Saturday, September 19, 2015

Our Honolulu Respite

We spent our last night in Seattle at our son’s Brad’s house to get some last minute time with our grandchildren and to take advantage of his huge quad car garage to pack and rearrange our bags. Since we were not flying back to Papeete on United we couldn’t take advantage of the 140 lbs. of extra luggage UAL offers to employees. We were stuck with 50 lbs. along with everyone else. Since we were taking back a 45 lb. water maker, this made packing very critical.

A Spectra Ventura 200T water maker that we're going to try and stuff in a roll-aboard suitcase and get past TSA at Boise Airport, which has the toughest TSA inspection in the nation.
We had three large duffels from REI and a roll-aboard duffel from a friend. We carefully packed the water maker with the form-fit foam it was shipped in, into the roll-aboard suitcase. We had a travel scale rigged from the rafters so we carefully weighed each bag. For the first time we were not taking a specialty foods back with us since we were incredibly tight on space and weight. After rearranging and repacking we got each bag within one pound. We’d check them one more time at the airport in Boise.

The next morning we set off bright and early for the 8-hour drive to Boise. As usual I throughly enjoyed the drive marveling at the vast wide open spaces and the fields of wheat and sagebrush.  We arrived at the Best Western Vista hotel at Boise Airport only to find we had an inside room on the 2nd floor and there was no elevator!  We schlepped the 350 lbs. of luggage up to the room and crashed into bed.

We spent the next morning cleaning Christa’s car, arranging for its long term storage (they use the car when they visit McCall during the summer), and doing a little exploring of the downtown Boise area. We actually enjoyed walking around the historic area and found a great Thai place for lunch. We met our former cruiser friend Dean Hearst who will be watching over the car for the next year, driving it every month or so to keep the battery charged and the tires round.

We also drove to the airport to talk with TSA about getting the water maker through security (they have been confiscating lots of our stuff during the last two years, and the water maker looks like a miniature atomic bomb). The guy seemed non-plussed, but, as he explained, there wasn’t much we could do about it. 

The next morning we took the 6:00 a.m. shuttle to the airport (the shuttle driver was not amused by all our baggage). Since we were flying on UAL from Boise to San Francisco to Honolulu we didn’t have to worry about the weight but we did note the exact poundage of each bag. Got on the plane with no worries and had a quick flight to SFO, where after a short stop we got on the flight to Honolulu. Hawaii is always a tough flight for stand by employees to get on but today wasn’t too bad. Arriving in HNL we were amazed all our bags made it (including the nefarious water maker). Even more amazing was that we could fit everything in the economy rental car.

Meryl spent part of her career as a Pan Am Flight Attendant flying 3 to 5 day trips to Papeete.
With our trusty Garmin GPS we negotiated the typically tough Honolulu traffic trying to find our relative’s condo near Kahala Mall.  To shorten a very interesting long story, my cousin Lori dated Randy when she lived in Hawaii. Randy, then a confirmed bachelor, wasn’t quite ready to settle down and when Lori moved back to Tacoma she married a local guy, which, to put it politely, did not turn out to be a good choice for a lifelong partner. Twenty five years later Lori saw the light and divorced him and eventually started seeing Randy again. We were not fond of husband number one, but loved Randy the day we met him. He’s a long time Hawaii resident and the location manager for Hollywood filmmakers. So cool to see pictures of him with Tom Selleck from Magnum PI and scenes from the original Hawaii 5-0, Jake and the Fatman, Jurassic Park, and currently, the remake of King Kong. The only negative was that Randy was out scouting for the King Kong movie and we saw him for only a limited time, but still, what a great guy he is! Lori and he wed a couple of years ago and she splits time between Tacoma and Hawaii until she retires early next year.
Th beach at Waikiki will never change, except now there are more Japanese tourists than Americans.
I love this picture of "rush hour" on Kalakaua Avenue in downtown Waikiki. 
We even took time out for dinner at the beachside Dukes Restaurant in Waikiki, complete with umbrella drinks.
We used to fly to Hawaii frequently and Meryl flew there with Pan Am, but it has been a long time since we’ve visited Oahu. We enjoyed walking along Kalakaua Avenue and watching the hoards of vacation goers doing vacation stuff. For sheer people watching Waikiki is hard to beat.

