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Goat in my hotel room . . .

Near the end of my three-year assignment to US Customs Headquarters in the nation’s capital, I traveled to Seattle, then to Blaine, Washington, then to San Francisco and on to Los Angeles on official business—my duties at that time were those of the National Program Manager for Custom’s detector dog program. In Seattle I met a fellow officer from Los Angeles, and together we observed and evaluated Customs’ operations in Seattle, at Customs’ land border port of entry at Blaine near the Canadian border,  Customs’  operations in San Francisco and finally Customs operations in Los Angeles, with concentration on the detector dog program in the various locations.

My purpose in this post is not to bore the viewer with details of Customs enforcement programs—my purpose is to relate two separate incidents, one that was hilarious and one that was somewhat embarrassing.

My fellow Customs officer told me that his baby in Los Angeles would meet us in San Francisco and travel with us back to Los Angeles. I assumed that his baby was his wife, and therein lies a tale. His baby, an amiable and quite presentable young woman—much younger than he—dined with us at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco that evening, checked into the hotel with him and traveled with us on the flight from to Los Angeles the following day. Dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf included fried octopus, my reluctant first—and definitely last—encounter with that creature as cuisine.

We had adjoining rooms at an upscale hotel near the airport. When I went to check out, my fellow officer was already checking out, so I fell into line behind him. While I waited I heard him tell the woman behind the desk that he was bothered by noises coming from the room adjoining his. He said there was a party in that room that included an animal, one that sounded suspiciously like a goat or a sheep, and that the sounds continued late into the night.

The clerk registered a mixture of surprise, skepticism, incredulity and something akin to horror, and said that she would tell the manager right away and an investigation would be made. I stepped forward and told the clerk that the room was mine, and that all the party goers were of sound mind and legal age—including the goat.

Okay, I admit it—that was funny, but the surprise that awaited me at his home the next night when I accepted his invitation to dinner was not funny. I arrived with a screw-top bottle of fine wine, rang the door bell and was invited into the house by a very lovely and very pregnant lady that introduced herself as the wife of my fellow officer. Nope, it was not the same baby that met us in San Francisco and traveled to Los Angeles with us—didn’t even come close. The best part of the evening was my feeling of satisfaction with my selection of wine for a dinner gift.

That was an embarrassing moment for me. I wisely held my counsel until the following day, at which time I ticked off the reasons why I should not have been misled. My scorn was wasted on him—he found the incident far funnier than the goat in my hotel room debacle.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2010 in Humor, marriage, Travel, Writing

 

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A two-week boat ride to Japan . . .

In 1950 I traveled from San Francisco to Japan in 14 days, and back to San Francisco in another 14 days, with a considerable amount of time spent in Japan and South Korea between the trip to the Orient and the return to the United States, somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 months. Fifteen of those months were spent in bad neighborhoods—they were spent at Taegu in the south and Kimpo in the north, two of our US airfields in South Korea during the Korean War.

I refuse to call it a conflict. It was a war, one in which more than 40,000 members of our armed forces died during four years of fighting—that qualifies it to be called a war, not a conflict.

I traveled by bus from my mother’s home in Midland, Texas to Alpine, Texas, then by train to Los Angeles and up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. The month was April, and the trip up to San Francisco—a distance of almost 400 miles—with the blue Pacific Ocean on the left and the green mountain slopes on the right was memorable. In San Francisco I boarded a ferry and was taken to Camp Stoneman. I was quartered for a week or so before boarding another ferry to the Port of San Francisco where I boarded an army troop ship bound for Japan.

Camp Stoneman, located in the city of Pittsburgh some forty miles from San Francisco, was a staging facility for military personnel traveling to foreign destinations to the east from the Port of San Francisco. Arrivals from oversea assignments and those departing for such assignments traveled by ferry to and from the Port and Camp Stoneman. Opened in 1942, the camp was shut down in 1954. Click here for images of Camp Stoneman and its brief history.

We departed for Japan on the USS Daniel L. Sultan, a U.S. Army vessel named for an army general, a ship that on this voyage would be loaded with 5,000 troops, 500 dependents and an indefinite number of cats and dogs, pets of the dependent members. When we pulled away from San Francisco, we headed north instead of west to pick up the dependents and their pets in Seattle, Washington.

My brother Larry, an army Warrant Officer, was stationed at the Yakima Training Facility and I obtained permission to debark in Seattle—yes, debarking, that’s what they called it—in order to make a phone call to him. No, I did not have a cell phone—they had not yet been invented. Our conversation was brief, limited to expressions of how are you, how have you been, how is everyone else, where are you going, and good luck.

On my return to the ship I ran afoul of the Officer of the Day, the worthy that stands on deck by the gangplank to greet boarders, to inquire as to their reason for boarding and to ascertain whether contraband is involved in their boarding. I had no problem answering the questions, but I committed a serious breach of military protocol.

