draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
One last St. Louis thing...fun times on the train! One of our last rides on the metro, there was a hustler fleecing other riders at a card game in the aisle of the car. He called it "chug a lug", but there was no drinking involved. From the little I could see, I think it was a variation on 3 card monte. Anyway, he was apparently doing a fine job of luring new sheep and shearing them, as there was quite a crowd and good bit of noise and laughter. Until one woman ran out of money, and suddenly had to face the reality that she was gambling and losing.
She started begging the dealer to give her her money back... nicely, not threatening (at least at first) "Please can I have my money back, mister?" and that.
To which he had an eminently reasonable response, to whit: "Were you going to give my money back if you won? I don't think so. And I wouldn't have asked for it! If you can't afford to lose it, what are you doing playing card games with a hustler on a train?"
More begging ensued, which eventually turned to threatening to tell the cops that he robbed her. And again our clever dealer is witty: "I don't rob, I hustle. There's a difference, a big difference. Nobody forced you to play, I din't pull a weapon or pick your pocket. You ante'd up and you lost. Last time someone called the cops on me for robbing, you know what happen? He in jail. He in jail for filing a false report."
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
Belated final post about St. Louis trip - back to work this Monday and catching up on all the stuff that'd piled up while we were gone, so haven't had time to write this yet.

Saturday we slept in quite late, for no better reason than because we could. Even once awake, we didn't get right to doing much; spent some time hanging out and reading, showered, and generally lazed about before heading to a costume party. It was a Greek themed party, and I have to say that I rather like the way Bruce looks in a chiton. :) I was a little disappointed at how many people didn't seem to make any attempt to meet the theme, but it was a fun night anyway. Music and a drum circle and some dancing, good food, interesting people. We were out well past the end of the bus lines running though, so when we decided to head back to the hotel, we called for a cab.

I ended up on hold for almost 5 minutes before speaking to a guy (Harvey, he told me 4 or 5 times during our 1 minute conversation) about getting a ride. He kept asking questions and then not letting me answer, or telling me he already had the information - if you already have the information, why are you asking in the first place? Anyway, he said they'd send us a cab "in the next 6-30 minutes."
Uhm... can you give us a little more narrow time frame than that? It's kind of cold standing out here in the dark at 2 AM, and there's no cell reception in the building. "We'll text you when we dispatch someone." Yeah, not really helpful there, Harvey.
So about 2 minutes later, a taxi pulls up. We walk over to it, assuming that this is our ride, despite Harvey's evasiveness. Nope, driver just needed something from the Walgreens right here. But if we're still waiting when he's done, he'd be happy to take us.
We were still waiting when he was done shopping.
So we hopped in (turns out his company charges less than the one we called anyway), and headed off. we were about half way to the hotel (40 minutes after I called) when the first cab company texted to say they were ready to dispatch a cab. So I texted back that we'd already been picked up. The company texted back that nobody actually reads these texts, and if I need assistance I should call again. Then my phone immediately rang before I could dial out, with an automated message from the cab company asking if we still needed a ride....
Anyway...the nice taxi driver who'd picked us up by chance was very chatty, and informed us of the bad areas of town to avoid (a few of which we'd already walked through at night, ha!) and ranted about how terrible the drivers in St. Louis were (while switching lanes without blinkers, and accelerating erratically). We eventually made it safely back to the hotel, where we packed all our stuff up for departure at oh-dear-it's-early Sunday morning, then collapsed in bed for an hour nap before getting back up to stagger off to the shuttle to the airport.

Once again, we made it through security without being more than perfunctorily molested and hauled our sleepy selves to the gate. While waiting, I pointed out to Bruce a guy who apparently spends some time at the gym; his arms were bigger around than my thighs. Upon sardining ourselves into the the plane, I was briefly amused to find myself in the seat next to big-armed guy. I became increasing less amused by this during the flight, as it turns out that shoulders 4 feet wide don't fit in an airplane seat, and I spent a lot of time (the entire flight) with his arm taking up about a quarter of my space. Sleeping did not happen for me on this flight, at all.

58 minute layover in Minneapolis should be ample time to switch to another plane from same airline, right? Well, it was...but would have been a lot more ample if the planes from the same airline were on the same concourse. We made it, and this time actually got to sit next to each other on the plane! Bruce slept the whole flight, I probably got an hour to an hour and a half of something resembling sleep. So, I guess Delta did us okay this time, certainly have had worse airline experiences! We caught a bus from the airport to Bruce's friend Zombie's place, where I fell asleep on the couch while Bruce and Zombie watched football.

Then we drove home, and returned to our normal lives. /vacation
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
Placeholder, to be filled out when I have time:

We went back to Rooster for breakfast, and it was wonderful again. This time, Bruce tried the Slinger, and I had the Smoked Sirloin #3. We did better when we split them, I guess - neither of us had big enough bellies to finish the large portions, but they were yummy up until we declared defeat. We asked our server (Chris) for directions to a nearby place to get gooey butter cakes, which we'd been told we had to try while in St. Louis. He said he hadn't ever even had any, let alone know where the really good gooey butter cake is, and went to ask his manager. She directed us to Park Avenue Coffee, which was just a few blocks away from Rooster, so we strolled off in that direction.

Park Avenue Coffee appears at first glance to be just a fairly typical coffee shop, and the name doesn't change that impression. They do not, however, sell a bunch of pre-packaged, shipped in muffins and bagels. They make their own gooey butter cake in 76 different variations. We actually got to talk to the owner, who was friendly and happy to talk to Bruce about baking and which flavors are most popular and some other cooking stuff that went over my head. I asked if they deliver, and Bruce laughed at me and said "not to Washington, they don't!" which got him laughed at by the owner, who said "Sure we do. We seal up fresh-baked cake and overnight it." Which we may eventually take advantage of, but what I actually requested was that they take a piece of the traditional over to Rooster for Chris. They happily agreed to do so, and packaged up a piece of traditional for Bruce and a piece of triple chocolate (oh, like you're surprised) for me. We took ours with us as we headed back to the zoo, because we were still quite stuffed from breakfast.

We headed back to the metrolink to catch the train to the zoo, but ended up on the wrong side of the station to catch the train going the direction we wanted. A very friendly metrolink security helped us navigate the ongoing construction, actually walking with us back out of the station, across the street and down the block to the other station entry that came down to the other trains. I am guessing this station doesn't get a lot of people changing trains!

We headed back to the zoo to finish out the exhibits we didn't get to see last time... we made it two days, but it could be done in one day. If you get there early and don't dawdle. The gorillas were out today; Bruce had been disappointed not to see them last time. No new close friends among the gorillas for Bruce, guess that's just an orangutan thing. We couldn't get in to the stingrays - the exhibit is closed for the winter - which was a bit disappointing, but apparently there's a huge aquarium at, of all places, the City Museum, which we are planning to hit tonight. We went through the children's zoo to see the fennec foxes and the tree kangaroo. Tree kangaroo was cute, and has a baby with her, but it seems like they went out of their way to pick nocturnal animals for the children's zoo. The only critters really out and about were the echidna (cool as cool can be, that critter) and the mole rats, who don't care about night and day. One of the fennec foxes is a tripod; apparently she came to the zoo already missing her front leg, and the keepers we talked to didn't know what happened to her. She was a pet that was released to the zoo. Talked to the keeper for a few minutes about how often that happens... mostly with animals in the children's zoo, apparently, which makes sense. Going to have more people with small exotics (rabbits, chinchillas, fennecs, hedgehogs, etc) that the can't care for than things like large cats, just because the little ones are easier to acquire. She also said that a lot of their pet-releases actually come through the humane societies, not directly from owners, so many of them have little history with them on entry.
We took a break from walking and watched the antelope play (well, mostly they lay around apparently enjoying the sun and their cuds...) while we ate our gooey butter cakes. Delicious concoctions of yumminess! It's like butter and sugar with just enough flour to hold form (plus cocoa in the case of mine). Between gooey butter cake and gelato it's probably best for my health that I not stay in St. Louis long term!
When we'd finished the cakes, we headed through "Big Cat Country" on our way to the monkey house. Lions look very smug as they bask in the sun. We got to see the keeper feed the Coquerel's Sifaka, cute critters that I'd never even heard of before this visit. The absolute most adorable of the primates (in my humble opinion) was the pygmy marmoset. Because I suck, I totally failed to get a picture of him when he came and sat immediately in front of me.
After the monkey house was the Herp Hall, with a variety of beautiful snakes and lizards, and Bruce's favorite, the Komodo dragon. Sad Bruce, that we don't have a proper enclosure for keeping dragons at home.

