The Great Alaskan Adventure – Chapter 1.5

The midnight streets of downtown..

I still sometimes dream of Juneau. It’s always downtown Juneau though. I suppose there are the random dreams about the old houses, but usually it’s downtown. At night. I’m walking, and it’s empty, but all lit up. It’s almost like the scene at the beginning of Spirited Away, where there’s no people, but everything is open..

Maybe it has something to do with the night my brother and his friends were throwing a Christmas party. He was living downtown, in an apartment above one of the tourist shops. I honestly, don’t really recall the party, but I remember, as I was getting ready to go home, looking out the window over the downtown streets..

Snow covered the streets and buildings, cuz in Alaska, that’s what happens in the winter. All the shops were long since closed. But all up and down the streets, it seemed the entire high school senior class had decided to have a giant snowball fight..

Imagine streets, usually crowded with tourists all bouncing from shop to shop. Now suddenly empty. Bright, and beautifully blanketed in virgin, fluffy white. The streets aren’t large, but all along them, the largest, organized, bloodless war I’d ever seen..

I don’t really know why these two memories pop into my head… We used to joke that Juneau had 2 seasons, the Rainy Season, and Tourist Season. “Going Downtown,” mean’t you were taking your life into your own hands by jumping in with the non-locals..

I suppose I’m probably being dramatic. But I was always very small and easy to step on. I also, never knew what downtown was like after it all shut down for the night..

Now here I am, head hanging out a 9 story window, breathing in the fresh, sea air and embracing the silence. It is profound. It has taken me 3 decades to realize, underneath it all, Juneau is beautiful…

The Great Alaskan Adventure – Chapter 1

And here we are..

I remember the first time I’d spent an extended time away from here, Juneau, the town I grew up in. It was my first year away at college. I’d gone to Idaho. I went for the writing program. And had followed a boy. It was yellow. Fields and fields of yellow. Wide, open fields..

I came home my first summer. I landed in the small airport and was picked up my my parents. Unsurprisingly, it was a grey and drizzly day. I hit the ground running, we immediately drove to a friend’s house for dinner or some such gathering. I remember the sudden claustrophobia, fighting back tears in the back seat. Juneau is surrounded by mountains, like a giant, green fishbowl. And on overcast days, of which I had grown up with frequently, I had forgotten how thick and low the clouds sit. Right on top of the mountains. I felt immediately closed in..

I spent the summer with my dog, driving to the ends of each road.. then turning back, and heading home..

Juneau is essentially an island. Travel only happens via plane or boat. I had had a taste of freedom, and the small island was too small for me..

Flying back in today, I didn’t feel homesick, or welcomed. In fact, I really couldn’t see much at all. The wildfires up North had created a thick smog, Juneau’s beautiful mountains, smudged out of view by Climate Change.

And I’m not sure what I had expected, I walked out of the bathroom and down to baggage claim and I had no idea where I was. It definitely was no longer the airport of my childhood. Where was the giant, stuffed grizzly? And the standard cafe style restaurant we’d always eat breakfast at? I felt like a stranger in a strange land..

We drove down the familiar streets I used to stomp on. The bones felt the same. The street names were the same. I think I remember that house..

We passed by my two childhood homes. One was exactly the same. Same green shutters, same fence, same vent in the attic I had butchered to help vent my clubhouse… The other house looked dramatically different. The paint seemed dark, and since when did they need that fence?

It was all alot to take in. To slam your brain with memories. Memories of a childhood, you never really bothered to hang on to. It was just Juneau. It was the bosom that nurtured me while I grew. I was a fierce grizzly growing up, and an Eagle. I needed to fly.

I am sad by how weird it feels to be here. It’s like a fuzzy dream I’m trying to remember.. but I’m not remembering it quite right. I’m not supposed to be here in a rented car. I’m not supposed to be sleeping in a hotel on a couch. And it is definitely not supposed to be 80°! People laugh at me when I cry over 70° down south, and I justify my precious tears with the explanation that, “I grew up in Alaska!”

WHAT THE FUCKOCALYPSE?! Is no place sacred anymore?..

The Great Alaskan Adventure – Chapter 0.5

The light goes on at zero dark thirty and I moan. I’d forgotten how much hotels suck. It may be a fairly quiet hotel, no wooshing of the tram-line, and the rumble of passing jets, like the distant sounds of an eager neighbor wheeling their garbage can down the driveway… over and over…

The hotel room, for all its wonderful design, its light blocking curtains and its hip, raised sink… it is not designed for comfort and relaxation!

One light switch, that illuminates the entire world! A thermostat that has to be operated by the greatest bomb defuser in the nation. The bathroom door that is a little too oiled on its tracks and slams shut. The shower door that isn’t oiled enough and groans terribly when opened or closed. The toilet that acts like this is its first job, so eager to please, and almost seems to flush itself before you can even push the button with the most extrordinary WHOOOOOSH!!! The coffee maker, brewing away, until, like a washed up stage actor taking his dying breaths, puff… puff….. puuuff….. PUUUUUUUUFF! And don’t even get me started on the pillows, so puffy and inviting, until one’s head approaches, and they immediately deflate to sad pancake pillows…

I hadn’t been able to sleep anyway. I eventually tried thinking about sheep. Then began thinking about a story about sheep. Then couldn’t stop.

