Chat with Deb—Heading to Alaska (Really!)

It took a long time, but it was really happening!

Deb and I are sitting in O’Hare Airport, watching the rain fall outside the window. It’s May 5, 2022.

See that plane? It’s gonna take us to Vancouver, BC! (photo by author)

DEB: It’s really happening!

ME: Yes! It is! (pause) You mean the trip, right?

DEB: After twenty-two years! Almost twenty-three!

The first time Deb was at my home, in June 1999, the Sunday paper was sitting on my kitchen counter, with the travel section on top, turned to an article on Alaska. We shared that Alaska was on our lists of places to go. Someday.

After we celebrated our tenth anniversary with a cruise to the Caribbean, we started planning a cruise to Alaska. Maybe for our fifteenth anniversary? (We research cost of trip.) Maybe for our twentieth? So I (financial planner of the couple) start setting aside money for the trip, while Deb (everything-else planner of the couple) starts planning details. We’re going to sail up the inland passage so we can see glaciers and whales and mountains and stuff. We’re going to see Mount Denali¹ at the end of the cruise. We’re going to spend three days in Vancouver, BC (or two days, three nights — the flight gets in late, the ship embarks early).

Our original cabin. Queen bed, two-chair verandah (balcony). Nice! (layout courtesy of Holland America Lines)

In 2019 we book our the trip. We start booking excursions for during the cruise. We retire near the end of 2019. We have flights lined up. We have hotels lined up. We have flexible winter/spring clothing purchased, including new walking shoes. We have… been informed by Holland America Line (HAL) that our May 2020 cruise will not, so much, be happening, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Bummer.

We do not cancel. Because maybe there will be incentives to let HAL keep our money?

YUP! Our cruise is rebooked for 2021, and we will have a nicer cabin. Well, that worked out well! Other than having to wait a year, I mean.

And then 2020 rolled into 2021, and this time we didn’t even bother to book our excursion packages. <sigh> These new walking shoes are still good, though.

Oh, hi HAL, we thought you’d be in touch! Sure, roll us over to 2022, and sure, we’ll take yet another cabin upgrade…

Our cabin, two upgrades later. King bed, double sinks, shower + bath, dressing room, verandah that can also be used for a dining area. Not shown: dressing table in the dressing room, the fridge, the huge TV on the wall over the couch, the desk next to the window, extra little tables here and there for whatever. Damn! (layout courtesy of Holland America Lines)

So 2022 dawns, and the Omicron numbers start going down, and maybe, and maybe, and maybe…

We get packets in the mail. We get emails. We get told to update our HAL app on our phones, which has a count-down to the days, hours, and minutes before our journey starts. We book flights through HAL, who will meet us at the airport. Deb starts using the guest bedroom for laying out clothing to pack. I determine that, after two years, my “new” walking shoes aren’t, actually, so new, and get NEW new ones. We (mostly Deb, because my wife is one freakin’ organized lady, I’ll have you know) pack two weeks of clothing and stuff for climates that vary radically by location and will be anything from soft spring to raging winter (occasionally at the same location just a day apart, we find later). We have two giant roller bags (checked luggage, will meet us in Vancouver), plus two light bags each with a day’s worth of clothing and toiletries (not that we’re worried about anything happening to our checked luggage!), and one bag each with our iPads, my laptop, chargers, cords, books, and supporting paperwork (also on our phones).

And on May 5, we board our plane for the first leg of the trip to Vancouver, BC, leaving from Harrisburg, PA to Chicago, IL. There seemed to be a lot of conferencing going on between the flight crew and the ground crew. Probably normal. And the starboard door does not want to close, even after the flight attendant and the pilot try to bang it shut several times (the pilot ends up walking outside and shutting it from there—I’m sure that kind of thing happens a lot). But otherwise, all is good!

CAPTAIN: Good morning folks, this is your captain speaking. We, ah, took on a little more fuel than we were supposed to, so, ah, we are still going to take off, but we, ah, will be flying with our landing gear down part of the way to Chicago, to, ah, burn extra fuel.

Everything is mostly good! Mostly.

DEB: They have a “Quick Reference Handbook” in the cockpit.

ME: Okay. Good place for it.

DEB: It’s four inches thick.

ME: And?

DEB: I’m not sure “Quick Reference” is a good title for it.

Cockpit for our small jet between Harrisburg and Chicago. Note the “Quick Reference Handbook,” thicker than an unabridged dictionary. (photo by Deb)

We make it to O’Hare, land without crashing, ready to dash to the International Terminal to transfer to Air Canada, since we only have… about six hours between flights. Okay, fine, walk briskly to the International Terminal. Whatever. First figure out where we’re going. We came in gate F5, and leaving gate F2, according to the online board, so… wait, what?

ME: This can’t be right.

