Cast:

Lee Chapman (me)
Bob Green (my husband) 
Larry (my brother)
Joan (his wife)
Pat (my sister)
Ken (her husband)

Trip In a Nutshell: My brother and sister and I, with our spouses, cruise around the southeast Alaska panhandle, starting and ending in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the Seabourn Sojourn.

Fear: Someone will fall (we’re all old; ships rock and roll; I’m already doing physical therapy for my sore back; two of us already use wheelchairs in airports).

Fear: Seabourn won’t live up to my family’s expectations (I’ve been raving about this cruise line to them for years).

Fear: We’ll fight about religion or politics.

Fear: Alaska will be too cold (Bob hates the cold; Pat keeps checking forecasts). Fear: Alaska will be too wet (a friend says it rained every day when he went).

When you’re young travel is all about seeing pyramids and sampling funny foreign food like baby Spanish octopus. When you’re old it’s all when-do-I-take-my-pills and when-do-I-poop? Where? How much? How soft will it be? (I promise I will not mention this again.) Will the TSA confiscate my hand sanitizer? Will I ever actually use my hand sanitizer or just keep carrying it around forever?

Monday, September 23

We Uber to the airport Hilton. Telling Uber about my new credit card is a challenge. I’ll spare you the details except to say that doing so involves accidentally summoning an Uber driver who barely speaks English and doesn’t know how to cancel the call. Neither do I. He actually has to come to the house and chat with me until the Uber God finally decides I won’t show up and charges me seven dollars.

We’re spending the night here near the airport because we’ll have to get up at 2:30 in the morning to catch an absurdly early flight (since air travel is so unreliable we’ve scheduled a four- hour layover in Chicago). We drink wine and eat grocery store salads and sushi, and I start to write a poem comparing our beautiful view of the airport with early Maryland Protestants and Puritans and Catholics and Anglicans killing one another.

Tuesday, September 24

Up at 2:30am, 3:30am shuttle to the airport. Our flight no longer exists. The guy treats us like geezers who booked a flight on some ancient steam-powered trolley. “We haven’t had that flight for months!” United has rebooked us on a later flight without telling us. So now we’ll have only half an hour between flights in Chicago. We had planned a four-hour layover in the first-class lounge there, eating breakfast, drinking wine. And the BWI fancy lounge won’t let us in. There was no point in spending the night at the airport Hilton. There was no point in getting up at 2:30. We lost another iPhone charger for nothing. And now we have four hours to kill.

Going through security I experience a memorably rough pat down. I wonder if it’s because my clothes are so baggy? They’re baggy ‘cause I’m doing Weight Watchers (now “WW”) and have lost a lot.

I try to spend the time productively. I accomplish three things: 1) I come up with an idea for tangent ellipses that I might be able to make art out of, 2) I start work on a new song, 3) I realize last night’s poem is crap and abandon it.

We take off. The Appalachians are gorgeous, especially where rivers of clouds form in the valleys.

I overhear the lady behind me say she just had the roughest patdown ever. “I thought they were gonna rip my pants off!”

I’m hoping for a great view of the Chicago skyline, but after we head out over Lake Michigan clouds fill the sky and all I see is white. I keep looking, and looking—I don’t give up—and then suddenly we pop out of the cloud mass and that beautiful skyline is spread out before me. It’s like turning on a 65-inch digital TV. We fly over my old apartment (I’m still waiting to get the security deposit back) just before we land at O’Hare. Our flight attendant told us that we’d be landing at gate C 22 and leaving from C 23 so there is hope we’ll make it despite the short layover. As soon as we’re on the ground Bob sees C 22 but instead of driving toward it, we start meandering all over the tarmac. We are doomed! But eventually we arrive at C 22, and we’re the first off the plane. C 23 is right across the concourse and so is my family!

Flying from Chicago to Vancouver we’re on the same kind of plane, a 737; I’m in the same seat, 1A; and the same Trump is on the same TV.

