IT Consultants on the Road, Viva Roma! Edition

This post isn't about a single visit to Rome--it stretches from a visit in January through a visit just completed now in August.  And it won't be the last.  Several more visits are likely, as we work with this UN agency to implement Office 365.  Our (my) job: getting people to use some of the goodies that are in Office 365 besides email.

And I know it doesn't make things look any less romantic, but I'm not actually in Rome.  I'm in a business park about 10 miles outside the city.  So, it's not all cafe correcto and la vida dolce all the time.  That said, I've been to places much less desirable than this.  So read on for some quick hits across my trips so far...

January

This was a relatively last-minute trip.  I had convinced my boss that developing multiple, parallel relationships with a new customer, the World Food Programme, would be a good idea.  And when I volunteered to take a red-eye to Rome that sealed the deal.  So it has been a trip featuring one day of meetings and another Anthony Bourdain-style layover day in Rome.

Why is it, on boarding my British Airways flight, I want to stand up and apologize for America?

I’ve seen more nuns in a single day in Rome than I normally see in a year in the US.

Aah Europe; it’s all coming back to me.  I have to put my room key in the card slot to work the lights.  And it’s just as well I never figured out the TV.

I’m such a goof.  “I know, I’ll buy one item for Crystal for now, and another for her birthday!” Ya, except her birthday was LAST WEEK.

Walking to the Vatican, it strikes me that being ambassador to the Vatican has to be one of the cushiest jobs ever.

Second thought: it’s amazing to think how a religion started by a poor immigrant of Middle Eastern descent would grow to be such a wealthy power.  I don’t know if that’s amazing-good, or just amazing.

Seems like the route to salvation at one point was to sponsor the building of a church.

How often do you get to attend Mass in a church/basilica that dates (originally) from the 3rd Century?

Dinner cooked up by a friend’s son and his peers, here on a high-school exchange program.  Amazing to learn their perspective on the world.

The free smartphone at the hotel was such a cool thing.  Maps, restaurant reviews and all.

The new normal: armed police/national guard blocking off roads in front of tourist locations.

Tourist hawkers. Then—fake handbags. Now: selfie sticks and fidget spinners.

Who thought triangular buildings was a good idea? I’m constantly walking into corners.

You can go a long way with “please,” “thank you,” and “good day” in the local language.

Instructive to see how the Christians took over the Pantheon and made it into a church.  Turns out, if you want to preserve a building or architectural site, the trick is to turn it into a church.  Then the Church will look after it.  Your weekly collection dollars at work.

How deep is the River Tiber?

Why is the espresso here so damn good? And thanks, Mike, for your admonition that it’s only espresso after 9 AM.

Kind of fun to see Rome in the “low season.”  Seems more genuine, or maybe just less overrun with tourists.

Trump enacts his immigration ban while I’m out of the country. What a shit-show.  There’s a huge crowd to greet passengers arriving at SFO.  I’m a little embarrassed, thinking that I’m not part of the group this crowd is cheering for.  It does make me smile, though.

Jet lag is a cruel thing.

June

Here after a last-minute company decision to send me from Dublin (where I was vacationing with Crystal) to Rome.  Crystal is off to Holland for her company meetings, I go to Rome.  Mary kindly is watching Mona back home.  This whole co-traveling lifestyle is more disturbing than cool.

This hotel is very close to the customer, which is its saving grace.  There’s a painting of the hotel on the wall (kind of like an architect’s rendering) and the cars in the painting date the hotel to the 1960’s.  That and the 3-D picture of Marilyn Monroe.  I keep expecting Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack to show up at the bar.

Customer has decided they want me here all summer.  Um, I don’t think that’s going to work; looks like I'll be in Rome two weeks out of every month for the summer.  Expect a lot of Italian Christmas gifts this year.

July

One day after returning from vacation in Hawaii, I’m off to Rome.  This flight to DFW is the coldest I've ever experienced.  Maybe I just got used to Hawaiian weather.

Fun fact: they turn the temperature down because people tend to faint at high altitudes.  Now you know.

It’s interesting that in all these far-in-the-future Star Wars movies, the rebels are always dressed in clothes better suited for the 18th Century.

Landing at 9:15 AM and it’s straight to the customer for meetings all day.  I used to do this all the time in the 1990’s.  Now—not so exciting.

There’s a lounge singer in the hotel bar performing a rendition of Peter Frampton’s Baby I Love Your Way.  (Hear it here) Can’t say I expected to hear that.

Walking along local roads after work to get in my 10,000 steps (I’m a slave to FitBit’s social engineering).  There’s no shoulder and lots of traffic so it’s a more exciting experience than I had expected. 

After my previous faux pas flinging spaghetti sauce on my customer host, I’ve learned to stick with risotto when we go out to lunch.

More walking after work, along a new route.  The nature preserve along this route is appealing, but there also seem to be slums nearby.  It’s a little disturbing.

The vendors with their fresh fruits and vegetables at Campo dei Fiori make me miss my garden.

The Borghese Gardens are only green on the map, at least in the summer. 

26,000 steps?!  Even I was complaining about how much I was walking. 

If the chef asks you if you'd like a dish he makes for himself, always answer "yes!" Sicilian roasted sea bass at Da Claudia.  Spectacular.

Excursion to the Isole Pontine.  I was a little disturbed when the tour guide led us in prayer to ask for a safe journey. 

Swimming in the Mediterranean (technically, the Tyrrhenian) Sea feels good on a hot day.

Aperitivo of prosecco, cheese and olives under a fig tree along a trail.  Simple pleasures are the best; even the locals are jealous.

Find the hotel on Google maps and pull up the address to show the taxi driver.  I thought that was pretty clever.

Four straight nights of Ristorante Verde Smeraldo.  I like the food, but you can’t eat any place four nights in a row without it getting a little tiresome. 

That said, it’s been entertaining to see the visitors from China out with the local Huawei staff each Monday night.  And the Italian version of America’s Funniest Home Videos translates well in any language.

Here’s a picture of the revolving door on the way into the office.  Apparently, they’ve had to warn people not to attempt to play soccer while in the revolving door.

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I got a kick out of these corner meeting areas.  Still, I’m not sure they’ve got the concept right.

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The pace of the day revolves around coffee.  Coffee in the morning, coffee after lunch, coffee in the afternoon.  Good thing each dose is just a sip or two.