DEB: What, honey?

ME: According to this, our flight to Vancouver is leaving from right across the hallway. (I point to the gate diagonal from us. Which is showing “Air Canada” and “Vancouver” very clearly.)

We stroll at a moderate pace to our gate.

We find ourselves comfortable seats in the waiting area. People have already laid claim to the chairs with USB plugs and electrical outlets. We jump on the first ones that open up… that turn out to not work. (What? I investigate. Ah. The chair unit is supposed to be plugged into the wall, but for some reason the cord is missing. Okay, but what about the wall socket? We plug our chargers in there.)

We walk around (one at a time, someone watching bags), we get food for lunch, we check emails, we walk, we read, we walk, we get food for supper. I find a cord lying around under another set of chairs, plug it into the chair unit, and snap! Power restored!²

ME: Hey! United added luggage tracking to their app! It says our luggage has been turned over to Air Canada successfully. Well, that’s nice. I may have to stop saying bad things about United.

We finally board our aircraft. Air Canada has very nice planes.

Deb and me, seated in our nice, comfy exit row. And the back of the seat in front of me, with USB charge port, map of where we are, and universal AC plug. (photos by author)

We land in Vancouver. It is late. It is dark. (Later in the trip, these two statements do not always go together.) We wait for our luggage. And wait. And wait. I check the United luggage tracker, which reiterates that the bags were turned over to Air Canada so this is no longer their problem. (I start saying bad things about United.) I locate the baggage claim for Air Canada, where a very nice fellow (Canada!) determines that our bags are fine, no problem… and in Toronto. They will be coming tomorrow morning. He gives us complimentary emergency toiletry kits.³

We carry our carry-on luggage to Customs, who waves us on through to a set of automated kiosks, where the awful forms that had to be filled out before landing have been replaced with automated pages that not only react to our answers (so that we only see questions that pertain to us) but also scan our passports, take our photos, and print out cute little receipts. We walk the receipts over to the nice Customs people, who look us over, glance at our receipts, and welcome us to Canada.

ME: Wow. Now that is how to do border entry in the 21st Century! I hope the States have got something like that.

Two nice people from HAL greet us, check us in, put us on a cab, and send us to the Pan Pacific Hotel. We check in. They have our reservations for two nights. All is good.

DEB: Excuse me? Did you say TWO nights? We’re supposed to be THREE nights.

All is almost good. Fortunately Deb catches stuff like that, even on minus sleep. The desk promises they will try to fix it.

DEB: “Try to”?

DESK PERSON: Ha ha! Sorry, I mean of course we will probably fix it.

DEB: And we’re expecting our luggage tomorrow morning.

We are directed to the bellhops. We let the guy in charge down there know we are expecting our luggage tomorrow morning.

DAVE (bellhop in charge): You just got in?

ME: Yup!

DAVE: Then no, you aren’t getting your luggage tomorrow morning. You may be getting your luggage tomorrow night. Probably. When does your ship leave?

DEB: Three days from now.

DAVE: Ah. Uh huh. I think you should be okay.

We go up to our room. Our room is nice.

Our room at the Pan Pacific. Damn. (photo by author)

DEB: Honey, come look at the harbor!

The view from our hotel room window. Vancouver Harbour. (photo by author)

ME: So, just to summarize our first day: our first plane crew has trouble closing doors and estimating fuel; our bags have more miles logged than we do, but may be showing up tomorrow, or the day after, but most likely before we leave, hopefully; and we have a wonderful hotel room, but may be homeless just in time for our luggage to arrive.

DEB: You left out we got some great stuff from Air Canada.

As Deb calls it, our “loot” from Air Canada. Back in the early 1990s, a “compensation kit” was a razer, a toothbrush, and a stick of deodorant; this kit included a sleep shirt, fabric freshener, a moist towelette, and a charging cable. (photo by Deb)

ME: We having fun yet?

DEB: I really am, Jackster! This is our adventure! Together! Are YOU having fun?

ME: With you, my love? Always!

Later, brushing our teeth with regular toothbrushes:

ME: Whatcha thinkin’, honey?

DEB: I’ve been up almost twenty-two hours. And I’m looking in the mirror and thinking, “My hair looks really nice!” (smiles at me)

¹Formerly Mount McKinley; before that Mount Denali. “Denali” translates to “the big mountain,” showing the native tribes either have a gift for telling it like it is, or a dry sense of humor leaning toward gross understatement.

²I make unauthorized repairs to other people’s IT equipment. What’s YOUR superpower?

³Yes, I know we already had everything we needed in our carry-ons. These folks sent our bags to Toronto, they can spare a couple toothbrushes.

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Jack Herlocker

Jack Herlocker

Husband & retiree. Developer, tech writer, & IT geek. I fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches. Occasionally do weird & goofy things.