The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 5)

We’ve been on nearly a half dozen cruises before, so we know the drill. Typically we get our room keys at check-in, then drop off our carry-ons in our stateroom, and then head for the Lido deck to grab lunch at the buffet. Along with 2,000+ other people.

But we’ve paid $600 extra to get perks like VIP check-in, so we’re on the ship earlier than usual. Along with a bajillion other VIPs. We realize once we’re on board that we weren’t given any room keys. Are we supposed to just go have lunch and keep our carry-ons with us? That doesn’t sound like $600 better treatment. Do we go to our stateroom first, which, in our case, is completely at the back corner of the ship? That doesn’t sound like a good idea if we don’t have key cards to get into the room. (Note: A Carnival ship is approximately 3 or 4 miles long, I think, stem to stern. My statistics could be a tad off, but it certainly feels like it’s that far.)

We ask a few other VIP types who are also meandering around clueless. We’ve all done this before, and none of us can remember getting on without key cards. We’re jamming up the elevators here midship, with everyone else heading up to the Lido deck (deck 9). I decide to be smart and flag down someone in a Carnival polo shirt. She doesn’t seem to understand my question but tells us to go have lunch. Another passenger hears this exchange and pulls me aside to tell me that no, we’re supposed to go straight to our staterooms, where we’ll find our key cards.

We continue to wait by the elevators, in a group about 5 people deep, before we give up and decide to try the stateroom first. As we get to the last corridor, a young family is coming out, shaking their heads. They tell us that they weren’t allowed in, and when the door closes behind them, it does have a sign on it saying that no one is allowed in until 1:30. I check my non-phone phone. It is only about 12:00.

But Wayne is a rebel and opens the door and heads down the hallway anyway.

“We’re VIPs!”

After a few sheepish calls of “Wayne, no!” I follow him. Because he is a rebel (and  a VIP), but I am only a sheep (and a VIP). Baaaaa

focus photo of brown sheep under blue sky

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

We find our stateroom door wide open, and I scoop up an envelope in our small mailbox in the hallway just outside the door. Inside are two key cards with our names on them. So the fellow traveler was correct about us VIPs, and the Carnival employee was wrong. Lesson learned.

Dropping our carry-ons in the room and taking a quick gander around at what $600 extra has bought us, we decide that it’s time for lunch. Our suitcases won’t be delivered to our staterooms till around dinnertime, so there’s not much else to do but check out the extra features of our upgraded suite and then eat lunch and explore the ship. I’m excited about the extra space. We even have a separate vanity area.

dscn1850Wow, we have a small dance floor in here!

dscn1849I’ve lived in apartments smaller than this suite stateroom.

dscn1848Sofa AND a chair, along with the coffee table. I might never leave the room. Well, okay, maybe I will…

dscn1843Two sinks! He can leave a splashy mess around his, and I won’t have to get the front of my shirt wet when I use a sink after him.

dscn1881Wayne doesn’t know what a vanity area is, so he claims it as a desk. Whatever. There’s a desk in the main stateroom.

dscn1967The balcony, which only I will end up using. Wayne will come onto the balcony once all week, to stand there and look out at the ocean. Once. 

 

I check out the upgraded bathroom in our suite. The double sinks are amazing. But I notice there is only one bath towel and no other hand towels or washcloths. Even though suite stateroom passengers are allowed to board early, I suspect we have come a little too early. My suspicions seem confirmed when I notice a strange yellow ring around the middle of the tub, but I wave it aside and assume it’s a stain because the ship is old (it isn’t), or because the salt water is harsh on the fixtures (hey, dummy, the water coming out of the faucet isn’t salt water—what are you, a mermaid?).

I try not to overthink it, until I notice a small puddle on the floor in front of the tub. Now I’m hoping we did just catch the room steward in mid-cleaning. I grab the lone bath towel and drop it onto the puddle to soak it up.

But hey, I’m finally on vacation, and lunch is calling! Maybe this upgrade was worth it after all.

On our way down the corridor to the elevator, we meet our room steward, Marvin, and tell him about the lack of towels. He looks aghast and realizes we’ve been in the room already. He assures us all will be made right by the time we get back. We think nothing more about it.