A handy tip: first you pay, then take the receipt over to the espresso counter to get your cup.

One advantage of the time zone difference: I’m aware of Donald Trump’s tweets when they happen, instead of three hours afterwards. 

Sitting on the Piazza della Rotunda watching the crowds outside the Pantheon and listening to an opera singer in the distance.  You can’t ask for much more.

August

Seeing the "no smoking" sign on the plane makes me wonder: does anyone allow smoking on airlines anymore?

A380—very nice experience in "economy plus". First time I had to descend a jet ramp getting off of an airplane.

Yoga pants as travel attire: thumbs up or down?

The British version of Master Chef is quite different from the US version.  The Brits just can't bring themselves to be as loud and obnoxious as Gordon Ramsey.

Speaking of which:  your restaurant in Heathrow STILL isn't open.  I can't wait forever, Gordon!

UPDATE: Now open. Review forthcoming.

I have to wonder who actually shops at these high-end stores in airports.

Fresh buffalo mozzarella from Naples for a group snack.  La dolce vita.

Every day I check in with the receptionist at the hotel breakfast buffet; I give her my name and room number.  Every day she checks the list, finding neither my name nor my room number.  Every day she smiles and says, “OK, go ahead!”

While in the cab on my way to Rome’s city center, I’m reminded of Michael Callahan’s advice: never look out the front windshield.

There is a line three blocks long to get into the Pantheon.  Welcome tourists!

It was refreshing to visit some of the lesser-traveled parts of Rome today.  There were times I was all alone visiting the sites.

Rome is one place where a knowledge of Latin can come in handy.

I think I’ve climbed at least three of the seven hills this city was founded on.

The Baths of Diocletian are enormous.  Still, I’ll take flush toilets and running water in my house any day.

It’s clear to me that Rome has the same problem as Athens: where do we put all these antiquities?

This morning there is a trail of blood leading down the hotel stairs.  I feel like I’m walking through a crime scene.

I’ve learned enough Italian to know that the panhandler I turned down was not saying nice things about me.

Mass at the Basilica San Giovanni Laterano.  Built by the Pope before there was a St. Peter’s.  Stealing the giant doors for the church was a nice touch.  Kind of weird knowing that the skulls of Sts. Peter and Paul are in those gold sculptures over the Altar.

And that building across the street? Oh, that’s the Pope’s chapel.  Huh.  Well, it is small by comparison I suppose.  But Scala Santa, the 28 steps? The sign is very clear: you must ascend on your knees.  On marble stairs.  That’s more devotion than I can muster.  Plus the sign off to one side, reminding the devoted that 28 steps will get you an indulgence, but for the forgiveness of sins you still have to go to confession.  No shortcuts!

Take what I said about Dublin: you can't walk a block in Dublin without passing by a pub.  Now substitute “Rome” for “Dublin” and “church” for “pub” and it’s the same.  You don’t notice all the churches at first… until the top of each hour when all the bells ring.

Reggio di Calabria.  Reminds me of LA and the San Fernando Valley, except that the ocean is right there.  Very dry. Very hot.

Here’s a handy tip.  Be sure, when you purchase an airline ticket, that you enter your name EXACTLY as it appears on your passport.  Otherwise, you’ll have to change your ticket; that was an expensive mistake to make.

Banking, leveling off and lining up the runway when the plane is already so close to the ground and the mountains are right there.  You’d think we were on a small prop plane landing in Maui, not a passenger jet.  This pilot is good.

Handy hint: Italians leave for the beach (or the mountains) during the last half of August.  It starts with Ferragosto (August 15th) (also Latin for “hotter than hell in August").  So unless you’re headed to the beach or the mountains, don’t expect to find much that’s open.

So on that note: relying on Rick Steve’s, Yelp or Google to find a good local restaurant doesn’t work when all the locals are gone.  Santo Trastevere, we’ll have to meet some other time.

Here’s another random display of beauty in Trastevere.  And yes, that’s a man filling a water jug.

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Step inside the door, and this unassuming restaurant shows you this.

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When I travel my wife buys things.  The longer I’m gone, the more expensive the purchase.  Now I’m hearing something about property in Hawaii. Time to get home!

At Fiumicino airport, the parking spots reserved for dropping off passengers are labeled “Kiss and Go.” Because Italy.

Why is it that flying North and South seems to take forever?

Ciao, Roma. And thanks for all the rughetta.


Kauai in 25 Pictures

We went to Kauai this year, since Brian wanted to celebrate his 30th birthday there.  We attracted a big crowd of family and friends along the way, and had a wonderful time.  OK, the part about Crystal breaking her arm wasn't so great.  But if we overlook that one little incident... There was hula, a luau, sailing and snorkeling, surfing, stand-up paddle boards, golfing and lots of good food.  So go here to view the photo album. 


What Did You Do In The War Grandpa?

Department of Obscure References

This is for my niece, Katie.  Recently you had said something along the lines of "why didn't anyone ever tell me that" about your grandfather.  So I thought I'd share some details about his time in World War II.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, your grandfather, along with his two best friends, enlisted.  Norman and Nathan Sandersen (sp?) joined the Army.  More specifically, they joined the Army Air Force (the Air Force was not a separate branch of the military at the time).  Their friend, Daniel (I don't recall his last name) joined the Navy.  

Here's a picture of Norman (left) and Nathan (right).  

Norman Callahan and Nathan Sanderson2

Of the three friends, only Norman survived the war.  Nathan was a ball turret gunner in his B-17 crew.  He was on a mission when his plane was shot down.  The other crew members were able to jump out of the plane, but Nathan couldn't get out of the ball turret, and died when the plane crashed into the ground.  Daniel was aboard a destroyer (perhaps the USS Indianapolis, although that was a cruiser and not a destroyer) that was torpedoed and sunk.  The story of the Indianapolis is well-known; here's one account.  Your late uncle Nathan was named after Norman's buddy.  I was named after my grandfather, but I like to think that I was also named after Norman's friend, Daniel.

Norman was a photographer in the war.  It's probably more accurate to say he was a photographic technician.  His job was to process the films that were recorded during bombing missions, so that mission planners could assess how much damage the bombing had caused.  He was part of the 8th Army Air Force.  From the photo above, I had the impression that Norman flew on the bombing missions, recording the bombing runs.  Now I don't think that's the case.  In the accounts I've read, it seems that the bombers had cameras that automatically started when the bomb bay doors opened.  Also, descriptions of the crew of the B-17 and B-24 (the two long-range bombers used by the 8th Air Force) don't list a cameraman.  Nevertheless, developing the film after each mission was an important job; planners had to know how successful each bombing mission had been.

