Wednesday, February 13, 2019

It Was The Best Of Signs...

We live on an island. Vancouver Island. It's a beautiful place to live with a very moderate climate, but in the winter it can be kind of grey and glum. Which is why we have, on many occasions, chosen to visit another island. Hawaii. Simple enough, eh?

I prepared myself by packing a week early, painting my toenails, and loading up movies on my digital paraphernalia. Don't forget your passport! Remember your meds. Put the garbage out. Water the plants. Whoops. Too much cream left in the's going to go bad before we get back. Oh well, it's only cream. Hawaii here we come!

We were flying out on Sunday afternoon, with our first flight out of Victoria to Vancouver, a two hour turnaround and then the six hour flight to Kailua/Kona that evening. My daughter drove us to the airport. On that drive were the first signs of snowflakes, not a very common sight here in Victoria, but then, so what? What's a few flakes?

She dropped us off, we said our goodbyes, and we walked right to security where there was a short line up. The security guy was in a good mood, joking as he helped us throw our suitcases and backpacks into the bins. My husband went through security and immediately set the alarm off. It's always his belt. He forgets to take off his belt.

After a full body scan, he was cleared and we began the long "hurry up and wait" for our flight. Outside the big windows in the departure area, it was starting to look a little more ominous. The snow had picked up and was accumulating quickly. We kept checking our flight time, but it continued to say "on time". A flight came in. That was a good sign. Always look for the good signs. Eventually, an announcement came on saying that our flight was delayed about 20 minutes. I walked up to the Westjet agent and she assured me that we would make it in time for our Kona flight. So we sat some more. The weather worsened by the minute. I looked up the gate we needed to be at when we arrived in Vancouver. It was a long walk. Maybe they'll be delayed too. But so far, that flight was indicated as on time.

I took a picture outside the airport window and posted it on Facebook with the caption "Yeah, we're not going anywhere anytime soon!" And sure enough, within about a half hour of the taking of this photo, the flight was cancelled. It's a smaller airport with mostly smaller planes and the manpower and equipment could not keep up with the snowfall. Add that to the fact that Victoria rarely gets more than a sprinkle of snow at a time, and you've got a calamity.

Our hearts sank.

After the initial shock, I called our daughter and asked if she could come back and pick us up. It was getting dark and she had never driven in snow like this before, so she hesitated. But like a trooper, she said she'd come, so we parked ourselves by the arrivals section of the airport to look out for her. My husband was on the phone calling Westjet to see if we could re-schedule our flights for the next day, and I ended up on the phone with our daughter, talking her through the drive through snow storm. By this time, it was completely dark and there were white out conditions on the highway. She was driving ever-so-slowly and watching as people abandoned their cars on the side of the road. She got lost approaching the airport because she wasn't able to see the road signs. But she finally made it.

By this time, they had actually shut down part of the highway because a whole slew of cars without snow tires were unable to negotiate one of the bigger hills, and were stuck there, creating a mass traffic jam. So before we got too far along, we were diverted by police off the highway and onto a back road route. Most people were driving slow and steady, but the ones who had no idea what they were doing made it worse for everyone else. We had four wheel drive but even that was a bare advantage. Spinning tires, stuck trucks, buses that couldn't negotiate corners, they were all there, one after the other, after the other. It took us close to two hours to get home in what would have normally been a half hour trip, if that.

At home we determined that it would be better the next day.

The next morning, I was surprised to wake up in my home, until it hit me. Oh, yeah. We're not there. Yet. I looked for signs that it was going to happen. Flights had been taking off that morning. Good sign. Snow wouldn't start until later that afternoon. Another good sign. We could fly out before then.

We decided to drive ourselves this time and park at the airport to spare our daughter from another frightful experience. I checked the flight status every two minutes while we drove. Still on time. Still on time. Good sign. I realized I brought the wrong eye glasses. Oh, oh.

My husband drove up to the parking ticket machine. Struggling to press the button from the inside of the car, he swore and opened the door. The ticket got stuck. He had to use a pen to dig it out. When he finally got it, the gate wouldn't lift. Some more profanities (could've come from me) and I told him to press for another ticket. This time it came through properly and the gate lifted. Phew! Was that a good sign or a bad sign?

We sat in the same area of the departure lounge as we had the day before. We recognized a couple of other passengers who has returned as well. It hadn't snowed much during the morning and we were hopeful that this time the plane would actually get out. And it did.

