dipshit.

Due to an unscheduled Category 1 hurricane, we were informed today that the ship would be skipping Puerto Vallarta and later going to Ensenada instead. I don't see this as a big deal, but the torch & pitchfork mob outside the purser's office sure did. It was so much fun listening to them that I got a front row seat in the lobby and ordered endless Diet Cokes. You heard things like:

"So what if it's a hurricane! I want to go fishing!"

"I knew a guy who survived Katrina, and the boat he done lived on was smaller than this."

"Can't you just drop me off to go shopping, and bring the ship back later?"

“Why can’t you just have the hurricane go somewhere else?”

“What causes hurricanes? Are they different from earthquakes?”

While Mrs. Grumpy took a nap, I went to the pool on the aft deck. I got a Diet Coke and jumped in the hot tub, enjoying a soak while 2 pimply adolescent guys argued about movies on the other side of the tub. After a few minutes a collection of blond teenage titwillows jumped in the hot tub with us (the kind who never gave me the time of day in high school, and now call on my office as drug reps).

They paid no attention to the middle-aged doctor and 2 pimply guys, just discussed where they were going to go shopping in Cabo San Lucas. When I looked over at the zit brothers I noticed that both were transfixed on the titwillows and (more alarmingly) their hands were underwater and out of sight. So I jumped out of the tub before a sticky situation developed.

On an elevator ride up to Camp Cruiseship with Marie, a heavily perfumed lady got in with us. After about 10 seconds Marie said "Dad, it smells like bad cleaning chemicals and bug spray in here." It’s really hard to pretend you don’t know a child after they call you “Dad”.

Why on Earth does the ship’s TV show Cartoon Network, with the shows in English and the ads in Spanish? And why are the commercials so damn funny when you can’t understand a word of them?

At lunch I went for some fries. That station was empty, but the line for burgers was full. So I just walked ahead of the burger line to get some fries, only to have a 3-toothed hag kick me in the shin, throw a grape, and loudly accuse me of cutting in front of her. I told her that the ship’s dentist was on deck 1, and got my fries.

After lunch Frank wanted to go golfing. Playing miniature golf is an odd sensation when you're doing it 11 stories above the ocean, on a moving platform. If the ship rolls it can really screw up a shot in a high-stakes game of minigolf. As a result I owe Frank a nickel.

I want to know who picks what they show on the Jumbotron poolside screen? Sometimes it's entertaining, like “Night at the Museum”or “Star Wars”. Today, however, it was "Tom Jones! Live! In Vegas!" It looked like it was filmed in the late 60's, early 70's. I was hoping some inebriated babe would toss her room key up at the screen, but no such luck.

At around 5:00 the captain made an announcement. These start with a few chimes and then "Ladies and Gentlemen, Captain Speaking” (as far as I can tell Captain Speaking has commanded every ship I've ever been on). Unfortunately, the rest of the message is usually garbled. I've never understood this. These companies spend billions to build monster ships, but have the PA systems made by the company that does the inaudible drive-thru's at McD's. So the rest of the announcement sounds like he's either repeating an order for cheeseburgers, fries, and a shake, or that he's telling you the ship is sinking.

After he was done gargling into the intercom I flagged down a passing ship’s officer (I think his name was Mahjong, I swear) and asked him what the captain said. Mahjong smiled and told me "It concerned the ship, sir" and walked off. Thanks, Officer Mahjong, I feel much better now.

At the dinner buffet tonight I was in line behind a lady who asked if the seafood enchiladas contained seafood. WTF?

We’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon on this cruise. Disappearing food. Marie will ask if she can try your soup or something. You give her a taste. And she politely says thank you. Then you look away for a minute, and when you return to your meal your bowl of soup or whatever is gone. It's now on Marie’s plate. And she gives you this look of surprise, as if the ship's roll had shifted it there.

I gotta say, anyone who feels people from different cultures, ethnicities, races, religions, whatever can't possibly get along HAS NEVER BEEN ON A CRUISE!

The crews on these ships (I've been on 6 cruises total) are a remarkable polyglot from Europe (east and west), Russia and former Soviet republics, India, and the Pacific rim (Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, and a few places I've never heard of), with a few south Americans, Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, and English sprinkled in. Most of the officers are Italian.

Anyway, watching these remarkably disparate people working together quite efficiently actually makes you feel there is hope for humanity.

And I can't even keep my kids from killing each other.

Day 8

Today we were in Cabo San Lucas.

The breakfast buffet is good, but sometimes has a darker side. This morning I saw them refilling the scrambled egg pitchers at the omelet station from a cardboard box that said "Family Style Frozen Egg Food Product". Yummy. It also features sausage, ham, and bacon under a sign that says "Various Meat Pieces". Isn't that just mouth watering?

Every ship I've ever been on has a display of statues, trophies, plaques, etc., presented to the ship on it's first call in any port. For lack of anything better to do I read some of them today. My favorite, from a Mexican beach town, said "We welcome the S.S. Humungous, and wich you far winds and smoth sees" (sic).

One benefit of cruising with Mrs. Grumpy is that she speaks Tagalog, which is the language of the Philippines. You may not see any benefit to this, but it gives us an odd, at times lurid, look into the crew's lives. The majority of the housekeeping, meal serving, and cooking staff are from Indonesia or the Philippines, and use Tagalog to talk to each other. They assume most passengers don’t understand it. So often the bar staff will chatter while they prepare our Diet Cokes, and afterwards Mrs. Grumpy will tell me that they were discussing who passed out drunk at last night's crew party, or which of our waitstaff wears a thong, or what an ass they think I am (she says the last is the most common topic). At one point 2 waitresses and a cook were in an elevator with us, and after we stepped off at our floor she told me they were discussing their sexual threesome of the night before. Of course, for all I know Mrs. Grumpy is just making this crap up, but it's still entertaining.

The lunch buffet usually has a few bowls of cookies, and some really awesome desserts like "Extra Huge Slab of Chocolate" or "Whip Cream Crumb Streudel Cake". These are closely guarded by the ship's Dessert Nazis, highly trained, no-nonsense servers armed with BIG SHARP KNIVES, whose job is to carefully serve one piece of dessert at a time. If they think you may try to take so much as a crumb without asking them to do it for you, you will lose fingers (though you can get them back later from the sushi bar, if you don’t mind soy sauce and ginger on them).

What's funny is that a few feet away is an unguarded tray of "Mango Diet Cake" which nobody touches. In fact, it looks about the same each day, and I think at night they just dye (or paint) it a different color. So one day it's orange "Pumpkin Diet Cake", and the next day it's green "Asparagus Diet Cake". It's possible they've been using the same tray since the ship was launched. For all I know they're really wood blocks.

Is it some sort of International Maritime Law that every cruise ship have at least one horribly untalented warbling woman on board who wants to sing "Memory" (from Cats) badly off key at karaoke? If there isn't, then WTF is she doing on this, my 6th cruise?

Craig lost a tooth today. It fell out while he was getting his face painted to look like a pirate, and the missing tooth only enhanced things. Amazing how fast he learned to suck ice cream through the gap. So now the tooth fairy has to visit the S.S. Humungous, a service not provided by Cruiseship Lines.

Due to my remarkable talent at trivia (we all have our skills, mine are just pointless) I won Mrs. Grumpy and I dinner in the ship's super-deluxe restaurant, which they charge extra for. For the life of me I can't figure out why some suckers pay extra to eat there, considering it has the same food as the rest of the ship, maybe just somewhat better service, and you've already paid for food with your fare. But since I won it for free, we went.

The brochure said it featured "spectacular ocean views", which it did. However, a walkway surrounded the restaurant, so your view was occasionally interrupted by someone going by. This was no biggie until a monstrously obese guy wearing a thong spandex mens bikini decided to stop outside our window and press his nose against the glass to see what people inside were eating. He blotted out the sun to the extent that other diners thought it was an eclipse and lit candles. He was shortly joined by his equally svelte wife, also in spandex gear.

I was trying to decide if I should rap on the glass to make him leave when they wandered off on their own. With the darkness lifted our waiter came over to refill our waters, and softly said he hoped we'd enjoyed the unscheduled whale sightings.

Our dinner also included entertainment provided by an older couple across from us, who ordered crab legs. To our astonishment Mrs. Elderly ACTUALLY ATE THEM WHOLE, biting off big chunks of crab meat AND shell, crunching it up, and swallowing. Her husband was using the shell-crackers, but not Grandma. The waiters and other diners were also watching, and after she finished I thought we should give her a round of applause, or dentures, or something.

There was a comedy show tonight. At one point the comedian asked "Anyone here from Tennessee?" and the family in front of us all cheered. So he asked them what part, and the mother yelled "Georgia!".

The comedian was so lucky. You can't script that kind of stupidity.

Day 9

Today we were in Mazatlan

At breakfast today Frank and Marie had a fight, and she threw a handful of pepper at his plate. He coughed twice and sneezed, and a lady at the table behind us jumped up, grabbed her tray, and loudly said to her husband “RONALD!!! Let’s get out of here! I think that kid has SWINE FLU!” We’ll have to wait and see if we finish the trip in quarantine.

For those of you remember my last visit to Mazatlan, fear not. I didn't get off the ship. In fact, I think the Mexican customs agents have a picture of me and orders to NOT allow me off, after I nearly caused an international incident in March. This may be the first time in history the Mexicans wanted to keep someone OUT of their country.

Although having no plans to go ashore, I got a seat overlooking the gangway this morning, in hopes of filming the excellent performance by drunken musicans that we had a few months ago. I was disappointed, because apparently they were unable to find musicians who weren't inebriated, unreliable, or contagious, and in their place they wheeled out 3 statues of musicians to tower over the gangway, while a boombox played some sort of Mexican rap music. How inviting.

They tell you at the gangway that the local water supply is "usually safe", while simultaneously selling $5 bottles of water under a sign that says "Take Safe Refreshment". So what kind of mixed messages are you giving here? Would you also give a lecture on how it was a low crime area and then sell handguns at the gangway?

Around noon I took Frank and Craig up to the water slide. The ship was empty, most of the passengers having gone ashore. And there was A TURD lying on the deck by the staircase. I ain't talking bird poop, either. I mean a decent sized human waste product, which likely fell out of a passing diaper. I pointed this out to several passing ship employees, who looked at it and then went about their jobs, clearly hoping someone else would take care of it. I even noticed my chatty friend, Officer Mahjong, going by:

Dr. Grumpy "Excuse me, sir, but there's a turd on the deck.''

Officer Mahjong: "A turd?"

Dr. Grumpy: "Ya know, a turd, shit, excrement, crap, stool, BM, doody, poop, whatever, over there on the deck."

Officer Mahjong smiled, laughed, and patted me on the back, "Oh, you funny sir. No worry. Only sailing ships have poop decks" and walked off.

I gave up, told the boys not to mistake it for a Baby Ruth, and lay down with my book. A few minutes later a crewman appeared, wearing an outfit that looked like it could survive plague, fire, or nerve gas. He picked up the turd with a bright red bag, mopped the area with bleach, and vanished

I hung out this afternoon overlooking the gangway, watching people come back to the ship. They were returning with all kinds of shit. Hammocks, hideous paintings, bottles of Cuervo, ugly hats, clothes, jewelry boxes, and one guy with a sex doll.


No shit. He actually bought a sex doll in Mazatlan. I must confess, that even in my disastrous tour of Mazatlan last March, I never once saw a sex shop. I guess I assumed they're out there, but never asked where to find them either. I hope he didn't buy it used.

I gotta admit, it takes a special kind of courage (or desperation) to buy a sex doll outside the U.S. and bring it in. I mean, let's face it. You have to bring it through customs on both sides of the border, where EVERYONE can see that you bought a sex doll. And this guy wasn't even trying to hide it under a bag or something. I couldn't hear what he was saying, but had to wonder. Was he using the "It's for a friend" line? Or "It's a gag gift" or was he even trying to make excuses? Inquiring minds want to know.

I mean, this ship is full of hormonally charged singles and this guy is getting a sex doll? Even if he's inept at pick-up lines, whatever happened to good old-fashioned using the self service pumps? Tonight at dinner I'll be looking around to see if he’s sitting with his new companion.

Marie has signed up to dance in the Camp Cruiseship talent show. Given her golfing skills and dance style (as described here). I hope they leave the first 3 rows empty, like the splash zone at Sea World.

Looking for something to do before dinner, I followed Mrs. Grumpy into the photo store. Here you can buy pictures that the ship's ubiquitous photographers snap when you least expect them to. While standing there, trying to focus on important subjects like when was my last Diet Coke, a teenage guy wanders over and suddenly whips out a picture he pulled off the display. He looked around furtively, like he was about to sell me a watch, or state secrets, or a dime bag. But instead he just said "Hey, Mister, does this picture make me look gay?"

I looked at the picture. It wasn't flattering. I thought about pointing out that it was his lame-ass haircut that made him look gay, but decided to be nice. I was an awkward teenager once, too. I said "I think it's just the way the lighting is".

“Man, if my Dad sees this he'll buy it! How can I keep him from doing that? Can you help me, dude?"

I have no idea why this guy had come to me to save him from a really bad picture, but pointed out the shredding box for people to drop unwanted pics in. He tossed it in there (looking around for his father the whole time), winked at me, and wandered off.

Mrs. Grumpy located the pictures they took of our kids in Camp Cruiseship. Frank and Marie looked cute. For some unfathomable reason, however, Craig had been posed with another boy, one we'd never seen before. Out of 30 kids in their camp group, Craig and this kid were the only ones in a dual picture. Why on Earth would they do that? Why would any parent buy a picture of their kid posed with some other kid who they've never seen before, and whose name your kid doesn't even know? How stupid is that?

After tonight's lounge show we wandered up to get a snack. I mean, we hadn't eaten in nearly 90 minutes, and were famished. So we went to the 24 hour pizza place. While I was waiting in line to order a slice, a drunk guy in his early 20's went up to the pizza counter and had this discussion with Rohan, the pizza cook.

Mr. Drunk: "Rohan, dude, when are they going to re-open the burger station over there?"

Rohan: "The burger station is closed for the night, sir. It will open again at 10:30 tomorrow morning."

Mr. Drunk: So can I get a burger here?"

Rohan: "No, sir, this is the pizza station".

Mr. Drunk: "So how come I can't get a burger over there?"

Rohan: "It's closed for the night, sir."

Mr. Drunk: "So can you guys make me a burger?"

Rohan: "No, we only have ingredients for pizza here."

Mr. Drunk: "I know you do! I mean, otherwise why would I come over here?"

Rohan: "Would you like some pizza, sir?"

Mr. Drunk: "No! I want a burger! Hey, do you know if the burger station is open?"

This went on for another few minutes before Mr. Drunk staggered off to chase a passing herd of Miss Drunks.

The main reason I note this conversation is because many of my posts, as well as those on other medical sites, seem to assume that we are the only field to be cursed with having circular conversation with idiots. I felt sorry for Rohan. Here he was, politely slinging pizza somewhere off the coast of Mexico, and he had to deal with the same idiocy that we have to put up with. I felt like he should get an honorary RPh, RN, or MD for handling this so well.

To answer the question: No, I didn't see the guy and his doll at dinner. Maybe they were in another seating, or went to the buffet instead. 

Day 10


I lost my endless Diet Coke card! Stop the ship! Stop the presses! Stop the world! Sound general alarm! Call the Navy! Call the Coast Guard! Call the Boy Scouts! There are 5000 people on board AND YOU ALL BETTER HELP ME FIND MY FUCKING FOUNTAIN CARD OR YOU'LL BE WANTING TO ABANDON SHIP!!!

At sea again.

My most memorable cruise director was a woman named Suzy, who was on an Alaskan trip Mrs. Grumpy and I went on a few years back. What made her so memorable was that she actually got fired (or died, or was abducted by aliens) in the middle of the cruise. One evening she did the night show, and the next morning announcements were done by "your cruise director, Brent". And Suzy was never mentioned or seen again. At breakfast I looked for her on the sides of milk cartons, to no avail.

The cruise director on the S.S. Humungous is a guy named Goose. I swear. This is not a name I generally associate with cruise directors. When I hear of a guy named Goose my first thought is of Goose Gossage, the pitcher, and my second is Tom Cruise's navigator in Top Gun.

Goose has his own closed circuit TV show every morning, which is imaginatively called "Good Morning with Goose". It consists of Goose, looking remarkably happy and perky, like he's just downed a boatload of coffee and Prozac, answering phone questions from passengers in varying states of drunkenness and/or sleep/caffeine deprivation.

The ability to always look and act happy is a remarkable trait of cruise directors. You can just see them enthusiastically saying “Sorry the ship is sinking, folks, but we have some FABULOUS abandoning activities planned, and a great trivia party in lifeboat 7”. I assume they're specifically bred for this purpose, and in the future Goose will be sent to work stud at a cruise director farm.

Back to the TV show: during our cruise Goose had to deal with all kinds of calls, some reasonable, some pointless, and some downright stupid. I can only assume this happens every cruise. I found myself watching his show, in the same way that it's hard to look away from a car wreck. Goose wasn't doing anything wrong, it was more his callers. So far on this trip he’s received the following questions in response to his ever-cheery "Good morning! This is Goose! What's your question?"

"Hey, why is it windy today?"

"What number do I call to reach your show?"

"I'm worried about our new stop in Ensenada. I thought I read somewhere that they have Mexicans there?"

"My wife and I were thinking about going to Alaska next year. Do they accept American dollars?"

"Goose, I'm really depressed about Michael Jackson today".

“What color is the ocean this morning?”

(slurred voice) "Do you know a hangover cure?"

"Which Van Halen lead singer did you prefer? David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar?"

"Do I need a passport to visit Hawaii?"

“Was it a hurricane or a tornado we avoided yesterday?”

He also received several calls in heavily accented english telling him what a great job he was doing. I suspected they were other employees.

Sometimes there are calls Goose can't answer. When this happens he whips out a cell phone and calls someone else, then holds the phone up to the microphone. One morning he had to call the ship's "shopping specialist" (I still have no idea how someone could possibly get such a meaningless job). She answered on the 5th ring, and in spite of her denials had obviously just been woken up. Her speech was a tad slurred and she sounded disoriented. Obviously, our hurricane-induced schedule change had caught her by surprise, and she was frantically trying to remember which port we were going into that day.