Norman enlisted in December, 1942 and was discharged in 1945.  Reading his last will and testament (no doubt required of every enlistee) was a sobering experience.  I don't know much about Norman's time in the Army Air Force, as he wasn't one to talk about his experiences (at least not to me).  I do know that he fell out of the back of a transport once and injured his back.  Other than a few references to lovely English ladies, that's all I know.

The 8th Air Force was based in England.  They were responsible for daylight bombing of German factories, oil refineries and anything else deemed material to the war effort.  The British Air Force conducted night bombing.  US bombing was labeled "strategic" as it targeted specific sites.  British bombing was called "area" bombing as it just attempted to hit an area of interest.  Exactly why this division of labor existed is hard to say.  The British had tried daylight bombing, but experienced heavy losses and weren't able to hit their targets with any precision.  There was also a belief (thanks to experiencing The Blitz) that bombing of civilian targets (by accident or, as in the case of Dresden, on purpose [see Slaughterhouse Five]) could cause a loss of civilian morale and possibly hasten the end of the war.  It's also true that the US had developed the Norden bombsight (Norman claimed they used a spider's thread for the filament used to sight the target) which had proven to be very accurate (under unrealistically ideal circumstances).

At any rate, daylight bombing was incredibly dangerous.  Bombers flew without fighter escort between 1942 and 1944, since there was no mid-air refueling at this time and escort fighters didn't have enough fuel to make the complete round-trip.  So the bombers had to fight their way into and out of the target.  The bombers were heavily armed, and developed formation flying to increase their defensive capabilities.  Still, between the flak and enemy fighters the bombers suffered tremendous losses.  26,000 service members died, out of 210,000 deployed.  The average lifespan for the bomber crew was thirteen missions.  [Side note: this attrition, together with the requirement to complete 25 missions, led to the notion of a "Catch-22."The odds were you'd be killed before completing 25 missions, yet you couldn't be relieved of duty unless you were insane... And if you asked not to fly because you feared for your life, you were considered sane."]  Later in the war, fighters were introduced that had longer range and were able to accompany the bombers to their targets and back.  In order to avoid the flak, the bombers flew at something like 50,000 feet--higher than a passenger jet.  The bomber cabins weren't pressurized or heated.  As a result, crews had to breathe oxygen during the trip (frostbite around the mouth was a common injury) and had to wear the heavy flight suits with integrated heaters in order to avoid freezing to death during flight.

Even if you didn't fly on bombing missions, it had to have been tough work. Guys you trained with, had a beer with, left in the morning and didn't come back.  Guys too young to graduate from college were leading crews of 10 on 12-hour flights with bombs exploding all around you while you had to maintain level, straight flight in order to hopefully hit your target.

So that's what I know.  Maybe your Mom has more details.  As others have said, it was a time when ordinary men and women accomplished extraordinary things.

 

 

 


276--Answering Jenny

I wrote a post in reaction to the election of Donald Trump (see it here) and cross-posted it to Facebook.  Generally that's where I get comments, especially since I am careful not to allow comments directly posted to my blog.  (After that unfortunate time someone posted links to Japanese porn sites.)

My friend, Jenny, responded with a lengthy response.  I thought it was worth capturing her comments here, and responding in turn.  So here goes.  Jenny's original post is in italics.

 

As our worldviews inform our interpretation of events in our culture, I understand why your observations expressed here bring you some measure of comfort. Even so, I think you miss the point – we’ll get there. Full disclosure: my worldview is that of a Bible-believing, fundamentalist (horrors!) Christian and a limited-government conservative. For those reasons, of course I could never have voted for Hillary Clinton, and of course (The “of course” in this sentence fully recognizes that I am but one of a very small group that held this conviction. I’m good with that, too.)  I could never have voted for Donald Trump. Also for those reasons, my interpretation of the election will be through that prism. I just want to acknowledge that up front, and while I will argue against your conclusions, I understand there are points I may be “missing” as well, because you and I see the political landscape very differently.

 I’m glad to engage in this discussion.  Conversing (arguing?) with people who hold different viewpoints is one way to make sure we’re seeing life from outside of our particular “bubble.”

I remember well the sinking feeling of watching Barack Obama win the presidency not once, but twice. I know that many on the left need that to be because of his pigmentation level, but that had nothing to do with it. The policies he advocated were not the policies I support. I also found those that had major influences in his life objectionable. That simple. So, I’m not gloating; I know how you feel. But, while I am more than a little skeptical of the president-elect, I am thankful for Republican control of the House and Senate, and very thankful that Hillary won’t be president.

So far, so good.  I didn’t mean to accuse you of being racist, if that’s how you took my comments.  For plenty of people, the election of Barack Obama was disappointing primarily because their candidate didn’t win, and their political ideology was no longer ascendant.  But I’m stuck on something Brian said to me.  We were talking about Washington and the relationship between Congress and the President.  I asked Brian why there was such animus toward Obama.  Was it just because he is Democratic? After all, there was a tremendous amount of that with Bill Clinton, but at least it seems like he was able to get things done.  In Obama’s term(s), it seemed that the only objective of Congressional Republicans was to block anything and everything Obama wanted to accomplish.  Brian’s answer to me was at once simple and shocking:  “Dad, it’s about racism.” 

Racism is a “card” is something I am reluctant to play as a first explanation for anything.  (My typical reaction to such a claim is, “bring me the statistics!”)  But the more I thought about it, the more I kept returning to that explanation.  I don’t have any statistics to share (violating my own dictum) but consider this: has any President been treated as poorly, with as much disrespect?  Yes, Congress flirted with impeaching Bill Clinton, but there at least was an act of impropriety on the President’s part to work from.  Plenty of Congresses (is that a word?) have worked to block or blunt the President's political agenda, but it seems there has historically been some level of cooperation.  But in the case of Obama and Congress, it seems to have been taken to a new level.  I believe Mitch McConnell was quoted early on as saying that the only congressional agenda was to block Obama from achieving anything.  This was something new.  Maybe it aligns with the emergence of the Tea Party.  Or maybe it aligns with race; I can't say.