Well, we left the gate. The plane was being de-iced and we were ready for take off as the snow picked up. I felt nervous about the length of time it was taking, but finally the propellers started up and the plane was readied. We sat. And sat. And then, to our and every other passenger's horror, the propellers wound down and came to a stop. Oh no.

The pilot came on the loudspeaker. The visibility was becoming so poor that they could not see the runway or the markers. But they were talking to "control" and were working out a solution.

We sat some more.

Every now and then the pilot would come on and say they were working on it. There was still hope.

They served us water and pretzels. Was that a good sign?

In all of the times the pilot came on the loudspeaker, not once did he say that the flight was cancelled. We clung to this. Finally, the pilot announced that a truck was going to tow us back to the gate, but we were still not cancelled. He said it would be warmer and more comfortable sitting in the lounge.

We started rolling. And then.

The truck pulling the plane got stuck, the pilot announced. On came the propellers again. Maybe we're going now? No. The pilot was just using the propellers to propel us (duh) back to the gate. We disembarked.

It wasn't until we were inside, sitting down in the lounge, that the announcement came that the flight was cancelled. Ugh.

So once again, we made our way out of the airport, this time to the parking lot. Most cars had been there awhile and were swamped in snow. We were mostly concerned about getting out of our stall.

The sad sight of my luggage waiting to be loaded back into the car.

We got word that the highway home was now almost completely shut down. By this time, there were 11 accidents all along it, so we had to take another route out of the airport. The back road was treacherous. Of the few who were on the road, or what we could see of it, most, like us, were driving at a snail's pace. Again, we came across a number of stuck vehicles, and people with shovels trying to dig them out. I kept my eye on Google Maps (thank heavens for Google Maps!) and saw where the highway had opened up again. Even the highway was bad, the plows not having had enough time to do a proper job. We slowly made our way back home.

From home we called Westjet again and I cancelled the rental car. There was still room on the next day's flights. Third time lucky? We took the chance and booked it.

The next morning,the weather was better, flights had been leaving and we were SURE this time would be it. Others told us to consider taking the ferry and public transport instead. We seriously considered all our options. In the end, because the weather was in our favour, we went with the flight. We counted 12 cars abandoned along the highway on our drive there. People were shoveling while they had the chance.

We joked with the security guy that this was our third and hopefully our last time through there. My husband remembered to take his belt off. I brought the right eye glasses. We sat in a different area of the departure lounge. This was a new day!

We spoke to others there who had also spend two or three days trying to get out. One man had no option but to leave, even knowing has connecting flight had left an hour before. We weren't the only ones with tragic travel tales. The monitor showed our flight as on time. Yay! Then I got an odd email that the flight was delayed 40 minutes. But the screens at the airport still said on time. We decided to go with that. Planes were coming and going, even though there was the occasional cancellation or delay. We were going to make it! I know my friends have been waiting to hear if we did or not. I'll give you a hint:

I painted my toenails for this??

Nope. We are at home. This time the flight got delayed in Vancouver. What was originally a 20 minute delay, turned to 40 minutes, then 50. The last I heard, the plane didn't get out of Victoria until 6 hours after it was scheduled. They couldn't get us another flight out until two days later, which would have meant our trip was half over by the time we got there. So with heavy hearts, we drove home one last time. I unpacked my backpack, but I haven't had the heart to unpack the suitcase. We might try to take a few days up island to a resort with sandy/snowy beaches and a cold, grey ocean view. At least it's something!

When we were driving home the last time, I saw an ambulance blazing by, sirens roaring, and thought to myself "Someone's having a worse day than me." You have to put it in perspective I guess.

But I don't recommend stepping in snow with bare feet.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

Love Is Love

The bounty from Victoria's Pride Parade, 2018
In the late 70's I took a trip to San Francisco by myself.

Truth be known, I was following someone there, otherwise I would never have traveled so far alone back then.

That's another story, but you can find out all about about my friend Ted here.

On the last day of my trip, I took a bus from where I was staying into downtown San Francisco because I had booked a seat on the Amtrak back to Vancouver. What I didn't realize was that there was a parade happening downtown that very day. A kind of parade I would never even have imagined at that point in time. There were a lot of people dressed in strange costumes, lots of oiled, tanned men dancing on floats. Strange characters handing out odd tokens to the onlookers. On one float, the men threw out coins, one of which I snagged. It had a logo and the words "Bulldog Massage Parlor" etched into it. I hung onto it for years.