Attention parents: Sooner or later all kids do that thing where they push all the buttons in the elevator, then get off, solely to inconvenience others. If your child is doing this, however, please teach them NOT to do it by squeezing into a FULL elevator, pushing all the buttons, and then standing there smiling at all the other people in the elevator. If this sounds like something your kid might have done, and you’re on a cruise, you can find him in lifeboat #3, bound, gagged, and tied to (what used to be) the lunch buffet’s ice sculpture

A passenger, that I hadn't previously encountered was included on this ship. It is Mrs. Dour. This is a thoroughly unpleasant middle-aged woman who has a permanent look of contempt etched on her face. Whenever and wherever we sat down for a meal, or drink, or show, she'd immediately come up 5 seconds later, carrying a tray of food or drinks, and give us a look that told us she'd been waiting for that very same table (sometimes in an otherwise empty room) for the last 6 hours, and we'd just beaten her too it. She’d glare hatefully at us for 15 seconds, then wander off in a huff.

The other passenger who was new to this cruise was Exercise Girl. She was in her 30’s, and every time I saw her she was in gym clothes, with a light covering of sweat, and had an iPod with one ear bud in and the other hanging loose. We saw her 2-3 times each day, always looking like this. One night the twins woke me up demanding to be taken for ice cream at 3:00 a.m., so I took them. And in the hallway, there she was, heading back to her room (maybe she really works in the ship’s red light district, and had just finished a shift).

Marie, Craig, and I went golfing after breakfast. The only other people up on the mini-golf course were an older couple, on board for their 50th anniversary, and fighting like hell. Every single putt-putt hole brought out more snide comments, nasty remarks about long-dead in-laws, and other stuff. It was awesome. 50 years of pent-up hostility exposed by a 9-hole miniature golf course.

Then Marie hit her ball onto the "Serenity Deck" 1 floor down, whacking some poor lady on the back who was trying to relax with a book

Around noon I played basketball. I haven't played in a pick-up game since medical school. In college my intramural team set a record that likely still stands. In a 5 game season we lost our first game 83-10, our second game 75-15, didn’t play the 4th or 5th games because not enough people showed up, and forfeited the last game because we'd missed the previous 2. In other words, we sucked.

Every player dreams of taking the shot that ends the game. And today, it was my turn. I caught a pass at the 3-point line, and was open. I put up an amazing shot. It completely missed the basket. And everything else. The ball is still likely floating around in the Pacific. With the other players glaring at me, I left the court in disgrace. And later received notice that I've been charged $20 for a replacement basketball.

Attention: I've now been issued a replacement Diet Coke card by the purser. Balance has been restored to the universe.The international crisis is now over.

The pools on this trip, although nice, have been a big disappointment. On my past cruises they were warmed to a decent temperature, but here, on Cruiseship Lines biggest ship, they're downright icy. I complained about this to Goose and he cheerfully informed me that they were heating them, and they'd be comfortable sometime before the ship goes to the scrapyard.

Reassured by this I stupidly allowed my kids to talk me into trying the waterslide this afternoon. It didn't seem so cold until I landed in the frigid pool at the bottom. It was like ice. I have no idea what I yelled out, but suspect it had parents frantically covering their kids' ears. I got out, grabbed a towel, and made my way back to my chair. I was choking, and realized that the lump in my throat was something that I used to pee with.

They clean and refill the pools and hot tubs each night. I personally consider this a very good thing, because in the early morning the hot tubs are clear, and by late afternoon are cloudy and yellow.

After dinner Mrs. Grumpy and I wandered off to watch the sunset and have a round of Diet Cokes. While lying out on the stern deck a young couple sat down near us. They were on their honeymoon, and he was already in the doghouse (get used to it, dude). She was chewing him out big time, using such fighting words words as "cheating", "trust", "honesty" and boy, was she pissed.

Since this was far more interesting than the sunset, I paid attention. I mean, if you’re going to have your inaugural fight in public, who am I to ignore such quality entertainment?

Here's the story: She went down to the spa for a few hours, but after a while went back to their room to get a bathing suit. She walked in and caught him “CHEATING” on her (her words, not mine).

I couldn’t stand the tension! Who was he with? Natalia, the hot cocktail waitress? Lucy, the photographer? Amy, the drunken college student? None of the above! She caught him cheating on her with (drumroll, please) HIS PLAYSTATION-3, which he'd secretly brought along on the honeymoon! Yes, this was what landed this poor sucker in the doghouse.

It’s the endless variety of entertainment of this sort that I love about cruising. If anyone from Cruiseship Lines, Inc. wish to give me a free cruise or money for my endorsement, I’m more than willing to accept it, and you can email me. I’m also more than happy to do the “Stroke-At Sea” themed neurology cruise I suggested in this post.

And that's (in honor and memory of Walter Cronkite) the way it is

Day 11

We were in Ensenada today, which was an alternate stop due to the hurricane earlier in the week. In my experience, the best part of docking here is not getting off the ship.

My first time here was when I was single in 1993. A girl I’d met and I decided to try the "Scenic Gold Coast" bus tour. It turned out to be a drive through one of the ugliest areas I've ever seen. I kept hoping we'd come to the scenic part soon, but the bus just stopped at a “deluxe resort” (which was a dump), we each got a glass of shitty watery beer, and then got driven back.

In 2003 Mrs. Grumpy didn't believe me and insisted on going on the same tour, and hasn't questioned my judgment since (about that, anyway).

For you guys considering it, this is the "olympic swimming pool" at the “deluxe resort” that the bus stops at, where they give you a thimbleful of crappy beer and try to sell you timeshares. And you've paid $50 per person for the pleasure. This is not a joke.

It’s a funny thing about Mexico. This is an amazing country. Oil and other natural resources. Phenomenal beaches. Rain forests. A remarkable cultural history. A geographically excellent position. And because of irreparable corruption it remains a third world country. If they could cut corruption and develop a Japanese-like work ethic, Mexico would be a world power rivaling any other.

Mrs. Grumpy and I were in line to get breakfast today, and the omelette cook asked her if we'd be going ashore. She said, “No, I've been to Ensenada once, and that was enough”. He said, “So go back today to make it 3 times”.

Good thing this guy isn’t an accountant.

Today is the last day of the cruise. There are a handful of ways you are reminded of this. The disembarkation talk. The elevator sign having been gradually changed each day from "Maximum: 3000 lbs. or 18 people" on day 1 to "Maximum: 3000 lbs or 8 people” today.

I feel SO fat and bloated. I think I gained 40 pounds. Everywhere you walk on board someone is setting up a new counter of incredible looking food, and you decide you just want a taste. I think I ate 50,000 calories of “tastes” per day. I can barely reach my shoes to tie them.

And, as I noted before, you see lovelorn teenagers walking around, looking for any quiet area to make out. So you occasionally have an elevator door open to find them frantically untangling themselves, or sit down at a table and accidentally step on a pair under it.

To my horror, Mrs. Grumpy (inebriated on Diet Coke) decided to participate in the ship’s ice cream speed-eating contest. This involved eating 2 scoops without your hands, placing the empty inverted ice-cream bowl on her head, and yelling "Iggy wiggy, I'm a piggy!" before anyone else.

And she blew the rest of the field away, winning big time. She won a plastic trophy.

The gift shop always has these "last day specials", which they push as if the ship is being scrapped in the morning. They’re somewhat comical, considering that tomorrow the ship will be taking on 3000 new suckers, uh, shoppers, just dying to buy overpriced T-shirts and stuffed animals. Mrs. Grumpy briefly glanced at a canvas beach bag, and immediately an employee came over to try and sell it. She was awesome. "This very good deal, ma'am. Regular price $29.95! But today, just for today, is marked down to $24.95! That half-off!!!"

Good thing this girl isn’t an accountant, either.

After another round of minigolf (with Marie hitting a pair of teenagers making out on a bench 2 decks below) I took her to the bar for some Diet Cokes. We arrived in time to hear 2 mechanics and a bartender arguing about a broken refrigerator. It was great, especially when the bartender said "all the refrigerators on this ship are absolute shit!" I hope the engines and watertight features are better.

We went to the Camp Cruiseship talent show to watch Marie dance. I’d post the video, but due to poor lighting it looks like a pair of white socks convulsing to “Who Let the Dogs Out?”.

Craig had signed up to do the Can-Can (Really!), but got stage fright. Frank told jokes with his face completely covered by the piece of paper he’d written them on. For the record, these were their ideas, we didn't even suggest they sign-up.

I have to say that what Marie lacks in talent she makes up for in enthusiasm. This is a family trait. In medical school my class once went to a karaoke bar at the end of test week, and (after several drinks) I got up on stage and sang a passionate rendition of “My Way”. Afterwards my roommate said “Dude, you can’t carry a tune worth shit. But boy, can you SING!”

Unfortunately, Marie was somehow under the impression she might win money for her routine (it’s a show, not a contest), and was quite disappointed to find out she didn’t. So on returning to her seat she loudly asked “Mommy, someday can you take me where I can dance for money?”

Gee, why are all the other parents staring at us? 

The last night has brought the cruise to an appropriate end. Craig is sleeping in the bunk directly above me, and as I was typing he suddenly uttered some of the most dreaded words in parenting: "Dad, I think I'm going to..." followed by a waterfall of partially digested Cruiseship Lines foodstuffs. In the confines of our cabin it brought back college memories I'd tried to forget.

I'm glad we're going home. They may have to scrap the ship to get the smell out of our cabin.

So, from somewhere off Baja Calfornia: Merry Summer Vacation to all, and to all a good night.



Yesterday I flew in and met up with the tribe, who are visiting Mrs. Grumpy’s Dad and his wife’s kids, and their kids.

When we checked into our hotel last night they'd screwed up our reservation, and had us down as needing a handicapped room. This didn't seem to be that big a deal, and since it was the only room they had left, we took it. We were exhausted. I set up a wake-up call, went out to forage for food, and after dinner we all fell dead asleep.

Morning came, and with it our wake-up call. When we went to bed it had, somewhat naively, never occurred to me that a wake-up call in a handicapped room would involve more than a phone ringing. But it did.

At 8:00 the phone SHRIEKED at a volume that would normally be mistaken for a racing fire truck, or perhaps a nuclear bomb. It went beyond waking us up. We all leaped out of bed, with the kids screaming that it was a fire alarm. As if the noise wasn't enough to wake the deaf, the room lights suddenly began flashing on and off, plunging our dark-adjusted eyes from glare to dark to glare again at a seizure-inducing frequency. I grabbed the phone, still asleep, and screamed "What the hell is going on?". The desk clerk, in polite tones amplified by the phone's megavolume, just said "This is your wake-up call sir". I screamed "Thank you!" and hung up.

The lights stopped, plunging the room back into pitch darkness. There were 10 seconds of silence, interrupted by Craig announcing that he needed to change his underwear.

After breakfast we went over to my FIL's house. As soon as I walked in I was unceremoniously told that I'd been picked to lead everybody's kids on a forest adventure hike (I’d apparently been voted to do this while I was flying here yesterday). They all told me that Mrs. Grumpy was supposed to have told me last night. When I looked at her, she pretended to still be deaf from the wake-up call.

So I was given 9 kids, some granola bars & water, and loaded up the van.

On the way to the trailhead Mrs. Grumpy called to tell me to stop for mosquito repellent. After making several wrong turns (and being run off the road by a tractor) I finally found a store. I bought a bottle, and moved on.

The hike was an adventure of whiny children, trees, and LOTS of mosquitoes. Bug repellent doesn’t work. Anyone who spends any time in the great outdoors knows that “repellent” is a misnomer. In fact, it’s more like firing a flare to announce your presence, daring the bugs to come get you.

And they do.

You walk quickly, and they follow you. You stop to swat them, and more land on you. And the kids thought we were having a portable eclipse because of the way the black bug cloud followed us everywhere.

After we gave up and turned back, I discovered the bottle of repellent had leaked in my shoulder pack. It had partially melted one of my plastic credit cards. Nice to think it was on our skin.

We headed back to the house, and to clean the bug spray off I sent all the kids to the showers. Of course, as soon as they got out they wanted to go swimming. All the other adults had magically disappeared, too (gee, I wonder why).

So I'm trying to direct 10 kids (somehow another had joined us, I have no idea where) in and out of showers, and clothes, and towels. All the while I'm having horrible visions of being seen by a nosy neighbor and spending the rest of my life in pedophile prison.

After a bunch of Happy Meals I dragged the kids, and cousins, and some friends who’d somehow attached themselves to my safari train (we were up to 12 now, WTF?), to the city pool. Where, of course, I’m suddenly the bad guy because (although I just bought them lunch) I won’t pay for them to buy stuff from the vending machines. Even though I think some of the snacks in there had gone out of production during my childhood.

The city pool was a popular spot, although when we got there one of the pools was temporarily closed for a rescue drill. As I watched, 2 lifeguards "rescued" a 3rd guard, who was pretending to be a drowning victim. The drowning victim, however, wasn't particularly realistic, as he kept talking, and they were all giggling over something. When they got closer I realized the victim had developed a woody during the drill, and was trying to cover it with his hat.

The kids ran into the pool. I found a chair, opened my book, popped a Diet Coke, and relaxed. The afternoon went on, with increasingly cloudy skies. Then thunder crackled, and suddenly it began pouring rain.

At home this would have sent everyone scurrying out of the pool to shelter (I still don't understand why people get out of the pool when it's raining- you're already wet for crying out loud!) but here everyone kept merrily swimming. Even as it became a downpour. Even as strong winds began blowing. And then the temperature suddenly began dropping. Into the low 50's.

To the kids in the pool, none of this was a big deal. To a guy (like me) in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops, it wasn't pleasant. My kids had NO interest in leaving the pool, and I was stuck watching them. And I was cold.

Then the wind began blowing water from the water slide onto me. And when I reached for a towel to cover up, my paperback blew into the pool.

At this point I was waiting for a grizzly bear to come maul me. I figured that would make the day complete.

Fortunately, as the lightning got closer, they closed the pool, giving me an excuse to haul the wild bunch back to base. Where the other adults had returned from a nice day of restaurant hopping. They also wanted to know who some of the 14 kids were that I'd brought home, as 3 of them had never been seen before.

I can only assume they were tossed out of passing UFO's by angry alien parents. "It's 4 light years back to Centauri, and you guys can walk if you don't behave!"

I certainly sympathize


Hell is a hotel that doesn’t have Nick on TV to distract my kids. So, while we were waiting to go over to my in-laws, my kids killed time by watching Playhouse Disney, which they’re WAY beyond.

So we’re watching “Special Agent Oso”. Today’s episode featured Oso (a bear) trying to feed a pet bunny, and he couldn’t figure out if the food should be inside or outside it’s cage (REALLY!). When he finally got it right, the supporting characters sang “Oso! He's O-SO Special"

Yes, indeed he is.

After an improvised martial arts match at the hotel’s waffle station, we went over to my FIL’s house. I genuinely like my FIL. He's a good guy. He teaches at a university. He has the interesting background of being able to fix ANYTHING, drive a racing jetboat, and he put himself through college and grad school by being a semi-pro boxer.

I have no idea why, but he's always called me "Big I.” He is, to date, the ONLY person I have ever allowed to call me that. And I HATE being called Big I. But from him it sounds okay.

This morning, while Mrs. Grumpy visited with family, and kids went over to a cousin's house, I sat down to read a Bill Bryson book (one of my favorite authors) that I found on a shelf. At some point my FIL came in with a bag of beef jerky.

"Hey, Big I. Here’s some leftover jerky from a trip with the grad students last week. Why don’t you finish it, I’ve had enough.” He plopped down an almost-full bag of jerky next to me, and left the room.

I’m normally not a jerky person, but tried a piece. It was HORRIBLE. Awful beyond words. I spit it out in a Kleenex and flushed it.

And apparently he wanted me to eat it all.

When he went out back to work on his boat, I quickly tossed the bag in the trash and buried it under some newspapar.

A while later he came in and asked me how the jerky was. Trying to be polite I said it was great, and that I’d finished it.

He said, “Oh, I’m glad someone liked it. Me and the grad students all thought it was terrible stuff."

Thanks, FIL.

This afternoon I was assigned the job of going to get an in-law a gift certificate to a local pizza place (it’s his birthday). FIL volunteered to drive me.

Riding with FIL is always an adventure, because he LOVES to teach. So while driving along he’ll randomly point out a window and say something like “See that Mountain Big I? That’s where, in 1873, Lt. Hardon of the 26th Cavalry clashed with the Buffalo Indians. The battle began as his men ascended the east face of Mount Bigpileofrock, and then...”

And while he’s intently looking out the back window pointing at landmarks, you’re holding on for dear life because he’s crossed into on-coming traffic, and doesn’t notice them frantically honking as they swerve off the road. Fortunately, this is a relatively small town, and most locals recognize the red 1987 Chevy Astro as it weaves in and out of traffic, and give it a wide berth.

As we dodged oncoming cars and I learned about the geological history of Bigass Mountain, we passed a sign that said: “Litter and it will hurt!!”

The pizza place was nothing special. A guy in overalls and a Big State University T-shirt sold me a $50 giftcard, then recognized my FIL and began arguing with him about his crappy grade from last semester.

When we got back I noticed this unusual receipt.


Today we drove through Yellowstone National Park.

Our drive here was somewhat delayed, as the GPS gadget had decided to take us to a shopping mall in another town that had “Yellowstone” in the name. Because, of course, we assume it knows what it’s doing, it took us 30 minutes before we finally got suspicious and investigated.

When I was kid, we made several family trips to Yellowstone. It and the Teton mountains are remarkable. Literally some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth.

I vividly remember a trip here in the late 1970's, in our faithful blue Datsun 610 stationwagon (for those too young to know, Datsun became Nissan in the early 80's). My father spotted a large buffalo near the road, and pulled over to get pictures with his humungous multi-lens Nikon camera (my father is an untalented photographer, but tries hard. He has over 300 slides he took of the Golden Gate Bridge in the early 70's, shot from every possible ground angle).