I don’t know that you’ve missed this, but it is omitted in your blog: Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate. So terrible, in fact, that a moral reprobate won. My response: Ew! that he is in but, Yay! that she is not. Apart from the fact that she is a woman (which, I fail to see a valid argument in, and which I thought wasn’t such a “fact” anymore, right?), what did she offer that was worthy of the presidency? She presents as entitled, above-the-law, and beyond scrutiny because of her lady parts. And this coming from the side that demands that I accept that boy/girl parts are irrelevant to who a person is! You even make that case here, “We had the tears, especially from women who must have thought they were about to experience what black people felt eight years ago when Barack Obama was elected President--only to have that moment ripped from them.” Why? Why would her election bring me – as a woman – some sort of euphoric experience? This woman actually stood on the debate stage and attempted to argue the virtues of scissors to the skull of a mostly-born baby for the sake of Women’s Rights. You used to keep this part quite. And how was it “ripped” from us? There was an election and the ideas that have been rejected for the last 3 elections were rejected again. In spite of Obama’s re-election in 2012 (He is a charismatic figure; she is not.), the country has rejected his platform again – at least for now. I vote on character and policy, not on genitals. To suggest that women as a group lost something on that basis alone is actually pretty insulting (though, I’m not insulted and I know you didn’t mean that, but that is how it reads).

So there’s a lot going on here.  Let me take things in turn.  First, there is a narrative that Hillary didn’t give voters a reason to vote FOR her.  And I can agree with that.  In fact, I remember reading something that said the Clinton campaign was going to continue to focus on Trump, holding him and his actions (and utterances) out as the best reason to vote for Hillary—you don’t want THIS GUY do you??  That was a sound strategy, until it wasn’t.  Hillary didn’t have a “vote for me because” story, at least not one that was easy to digest.  That story is probably there, deep in some of her policy proposals, but if that’s where to find it, then it’s buried way too deep for the average voter to find.  Remember Reagan’s “are you better off then you were four years ago?” statement.  That’s the sort of litmus test voters respond to.  And, as it turned out, there was at least one group of voters who had a clear “no” answer to that question: displaced manufacturing workers.  These workers saw their middle class incomes gashed as work was shifted to China or (mostly) automated, and no one was there to help them adjust to changed economic circumstances.  Likewise, coal miners have seen their livelihoods ripped away with the decline of the coal mining industry.  While I attribute this to a permanent decline in global demand as (in turn) the US, India and China have moved away from coal and toward cleaner alternatives for electricity generation, the narrative for some has been that this has happened due to policy choices that could be reversed.  It didn’t help Hillary when she went on about killing off coal (one of those open-mic faux pas moments) but it doesn’t change the facts on the ground.

I didn’t see Hillary as a terrible candidate, for three reasons. 

  • Compared to Bernie Sanders (another populist) I felt that Clinton would actually be able to get something done with Congress if she were elected.  After all, the last Democrat to accomplish something as President was also named Clinton.  Bernie made people on the left feel good, but I never felt that he had the agenda or the political support to cause change to happen. 
  • I don't buy into the “crooked Hillary” narrative.  I hear the accusations but I don’t see the facts.  If you’re likening Hillary to the “Washington establishment” and saying that you didn’t want more of the same, I can appreciate that thought.  In fact, that is apparently what some segments of the voting populace felt.  (It is ironic how often candidates run for President on a platform of being an “outsider”.) 
  • I see Hillary as something of a “policy wonk” to use the Washington term.  I was looking forward to seeing her bring her ideas forward and trying to implement them.  Maybe she was too nerdy to connect with voters.

And I didn’t see Hillary as a good candidate just because she’s a woman.  I also didn’t mean to say that women did (or should have) vote/ed for her because she’s a woman.  I’m with you in thinking that talent, competence and fit for the job are the reasons that I want to matter when it comes to selecting the right person for the job.

You’ve argued that this is a last gasp of the defeated-but-not-going-down-without-a-fight white man, and I think that is where you miss the point the most. You view people as voting blocks, not as individuals, as evidenced by:

  • And I thought about the demographic shift happening in America, where white men are quickly on their way to becoming a minority population. (I exclude white women because they, like all women, are already a minority.)
  • It feels more like a last stand, like the last gasp of a group trying to hang onto something that is inexorably slipping from their grasp.
  • The tide is shifting, and railing against it isn't going to slow it down or alter it in any way.

First, correct me if I’m wrong, but I see an assumption in these statements and in the liberal platform generally that somehow being a white male is inherently wrong and something to be beaten into submission. That there is some virtue in being “a Somali woman...elected as a representative” or “a woman…elected as the first Latina Senator” ABOVE or SUPERIOR to that of being a white male that would have accomplished the same. But this argument never flows the other way from the left. So, while you claim to support minorities in positions of influence, you really don’t if they have the audacity to think outside of the allowable lines liberals have drawn for them based on their skin color. Look at the field of candidates offered this primary season on both sides and ask yourself where “diversity” was reflected most. I see people as individuals made in Imago Dei, all with their own stories to tell, their own life experiences, and their own dreams. This is why I am a conservative. I believe government should get out of the way and allow people to pursue those dreams, not put barriers up or actively try to destroy people who refuse to conform.

I’m not saying that there’s something inherently wrong in being a white male (or white, or male, or… anything.)  What I was trying to say is that the world I have experienced as a white male is not the same world experienced by black males I know, or black women, or white women.  It’s hard to expand on this without getting too general too fast.  I’ll just say that I see racism and sexism in our society, and these “ism’s” have benefited white men at the expense of others.  I don’t see the playing field as being level which is one reason why I’m in favor of efforts to help make it more level.

I’m not celebrating a Somali woman elected to office as being ipso facto (hey, you broke out the Latin first) better than a white man.  My point is that this is happening, and it's unusual enough to notice.  People other than white males are being elected to posts those non-white, non-males haven’t held in the past.  Nowadays, it’s not unusual to see a black baseball player.  But before 1947 it was a big deal.  Black men were segregated into their own units in the Army through World War II; now they’re not.  Women weren’t eligible for combat roles; now they are.  What I’m celebrating is the beginning of something not being a big deal anymore.  It’s a slightly less big deal that the US could have a black President, now that we've had one.  There are plenty of countries that have had women as heads of state; the US isn’t (yet) one of them.  Someday that will happen.  And when it does, it will be because that woman was the best person for the job.  And it will be a big deal.  After it happens for the 40th time… not such a big whoop.