I order a glass of rosé, justifying it by telling the flight attendant I’ve been up since 2:30. Bob keeps stealing sips so I order him one of his own. They keep refilling both classes. Bob tells the flight attendant that for us it’s 11am! The flight attendant replies, “You never have to explain a glass of rosé.”

So many times I’ve flown in to or out of O’Hare, but only rarely have I seen my old stomping ground Fermilab. I’m just about to give up when the whole site appears before me, still zapping West Chicago with neutrinos.

Is that the mighty Mississippi? It seems so small. I glance at the TV map. It is.

Business class is nice. I ask Bob how come the nuts he serves at home aren’t hot. Somewhere over Iowa a massive cloud formation in the exact shape of Chicago’s skyline appears.

We fly right over Sioux Falls. I’ll never forget the time Bob and I played a concert near here. Afterwords a very nice lady came up and said, “I really enjoyed your playing but the sound of Bob tuning is the worst sound I’ve ever heard.”

We see two or three volcanoes—Mount Ranier for sure.

We’re on the 17th floor of the most expensive hotel I’ve ever paid for. Breakfast is $42 (Canadian, but still). Part of the bathroom mirror is a TV. Our view is of an old terra cotta and brick skyscraper with seahorses and a pelican and the king of spades (or something). Many glass skyscrapers reflect the sky and traffic and terra cotta and each other.

British Columbia’s flag is the model of bad design. Too many elements: union jack, crown, waves, sunset. Obviously the result of a committee compromise. An older version was even worse: all that stuff plus another union jack, and a motto in Latin! Good grief! (Bonus dolor!)

The six of us have a terrific dinner on the water with a view of seaplanes taking off and “landing” (you “land” on land; what do you do on water?) and a sky view through the glass ceiling above. Too many too-delicious margaritas are consumed.

Wednesday, September 25

Bob and I walk a few blocks to Gas Town, the old part of Vancouver. I almost fall when I don’t notice a sidewalk step. Instead I just hurt my back. We somehow miss a statue of an angel saving a World War I soldier. The famous steam clock is a little underwhelming; it reminds me of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen. Lots of tourists desperately trying to appreciate something not very impressive. (I last saw it on a Fermilab trip to a particle accelerator conference here. During that visit I gave a great talk and was invited to join some bigwigs for dinner here in Gas Town. The entire evening’s conversation was 1) how great everyone at the table was and 2) what idiots everyone else was. This was a disturbing glimpse into the corridors of power.)

I take a glass elevator up a 550-foot observation tower. The terra-cotta building across from my hotel turns out to be the Marine Building, an art deco masterpiece, which was once the tallest building in the British Empire.

As we walk around town we keep running into people wearing elaborate harnesses. They are Google earth filmers. We’re gonna be famous!

We check out the fabulous lobby of the Marine Building.

Back at the hotel we start hearing truck horns. Or maybe train whistles.They don’t just beep- beep, they blare. They drone on indefinitely with multiple horns forming bizarre dissonant chords echoing around the skyscraper canyons. We’re trying to nap but this goes on for hours. I finally look out the window and see dozens of, maybe 100, trucks driving through the city blasting their horns. They make some wonderful computer music-like sounds. I imagine making a piece out of it but I know the audience would not appreciate the noise out of context. It turns out this is some kind of logging demonstration.

We have a family party in our room featuring British Columbian wines. We get poke bowls from across the street. Delicious!

Thursday, September 26

Breakfast at this convention hotel is wonderful except for the conversation of the people at the next table over. “I’m not saying our firm can do everything, but what we can do blah blah blah.” Pat calls, but I can barely hear what she’s saying. I ask her how she’s doing and she replies, “not good!” After another minute of conversation I eventually believe that’s not at all what she said— she was just inviting us to breakfast.

We can see our ship, the Seabourn Sojourn, out the window. After breakfast we go check it out. The rain stops and the sun comes out.