So as we sat there, Mr. Buffalo decided he wasn't too fond of the blue Datsun (or worse, thought it was attractive) and decided to investigate it. So as it came over, we all piled into the car. Dad decided to drive away slowly, trying to get shots of the buffalo through the rear window, neatly framed by my sister and I screaming at him to go faster. But he kept driving slowly away, letting the buffalo catch-up, reassuring us that he could step on the accelerator anytime he wanted to.

It was at this point that the Datsun's transmission began making a horrible noise.

We were now much slower that the buffalo, and my father kept stepping on the gas pedal trying to get away. As the buff closed to about 20 feet the car suddenly lurched forward, veered off the road, swung back on it, and left the frustrated buffalo behind.

So it was somewhat comical that today, when I drove into Yellowstone with my family, the guy at the entrance handed us a map and a large yellow paper that said "Buffalo are dangerous! They weigh 2000 pounds and can run 30 MPH. Do not allow them too close to your car". I hoped they were giving it to everyone, and not saying "Hey! that's the guy who's dad tormented a buff 34 years ago! Give him the flyer!"

Old Faithful, the geyser basins, paint pots, Mammoth Hot Springs- all phenomenal, unearthly areas. Of course, all of this was lost on my kids, who were whining about (Heaven forbid!) having to walk around to see things. So we told them to shut up and keep walking.

We ended up following a ranger around, as he led a tour group. The experience gave me some further appreciation of the park, and dramatically increased my already high esteem for rangers. Because this poor lady was being bombarded by stupid questions to rival those in my practice:

"Do you run the geyser's at night? Or only when the park is open?"

"What time do you bring the bears in for the night?"

"How did they know where to dig holes so geysers would form?"

As we walked around, I heard a teenage girl (covered in piercings and tatoos) complaining about the pathways and informational signs, saying that "it ruins it all, they should just leave things the way nature made it". Is that irony, or what?

Before setting off we decided to feed the whiny kids. This plan ended when we were trapped in line behind another tourist, who wasn't a native English speaker. In fact, as best I could tell his only English words were "Pizza" and "Coke". They didn't have pizza, and the teenage guy trying to patiently explain this to Mr. Pizza was fighting a losing battle. So we left. The whiny kids deserved granola bars, anyway.

As we drove through the park I saw signs that said "Warning: Frost Heaves!" We didn't know what frost heaves were (I've since looked it up, so you don't need to tell me). I was amazed at the number of signs for them. Apparently frost heaves are on a par with Astroturf and Al Queda as a threat to civilization. I was glad to finally have a chance to look up info on them, as I’d guessed they meant barfing from overeating ice cream.

We actually saw bears on this trip, at close range, albeit from the car. I haven’t seen them here before, although I’ve encountered pretty much everything else. It was cool.

After our day at Yellowstone, we began heading for Seattle, but were tired and didn’t get far. We stopped in a small town, which had a restaurant advertising “$7 footlong hot dogs- $5”. We had some trouble finding a room, but finally did, and set up Camp Grumpy.

Day 4

Today we drove to Seattle.

As you may remember, last night we had trouble finding a hotel room. The town was small, but we were tired, and couldn't handle the thought of driving for another few hours.

Unfortunately, the place is hosting some sort of regional fishing meeting, so finding a room was hard. We finally got one in a nondescript place on the outskirts. It looked fine, and served breakfast to boot (for people traveling with kids, the trend of hotels that offer even a basic continental breakfast is just awesome). There were several other families there, and the pool was full of kids. So we went in, and I asked for a room. That seemed to surprise the friendly clerk, and he said "How many rooms?" I replied "Oh, just one." I figured he was just hard of hearing.

Silly me. At breakfast this morning we discovered that the place covertly specializes in polygamous families. So our little familial unit of 5 was dwarfed by throngs of kids in different colored clothes, mothers rushing everywhere, and alpha males eating waffles. One guy had a T-shirt that said "I may not be smart, but I can lift heavy things". I was glad when none of them asked me about Marie's availability.

A few miles outside Missoula we passed a large bra in the middle of the road. This was followed by a sock, then a pair of shorts, and, after a surprisingly large wardrobe of clothes, we caught up to a car with suitcases on the roof, one of which was unlocked and opening as they hit bumps, allowing things to escape. We tried to tell the driver, but she flipped us off.

We saw this warehouse as we traveled. For my other medical readers, I had to get a shot of it. So now I know where the land of Junkie Joy is located.

Western Montana is remarkably scenic. Our enjoyment of it was only slightly marred by Frank asking "How do they do such nice landscaping?”

Later, while driving through the middle of nowhere we passed a cement plant. In typical tourist fashion, there were several cars pulled over with people taking pictures of it. I don't understand people.

It occurred to me today that the GPS system has ruined one of the truly great moments of childhood trips: watching your parents fighting over directions. Today's children will grow up with no idea that parents would once fight over directions, would fight over whether or not to pull over and ask for directions, would fight over who got to hold the map. The most they ever hear is the pleasant GPS voice saying "RECALCULATING" which translates into "You dipshit, why can't you listen?"

In late afternoon we passed a religious billboard, which read “Jesus said ‘This is the work of the Lord’ ”. Due to poor (or perhaps intentional) placement, the sign was located immediately next to the town landfill.

After arriving in Seattle we took the kids down to the waterfront for dinner, and ate outside. There we were assaulted by that most aggressive bird of prey, the seagull. It's like these things evolved solely for the purpose of attacking people who eat outside. Some of them were so fat it was amazing to see them fly.

The kids are watching Underdog, the movie. I'm going to bed, the queen size.

Day 5

Today we are in Seattle.

I was woken this morning by the 3 kids doing a horrific rendition of the 1980’s pop song “Don’t You Want Me?”. Considering they stayed up watching "Underdog" later than Mrs. Grumpy or I, they sure had a lot of energy when they woke up. I had no idea 80's pop was in the movie's soundtrack. Or maybe they changed the channel after we passed out.

After getting them dressed (which required me threatening to volunteer the boys for some electrical conductance experiments) we went down to breakfast. We'd run out of Diet Cokes, so I wanted coffee to wake up.

Unfortunately, the hotel had somehow managed to run out of coffee by the time we made it downstairs. Fortunately, there was a Costco nearby. So we reloaded on critical (and not-so-critical) supplies (20 lbs. box of laundry soap, 48 cans of Diet Coke, 1 box of pancake mix [NO! I HAVE NO FREAKIN' IDEA WHY WE NEEDED TO BUY PANCAKE MIX!], tomatoes [just in case, I guess], and tape) and I bought a soda cup at the snack bar and kept refilling it. Of course, by this time the kids were afraid they'd die of starvation (they hadn't eaten in what, an hour?), so they all wanted hot dogs, too.

On a side note, is there anyone else out there who remembers the married days before you had kids and a cheap date was a trip to Costco and 2 hot dogs for $3, and you thought that was awesome?

Then we dragged the kids down to Pike Place market and the aquarium. As we drove, the kids were stunned to see the Space Needle really exists. They'd assumed it was just a prop on iCarly.

Aquariums are cropping up on every corner in North America these days, but there are very few that I really like. Seattle is one of them (the others are Vancouver and Boston, though I haven't been to either in years). Actually, I haven't been to that many aquariums when I think about it. I know there are many others, but none of them in North America have octopi I want to vote for.

As we walked into the first exhibit hall, a guy came up to Marie and said "Hey, little lady, would you like to touch my sea cucumber?"

I was about to call security until I realized he worked there, and, indeed, was carrying around a live sea cucumber in a big plastic bowl. I looked around and saw quite a few people carrying sea creatures to show kids, and was reassured that a pedophile hadn't snuck into the aquarium. Or, if he had, at least he wasn't hiding in the bathroom.

It's really embarrassing when your kids start hitting each other in a fight over which of the starfish in the "hands-on" tide pool is Patrick. Or ask the nice lady working there why he isn't wearing pants, like on the show.

While walking between the buildings I noticed this interesting architectural feature overhead.

As you can see, it's a door to nowhere hanging off the 2nd floor. I secretly hoped that on the inside of the door was a sign that said “smoking patio”.

After the aquarium we wandered around Pike Place Market. I like this place, and could spend all day browsing. I have a fond memory from the 1990's when I was in Seattle interviewing for neurology residency. Due to flight schedules I had a whole day to kill, and spent it wandering around the waterfront and Pike Place area. I dodged flying fish, bought books, had someone take my picture next to a cardboard cutout of a T-101 Terminator (I figured in a few months patients would see me that way), and ate anything that looked good (which was a lot.). By the end of the day I was poorer, fatter, and barely fit into my suit for the interview the next day.

But now, with 3 wild kids, the best you can do is window shop and keep them out of stores where they might break something.

One item here that caught my attention was this poster for a lighthearted musical. I was somewhat sorry to see the show’s run was over by the time we visited.

Seattle has some things that other cities just can't match. My kids, in particular, loved the famous Wall of Gum (picture below). This is exactly what it sounds like. Since 1993 people have been sticking their gum on a wall at the market, and it's now several inches thick. It’s been named the 2nd germiest attraction in the world after the Blarney stone.

Of course, all 3 of them wanted to add gum to it. We didn't have any (shit! why didn't we think of that at Costco?). So to prevent widespread unrest I bought an overpriced pack of gum, and they all chewed a piece and then stuck it up.

(yes, that’s Frank. Due to him turning a kid in for eating clay, he’s now in the Wingnut Elementary School witness protection program).

Immediately after this picture was taken, Frank, for reasons known only to him, rubbed his hands all over everyone else's gum! So I was assigned the job of slathering him with Purell (don't leave home without it).

We stopped at Ivar's for dinner and were assaulted by fed the world's fattest seagulls again. On the way back to the hotel, Craig and Marie capped off the day by eating the damn tomatoes, sending seeds flying through the minivan.

And that's the way it is.

Day 6

This morning, with plenty of Diet Coke on hand, I didn’t want coffee for breakfast. This pissed off the hotel’s breakfast lady to no end, as she kept coming over to offer me some, and made it sound like she’d gone out at 2:00 a.m. just to buy it for me. She even recruited the kids in trying to convince me to have a cup of joe (perhaps it was poisoned). After we checked out and drove off, I kept absently looking in the rear view mirror for her following us.

Today we met my parents and my sister’s family, and headed for the harbor. This year my Dad decided to take me and my sister’s tribes to Alaska on a family trip aboard the S.S. Smorgasbord. So between 3 cabins we have (literally) a boatload of people.

In the terminal my father had paid extra to have “priority check-in” on the cruise, and was told there was a special waiting area for this. I think he was under the impression this was a separate area of plush chairs, quiet fountains, a classical music quartet, and stunning, nubile serving girls catering to your every whim.

He was clearly disappointed to find it was simply a section of standard airport-style row seats, in the center of all the other waiting people, surrounded by a bunch of those rope barriers they use in movie theater lines. The provided entertainment was yesterday’s newspaper (with the sports section missing). The closest thing to a serving girl was an overweight guy named Harvey who kept yelling at people not to lean on the ropes. It’s my parents’ first cruise, and it clearly wasn’t starting the way he wanted it to.

My initial Alaskan cruise was several years ago, with a company I’ll call Non-Consumable food Lines. Mrs. Grumpy and I went without the kids. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that trip would become a noteworthy experience for me and my blog followers.

There was a talent show on the last full day of that cruise, and Mrs. Grumpy asked me to enter it, doing comedy based on my practice. Since it also fell on her birthday, I couldn’t refuse.

So I got some of the material I’d been saving together, and did a 3 minute stand-up routine. For better or worse I was beaten by an 88 year-old clog-dancer. But that experience eventually contributed to the creation of this blog (and who’s gonna read a blog called anyway?). I think she got the sympathy vote, just in case she didn't make it through the cruise.

Back to 2010.

When we found our cabin it was hot as hell, in spite of the AC being on cold. So I called to complain. The lady who answered the phone assured me that an “air-conditioner fixer specialty person” would come soon, and so he did. The guy walked into our cabin, pulled the plastic cover off the AC control, blew dust out of it, whacked it with the side of his hand, and left. It worked fine after that.

While Mrs. Grumpy unpacked, she told me to either get the kids out of her hair, or kill them. So I dragged them upstairs. They made me stop for ice cream, apparently out of fear that they would go into a hypoglycemic coma so soon after lunch. After getting there Marie decided she also desperately needed a grilled cheese sandwich, as it had been nearly 30 minutes since lunch. So she made friends with Ajay, master of the S.S. Smorgasbord’s grill.

Then we went off to golf. Marie, picking up right where she’d left off on our last cruise, started by knocking over a lady’s daiquiri and shattering the glass (I guess it’s hard to play when you’re trying to hold a club and ice cream cone in one hand and a grilled cheese in the other). When someone came over to clean it up, she began wailing that it was Craig’s fault for talking to her while she was teeing off.

To prepare for this cruise, I read a great book called Cruise Confidential, by Brian Bruns. He wrote the book while working as a waiter for Carnival, and it gives a remarkable view into the lives of the ship’s service crew.

Basically they work hard and party hard. In fact, from reading the book you get the impression that when they’re not working the crew are either sleeping, drinking, or screwing (they also have to guard their silverware from other waiters). It notes that Mr. Bruns is the only American (as of the time of the writing) to have survived a Carnival tour-of-duty. I’m surprised that the book hasn’t recruited more American college-aged guys to the field, as it sounds like the lifestyle of mindless labor, alcohol, and frequent sex would be quite attractive at some point. Carnival even provides condoms to the employees.

After reading the book it’s impossible to walk around the ship looking at crew members and not wonder who’s banging who.

I also became aware that, like everyone else out there, the crew has to put up with some remarkably stupid questions. An example from the book is “What do you do with the ice sculptures after they melt?”

Day 7

Last night was a rough night. My sister has never been on a cruise, and has the cabin next to ours. She wasn't sure what normal rocking was, and we were occasionally woken by her screaming at her husband that the ship was sinking. Then she'd call us for reassurance. An hour later it would start over again.

On my initial Alaskan cruise several years ago, I had a truly memorable swimming experience. We'd gone much earlier in the season. The pool on top of the ship was heated, and it was in the 60’s outside. I had a relaxing time, lazily swimming back and forth as the water sloshed with the ship’s motion. Most people were downstairs playing bingo or napping or whatever, and I had the area to myself. It was quite nice.

Until a wind kicked up. And the temperature dropped. I wasn’t too alarmed, as I was comfortable in the pool, and my bathrobe and towel were within arm's reach.

Then it began snowing. A LOT. And the temp dropped into the 30’s. And when a strong gust of wind struck I watched in horror as my bathrobe and towel blew into the gulf of Alaska (I later got billed for them, too).

I was trapped in the pool.

The distance from the pool to the nearest door was only about 50 feet. Not so long. But when you are soaking wet, with nothing other than a wet bathing suit, and it’s 37° F, with 40 mph winds, and snowing, that 50 feet looks like a light year.

I jumped out of the warm pool. The blast of cold was awful. It was the longest 50 feet of my life. By the time I got inside I had a lump in my throat, which I’d previously used to urinate with.

With that in mind, I’m glad the Smorgasbord has a covered pool.

For those of you with my vice, I give you the most valuable cruising tip of all: When you walk on board, the ABSOLUTE FIRST THING you should do is go straight to the nearest bar (usually you enter the ship near the lobby one) and buy a soda card (fountain card on some lines). They give you a card, or put a sticker on your ship ID, giving you access to unlimited Diet Coke (or lesser soft drinks of your choice) for the duration of the trip. A Diet Coke bought individually is $2.50. So for someone like me the $55/7 day card pays for itself in, oh, say, 20 minutes.

The Smorgasbord’s cruise director is Stu. Like all cruise directors, he always sounds like he lives on Prozac and coffee, and can make even the most mundane activity, or dire emergency, sound like something that will be a hell of a lot of fun you don't want to miss.

Stu, although a native English speaker, isn't native to the American dialect. As a result he routinely wishes us a "cracking day". Fortunately, by reading ABB regularly, I've come to learn that this doesn't involve what Americans normally refer to as crack (unless you consider the oversupply of poorly fitted bathing suits at the pool).

He’s a good guy, but personally, I preferred Goose, from our July, 2009 cruise. Besides the name, Goose also had his morning phone-in TV show, and the drunken/stupid/both calls he got reminded me of a typical day at my office.

At lunch today, to my surprise, my cell phone rang. I figured only Mary or Annie would be calling me directly, so I answered it.

Dr. Grumpy: “Hello? This is Dr. Grumpy.”

Ms. Slowhuc: “Yes, this is Local Hospital. We have a consult for you, on the lady in room 755.”

Dr. Grumpy: “I’m in Alaska.”

Ms. Slowhuc: “That’s okay, the nurse said you can do it tomorrow.”

Dr. Grumpy: “No. I’m on vacation. I won’t be home for a while.”

Ms. Slowhuc: “You are refusing the consult?”

Dr. Grumpy: “I’m not there! Dr. Cortex is covering. Please call...”

Ms. Slowhuc: “But the consult isn’t for Dr. Cortex. It's for you.”

Dr. Grumpy: “But he's covering for me.”

Ms. Slowhuc: “They asked for you.”

Dr. Grumpy (sigh): "Just call him. Trust me.”


After lunch I went golfing with the kids and their cousins. Marie’s shot off the 8th hole is now somewhere at the bottom of the Inside Passage (she really doesn’t grasp the difference between driving and putting very well). I got billed for a lost ball. At least it’s cheaper than the basketball I put overboard last Summer off Mexico.

My parent’s are both vitamin addicts, and don’t go anywhere without their little Ziploc baggies of pills. And a watch with multiple alarms that go off to remind them when they're supposed to take what. I think the constant beeping and chirping at different times of dinner scared our waiter Vladimir, who was afraid we had a bomb under the table (actually, Craig was under the table, trying to tie my shoes together).

Today we're quietly heading north. To my disappointment, we aren’t visiting Prince Rupert, which is a pretty little town in western British Columbia. It’s historically an interesting place, more because of what it might have been. I was there a few years ago.