I put in my headphones and cued up a monotone voiced crime reporter podcast, and did, eventually, somehow, fall asleep…

The Great Alaskan Adventure – Prologue

The View From Here…

After a night waking up with some sort of strange full neck/throat muscle spasms, in which I could barely move my head or swallow (I took a sleep aide, and magically woke up semi-cured…), I journeyd down to town for a quad shot latte at my favorite coffee shop. Sadly, my barista boy was not working today. I watched as the patrons all seemed to know each other. This table jumping up to say hi to this table. That person walking in and saying hi to that table. Not me. I sit alone in the corner, but the sweet sounds of Edith Piaff and Pink Martini, and an old school English crime novel kept me company.

Afterwards, it was alot of hustle and bustle. The last minute sort of stuff you do before a trip away. My fur sister looked dejected, someone had said the word, “walk” and possibly the word, “beach?” hours ago… My big cat naps. It’s one of the many perks of being a cat, naps, whenever. I try to feed the small tortoise a fresh raspberry from down the way, envisioning the memes of the small tortoise, face covered in murdered raspberry gore. I have my camera at the ready, but his head just bobs up and down dubiously. So I take him outside in the sun. He opens his mouth, then bobs his head up and down dubiously..

Dinner of Safeway Chinese take-out. A total guilty pleasure (don’t judge me…). Dad chokes near to death, mom continues to hustle and bustle..

At some point, our chariot for the 70 some odd mile ride arrives. It’s gonna be long, smashed in the middle seat. I put my head phones in and the noise drowns out, like those movie scenes where the music turns up loud and all the outside noise goes away. I see lips moving, and hands bouncing up and down, occassionally a laugh breaks thru, but it’s just me..

Our hotel feels confused. It’s retro, with loud music, and at any moment you expect strobe lights to start flashing. Outside our window is a building under construction. We close the curtains. Though, it’s surprisingly quiet, for being right on the tram-line and close to the airport. It’s only one night though..

We get drinks at the bar. At the next table over is a small party of an older man, and a couple Jack the Lads. They are loud, excited. Apparently, of all the million destinations in the entire world, they are destined for the same, small town as us..

I spent 2 decades of my childhood growing up in Alaska, calling it home, not really knowing anything else. Apparently, 11 years ago, we up and emigrated to the lower 48. 11 years ago was the last time I set foot in the motherland..

Tomorrow, I board a plane to return..

———————————————————

PS. She totally made it to the beach..

Hashtag: Happy Mermaid Dog

Graduation Trip – done

If I ever had any doubts of my feelings towards babies, airplane rides confirm to me why I don’t like them…

The plane was small to begin with, the aisle barely large enough to walk down without turning sideways. Wailing baby infront of us, wailing baby somewhere behind us, and the stereo typical movie brat directly behind me kicking my seat.

I am exhausted. I have barely slept all weekend and the 2 hour plane ride was mean’t to be a chance for some sleep. But that didn’t seem would be the case with junior soccer star behind me.

And if I thought trying to fall asleep with the five nursing babies and toddler from hell was bad, I was not expecting the 20 minutes of violent, stomach dropping, head thrashing turbulence. Later spoken of as “the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced,” by other passengers.

And it was bad. The last time I’d experienced turbulence like that, I was barely just a teenager. It was a band trip to another small city in Southeast Alaska, though I can’t recall exactly which. I remember the plane dropping violently, my stomach leaping into my throat, and grabbing onto my best friend. He laughed at me, always the rational one. But I was the one with the wild imagination. Years later, I would follow him to college. He stuck with band, I would simply flounder. Like a fish out of water. An Alaskan, finding herself in Idaho…

I feel the plane turning figure eights as the pilot tries to navigate the turbulence. Ironically, the brat behind me is silent. But each time I close my eyes, the plane jerks sideways knocking my head about, and I see William Shatner’s monkey on the wing. I see the cast of Lost, just trying to survive. I see snow capped mountains, with nothing around for miles…

We land safely, obviously.

I am awash with more relief than I realize. Not just to be back on solid ground, but because in a matter of hours, I’ll be back in my bed. I’ll be in my pajamas, surrounded by my pets, and no agenda. Just back home.

We stand at baggage claim, joking about their promise to provide discounts on your next flight if your bag arrives 20 minutes late. We watch our watches. 18… 19… 20… and then the conveyor belt stops… There is a moment of confusion, where are our bags?