At one point when I was standing there, I heard a very deep voice say hello behind me. I turned around, and looked up. It was a black transvestite, in sequins, on roller skates, handing out pamphlets. I just stared up at this creature, the likes of which I had never seen before. I'm sure he thought *I* was the odd one...

It was an unabashedly happy occasion, people laughed and yelled out and sang and danced in the streets. And I'll never forget it. As it turned out, this was my first pride parade. I just didn't know what that was at the time.

Today, my husband and I made the trek to downtown Victoria to attend the 2018 Victoria Pride Parade, something which has been happening here for the past 25 years. And as the first floats and performers walked past us, we both got a little teary eyed. For me, there were many things that brought those tears. I was thinking about my Uncle Roy, a gay, Danish man who killed himself during the second World War because he was afraid of being thrown into a concentration camp for homosexuals by the German soldiers who occupied Denmark. I was thinking about my friend Lynn who came out to me in high school, but had to keep her secret from almost everyone else back then. I was thinking about my friend Ted, the man I mentioned above, who died of AIDS.

But our tears turned to laughter and applause, watching so many people expressing their joy at being themselves. The costumes were just as bright and crazy, the music and laughter still as loud as it was at that first parade 40 years ago. They handed out colourful beads, lots of candy, Pride stickers, colouring books and postcards. And condoms. Lots of condoms.

One young woman came straight to me and handed me a little plastic bottle labeled "Pride". "Sunscreen!" she exclaimed, seeing my bare arms turning a little pink. "Thought you might need some!" She laughed and rejoined her parade group. And as we were leaving, a little girl who was walking with her Dad as part of the parade, handed me a yellow lollipop. "Happy Pride!" she smiled.

We've come a long way in 40 years. There are still issues to deal with, people with narrow minds and oppressive cultures. Perhaps one day we will have come so far that there really won't be any need for Pride Parades, but I kind of hope they never stop.

Happy Pride Day!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

I Can Hear You Think!

NOT my new hearing aids...
I remember my poor old Uncle George often fussing with his big, chunky hearing aids, trying to adjust the sound up or down, still struggling with the conversation going on around him. During the second World War, his hearing had been seriously damaged from standing too close to the artillery guns. Other than cupping the hands over the ears, there was no protection from the sound of the blasts. And those were only the blasts you were prepared for!

The technology for hearing aids was basically nothing more than sticking two speakers in your ears, blaring everything into them at full tilt. How the technology has changed.

On February 3rd of this year, I finally gave in to my husband's insistence and went to get my hearing tested. The lady who was testing me said that it's usually the complaints of a spouse that bring people in :-) Yes, I admit, I've had some trouble hearing certain things for some time because of tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. I think it annoyed my husband beyond measure to have to repeat himself so frequently. Patience isn't his strong point. But considering what I do for a living, teaching guitar, hearing well is kind of important.

The test takes about an hour, consisting mainly of sticking you in a booth and inserting small contraptions in your ears as you punch a button every time you hear something. Or think you hear something. You hear beeps and buzzes, people talking in noisy bars (well, I imagined it to be a bar to entertain myself), deep sounds, high pitched sounds. You get the picture. And then when the testing is over, you can view a little graph of each ear and its response to sounds, giving you an idea of which frequencies you are not hearing. After that, the conversation steers towards what kind of hearing aids would be best for you, and how they work. I had been researching before the appointment, so I was pretty sure I knew which ones would suit me. So we picked a colour, put in the order and paid for them, and made an appointment for picking them up.

And then I had some time to reflect on it all. It's a bit of an emotional adjustment, I have to admit. All I could picture was my old Uncle George with his big, awkward hearing aids and the stigma of needing them in the first place. How will I look? How will it feel? What will it change in my life?

This past Wednesday I finally had my appointment to pick them up. Again, it was an hour long session, because they have to test them and make any necessary adjustments. They also teach you how to take care of them, how to replace parts, batteries, clean and maintain them. It was a lot to take in. But as soon as she put them in my ears, I heard everything that I'd been missing. I could hear my voice reverberating off the wall in front of me. Suddenly sibilant sounds came to life. I became conscious of every little rustle or movement in the tiny room. Yep, I guess I needed them after all.