In the early 20th century, as trade between North America and the far east developed, west coast ports grew increasingly busy. Charles Hays, General Manager of a railroad company, aggressively developed the area. He realized that it was geographically close enough to Japan to significantly shorten shipping routes, and wanted to make the town the major hub for western North American shipping. The plans might have made Prince Rupert an immense metropolis had they been carried through.

But Mr. Hays died in 1912 on the Titanic, and his dreams for Prince Rupert went with him. In retrospect, the area is so lovely that it’s probably best they never happened.

A particularly interesting feature of Prince Rupert is the harbor park, which is designed to be a memorial for those lost in the Pacific. The centerpiece is an oddly out-of-place Japanese fishing boat, resting under a Shinto shrine. There is a sad story behind it.

On September 26, 1985 retired civil servant Kazukio Sakamoto left Owase, Japan, for a routine fishing trip in his boat the Kazu Maru. He never returned.

On March 26, 1987 a Canadian patrol vessel off British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte island encountered a capsized, but still floating, hull covered with barnacles and weeds. They towed it to the harbor, where it was found to be the missing Kazu Maru. It had floated from Japan across to Canada. In a bizarre coincidence, Owase and Prince Rupert have been sister cities since the 1960’s.

There was no trace of Mr. Sakamoto, and his demise remains a mystery. With the permission of his family, the boat was made the centerpiece of the park, and remains there today as a poignant reminder of those lost at sea.

Day 8

Mrs. Grumpy put a bathing sponge up in our cabin's shower. Maybe it's just me, but now when I'm in there I feel like I'm being watched by Beaker, from The Muppet Show.

See if you can tell them apart.


The shower.

Today we cruised the remarkably beautiful Tracy Arm fjord, dotted with floating ice (from upstream glaciers) and lined by sheer mountains with cascading waterfalls. It was truly lovely. We commandeered a table with an excellent view at breakfast, and spent most of the morning watching the scenery go by. We’d see the occasional seal lying on a drifting ice floe or eagles diving for fish.

For shut-ins, there’s a TV channel on board that shows the view from the bow 24/7. I assume it's for people who are too lazy to leave their rooms, or honeymooners. It makes you think the cruise line got their HBO cut off, and decided to show this instead.

After we left the gorgeous fjord, we were treated to some less-then spectacular scenery: The ship’s Hairy Chest contest.

I have no idea where this odd tradition started, but it’s a regular feature on Cruiseship Lines. Usually it consists of 6-8 muscular guys strutting their stuff in front of the crowd, while ladies cheer them on.

On previous cruises I've taken the volunteers were muscular young guys. On this trip, however, there apparently weren't any. As a result the Hairy Chest Contest looked more like a Belly-Bucking competition. It was made even more comical by the fact that the first 3 guys who volunteered were named Harry, Dick, and Randy.

This not-so-sightly competition was followed by an ice carving demonstration. They hauled a huge block of ice on deck, and one bright passenger immediately asked, "Do you use real ice for these? Or is it just water made to look like ice?"

Afterwards I wanted to relax in the hot tub. The one by the covered pool was overloaded with kids, so I went to the one in the spa. There’s an area with deck chairs next to it, and, for no obvious reason, a statue of a butt.

(No, I have no idea what the electronic gadget is. Maybe some sort of digital prostate examining device)

While I was soaking a young couple came in playing "pass the toddler" back and forth. They told me that they'd taken this cruise specifically to celebrate the child's 1st birthday, because they wanted to do something he'd remember. They'd read about how kids don’t remember their first B-days, and so they wanted to do something unforgettable. Their reasoning was that by doing something like an Alaskan cruise (as opposed to a cake with candles in the yard) that he’d definitely remember his first birthday.

I smiled and listened politely. They were O-SO special.

Afterwards I got into the elevator, and was joined by a couple from Germany. Mrs. German looked me over. I'm dripping wet, with a soaked towel and T-shirt over my shoulders. She says something in German, and her husband smiles, then looks at me and says "She says you smell like a pool".

On the way to dinner I passed through a lounge, where a Filipino bartender was setting up for the night. I was treated to him doing an enthusiastic version of “Hello Dolly”. I wanted to applaud. I respect people who, like me, have no vocal talent whatsoever, but still belt them out with enthusiasm.

There's always one person on every cruise who's determined to lose weight on the ship, and try to make everyone around them feel guilty about it (a lady last year brought a freaking scale on the ship). At dinner, between random beeping from the kids' Gameboys and my parents' vitamin watch, I saw the featured one on the Smorgasbord.

This lady in her 40's was sitting across the aisle from us, in a group of girlfriends. As these types always do, she felt the need to tell her companions how much fat, salt, and calories were in their dishes (I'll be surprised if she isn't swimming back to Seattle in a day or two).

Of course, all of us are ordering excellent food, brought by our wonderful waitstaff. So what did this babe do?

She had her own food, from the PutridSystem diet plan. Cardboard bread! Taste-free treats! Mystery pasta!

She'd whip these miniature, pleasure-free, semi-edible items from her bag with great drama, and loudly read the nutritional contents (such as they may be) to her friends and anyone else who could hear, happily comparing them to whatever her friends were eating.

I have nothing against healthy eating and losing weight. I recommend it to my patients, and sometimes even make half-hearted attempts at it myself (Lipitor, take me away!). But the ship's menu does feature several healthy options. Even if you don't want them, I don't understand why you feel that makes you superior to others, or have to try and make them feel like shit.

One nice feature this ship has is a guy named Ram, who’s the dining room magician. He has a great sleight-of-hand, and is just awesome for entertainment and at keeping kids distracted while dinner is coming. He hasn’t, however, thus far been able to make Miss PutridSystem disappear. Maybe if I tip him...

My kids are having a hard time accepting that Cruiseship Lines, as a cost saving measure, has stopped the "Meet the Captain" party with dancing. Since it involved free drinks I liked it too. Marie sees it as a great time to show off her pseudo-convulsive dance moves to an adoring audience, and to drag me down with her in the process. We won’t win any contests, but do have fun. And isn't that what Summer vacations are for?

Day 9

Today we were in Skagway, Alaska.

An interesting feature here is the harbor. We docked next to a rock wall, which was covered with ship-related graffiti. Every time a ship called on Skagway for the first time, it's name was painted on the wall. This had obviously been going on for quite a while, and it covered most of the place. The table my family had chosen was cheerfully opposite the sign painted in 1977 by the crew of the Prinsendam, which sank while cruising Alaska in 1981.

Makes you think. The number of ships safely cruising the area doesn’t change the fact that these are still narrow, dangerous waters. We tend to think all our modern gadgets are protection, and they are- to a point. A large passenger ferry, the Queen of the North, sank in these waters as recently as 2006, due to a navigation error.

Skagway is a small town that has a fascinating history. Unfortunately, very few tourists care about history, and so places like Skagway (such as Jackson, Wyoming, Lahaina, Hawaii, and Tombstone, Arizona) have survived by opening boutiques of various kinds, making you feel that their entire historical significance is based on jewelry, leather goods, and T-shirt shops.

One interesting place I noticed was this restaurant, a pizzeria which features popular Italian and Mexican foods such as crab, halibut burgers, salmon chowder, and that ever-popular Italian and Mexican delicacy, the gyro. I can only assume the owner suffers from ADD, or is marketing to indecisive people.

(click to enlarge)

Skagway also features such novelties as the Sarah Palin gift shop, and the Red Onion prostitution museum. The latter has a sign in the window that said "Tours are $5 for 15 minutes- the same price as 1898."

For almost $180/person you can get a more detailed tour of the city’s prostitution history. The shore excursion guide featured quite a suggestive description of it, which I've included below.

(click to enlarge)

With a description like that, and for that kind of money, you'd think they could include at least a hand job. Maybe they do.

After boarding the Smorgasbord we went back to our cabin. There was a note on the door saying they’ll be doing “routine maintenance” on our balcony tomorrow. The way I’ve been eating I can only assume they’re reinforcing it.

The highlight of dinner tonight was Craig, Frank, and their cousin Greg linking Nintendos together so they could play each other. At one point all 3 of the gadgets beeped simultaneously, and my parents thought that was their cue to take vitamins.

Tonight’s shipboard show was a musical review called “The Big Easy”. It was okay, but was made spectacular by a mechanical failure. In one scene a female singer is wearing a wig that made her look like Maleficent (who in my opinion is STILL the greatest Disney villain EVER).

Anyway, a line was lowered for her to attach to her costume, and then, as she sang, lifted her high above the stage.

EXCEPT it didn’t quite work out. When she got hoisted in the air, for whatever reason, the cable rotated her away for the audience. So while she belted out the song we’re all looking at her back. She tried to turn around (without much success) by flailing her arms and legs wildly while singing. It didn’t help, but did give the odd appearance of an epileptic spider doing a musical number.

Day 10

Today we were in Juneau.

After walking off the ship, we were greeted by shuttles going to whale-watching cruises, glacier hiking tours, shopping districts, etc. And where did most people go? They piled into the one that said “Shuttle to Walmart.” WTF, people?

Since the kids only experience with whales consisted of trips to Seaworld, I decided to take them on a whale-seeing excursion, which they quite enjoyed.

This boat had a naturalist, a very nice girl named Christine. She was quite knowledgeable and helpful, but as I listened to her answer questions it occurred to me that she could start making up answers, and no one would know. “Those are McFlurpy Whales. They only eat penguins and eucalyptus leaves, and so every day migrate to the waters between Australia and Antarctica to feed, returning to Alaska by nightfall to care for their young.” And the tourists would take pictures, say “Oh, I’ve never heard of those” and go home to spread the story.

The tour boat sold a few souvenirs, including smoked salmon. So to drum up sales they gave it out on crackers as a snack. Several people lined up to buy some, and I heard this exchange.

Mrs. Uglyhat: "I love this! Can I buy some?"

Boatgirl: "Certainly, ma'am. Here you go, genuine Alaska smoked salmon."

Mrs. Uglyhat: "No! Not the salmon! I can buy that at home. I mean the crackers! They're wonderful."

Boatgirl: (taken aback) "Uh... Those are just Ritz crackers."

Mrs. Uglyhat: "Well I love them!"

Boatgirl: “Um, we’re just selling the salmon.”

I personally thought Boatgirl should have just sold her a box of crackers for $20.

So the kids saw whales, and impressed Christine with their knowledge of Orcas. This consisted of them screaming “Shamu! Shamu!” loudly at every passing whale (humpback and orcas). Or wave that they thought was a whale. Or floating seaweed.

After the whale-watching trip we walked around town. Unfortunately, Juneau has the usual gift shops selling the usual local T-shirts, ulu knives, hats, humorous boxer shorts, and a CD of songs by "Trapper Dan" (it’s called Bear Essentials, and the cover features a naked man with a strategically placed guitar).

We took the kid on a hanging gondola tram ride over town, to the top of Mount Roberts. With our usual remarkable luck we got to share the trip with 2 idiotic women who were arguing over whether or not the gift shops in Juneau would accept American dollars. Fortunately, their argument ended when one of their husbands turned out to be terrified of heights. Every time the gondola shook a little he’d scream.

The kids favorite attraction was the waterfront statue of Patsy Ann. She was a Bull Terrier that was the Juneau community dog in the 1930’s. Although born deaf, she could always tell when ships were coming, and would greet them.

After leaving Juneau we were sitting on deck watching the scenery go by. At one point we saw a large bear wandering along the shore. As word got out people ran over to the side of the shop, watching, pointing, and taking pictures. After a few minutes of this the bear suddenly stood up and began waving at us.

Obviously, this local has WAY too much time on his hands.

Perhaps the oddest occupation you encounter on these cruises is the ship's professional shopper (sometimes called the "Shopping Consultant". This is, I suspect, a coveted position. It consists of a lady who's entire job is to go buy expensive jewelery and clothes ashore, then come back and report to the passengers about how wonderfully she was treated at various places. Since she only shops at places that have paid Cruiseship Lines a fee to appear in the shipboard advertising, one has to take her endorsements with a grain of salt. But certainly, given the amenities of a decent cabin, food, and a shopping expense account, it sounds like a delightfully cushy job.

Dinner has become quite entertaining. My 16 year old nephew, Greg, can’t eat gluten foods. So the awesome dining room head waittress, Marlina, comes to our table at dinner each night to show him what’s on the menu for the following day. This way Greg can pick what he wants, and they make sure it’s safely prepared for him.

Now Greg is a good guy, but he’s also a typical teenage boy. Marlina is a stunning beauty from Eastern Europe, and Greg has discovered that if he pretends to be near sighted, Marlina bends closer to him with the menu, and he gets a better view of her cleavage.

Ah, to be 15 again.

I’m really not much of a gambling person (I’m cheap). But I do like blackjack. Since they had a tournament that was only $20 for 30 minutes play, I decided to enter for the hell of it.

So at the appointed time I went down to play. In my time slot there was only one other guy, and a gorgeous dealer with a thick accent. I sat down at the table, and she looked at me.

Ms. Dealer: “You are here for BJ?”

Dr. Grumpy: (taken aback) “Uh, excuse me?”

Ms. Dealer: “BJ. You are here for the BJ, correct?”

My inner voice: “Wow! For $20 that’s not a bad deal!”

Dr. Grumpy: “Um, yes, blackjack.”

The other guy at the table whispered to me “She said the same thing to me. Damn near gave me a heart attack.”

Day 11

Today started unusually early. Around 2:00 a.m. Marie went to pee. She left the bathroom door ajar, but the ship's rolling slammed it shut. In the haze of being semi-awake and peeing, Marie didn’t realize the door was no longer ajar, but closed. So of course, it wouldn’t open when she pushed on it. In her fogginess it didn’t occur to her to try, say, turning the handle.

So she immediately went into meltdown mode. She began screaming, pounding and kicking the door to try to get it open. She woke up Craig and Frank, who somehow decided she was screaming because she was trapped in the bathroom and the ship was sinking. As I went to extricate Marie from the john, Mrs. Grumpy tried to calm down the hysterical boys.

It took us about 10 minutes to get all settled, when the whole thing was set off again by the shrill ring of the telephone. It was security. For the first time ever someone had made a noise complaint about us, and we were warned to be quiet (if I find out it was my sister, she gets to swim home).

I told the kids that they were not to make any more noise until they saw water, smoke, or daylight coming into the cabin.

Today we’re in Ketchikan, Alaska. This pretty little town is known as the Salmon Capital of the World, is near Misty Fjords National Monument, and has a remarkable collection of Native American totem polls. It’s jammed up against the mountains, so the entire city is 1/4 mile wide and 3 miles long.

So, for all of that, what kind of things would you find on a “genuine Alaskan Shopping Experience” in Ketchikan? Well, the Cruiseship Lines guidebook to the town listed 18 Alaskan shopping experiences. Lets break them down:

13 jewelery stores
2 art galleries
1 place selling clothes that change color in direct sunlight
1 place selling clothes made from bamboo (Get a free bamboo necklace just by yelling “Cariloha!” in public! Wow!)
1 salmon store

How many of you would look at that list and say “Wow! That just screams a small Alaskan town to me!”.

Years ago, on our first trip here, Mrs. Grumpy and I paid $100 each for a bald eagle sightseeing excursion.

It was quite impressive, but unfortunately after you get to Ketchikan you realize that bald eagles are freakin’ EVERYWHERE, like pigeons back home. They particularly congregate around dumpsters. So it's pretty depressing to realize you shelled out $200 to see something you could have seen for free, just by hanging out behind the Burger King.

My Dad wanted to take us to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. In all honesty, prior to this afternoon I had no idea there was such a thing as timbersports. But they handed out a brochure listing their participants in such finger-removing sports as speed sawing, tree climbing/falling, log rolling, and power chainsaw. It noted several of these guys are regional champions or have earned college scholarships in this field. And I had no idea it even existed. It was contrived and touristy, but hey, I’m a tourist here, and it was surprisingly entertaining. Afterwards we walked around the town and tried cupcakes and other local delicacies before returning to base.

After boarding the ship, we stopped for Diet Cokes in the lobby. They were playing a country love song in the background, and I swear the chorus was “I want to check you for ticks.” I can only assume the singer's date either had serious hygiene issues, was into something kinky, or was a dog.

We relaxed by the pool this afternoon (I’m now reading "A Confederacy of Dunces"- quite good). Out of the corner of my eye I saw a white ball of fur moving around next to my chair. I absently reached down to pet it and mumbled “Hello, Snowball.” I suddenly realized Snowball was back home, and looked up at an Indonesian lady cleaning the deck, who had no idea why a balding American was petting her mop.

As the boys swam, the Smorgasbord’s entertainment staff put a beanbag-toss set out by the pool, for anyone to play with. That anyone turned out to be Marie, who decided to play it herself by tossing beanbags back & forth and switching sides.

To my horror her beanbag score was:

Hit the target: 3

Lady in a wheelchair: 1.

People waiting in line for hamburgers: 3

People waiting in line for ice cream: 2

The metal piece over the stage with lights hanging off it: 1

Tossed in pool: 2

Fortunately the staff took away the bowling set before she got interested in that.

My BIL, Dave, signed up to play in the ship’s ping-pong tournament. He, and everyone else, were crushed by a guy who travels with his own, specially-made, ping-pong paddle. You have to respect that kind of mindset to take ping-pong so seriously you don’t go anywhere without your customized paddle.

As always, there are plenty of photo-ops on the ship. Every night they have different portrait themes. You can have your picture taken with you cheerfully in the woods (surrounded by small stuffed animals), holding firearms in the old west, on the grand staircase of the Titanic, and other pleasant areas.

So as I headed for the dining room I passed a lady in a blue dress. She was keeping a ship’s photographer busy with her posing at a piano. As I watched the pictures became increasingly explicit. At first she was just sitting there, smiling. Then sitting with her hand slightly up under her skirt. Then winking and licking the piano. Then licking a long-stemmed wine glass. Then licking the piano, holding the wine glass, and turned so you could see she didn’t have any undies on.

My family wanted to know what held me up on the way to dinner. I told them the elevator got stuck.