On our way to dinner after the zoo, Bruce was hit up at a bus stop by a guy who said he was homeless and needed money for food. The guy was very focused on Bruce, and never actually spoke to me, it was a little trippy. So we walked with him to a nearby McDonald's and Bruce paid for his dinner.

Then we made a quick trip to a neighboring thrift store while waiting for bus connection, but didn't find good shirts to go with any of my growing collection of skirts with no matching tops. We did find a pair of cut-off jean shorts for me in a style Bruce likes for fifty cents, so couldn't pass that up. And back to the bus stop we trekked to head off to Farmaus for dinner. Due to the vagaries of bus travel, we arrived quite some time before our reservation, but they got us seated right away. We split the Butcher's Plate (the online menu has already been updated, so what we got was not exactly what is currently listed), which was a taster plate of meats and cheeses. The porchetta was yummy, especially paired with the Marcoot Jersey Creamery Alpine cheese. Pork pie surprised me - I had always imagined it served hot, but it came out cold and was quite nice. There was a lamb pate of some sort (name started with an r, neither Bruce nor I can remember and it's one of the things changed on the menu) that was interesting, but we didn't eat much of it - fairly reminiscent of tuna or chicken salad. Whipped lardo is basically what you'd expect - cured pig fat, processed into a spread. It was good, but I didn't eat much for fear of what straight fat would do to my digestion. The New Orleans style butter pickles tasted to me like pickles (not a fan, sorry), but Bruce said they were probably the best sweet pickle he'd ever had. As entrees, Bruce had the nachos (YellowTree Farm sweet potato chips, Salemville blue cheese, cherry wood  smoked bacon lardoons, pickled Fournie Farms jalapenos, fire-roasted red pepper catsup ) and I had the bacon-wrapped meatloaf. The nachos were pretty damn good - the blue cheese was even mild enough on the "mold" taste that I could enjoy it in small amounts. The red pepper catsup was definitely a good touch. The meatloaf was good (for meatloaf, says Bruce), and the bacon was bizarelly easy to cut but still tasted like bacon. It came with mashed potatoes made with both sweet and Yukon gold potatoes, which was was pretty damn yummy. We didn't take dessert there, opting instead to head back into town for dessert at a different site.
On this trip, we had a very friendly bus driver who gave us directions on transferring to a bus that would take us directly to the restaurant. Unfortunately, said transfer was a 30 minute wait and then a 15 minute ride, and trusty Google maps said the place was  only an 18 minute walk away. It was chilly and windy but not raining, and we didn't want to sit at the bus station for half an hour while the weather decided whether or not to soak us, so off we walked. We ended up getting side tracked about a block from our original destination (back to Chocolate Bar to try some of their other options) and stopped at Eleven Eleven to see what they had on their dessert menu. We stayed and tried the sampler. The chocolate torte was good, as expected (what can I say, my taste in these things is predictable). The creme custard napoleon was mostly Bruce's, and not bad but the phyllo pieces were quite sharp/brittle, making eating them a little uncomfortable. The caramelized bananas were, well, bananas in caramel sauce: good, but not what I expected. The gooey butter cake was a disappointment, and made us very glad we'd been to Park Avenue Coffee before coming here, or we may have never tried it elsewhere. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad, just...uninspired. It tasted alright but was basically just flat pound cake. We made immediate plans to return to Park Avenue for breakfast tomorrow for really good gooey butter cake.

We walked back to the metrolink, caught the train out to the bus station in our area of town, and then sat in the cold drizzle while the bus driver refused to let people on the bus, saying that she wasn't going anywhere - she shut the door right in Bruce's face and sat in the darkened bus talking on her cell phone for 20 minutes before she opened the door again and started letting people on. We were not impressed. It is probably unfair, but I'm going to go ahead and blame her for the fact that I am all congested and stuffy-headed again now, when I had been feeling better.
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
We slept way in today; Bruce has been feeling congested and a bit sub-par, so has been waking early/not sleeping well. This morning when I woke, he was still out, so I let him sleep. We ended up leaving the room at nearly noon, and heading to Rooster for breakfast (lunch?). We split the Mo. German Style Sausage #2 crepe (check out the menu, they didn't bother with cutesy names for most of their stuff - so there's bacon #1, bacon #2, bacon #3, etc. It's a bit odd, and I love it.) and the s'more crepe. Very good - we are, in fact, going back for breakfast there again tomorrow, making this the only planned repeat restaurant of the trip.

From Rooster, we headed to the Gateway Arch for the stereotypical tourist option of St. Louis. We didn't bother to do much research online prior to showing up, so were rather surprised at the "airport style security check" (yeah, that's really what they called it) at entry. Lucky for me, my pocket knife is under the limit and wasn't an issue, but my torque was a point of brief contention. Woman at the entry wanted me to take it off. I told her it only comes off with an allen wrench, which she made me prove by lifting my hair out of the way and turning entirely around so she could inspect it. She then called across (by which I mean yelled) to the guy at the metal detector that "it doesn't come off!" before sending me through. Weirdly enough, this very same torque has never been an issue at the actual airports I've worn it through. Anyway, even with the issue of the torque, they were getting people through security way faster than the airports do anymore, and we were on our way to the trolleys fairly quickly. This is NOT a ride for the claustrophobic! The trolleys to the top of the arch are chains of 8 pods small enough that I hit my head on the roof, and I'm not tall. Each pod sits 5 people, so if there is a big line up, you're going to be really smashed in. We were extremely lucky in our timing, and got our own pod both up and down, but when we left there was a line 3 or 4 full trolley loads worth of kids waiting. The view of town from the top is pretty cool, and includes a direct view into the stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals were facing the San Francisco Giants in the playoffs. We decided that the way to watch games would be to bring binocs and a radio here, pay the $10 ticket to get to the top of the arch, and not have to fight for $200 seats in the stadium.

After leaving the Arch, we headed across downtown to the City Museum, but ended up not going in, because it turns out they close at 5 on weekdays, and it was already 4:30 by the time we got there. We plan to go back Friday, when they are open later. Lacking an immediate plan, we wandered off through town on foot, soon to happen across The Gelateria Tavolini. I am seriously disappointed in every single person who gave us recommendations of places to try in town and failed to mention this place! It was lovely; quiet, calm area to sit and read or talk; friendly service from a perky, easy going lady; absolutely freaking delicious gelato. It would be nearly a crime not to visit this place if you are in town! I had a split serving of chocolate and coconut; the chocolate was a wonderful semi-sweet chocolate, and I have no complaints about it, but the coconut put it to shame. It was the perfect level of sweet - delicious, not cloying - with flakes of real coconut for both taste and texture. Bruce and I are in full agreement that this place kicked all available ass in comparison with Ted Drewes, even though several people recommended Ted Drewes to us, though he was a little disappointed that they had no vanilla gelato available to try.