It’s a tremendous hassle getting ourselves and our luggage to the ship, which is about half a block away. At one point I’m outside the hotel anxiously awaiting our shuttle. A luggage lady comes out and asks what’s happening. I tell her I’m waiting for the Seabourn shuttle. The guy who’s been standing next to me overhears this and announces that he’s the Seabourn shuttle driver. He has nothing on him to indicate that fact. I’ll spare you the rest.

Customs and immigration are the worst ever. Enough said.

At our first lunch on board we beg for attention. It’s hardly the service I’ve been bragging to my family about for years. Eventually a server deigns to notice us.

I overhear that “The Grill,” the secondary restaurant, is booked, so I make an executive decision and wait in line to book the six of us for dinner there tonight.

We’re underway! As we admire cosmopolitan Vancouver eight military jets in tight formation roar overhead, again and again, spewing red, white, and blue smoke trails and, later, just red and white smoke trails. Pat thinks this is a USA / Canada display, like the lights on the International Bridge between Sault Ste Marie, MN and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Our first dinner on board at “The Grill” is wonderful but not what I expected: I was remembering “Restaurant 2,” which used to use this space, and which featured a tasting menu of wild treats like salmon foam and other nouvelle cuisine. Now this place is just another restaurant, although it claims to be great. It is, but not what I’d promised my family.

I sleep like a baby to the rocking of the ship.

Friday, September 27

This morning I write some beautiful poetic lines about fir-tree-festooned mountains with forestry gashes but apparently they are lost due to F*CKING Apple’s insistence on storing everything in the F*CKING cloud, even when you don’t have easy internet access.1

We hang out at the ship’s library where I read an article about Toni Morrison that inspires me to start a new song. She said, about racism (line breaks added by me):

It keeps you explaining

over and over again

your reason for being.

Somebody says
you have no language,
and you spend twenty years proving that you do.

Somebody says
your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is.

Somebody says
that you have no art, so you dredge that up.

Somebody says
that you have no kingdoms, and you dredge that up.

None of that is necessary. There will always be
one more thing.

Seabourn has provided us with super parkas that everyone loves. Zippers everywhere. Mine even fits.

The six of us play trivia. Unfortunately we’re forced to add four strangers to “Team Tutu.” We tie for 2nd place and will never play again.

At lunch two of us have dirty spoons. Service is not what it used to be.

Bob and I nap. I brush my teeth before the first-ever (for us) Seabourn LGBT get-together. When I go to rinse my mouth and toothbrush I discover there is no water. Seabourn is falling apart.

A dozen or so people with toothpaste in their mustaches show up for the LGBT meet-up. Some of them are singers in the shows. One is the guest lecturer, Steve, a super-nice guy. Our lovely neighbor Sherry attends; we think our cabins must be the gay ghetto. We chat with a couple of 45 years, Pat (not my sister) and Fred.

Dinner, our first in the huge main restaurant, is awkward. They put the six of us at a table for eight. Bob is stuck off at the end and can’t really join in the conversation. Service is slow.

We attend a few minutes of the electric violin show.

Seabourn has provided us with super parkas that everyone loves. Zippers everywhere. Mine even fits.

The six of us play trivia. Unfortunately we’re forced to add four strangers to “Team Tutu.” We tie for 2nd place and will never play again.

At lunch two of us have dirty spoons. Service is not what it used to be.

Bob and I nap. I brush my teeth before the first-ever (for us) Seabourn LGBT get-together. When I go to rinse my mouth and toothbrush I discover there is no water. Seabourn is falling apart.

A dozen or so people with toothpaste in their mustaches show up for the LGBT meet-up. Some of them are singers in the shows. One is the guest lecturer, Steve, a super-nice guy. Our lovely neighbor Sherry attends; we think our cabins must be the gay ghetto. We chat with a couple of 45 years, Pat (not my sister) and Fred.

Dinner, our first in the huge main restaurant, is awkward. They put the six of us at a table for eight. Bob is stuck off at the end and can’t really join in the conversation. Service is slow.

We attend a few minutes of the electric violin show.

Sunday, September 29

We arrive in Sitka, once the capital of Russian Alaska.