Day 12

This cruise (as they all do) has some interesting passengers. Sometimes, I swear, it’s like the cruise line supplies them. This one features:

A lady who wears what looks like cake decorations on her head. These are NOT silly hats, and she clearly thinks they’re quite fashionable. She has different ones every day, sometimes with flowers, little people, ribbons, and small houses. I was hoping to see one with burning birthday candles, but I guess it wouldn’t be safe on the ship.

Another lady has outfits consisting of a tube top, 1970’s short-shorts, and knee-high boots. It’s like her fashion sense is stuck in the 1970’s, waiting to get a call to appear on Charlie’s Angels.

There are a truly frightening number of morbidly obese guys whose entire trip wardrobe consists of T-shirts that say "This is what AWESOMENESS looks like."

Another prize, and likely the winner, is a lady in her 40’s who’s on her honeymoon. Nothing wrong with that, EXCEPT SHE WEARS HER WEDDING DRESS EVERYWHERE! I’ve seen her in it every freakin' day now. At dinner. By the pool. At trivia. At karoke. On shore. She’s either having it washed every day, or has several dresses, or stinks.

While watching the world go by this morning I heard some vaguely familiar lyrics overhead, but the music didn’t match. After listening carefully, I realized (to my horror) that it was a cover of Pink Floyd's “Comfortably Numb”, redone as a disco song.

On the way up to lunch, in a crowded elevator, Frank had the class to rip one off. Loudly. Of course, Marie and Craig couldn’t let it go, announcing to the elevator who it was, and which of the guys in the elevator was his Dad. When the doors opened at the next stop I bolted out, leaving my kids looking horrified as I disappeared into a staircase. I needed the exercise anyway.

After lunch, Marie decided she wanted a grilled cheese sandwich for desert. As we headed for the deli we began hearing people talking loudly. Then yelling. Then running. And in a scene reminiscent of “Titanic” we saw increasing numbers of people dropping what they were doing and heading for the stern.

I looked out the window. The ship wasn’t listing as best I could tell. We were moving forward at the same speed. I didn’t notice any smoke. But more and more people ran past us. We started wondering if we were missing a boat drill.

So Marie asked her boyfriend, Grilled-Cheese-Master-Ajay, what was going on. He laughed and told us they’d just opened the cruise's chocolate buffet in back, but to prevent a riot were letting the news spread by word-of-mouth, rather than announcing it overhead.

We turned to go there ourselves. I then realized that the kids were gone already. They'd vanished in a blur, heading for the stern. I found myself holding Marie's grilled cheese sandwich, with one bite out of it.

This afternoon Frank and Craig wanted to play cards, so I grabbed a deck and we went down to the card room. It was packed, so instead we went to the casino next door. We got a table near the bar, got some Cokes, and began an exciting game of Go Fish.

None of the crew minded, but as usual some bored passenger felt the need to come over and chew me out for doing such sinful things as teaching my kids to gamble and drink. I didn’t bother (you can’t argue with these types) to point out we were doing neither.

After Mrs. Nosey left, the pianist struck up a cheery rendition of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".

Our last stop on the cruise was tonight, in Victoria, British Columbia.

I haven't been to Victoria in many years, but have always liked the place. Unfortunately, we didn't get in until early evening. Even worse, we docked in an industrial part of the harbor, far from easy walking distance to the venerable Empress Hotel or lovely Buchart Gardens.

It was, however, the first time I'd been to Canada since I began my writing career, and so I assumed a delegation of my Canadian fans (all 5 of you) would be waiting for me at the gangway, eager to have me sign your official Dr. Grumpy T-shirts.

So I dug through my luggage for any clean clothes I had left, which consisted of blue basketball shorts with silver stripes, and a Hawaiian floral shirt. The shirt had fit nicely when I packed it, but after 7 days on the S.S. Smorgasbord my buffet belly protruded like a hairy melon.

Thus fashionably attired, I marched down the gangway with Marie (the only one who wanted to go with me) and hoped my outfit didn't create an international incident.

Fortunately, the majority of passengers had left the ship in a rush earlier, and so we were alone as we walked ashore. We were greeted by a few bored harbor agents who stamped our passports. We wandered around for a few minutes, were told it would be a while for the next shuttle into town, and then returned to the ship after Marie abruptly declared she was hungry and wanted grilled cheese and ice cream.

I waved to a guy standing on the deck of a nearby Canadian Coast Guard Ship (C.C.G.S Sir Wilfrid Laurier) who was watching me closely. I can understand this, because if terrorists were trying to send someone to horrify people with bad fashion sense, they likely would be dressed like I was.

Today was the last full day of the cruise. As usual, we were presented with the U.S. Customs Declaration form, which features some of the typical great questions asked by government agencies. This includes them wondering if I happen to be carrying snails or insects on me. REALLY!

I’m actually glad to be leaving, because if I hear the phrase “have a cracking day!” again, I’m going to throttle Stu.

Day 13

After disembarking, the kids and I waited while Mrs. Grumpy went for the Sienna. To give them something to do, I told them to count taxis as they went by. This turned out to be a bad move, as most had signs on them advertising a strip bar called “Dream Girls”, with photos of scantily clad women. This gave the wild bunch the giggles, and they quickly evolved to counting just Dream Girl cabs, then the number of boobies on each cab ([taxis with dream girls] x 2 = total number of boobies).

So we drove through the Pacific northwest, passing though Yakima (with a sign that said “Yakima- the Palm Springs of Washington”, whatever that means). We also went by a sign for Tacoma Screw Products.

On the trip overall we’ve been through quite a few towns of varying sizes. This has included Afton, Wyoming, home of the world's largest arch made entirely from elk antlers. For the benefit of animal lovers it was noted that all antlers were naturally shed by elks as they grew, and no elks were harmed in the making of the arch.

In one small northern Utah town, when we were at a red light, I happened to glance at the car next to us. A muscular guy winked and waved his tongue at me.

This afternoon we needed to pee, and top off the car, so pulled into a small town. To my surprise the gas station doubled as a feed store. I went in to pay for our purchase and the friendly clerk (wearing hunting gear, a gun, and a T-shirt that said "Shh!!! I'm hiding from the voices!") asked me if I needed any livestock feed (in our family "Livestock feed" constitutes a trip to McD's). The place also has a small restaurant, so I guess they cover pretty much all land creatures.

Oddball combination businesses have been a common finding on this trip. In one area we passed Rocky Mountain Fireworks & Fur store, which sold both.

We finally stopped in the late afternoon, in a place where Mrs. Grumpy has more family. She asked me to keep the kids at the motel, So I marched them out to the pool and plunked myself down with my faithful 2005 iBook and a Diet Coke.

Shortly after starting work, I poured Diet Coke down the front of my shirt.

We were meeting her family for dinner, and I don’t have many clean clothes left (tonight is laundry night). So I decided to get the stains out of my shirt by rubbing that part in the pool (guy thinking, I know). Unfortunately, after doing that it occurred to me that the chlorine in the pool might only stain that part of the shirt. So to balance it out, I soaked the whole shirt in the pool, and hung it over a chair to dry.

At dinner my in-laws asked me why I was wearing a wet shirt. I mumbled “it’s a guy thing” and left it at that (the shirt came out fine).

The restaurant they chose was a local roadside place, where I suggested my kids get something safe. So Craig ordered fried shrimp. Fortunately, I suspect they were from Costco (which is where I’d suggested going for dinner in the first place, thank you very much).

Fried anything, regardless of how bad it is for you, has always reminded me of Bill Crosby’s old routine about how Americans can eat anything if they can put it between 2 slices of bread. Similarly, we will also eat anything as long as it has been breaded and deep-fried. This is not a joke. Red Lobster and Long John Silver’s have built empires by realizing this.

Day 14

While the kids were watching TV this morning, an ad came on for the IHOP bacon & egg cheeseburger. WTF? They can’t advertise cigarettes on TV, but they can push this to kids?

A few minutes later I was showering, and realized I’d left the shampoo bottle out on the counter. I asked Frank to hand it to me, and then lathered up my hair.

But it didn’t lather. It clumped. And the more I rubbed the worse it got. In horror, I realized Frank had given me a bottle of generic hotel hand lotion, which showed no sign of coming out of my hair. I think I used up the hotel’s entire hot water supply and quite a bit of shampoo to de- goopify my receding hairline.

The freeway went through quite a few small towns. A peculiarity you see in Idaho is that every neighborhood has at least one house with a sign up that you can buy jerky there.

Today we drove through Red Rock Pass in Idaho, which is an interesting area.

From roughly 14,000 to 32,000 years ago the immense Lake Bonneville covered large amounts of Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. At some point, roughly 14,500 years ago, this massive lake eroded through a weak spot at Red Rock pass, causing a torrential flood. The flood rate was 15 million cubic feet of water per second, which is 3 times the average flow of the Amazon river today.

It’s oddly strange to stand in this quiet, rocky, area and think of it being under several hundred feet of water, pouring out with terrible force. Today the Great Salt Lake and Bonneville Salt Flats are all that are left of the massive lake.

We stopped for some groceries around noon. The store had a big aisle marked "Mormon Food Storage Supplies". It included rice, beans, wheat, big plastic containers, and (I swear!) A whole row of José Cuervo Margarita mixes. Either this is some new church doctrine, or they need a better stockboy.

Upon returning to our car, we saw this spankin' vehicle, which featured a plastic pigeon nailed to the trunk.

On the way out of town we passed a sandwich place advertising “15-inch footlong subs”. I pointed it out to the kids, and asked what was wrong with it. Frank said it was because they were using the metric system.

On this trip we’ve seen quite a few wind farms. Back home I hear people complaining about them being horrible eyesores, and not wanting them around. I have to tell you, though, that 100 tall wind turbines are a hell of a lot better looking than a single belching smokestack.

We eventually arrived back at my FIL’s house, where he enthusiastically greeted me with a gift-wrapped bag of the horrid jerky I’d tossed earlier in the trip, since he figured I’d enjoyed it so much.

While she and the kids visited with FIL, Mrs. Grumpy sent me to forage for pizza at a Little Caesar’s, which had a sign in front that said “Little Caesar is hot and ready tonight”. Since “Little Caesar” is allegedly the founder’s nickname, I have to wonder if that was one of his college pick-up lines.

While driving back with dinner I was passed by a big Dodge pick-up truck with the license plate “ITSOBIG”.

Only a few more days. I can do this.

Day 15

Today we were at Lagoon.

What is Lagoon, you ask? I personally think it’s Utah’s best kept secret (disclaimer- to my knowledge, neither I nor anyone I know has any financial involvement whatsoever in Lagoon).

It’s an amusement park north of Salt Lake City, which has a remarkably good collection of roller coasters of all different kinds, and an assortment of other decent vomit-inducing amusements. The park is privately owned, with a friendly feel you don't get at generic Six Flags places.

For the record, I’m an amusement park person/parent. I know most people hate going to them with kids, but not me. I love going on wild rides with my kids, shrieking with them, and doing all the corny amusement park stuff.

Wicked, in particular, is a great ride. If you’ve never experienced sphincter dysfunction before, the first 10 seconds of this coaster is a great way to do it.

Another ride is simply called “Roller Coaster”. It’s from 1921, and is the oldest roller coaster in the Western U.S., 7th oldest in the world. Although the ride is tame compared to it’s newer cousins, it has the added thrill of being made of entirely of wood, which flexes in all directions during the ride. This gives you the exciting impression that the whole thing is ready to collapse at any given moment, burying you in a pile of toothpicks.

The park also includes a variety of other features not normally found at amusement parks. This includes a waterpark, accurate 1800’s pioneer village with a museum-quality set of antiquities (medical geek that I am, I spent time in the old pharmacy, which also sells ice cream), a campground, and surrounding hiking trails. All of this is set on the side of a mountain, with some spectacular views. The park has so many trees that in some areas you feel like you’re on a roller coaster in the middle of the forest.

And the lines are nothing compared to Disneyland. The locals bitch if the line is 15 minutes long, and have no idea how lucky they are. Even better, unlike the greedy bunch that runs Disney parks, Lagoon lets you bring in your own food and picnic. You can also buy a giant soda jug with endless refills. Which is just perfect for me.

We haven’t been here for a few summers, back when the kids weren’t big enough for all the attractions. That year one of the ride-height-Nazis carefully measured Marie and proclaimed that at 45 and 7/8 inches she couldn't go on a 46 inch ride. This guy actually took a freakin’ credit card out of his wallet to see if he could slide it between the top of her head and the 46 inch height marker.

Craig, who loves to swim, absolutely HATES getting wet when he isn’t swimming. In spite of this, he loves going on water rides, as he has a bizarre belief that he won’t get wet (no matter how many times this has been disproven). So we went on the river ride.

This time, however, his luck held out, as we all got soaked except him. UNTIL we passed through the area where people watching can plug in quarters to set off water bombs as rafts go by. So as we floated past Craig stood up and yelled at them that they BETTER. NOT. GET. US. WET!

Bad move, Craig. I hope you learned a lesson.

While on the sky ride one of Frank’s flip-flops fell onto the roof of a building. Fortunately, they sell flip-flops at the pool shop there, and I suspect the sky ride is a regular cause of business.

Around mid-afternoon Mrs. Grumpy ran into some old friends, and abandoned me to my fate left with them. So the kids and I continued the rides on our own.

And then it happened.

We were on the log ride, and as Craig waved his arms wildly, he hit me. And my glasses snapped cleanly in two. Then both halves fell off the ride, into the water far below.


I’m so near-sighted it’s unbelievable. I travel with a spare pair, but it was back in the hotel. And I couldn’t reach Mrs. Grumpy.

Double shit.

So, setting the problem aside for later we finished up on the rides as I let the kids drag me around (the crazy leading the blind).

And then I faced the big challenge: finding the car.

Triple shit.

I had only a vague idea where we parked, because Mrs. Grumpy had moved the car when she went to get lunch out of the cooler. And in my current state the parking lot, which is pretty damn big (and full) was a collection of many fuzzy blobs of various colors and sizes. I couldn’t read license plates from more than a foot away.

So in a desperate attempt to find our car, I hoisted Frank (because he's the tallest) onto my shoulders. I used to carry him around that way when he was younger, but now he’s 11, and pretty damn heavy. I told him to look for the car, and guide us there.

You have no idea how many other people have white minivans until you try to find yours. In Utah family transportation comes in 2 sizes: Minivan and Ford Excursion. I think Frank led us to EVERY SINGLE FREAKING LIGHT-COLORED MINIVAN except ours, until Marie noticed it as we passed it heading for another one.

By that time my shoulders were killing me. And they still hurt.

Driving back to the hotel, in my prescription sunglasses, at night, was not fun (regardless of what Corey Hart may have told you), but we made it. The kids enjoyed hearing me swear at the pompous GPS bitch.

Day 16

Today we drove to Middleofnowhere, Utah, where my MIL has rented a  large house for us to meet up with her, Mrs. Grumpy’s brothers, and  their families for a few days.

Family  reunions with this branch have always been interesting. In the past  they’ve involved trips to the lake, which have ended with someone  accidentally sinking a boat in shallow water. So this year they picked a place nowhere near a lake.

As we drove through Utah we had to  stop for highway construction. A young guy holding one of those  Stop/Slow signs brought our column of cars to halt. He motioned for us  to roll down the window.

Mrs. Grumpy: “Hi.”

Mr. RM: “Sorry, folks. Road work going on. Gonna be about 5 minutes before the guide vehicle comes back.”

Mrs. Grumpy: “Okay.”

Mr. RM: “While you’re waiting, would you like a copy of the Book of Mormon?”

When  we finally got to high-altitude Middleofnowhere, it was colder than we  thought it would be. Unfortunately, we’d sent our jackets back home with  my parents after the cruise.

All of us were fine except Craig, who was convinced he was going to die of hypothermia. So I set off to find a cheap sweatshirt.

This  wasn't as easy as it sounds. We’re in the middle of nowhere,  and couldn’t find a Wal-Mart (those of you who know how much I hate  Wal-Mart will understand how desperate I must have been to be looking  for one).

After driving through town (which took < 1 minute) I located the local store, which had some cheap sweatshirts. When I was checking out the guy at the cash register asked me “do you need any ammo or kerosene?”  My MIL has rented this HUGE house for the family reunion, so that each family can have their own bedroom. Whoever designed this place was remarkably fond of mirrors, and has them on, quite literally, every wall  (and a few ceilings) in all the rooms & hallways. It makes me wonder if we’re being videotaped for some sort of “family reunities in the boondocks and kills each other” reality show.  Another oddity of the house is an old headless mannequin, wearing a white dress.

Exactly why anyone thought this would enhance the beauty of the place is beyond me. All it needs was some blood on the gown and ghost stories to scare the little kids.

Since getting here the thing has made the rounds, randomly showing  up in various showers, closets, and beds.

One of my SIL's  brought some gifts for the kids, leftover headbands from the movie  "Kung-Fu Panda". Their are 5 types, each one listing a character's  martial arts style from the flick. So they say things like "Monkey  Style" or "Tiger Style". In retrospect, I guess it's a good thing there  wasn't a doggie in the film.

When dinner finally rolled around, my MIL called a local place to order food, and my BIL Rob and I were  designated to go pick it up.

Rob is an interesting guy. His job  requires him to drive long distances between rural areas. To pass the  time he installed a DVD player in his truck so he can watch movies while  driving (I swear!). Ever since I married his sister he’s been after me  to leave my job and open a lawn mowing service with him.

As we were driving along I  noticed that the the DVD player had broken, and asked him what happened.  He replied “Oh, I loaned the truck to this stupid kid who lives in  town. While he was driving he accidentally spilled a milkshake into it.  People are so fucked up these days. I mean, what kind of idiot would  trust a kid like that?”

I didn’t bother to answer the question.

The sign in front of Local Dump said: “Take-Out Service: Pull up on east side of building, and we will bring it out to you.”

So Rob pulled up on the west side of the building, and stopped.

I  wanted to be polite, so I didn’t say anything. I watched as someone  drove up to the other side of the building, got their order, and headed  off. Rob just sat there.

Finally he said: “I wonder where our order is?”

Dr. Grumpy: “Um, I think we’re supposed to be on the east side of the building. That’s what the sign says.”

BIL Rob: “I know, but we are on the east side.”