Wayne and I get on the elevator nearest our aft stateroom and zip up two decks to the Lido deck … which is now swarming with the unwashed masses, the regular un-VIP passengers, who are now on the ship but who aren’t allowed into their rooms yet and so have all come up here for lunch. And every single one of them is wheeling a carry-on around in the buffet line. So much for all the early perks of the VIP check-in.

But for now, lunch is yummy. Soon we’ll be leaving the port in Tampa and will be headed out to sea.

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Wayne is already doubtful about the wisdom of his expensive upgrade purchase. Within the next 36 hours, I start to agree with him.

Next installment: You get what you pay for … or, you know, maybe you don’t.

The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 2)

Friday evening. I’ve made it through the coach-seat, coffee-spilling adventure, and I’ve done the responsible thing and had Wayne suspend the phone service on my lost phone. Nothing to do now except try to enjoy the ride. I’ll be on this train from Philadelphia to Orlando, where tomorrow I’ll get on an Amtrak Thruway bus to my destination in Tampa. There I’ll meet up with Wayne, who is flying down tomorrow afternoon. We’ll stay in a hotel overnight and get on the cruise ship on Sunday. Seems straightforward enough. What could go wrong now?

I settle into my Viewliner roomette, which has one noticeable difference from the Superliner roomettes I traveled in last year: there is a toilet right in the roomette. At first blush, this seems like a marvelous idea: a bathroom all to yourself. At second blush, you realize you’ll really blush if you’re sharing this roomette with a friend—apparently a very close friend, at least by the end of the trip. The toilet is just sitting there next to one of the two facing roomette seats.

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It’s not all weird and awkward, though. The toilet doubles as one of the steps up to the top berth. You know, as long as you remember to put the lid down. (Men, I’m lookin’ at you.) As I think about the logistics of using this toilet, I realize there’s another perk of traveling alone.

I head to the dining car, although I keep forgetting which direction it’s in from my roomette. I’m relieved they have a lit-up sign at the front of the sleeper car that says, “Dining Car This Way.” (I think in small print underneath that it also says, “You Stupid Idiot with No Sense of Direction.”) I’m not afraid of being seated with strangers, because I now have mad dining car skillz since my cross-country train trip in 2017.

I have dinner with a nice couple heading home to North Carolina after a visit to New York City. I’m excited to have a captive audience to show off photos of my new grandson, King Arthur, on my pho— Oh, shit. Never mind, I tell them. I’ve lost my phone and they’ll have to endure me trying to describe him instead. Something gets lost in the translation and I give up.

The good news is that the waiter has already brought my Diet Pepsi and I’ve poured it into the short, squat clear plastic cup and have added the ridiculously long, clear plastic straw. (Clearly we are not in California or we would all be felons because of these straws.)

The other good news is that the waiter is now bringing my delicious, rare steak dinner, cooked to order, served on our table, which has a real tablecloth and real flatware. I do not envy airplane travelers at this moment. I’d show you a picture of the beautiful table and steak dinner, but … yeah, um, no phone.

The bad news is that the waiter does not see the clear cup and the ridiculously long, clear plastic straw … and knocks over the entire Diet Pepsi, which soaks into the real tablecloth before I can finish describing King Arthur’s bald head to my dinner companions. We all say a pleasant “No, thank you” to the dessert and head back to our sleeper cars.

A Viewliner roomette differs in one more way from a Superliner: the upper berth has windows. Everyone on the Amtrak Unlimited forums seems to recommend sleeping in the upper bunk and leaving the bottom set up as seats if you’re alone, especially if you are short and can still sit underneath the lowered bunk. I decide that this is a fun idea and ask the room attendant to make up the upper bunk so I can leave my huge luggage on the other seat overnight.

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It’s reassuring to sleep on a moving train with this convenient “seat belt” attachment so you don’t careen into the toilet below.

dscn1819-1.jpgI took this shot while standing on the (closed) toilet, looking down at the seats and table still set up under my top bunk.

After a night of interrupted sleep from the tossing and turning of the train, and several mountain-climbs up and down from the bunk because of my tiny bladder, I brush my teeth and wash up in the tiny folding sink, which is actually a clever arrangement. No drain in the bowl: the water disappears when you fold the sink up.

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I fold the sink back up and try not to overthink the obvious firing of the engineer who designed this toilet-sink-electrical outlet arrangement …

dscn1822Because what could go wrong?