Which brings me to…second (and finally!). The last 8 years have been characterized by major federal overreach and severely divisive rhetoric from the top. Americans have been hammered with accusations of racism, homophobia, and sexism NONSTOP. Christians have been targeted and financially destroyed for their faith – not for chasing down and burning homosexuals at the stake, but literally for not wanting to make pastry. NUNS were sued for not wanting to violate their faith and their conscience. Our rights that have defined us as Americans have been under relentless attack – the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, and the Tenth Amendments specifically. The enumerated powers of the federal government have been violated repeatedly. The Pen and the Phone were elevated, which doesn’t seem so exciting when the rabbit has the gun now, does it? We have been told we are bigots if we don’t want creepy dudes in the restrooms with our daughters. Our police forces have been targeted and demoralized – this one, particularly personal to me as the wife of a deputy shot in the line of duty (side note: you know what never comes up when we talk about the shooting and all we’ve had to go through since? The shooter’s skin color. After the initial, “oh really? He was black?” conversation, it’s never come up again.). Obamacare has skyrocketed insurance premiums, but we’re told it’s the “Affordable Care Act,” so we must accept that, in spite of what we see happening in our own finances. Industries have been targeted and told they were going to be regulated out of business. What you see as heartwarming demonstration, I see as vandalism and violence. I see an entire generation that simply can’t handle life. I think the left has done an enormous disservice to this generation by the coddling, the “safe-spaces,” the promotion that they should never have to hear a contrary opinion. Damage has been and is being done when these students have to face the real world without understanding how to lose; they can’t think critically. I could go on.

I can’t meaningfully respond to most of this, as it would require taking your examples one by one and reviewing the facts of each.  But I do want to speak to the item that I know strikes home: the discussions about police-involved shootings of minorities.  I'm not a (willing) participant in culture wars.  And the back-and-forth about whose lives matter is not really helpful to anyone.  Yes, there’s been plenty of over-reaction to police shootings of black men.  One cop shooting one black man doesn’t by itself constitute racism.  But there have been a lot of officer-involved shootings reported, and some of those cases are hard to explain outside of a racist context.

These are people’s livelihoods. These are people’s families. The left pushed the pendulum too far, and now we are seeing it swing back. I don’t see this as a last gasp at all. I see this as the people bringing a bigger bully to the fight to stand up to the bully we’ve been dealing with these last several years. I don’t like that part, just to be clear. A strong-man is not our answer. I believe the common ground you say you are ready to look for was already masterfully laid out in the Constitution – in Freedom. Hillary Clinton didn’t represent that, as I see it. I really want to believe that the people rejected her positions and voted against those (I do not see the authoritarianism represented in many of DTs words as the road to freedom, either, but my hope does not lie in government. Plus, my own blinders prevent me from seeing how anyone could have actually voted in support of him.). Still, I do not view these results as a last gasp of a dying breed, but as tired Americans who are thankful for the freedoms they have enjoyed not wanting to continue the erosion of those rights advocated by the left. I understand we see that differently, and that’s ok. That’s freedom.

And here we agree.  To the extent that what’s happened is the pendulum-swing of ideas and policies—too far this way, now back that way—I am OK with that.  That’s how progress occurs.  Pick your favorite example of something that happens now that didn’t use to happen… or the opposite. Trump didn't win by a landslide; in fact, he didn't win the popular vote.  But Republicans did gain overall in the election.  So that would support the pendulum-swinging-back idea.  But as always, it’s a mixed bag.  As one small example, California legalized marijuana but did not strike down the death penalty.

So we will see.  Thanks for being willing to challenge me and for sharing your point of view.  This kind of dialogue is good for weakening all of our bubbles.

*


276

Fair warning: I'm writing this quickly, as I want to get it out.  So there won't be the usual citations.  Just my opinion, which I think is accurate but hey.

OK, I know it's more than that now: 279 electoral college votes and likely to climb since Arizona will definitely go to Trump.  But that was the count when I woke up yesterday morning and checked CNN.  I had gone to bed the night before with Hillary Clinton trailing.  But there was still a sliver of hope, and I wasn't going to count on the media getting the election outcome right, after getting it wrong every step of the way up to now.

But as I woke and checked the results yesterday morning, Trump's victory was confirmed.  Yes, I was shocked. Yes, I was disappointed.  "There's no way the American people will elect this clown," I had repeatedly thought.  It turns out, that was just my optimism speaking.  They could, and they did.

I don't know what this means.  No one does, and if they tell you they do, they're full of shit.

As that reality settled in, there were the inevitable stages of grieving.  We had the tears, especially from women who must have thought they were about to experience what black people felt eight years ago when Barack Obama was elected President--only to have that moment ripped from them.  We had anger, though not of the "you stole the election" sort that we saw with George W. Bush's election.  We've had protests, such as the walkout at the high school in Berkeley yesterday (student activism among millennials, or whatever that generation is called, warms my heart).

And now we, and the rest of the world, ask, "what's next?"

Where to, America?

Will we descend into fascism as Bill Maher worried on his show last week? Will we see a rollback of the liberties recently won, such as gay marriage?  Will we send Hispanic immigrants away? Will we institute some sort of religion test for Muslim immigrants?

I'm an optimist; I can't help it, it's my nature. I have a hard time believing that the election of Donald Trump is going to initiate some sort of rollback to the 50's and 60's, to a time when white men were king of the hill and everyone else "knew their place."  Then again, I had a hard time believing that Trump could ever get elected, so take that for what you wish.

Two things resonated with me as we watched the election coverage and it appeared more and more likely that Mr. Trump was going to be our next President.  First, a commentator said that Trump's victory was not only a blow to the Democratic party, but to the Republican party as well.  After all, he ran against the "Republican establishment" as much as the Democratic one.  If that's the case, it's hard to see how Trump is going to accomplish anything.  We do have three branches of government, not one.  And it's Congress that has to pass legislation to advance whatever "really terrific" plan Trump has in mind.  So if he's alienated everyone, how's that going to happen?