As any sailor knows, when one boards or debarks a military vessel, courtesy must be given by saluting the United States flag flown by the vessel. I had been briefed on that courtesy and I saluted accordingly, but I was chastised—chewed out—by the Officer of the Day. It seems that I saluted the prow of the vessel instead of the stern. I had been below decks ever since boarding the ship and had no idea which end was which, so I took a guess—I guessed wrong.

Other than that, the two-week voyage was uneventful. I was seasick for the first two days and spent a lot of time hanging over the rail, and I learned to gauge the wind—one had to watch one’s output closely because one’s output had a bad habit of almost reaching the waves and then riding the wind all the way back up, often to its origin. I learned early to heave and then quickly step back from the railing. Some others weren’t that lucky. There’s an old joke that goes like this: The admiral asks a young sailor if he has a weak stomach, and the sailor says, No, sir, I am throwing it just as far as the others are.

Every GI on the ship had a daily detail. Some worked in the galley, some in the heads, some did laundry and various make-work tasks, but I was one of the very privileged—I was assigned to the poop deck detail. No, not that poop deck, not that flat-roofed cabin that is erected at the stern of old-time ships for storage and to serve as an observation point. The word poop is derived from a French word poupe, meaning stern, the back part of the ship.

No, my detail involved poop, the real McCoy. People with pets were required to exercise them every day on the rearmost part of the top deck, and the poop naturally followed. Every morning the call came over the intercom—first a series of shrill whistles, then came the words, Now hear this, now hear this—sweepers, man your brooms, clean sweep down fore and aft.

I never knew what was swept down at the fore, but I learned over two weeks about sweep down aft. It wasn’t that bad, though. There was always a strong breeze, if for no other reason than the forward motion of the ship. We used high-pressure hoses to wash down the deck, and we used the brooms to loosen poop reluctant to go into the Pacific Ocean.

I was quartered on Deck 4C, four levels below the top deck and three compartments aft of the head, or latrine. My bunk was second from the floor in a tier of four canvas bunks stacked from the floor to the ceiling. I was lucky because the fellow in the bunk above me was slightly built. The unlucky ones were those with a heavyweight sleeping in the bunk above them. In some cases, it was difficult for them to turn over without bumping into the weight hanging above. Bummer!

Speaking of the head—it’s at the extreme front end of the ship, but it would have been far better situated for use had it been located amidships. The bow of a vessel rises and falls with every wave, and one that is urinating must be ready to stop and restart the stream as the bow rises and falls. If not, one will be hitting one’s shoes as the bow rises, and splattering the wall as the bow falls.

If you have traveled on a ship you’ll understand what I mean, and if you have not, just ask any seasoned sailor how the system works. In the event of heavy seas, one would be advised to perform the act in a seated position—not very manly, but much safer and much easier on one’s shoes—and the wall.

We arrived at the Port of Yokohama, Japan two weeks later and docked in a harbor festooned with jellyfish. Just form a vision of Monet’s ponds covered with lily pads, then multiple it by thousands, perhaps millions, and you’ll have a vision of the Yokohama harbor.

A short time later—oops, let me rephrase that. The words short time have a very different meaning in military lingo, so I’ll say that a bit later a dozen or so of us were on a GI bus headed for Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo in Northern Japan. The bus ride, Yokota Air Base, Fussa and Tachikawa merit a separate posting—stay tuned!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2010 in Military, Travel, wartime

 

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Arizona apples & cheeseburger briefs . . .

I have three daughters—one lives in Wylie, Texas, a city near Dallas. Another lives just a mile from me in San Antonio. The third daughter lives and works in Virginia, and to celebrate her thirtieth birthday in 1990 we met in Phoenix, Arizona to begin a six-day adventure touring and photographing in three of the states which comprise the legendary four corners—we toured Arizona, New Mexico and Utah but did not make it to Colorado—we saved that for a later birthday, one yet to be scheduled.

The next three paragraphs are in my daughter’s words, exactly as I received them in her e-mail suggesting that I post something on our Southwest adventure.

“Write about me buying a tourism book on things to see in the southwest, reading a caption that went to a different photo, then making you drive 20+ miles on a dirt road to go see what eventually was Hovenweep (but thinking it would look like Mesa Verde in Colorado because of how the caption was laid out)…and how I walked into the canyon and you videotaped my descent and mentioned that I wouldn’t return because something would get me and how city slicker I was; how I wasn’t equipped to be down there and you shouldn’t have let me go—then I heard all of this played back when you played back your video at the hotel!

“Other places we went on that trip: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (10/21/90, I think) in Coolidge, AZ (south of Phoenix)—4-story, 11-room mud structure. This is where I photographed the cactus blooms in the parking lot on our way back to the car—that photo placed in the nature category of the 2nd annual reader’s photos contest with American Photo. You can even mention that and send the winning photo to put in that posting!

“San Xavier del Bac Mission (The White Dove of the Desert) Tucson, AZ (was that in ’90?—I think that’s what my slides were identified with).”