From gelato, we dashed through the rain to a clothing store down the block, and I tried on a couple tops. We picked one to go with a skirt I'd brought without a top, and then dashed back through the rain to the bus stop. We had a 45 minute bus ride out to where we planned dinner, which was just about enough time to dry off before we got off the bus and walked a block in the rain again to Momos. There are the typical tables and chairs you'd expect at a restaurant here, but we eschewed them in favor of cuddling on the comfy couch for dinner. We had the avgolomeno (lemon chicken broth with orzo pasta), the cheese plate with both white and whole wheat pitas, and finished up with chocolate phyllo. A little disappointed; the cheeses were all quite salty, which made them less enjoyable than we'd hoped. The chocolate phyllo was delicious though. During dinner there was a belly dancer working her way around the restaurant; she picked on Bruce and ended up giving him an impromptu belly dancing lesson, which was both fun and funny. Don't worry, I got pictures.

From there, back to the hotel room, and now, to sleep...

St. Louis

Oct. 16th, 2012 09:31 pm
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
Ah, St. Louis.... what is the problem with your sewers?! We keep just randomly hitting areas of town that smell of sewer. It's quite nasty. Other than that, it seems like a generally nice city, as cities go. We've met lots of people who were friendly and willing to help poor lost strangers. We have noticed a distinct racial difference in the people we're around - it seems that white folk don't use public transit around here, except sporadically and during daylight. Which is a little funny, because all the "use our transit system" signs I've seen feature white people. Guess it's a good thing that neither Bruce nor I are scared of looking out of place, but we did get warned by one nice lady tonight that we were in a bad part of town and we should be careful.

Anyway, today was day 1 of wandering around the St. Louis Zoo. Unlike most zoos I've been to, the SLZ is free, except for a few specific exhibits. We stopped at Carl's Deli on the way to the zoo and picked up sandwiches to carry with us, and eat later while wandering through the zoo. Nobody sane will ever say that the portions from Carl's are small! I had a half sandwich (peppered beef and muenster on kaiser roll) and couldn't finish it. Bruce attempted a whole sandwich (pastrami and Swiss on kaiser roll) and didn't even get close to finishing. I got pictures of several critters, including Robert B, the orangutan who was fascinated with Bruce - came straight up to him and started trying to kiss him through the glass. It was cute. I'll post pics when we get back into town and I have time. In the meantime, please note: hippos are amazingly graceful swimmers, sloth bears are crazy furry, red river hogs have wonderfully cute ears, Humbolt penguins make a lot of noise (and smell like fish), and butterflies are beautiful.

They kicked us out of the zoo at 5, we'll have to go back tomorrow or the next day for the other half of the exhibits. After leaving the zoo, we headed off to look for a wig for Bruce to complete his Halloween costume. We accomplished this after a few stops, and then headed to Ted Drewes for frozen custard. I was disappointed to find that all the custard is vanilla, and if you want a different flavor in a shake or mix, they add flavored syrups... so chocolate custard wasn't an option. I had a hot fudge brownie sundae, which was pretty good, but really didn't hold up to the chocolate from Crown Candy Kitchen yesterday. Bruce had a Hawaiian sundae (custard + coconut syrup + pineapple chunks + macadamia nuts), he says it was pretty good, but agrees the ice cream was not as good as Crown Candy Kitchen's.

And now, to sleep, the better to be prepared for the Arch and the rest of the zoo (and maybe the city museum?) tomorrow...

St. Louis

Oct. 15th, 2012 10:09 pm
draggonlaady: (Default)
Oh, my feet! I think I may have blisters...quite the pair we are, because Bruce has blisters from the other day already. When we headed out this morning, we walked to the bus stop about half a mile from the hotel; I made a poor shoe choice today, and my feet were already starting to regret it... we eventually found cushion inserts for me, but it's been a pretty mincy day for me.

First stop was a fabric store (yeah, we pick exciting vacation destinations!) to look for cloth for costumes for a party we're going to this weekend. From there, we headed downtown. We had the basic idea of where we were heading, but we got a little uncertain when we transferred from the train to the bus, because there were 2 buses with the same number. So Bruce asked for directions to Pappy's... from a guy in a Rib Shack shirt. And then belatedly realized what he'd done when the guy gave him a sort of sour look before busting out laughing. Turns out that Rib Shack guy was just let go from Pappy's a few weeks ago, and Rib Shack is a new job for him. Social graces, we haz dem! Anyway, he was getting on the same bus we needed anyway, so when it was our stop, he told us so. Pappy's Smokehouse was great. We had pulled pork and beef brisket sandwiches, both of which were delicious. Sweet potato fries, deep fried corn on the cob, and baked beans... the fries were wonderful, the corn was good but not significantly different than roasted corn on the cob, and the baked beans were apparently really good - I don't like beans, but I didn't hate these :). We got to talking to one of the servers (the servers were all friendly and high-energy, a fun bunch to watch work), and he was disappointed in us for not having the ribs; so disappointed, apparently, that he couldn't let it stand. He ran off to the kitchen and came back with a rib for each of us. First bite elicited a "daaaaamn, that's good ribs!" from me, and "that may be the best rib I've ever eaten" from Bruce. Seriously, any of you that like ribs and are in the area, make it a point to have the ribs there. And the sweet potato fries. Fabulous.

From there, we walked the rest of the way downtown, after being assured it was just a short way by one of the Pappy's servers... and if we'd been in comfy shoes and not already blistered, it wouldn't have been a problem. As is, I needed pretty frequent breaks on the way. We stopped and talked to a really nice lady at one of the bus stops... she claimed to be 59 and have grandkids, but looked like she was in her late 30s. Super nice lady, willing to field random questions from total strangers. We eventually ended up at the bus transfer station downtown, where we caught the Downtown Trolley. Kind of a zippy little bus that makes a figure eight run through downtown; we didn't get off anywhere, just looked around and made plans for the rest of the week.

When we got back to the transfer station, we switched to a bus to take us off to a different corner of town for dessert at Crown Candy Kitchen. Our waitress was super chipper and helpful (Bruce said that if he was still managing a restaurant, he'd be trying to steal her) and the chocolate ice cream was an incredibly good bittersweet (I lack the proper words to express for you how good this is - just plan on trying it if you are ever in this state, ok?). Trevor had black cherry ice cream, which he says was quite good, though not as much better than its counterparts at other ice cream places than the chocolate was. We picked up some chocolates to go and will be enjoying those later....

We also did some non-exciting drug store shopping for mundane things like hand lotion, but I figured you guys didn't really need details of Walgreen's and Scnuck's. And now, some reading and then some sleeping.

St. Louis

Oct. 14th, 2012 09:21 pm
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
Just back to the room from dinner at Chocolate Bar - had a bit of hassle getting there as we are learning the bus routes through town, but we weren't in a hurry so it was pretty low stress confusion. I had a lovely pizza for dinner: thin crust, with roasted cinnamon apples, bacon, and goat cheese. Bruce had a grilled cheese sandwich with pesto, tomato, asiago, gruyere, chedder, and mahon cheeses. We shared the "Lover's Plate" dessert; an assortment of chocolates alongside a small chocolate cake, ice cream, strawberries, and caramelized bananas. We tried the honey mead, but neither of us was very fond of it. The restaurant itself is pretty neat; they are definitely aiming for romantic with the red decor and low lighting, candles and roses on the tables. The serving staff was friendly and efficient. I think my favorite part of the building was (weirdly, but you all know I'm kinda weird) was the bathrooms. They're downstairs in a low-ceilinged area, with mirror mosaics and candles in sconces on the wall. The sink faucets were lovely brass "waterfall" faucets. The only thing I can come up with to complain about is that the music (while interesting and eclectic, with some great stuff in the mix) had a really inconsistent volume.

We saw a couple people biking through town on our way to the restaurant, which reminded me of another issue we ran into at the Millenium Hotel - they advertised the availability of free bicycles to use, but turns out they only have 2 total (remember the bit about 30 floors of rooms? 2 bicycles seems to me a .... scant supply for that that many guests) and both are currently broken. So Bruce was unable to borrow one to get around the neighborhood yesterday.