We go on our first expedition to spot otters. I’m afraid it will be some tiny bumpy Zodiac thing that will destroy my spine once and for all but instead it’s a big comfy touristy kind of boat. The sun and scenery are so beautiful I have an insight: this trip is great because I have no expectations—there is nothing in Alaska I really give a shit about (this trip was mostly meant to be a family reunion). Everything we see is a delightful surprise or amazing discovery or just plain fun.

My fear on this wildlife-sighting boat ride is that I’ll be the master of finding logs, not creatures. But soon we see an entire “raft” of otters and watch them, with binoculars, cavort. It’s almost as good as a zoo! The naturalists explain that otters have a pocket near their armpit where they store their favorite rock for breaking open clams. I assume people are evolving a similar pocket for our iPhones.

After dozens of otters we see, much to my surprise, dozens of humpbacked whales. Unbelievable! The sun glistens off their black bodies as they spout and fluke. We have plenty of time to watch them. Unworldly. This is the last cruise of the season.

They dump us in downtown Sitka, seven miles from the ship, to make us buy souvenirs there. Instead we all trudge onto the first shuttle bus which drives seven miles and then dumps us at one side of another souvenir shop we must go through to finally get back to the ship. It’s like the souvenir gauntlets after every stop in Egypt.

Steve the gay guy gives another good lecture, this one on Juneau and the World War II “Eskimo Scouts” who defended the territory against the Japanese, with no pay and almost no help from the US, and with no appreciation until most of them were dead.

We do the caviar sail-away party out of Sitka; we skip the block party where you meet your neighbors in the hallway (we feel we’ve done our social duty by attending the LGBT event).

Instead we sit in our cabin watching mountains and water turn rosy in the sunset. I think it’s the kind of image you’d like on your living room wall and then remember that in my dad’s basement rec room he had exactly that kind of giant photo on the knotty-pine wall next to the hi-fi.

We have a wonderful birthday dinner for my brother. The chocolate birthday cake is beyond fabulous. Seabourn decorates his room and gives him a nice bottle of red.

The view outside is just black. No horizon, just black Pacific.

Monday, September 30

The view outside is just white. No horizon, just white. Our first non-sunny day. The big event this morning is my deep-tissue muscle massage. I change into a robe but go barefoot because the booties are size 2 and my feet are 12. I keep my tighty whities on.

My masseur is Stelios, a Greek. We discuss my medical history, especially my blood clots and blood thinner medication. I forgot that I’m susceptible to bruising because of it. I ask him to be gentle.

He is brutal. First he exfoliates (i.e. scrapes me with sandpaper or something). Then for 75 minutes he finger-gouges every part of my body (almost every part), even my eyeballs! He’s always pulling my underpants down or up or to the side. Despite the calming new-age music I worry that 1) I’ll be one big bruise, 2) he’s creating and/or dislodging innumerable blood clots that will kill me before I get to see Juneau, and 3) my feet will be so slippery I’ll crash on my walk back to the changing room. I should have brought my socks. I am doomed in so many ways.

I can barely understand a thing Stelios says. He gets me to turn over and does things to my face. After much pain, which Stelios assures me will lead to tremendous healing, it is over. He tries to sell me something for $179. I decline and escape on slippery bare feet.

We stop at Icy Strait, which has the world’s biggest zip line—six parallel tracks. An historic first: due to my weight-loss program I am light enough, for the first time ever, to ride a zip line. That doesn’t mean I am required to ride a zip line.

All six of us do tea, complete with cucumber sandwiches. Bob and I show the others pictures of our cat Pilsy.

At dinner we experience more TLC. The chef offers to make anything we want and promises us paella the next night.

Tuesday, October 1

I examine my naked body and discover two things: 1) I have no bruises and 2) I am still really fat, even after four months on WW.

