Extraordinary Stories

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

The "Acapulco is in Agony!!" Story

It was an ordinary day. At least we thought it was until we got back on the ship and saw the news on TV. We had spent the entire day in Acapulco touring the city and visiting their upscale hotel and condo sections. Our final stop was to watch the cliff divers at the Hotel Mirador. After watching the divers and a small dance presentation we headed back to the pier where our boat was docked. The only security we saw all day was an armed guard at the stores around the Hotel Mirador. He was enjoying his interaction with the tourists. Not like our last stop in Cabo San Lucas two days ago where we saw armed military as well as armed policia. Armed with various types of weapons including automatic rifles. And they were everywhere. And many of them. Why not in Acapulco? Maybe the city was safer even though it had a population of two million. Well, after we got back on the ship and were getting our showers before our evening meal we saw the news on a European channel. Rival criminal drug gangs had hijacked 20 Mexicans in broad daylight the day before our arrival. They hadn't been seen or heard from since the abduction. People fear they will find their heads displayed along the roads in Acapulco in the near future. Violence has cast a dark cloud on the city's residents. Gunfights are reported all over the city. No one goes out at night. There is a deteriorating public safety issue. They try to keep all news like this quiet for fear of cruise ships leaving the port. It seems there is no control in the city and many of the cops are on the take from the drug cartels. Seems the military and policia in this city are afraid to patrol. And ...... earlier today in Acapulco we were in a bus with a driver and tour guide armed only with cameras. Had we heard the news yesterday we would have canceled our tour today. Made us really think about our next stop and if we should cancel our tour in that Mexican city. We were lucky to have survived our day in Acapulco, but the 20 people abducted the day before probably will not be as lucky. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The "Values That You Learn In Life" Story

It was an ordinary day. Bob N. and I were getting ready to head to an American Legion game. Bob was a good baseball player who played for the Manheim Township High School Team. In the summer he played for St. Joe's in the American Legion League. I had played many years of summer ball and two years of high school ball, but then dropped out of high school ball so I could get a job and support my car. One day Bob invited me to join him on St. Joe's team in the summer. Only took a second before I told him I would love to play. The coach of the team for many years was named Paul Brubaker. Everyone who played for him called him "Bru". After the first practice in the spring, I was given the 3rd base position on the team. Batted somewhere in the middle of the line-up. "Norc", which was Bob's nickname, played centerfield. He could fly and also hit for power. We had a great time playing in the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. Bob was a year younger than me and not a real close friend. I got to know him from a class in high school. Well, as the summer wore on, Bob and I started to hang out together. Movies, dances at the park, .... the kind of stuff teenagers do in the summer. We often would visit his grandmother who lived on the Fruitville Pike in Lancaster. He treated his grandmother quite differently than I treated my grandmother. He would call her names, curse at her and make fun of her. Didn't quite know how to handle that, thinking at first it was rather funny to treat your grandmother like that. I would never do that to my grandmother. Then one day after the baseball season was over, Bob called and wanted to do something together. I picked him up in my car and we first headed to Fruitville Pike. He wanted to get his BB gun that he had at his grandmother's house so we could go target shooting. He was giving her a hard time and she was yelling at him. Then he grabbed the BB gun and started to shoot her with it. Wow, Not sure I want to be a part of this. We left and did some target shooting in the woods and I returned him home. Decided at the time that I didn't want to spend any more time with Bob. Luckily school started shortly after and we each had a different crowd of friends. Bob asked about baseball again as spring approached, but I had decided not to play. Sometimes you figure out for yourself what is right and what is wrong. Guess that comes from the values that you learn as you grow up. Respect for family had always been important to me! It was an extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The "Unusual and Out of the Ordinary" Story

It was an ordinary day. Thought I would share with you a few photos from our recent trip to the Panama Canal which are more out of the ordinary than any of the rest of my photos. See what you think .....

Some days as we sat and watched the seas in the Pacific we would sight dolphins and sometimes sea turtles. Never were lucky enough to see a whale.
Ever hear of this brand of cigarette? I assume they were regular cigarettes.

I was not quite sure if they mounted this Ansel Adam's black and white photo upside down on purpose. Jerry and Just Sue are examining it.