I’ve got my luggage all ready, I’ve had a marvelous hot breakfast in the dining car, and we’re getting ready to pull into the Orlando station. My room attendant helps me get my gargantuan suitcase down the corridor and near the door at the front of the sleeper car. I’m gathering my purse and carry-on and wool winter coat (which really feels ridiculous down here in Orlando) when I spy something unusual wedged between the seat and the metal frame of the seat. It’s my phone!

We’ve now stopped completely and folks are dashing for the exits. I need to get off here so I call the attendant and tell him my phone’s stuck down near the floor between the cushion and frame. I can’t seem to reach down to get it, so he hits the floor on his knees and thrusts his hand under the seat to poke the phone upward where I can reach it.

They’re announcing a last call for Orlando, so I grab the phone, shove a $20 tip in the attendant’s hand, and jump off the train. (Mind the gap!)

Before I lose the train’s Wi-Fi, I grab my Amazon Fire tablet, open an email and write triumphantly to Wayne, “Uncancel! Found phone!” Well, that’s what I think I’ve typed. I don’t realize at the time that autocorrect has changed it to “Uncancel! Find phone!”

And although Wayne is flying to Tampa in a few hours, he’s still back in Pittsburgh, having no idea what my email means, as he’s driving back from the Xfinity store where he has already bought me a new phone…

…Which has therefore completely bumped my old phone out of their system.

Next installment: Unlimited Texting is useless if your phone ain’t a phone anymore.

 

The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 1)

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By the time our Caribbean cruise included a showing of The Perfect Storm in our stateroom, I could have told you it was going to be THAT kind of vacation. We’d gone on a similar cruise a few years earlier, and even though they’d played Titanic during that week, we’d managed to have a lovely time anyway. So why did this week have to be so different? It was literally the same itinerary.

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This time, though, most of the week felt like a comedy of errors. Light on the comedy part, and heavy on the errors. Wayne flew to the port in Tampa from Pittsburgh, but I opted to take the train. I’d earned a boatload of Amtrak Rewards points (yes, a boatload—nobody says “a trainload”) on last year’s cross-country train trip. Might as well use ’em. Plus, I hate flying. Win-win, right? Maybe.

On the way to Philadelphia (where I’d board a sleeper car southward to Tampa), I bought a breakfast sandwich and coffee and nimbly carried them back to my coach seat. Then I noticed I’d spilled coffee all over my jacket as the train lurched while I walked from the café car. Nice going. Nimbly, my ass.

I climbed aboard the Silver Meteor after a short layover in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, with its uncomfortable “mod” furniture in their first-class Club Acela lounge.

20181230_112805(“Captain Kirk, I’m heading for the bridge…”)

As I settled into my comfy roomette and the train pulled away from the station, I couldn’t find my phone. I was sure it had been in my purse when I left the lounge to head to the train, but that pocket on my purse was now uncustomarily unzipped. The sleeping car attendant and I searched for it high and low (mostly low—I’m short and I hadn’t put any luggage on the top bunk).

You’d think it’d be impossible to lose a phone in a room the size of a shoebox. Apparently not. I panicked and realized I must have left it in the lounge. The lounge back in Philly.

Philly, the city we had just left behind us.

The attendant called the Club Acela lounge on his cell phone (since we couldn’t use mine), and I talked to the staff there. There was no sign of my phone where I’d been sitting. And literally no one had accompanied me or touched me or even gotten all up in my personal space as I’d trudged from the lounge onto the train. Now I wondered if I had dropped it onto the tracks in that small gap between the train and the platform.

Mind the gap. Ugh.

I grabbed my Amazon Fire tablet, latched onto the train’s Wi-Fi (which was, to my amazement, working properly), and dashed off an email to Wayne, begging him to suspend my phone’s account so no one could run up data charges. God bless him, he did this immediately.

Now my only worry was whether I’d embedded passwords into any of the apps on the phone. I sat in my roomette for the next hour changing passwords on every account I could think of.

On social media, in the meantime, folks were trying to be helpful, offering suggestions for finding the phone, and the perfect storm began.

1. Have someone call your phone so it’ll ring.
Nice try, but I had turned the sound completely off overnight so random texts or notifications wouldn’t wake me up. I’d had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the train on time, and I needed every second of sleep I could get.