St. Louis

Oct. 14th, 2012 02:43 pm
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
Travel to St. Louis was pretty smooth, unlike some prior flights I've ranted about. Yay! We arrived safely Friday night.

Unfortunately, we were immediately unimpressed with our hotel of destination.... we found the hotel shuttle waiting area, and after a bit of time a van prominently labelled "Millenium Hotel" drove up. And gave no indication of stopping. We stepped up and waved to get the driver's attention, and he stopped in the lane of traffic instead of pulling over. The window rolled down (and a cloud of smoke wafted out), and he informed us that he was not there to collect hotel patrons (read patrons with a sneer, and the whole statement with a put-upon tone), but if we really wanted, he could call the hotel and ask for a VIP pass to transport us to the hotel. The guy was seriously so rude about the whole thing that the woman on the sidewalk behind us, with whom we'd had no prior interaction, commented to us about his attitude and behavior.
We ended up slogging our luggage back across the terminal and catching the metro train downtown, then hiking the 3 blocks from the station to the hotel, because the Millenium doesn't run airport shuttles for mere patrons. I dunno who the Hell they think keeps them in business, but apparently treating those damn patrons like they're welcome doesn't enter the plan. They also don't believe in Wi-Fi in rooms (though there is Wi-Fi in the lobby), and while you can get internet access in the rooms by good old fashioned ethernet plug-in, they charge for it. There are 30 floors and they are hosting conferences, but there are only 3 elevators - it was faster to climb the 10 flights of stairs to my room from the lower lobby than to wait in line with the 200 other conference attendees for a lift.

So the prompter for this trip was a continuing education conference for me, which is how I spent most of Saturday. Bruce apparently met up in the elevators with another attendee's husband who was at loose ends, and the two of them wandered off to Hooters while we boring wives got educated.

We haven't done much exploration of town yet, but one thing I was unable to avoid noticing was the stench in the area where we were - standing on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, there was a strong and obvious reek of sewer, mixed with natural gas, and overlaid with diesel exhaust fumes. Stomach churning. I'm hoping that is not common throughout town.

Saturday night, Bruce and I returned to the metro to travel across town to a bar we'd been directed to, and tried the toasted ravioli, which is apparently a St. Louis thing... a St. Louis thing that Bruce is totally welcome to make me for dinner any time he feels like it, yum! We stopped by Hooters for dessert on the way back to the 'tel, because I had complained to him that he was supposed to take me with him when he went places I'd never been before. It was about what I expected; a sports-themed place with cute serving staff wearing tight shorts. The cake was good but not spectacular, and came in large servings.

Today I was once again conferencing most of the day, which left Bruce to pack up all our stuff and get us checked out of the room. At the end of the lectures, we hiked back to the metro station and caught the train back to the airport, where we caught the hotel shuttle to the hotel where we will be staying the rest of the week. This hotel is considerably lower-cost than the Millenium, but so far Homestead is kicking Millenium's ass in customer service. The shuttle driver was super friendly and helped carry our bags in to check in; the Wi-Fi is free and easily accessed; the building looks a bit older and less spiffy but the rooms have kitchenettes and we're on the ground floor, so no elevator lines.

Anyway, future updates will be more food and vacation/touristy stuff oriented.... we are considering heading to the Chocolate Bar for dinner tonight.

St. Louis

Oct. 6th, 2012 04:12 pm
draggonlaady: (Teddy)
Do I know anybody in St. Louis? Do any of you know anybody in St. Louis that I should suddenly know, at least for a week later this month?
draggonlaady: (Grinding Bones)
Next day was time to head home. Which means that once I again, I commend myself to the goodness and mercy of Alaska Airlines.

First thing in the morning, I called customer service.
"Hi. I'm supposed to be flying out of Petersburg, Alaska today. I did not receive the confirmation call which I was expecting, so I just wanted to make sure everything's okay."
"Did you make a reservation?"
"Yes..." (thinking but NOT said aloud: No, I was expecting a confirmation call because I think you're all psychic and just KNOW when I need to fly, without my bothering with this 'reservation' thing.)
She rattles at the keyboard for a minute. "Did you pay for it?"
"Yes!"
After another 4-5 minutes of key rattling, she finally says "Oh, there it is." (This is NOT comforting, thank you!) She confirms that I'll be leaving that afternoon, and that I'll be allowed on the plane.

I walk down town for breakfast, and then back to the other end of town (what? it's not a long walk) to check out the book store. While I'm poking through the stacks, the power goes out. To the entire town. And apparently to Wrangell and another town as well. I am assured that if the airports all shut down just for little things like power outages, half the scheduled flights through Alaska wouldn't happen. Somehow this is not terribly reassuring, as it's been my experience that half of the flights through Alaska don't happen. (What, me, cynical?)

I spend about 2 hours chatting with a random guy in the hotel lobby (yeah, I'm odd), and then hit the little cafe outside of the hotel for lunch. Sweet potato and rock fish curry over brown rice--good stuff, Maynard. Power came back on somewhere in there.

Then we head to the airport; T and J are on the same flight out as I am, and there are a couple people coming in on that flight that Dennis and Toni are supposed to pick up. I go to check in, and the computer refuses to print me a boarding slip or baggage claim strip. Takes 3 tries for the woman to get it done. I realize that this is probably a result of the power outage and not anything the airline did, but still!

Petersburg is a tiny airport; they don't have the baggage x-ray machines, so everything gets searched by hand by TSA. And swabbed for nitrates. Oddly, even though the clothes I was wearing when I tested positive in Ketchikan are in the bag, they pass it. I do end up having to send my carry-on through twice though, because they couldn't figure out what my camera was on the first trip. *sigh*

So we all board, and the flight attendants come by and tell me to turn off my reader. Since I'm still wondering exactly what that's about, I ask. And get one of the stupidest, blatantly bullshit answers EVER. FAA regulations (I am told) require that all devices, even those with no transmit functions, be turned off because (drum roll please) they want people to pay attention to the safety spiel and these devices would be distracting. Riiiight... because the bloke next to me reading his book, and the woman over across the way with the magazine, those people aren't distracted? Why don't these (dare I say non-existant?) FAA regulations require that books, magazines, games, and newspapers be stowed also? And how come I can't turn the reader back on as soon as the flight attendant is done talking instead of waiting until we get to 10,000 feet? Your answer, it makes no sense! A 6 year old could do better.

Bruce suggests that prior to my next vacation, I should download into the reader the FAA regulations regarding passenger conduct, as well as TSA regulations regarding passengers so that when I get obviously bullshit answers like that (or like the one we got on our Knoxville trip, where the flight attendant claimed it was a TSA regulation that passengers not seated in 1st class couldn't use the lavatory in the 1st class area) I can ask them to show me the pertinent section.

Anyway, rather than deal with turning the reader off every time we land as we island skip down the coast, I start in on the book I bought at the Petersburg book store. Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. As with most of Doctorow's work, it's available for free download on his site. It was a terribly apropos book, given my recent frustrations with TSA. Basic plot is a teenage kid in California, and his struggles with a Homeland Security Department gone bat-shit (even more so than currently in real life) after a terrorist attack. I recommend it. (As you may have guessed from the links to buy or download it, yeah?)

The flight to SeaTac was actually fairly uneventful. Then I spent 3 hours sitting in SeaTac waiting for my next flight. Picked up dinner at Waji's, which was not bad, but nothing spectacular either. Was continually irritated by the "Talking Fountain" in the waiting area. Someone's idea of art, apparently, is to hook a speaker up to a drinking fountain, so that whenever anyone gets water, it makes quite loud, repetitive sounds like rocks banging together under water. Maybe I just don't get art, but I found this intrusive and annoying, not pretty or soothing.