The ship's ice sculptor broke a Guinness Book Of World Records for the fastest time to carve an ice sculpture. Lots of cheers as he finished, but I was not quite sure exactly what he carved.

It was common for vendors to display not only fruit and vegetables, but meat and fish along the streets in town. Not sure if I could bring myself to buy and eat one of these chickens. It was late in the day and the outside temperature was in the mid-90s.

In a church in Cabo San Lucas they actually published the "Bands of Marriage" and placed the announcements in a display case by the door to the church.

As soon as I saw him from a distance, I tapped Carol on the arm and said, "There's Jimmy Buffett." Looked just like him. The cruise ship "Jimmy" was really the Hotel Director for the ship, Andy Harris

It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The "Lady of Spain" Story

It was an ordinary day. The guy I work part-time for at the framing gallery, Keith, had a large suitcase setting on the work table when I came to work. He asked if I could take a look at what was inside and see if I thought it was in good shape. "What is it?" I asked. "Just open it and see," he told me. I opened the case and the smell of "old" came out. It was an accordion! Really pretty red one with white keys. A full size 120 base accordion. Somewhere along the line I had mentioned to him that I played the accordion when I was younger. He said Cindy, his wife, had bought it on eBay to give to her son for Christmas. He's been wanting to learn how to play the accordion for years. Neat gift, really! I pulled it our and strapped it on. Unhooked the bellows and started to play "Lady of Spain." "Yep, seems to be in good condition except for a few minor blemishes. Will make a great gift." Brought back memories from my childhood. Mom and Dad were trying to convince me that I should take lessons on the accordion. Seems like one of my dad's customers at Meiskeys Jewelry Store, where he was the manager, was Mickey Sinopoli and he was a great accordion player and teacher. OK, I guess I'll give it a try. Now, I was only in 5th grade and probably 10 or 11 years old at the time. I was pretty excited I remember, since some of my friends were taking music lessons in school. I first started with a small version of the full size accordion because of my size. It had 25 keys like you would find on a piano on the right side of the instrument and 12 button keys or base keys that were on the left side. For weeks I would have a weekly half-hour lesson then sit in my bedroom in the evening and practice the scale with my right hand and the bass notes with my left hand. At times I would squeeze the side together too fast and get my chin caught in the bellows. Or if I was practicing in my PJs, I had to watch I didn't get anything else caught since you have the instrument sitting in your lap. For about 6 months I practiced and practiced. Learned a few easy songs and played them for my relatives. Then I graduated to a full size accordion. The 120 base type that had 41 treble keys on the right hand and 120 buttons on the left hand. Shiny black with white keys and buttons. Had a few octave push buttons that I could use to change from higher octaves to lower ones. It was HEAVY! All I could do to get it in my lap and strap it on. Probably weighed 40 pounds and I might have been 90-100 pounds in weight. But, I was cool playing all these old time songs. Then, I started to get sick of the accordion. Wasn't fun anymore. I was getting interested in this new music, rock and roll. You needed a guitar to play it and not an accordion. By now I was in junior high school and Mom and Dad saw it coming. They told me I had to stick it out until the end of the summer before I entered 8th grade. There was a big recital for Mickey's students at St. Anne's Church around the corner from our house at the end of the summer. I had to play in the recital and then I could stop if I no longer wanted to play. They were probably getting tired of hearing the same old songs over and over again. I performed well in the recital playing my mom's favorite, "Lady of Spain, I Adore You!" Managed to hold the darn thing in the air for the entire song without dropping it. Applause, applause!! It was over! Mom and Dad were proud. Now I could concentrate on the guitar. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The "Ghosts of Harrington Drive" Story