Our guide is, like, a California surfer dude. Five minutes of his chatter is, like, four too many. Really. He drives us to the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center. We watch the movie and walk in the rain to Nugget Falls, admiring lichen along the way. I manage to FaceTime my former best friend Jim (Bob has decreed that Bob himself holds the title “best friend”). I am soaked. Despite multiple warnings I’ve seen no bears (DON’T APPROACH! DON’T RUN AWAY!). The lake in front of the glacier has a little iceberg on it. With a bald eagle perched on it! Who knew we’d see an iceberg?

My second long rainy walk of the day is to the Alaskan Vision Center where they replace my eyeglasses’ broken and not-yet-broken nose pieces for free and throw in a cleaning kit. I make a nice donation to the fund for starving optometrists. I find a grocery store that carries Starbucks Frappuccino and stock up. Life is good!

Walking back to the ship I glimpse the governor’s mansion (Sarah Palin hated it) and the state capitol, which is on the list of most beautiful state capitols. It is 50th.

Now I’m really soaked. My jeans are soaked. My socks are soaked. My underpants are soaked (from rainwater only).

I’m not too late for lunch. I dine alone outside under a heat lamp. I’m perfectly comfortable until they turn it off. I can take a hint. Now I’m soaked and freezing.

I sleep through tea. Bob and I see the Alaskan string quartet. Dinner is the promised paella. Enough for about ten people. We sing “Happy Birthday” to our waitress Christel. Another song and dance show.

I download my new music recording engineer Ahren’s version of my song “I Can Tell.” He’s played several real instruments and is worried that he’s gone overboard. My first reaction is that it’s overwhelmingly great.

I get an idea for a song about bald eagles. Possible lyrics and notes:

You don’t know
What I’m called
I’m not a member of parliament (3x) I’m not bald

I don’t represent
You murderers and thieves I won’t symbolize Hypocrisy and lies

Don’t put me on your money Don’t put me on your seal(s) Buildings
Seals

Stamps
Coins? (be specific)

John Denver has a song called “The Eagle and the Hawk.” This won’t be like that.

Tuesday, October 1

I examine my naked body and discover two things: 1) I have no bruises and 2) I am still really fat, even after four months on WW.

Our guide is, like, a California surfer dude. Five minutes of his chatter is, like, four too many. Really. He drives us to the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center. We watch the movie and walk in the rain to Nugget Falls, admiring lichen along the way. I manage to FaceTime my former best friend Jim (Bob has decreed that Bob himself holds the title “best friend”). I am soaked. Despite multiple warnings I’ve seen no bears (DON’T APPROACH! DON’T RUN AWAY!). The lake in front of the glacier has a little iceberg on it. With a bald eagle perched on it! Who knew we’d see an iceberg?

My second long rainy walk of the day is to the Alaskan Vision Center where they replace my eyeglasses’ broken and not-yet-broken nose pieces for free and throw in a cleaning kit. I make a nice donation to the fund for starving optometrists. I find a grocery store that carries Starbucks Frappuccino and stock up. Life is good!

Walking back to the ship I glimpse the governor’s mansion (Sarah Palin hated it) and the state capitol, which is on the list of most beautiful state capitols. It is 50th.

Now I’m really soaked. My jeans are soaked. My socks are soaked. My underpants are soaked (from rainwater only).

I’m not too late for lunch. I dine alone outside under a heat lamp. I’m perfectly comfortable until they turn it off. I can take a hint. Now I’m soaked and freezing.

I sleep through tea. Bob and I see the Alaskan string quartet. Dinner is the promised paella. Enough for about ten people. We sing “Happy Birthday” to our waitress Christel. Another song and dance show.

I download my new music recording engineer Ahren’s version of my song “I Can Tell.” He’s played several real instruments and is worried that he’s gone overboard. My first reaction is that it’s overwhelmingly great.

I get an idea for a song about bald eagles. Possible lyrics and notes:

You don’t know
What I’m called
I’m not a member of parliament (3x) I’m not bald

I don’t represent
You murderers and thieves I won’t symbolize Hypocrisy and lies

Don’t put me on your money Don’t put me on your seal(s) Buildings
Seals

Stamps
Coins? (be specific)

John Denver has a song called “The Eagle and the Hawk.” This won’t be like that.

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