SeaTac decided to play switchery-doo with the gates, and no announcements were made that I heard. I figured it out (just) before they finished boarding, and the flight to Spokaloo was uneventful.

One final note about airport security: I apparently had a pretty basic misunderstanding of how the "metal detectors" work. I wear this shiny piece which Bruce gave me. As you can see, it's not subtle. This is a big chunk of metal. Not a single security machine cared. I was vaguely aware that it was possible to sneak ceramic or polymer weapons through security, but it had never occurred to me that I could walk through with over a quarter pound of metal. Apparently, stainless steel doesn't interfere with electromagnetic fields enough to trip the security. So you can get through security with practically any sort of weapon, if you're prepared. Meanwhile, people who are absolutely no threat are delayed, harassed, and imposed upon. Does this make me feel safer? Hmm. Nope. "Security theater" indeed. Americans lose, the terrorists win.
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
Last day on the boat. Weather was finally "Alaska-like", raining off and on and windy all day. No worries though, as this was a travel day; we were all on board as we headed back to port at Petersburg. Nobody had to sit out watching nets, or be running around in the skiffs.

We ran near a group of humpback whales feeding; many pictures were taken!
Flukes, flukes, and flukes!
A pair diving together
Surfacing/blowing
Lateral fins during a roll aka "playing shark"
Dorsal fin
Whale face (really, I promise that's what it is!)

Lots of birds, mostly gulls (mew, and either herring or glaucous), but some cormorants (still no pictures, sorry, I suck) and a couple species that I'd never heard of: White wing scoter and pomarine jaeger (yeah, it's a cruddy picture; he was a long way off and moving fast). Here, wiki has a better picture than I got. These are apparently a rare sighting, I was told repeatedly that I was lucky to see it. Also Arctic terns, and a Pacific Loon in his pretty tuxedo colors.

One daring gull was trying to steal fish from a seal.

As you come into the harbor near Petersburg, there are large buoys to mark the channel. These have become a favored hang out of sea lions, who don't want to swim the 30-40 miles back to the haul-out beach. There was a solid layer of sea lions on the platform of every buoy we passed, and usually 1 or 2 more circling and looking for a place to haul themselves up.

I also got a kick out of the sea lions who would line up in the shallows, each with 1 flipper sticking straight up in the air, just group-napping.

There was this mighty handsome eagle posing as we came into town.

I wandered around through town for a while; not much town to wander through, but there is a fairly neat (and sobering) memorial park, with plaques for folks dead or missing at sea. There are about 4 pages of pictures of plaques here, for any interested.

Dinner was at a bar in Petersburg, Keto's Kave. I gave up and went back to the hotel for bed about 1. A few of the others ended up closing the bar down. Guess I'm too old for that anymore?

Fish and Wildlife has posted a blurb about the otter project.
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
Since we hadn't gotten out to look at the plane yesterday, Cap'n Dennis, T, J, and I went to look for it today.
We found it. And we began speculation on exactly what it is that Z smokes while waiting for otters to wander into nets.

This is the "white plane with blue trim, and 2 9's in the tail number" that Z found. We called the number in to see who's plane it was, and went back to Northern Song to ask Z if he is colorblind. Red trim on cream is not the same as blue trim on white!
Pretty overgrown. Z had estimated about 10 years old, which would have put it right in the time frame to have been Smokey's plane. Dennis says "looks like a mighty long 10 years."
Tail number was intact. No 9's involved, just a couple 6's. Maybe Z was standing on his head?

Saw a cormorant on the trip back to Northern Song, but no picture. There were many, many marbled murrelets in pairs and trios, a handful of bald eagles, and a bunch of pigeon guillemots.

Got a call back; this plane wreck was already registered. It was a non-fatality crash in 1965. Smokey's plane is still unfound. Z caught much harassment about numbers and colors over dinner.

5 more otters caught and transmitters implanted, bringing the total up to 30 otters. Very happy otter crew!

Started raining a bit that afternoon, so I spent most of it hanging out on Northern Song reading.

Dinner was halibut (thanks to J and T) with roasted potatoes. Quite yummy!
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
So on Day 5, the plan was that Leanna and I would kayak to shore, hike to a place called Fossil Bluffs (different than Fossil Beach), and then come back to Northern Song. Dennis was going to do boat stuff while we hiked, and then we were going to go look for the plane wreck.

What actually happened was that Leanna and I made it about a quarter of the way to the bluffs, a nice, level hike on easy ground, when we got called back to the boat. The otter crew had decided to move to a different area in hopes of catching more otters. So we headed back to Northern Song, and moved base. On our way out of the bay, Cap'n Dennis swung the Northern Song in along the cliff with the pictograph; which was both cool and scary/impressive, because he pulled the boat in RIGHT next to the cliff to get a good look. It was even making Leanna nervous. Turns out there's a second pictograph, this one a boat (though it looks more like a fish spine to me).

We moved around the point of the bay, into Keku Strait. I went out with the otter crew that afternoon again to check nets. It was a good afternoon for catching things, apparently; the first net we checked had 2 otters in it. 1 was a pup, and escaped as we pulled mom out of the net (the pups are small enough that they can wiggle out easier than the adults can). We couldn't catch the pup with the dipnet, so we beached S on a nearby "deserted island" to keep an eye on the pup, and hustled the mom to the Jerry O.

Cap'n Dave and I went to check the other net while Z and V hauled the otter to Jerry O. And that was exciting. There were four otters in the net. The 2 on the end were fighting with each other (bad!), 1 was a pup (again!) and there was another pup swimming around crying (the one away from the group in that pick is the loose pup). We had only 1 box with us. (Oops!) We radioed for helpers and boxes, and pulled otter number 1 into the one box we had. At that point, the pup in the net made a break for it, so now we had 2 pups swimming around whistling for mommy. The otter we'd just boxed was calling back to the pup who'd just escaped. We left her wound in the net in the box for the moment, and then help arrived. They started at the other end of the net with the second boat, and pulled in the biggest of the otters--he was an 87 pound male, one of the fighters. As it happens, he's a crappy fighter. The female next to him (50 pounds) had banged his face up something fierce, but had not a mark on herself. Got the male un-netted, pulled the second female up and got her boxed, decided that it would be too long a time to leave pups apart from mom by the time they got through the line-up, and we released the female that Dave and I had pulled in, as she appeared to be not only nursing, but pregnant again.

Hauled the other 2 back to the Jerry O, dropped them off and picked up mom #1 to transport back to her pup. They made a big, happy ruckus when they got back together!

Got some pretty good close-up shots while waiting for boxes.
Treading water
Should I be worried?
Nah! Not worried.
Boat is more interesting than other otters fighting behind her.

Box is open?
Hmm. That's a bit of a drop. You sure you can't lower me more?
Fine, fine! I'll dive.
Back home, free again, but not in any big hurry to get away from the skiff.


Day 5 ended up having a total of 5 otters radioed, 2 pups escaped, and 1 release. Big day! We never did end up looking for the plane that day.

Lunch was smoked cod, pretty good but not my favorite fish ever, and dinner was black cod marinated in something yummy. Much good. (Good thing Bruce wasn't along, he'd have gone hungry all day! Silly boy doesn't like fish.)
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
On day 4, I went out with V and Cap'n Dave in the La Tourista to set nets. We picked a spot near a couple of rocks protruding from the surface, set the net out, and then went ashore to wait. Which turned out to be several hours of waiting. Good thing I brought my trusty camera! We were on a rocky island, which had 3 distinct types of tide pools. On one side, there were shallow, long, warm pools swarming with hermit crabs, limpits, chitons, sculpin, gunnel, and anemones (in red, green, orange, and brown. some even had cute stripes!). The barnacles here were...hmm. I'm getting tired of saying huge. Right, they were of impressive stature! Just offshore here, there were forests of various colors and sizes of kelp.