It was an ordinary day. Getting close to Halloween. Time for the "Ghosts of Harrington Drive" to appear. A few years ago, when Carol and I were in the Lancaster County Corvette Club, we met Dee and John Zimmerman. They were members of the club and also knew my mom and dad, since John sang in the Barbershoppers with dad. John and Dee lived about a half mile from us and we passed their home almost everyday on our way to work. For years we always enjoyed the Ghosts that Dee would put along their wooden fence that surrounded their property. At the beginning of October the ghosts would appear and remain until after Trick or Treat Night. Our kids would always enjoy seeing them when they would appear. The "ghosts" were made from a bed sheet with eyes, nose and mouth drawn on them with marker. The head was formed by stuffing a small white trash bag with newspaper, shaping into a round head, and then placing a stick into the end of the bag so you could attach it to the fence. When we moved to our new home Carol thought it would be the perfect place to have our own ghosts. We made four of them and started to place them out at Halloween. After a year or two Carol decided to add some additions
to the ghosts so we could keep them up until Thanksgiving. Two of them got Pilgrim's hats while the other two had headdresses with feathers in them. Looked pretty neat. Many times I would be out for a final mowing of the yard or raking leaves and someone would stop to tell me how much then liked the ghosts. Neighbors called to tell us their kids enjoyed the ghosts. One morning Carol was pulling out of the drive and a passing motorist stopped behind her, got out of her car and told Carol how much fun it is to go to work and pass our house. Wow! Something as simple as decorations made from bedsheets can sure make a difference in some people's lives. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The "I Got To Get This Off My Chest" Story

It was an ordinary day. Final full day on the ship. A day at sea. A wasted day. I am going nuts looking at the walls in the room. My illness, whatever it may be, has gotten the best of me. Don't feel like eating, talking, watching TV (so sick of the same couple of channels trying to sell jewelry), or worst of all, packing to go home. All I can do is cough, and then cough again. Oh yeah, did I mention cough. My chest, lungs, stomach and everything else hurts. Carol went to lunch with Jerry and Just Sue. She said she would bring me some fruit back for lunch. Carol has finally recovered from her bout with the same illness. She missed three days of vacation in bed. She did manage to get out of bed and prop herself up against the stateroom balcony wall so she could see the Panama Canal locks. Wasn't much in the mood to do that, but that was the purpose of the trip so she didn't want to miss it. There are so many spots on this ship that everyone touches and can pass disease on to the next person. No matter how much hand sanitizer they shoot on your hands, you still touch areas touched by someone else. And ..... we touched the wrong areas this vacation!! In the mid-1990s we took a cruise and afterward decided that it may be our last. We enjoy the beach and the only beach time you usually get on a cruise may be a few hours one day or another, and the rest of the time is spent in transportation and on the ship. OK if you enjoy riding and living on a ship and if you like gambling and eating your life away, but we don't enjoy that lifestyle. Last year we discussed with our traveling companions Jerry and Just Sue what we should do for this year and we all agreed on a Panama Canal crossing. And about the only way we could do it was on a cruise ship. A small cruise ship, since the large mega-size ships can't go through the canal. At least not until it is made wider. So, we decided we would take another cruise. Well, here I am, laying in bed wondering if I have Legionnaire's Disease or some other deadly sickness. Sure feels like it. Ah, Carol has returned with my fruit. We sit as I try to get something in my stomach. We both have decided that this probably will be the last cruise we take. At least in this lifetime! Too many days await us when we can be sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella, white sand between our toes, sipping a cool drink, listening to the waves break, reading a good book, and chillin'. Don't need to be penned up in a tiny room on a floating city with 3,000 other people chancing that one of them will give us some hideous sickness and ruin our vacation. So there!!! Guess you can see how much I enjoyed my latest vacation. GLAD IT'S OVER!! But, to top that off, as we flew into Philadelphia there was a bad storm with lightning that lit up the inside of the plane. "Can lightning strike the plane?" someone asked. Gee, I hope not. And, after we did land, we had to sit in the plane until the storm was over since the ground crew is not allowed to be outside in a lightning storm. Fitting ending to our cruise trip!! It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. PS - Its been over two weeks since we returned and I just visited my family doctor for the second time. Put me on a nasal spray and a special prescription cough drop to try and stop my coughing that is making my chest cavity extremely sore. Also had to go and have a chest X-ray to make sure I don't have pneumonia. This is after I took antibiotics for a week and used a codeine cough syrup. Got to get better soon!!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The "Disappointment is My Middle Name" Story