Dr. Grumpy: “We’re on the west side. See, look at the sun.”

BIL:  “No, the sign meant east side as you look at the building from the  road. We’re turned around now, and so the sides are reversed”.

Dr. Grumpy: “East and west don’t change. We need to be on that side of the building”

BIL Rob: “We’re on the east side. Trust me.”

It  wasn’t worth arguing. So we continued waiting. After a few more minutes  Rob went into the restaurant and came back with the food. He told me he  hadn’t tipped the waitress, because she was an idiot who didn’t know  the difference between east and west.

Day 17

This morning started when someone (I can’t imagine who) put the mannequin outside my MIL’s window.

Today we went whitewater rafting. Our guide, I swear, was a guy named Stoner.

Craig, of course, was horrified at the idea he might get wet, and so insisted on sitting in the middle of the raft. Frank and Marie loved the idea of getting soaked, and even wanted to help row. So Stoner gave them each a paddle.

For a while they were somewhat helpful, and it kept them busy. Until we hit a stretch of non-rowing quiet water.

Somehow a shouting match broke out, and I turned around just in time to see them beating each other WITH THE PADDLES while Craig tried to hide in the bottom of the raft. Before I could yell at them to stop, Frank sent Marie’s paddle into the river. Craig, trying to avenge his sister, stood up and knocked Frank’s into the river.

And now we were heading into white water, with half our paddles gone. Stoner was clearly horrified to be watching his company’s property floating behind us, and began frantically steering the boat to try to get them, while Mrs. Grumpy and I paddled away. The next few seconds sent some big waves crashing over the raft, drenching everyone (including Craig). He began hitting Marie on the grounds that it was her fault he was wet, since she’d lost her paddle.

Fortunately, we were able to collect the paddles at the other end of the rapid run. But we spent the rest of the day hearing from Craig about how this was “the worst day ever” because he got wet. All the kids, when we got back to shore, agreed that they liked the river rides at amusement parks better. Wimps.

On the way home we stopped for burgers.

In most of the U.S. condiments are fairly simple: ketchup (yes, I know the Filipino’s like ketchup made from bananas, but I’m talking about the tomato kind), mustard, mayo, BBQ sauce, sometimes 1000 Island dressing. Preferences vary by person and region, but those are the basics

EXCEPT in Utah (and southern Idaho). In this area the main condiment is a concoction called Fry Sauce.

What is Fry Sauce you ask? Nobody really knows, because it’s wildly variable depending on where you eat. Each restaurant/roadstand/house has their own peculiar recipe for it.

But here’s the basic idea: imagine a bunch of typical condiments (ketchup, mayo, mustard, BBQ sauce, 1000 Island, relish, chopped onions, chopped pickles, Russian dressing, Ranch dressing, etc.), all on a shelf. Basically, Fry Sauce is a random combination of any number of these, and it’s usually a pink-red color. To make it I think they take a guy, blindfold him, spin him around 3 times, then send him into the pantry. The first 3 bottles he picks up are what's go into that day’s Fry Sauce. As a result, when you get Fry Sauce, you have no idea what it’s going to taste like.


Day 1

This year the Grumpy Summer family reunion, as in 2009, is in San Diego.

Flying with 3 kids (and having to make a connection that got canceled, thank you Air Grumpy) is never without drama (Frank's mouth is considered a weapon by airport security), but somehow we made it here, got our rental minivan, and found the hotel. Unlike 2009, it was not located near the local doberman stables.

The only hitch was during our delayed connection, when I had to call the bank for an 8th mortgage to buy airport food.

It's been 2 years since our last visit here, and the kids, as always, are changing. Craig, for example, has developed an obsession with his hair, frequently asking if it looks okay. But all 3 still consider LegoLand and SeaWorld to be at the pinnacle of Western Civilization.

Near our hotel we saw this car, which had apparently been attacked by a flock of seagulls. I can only assume they ran.

To relax after the ordeal of trying to lose not lose our kids in the airport, we sent them to go drown each other play in the hotel pool while Mrs. Grumpy and I sat in the hot tub with my sister & BIL. At one point we were joined by an inebriated 200+ pound lady. She had "Shit Happens" tattooed on the inside of her right butt cheek. And at 5 minute intervals kept pulling aside her swimsuit (and butt) to show us.

After that none of us were really hungry for dinner.

In a sad commentary on the state of literacy, this sign is near the hotel elevators:

And I'm too tired to write more.

Day 2

Today we went to SeaWorld.

While walking through the parking lot I was amused to see this sign, apparently put there for people who didn't realize that driving into concrete & metal poles could damage their car:

We started with the dolphin show.

In the past it used to be interesting. The dolphins would do tricks while trainers would teach some interesting facts about them. Of course, there were the usual corny jokes and trainer-in-disguise accidentally falling in the water, but you'd still learn something. When I was a kid I found it cool, and would go home and want to read more about dolphins.

A lot has changed since 2009...

I wasn't counting on anything quite like the "Blue Horizons" show they now have. I don't know who came up with this unintentional comedy skit. They tried to cross a dolphin show with Cirque-de-Soleil and a sappy Disney skit, and somehow ended up with the worst of all 3.

The show allegedly tells the story of a Princess named Marina, who wakes up one morning and wants to swim with dolphins. After she makes her appearance, her royal gowns are ripped off by a metal cable (I swear to God!) leaving her magically wearing a neon pink wetsuit.

I can only imagine the looks of horror that these highly trained aquatic mammal handlers must have felt when shown the script. I suspect even the dolphins were embarrassed.

But I digress.

Next, in a flurry of water and theatrical smoke, the male lead shows up. He begins lip-syncing a number about life in the oceans, and when he hits the line "dive into the water" he dives into the water (get it?) then, while he's still underwater, his singing part continues on the speakers. Even a little kid a few rows up noticed this and said "Mommy, how can he sing when he's underwater?".

To make the show even more absurd, a lady in a bird costume comes flying out on overhead wires. Her name was Aurora, which, as a Sleeping Beauty fan, I find horrifying.

For this she got a degree in marine biology.

She swings randomly over the water and the crowd, while we all hope the cable doesn't snap. Because nobody wants "killed by a falling lady in a bird costume at SeaWorld" in their obituary.

During this the dolphins do a few tricks, but you're so horrified by the theatrical train wreck occurring before you that you barely notice. At one point the bird lady swoops down into the water and lifts the male lead into the air, giving everyone an excellent look at his package.

Hey ladies! Can you see my lunch bag in the last row?

Next, 2 guys in black wetsuits wearing weird spiky yellow helmets came out to do a trapeze act.

I have NO IDEA what this guy, or his outfit, has to do with dolphins.

Somewhere in this visual cacophony they released birds, although seagulls were frequently passing by anyway. The dolphins did the occasional leap, and were likely laughing at the idiot primates watching this spectacle.

“I’d give this show 2 opposable thumbs down- if I had any.”

The performance ended with giant yellow ribbons unfurling over the stage and guys with giant flags waving at the audience. When it was all over I could only think of the immortal line from This is Spinal Tap, "there's such a fine line between clever and stupid."

Since they left them out of the show, guess where you'll find the dolphin facts? At the freakin' gift shop! Around displays of overpriced shot glasses, pendants, and baseball caps they have little signs saying things like "the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins used in our show can swim 23 MPH and dive to 1200 feet!". And, inevitably, they sell dolls based on the show's characters.

Save your money, Marie. They'll be at Big Lots before Hanukkah.

I was put in charge of getting lunch. This is never as easy as it sounds. You have to find a table by out-competing other families for one, leave a kid there to scare others away (we use Frank for that) try to get orders from everyone, and then wait in line.

No matter how dressed up the food places are at an amusement park, they're still just a glorified McD's, manned by teenagers trying to deal with frantic idiots on vacation who are trying to grasp why a PBJ with chips is $8.

So I finally get down to being the next person at line, and find (as usual) that I picked the wrong line. The lady in front of me suddenly began reading orders of varying complexity off her iPhone, "I need one cheeseburger with cheese and mayo, but no lettuce. Another with cheese and ketchup, but no pickles. One without cheese or lettuce, but extra tomatoes. A chicken sandwich with ranch and pickles, but no tomato" and about 8 other orders. She kept turning around while talking, I assume to make sure none of us in line were about to lunge with a spork.

Sea World has a rollercoater called "Journey to Atlantis". Why people think a 2 minute ride needs a theme (beyond emesis-inducing loops & dives) is beyond me. I just want a good ride, but they felt a story about being on the roller coaster to save Atlantis and help people to remember their relationship with the sea was absolutely necessary.

The ride has one interesting feature- an elevator (rather than an incline) to take you to the top of the 2nd drop-off. And, of course, it was about halfway up the elevator, in the shaft, that the ride stopped with us on it.

So here we are, trapped in a roller-coaster car in a dimly lit elevator, watching fake ocean scenes go by on the walls, and overhead the speaker is blaring at full volume "YOU NOW FACE THE FINAL CHALLENGE! THE FATE OF THE KINGDOM OF ATLANTIS FOREVER WILL BE DECIDED BY YOUR ACTIONS IN THE NEXT FEW MOMENTS!" over and over and over again. I wished I'd kept my spork, so I could slit my wrists.

Marie announced she had to pee. Craig asked me how his hair looked. I was hoping to see Atlantis go down in flames, and was pretty damn happy when we began moving again. As soon as we got off they told us that the ride would be shutting down for a while.

Day 3

Today we went to Balboa Park.

Before leaving Hotel Chateau Grumpé I was looking for online deals, and found this smokin' one:

(click to enlarge)

As a kid growing up here, Balboa park was always one of my favorite places. There are many awesome museums, and it's sad we only had time for a few. We did the science, natural history, and airplane ones.

Kids love dinosaur stuff, and they have lots of good ones at the natural history museum. They even have a display of this planet's all-time ultimate monster, Megalodon.

I don't care how big a dinosaur fan you are. This thing was the stuff of nightmares, more so than anything that ever walked the land. It was between 50-70 feet (16m-20mg) long, and its jaws exerted a bite force of 8 tons per square inch (5 times as powerful as Tyrannosaurus Rex).

Let's look at this graphic: you see the little green fishy at the bottom? That's a modern Great White Shark (i.e. Jaws). And the violet thing above that? The modern Whale Shark, biggest fish in the world. And the big gray thing at the top? That's Megalodon. The red thing is a smaller estimate of Magalodon. And, in case you missed it, that little blue biped in the lower left corner is you. Or in this case, a light snack. Good thing Megalodon died out 1 million years ago, huh?

I hope you're all taking notes, we'll be having a short quiz later.

Mid-day we took a break from the museums and went out to lunch.

My Mom is an avid bird person. She has bird feeders all over her yard, and is perennially filling them with seed and food scraps. She's known to take stuff home from restaurants and dinner parties just to feed the birds. The food attracts little birds, which then attract raptors, neighborhood cats, and bobcats. Some days she has a whole food chain going in her yard.

At lunch Craig and Marie got sandwiches, and (as usual) didn't eat their crusts and left some fries. My Mom reached over and grabbed them. She put them in a napkin, and stuffed it in her purse.

Dr. Grumpy: "Mom, what are you doing?"

Mom Grumpy: "They're for the birds."

Dr. Grumpy: "Ma, just leave them out here on the table. There are pigeons and seagulls everywhere here."

Mom Grumpy: "They're for MY birds."

Dr. Grumpy: "So you're going to take bread crusts back to the hotel, pack them in a suitcase, fly a few hours back to Grumpyville, and then feed them to the birds in your yard?"

Dad Grumpy: "Ibee, don't argue with her on this. I've tried."

Craig: "Hey, does my hair look okay?"

In the afternoon we hit the Reuben Fleet Science Museum. When I was a kid, this was my favorite place on Earth. Their theater was the first one I ever went to with a REALLY BIG SCREEN that simulated motion, and a lot of my interest in space started here. And the science museum is cool, too. Some of the exhibits are the same ones they had when I was kid, showing how timelessly cool interactive stuff can be.

They also have a "hurricane machine" where you lock your kids in a small room, plug in $2, and it subjects them to an 80 mph wind for a few minutes. Frank and Marie cackled hysterically during it. Craig screamed it was messing up his hair and WHAT IF SOMEONE FROM HIS SCHOOL IS HERE AND SEES HIM LIKE THIS!!!

Later we took the kids over to the park's play area. After a while the kids disappeared. I’d just started looking for them when they suddenly showed up, each carrying 2-3 empty bottles of hard liquor. Frank explained that they saw them behind the bushes, near a sleeping man, and wanted to help keep the park clean. I had them put them in the trash and thanked heavens for Purell wipes.

As we were walking away Craig reached under another a bush and pulled out a bong. He asked me what it was, and I told him it was for smoking and to put it back.

I think I'll sign off now, because we're at some restaurant with the extended family here. The waiter keeps typing on his iPad, and I suspect he's blogging about me typing on my iPad while I try to ignore my inebriated uncle who keeps ogling the hostess. Who's probably blogging about him on her iPad.

And that's the way it it.

Day 4

Today we went to LegoLand. I'm surprised my kids haven't outgrown this place yet.

LegoLand, in my opinion, is one of the more overpriced amusement parks out there (maybe 2nd only to Disney, but at least Disney has more to do) In addition to this, several of the attractions consist of letting your kids play with Legos and Duplos, which they can do back at home. Not to mention all the Lego sets they sell here (which you can buy online, or at Target, for less) that your kids will tear open in the park and lose the pieces.

But they do have some awesome deals, like this coupon we were handed when we went in:

Yes, Moms & Dads: if you spend $35 on Lego Star Wars merchandise, you get a free sticker! Is that a smokin' deal or what?

The kids love a play area called Pharoah's Revenge, which is entered by a spiral staircase. For reasons unknown, the stairs have a handicapped sign under them (there's no lift nearby, either). I have no idea how they think anyone with crutches or a wheelchair can access these:

LegoLand has 2 rides that are (allegedly) kid-powered. In one kids yank ropes (heavily assisted by machinery) to pull their bench up a tower. You're kids will love it. And are you naive enough to believe they'll do the pulling? Of course they won't.

This is, in reality, ADULT powered (sort of like the credit card you used for admission). YOU end up pulling the damn ropes, because your lazy kid is too busy looking around as you hoist your bench in the air, waving at siblings, your spouse, and anyone else he can use as an excuse not to do some measly manual work.

Likewise, they have a 2-person vehicle you pedal on a track above the park. And you think your kids are going to help you pedal? SUCKER!

At lunch today all the visible tables were taken, so one special family decided to set up camp on a sidewalk RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE KITCHEN DOOR. So when some employee came up, pushing a cart full of buns and condiment jugs and other supplies, they REFUSED TO MOVE! So he couldn't get his cart into the kitchen (and no one could get out) while this family argued that since they couldn't find a table, the whole problem of how to get supplies into the kitchen is Legoland's, not theirs.

One of the best parts of Legoland is a HUGE wooden play area. It's 3 stories high, and is what anyone dreams of having in their yard when growing up. It's a great place to let your kids run amok while you rest your feet (although it really needs more benches for adults to sit down- you hear me, Legoland?).

Mrs. Grumpy found a seat on a fence near where the main slide ends at the bottom, while I went up into this thing with the kids and chased them around. After a while I decided to go sit next to Mrs. Grumpy, and thought the big slide would be a cool way to get back down. Kids were going down quickly and flying out at the bottom, so since she was sitting near it I figured I'd pop out right at her feet with a little (snaps fingers) razzle dazzle.

So I climbed into the slide, but didn't pick up speed like those kids did. And about 5 feet from the bottom, I came to a dead stop.

Here I am, stuck in a tube slide, lying on my back. I can't sit up. All I can do is repeatedly hunch my butt up and down to try and scoot out. This made a hell of a lot of noise, and when my distinctive "no one else would buy sneakers this hideous, even on sale" shoes began to inch out the bottom opening, I could hear Mrs. Grumpy start shrieking hysterically.

I was afraid she was going to have to drag me the last few feet out, but then some impatient kindergartner came down the slide after me, landed on my head, and pushed me out.

In some ways I prefer Legoland over Sea World. We can find a quiet corner, read books, and turn the kids (they're old enough) loose. I don't recommend the adjacent aquarium, though. It takes all of 15 minutes to walk through, and you find yourself saying "was that it?". Go to the Scripps Birch Aquarium if you want sea life.

Although most of the park is geared toward the age 5-10 crowd, one of LegoLand's coolest features for anyone is MiniLand, which has Lego replicas of several major cities and monuments.

(click to enlarge)

They also have a Star Wars section.

In the afternoon my kids went on a mini-boat ride, where you steer a little electric boat around a course. I watched a guy in his mid-30’s, covered in tattoos, and smoking a cigarette (the attendant asked him to put it out, and the guy ignored her) get in one of the little kiddie boats BY HIMSELF and thought, “sheesh, that’s the most pathetic thing I’ve seen today.”

It quickly became the 2nd most pathetic thing, as Marie then got into a boat. At the breakneck speed of 1 MPH she lost control of it, spinning it completely around and colliding with Craig’s behind her, then getting jammed against the side. This aquatic traffic jam was finally solved when an employee put on hip-waders (in her case they were neck-waders) and went out to drag Marie’s boat onto the right course and give her a lecture about such complex activities as working a steering wheel.

While watching this water ballet I got to listen to Captain Cranky. This is a life-size LEGO figure nearby, who slowly turns machinery attached to a ride, all the while groaning and straining like a badly constipated man in need of prunes.

Late afternoon a lady walking ahead of me suddenly bent forward over a LEGO buffalo and yelled to a friend to take her picture. To my horror, her shorts dropped precipitiously as she leaned over, showing 6 inches of crack and a strand of purple thong. She stood back up before I could get a picture of the abomination to share with you guys.

And that's the way it is.

P.S. Don't get a smug "I don't live near LegoLand, so my kids won't drag me there" look. I don't either, and here I am. And they're building one in Florida. So there.

Day 5

Today we went back to Sea World.

I want to dispel the idea (which came up after my previous Sea World post) that I don't like this place. I do, in the way that it's a fun thing to do with the family, and having a fun vacation is part of the Summer. But any family activity, at home or here, will have its irritants.