And by the way, I'm not freaking out about a new Supreme Court justice.  Of course, I could be wrong about that; see my comments about unbridled optimism above.  But what I've seen over the years is that Supreme Court justices tend to go their own way, despite the best efforts of Congress to steer them toward a particular point of view.

The second and more important comment from election night was from Doris Kearns Goodwin, a favorite of US history geeks everywhere.  She had been asked if there was any other presidential election that had parallels with this one.  Her answer was that the current election reminded her not of another race, but another time:  the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy, from a rural to an urban population.  This was maybe in the late 19th century.  Her comment was that in such a time of change and uncertainty, there was a lot of fear.  People wanted to return to the life, the culture, the ways that they had been so comfortable with for all this time.  I connected that with reports that Trump's base was not out-of-work factory workers, but reasonably wealthy white men.  And I thought about the demographic shift happening in America, where white men are quickly on their way to becoming a minority population.  (I exclude white women because they, like all women, are already a minority.)  Then I connected that with a story about how people in times like this that are drawn to authoritarian figures, as a source of comfort.

So maybe I'm way out on a limb here.  But I'm not seeing this election as the beginning of a return to a white-dominated era.  It feels more like a last stand, like the last gasp of a group trying to hang onto something that is inexorably slipping from their grasp.

Yes, we elected someone that seemingly no one thought would, or should, be President.  But before people starting running off declaring some kind of mandate, consider that three states legalized marijuana in this election cycle.  And a black and Indian woman was elected as a California senator.  And (from what Samantha Bee tells me) a Somali woman was elected as a representative and a woman was elected as the first Latina Senator.  The tide is shifting, and railing against it isn't going to slow it down or alter it in any way.

The morning after election day something unusual happened.  As I was walking Mona, a gardener called me over and asked me what I thought about the election.  His English wasn't that good, but I could tell he wanted someone to explain what happened.  Should he be worried? I told him, "you're not going anywhere."  He held his hands apart, explaining that there was a giant rift in this country that needed to be closed if we were going to move forward as a nation.

And I thought about a customer I've been working with, Oscar.  He runs a sign business in Southern California, and employs a couple dozen people.  He's a hard worker--I know, because I get messages from him at 6:45 AM.  Oscar seems to represent where America is headed.  Maybe that's scary or intimidating for some people; I can appreciate that.  I don't know what it means to share the stage with people from other countries and other backgrounds, but I'm willing to be a part of it.  I'm ready to search for common ground.  Mostly, I'm ready to move forward.


Farewell, Vin. And Thanks for All the Memories

If you're connected at all with the baseball world, you're probably aware that Vin Scully will soon be retiring as the broadcaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  I grew up as both a Dodger fan (thanks in part to the free tickets I got from the Herald Examiner for getting good grades in school) and as a Vin Scully fan.  My team loyalties shifted over the years as I moved away and as the team that I knew (Russel-Lopes-Garvey-Cey) moved on in their careers.  But  I never stopped loving to hear Vin Scully's broadcasts.

I didn't know how good I had it as an Angeleno at the time.  In baseball we had Vin Scully.  Dick Enberg ("Oh my!") broadcast the Ram games (in their first LA incarnation). Chick Hearn (too many quotes to list, but "mustard off the hot dog" comes first to mind) held forth with LA Laker games (with, at one point, an assistant named Pat Riley).  But as Dick Enberg became a national figure, and as I moved away and experienced other announcers, I realized how special it was to listen to this group.

I had thought I would put together a tribute to Vin, but others have done such a good job I'm going to just reference them here, with a couple of thoughts.

This piece from Jayson Stark at ESPN is very good.  And there's this video from MLB.  So just a couple of thoughts.  My favorite quote from the MLB video: "For many Angelenos he's the soundtrack of our lives."

  • Vin understood never to get in the way of the game.  His best example of this, and one of my clearest memories, was his call of the Henry Aaron home run to break the record then held by Babe Ruth.  Al Downing was pitching, and Vin made the call as Aaron smashed a pitch over the fence.  And then (as Jon Miller, who I am now blessed to hear) recalled in the ESPN piece, Vin said... nothing. Silence.  For several minutes.  Silence in radio is death, but in this case Vin hit it perfectly.  There was nothing to add and he just let us experience the moment.
  • Vin's voice and tempo was so melodious, it wrapped around you like a warm blanket.  He could create a sense of drama in just announcing the next batter.  I remember thinking that I could get up and get a beer from the fridge before he was finished announcing that "Willllbuh Starrrrgelll" was coming to the plate.
  • Vin didn't just announce the game; for many of us he was the game (though to this day, he insists that it's not about him).  As noted in the MLB video, fans would go to the ball game and still be listening to Vinnie on their transistor radios.  It was as if the game didn't happen until Vin described it.
  • Vin emphasized LA's position in any game, but we was no "homer."  For Vin, he transmitted his love of baseball through his narration.  You could hate LA, but you couldn't hate Vin.  Even after moving to Stanford, I would still try to tune in late evenings to LA radio stations to see if I could find Vin on the radio.
  • Last, Vin always made you feel like a welcome guest, whether this was your first or hundredth time listening to the broadcast.  He was like a favorite uncle, that you couldn't wait to visit.

Typical of Vin, he has announced that he will not stay on to announce any Dodger games past the end of the regular season.  He has said that he feels like he's already had his "farewell tour" and doesn't want to reprise it in the playoffs.  In typical fashion, he's concerned that he doesn't overshadow the players on the field.

So thank you Vin, for all the great times.  There are other very good announcers out there, but there will never be another one like you.  So I'll wait with a smile for one last "Hi everybody!"  And if I'm lucky, I'll get to hear his, "back, back, a-waaay back" home run call, kind of like this one.


North to Alaska

So Crystal and I, along with her parents, just recently completed a nearly two-week visit to Alaska.  It was wonderful.  We were on a Holland America cruise for the first week.  After that, we rented a car and drove the Denali National Park for a few days.  Add in a few days for stopovers on the way, and there you have the itinerary.  Cruises aren't my favorite form of vacationing, but there's a lot of Alaska that is best seen from the water (the rest is best seen by air).  And we thought a cruise would be a good compromise in traveling styles between ourselves and Crystal's parents, Joe and Norma.

This was the longest vacation I can remember taking in a long time and I definitely reached the point of being ready to come home.  Rather than recount all the myriad details of the trip, I decided to focus on one memorable moment from each day.  Before going there, I can relate some feelings about the trip as a whole.