I agree with her recollections of the trip except for her statement that we were “thinking it would look like Mesa Verde in Colorado because of how the caption was laid out.” Wrong—we (she) actually thought that Mesa Verde was in Arizona, not that it would look like Mesa Verde. However, she is right in saying that I videotaped her descent into the canyon, scolding her soundly as the descent was recorded. And I continued to mumble to myself long after she was out of sight and hearing, with the tape still recording my comments, stressing how stubborn she was and that she should mind her ol’ pappy—some of my mumbling included some rather salty language. Fortunately the only listeners (to my knowledge) were the ghosts of the long-gone ancient Anasazi people—and it’s a safe bet that none of them had video cameras. Above: Hovenweep ruins, © Cindy Dyer

We met in Phoenix on Tuesday, October 16, following our respective flights from Alexandria, Virginia and San Antonio, Texas. We went directly to a rental car office and selected a vehicle—when asked if she preferred any particular color, my daughter replied, “Anything but red.” To this day she refuses to accept any rental vehicle even lightly tinged with the color red (some sort of complex there, I suppose). Right: Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, Arizona © Cindy Dyer

Our transportation was blue and therefore acceptable to my daughter, but our adventure began on an ominous note. We located our car in the parking lot, and I placed the ditty-bag containing my toilet articles and my unmentionables on the ground while we loaded our baggage and photo equipment into the trunk and then neglected to load the bag. We left Phoenix and headed for scenic Sedona, located 116 miles north of Phoenix.

We were out of the city and well on our way before I remembered the bag. It was a freebie that came with my wife’s purchase of Lancome items and was marked with the maker’s name and logo. I had lugged it all over the globe for many years, including trips to US cities from Miami to Seattle and Boston to San Diego. The bag also accompanied me to foreign destinations, including Mexico, England, Germany, South Africa and Botswana. The name appeared prominently on both sides of the soft-side bag and could not be effectively obscured—I and my Lancome bag were subjected to numerous speculative side-glances, both by women and men—especially on my trips to San Francisco. Above: wall at San Xavier del Bac Mission, Tucson, AZ © Cindy Dyer

Their visual inspections seemed to focus alternately on the Lancome bag and me, perhaps to resolve some lingering doubt and either refute or  confirm their first impressions. I wanted to tell them that just as one can’t judge a book by its cover or a horse by its color, neither can one judge a traveler by the logo on carry-on luggage—or at least one shouldn’t. Right: Petrified Forest National Park, Petrified Forest, AZ © Cindy Dyer

Bummer.

There was really no good reason to go back for the bag. All the articles in it could be easily replaced, with one very important exception—the bag contained a pair of boxer briefs, cleverly and profusely decorated with colorful images of cheeseburgers—the briefs were a Father’s Day gift from one of my three daughters—on second thought, the three may shared the cost. My daughter remembers the item as being decorated with French fries, but they were cheeseburgers—I insist that my memory is correct and must hold sway, especially given that my relationship with the briefs (my contact, so to speak) was far more personal and up close than hers. In addition to being quite functional, the briefs had a lot of sentimental value for me, so we returned to the rental car parking lot—the bag was just as I left it, cheeseburger briefs and all, and we again headed out for Sedona.

Sedona, Arizona is located in Oak Creek Canyon and is a very popular tourist destination. It’s an artist’s haven, a shopper’s heaven, a photographer’s dream and a traffic nightmare. One can forget parking in the commercial area and only hope to find a wide place to park somewhere along roads leading into and out of the city. On a later trip to the four-corners area, while traveling on IH40 on our way back to Las Vegas from New Mexico, we decided to make a side trip south to Sedona. We toured the city and headed for Las Vegas without ever parking, or even shutting down the engine—our efforts to find a parking place were fruitless.

Speaking of fruit:

On this commemorative thirtieth birthday trip we lingered in the upper Oak Canyon to watch rock-climbers descending and ascending the canyon walls, and found an abandoned apple orchard—at least it appeared to be abandoned. The orchard showed years of neglect with heavy undergrowth, and an old house visible beyond a fallen gate was obviously unoccupied.

Evidently other travelers also considered the orchard abandoned—they were munching on apples garnered from the ground, and the area had been picked clean by the time we got there. However, that was no problem for a stepper, or rather for a climber. The temperature was uncomfortably cool, and although encumbered by the weight of the army field-jacket I was wearing, I climbed several of the trees, filled my pockets with apples and shook down some for others to enjoy (I’m always searching for ways to be of service to fellow sojourners).

The apples would have eventually fallen anyway—I just accelerated the process.

In the interests of brevity I’ll close this posting (not that it’s particularly brief) and get back later with more details of our memorable conquest of the Four Corners area (or at least three of the four states that comprise the four corners). There’s lots more to tell—tidbits such as our stays at several La Quinta motels on our trip. We were always treated to Continental breakfasts, and after our meals we appropriated several bananas to last us through the day. I can’t speak for my daughter, but I consumed so many bananas that I lost most of any affinity I may have had for that particular fruit.

Incidentally, I have to eat bananas sideways in order to keep from blushing (hey, that’s an old GI joke—lighten up!).


 
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Posted by on December 4, 2009 in Humor, PHOTOGRAPHY, Travel

 

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