2. Ping your phone from your Google account with “Google, find my phone.”
Another nice try, but I had just untethered my phone from all things Google a week earlier, after reading one too many stories of people realizing their phones were tracking their every movement and then showing them ads for things on Facebook they had discussed with people on their phones. Google is Big Brother, and it must be stopped. So, I stopped it.

3. Use the Find My Phone app on your laptop or tablet.
This works only with iPhones. Guess who owns an LG X-Charge phone? Well, no, guess who used to own an LG X-Charge phone?

I wasn’t sure how stupid I should feel about these things (answer: pretty stupid), but the phrase “perfect storm” kept running through my mind. Little did I know how much that phrase was going to follow me for the rest of that week.

Next installment: Be careful what you wish for: Linda finds her phone

The Magic of Mail

brown paper envelope on table

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

Yesterday I received my first piece of legit fan mail. I mean, an actual handwritten letter from someone I did not previously have any contact or association with. She wrote because she had read a copy of Train of Thought and it reminded her of her own Amtrak trip years ago. And she had to write to tell me all about it.

It’s a delightful letter, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading every line of its four pages. (I may or may not have already reread it a few times.) It’s humbling to think a perfect stranger not only read my book but felt compelled to dig out matching stationery, stamps, and a pen and write to me all about her own train adventure. In this day and age, who does that? Well, besides this woman. And me, when I write back to her (using a typewriter, of course).

Typewriter enthusiast and occasional actor Tom Hanks agrees with me. In California Typewriter, he admits that, if someone takes seven seconds to send him a thank-you email, he’ll delete it. But if someone takes seventy seconds to type him a real, paper thank-you note, he’ll keep that thing forever.

He’s right. Through LinkedIn, I recently I got back in touch with a friend from elementary school. She’d moved away when we were kids, and we wrote letters back and forth till our first year of college.  A few weeks ago, I sat up late one night and reread every single one of her letters to me from the 1970s. I was laughing and crying and reliving those fun, naïve days. I then snapped a picture for her of all of those letters spread across my desk. She was amazed. Next I’m going to scan each one so she can have as much nostalgic fun rereading them as I did.

The fun of receiving personal mail never gets old. It’s why I eat the cost of a few stamps sending Christmas cards to people who live just a few miles—or even just a few blocks—from my house. There’s something about opening that mailbox and seeing your name on an envelope that doesn’t have the electric bill inside. Something that says, “Hey, I thought about you today…”

The bigger tie-in? It’s simple. Tom Hanks is onto something here. Make the world a little smaller while you still can. If you want to truly touch someone’s life in a quiet but unmistakable way, write a letter. Use stationery. Get out an envelope. Buy a stamp. Then wait for the magic to happen.

What sorts of personal mail or letters have you kept over the years?

 

Random Grocery Lists

aluminum black and white business cart

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I admit I have one weird habit. (Okay, maybe more than one. Let’s not quibble.)

When I’m grocery shopping, I like to find a previous shopper’s grocery list in the shopping cart I’m using. I grab the list and bring it home. I try to imagine what situation at home forced them to make a list with these particular items on it.

Now, before you gripe, yes, I realize there is usually not  a direct line of cause-and-effect between the items on a random grocery list and whatever is going on at home. Heck, my own grocery lists are two columns wide, are ordered by aisle as found in the store, and make up more than a week’s worth of items that are running low.

But those short lists seem to mean something. Like, someone was in the middle of a project and realized they needed a few things to keep going. So, they wisely jotted down what they still needed and made a quick dash to the store… so quick that they left the list in the cart and hurried back to their cars.

In the past month I’ve found two of these little lists. What stories do these lists tell?

LIST 1:

quart milk
Sobee – 6
Corn – Sun.
Smucker’s: Natural creamy PB
     Smooth
Couple of Benefuls

LIST 2:

Soft Scrub
Clorox toilet
Jelly
Milk
Cereal
Baking soda

There’s a simple reason I grab these little lists when I find them. I’m going to continue taking random grocery lists until I get one that looks like it came from a serial killer (“axe, chainsaw, bleach, large plastic tote, latex gloves“). Because writers see stories everywhere. Do you?

 

Weighing In

blue tape measuring on clear glass square weighing scale

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I’m on a diet. Well, no, let’s say I’ve changed my way of eating. Doesn’t matter what I’m doing differently (it’s the keto diet) or why (I’m diabetic and fat). It just matters that I try to avoid that scale in the bathroom as much as possible (it hates me).