It was an ordinary day. Just got my November issue of "Caribbean Travel and Life" magazine. The one I have been waiting for. This is the issue that will tell me if I have won a vacation to one of many islands in the Caribbean. Last July I entered their photo contest for the third time. Never won any big prizes, but did have a few of my photos featured on their web site. They stopped featuring photos when the contest got too large, and only placed the winning photos in the magazine. They award 1st, 2nd,and 3rd places in the categories of Beach, Scenic, People, Nature, and Anything Goes. 15 winners plus the Grand Prize winner which gets a week long vacation at The Sands on Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos. As soon as I got in the house I started through the magazine until I found the article on the contest called "snap decisions". OK, the Grand Prize winner had a really neat photo from Cupecoy Beach in St. Martin. I agreed with the choice. Next page had a People photo of a boy jumping off a waterfall in the Dominican Republic. Nah,wasn't impressed. 1st place beach photo was from Devil's Bay, BVI. I have better photos hanging on my wall then that one. I scan the 10 pages of the article and not a single mention of a photo by LDub. I had a neat photo of Richard from Barbados that I entered. Even emailed him and asked if he would send a letter saying it was OK to enter the photo. I had a photo taken on a beach in Barbados of a young boy relaxing while looking at the water. Another in Barbados of the setting sun that was awesome. One from Shoal Bay Beach in Anguilla which is the #1 beach in the world.One from BooBoo Jams in St.Martin. And then there was Carol's all-time favorite of the green umbrella taken on Happy Bay in St. Martin. And on and on it goes. And I paid $24 to enter. Costs $3 to enter each photo. You have to enter online and you must title the photo, decide the category, and pay your money at the end of the entry. Now, I saw some great shots on those 10 pages, but at least one of mine could have been judged with at least a 3rd place. I know, the judges didn't think so. But, what do they know. They made over $6,500 from the entries, since they had over 2,200 of them. Prizes were donated. Oh well, maybe next year. I need to find out who will be the judges next year and write them a nice letter before I enter next year. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. PS - photo shown are some the entries I had that didn't receive any mention.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The "Betterton Beach"Story

It was an ordinary day. We just returned from Vonnies. Vonnies is a store on Rt. 213S that sells produce, groceries, guns and ammo. Sort of like your everything store. We had picked up some "Sweetie Corn" and were going to have it for supper. This supposedly is a special type of corn that a local grower has come up with that is exceptionally sweet. And it really is great. First time I dried it the clerk gave me an ear and told me to give it a try. I pulled the husk back and took a bite. Even raw it was great. Carol and I had rented a condo at Rigby Bluff which overlooks the Sassafras River in Betterton Beach, MD. The unit looks out onto the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Sassafras. And .... it has a sandy beach. Betterton is a small town with a restaurant, park, docking facilities, very large fire house, changing facilities/restrooms, and a lifeguard stand on the beach. It is a very popular beach for the locals as well as a great place for the Amish to come to swim and picnic. Not sure where the Amish come from, but they come in numbers. The Amish arrive in vans driven by non-Amish and they unpack tons of food and drink. Fun time for all of them. And when they go swimming, the girls and women wear the dresses they have arrive in and the men wear their long black pants and colored shirts. Just have to take off their shoes. Interesting sight, to say the least. We invited our friends Pat and Dale to visit with us for a few days of our vacation so they planned to stay with us for 2 days at the beginning of our vacation. The condo is a beautiful two bedroom with a large porch overlooking the water. Way up on the bluff overlooking the south side of the river. What makes this location so nice is that it is only an hour drive from Annapolis and about the same distance from St. Michaels. Early in the week we took the trip with Pat and Dale to St. Michaels and ate at the Crab Claw Restaurant. In the middle of the week, Carol and I visited Annapolis to eat at Carrol's Creek Restaurant. Both are favorites with us. Later in the week our daughter Brynn and son-in-law Dave came to stay with us for a few days. Always a fun time when we travel to Betterton, and one of the best treats is the "Sweetie Corn" from Vonnies! It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. PS - Photos are from my collection of altered Polaroids that I have done. Both are views of Betterton Beach, MD

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The "Speed Was To Blame" Story