  • It was great to get "off the grid."  Yes, I checked mail periodically, but only to make sure that sales leads were getting looked after.  No social media, no furtive mail review when in cellular range.
  • Not only was I unplugged from work, but I was also unplugged from almost all the news.  No election politics.  No what-did-he-say-now Trump news.  I did catch a bit of news about the earthquake in Italy, but missed the entire Colin Kaepernick national anthem drama.  Being unplugged from the news cycle was a great way to recharge.
  • Many of my best moments came from conversations with people we met.  I met lots of people whose first impulse was to tell you about themselves, where they cam from and why, and what was cool about the place where they lived.

Day One: Vancouver Arrival

An unusual day:  warm… and sunny.  We head down to Harbour Centre and go up to the lookout for a 360' view of the city.  It's clear enough to see Mt. Baker in Washington state.  Next we wander around Gastown and have dinner. 

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Sunset from Harbour Centre

 

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The Steam Clock

 

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Joe and Norma Perusing the Menu at the Revel Room

Memorable Moment: two actually.  Watching the steam clock ring in the top of the hour.  Also, meeting some Aussies in the bar at the Revel Room, and hearing their stories of seeing heroin of junkies downtown selling stuff and shooting up.

Day Two: Vancouver Departure

Departure day.  We've been warned that there are three cruise ships leaving today, so we might want to board early.  Our plan is to get our luggage on the ship, then spend some time in Stanley Park before we board for good.  Once we go through the customs and immigration lines, there's a small mutiny and it looks like we're boarding and staying on the ship.  Cocktails, anyone?

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We're on our way!

 

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The Photographers at Work

Memorable Moment: Sunset

Day Three: At Sea

Today we're sailing; no stops, just whatever entertainment the ship has to offer.  This is a good day to fulfill my intention to go work out at the gym.  Only I can't, because the gym is closed.  Why? A passenger has had some kind of medical emergency, and they're using the gym as a staging area for getting the passenger off the ship via Coast Guard helicopter. Coast Guard Alaska in real life! In the end, the USCG determined they couldn't safely evacuate the passenger via helicopter, so they pulled a boat alongside and got the person out that way.  Hopefully there are OK!  Meanwhile, I spent 30 minutes walking up and down the nine flights of stairs on the ship.

So, we attended a cooking display with one of the ship's chefs, as well as a mixology class hosted by our BFF Walter.  Crystal got some hands-on practice with a Boston shaker.  Learning can be fun!

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Coast Guard Helicopter Circling the Ship

 

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Mixology Class with Walter

Memorable Moment: passenger evacuation

Day Four: Ketchikan

Our first port of call.  Time to see if Verizon offers cell service here.  It appears not, since my phone is asking me if I want to sign up for international data.

We decide to head out to Totem Bight State Historical Park, a few miles away.  There are lots of recreated totem poles out there, and information on the symbols and the different Native Alaskan tribes that lived there.  It's an Anthropology geek's heaven.  We opt to catch a cab there vs. take the cruise line's shuttle bus.  The driver doesn't take credit cards, but he will stop at the Wells-Fargo on the way so we can get some cash.  His stories are priceless.  He tells about one brother who owns the cab company, who has to ship his taxis to Seward for repair.  Why? Because the other brother owns the GM dealership in town, but he and the first brother hate each other.  Then there's the boy who went to explore the secret Army dump in WWII, and died a month later of radiation poisoning.  It appears the Army was dumping spent nuclear waste there; eventually a dozen townspeople died.  The driver shows us the property where the owner has cleared the land (mostly hillside) of trees and can't understand why no one now wants to buy the property.

 After our totem tour, we head back into town and walk along Creek Street (more of a wooden sidewalk) to see where the brothels were back then and to watch the the salmon swimming upstream to spawn.

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Welcome to Ketchikan!

 

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Recreated Totem Lodge at Totem Bight State Park.  The Small Entrance was for Defensive Purposes.

Memorable Moment: Our cab ride/narrated tour. This turned out to be a theme during our trip.

Day Five: Juneau

Next stop: Juneau, the state capitol.  Almost immediately after you get off the ship you're walking uphill.  We head up to the Capitol building to get a picture for Brian; unfortunately it's under restoration so you have to imagine the final product.  Next up, we're boarding a bus to go to the harbor and take a whale-watching tour.  The weather is cool and overcast, sometimes a bit foggy.  But there are smoked salmon Bloody Mary's on the boat, so we'll manage.  After a stop at their lodge for lunch we're off to look for whales.  We eventually spot some humpbacks, as well as Harbor Seals and Bald Eagles.  Plus we get to try the pickled kelp on the boat--not bad.  After our whale watching tour, we're off to Mendenhall Glacier for our first up-close glacier look.  Crystal and I leave Joe and Norma in the visitor center so we can take a short hike to see the salmon swimming upstream.

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Mendenhall Glacier

 

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Thar She Blows!

 

After our tour, we find the local Ben Franklin's to buy a replacement suitcase for Joe and Norma's that broke.  We get the parents a duffel bag, sans wheels.  This turns out to be a critical error.  We've worn Joe and Norma out with all the walking. so we send them back to the ship and stop in at the Red Dog Saloon for a beer and some country music.  As the singer says, "you can enjoy the music, or just keep d***ing around with your phones." 

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A Well-Deserved Beer at the Red Dog Saloon

Memorable Moment: Our narrated tour.  The driver is reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite.  His stories are hilarious.  His best one:  the man who eventually admitted that the bitchy woman they had to go back and pick up at the glacier visitor center was his wife.  "Why didn't you tell me when I asked who was missing?!," asked the driver.  "Because I wanted some peace and quiet," said the man.  "Best two hours of my entire vacation!"

Day 6: Skagway

Skagway, once the jumping-off point for gold miners ("sourdough's").  Today the only industry is tourism.  Crystal and I take a walk around the town while we wait to start our sled dog adventure.  Another narrated bus ride up the river valley and into the hills.  Our driver is a former Wall Street type that one day decided to get off that train and head to Alaska.  Another common theme up here.  He says it was the best decision he ever made.

We arrive and the dogs are going nuts; they can't wait to run.  They look like muts, slighter in build than I would have thought.  These dogs are bred for speed vs. pulling a load.  Noah’s talk on mushing was fascinating.  12,000 calories a day for the dogs! Sleeping on top of your sled for 90 minutes at a time, dogs sleeping on straw despite -30 to -60 weather.  Noah's best record for the Iditarod was 11+ days.  Not my cup of tea.