For years, we had an old mechanical scale in there. Oh sure, it worked just fine, but I wanted to get rid of it because it was ugly and, well, it worked just fine.

So I bought a fancy digital scale, even though I try to avoid unnecessary battery usage because, at some point, you have to change the battery. And whatever type of battery it needs, that’s the one I just ran out of.

But I digress. I thought the digital scale would be fun … and would be easier than trying to read the old-fashioned scale’s wavering needle without my glasses every morning (or every other morning, or every other other other morning—it all depended on how much conflict avoidance I was mastering that week).

What I quickly discovered was that this thing shows weight changes to a tenth of a pound.

Wait … what?

If you’re doing great on your diet, this is an awesome thing. But if you’re like me, you’re constantly looking for ways to fool it into thinking you’ve lost weight overnight. At least a little

For those of you who silently curse your maddeningly precise digital scale, as I now do, here are some tips for pulling the wool over its proverbial eyes. I bet it gets you at least a tenth of a pound lower:

  1. Stand on it with one foot in the air. Okay, no, this doesn’t work.
  2. Stand on it with one foot on the floor. Okay, this works but it’s cheating.
  3. Stand on it while leaning up against the wall. Okay, this also works but is also cheating.
  4. Stand on it first thing in the morning, before you eat breakfast. This should work, unless you woke up in the middle of the night and grabbed a snack.
  5. Stand on it naked, avoiding any glances in that full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. Some things you just can’t unsee. Your spouse may be required by law to see you naked, but nobody said you have to.
  6. Stand on it after you’ve gone to the bathroom. I won’t elaborate on this.

If all else fails, then try this:

7. Stand on it after you’ve trimmed your nails, cut your hair, coughed up all the overnight phlegm, Q-tipped your earwax, and blown your nose.

You’re welcome.

Getting Our Picture Taken

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So, it was time for the yearly mammogram. Oh, joy. One of the few times someone squeezes my breasts and I don’t enjoy it. It’s like getting groped by Optimus Prime.

But, as we women all know, it’s a necessary task as we age, especially if we have a family history of breast cancer, which I do. So, I go. And I’m grateful for the kind, gentle technicians who work with me. (The technicians are gentle. That machine, though, is another story.)

They’ve updated the tech since last year and now it takes 3-D images, meaning they lock one of your girls into place, squoosh it almost flat, and the camera machine thingy circles around the smooshed breast to get images from all around it.

Yeah, it’s about as much fun as it sounds. Especially when the technician has to remind you to hold your head back so the camera doesn’t swing around and whack you in the face. It’d be just my luck I’d get bonked with the machinery and end up unconscious but still trapped, smooshed up against the plate, waking up later with a monstrous headache and a big square bruise on my boob. Try explaining that to my insurance company…

Beyond all that, let’s review what we need to do, friends, to keep ourselves healthy:

  1. Do a self-exam at least once a month in the shower. Or have your partner do it for you for extra fun. Think of it as an Easter egg hunt for very, very, very tiny Easter eggs… that you don’t really want to find.
  2. If you’re over 40, schedule a mammogram once a year. This is especially important if you have a family member who’s had breast cancer. Or if you’re a masochist.
  3. Remember not to put on deodorant or powder or perfume the day of your mammogram. These will interfere with the results. Besides, you’re not there to entice the technician, right? Save that smelly crap for your spouse.
  4. Try not to flinch when that technician comes at you with her blue latex gloves and helps you place your girls on that cold, clear plastic squishing plate. And don’t blink when she tries to engage you in normal conversation while manipulating your armpits so the camera gets the image right the first time. (“How about those Steelers?” is a good conversation starter almost everywhere. Almost.)
  5. Getting pictures taken of your girls is a vital health screening for us middle-aged women. But, before you leave, remember to ask the technician for a few wallet-size pics for your husband. He’ll thank you. Well, mine would, but then again, he’s an engineer, so the rules of normalcy don’t always apply to him.

I made it through another mammogram last week, and I get to breathe easy till next summer. (Literally. You can hardly breathe when that machine clamps down. Yikes.)

I hope all you womenfolk out there suck it up and get your mammos! They could save your life. Just try not to take them too seriously while you’re in the middle of them.