It was an ordinary day. Carol had just called me at school to tell me that Tad had been involved in an automobile accident at the corner of Pleasure Road and Cameron Ave. That's right around the corner from us. He was on his way to pick up Krista and Chad who live behind us to take them to school with him when he pulled out from a stop sign and someone broadsided him in the rear of the car. Seemed like it was his fault, but ...... Only caught the rear quarter panel and the bumper. Not a whole lot of damage to our car, and the other car sustained about the same amount of damage. Tad said that he had stopped for the stop sign and couldn't see up the street to his left because of the frost on all the windshields of the cars parked near the intersection. He slowly pulled out and realized that someone was flying down Pleasure. He tramped on it to try to get out of the way, but the other car hit him. He was in our Nissan Pulsar that we had bought a short time before. The other driver was a boy who had graduated from high school a year of two before. My neighbor Wayne, who is the dad of Krista and Chad, and also a policeman, heard the accident and went to help. No one was hurt and since the damage was minimal, they just exchanged information to turn over to their insurance companies and both went on their way. Seems that a few days later, the father of the other boy wasn't happy with the payment arrangements since he thought the accident was Tad's fault. Wayne had seen that there were over 50 feet of skid marks and the other car had the speedometer frozen at 48 MPH from the collision. The speed limit on the road is 25 MPH. Wayne called the father and told him what the police would do if they investigated and the father decided it was wise to forget the whole thing. The intersection is a dangerous one and has never changed. And ... no one ever goes 25 MPH on that stretch even though the police do set speed traps on that section of the road to try to slow the traffic. Luckily accidents at the intersection have always been minor, as was the case with my son that morning. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The "Archives Book #7, Page #89" Story

It was an ordinary day. I was at the Lancaster County Courthouse. A few weeks ago Carol had come home from work and told me that Debbie, her co-worker, said that we should apply for the Veteran's Widow Pension. Her mother-in-law was getting the pension when she died and she thought that maybe we could get the pension for my mother. Dad died three years ago and he was in the Army during WWII so she should qualify for the pension. Carol looked up the phone number for the Veteran's Administration in the photo book and I gave them a call. Talked to Charles at the VA and told him my story and asked if my mom might qualify for the pension. With hesitation he said, "Yes. She may be able to get a fairly sizable pension since she has never applied for it before and is now 88 years old." Sure would help with her finances and the payments at Moravian Manor Nursing Home. I'm sure that they would appreciate her having the pension since they dip into their benevolent fund if mom would happen to run out of money. I set up an appointment to go into the VA and was told I would be getting a letter to confirm the appointment. Charles told me to start looking for Dad's birth certificate, death certificate, marriage license, and discharge papers from the Army. I would also have to have mom's bank statements from the last year as well as any medical expenses she has incurred in the last year. He told me that if I couldn't find dad's discharge papers, they can be found in Book 7, page 89 in the records at the Lancaster County Courthouse Archives Office. What service! Well, I found everything except the discharge papers and mom and dad's marriage certificate. Called the Lancaster County Courthouse and talked with a clerk in the Archives Office. Told him what I need and he found both items within a matter of minutes. Told me I could pick them up the next day. Wow, the government at its' best!! I asked how much the charge would be for each and he told me 25. "So that would be $50 for the two documents," I said. I thought it was a little steep, but that's how they keep the courthouse operating. "No," he said. "That's 25 cents for each document." I was shocked. The next day I traveled to the courthouse and found my way to the Archives Office. Had to go through a metal detector in order to get into the area. I met Greg who had my copies waiting for me. "The one document had 2 pages so your charge will be 75 cents," he told me. "Just keep the 25 cents," I told him ( I know, I'm not a big tipper!). "Can't do that here," was his reply. "It is an official government office. Yeah, I guess it is my money operating the courthouse anyway. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The "Outsourcing of Woods Printing" Story