The one thing we never did in all the years we flew to Hawaii was visit Pearl Harbor, so that was first on our list. It’s obviously a major tourist attraction, but it’s also a memorial to the thousands who lost their lives on Dec. 7, 1941. The park is very well done with large open air buildings housing displays and photos of the Dec. 7th and the war in the Pacific in general. My dad was on the USS Searaven, which was submerged in Manila Harbor on Dec. 7th. When they came up to periscope depth early that morning they knew something was up as the whole Japanese fleet was steaming out of the bay at flank speed (communications with subs during those days was very limited).

Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor.
A highly accurate model of the USS Arizona at the Pearl Harbor Museum.
The USS Arizona Memorial straddling the remains of the Arizona. The only thing visible of the ship is the rusted gun turret at center right. 
Gun turret of the USS Arizona. 
These oil drops that seep from the remains of the USS Arizona remind me of "tears of sorrow" for the thousands still entombed in the ship.
We took the launch out to the site of the USS Arizona where the only thing you could see was the rusted smokestacks of the once gallant battleship. One by one drops of oil escape from the submerged ship and slowly floated to the surface, a grim reminder of all the lives still entombed on the ship.

The USS Bowfin, an S-class submarine that served in the Pacific Ocean during WWII.
The forward torpedo room of the USS Bowfin. Sailors would sleep on pipe berths suspended above the torpedos, with the ceiling only inches from their heads.
The diving controls of the submarine. My dad's job was keeping all of this functioning, under any conditions.
We later visited the USS Bowfin, a sub close to the design of my dad’s sub, and were amazed by the tight living conditions. I was told that the submariners (mainly midwest farm boys) were the elite of the US Navy. They were handpicked for their ability to live in close quarters under extremely stressful and dangerous conditions. I contacted a guy who had served on the Searaven several years after my dad (who died when I was 10) and asked me what I knew about him. I remembered having eight “patrol” cards of his that were awarded after each patrol. The guy whistled and said “your dad was either very good or very lucky, most likely both because most guys only lasted one or two patrols. My dad was Chief of Boat, essentially the highest ranking enlisted man on the boat, and describe by old salts as “the only guys who know what the hell they are doing on the ship.” I wished he had lived long enough to tell me all the stories; he was a hero in my eyes.
The view back into the crater of Diamond Head.

The view from the top is spectacular, especially when you get a rainbow like this.
The white building on the left is a large indoor water tank where they shoot the "in the ocean" scenes for many of the great Hawaiian films.
The next day we got up early and took a nice hike up to Diamond Head, something else I’d never done on Oahu. It was a strenuous hike, but with a phenomenal view looking down over Waikiki and the vast Pacific Ocean. On the walk back to Randy’s condo we went by the original studios of Hawaii 5-0, including the big soundstage with a huge pool where they would shoot water scenes. Someday when we have more time I’d like to come back and have Randy show us around the island to all the film locations.
This really brought back memories of all the times Meryl and I had flown to Hawaii and the great times we had.
By Saturday morning we had done the final rebalancing of our bags and drove our rental car back to the airport. It was a complete zoo at HNL as a dozen flights all leave in the mid afternoon. People were actually lined up out in the street for the ticket counters. Luckily we had left plenty of time and got checked in for our Hawaiian Airlines flight to Papeete. We scored 50 lbs. 49.5 lbs, 49.1 lbs., and 47 lbs. on our bags. I had been having nightmares about getting these bags to Papeete for weeks. What a huge relieve to have them finally checked in and out of our hair. We were flying on Hawaiian since United has no partners that fly to Papeete (and would offer us discount fares) and Hawaiian had a $550 one-way fare to Papeete. We walked what seemed miles to the gate and were relieved that at least we had confirmed seats and didn’t have to worry about even getting on the flight.

The 5.5 hour flight was nice and we enjoyed just relaxing on the airplane. Getting back to the boat with all our stuff is always extremely stressful for both of us. Landing at Papeete at 9:30 pm was hectic with hundreds of people retrieving their bags and slowly moving towards the gate. Amazingly we didn’t see any customs guys and we just wheeled our mountain of bags through the gates and into the humid night air of Papeete. After a short 2-minute cab ride we were back at our favorite Tahitian Airport Hotel and dealing with the mountain of luggage again. It was great to finally get to the air conditioned room and just chilling out before we fell deep asleep. 