Beer and a snack at the Skagway Brewing Co (Blue Top Porter and Sitka Spruce Tip Amber) and then it's back to the ship for us.

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Our Crew is Ready to Go!

 

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Sled Dog Puppies

Memorable Moment: The sled dogs.  OK, we're dog lovers so we're a bit biased.  But experiencing the joy of these dogs getting to run, learning about "mushing" and handling the puppies was a great experience.

Day 7: Glacier Bay

When we wake up we're in Glacier Bay.  It's a complete and total overload. Panoramas in every direction.  We take a zillion pictures, hoping that the next picture will fully capture the scale of the place.  Seeing glaciers was like seeing the volcano in Hawaii; it makes you feel quite small.  We saw Bald Eagles, no whales but Stellar Sea Lions and Puffins. And some Harbor Seals.  There are glaciers everywhere you look.  The glaciers crush the ground below them as they move, resulting in "rock flour" which turns the water gray near the glaciers and a milky blue-green elsewhere, due to minerals.  Iso-static expansion (aka Post-glacial rebound) means the ground is rising more than one foot a year due to retreat of the ice and removal of its weight.

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One of Many Glaciers We Saw

 

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More Glacier Scenery

Memorable Moment: Glacier Bay, hands down.

Day 8: On to Seward

Today we head west toward Seward.  We're following the Alaskan coast so most of the time there are mountains in the distance.  My sore throat from yesterday has blossomed into a full-on head and chest cold.  So I spent a lot of time in my bed.  I was happy with the gentle roll of the ship as we crossed the Gulf of Alaska; it helped me sleep.  We wen to the Indonesian tea ceremony on the ship, but it turned out not to be a show-and-tell but more just another chance to eat.  Back to bed.

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From Juneau, I Liked This Tattoo Parlor Sign.


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From Skagway:  Can I Take Him Home??

Memorable Moment: Sleeping. Also seeing sperm whales spouting in the distance.

Day 9: Overland to Anchorage

The ship drops us off at Seward, and provides a bus to take us to Anchorage.  As with other bus rides, this one comes with a narrative.  There's marathon mountain, so named because there's now a race every year to run up the mountain-are you crazy?? Traveling along the Kenai Peninsula is beautiful.  The landscape is beautiful, and we learned about what happens to people who attempt to walk in the mud flats created from the glacier deposits (think: quicksand).  We also hear the story of the guy who drove his truck out at low tide and got stuck when the tide reversed.  The tides change up to 38 feet so he had to call the Coast Guard for help... who said that, technically, he wasn't a vessel in distress.  

Once in Anchorage, we (with some difficulty) get our gear onto a shuttle that will take us to the airport so we can pick up our rental car.  Then it's over to the Fat Ptarmigan for pizza (since this place was closed on Sunday). The bus driver has some good advice about driving the Richardson Highway: "watch when the white line gets wavy.”  I'm thinking the highway is going to give way to a gravel road but that turned out not to be the case.  From here, it's on to Willow for a stay at a B&B.  We passed through Wasilla on the way, but couldn't see Russia; maybe it was cloudy.

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The Panorama From our B&B

Memorable Moment: Listening to our host as he tells us about each of the hunting trophies in his house.

Day 10: On to Denali

Up and on the road. We take a detour to Talkeetna (meaning, "where the rivers come together").  It's a bit like Boulder Creek--kind of touristy. But it's the closest spot (only 40 miles!) to Denali so it's a hopping off point for climbers.  After that it's on to Denali.  We're early arriving at our motel so we continue on to Denali and explore a bit.  We stayed up in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights but that didn't seem to happen.

 

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Yes, That's a Runway


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Local Politics in Talkeetna


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Outside Our Room at The Perch

Memorable Moment: Seeing the stars at night, including the Big Dipper and the North Star—just like the state flag. 

Day 11: All Day in Denali         

Denali National Park is six million acres, with one road running through it, and driving is restricted to the first fifteen miles of the road.  You pretty much have to see it via a bus, unless you're striking out overland on your own.  The scale of this place is incredible.  You're seeing valleys that were cut by glaciers, mountains forty miles in the distance.  We learn about the permafrost, a couple of inches below the soil surface.  It's very spongy to walk on and creates an acidic environment that causes the trees to only grow ten or twenty feet high.  The brush is about four to five feet high, meaning that brush movement is often your first clue to seeing an animal.  

We got to see moose, caribou and Dall Sheep. We didn't see bears, but they are no doubt around.  Our tour made two stops, each of which featured an Athabascan guide who told us about the land and their history with it.

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Denali in the Distance

 

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Nails. That's One Way to Discourage the Bears

 

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Lots of Scrub, Stunted Trees

 

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Fall Arrives Early in Alaska!

 Memorable Moment: Being in Denali National Park.  Our only wish was that we could spend a day or two in the back country.

Day 12: Return to Denali

Most days were governed with a "we have to get there right away” agenda.  Today we were able to change that.  We went back to Denali National Park, dropped the parents off at the Visitor Center and then spent an hour or so hiking to Horseshoe Lake.  We had a chance to practice our “hey bear!” warning calls as we hiked. We got to see the trees downed by beavers and the huge dam they created at the lake. Lot of berries and wildflowers along the way. We also got to see the train arrive at the park depot.

Denali showed me that I need to be in nature, not just see it from a bus.  I have to be in nature, give it time to talk to me.  

Following our hike we drove through to Anchorage. We stopped for photos of Denali from the north side, also awesome.

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That is a Beaver Dam

 

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What Beavers do to Trees

 

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Yay! I Made It!

 

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Train Arrival

Memorable Moment: Our hike to Horseshoe Lake.  It was very rewarding to get out and spend time off the road for a bit.

Day 13: Headed Home

We're back on the "get there right away" agenda.  At the airport three hours early; not even the gate agents are here yet. Worse: the bar isn’t open.  I manage to get a Kodiak Brown Ale before we go.  It's been a great visit, and we can't wait to get back.

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Nenana River

 

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That Dark Spot in the Center of the Picture is a Moose.  A Big Moose.

 

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Time to Go!

Memorable Moment: Remembering Denali.