It was an ordinary day. I had just finished printing the school calendar. I had spend hour after hour laying out the calendar, doing the typesetting, doing the paste-up, making negatives, stripping the negatives and halftones, burning the plates and running the press. The calendar was always printed on white paper with blue ink. They were the school colors. Now it was time to take the printed pages to Graphic Crafts in Willow Street to have them folded, assembled and bound. Usually printed about 6,000 calendars which had information for parents, special events, holidays and candid pictures of school children throughout the calendar. I spent hours taking these photos and having halftones made for printing them. Always made sure that my kids and my neighbor's kids had their photos in the calendar. Looked kind of fishy that the same people made the calendar every year. After I was finished printing it, I took one or more of my kids to work with me to help in the delivery of the calendar. They were elementary age at the time and really enjoyed helping their dad with the end of summer chore. We would have to get a school van and load all the boxes into the van. Then the drive to Willow Street. After unloading the boxes we always stopped on the way home for ice cream and a drink. Favorite part of the trip for everyone. I have fond memories of those fading summer days when we would share the work day together and then a treat for the hard work. Eventually the school wanted a full color calendar and the school's presses couldn't handle that, so they had to outsource the job to a local printing company. Oh well, I saved them money for many years by doing it in-house, but money wasn't as important to the school as image. Still that way. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The "These are a few of my Favorite Things" Story

It was an ordinary day. Home, sitting in front of the computer playing with the photos I have taken on our latest vacation. Took almost 2,000, but eliminated 2/3 of them before I got home. Nice feature of a digital camera. I found an old Kodak underwater camera in my suitcase and used it when we went snorkeling, but still haven't picked up the results. Cost more for that one roll of film than for the 2,000 pixs I took. I know, I had to buy the digital camera, but that doesn't count in my mind. I picked out 10 of my favorites that I will never use in a story and have included then in this story. Why do I like them? For different reasons. I'll give you an idea as I post each one. Hope you enjoy them.

Little girl cooling off in a commons pool in Curacao. Cute little girl.
Photo taken in the Pacific from the top deck of the ship looking down at a stateroom balcony below.

It was a rainy, windy day in the rain forest of Costa Rica. While on the bus I was able to capture a farmer chasing a stray animal across the terrain.

The main staircase in the center of the ship was transparent. Some type of stone, probably quartz, was used. Made for a few neat photos and also interesting to walk on.

Our room was about 30 degrees cooler than outside air temperature since we were near the equator. Whenever I left the room with my camera, I would have to wait about 10 minutes to use it so the condensation would clear. This was taken off our stateroom balcony as soon as I exited the room. Glowing results.

From the back of the ship, the waves continue on into infinity.

Hey Cisco. Even the sombreros are colorful in Mexico. Boots, belts, etc. all are decorative in Mexico.

Photo was taken at a dessert buffet in Costa Rica. Even desserts are colorful while on vacation.

This photo was taken when we returned one day from one of our side trips. Daily maintenance, even on the outside of the ship, is important.

This is a spot on the ship that most people did not find. I never saw anyone here during my journeys around the ship to find interesting items to photograph. Deck 11.

It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The "Our Favorite Port of Call" Story