Even we can’t handle our lifestyle most of the time.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

It's Like High School All Over Again

We stayed in Seattle for over two months this year so I could attend my 50th high school reunion. On the day of my 30th reunion I was on a 50-mile hike at Mt. Rainier National Park with the family, and was nagged by the thought I was supposed to be somewhere else that day. The 40th reunion I just completely forgot about, not sure why, so I felt an obligation to myself to at least try and remember the 50th reunion.

As a baby boomer, I remember always going to schools with large classes and with extra portables outside, and whose schools were splitting to form new high schools. I attended Curtis Junior High School in University Place, then transferred to Wilson High School in the north end of Tacoma. It was a solid, middle class high school (I believe we had one black student, a travesty by today’s standards), but all-in-all it was a great high school. Wilson was famous for one thing:  a state championship swimming team that was undefeated for seven years.
Oh the stories these three could tell: "You see officer, the tires are just a little under pressure and that's probably the cause of the squealing sound you heard . . ."
As a transfer student I knew exactly two kids at the school, and remembered feeling so relieved when I met Scott McRae and Tom Teitge in my gym class. We stayed lifelong friends to this day. I guess I was a typical student, active in clubs and student council, played on the football team, and dated a cheerleader. My big passion was skiing at Crystal Mountain, which had recently opened. I remember when Tom and I were walking across the Commons before class one morning and gazed out to Mt. Rainier beckoning to us in the distance. It took us about 40 minutes to rush home, give our mom’s excuses, get our ski gear, and enjoy one of the most incredible days of skiing I’d ever had. When the school attendance clerk called my mom she said I was home sick. When they called Tom’s mom (standing on a higher moral ground, I guess), she said Tom was up skiing with Walter Conner. Since we were both in Student Council we caught hell from Mr. Beers, our advisor, the next day. It was kind of hard to hide those sun tans and turtleneck lines.

I had a lot of trepidation about attending the 50th reunion. During high school you never quite knew what other students thought of you, or how you’d fit in with the others. We had an exceptionally large class at Wilson, just under 700 students, and I probably knew about 20 kids somewhat closely, another 30 loosely, and would say hi to a wider group from my classes and athletics. But that still leaves a huge number of kids I didn’t know.

Ironically I’d just started getting reconnected with a group of about 10 former classmates via Facebook. It was great to hear about their lives, but not always great to learn about their politics and obsessions with cats.

The reunion was held at Fircrest Golf Club in Tacoma, a club that my parents had been members at when we lived in Tacoma. It had changed a lot over time, with a beautiful new club house set among towering Douglas Fir trees.  It now felt a little out of my league.

I wasn’t sure what I would tell people when they asked what I was doing and where I lived. Sailing around the world on a sailboat that is currently in Tahiti seemed a bit much for a high school reunion (especially in Tacoma), so for many I just said we were doing some traveling. We’ve learned that most people simply don’t understand our strange lifestyle and don’t know the right questions to ask. The first question is always “Aren’t you worried about pirates?” To which my standard reply is “only the salesmen at West Marine.”  We’d love to talk about the many unique experiences we’ve had, the fascinating people we’ve met, and what crossing 3,000 miles of ocean is like, but that’s usually saved for a relatively few friends who truly understand what we’re doing and why.

It was interesting to see people I hadn’t seen in over 50 years, some were vaguely familiar, some I didn’t recognize at all, and a few lucky ones didn’t seem like they had aged a day (a stunning red dress showcased one beautiful former cheerleader). It was great hearing their stories, and seeing how various classmates turned out after all those years. Some were still married, but many were on second, third, fourth, and in one case, a fifth marriage (which I wouldn’t have suspected of her at all of this particular woman). Overall, people were all genuinely friendly and Meryl got a chance to meet some of my friends and to commiserate with other spouses who got dragged along to the event. 

We left with a nice feeling that although we made some unconventional choices in our lives, we were content with the direction those choices led us and hopefully we’ll have some great stories to tell when we’re maneuvering our wheelchairs around the retirement center.