A few more red sea urchins, and the ubiquitous sea stars were also hanging about.

I was surprised to discover just how mobile and flexible chiton are; I had imagined them moving slowly and holding a fixed shape, rather like limpets. Turns out, not so much. This fella was waving around out from under a rock shelf, looked for all the world like a tentacle. Then it curled up over the edge of the shelf. When I touched it gently, it snapped back under the shelf with startling speed.

These isopods were pretty neat; the red one is about 2" long.

To give an idea of how long we were waiting, (and how determined gulls are) I took a series of pictures of the rocks where we set our net. These are glaucous wing gulls, for those who care :)
Big rocks, lots of perching space
Well, getting a little close here.
Glad those other guys left, now we have lots of space again!
Hmm. Well, this is getting interesting...
Fine, ocean. You win. We're out of here.


On the point of the island, the ground was uplifted layers with deep crevices between slabs of rock. The tide pools here were deep and shaded, with no crabs but many multi-colored snails. Many muscles and small barnacles. Also sea roach; once again, creatures here are surprisingly not small!

Around the other side of the island there were pools of the same shaded/cleft construction, but warmer and a little shallower. These were swarming with tiny red bugs. Occasional small shrimp scuttled about. There were snails here too, bazillions of them, all small and purple. Dave says they're carnivorous, and that if you drop meat in the pools, it'll be entirely devoured surprisingly rapidly. I didn't test it, but whatever they eat, they seem to be thriving. This area here, for example. Those are not pebbles coating the ground. That's a solid layer of purple snails.

This critter has the delightfully apt name of "purple intertidal sponge."

Unlike on the fossil beach, there were very few sea cucumbers, and they were quite small.

There were pine siskin flitting about and singing cheerily, but I couldn't ever get a good picture. I did get some not-bad shots of the loon (yellow bill? Pacific? thoughts, [livejournal.com profile] winnett) drifting offshore though, and the raft of seals sunning themselves in the shallows.

All we caught in our otter net was kelp, so we eventually pulled it back in and headed to a different area. While we were relaxing on the island, the crew of the Sea Weasel was busy; they pulled in a single net with 4 otters and a half-grown sea lion. One of the otters escaped while they were trying to deal with the sea lion; he was rather displeased about being netted, and maneuvering several hundred pounds of displeased sea mammal is a bit of a daunting task. They managed to cut him out of the net, but that left a huge cut area, and while they were working on it, they sacrificed a stuff sack, a seat cushion, and a life vest to keep him from gnawing on humans. As it was, he dented and scratched a sizable area of the skiff. Of the 3 otters they hauled back to the Jerry O, one was late pregnancy, so they did not want to open her abdomen. Measurements and blood samples were taken, but no transmitter in that one.

Z spotted a wrecked plane while waiting for nets; he told Cap'n Dennis about it that night. Based on Z's description of a white plane with blue trim, and 2 9's in the tail number, Dennis thought it might be the plane of someone named Smokey, who'd gone missing about 8 years ago. We planned to go looking for it the next day.

Dinner was cedar-plank salmon, much yums were had.

After dinner, Leanna, Ocean, and I ran out in one of the skiffs to see the pictograph on the cliff. The story is that this cranky looking sun has been here for at least 200 years, though there is debate over who did it and why.

Sunsets out here were gorgeous!
I forgot to post the sunset pics from the days before, so here you go:
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
First, something I forgot on Day 2 - One of the otter crew (Z) is a grad student, writing up this project for his thesis. Z was therefore particularly stressed by the lack of otter catching prior to my arrival. At the end of yesterday, happy and tired and playing around after catching 4 otters, Z decided to cut across the edge of the bay on the way back to Northern Song. In doing so, he managed to rip the lower unit off the skiff's motor on a submerged rock chain. Oops.
Otter project had 2 skiffs, (Sea Weasel and La Tourista) so at bedtime on Sunday, they were half down on transport ability for setting nets and hauling otters to the hospital boat. Plan was to call repair shops first thing Monday morning and have a lower unit sent out via Doug, the still patient private pilot who transported me and then my luggage.

On waking on Day 3, however, things get even less smooth. It seems that overnight, the La Tourista snagged and was rolled under the Jerry O, flooding the motor and dumping a bunch of equipment into the water. J and T (2 other observers like me; not officially on the project) were up early to go fishing, so they took one of the Northern Song's rubber skiffs over to the Jerry O to help retrieve the float-away otter boxes, stuff sack, life vests, etc. and bring Dave (Jerry O's captain) back to Northern Song for breakfast. So now the otter project has no skiffs. The Northern Song has 2 rubber skiffs, but those aren't good choices for pulling otters out of nets; otters bite and holding boxes are sharp edged, and rubber, it doesn't do so well at staying inflated after puncture. So we have a slow/lazy morning of waiting for parts for 2 motors to be located and flown out.
Combined with continued beautiful weather (and they say it's cold in Alaska!), this provided a great time for some kayaking.
Leanna and I headed out along the same island that we'd played around on yesterday, paddling up to the point of the island and letting the tide and wind drift us back along the shore.
This time, we found a couple Sunflower stars where we could reach them, and really appreciate how freaky HUGE they are compared to other stars. There were dozens of common stars arrayed along the intertidal areas, and lions mane jellies in the water. Also saw a couple mink on shore--and I'm beginning to sound like a broken record or something, but those buggers are BIG. I was expecting something about the size of a domestic ferret, but these kids were 2 or 3 times that size. And much quicker than I am; I failed entirely to get a decent picture.

We drifted through a school of about a million humpy fry; seriously, it took several minutes to float from one end to the other of this school.

We saw bald eagles (go ahead and assume that I say this every day, okay?), ravens, and gulls.

At one point as we floated along, several fish flung themselves repeatedly from the water to our side, skidded along and dropped back in. We didn't see what was chasing them, but suspect it was harbor seals.

On shore for an hour or so in the afternoon with Ocean, there were drifts of muscle and clam shells, some nearly knee deep (yes, I'm short, I have short legs. So? it's still a lot of shells!). Leanna reports that there are also river otters here, that pull muscles and clams up to the tide line where there's better cover to eat them. There were miniscule barnacles on everything along this beach; even growing on other barnacles.

My new camera has an impressive macro function, so you can enjoy pictures of these tiny, tiny red spiders (mites?) that look like strawberries with legs.

Black bears supposedly come down these beaches and graze and eat muscles, but we didn't see any of either. We blame the bear hunters who were also in the area. Apparently this particular bay is commonly used by one particular group of bear "guides" who basically run the Alaska version of road-hunting. They bring people out on a boat, float along and shoot bears on shore without ever getting out of the boat. If the bear falls over, they beach and "collect" it. This particular group has been using this bay constantly for a few years now, and as a result, there are very few bears in the area currently. I gather that they are a very unpopular group with the locals; they are actually based somewhere in the lower 48, and unlike other guides, don't seem to see the point in rotating areas. They also had the attitude of owning the bay, and wanted use to leave so as not to interrupt their very important hunt.
We have no proof that the garbage we kept scooping up and hauling back to ship came from them, as we didn't see it being tossed, but since there was only us and them in the bay, and there was still mayonnaise in the jar.... well. We drew conclusions.

Evening brought a stream of moon jellies gliding past under the boat; I took a few crappy pictures that don't do them justice at all, but they are small (about 1 1/2" across, though they apparently get much larger later in the summer), nearly transparent, it was getting dark out, and the flash doesn't help when taking pictures through the surface of the water, so... just trust me, they're prettier than the picture shows. You can go here for much better pictures than I took.