When I walked out of the room, I laughed to myself that the first sounds I was hearing were the sounds of Costco customers noisily shopping. I got in my car and heard the key click in the ignition in a way I hadn't before. Wow. It sounds like that. I turned the radio down because it was too noisy. I spoke out loud to myself and heard my own voice in a suddenly strange way.

They are quite small, they are very light, and they are hidden under my hair. The technology allows me to hear the frequencies I am able to hear naturally, mixed with the boost in frequencies I don't hear as well from the hearing aids. I wear them as much as I can to allow my brain the opportunity to get used to the new sounds. When I met up with one of my daughters yesterday, she had to ask me if I had received my hearing aids yet. She couldn't see them. That was a plus.

A few weeks back, I told one of my students, a 10-year-old, that I was getting hearing aids soon. I told him that my hearing aids were going make my hearing so good that I was going to be able to hear what he's thinking. He looked at me for a long time. I think he believed me.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Visit To Windsor Castle

Since drawing has become more of a hobby in the last couple of years, I've decided to post some of my work here and tell you a bit about them. To the left is my sketch of Windsor Castle which we visited on the 4th day of our London/Paris/Copenhagen trip this past spring. I'm including the post I wrote on Facebook from London below. I loved the castle, but it was the adventure after the castle tour that mostly sticks in my mind ;-)

London, Day 3 & 4 -- It must be annoying sometimes, being a tour guide. All of us idiot tourists to cope with, asking stupid questions, looking for the nearest bathroom.

As a tourist, though, nothing beats a great tour guide. The ones who know how to tell you a lot without boring you to bits. Who keep you together and moving like herding idiot cows (with apologies to the cows). Who have tickets and whisper boxes at the ready, breezing you through security, all the while with a smile on their faces.

Some don't quite live up to that level. The lady who was our morning tour guide on Tuesday had it all together. She kept us moving with no sense of urgency, told us a little about everything, but not too much, and didn't lose one cow in the process. A real pro.

The guy we had yesterday, well, he still needs work.

We had a heck of a time finding Victoria Coach Station, which was our own doing. Buses are called coaches here, duh. Fortunately we gave ourselves lots of time, and eventually we asked a bus driver (or is that "coach driver"?) and he literally pointed across the street. Duh again.

We found the right coach, got on board, and patted ourselves on the back.

And then our tour guide started speaking. "How many have we got on board?" He had to count several times. "Okay, let's see, where are we off to?" He wasn't joking. I think the guy might have been at the pub a little too late the night before.

The first part of our trip was to Windsor Castle. We had to leave the coach (okay I'm fully British now) several blocks away, walking on an overpass through some twists and turns before reaching the queue for the castle, along with hundreds of other people. Hundreds.

He got us in, through security, and told us to meet us back at the bus at 5 minutes to 12 noon.
Windsor castle was gorgeous, extravagant, opulent. I've run out of adjectives. We couldn't take pictures inside otherwise I would have posted them. And then it was outside to find our way back to the bus.

I was sure it was down one street, and Michael was sure it was down another. We picked my choice. And on and on, and on we went, slowly realizing my pick was wrong. What an awful feeling. We tried desperately to get over to the street Michael thought it was, but towns and cities in the U.K. don't work in grids, the streets twist and turn and bend and sometimes don't even connect at all.
Eventually another lady from our tour came up behind us. I think she had been following us, hoping we knew the way. That was her first mistake.

The three of us tried to retrace our steps. Michael told us it was noon. The tour guide had said that they were going to pull out right at noon on the dot, so our hearts sank. We were only on the first stop. How the heck were we going to get back to London? What were we going to do?

Just then, I spotted a sign that said car park and coaches. Coaches! I know what that is! I started walking faster and faster, leaving the other two in my dust. Coaches!

Somehow we ended up coming all the way around entering it where we had originally driven in. I kept running, yelling back "I think I see someone else from our tour!" And then I spotted our coach. I have never been so relieved (or sweaty, for that matter) in my life.

In spite of the earlier threats, they had waited for us. As we got on, Michael the smart ass said "It's not our fault!" Nobody laughed.

What I learned yesterday:
1. Not all tour guides are created equal.
2. Left and right and sense of direction are totally useless in another city and country.
3. I can, actually, go along time without peeing when I'm panicking.
4. I'd rather be herded like a dumb cow than lost like Mary's little lamb.

Other people got lost on another part of the tour which left us feeling a little less stupid.
Today we did our own walking tour of all of the famous sights we could find. Tomorrow we go on another coach tour.

Oh, oh.