That said, I still think the "Blue Horizons" dolphin show sucked.


Sometime today Frank stole the camera from our backpack. This always results in strange pictures, and makes me VERY glad we no longer pay to develop film. Because when I get back to the room there are always lots of strange random shots like this:

or this

or this

I think this was in the "Wild Arctic" exhibit

And this awesome one, of a cousin on a plane simulator:

We went on the Shipwreck Rapids river ride this afternoon, and got soaked. Leaving the ride we saw this gadget:

It's a dryer. A multiperson family-size dryer. For $5 it blasts as many people as you can cram into it to an arid state. We didn't use it, but Sea World must be making a fortune from people who can't stand walking around in soaked undies. Mrs. Grumpy wants one for the house, to use on the dogs.

One phenomenon I've never understood at amusement parks are people who wear ponchos to go on water rides. These rides obviously get you pretty soaked. They have warnings everywhere telling you that. And you see the drenched people getting off the ride.

But there is always a group that is absolutely horrified to learn they may get wet, and so cover up from head-to-toe. WTF is up with that? Why go on the ride at all? It's not like you're all dressed up.

I'd like to use this space to gripe about the lack of manatees. They are cool, and guess what? They're GONE! Sea World moved them to the Florida park (where they already have wild manatees) and replaced them with... Turtles. Sea turtles, which I admit are cool, but not nearly as cool as manatees. Hell, they've had turtles in an exhibit here for years, but decided to move them to a bigger one, and send the manatees to Florida. So now they have no manatees.

They also moved Commerson's dolphins to a non-viewing area and replaced them with stingrays, but this is apparently only temporary. They needed a new home for the stingrays while they're building a roller coaster. Where the moray eels that lived near the stingrays are is not mentioned.

To help the wild bunch burn off some energy we turned them loose in the "Bay of Play". This huge playground is partially sponsored by Sesame Street, and so occasionally giant costumed TV characters go by. I offered to take Craig's picture with Bert and Ernie so he could show it to his 5th grade class, and he pretended not to recognize me. It was awesome.

While the kids were tearing the Bay of Play apart, Mrs. Grumpy and I camped out at a shady table across from it at Pineapple Pete's. And there, to my surprise, we discovered an all new, and entirely unadvertised, Sea World attraction: the Spandex Parade.

You see, they have these adventure things, where for a fee you get to spend a few hours as a dolphin/whale/walrus/whatever handler. So they put you in a spandex wetsuit, and you go off to your adventure.

Then, at 5:40 in the afternoon, you get marched back to the locker room. And in doing so you (and all your dolphin-feeding friends) walk past Pineapple Pete's.

Now I do NOT claim to be a poster child for physical fitness. Quite the opposite. In spite of my perpetual battles with the Wii Fit Trainer, I seem to be losing ground. BUT I AM NOT TRYING TO CRAM MY OUT-OF-RANGE FAT ASS BMI INTO A SKIN-TIGHT SPANDEX WETSUIT AND PARADE IT AROUND SEA WORLD!

Let’s face it: how many of you want to be seen in public wearing a skin-tight, form-fitting wetsuit? I thought so. Me neither. Very few of us are in the phenomenal shape of Sea World's trainers.

So people who likely would never even consider wearing Spandex in public anywhere else on Earth walk by in it here. And, I must admit, after seeing them I changed my mind about wanting to get a funnelcake.

At this point Frank and Marie wanted to re-ride Journey to Atlantis, so we walked over, only to find it was closed again. While I was looking for info about when it would re-open, some lady wrongly assumed I worked there (Ma’am, for future reference, SeaWorld employees don't wear "Motorhead" t-shirts to work), and asked me what the ride's problem was. I told her they were looking for someone's head, and walked away.

We stayed for the evening Shamu show, Shamu Rocks!, which is whale tricks done to blasting music. At one point they played KISS's "Rock and Roll all Night". This got me thinking: In 1975, when the song came out, KISS was marketed as the anti-family, pro-rebellious, piss-off-your-parents-by-listening-to-us band. Long hair. Bizarre makeup. Strange costumes. FFS, during "God of Thunder" Gene Simmons would vomit blood onto the stage! And what are they in 2011? Perfect for family entertainment at Sea World.

Craig, your hair looks fine.

Day 6

Today we went to the beach. Unfortunately, a bunch of fat, smelly, guys had taken all the good spots:

Eventually we found a spot.

I am not a beach person. I understand that many of you are. My view is more like the Dead Milkmen's "Beach Song".

When I was kid, I loved the beach, but as an adult the sheer logistics of hauling stuff there, setting up umbrellas, keeping sand out of Diet Coke and food, and locating bathrooms without junkies sleeping on the floor, is just a pain in the ass.

We all, I think, have this idyllic view of the beach we WANT to be on, popularized through beer, cruise line, and resort ads: a perfectly smooth white sand beach, devoid of all but a handful of young, attractive people, bright sun, icy buckets of beer, no noise except for the waves and wind.

But the reality is this: A crowded beach filled with large families, each with a loud boombox, all of them setting up giant portable sun patios from Costco, dragging coolers full of who-knows-what back and forth from the parking lot, inebrated college students, screaming toddlers who haven't had their diapers changed in a week, guys with metal detectors walking back & forth, and sand that's chock-full of seaweed, fast-food wrappers, dog shit, chicken bones, cigarette butts, and lost hair clips.

Oh, and a guy wearing a T-shirt that said "Make your tits stop staring at my eyes!"

But the kids liked it. So, as my parents did for me, I did for them.

I want to mention a LegoLand ride I forgot: The Knight's Tournament. Sound's benign, huh? It's actually oddly out-of-place in the glorified kiddyland of Legos.

This is a new generation of emesis-inducing rides. The German robot company KUKA makes giant robot arms to assemble cars, planes, tractors, whatever. And somewhere along the line they realized that people would pay money to have a giant mechanical limb toss them around like a sack of potatoes. They call them "robocoasters", and the arms put you through the same series of twists, turns, loops, and more that a real coaster would. It even comes with 5 levels, so you can pick the intensity of your ride. I recommend 1 if you want to be a bit dizzy, 5 if you want to toss your cookies. Of course, MY kids dragged me on it at level 5, three times in a row (I recommend Youtube if you want to see this thing in action).

Tonight was our last night in San Diego, , so we hung out at the hotel with various relatives, while the kids and their cousins played in the pool with a bunch of other kids. The evening came to an abrupt end when the kids all began screaming and climbing out of the pool. I went over to see if a shark had somehow been airlifted to it. To my horror (hell, EVERYONE'S horror), the scene was reminiscent of Caddyshack: a huge turd was at the bottom of the pool. And I'm pretty sure it wasn't a Baby Ruth.

Thus endeth the San Diego portion of our journey.

Day 7

Today we loaded up the rental van for the drive to Nevada.

I haven't seen this road sign in a few years, but it was always one of my favorites here. I hadn't thought of it until someone recently sent it to me:

After we got on the road, we noticed a piece of paper tucked under a windshield wiper. At 75 mph it blew loose. plastering itself for a few seconds across the driver’s side. We had a brief glimpse of “GOT JESUS?” spread across windshield bug stains before it blew away into the desert.

During the ride we passed through an area with a previously unknown weather phenomenon. Every few miles was an electronic sign flashing "DANGER! HIGH WINBS!" I can only assume this rates with frost heaves as a serious event.

Road trips are always interesting. You see advertisements for movies you never thought of, such as “The Romance and Sex Life of the Date” sponsored by Shield’s Fig & Date plantation. We also saw signs for a place in Nevada selling “Fresh Alien Jerky”.

We stopped in rural Nevada to visit Mrs. Grumpy’s 95-year-old grandfather. Marie asked him for some water, and he brought her a cup. He than launched into a story about how, when he was her age, they used to get his family's water from a pond that always had sheep shit floating on the surface.

After hearing this charming tale Marie stared at her untouched water glass for a minute, then said "Grampa, do you have anything that comes in cans, like Diet Coke?"

I genuinely like her grandfather. He’s an intelligent self-made, self-educated guy. He’s also pretty much blind now. So when other family came over to his place to greet us, we noticed how they carefully avoided using his plates and utensils for dinner (they brought their own disposables). Upon examination I discovered that the majority of his dishes had things encrusted on them. Trying to be helpful, I began washing them, only to be told not to since it offended the man. So I settled on finger-foods, too.

While reviewing the pictures from the beach I found this one of a sand castle washing away, which someone took when I wasn't looking. And that's all I'm going to say.

After dinner we were out for ice cream with some cousins when my cell phone rang. It came up as the ID for Dr. Brain's (my call partner) office.

Dr. Grumpy: "This is Dr. Grumpy."

Maxine: "This is Maxine, with Dr. Brain's directory. He'd like you to do a consult for him at Local Hospital."

Dr. Grumpy: "I'm not on call. He is."

Maxine: "Well, our schedule says that, too. But he was quite adamant that you are tonight, and told us to call you."

Dr. Grumpy: "I'm in Chickenranch, Nevada."

Maxine: "What are you doing there?"

Dr. Grumpy: "I'm on vacation."

Maxine: "Why would you go there for vacation? Isn't Vegas nicer?"

Dr. Grumpy: "I have in-laws here. Look, the bottom line is that I'm far away, and I'm not even on call."

Maxine: "Does that mean you can't do the consult?"

We've camped out tonight in a remote relative’s basement (at Mrs. Grumpy’s insistence, she didn’t want to offend anyone). Normally cousin Eddie uses the basement to store his unfinished projects. Unfortunately, his hobby is taxidermy. So we're spending the night staring at partially-stuffed deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, who are staring back at us.

Sweet dreams.

Day 8

Today we drove to Las Vegas. For a city that has less than 10 years of water left at their current use rate, they seem to be doing a lot of building.

We’re staying at the Excalibur. After getting up to our room on the 18th floor, the kids looked out at the strip and saw one of those mobile billboards drive by. Frank yelled, "Dad! There's a sign that says 'Hot Babes' and has naked ladies on it! What kind of town is this?!!!"

It’s Vegas, kids. What happens in Vegas... stays on Facebook.

People complain about the silent guys who try to hand you hookers' numbers as you walk down the strip. At least they aren’t pretending to be anything other than sleazy guys handing out call girl info. What REALLY grates my crank are the people crawling all over the hotel lobby trying to sell you a time-share.

They ask “Just get into town?” or “where you from?” or “How many days you here for?” The fact that they're dressed as hotel employees gives them just enough credibility that the first time it happens you answer them. Then they corner you, talking quickly about the great deal on show tickets they can get IF you spend the next morning listening to a time share presentation. They use high-pressure sales tactics ("these tickets could be gone in a few minutes, so better buy them now! If you go back to your room to check your schedule you'll probably miss them!") that make car salesmen look tame. Even more irritatingly, they try to get your kids involved “Hey, kids, I can give you some free stuff if you can get your parents to listen to me”.

After checking in we headed down to Circus Circus.

The Planet Hollywood hotel has a big "ph" sign at the top. With my chemistry degree all I can think of is the measure for acidity.

We passed signs advertising the “Frampton Comes Alive! 35th anniversary tour," showing his iconic picture from the 1976 album (but no updated ones). I found myself thinking that perhaps the tour should be called “Frampton Still Alive!” and imagined how his previous hits would sound today in Las Vegas:

“I want yoouuuuuu
To show me the waaayyyy
To the $9.95 all-you-can-eat early bird buffet.

“I want yoouuuuuu
To show me the waaayyyy
Back to my room 'cause I forgot where I stay."

We spent most of today at the Circus Circus AdventureDome park, which was a lot of fun. The hotel has seen better days, but the amusement park is still pretty good, with a decent rollercoaster, log flume, and other rides. It’s $27 for all day rides, which is a helluva deal when you consider the 2-minute roller coaster at the New York New York is ripoff-priced at $14 per person per ride (admittedly, if we went to a time-share presentation they could have given us tickets for only $10/person).

After I’d had enough of the roller coaster I bought a beer and sat down to watch the kids on a stomach churning ride. As I relaxed a homeless guy who’d somehow escaped security came up to me. I assumed he was going to ask for money, but it was even worse:

Homeless guy: “Hey!”

Dr. Grumpy: “Yes?”

Homeless guy: “Can you pour some of your beer in my cup?” (holds up unwashed coin bucket- with a few quarters in it!)

I told him he didn’t want my germs and walked away.

Craig and Frank wanted to play laser tag with me, and so we went in. It was the usual darkened room made to look like a seedy alley (granted, this was on the strip, so maybe it really was a seedy alley). To keep your nerves on edge during the game they blasted high tension-music overhead: Phil Collins’ & Duran Duran’s greatest hits of the 80’s. (REALLY!). Because nothing makes you want to shoot another person more than listening to “Invisible Touch” at 200 decibels. That and having Craig stop shooting to ask if his hair looks okay.

Right now the buzzword in Las Vegas (instead of artisanal) is “ultra”. Drives me nuts. The MGM has an ultra-lounge and ultra-pool. A local magic act is billed as an “ultra-magician”. If this catches on nationwide I’ll be ultra sick of it.

One of the funniest rip-offs here are the oxygen bars in the lobbies, where you see people paying $10 and up to breathe oxygen. Considering I've been inhaling it for free for over 4 decades I didn't see the point, but they sure had plenty of suckers customers. A sign advertised oxygen as being effective for headaches, back pain, fatigue, sinuses problems (sic), and others. It didn't say anything about it's real value as being the terminal electron acceptor in the respiratory chain, and Mrs. Grumpy threatened to kill me if I tried to argue with the 17 year old girl at the counter.

They were also selling plastic bracelets that claimed to shield you from cell phone radiation. When Mrs. Grumpy wasn't looking I asked the girl if she had some data to back up the claim, and she said "because my boss told me they do."

And that's the way it is.

Day 9

Being trapped in the hotel room in the morning is a torture session. Why? Because the only kids’ channel is Nick Jr., which is far below my gang’s ages. So we watch such moronic fare as "Team Umizoomi" until showers are done and I'm ready to slit my wrists.

After getting hosed for $100 (and that was cheap by Vegas standards, obviously) at a mediocre buffet last night, we were in no mood to try another. So we took the kids to McD’s for breakfast. The 4 bags they gave us seemed a little unusual for the 5 items we’d ordered, but I took them and wandered back to the table... Where Mrs. Grumpy discovered that, in addition to our regular order, we’d been given 27 orders of hash browns.

If you’re a McD’s shareholder who lost money on the error (or an Idaho potato farmer who made some) I must say it was unintentional and not my fault.

This is the lobby carpeting at the Excalibur. It’s a meaningless design, unless you’re a neurologist. Then it looks like a drawing of a nerve cell releasing packets of neurotransmitters across the synapse.

In a sign that all rock groups eventually sell out, the Excalibur is building "Lynard Skynard's Barbecue" (Freebird chicken sandwich, anyone?). Not that I have anything against selling-out. Hell, someone, please, buy me.

Today we went to Hoover Dam, then walked up to the new bypass bridge. It’s a helluva view, and you realize that if an oncoming semi-truck goes out of control, you have a choice between its grill or the canyon 900 feet down.

And here, from the top of Hoover dam, are (left to right) Craig’s hair, Craig, Frank, and Marie. Although you can’t see the line, Craig and his hair are in Arizona while Frank and Marie are in Nevada. And, as I said last year, all 3 are disguised as part of the Federal Witless Protection Program.

Shortly after this was taken Craig asked to leave because the wind was messing up his hair.

Then a fight broke out, because we'd all been in Nevada for a few days, but only Craig had been in Arizona (which was, say, a foot away). So Frank and Marie had a confrontation over who got to be the 2nd Grumpy child ever to go in Arizona, which ended when I pushed them both across the state line. Then they argued over who got to come back to Nevada first (it's a painted white line on the sidewalk, FFS!).

After all, one of the inalienable rights of siblings is that of fighting over stupid shit.

We talked about doing the dam tour, but the boys refused to go because it didn't include the room where they keep the Transformers.

On the drive back from the dam, the kids wanted to stop for lunch. After the fight on the dam I just opened the cooler and handed them a bunch of leftover McD's hash browns.

After getting back to the Excalibur, the kids and Mrs. Grumpy went down to the pool, and I went to play blackjack (I won $15). As I was sitting there... it happened.

Mrs. Sawme: “Hey! It’s Dr. Grumpy! What are you doing here?”

Dr. Grumpy: “Oh, Hi, Mrs. Sawme. Funny to see you here.”

Mrs. Sawme: “That surgeon you sent me to for my corroded artery...”

Dr. Grumpy: “Carotid.”

Mrs. Sawme: “Was awesome! Look at how well my scar is healing!” (rolls down shirt collar).

Dealer: “Sir, were you going to bet on this hand?”

Dr. Grumpy: “Uh, no. I, um, need to go.”

Dealer: “I understand.”

Mrs. Sawme: “Bye, Dr. Grumpy! Hey, do you know when my next appointment is?”

Dr. Grumpy: “No, call Mary. It was nice seeing you.”

Tonight, amidst much wailing and gnashing of teeth, we dragged the kids to see the Bellagio fountains “Dad! It’s just water.” And then the music started, and they shut up.

I lost the $15 bucks back to the Mirage. And they don’t even have the cool white tigers up front anymore. That sucks. Between that and the manatees the world is just going to hell on a handcart.

Day 10

Our room has the most idiotic feature on Earth (no, not Magic Fingers). The air conditioning unit blows straight up into the curtains, launching them away from the window. So you have a choice between being comfortable at night or having your room randomly inundated by the bright lights of the Strip as the curtains flop in the breeze. With the fan set on high it could cause a seizure.

The room also includes a copy of this generic local promotional magazine:

(click to enlarge)

Take a good look at the cover, and notice how none of the people watching the clown look even remotely entertained. In fact, the person immediately behind and to the right of Bozo is falling asleep. Now, maybe this is because the only seats they could get were facing the clown’s ass, but you’d think the photographer could try for more enthusiasm.