Dinner was sea bass (rockfish) with diced veggies (piccole verdure), and was quite yummy. Thanks, J and T, for catching it!
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
Leanna and I took one of the skiffs over to Fossil Beach and spent several hours wandering around, playing in tide pools, and generally enjoying good weather and pretty surroundings.
Tides in this area (Saginaw Bay) are impressive. By which I mean sometimes 22 foot changes between low and high tides. There was one area we played around at that had a vertical drop of about 10 feet. At high tide, this bank is entirely underwater. At low tide, pockets and shelves on this drop become little tide pools, creating a sort of display stair of pools, like something a museum would set up but that you would never expect to find in the real world.

Tide pool critters abounded; some I was familiar with, like common stars (quite common, this one had lunch in progress) and blood stars; some were entirely new to me, like sea cucumbers. Sea cucumbers were present in outstanding numbers, and varied from tiny to enormous. It was nearly impossible to walk without literally wading through them, as they were actually stacked several layers deep in places. Sea stars were also plentiful, and we found one sunflower star (much larger than common stars, and with 18-21 legs instead of 5), but couldn't get to it for good pictures.
Another new critter for me was the salp. These are free-living tunicates, and may be found singly or chained together in groups. Wiki has a lovely picture of an impressive chain, and more info. The longest I saw on my trip was 4 chained together.
Other fun sights of the day:
Tubeworms (red trumpet calcaeous worm? dwarf calcareous?)
Red sea urchin
Crumb of bread sponge
Chitons of various colors
Limpets
Snails
Sculpin and Greenling fry
Crabs
Clams; I'm particularly proud of this shot of a clam's "mouth" just after it sprayed me with water. (I LOVE this camera!)
I have no idea what these slimy critters are, but they were kinda neat.

There were also, of course, some fossils on Fossil Beach.

While Leanna and I were playing around, the otter crew netted 4 otters. All of today's otters were female, which made the crew very happy, as not only had they made a big chunk of their goal in one day, up until then they'd only caught males. The girls were not as big as the brute from the night before, ranging from 42 to 55 pounds.

Dinner was pork chops with a delicious creme something-or-other sauce. Sorry, I suck at the recipe thing.
draggonlaady: (Default)
Right then. We'll start with getting the rest of the way there. Last I related I was stuck in SeaTac after Alaska Airlines' epic fail and 12 hour delay in getting me to Seattle. Seriously; I should have just driven.
Anyway. Up bright and early again at 4 AM the next morning, to catch yet another 6 AM flight. No trouble of note with SeaTac security, just the usual rigamarole. On the plane and off we go. At Ketchikan, we have an hour wait. I ask the flight attendant if it's okay to go into the terminal to get a mocha. She says that shouldn't be a problem. She is wrong.
Ketchikan is small enough that as soon as you get off the plane, you're considered outside of security. Seriously, you can't even turn back around at the bottom of the stairs (yeah, stairs to the tarmac, no bridge) and go back up, they freak out about it. So I go into the terminal building, walk through the downstairs debarking area, buy a mocha, and head upstairs, where I'm immediately met with the friendly face of the TSA. I talk to the security guy at the start of the line for a few minutes, explaining why I'm out and will need to go back in. Then I chill my heels and read and drink my mocha for half an hour or so.
Now the fun really starts, as I go back through security. I'm lucky number whatthefuckever and am chosen for "enhanced screening" (Bruce asks why they can't find a name that's less obviously reminiscent of "enhanced interrogation"). So I get the lovely pat-down, whoo. And the nitrate test. Which comes up positive. Joy.
So I get pulled into a "private screening room" where they pat me down AGAIN. They bring in my bag, and someone else's too, just for good measure? Hah. First thing out of my mouth is "I don't know what's in the black bag, and it isn't mine." I'm sure that's not suspicious at all, yeah? Luckily there was someone outside loudly wondering what became of her computer. Comforting revelation 1: they can't even keep track of what luggage came with their suspect!
So they run the nitrate test AGAIN and AGAIN and of course it comes up positive both times. I get grilled on where I've been (SeaTac airport, their security thought I was fine, since which I've been on that plane sitting right there that is getting ready to leave, and on which I'd like to be again now, please) and then in YOUR OWN AIRPORT. No, I haven't been anywhere else. No I haven't been playing with explosives. Now we get comforting revelation 2: TSA woman tells me that the nitrate scanner picks up all kinds of extraneous shit, like dust from construction sites, and guess what? They're doing construction downstairs in THIS SAME FUCKING BUILDING. So best I can figure, I tested positive on this test because of the fucking airport. How safe does that make you all feel? Because it doesn't make me feel safer, just harassed and cranky. They go through all the stuff in my bag, and can't find anything suspicious.
Eventually, the 2 women who can't figure out what to do with someone who is obviously carrying nothing threatening decide to ask their supervisor. Who turns out to be the TSA bloke I chatted with at the gate while drinking coffee. He looks in, sees me, says "She's been sitting here reading for 45 minutes. Let her get on her damn plane," and walks out. Seriously, I swear he said "damn", I'm not making that up. I think he was fed up with the nitrate BS too, and it makes me wonder how many times they've dragged someone though this crap.
Can't find much about these nitrate sensors to link for you, unfortunately. Just vague comments here and there, about how sensitive they are. Sensitive enough, for example, to trigger if you've recently taken medication with nitroglycerin; guess heart disease makes you a potential threat. Whoot! High sensitivity and low specificity while looking for a VERY small percentage in a huge sample size--how many false positives do we want to wade through here? There is, of course, not a single mention of any actual bomber ever being discovered via this scanner.

So. Back on the plane. And off we go again. To Wrangell. Where we are grounded for a mechanical. Seriously, Alaska Airlines? 2 mechanicals in 2 days on what was supposed to be 1 flight? FUCK. This is NOT impressing me with your reliability. So there's no mechanic in Wrangell, of course. 45 minutes later, they've rounded up a mechanic, who pokes about at the leaking hydraulic for another 45 minutes before declaring he needs parts not available in Wrangell. They'll be brought in on the afternoon flight south from Juneau, 5 hours from now. We're told that when they get the plane going, they'll be skipping Petersburg (where I'm supposed to deplane for real) and going straight to Juneau. They offer to put us up in hotels there and fly us back to Petersburg the next day on the afternoon flight, thus getting me to my destination a full 48 hours late. If that's not acceptable, we can jump plane now, and catch charter boats to the other island. Which is great, but will land us on the south end of the island; Petersburg is at the north end. Oh, and since the flight is not officially cancelled, Alaska Airlines won't be paying for any of it if we leave. We can wait and see if they officially cancel the flight at some point, after which Alaska Airlines might pay for other transportation, but might not, since they already offered hotel rooms, etc.
"Fuck that noise" is the general consensus of about 30 people on the plane, myself included. We leave en masse, pile into 2 taxi-vans to the marina, then onto 2 charter boats to Banana Point. From there we catch vans up the island to Petersburg. The charter boat is the first leg of this entire trip that's actually gone smoothly, and I wasn't even supposed to be on it! But birds and seals and water and open air are good for my head and for calming the rage. Pigeon guillemots and marbled murrelets, loons and gulls. Guillemots are pretty cool looking birds, and murrelets are just darn cute. (Have I mentioned that I bought a new camera just prior to this trip?)

So apparently this is a not unusual thing, as the charter boat crews seem well versed with the "pick people up from the airport" routine. Again, not impressed with the reliability of the airline!

Saw several very fat black tailed deer, a Stellar jay, and a 3-toed sap sucker on the drive up the island. Also several smaller song birds, unidentified. Sorry, [livejournal.com profile] winnett. No pictures of those; somehow taking pictures through the window of a moving van didn't seem to work well.