It was an ordinary day. Final Port of Call on our Panama Canal Cruise. Willemstad, Curacao. Yep, the same Curacao that always has those great Little League baseball teams in the Little League World Series held in Williamsport, PA. A team from Willemstad, Curacao won the World Series in 2004. As we pull into the dock early in the morning, the first thing I see is a huge baseball complex. Lights and all. Even had green grass. As soon as I saw that, I remembered about their little league teams. Willemstad, capital of Curacao and the Netherlands Antilles, is one of the richest cities in the world in terms of culture and diversity. The population of 135,000 is composed of 55 nationalities. The city is divided into two sections, Punda andOtrobanda, which are connected by a floating bridge called the Queen Emma Bridge. The St. Anna Bay (a small river) lies between them. The city is a rainbow of color, since an early mayor of the city suffered from migraines from the glaring white buildings and ordered all buildings painted in pastel colors. I could livehere! Love the colors. Carol and I saw that they had an ostrich farm and decided to take a tour of it. We tried to book the tour months ago and it was full so I emailed the place and they told us to get a taxi at the pier and they would know where to go. So, upon arrival, we found a taxi and told "Wendell" the driver, our plans. "What is the charge for the round trip if you wait for us?" I asked him. He told me he could do it for $90. "What? $90!!" Isaid. "That is the fee that everyone will charge you," he responded. "How long does it take to get there?" I asked. "Half an hour," he replied. Wow! An hour ride with an hour tour for $90 plus the fee to get into the place. I asked Carol if she really wanted to spend that much. We talked and talked and agreed that we will never have a chance to do it again, so let's go for it. And, we had a really nice time. Wendell took us over the Queen Juliana Bridge which is a 200 foot tall bridge that leads over the St. Anna Bay. We passed rows of colorful houses until we finally arrived at the ostrich farm. Boarded a truck and took an hour tour of the facility. They raise the birds, which grow to about 400 pounds, for meat. They are impressive in size and dumb as can be. We got to hand feed them and I got to stand, yes stand, on an ostrich egg. The shell of the egg is extremely strong. Has to be to support a 400 pound bird sitting on it. There were about a dozen tourists on the trip and I hoped I wasn't the one who would break the egg. On our return trip we asked Wendell to drop us off on the Punda side of Willemstad. This is the side with the beautiful colored buildings along the waterfront. The buildings which are featured on all their ads and on their license plates. We weren't disappointed. Just outstandingarchitecture. The only thing that hindered us was our lingering illness and the heat. About 10 degrees above the equator and it felt like it. We walked around the area, dodging into shops to avoid the heat, and then crossed the pontoon bridge to theOtrobanda side of the city. Then we heard it. Loud!! A military helicopter was hovering over the waterfront. We inquired and found out that they were celebrating their independence from the Netherlands today and the son of theQueen was in town for the celebration. Security was high today. We found a restaurant overlooking the water and enjoyed a leisurely lunch while taking in the sights and sounds of the city. Probably one of my most favorite places I have ever traveled to. We watched as the pontoon bridge opened and a large freighter passed. We walked back to the cruise ship, stopping only to buy Carol a bracelet at Tiffany's for Christmas. What a day! It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. PS - pixs from the top are: one of many streets with colored row homes, ostrich farm occupants, feeding the beasts, standing on the ostrich egg, Willemstad waterfront, panorama shot showing the pontoon bridge and another panorama showing the city with the Queen Juliana Bridge and part of the baseball complex in the left side of the pix.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The "Revolt of the Old People" Story

It was an ordinary day. Port of Call is Aruba. We are docked on the south side of the island. Jerry, Just Sue, Carol and I have scheduled a day at the beach. The trip is called the Kukoo Kunuka Palm Beach Break. Finally, a trip to the beach to get some tan. We board the bus??? at 9:00 AM. It is an old school bus that was taken out of service and sold to the owner of the company that sponsors the trip we are on. It has been painted red with yellow bumpers. Wheels are blue with fluorescence green centers. Tropical animals and beach scenes decorate the outside of the bus. And the inside ..... well the inside is painted in bright Caribbean colors with sayings all over the walls. The windows have been removed and extra doors have been cut into the sides of the bus for easy entry into each row of seats. QUITE UNIQUE!! Our driver for the day calls himself "The Dutch Boy." He passes out the maracas and tells us to hold on. He loves island music and he loves it loud! Off we go with the music playing as loud as he can get it and him honking on the horn. Do you get the picture? A group of mostly white 60 year olds shaking their maracas in a brightly painted red bus with a 30 something black bus driver, all singing at the top of our lungs to Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild." Quite a scene, but I'm sure the locals are used to it by now. Next comes "Tequila" by The Champs. And the beat goes on .... and on. But, we have our suits on and we're ready for the beach! We finally arrive at ..... the Chapel of Our Lady of Alto Vista. A neat little chapel which sits overlooking the Caribbean. Our driver said it was on the way and he thought we may like to see it. OK, let's get to the beach. But wait, our next stop is The California Lighthouse. The only lighthouse on the island and named in honor of the ship that sunk off shore about 2 years before it was built. "The Dutch Boy" thought we would enjoy seeing it before we went swimming. The 60 year olds are getting impatient now. Finally we arrive at the beach. "I know it says otherwise, but this is really Palm Beach," Dutch Boy tells us. Hey, if the water is aqua and wet and the sand is white, who cares what the beach is called. Before we leavethe red school bus, he tells us that he will be back in an hour and a half to pick us up. WHAT? Jeez, we just got here and we have to leave soon? He agreed on an extra 15 minutes. Big deal! And that's why when you go on a cruise you better like being on a boat, because you no sooner leave it and you have to be back on it. Not the type of vacation for people who enjoy relaxing with a cold drink, a beach chair and umbrella and a good book. Certainly don't have time for a relaxing nap on your beach chair. We spent most of our hour and 45 minutes in the water. Very hot today and the bus has no air conditioning, remember. Carol and I were the last two people back on the bus. Upon our return to the dock, Carol and I head for a light lunch and walk around the town of Oranjestad. Picked up a few souvenirs and snap a few photos of the brightly painted buildings. Very interesting and colorful city. A cold shower and evening meal await us on board. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. PS - pixs from the top are: the Kukoo Kunuka Bus, the colorful inside of the bus, everyone shaking their maracas while singing, the Chapel of Our Lady of Alto Vista, Palm Beach (allegedly) and a building in Oranjestad, Aruba.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The "It's Show Time, Sick or Not!" Story