On a random note, I forgot to write about one of the kids' favorite things at LegoLand: The Fire Academy. This 2 minute torture session race is one of the most grueling experiences in the park: 4 families compete against each other to: pump (by means of a handcart) a firetruck down a road to a "fire", use a fire hydrant and 2 water hoses to put it out, then pump the truck back. The fire truck and hoses each take 3 people to operate, and you can have up to 4 people on a team. So this builds serious teamwork. You don't win anything except pride (not even a few measly Lego bricks). And, I'm pleased to say, the Grumpy family over the course of the day finished 3 and 1.

Today we walked around Las Vegas.

Going through the shopping areas is always interesting. In the Flamingo’s lobby they have a sex shop, featuring a doorway made to look like a very tall lady’s legs:

And inside the mannequins (love the adult diaper) are about to get it on:

A store over at Caesar's Palace is debuting the latest in womens’ fashion, which apparently involves wearing a large purse on your head.

This afternoon the kids wanted to hit the pool again. After passing several people trying to sell us timeshares (I’m in a fucking bathing suit, and DO NOT want to stop and talk to you here in the middle of the damn lobby) we got there.

The Excalibur has a bizarre layout where people in tower 1 have to walk through THE WHOLE DAMN CASINO to get to the pool. Tower 2 is right there. Why they don’t have an entrance at each end of the building (when the pool obviously connects to both sides) is beyond me. Because I’d think that seeing yours truly go by wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and flip-flops would scare people away from the slot machines.

We got down to the pools, and were reassured by a look at the lifeguards: there were 5 of them at the one the kids went to: One was busy texting, another was filing her nails, and a third was wearing, I swear, knee-high socks and high-top basketball sneakers. This is not something you normally see in an occupation that requires you to quickly jump in the water at random intervals.

After reassuring Craig that his hair looked fine, I went into the pool myself. There was a row of teenyboppers sitting at the front, cleverly stationed there by plastic surgeons to show off the coming 2012 line of breast implants. Across from them, as a public service announcement to use sunscreen, was a lady who looked like a bizarre cross between a Barbie doll, Charles Atlas, and a leather purse. After one look at her I wanted to buy out the Coolibar catalog.

The only real winner we had in Las Vegas was Marie, who over the course of 3 days found $9.80 in change at the bottom of the Excalibur’s pools.

As we walked back through the lobby, dripping wet, in swimsuits, some time-share guy blocked our path to ask “Hey! Have you guys been at the pool?” ("No, you moron, it was raining over by the buffet"). I don’t know what look it was that I gave him, but he backed off fast.

Tonight we went down to the medieval-themed arcade. When I was a kid the games were 25 cents each. Now they’re $2.

These places are always frightening to me because Marie is the MASTER of crane games (“be the crane, Squidward”). So we knew we’d be leaving with a few small stuffed animals. But we weren’t prepared to see her show up with this giant basketball (Diet Coke can placed for comparison) that she won.

Mrs. Grumpy and I exchanged the “How the hell are we going to get that on the plane?” look, so common to parents in these situations.

After a strenuous time playing arcade games, the tribe apparently thought we were on a cruise, and wanted to go for pizza, grilled cheese, and ice cream. So we went to the coffee shop, where Marie argued with the waiter that she also wanted bacon, even though it wasn't breakfast. And some chocolate chip cookies. She gave him some soggy coins from the pool as a tip.

And so, from somewhere in the Excalibur hotel, happy Summer Vacation to all, and to all a good night.

San Diego quick trip, Fall, 2011

Part 1

So as everyone knows, Craig, his hair, and I had to fly to San Diego last weekend for various reasons. But, while there, we got to do a few things around town.

Namely, his inexplicably favorite place on Earth, Legoland.

They've done up Lego Miniland with ghost figures for Halloween. Maybe it's just me, but I think they look more like something out of a plastic KKK rally.

Throughout Legoland they were constantly blasting Halloween music: Monster Mash, GhostBusters, and oddly, The Time Warp. Yes, the Time Warp. Because nothing says family entertainment like music from a flick that featured extraterrestrial transvestites, multipartner sex in a pool, an axe murder, and cannibalism.

Like KISS, what was a sign of moral decline in the 1970's is now benign family fare. By the time Craig brings his kids here Jenna Jameson will be on the same pedestal as Carol Brady and Shirley Partridge.

We even saw my MIL at the park.

And, as always, I stopped to marvel at one of my idols, made out of Lego's.

We spent the afternoon there, and as we headed out at closing time, Craig wanted to stop and look around the Lego store near the park's entrance.


As we walked into the store, I thought it was really hot inside, as the air was moving and twisting like a heat mirage. Upon getting closer I realized it wasn't a mirage, but millions of humans, like the entire population of southern California, all crammed into an 8,000 square foot retail store. It looked like people would consume all the oxygen in the room before they could buy anything, but the open doors kept a continuous ocean breeze coming.

Picture this: An amusement park packed with Lego-crazy chidren, many of them in Halloween costumes. And now they're all being funneled to the exit, past the same Lego store. Naturally they're all going to want to stop inside (which is, of course, why the park is designed that way). So the place is insane. It made black Friday and 3rd world bazaars look like peaceful, orderly affairs. The noise was like a packed stadium during 3rd down & long.

As soon as we got in Craig and his hair vanished, disappearing into the mass of humanity, and only reappearing when he had the question "Can I have this?" (which applied to pretty much everything in the store). I felt bad for the staff, who were horribly outnumbered, and who after closing would have to rebuild the shelves from kids randomly moving merchandise from it's original location.

After the vampire at the counter sucked the green corpuscles out of my wallet, we headed to the car. On the way we passed a poster featuring Lego Star Wars characters. And, to my horror, Craig yelled "DAD! LOOK! His head is a penis!!!"

Back at the hotel Craig went swimming while I worked on my computer. They were serving a light dinner, and at one point I went in to get something. Craig wanted some cookies, so took my key-card and went in ahead of me... then let the door close behind him as he disappeared into the serving area.

Leaving me locked outside.

I knocked. No one answered. After a few minutes he showed up, with a plate full of cookies, and asked me why I hadn't come in with him.

Gotta love kids.

Return to San Diego, Part 2

Our hotel had this thing near the light switch. I have no  idea what it was. I tested it a few times, and determined that it wasn't  a motion detector or light sensor. I asked everyone at the front desk,  the maid, and the maintenance guy. None of them knew what it was,  either.

After various family things Craig wanted to go to Sea World.

We were in line for the Sea Lion Halloween show. We actually got there  first, followed closely by a deranged woman and her tribe. She  immediately accosted the poor teenager standing at the entrance to ask  what time we'd be allowed in. The girl said "about 15 minutes."

So, exactly 15 minutes later the woman wanted to argue about it.

Deranged woman: "Why haven't you let us in?"

Teenage girl: "Gates open at 2. It's 1:56, ma'am."

Deranged woman: "Well, at 1:41 you said 'about 15 minutes.' It's been that. I demand you let us in."

Teenage girl: "Sorry, but it has to be at 2:00. My boss will tell me."

Deranged Woman: "This is ridiculous. I demand you refund my park admission RIGHT NOW!"

Teenage Girl: "You'll have to discuss that with the office by the front gate, ma'am."

Deranged Woman turned away to mumble under her breath for about 30 seconds.  During that time a park employee came over with an older couple. Both were using walkers, and he  clearly had Parkinson's disease. Teenage Girl  put them at the front of the line.

Deranged Woman: "What are you doing?"

Teenage Girl: "These people are handicapped, ma'am. Therefore we allow them in early to give them extra time to find seats."

Deranged Woman: "That is grossly unfair! I demand you make them go to the back of the line (which by now was the size of the Queen Mary)."

Teenage Girl: "Sorry ma'am. Our policy is to assist those with disabilities."

Deranged Woman: "That is discrimination against the healthy. When I go for my refund, I'm going to report you."

At this point Deranged Woman noticed my Grumpyville Faceplants cap.

Deranged Woman: "Oh! Grumpyville. My sister lives in Grumpyville. She's a surgeon. Do you know her? Are you a doctor?""

Dr. Grumpy: "I clean fish tanks." (this is true)

She turned away and pretended I was invisible. Obviously aquatic habitat maintenance people were beneath her caste.

Mercifully,  Teenage Girl let us in at this point. While we were waiting the guy  doing the pre-show, Biff, sprayed Deranged Woman with a squirt gun, and  she dragged her kids out of the theater. Apparently she'd had enough.

Over  at the Pets Rule show Craig noticed me staring at a fire  extinguisher, and asked why. In a true sign of how bad a neurology  geek I've become, I realized I was staring at the "In case of emergency  break glass" hammer and thinking what a great reflex hammer it would  make.

Craig was hungry, and I got him some chicken fingers (which should be dipped in gold for what they charge). I lost my appetite when I looked at the table across from us.

You'd think they could keep the crack dealers out of the park.

After Sea World we went down the street to Belmont Park, a small amusement park by the beach.

Craig loved the place, because he could run amok without interference from his siblings. They have a cool, older, roller coaster there, The Giant Dipper (he called it "Giant Diaper) which he dragged me on 14 times. By the end of the day I thought I'd need a giant diaper myself.

They also have a ride that sends you up in the air and flips you around. I personally DID NOT find it reassuring that they have a large ladder attached to the fence surrounding it.

While we were waiting at the "Beach Blaster"  line a homeless guy (wearing nothing but sneakers and spandex shorts) came over, and tried to earn some change by singing the 1980's Kim Wilde song "Kids In America." Unfortunately for him, the 80's were 21 years ago, he had no singing voice, and he only knew the chorus. So he repeatedly belted out:

"We're the kids in America! Wa-ho!
We're the kids in America! Wa-ho!
We're the kids in America! Wa-ho!
We're the kids in America! Wa-ho!
We're the kids in America! Wa-ho!"

Until finally security led him away.

They had some prize games on the midway, where, as usual, you could win stuffed animals. I'd hate to win one of the whales. They were doing a chain hump, and I didn't want to interrupt them.

On the way back to the hotel I stopped for some atisanal Mexican food at Taco Bell, and we sat in the lobby to eat it. While Craig watched TV, I downloaded a few EEG's to my computer to read them. Behind me the front desk phone rang, and I heard the polite clerk have this remarkable discussion.

"Front desk, this is Mike, can I help you? No sir, sorry. We don't have safes in the rooms. We have safety deposit boxes at the front desk, and you can use them at no charge. Just bring down your valuables and... No, there's no way I can move one up to your room, sir. They're built into a concrete wall for security. Um, well, uh, I really have no idea what local companies install safes, especially at 9:15 on a Saturday night. But it's a hotel room, sir. You can't just have someone come up there and install a safe in the wall. Because it's against hotel policy. I am the night manager, sir. I'll be happy to lock up your valuables down here, but there's no way you can install a safe in your room. Okay, sir. Have a good night."

I was impressed. Mary couldn't have done it any better.


Due to requests that I re-start my vacation series, I now present my summary of our trip to the islands. For those who haven't read my past vacation archives, they can be found here.

Our trip got off to a wild start with Craig.

Craig HATES flying. In the days leading up to the trip he became increasingly worked-up about going, and convinced himself that we were going to have a horrible time (no, he's never been to Hawaii before).

This reached a comical highlight the night before we left. Mrs. Grumpy sent me to get some extra socks for the kids, and so I went to his room. He was on the phone with a teen-crisis hotline, hysterical about going on the family vacation.

One can only imagine the thoughts going through the mind of the crisis volunteer on the other end. I imagine all the issues she'd heard that day:

"My stepfather is sexually abusing me."

"Mom won't stop drinking, and my Dad left us."

"My parents are taking me to Hawaii."

By nature of this job I'm pretty good at keeping a straight face. But I likely would have had to mute the line if I were the one dealing with Craig's call.

Of course, once we got to the airport he was fine, worried only about his hair.

Mrs. Grumpy and my mom took the kids to the overpriced McD's for breakfast, and I sat down at the gate to get some work done. I try to ignore others at airports and on planes. Don't talk to me, I won't talk to you, and we'll be fine.

Unfortunately, many disagree with this view. No sooner had I sat down and started work on some CME than a lady plopped down next to me, tapped me on the shoulder, and screamed "Can you believe this is all the hummus they give you for $8?"

I looked at the styrofoam container she was waving around, and tried to discourage her by saying "mmmph" and turning back to my reading.  That only led her to believe I was deaf, mute, or both. So she stuck the thing under my nose and said "SERIOUSLY!!! THIS WAS $8! ISN'T THAT AN OUTRAGE?"

Failing to get my attention, she moved to a guy in a business suit, who pretended to be on a phone call. Then she went over to bug some family, who told her to go complain at the food place. She then left the gate area, making me wonder if the whole thing was a TSA test of some sort.

A few minutes elapsed. Then a guy in a business suit sat down on my other side, whipped out a phone, and immediately began talking loudly into it with phrases like "Did you talk to the senator?", "I have meetings with senators all week. This is a MAJOR national issue," and "You need to realize how much money is involved at this level. It's very serious." He kept this up until he realized no one around was staring at him, so he left the gate, too. Hopefully someone catches him and re-starts his medication.

Mercifully, Mrs. Grumpy and the kids returned, scaring off other attention-seekers with some I'm more familiar with.

Our flight was delayed because an overhead bin had a faulty lock, and wouldn't stay closed. We watched as 2-3 different techs got on the plane, tried to fix it, got out a greasy maintenance book, argued about which screw was the problem, and then finally left to find a different type of screwdriver. While they were off the plane some guy in a "Binford Tools" t-shirt got out of his seat, slammed it closed, and punched the lock with his bare hand. When the tech guys came back it was working fine, and we got to take off.

At one point during the flight Craig got up to go brush his hair in the bathroom, so I went to to get something out of my carry-on. I noticed this suitcase in the bin. I'm not sure if the suitcase is inoperable, or the medical equipment, or both. And if the medical equipment is inoperable, why is it being flown around? Or even left on the plane, for that matter?

While I didn't bother with the in-flight entertainment, I did look up at one point to see an excerpt from a television show with 3 guys pairing beers with different varieties of Rocky Mountain Oysters. I guess it beats combining them into 1 beverage.

The best part about the Maui airport is that even the restroom signs are on vacation:

Because, if there's anything more relaxing than a laid-back bathroom stick-figure, I don't know what it is.

Kahului airport here is conveniently located next to a Costco. This, I suspect, is probably the busiest Costco in the world, as it's constantly packed with people who just got off planes and are there to stock up on Diet Coke, bagels, beer, and other essential vitamins & minerals. And, of course, to have lunch after your flight. Because the lady bitching about hummus at the airport has nothing on the people who just shelled out $9.50 for a bag of nuts during the flight.


Due to requests that I re-start my vacation series, I now present my summary of our trip to the islands. For those who haven't read my past vacation archives, they can be found here.

So we got to our condo. It was tastefully decorated, with this lovely piece of art being the first thing you see on walking in:

Nothing really says "welcome to Hawaii" like a papier-mâché parrot in a faux-bamboo cage hanging from the ceiling (parrots aren't even native here. But, then again, neither are pineapples*). The kids immediately adopted it as their pet, since Mello and Snowball were back home. Craig, for reasons known only to him, named it Cassandra, and all 3 of them spoke to it frequently for the next 2 weeks. Cassandra, for her part, spent the entire time pining for the fjords.

Our bedroom had a similarly psittacine theme, with the night table lamps being equally tasteful:

"Say goodnight, Polly"

I can only assume the person who decorated our condo is a bird lover (or Jimmy Buffett fan), and not the owner of a pick-up truck we walked past.

Chicken choking, on the other hand, IS a crime. At least in some states.

Driving around the area we passed a nearby ABC store. For those who have never been to Hawaii, this is the universal corner store here, selling typical convenience store stuff, $5 T-shirts, and assorted tourist tchotchke. This one also had a couple gas pumps outside... But what really caught my eye was the large banner in front that said "Prime Rib Special, $11.99 Sunday and Thursday." While convenience stores are ubiquitous across North America, this is the first time I'd ever seen one advertising that.

Later in the afternoon we went to get snorkel gear for the trip, and I texted my Mom to see if she wanted to come with. She wasn't able to, as she was apparently fascinated by all the modern technological marvels found in her condo.

And that's the way it is.

*Really. They aren't. They're originally from the Brazil-Paraguay border region in South America.


Due to requests that I re-start my vacation series, I now present my summary of our trip to the islands. For those who haven't read my past vacation archives, they can be found here.

We had a pretty spectacular view of the ocean, overlooking the island of Lanai in the distance:

Nice, huh? I sat out there a lot, drinking beer & mai-tais and reading CME. Doing work-related stuff isn't so bad when ETOH and a great view are in the mix.

Watching birds all over the balcony (they're on the lookout for PBJ crumbs) gives you pause to realize that these are the last of the therapods - the biological line that once included the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex. Sue must be spinning in her display case to see her descendents trying to steal french fries.

The view is interesting. The town of Lahaina is known primarily for its history as a major whaling center, but forgotten in there is more modern stuff.

The view above, toward the island of Lanai, is over a body of water called Lahaina Roads. This is actually one of the world's best sheltered deep water anchorages, surrounded by 4 islands (Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Kahoolawe). In the years prior to, and during, World War II, the U.S. navy used it as a back-up base to Pearl Harbor. Ships that needed repairs or supplies went to Pearl, while those that were ready and just awaiting orders anchored in Lahaina Roads.

This was such a common practice that, during the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese planes and a submarine scouted Lahaina Roads to see if there were any major American ships there, so they could redirect a squadron to attack them, too. There weren't any that morning (purely by chance) which was lucky for the Americans. Lahaina Roads is a few hundred feet deep, and ships sunk there would have been beyond recovery, while at Pearl Harbor most were raised and repaired.

Here's some pics of the same view, 70-80 years ago.

Cruisers, destroyers, and the carriers Wasp, Saratoga, and Lexington

U.S.S. Lexington

Lexington, 3 battleships, and some freighters

Lexington & Saratoga at center, 5 battleships at right, scattered cruisers & destroyers

I look out over it, and imagine the same view in early 1944, when carriers were stopped there on the way from the west coast to the front, and imagine this peaceful sea completely filled with warships being prepared for battle.

Hard to believe.

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