On arriving in Petersburg, I call Toni again, and explain where I am and how I got there, and that I'm going to the airport to find out what I can do about getting my baggage at some point (recall that it spent the night in Juneau while I was in SeaTac). She says she'll get in touch with Doug, the private pilot who will be flying me to the boat, and let him know I've managed to arrive. I get into the airport just as they officially announce the cancellation of the flight I was suppose to've been on. Which incites an immediate (and totally predictable) rush of people to the ticket/check-in desk, just about 45 seconds too soon for me to get there when they were empty. Gah. So I stand in line for 12 minutes. Yeah, I timed it. I was bored. And seriously annoyed at spending 12 minutes staring at the sign behind the counter, which read
Time is important to you, so it's important to us.
#1 in on-time flights, major North American Airlines 2010.

Oh, the joy that sign gave me. And by "joy", I mean "rage". FOURTY EIGHT HOURS LATE is very much not on-time, people. Bad enough that I'm "only" 22 hours late, and that by giving up on you and finding another way!

Ticket lady informs me that baggage is still in Juneau (not dreadfully surprising, I guess, since there's only 2 planes through Petersburg in a day, the one going north that's not happening today, and the one coming south that will bring the part for the broken plane sitting in Wrangell). She informs me that I can come pick it up at 2:30 this afternoon. I inform her that I have no intention of still being in Petersburg at 2:30 this afternoon, as I was supposed to be on a boat YESTERDAY, and there is right this minute a pilot waiting next door to get me to said boat. So in the only actual customer service moment that I receive the entire time, it's arranged that when my luggage gets to Petersburg, they'll have it flown out to me at the boat via private plane. Then she ruins any good feeling by telling me she can't reimburse anything for the part of the flight on which they didn't actually fly me, nor can she reimburse me for the charter boat, but she can give me 2000 free miles! Like I'm going to be booking a flight on your line anytime in the foreseeable future?! Whatever. I'll call customer service when I'm back home. I leave and go next door to catch the float plane to Kake and the Northern Song. Which flight goes quite nicely, with no mishaps (and no TSA!). We stop at the Kake airport to pick up someone going back to Petersburg, see 3 black bears grazing next to the runway, and then head out to the boat. I got no pictures of the bears; which is especially sucky because they're the only bears I saw the whole time. Home for the next week will be Northern Song.

I get passed over to the boat, meet the crew of the Northern Song (Cap'n Dennis, Mate Leanna, Chef Ocean), am immediately handed food and good humor, and just as we finish lunch the otter crew radios that they've "caught a big one!"

When I arrived, the otter crew had been out netting for a week already. The otter they caught as I arrived was otter #11. They were aiming for 30-33, and had 6 days left. They may have been a wee bit stressed. I was shuttled over to the hospital boat (Jerry O) to watch the fun.
Otter #11 was a young male, who really was a "big one". He weighed in at 101 pounds, and was almost exactly as long as the measuring tape. Basic procedure for otter trap/release, since I assume that you are mostly as ignorant as I was:
Set out nets in areas that otters frequent. They were using salmon gill nets.
When you catch an otter, pull the skiff up next to them, 2 people pull the otter, net and all, into the boat and stuff it into a plywood box with holes drilled along the top. One person uses a "stuff sack" to trap the otter's head in a corner of the box while the other person (or persons if there are more than 2 people in the skiff) work the net off the otter. That usually involves cutting the net, and hopefully not the otter. A "stuff sack" is a foam roll inside a duffel bag inside another duffel bag, and it takes on all the damage that your giant water weasel would like to dish out to its captors. The stuff sack is not expected to survive longer than this 2 week project!
Once the net is removed from the otter, the box is closed, and transported to the Jerry O.
Box and otter are then dropped in the water to float for 20-30 minutes while the otter calms down and vents any frustration it has on the Kong toy fastened inside the box.
When otter is calm, the box is lifted onto the Jerry O's deck, the otter is reintroduced to his favorite victim, the stuff sack, and while he's busily mauling that, a doctor jabs him in the rear with fentanyl and midazolam. Then the box is shut again.
Otter soaks up his drugs for about 10 minutes, then is lifted out and weighed. Drugs are touched up if necessary, since he was dosed by estimate based on how hard he was to get in the box in the first place...
Otter is moved to the surgery table, and a nasal oxygen tube placed. Blood, feces, and urine are collected, and milk if available. A premolar is extracted for aging,any wounds and scars are noted, girth, total length, tail length, paw size, and temperature are recorded. While doctor scrubs in, the otter is prepped for surgery.
Now, otters rely on their fur for thermoregulation in cold water; they don't have blubber. So no shaving. They kept the hair out of the surgery site by slicking it back with a mixture of iodine in sterile lube.
Doctor puts a radio transmitter into the abdomen (can't very well expect a water weasel to wear a collar). Bright colored tags are placed in each back flipper, and tissue samples taken from the piercings there.
Then the drugs are reversed, the otter is returned to the box, and the box is transported back out to where the otter was caught, where he's released.

Pictures of this whole process (though not posted in any particular order, as I was present for different stages on different days) are posted here.

Back to Northern Song for dinner (beef bourguignon, yum, and carrot cake with absolutely amazing lemon glazed icing). My bag had arrived while I was at the hospital boat, so I "moved in" to my bunk, and then I collapsed in exhaustion. So that's all you get for today, I'm tired of typing!
draggonlaady: (Default)
Okay. I've got pictures from vacation sorted, and will hopefully have time to write stuff up on the trip shortly. Partly in preparation for that, do any of you have any info on the nitrate test TSA uses at airport security? my webfu is failing me on a couple google searches and i'm strapped for time, so if any of you have already done the research, i'd like to crib off of you :)
draggonlaady: (Default)
Yes. I'm supposed to be in Alaska. Didn't/hasn't happened. Up bright and early at 4 AM to catch a 6 AM flight out of Spokane. Which was cancelled. They rescheduled me to leave Spokane at 8 PM, so much for getting to Petersburg by 2 PM! Supposed to be there at 2 tomorrow instead; which is shitty as I'm supposed to have left Petersburg for Kake by 11:30 AM tomorrow. So I called the folks that run the boat, and they rearranged their pilot's schedule to pick me up in Petersburg later, and still get me to the boat. Bruc came back to the airport to pick me up, and we killed a bunch of time in Spokie, which was kinda nice (for me, anyway--I dunno, maybe he doesn't like hanging out aimlessly with me all day?). Picked the kid up after school, then they dropped me back off at the airport and headed home. I checked in again, and they put me on stand by, so I actually got out of Spokane at 6 PM (only 12 hours late!). When I got to Seattle, I checked again to see if I can get out of here earlier, and the woman I talked to here was appalled that nobody in Spokane had offered me a hotel room and that they couldn't/didn't get me a flight here earlier. So she re-re-rearranged my ticket, and now instead of leaving SeaTac at 10:30 tonight, and sleeping in the Fairbanks airport, then getting to Petersburg at 2:30 PM, I'm supposed to be leaving SeaTac at 6:30 tomorrow morning, I have a hotel room for the night, and I'm supposed to get to Petersburg at 10:30 AM.

However, my checked bag has already been passed through Juneau, so it's probably sitting in Petersburg right now, with all my clean clothes. Gah. At least I can get a shower tonight! Hurray for that.

Also, can anybody explain to me the reasoning behind forcing me to turn off my eReader on the plane? It has no broadcasting or receiving ability, no wifi, no radio, no way to transmit info that's not via USB cord. In what world is this in any way going to affect the plane's communication or navigation? I cannot see any way that it's more dangerous than a paper book.

Also also, a notice to the 2 women ahead of me in line? When the attendants announce that the plane has smaller than normal overhead storage areas, and wheeled bags will not fit, that means wheeled bags will not fit. It does not mean spend 5 minutes each trying to shove your bag into an obviously too-small bin, while delaying everyone else's boarding. Thanks.

Gone away

May. 19th, 2011 01:01 pm
draggonlaady: (Vampire Cat)
I will be leaving tonight to go hang out with the giant water weasels in Alaska. I will be offline for the next week and a half. I'm not ignoring you, so don't take it personally.

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