…We received the discount on our next flight, and the promise that when our bags returned from their wayward trip to Portland, they would be delivered back to us at home… Pajamas and all…

It rained the whole 2 hour drive home. But some 10 hours after waking up that morning, we made it home. And some 108 hours after starting the most arduous graduation weekend, it ended…

Small consolation: Unpacking was easy…

Graduation Trip – day 3

To wait, or not to wait…

Today we got to sleep in. No graduation ceremonies to go to, no fireworks, just a leisurely day. Which was fine, cuz it rained…

And it was an oddly timed day. In that, we drove to a lovely breakfast place, The Broken Yolk (known for their Man vs, Food food challenge of a 12 egg veggie omlette, side of hashbrowns, and 2 biscuits in under an hour.) And there were people out the door waiting. We were told we’d have about a 30 minute wait, so we went outside to wait… and were seated 10 minutes later…

Where as, the wait for 4 coffees…

We went to the well talked up Urth Cafe. A place that touted its fair trade and heirloom product. Matcha Lattes, Boba Teas, and Italian Style Coffees. And some pretty delicious looking food. There was a line out the door. When we finally were granted admission we ordered our drinks. And 30 minutes later, we walked out with them.

The one time sensitive item of the day, the appointment to pick up the graduation cake. We got to the shop maybe 20 minutes past the hour. The shop was bustling with customers coming and going, with their custom made graduation cakes. But ours wasn’t ready yet..

The town of Orange seemed almost confused as what to do, with all the extra people around for graduation weekend. We popped into the soda fountain shop for a milkshake, and they seated us in a booth and then ignored us. When we finally got someone’s attention they were super apologetic and then we had about 4 people waiting on us. For a milkshake. One.

The biggest worry of the day was dinner. Sunday night, post graduation weekend dinner. Everywhere was going to be jammed. We’d popped into a little Italian place in the afternoon, wanting to put in a reservation, but they didn’t accept reservations. We’d have to try our luck at dinnertime like everyone else. It didn’t look promising, as the restaurant was hardly larger than a downtown clothing shop, and had few enough tables to count on 2 hands.

But we tried anyway, we weren’t in a hurry. There were people outside the restaurant when we walked up. We went to put our name down on the list… and they told us they had a table…

It was a strange sort of day. A day we had given ourselves to take our time and not rush, but the fates had other plans for us. Perhaps it was all so we could really enjoy ourselves. See and do everything we wanted. Or perhaps everything was just turned on its head this weekend. Either way, after the hustle and bustle of the last couple days, it was a nice change.

Slow down and enjoy your coffee. Come right in and eat some food. Spend more time with your family…

Graduation Trip – day 2

Are we done yet?

Another early morning. Another stupid, early morning. And it still wasn’t early enough. It was floor seating for graduation attendees, and for short people, that meant prime view of the backs of people’s heads.

Ceremony began with a video with students thanking their families, and then a brief run down of the rules. No food or drink, no standing and blocking people’s views, no going into the aisles to take pictures, etc. The music began, the graduates began their walk, and everyone jumped up and ran into the aisles to take pictures…

This is the part of the graduation that is the most important, and yet, the most boring. A total of 10 seconds from the moment they announce a student’s name (with the most epic, sports announcer voice ever!), to walking over to accept the diploma, get a picture taken with the dean, and vanish off stage. 10 seconds, and a hundred other students to go.

Needless to say, it was boring. The sun was beating down (between the clouds) and one woman ahead of us kept standing up. Not to take pictures, simply to stand. I might have yelled at her to, “sit the fuck down!” at some point. I had yet to have a cup of coffee…

It was stupid early…

At some point, we resorted to mid-ceremony selfie taking. At some point, we went over to the table with water coolers. At some point, we left and got coffee. When we had coffee in hand, some 20 minutes later, the epic, sports announcer was still announcing names…

It ended, eventually. More pictures were taken. And then it was lunch time.

Margaritas and molé, valet parking, and twelve dollar guacamole (that we did not get.) And a gigantic scoop of fried icecream.

Afterwards, the sun was finally shining in earnest, the jacaranda trees were blooming, and all of Southern California was headed to the beach. So we did too. It took us about 10 minutes to drive there, and about 10 minutes waiting behind cars sitting around blocking traffic to get that spot when that family has finished packing up and leaves…

But the sand was warm, and the sky was blue. It smelled like dead fish, but hey, it’s the beach. Families fishing off the pier, and it must have been good fishing, cuz a pod of porpoises were boppin’ about, and a lone sealion swam about near the pier.

Dinner was a casual affair. All the celebration and energy expended. But the restaurant we found, we discovered we quite liked. The Lazy Dog brewery that touted itself as dog friendly, even going so far as to have menu for dogs. The food was delicious, though no one could manage to eat very much.

Back to the hotel for a blessed early night. We all settled into bed, before the sounds of banging started. As much as I tried to ignore it, I could not and only grew more irritated with each bang and pop. Until it finally dawned on me. The Los Angeles Angels had won their game, and the stadium was letting off fireworks.

We went to the window and watched. And oddly enough, it was a pretty spectacular end to another long day.