It was an ordinary day. 5:00 AM and still dark. The day we have been waiting for. The reason we went on a Panama Canal cruise. Today we traverse the Panama Canal! I feel terrible. Stuffy nose, sore throat and achey all over. Carol is worse. She can't even get out of bed. Holy S#*t! Hey, I came all this way to see the canal and I'm getting out of bed. Got dressed, grabbed the camera gear, gave Carol a kiss and headed to the top of the ship. The whole topdeck is already covered with people. Hundreds of them! I had scouted out my spot a few days ago and found only a few people there. It is overcast, but not raining. Maybe 25 ships with all their lights shining created a carnival atmosphere. Everyone waiting to get through the canal. Cruise ships always go first, since they pay the biggest fees. The fee is $100 a stateroom and with 2,000 tourists and about 1,000 workers, the ship had a hefty fee to go through the canal. The Harbor Pilot is already on board and taking the ship towards the Miraflores Locks. These are the locks that lead through the canal from the Pacific Ocean. By the time we reach the locks it is daylight. The canal opened on August 15, 1914 and on May 12, 1963, with the installation of fluorescent lighting, began operations round-the-clock. On December 31, 1999 the United States turned over operation of the canal to Panama. They have estimated that sometime during October of this year that the 1,000,000 vessel will have transited the waterway. The canal's three locks, each with two lanes, operates as water lifts to elevate ships 26 meters above sea level to the level of the Gatun lake, and then lower them back to sea level on the opposite side of the isthmus. Water is obtained from the lake in order to raise and lower the vessels as they go through the locks. Expansion of the locks to add a third lane in the future will allow for longer, wider ships to pass. The new locks will be 427 meters long and 55 meters wide, the size of four football fields. We pass under the Bridge of the Americas which crosses the canal on the Pacific side and can see the first lock ahead. As we enter the first lock, the gate behind us closes and water starts to life the ship. Four electric train engines, two on either side of the ship with heavy steel cables connecting the ship to the engines, keep the ship moving and in the center of the canal. They are using both lanes this morning to transport from the west to the east. Our sister ship, the Inifinity, is on the right of us and already heading into the second lock. There is at most, 8 to 10 inches of clearance on either side of the ship. Unbelievable to watch! We pass the Miraflores locks and head to the Pedro Miguel lock. Another passenger tells me that I can sit in comfort in the 11th floor viewing area, since it is almost empty. I head to the elevator and find a front row seat in air-conditioned comfort. Wow, they didn't tell us about this place. An hour later we have passed that lock and head into the Gatun Lake. We travel slowly through the lake and by mid-afternoon have reached the Gatun Locks which will take us through to the Caribbean Sea. Throughout the day I kept a check on Carol and she manages to sit with me for some time on the balcony of our stateroom so she can see the canal crossing also. As we depart the canal on the Caribbean side the sun is setting behind us and casts a long shadow on all the ships lined up to pass through from the east to the west. The day has been remarkable and I have survived. Carol is back in bed and I am glad we have another day at sea tomorrow so that we both can recover from our journey through the canal. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. PS - Panama Canal photos from the top are: getting ready to pass under the Bridge of the Americas, entering the first of the Miraflores locks with the Infinity to our right, watching as our lock fills with water and the ships in front of us are exiting into the next lock, one of the electric engines that guide the ship through the locks, a view of the closed lock gate and the water levels on either side of it, and a freighter on our right is exiting the final Gatun lock into the Caribbean Sea.