Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Serious Weather

I discovered that Kansas does weather really big time. Should have known, after all, this is where Dorothy started off from when she took a tornado to Oz.

Before we left the ship. I saw a weather clip about a storm front moving through the Kansas area, but at the time I was more concerned about the weather in Ft Lauderdale. I did check the temperature in Kansas however, and it was supposed to be 90F on Thursday when we arrived. Wow, that was the temperature in Panama.

Before the Storm
Friday morning I was off to the track with sunshine and HOT temperatures again close to 90F. T-shirt and shorts weather, but as the day progressed I started hearing about the expected storm. It was supposed to be extreme and there were multiple warnings issued for the area. I was staying at the track for the evening ARCA night race, and as the sun went down and the track lights came on, I could see the darkening skies on the far horizon. I had been speaking to another fan sitting behind me who was from the area, so I asked him about the approaching storm. He got out his phone, and calling up a weather app, he showed me pictures of the storm. I was concerned that we might lose the race tomorrow, but he said this was not a problem; the storm would be a wild one, but would come through overnight and be gone by morning.

By the time the evening's race was over, you could see the black skies to the west and as I started walking out of the track the lightning was providing a vivid light show. I called the hotel shuttle and joined the crowd of people waiting for a ride at the road outside the track. The majority of people were taking a track tram to the various campgrounds around the track, but there were also five or six hotel shuttles coming and going.

My shuttle did not arrive in the promised 15 minutes. Those dark clouds were climbing higher into the night skies.

Fifteen minutes later, the crowd was mostly dispersed, and the sky was half dark with black clouds and the lightning was getting much wilder. The sky to the west was constantly lit up with flashes.

As the lightning got closer and closer, the police came and advised the three girls directing traffic to get into their vehicles instead of standing on the road. I was starting to get worried, so I asked one of them to call again for my shuttle. She was told it would be a while, because the driver was stuck in traffic. This was not looking good. The skies were completely black right overhead, and the violent lightning was all around. I could see the black skies clearly with the wild light show provided by the lightning. I looked around, trying to recall my limited experience with lightning, am I better to be out in the open hoping the lightning is attracted to the light poles and the elevated speedway structure close by? The tent providing shelter for folks waiting for the trams was held up my metal poles. If I went under the tent would the lightning hit the poles and be directed to the ground through them rather than me?
Welcome to Kansas Weather!

Then the rain started; hard pouring rain. Ok, I decided to take a chance under the tent.

Fortunately, my shuttle arrived soon after and I survived the storm, but back at the hotel it was only minutes later when the storm hit hard with lightning and torrential rain for hours, but by then I was safely relaxing in a nice hot whirlpool bath, watching the light show out the window.

My friendly fellow race fan was correct, and the following morning day dawned bright and sunny. BUT gone was the nice 90F temperatures; it was down to 50F. A 40 degree drop in temperature, welcome to Kansas!

People You meet

One on the nicest things about travel is the people you meet. This trip has been especially good that way. We spent the first ten days visiting friends and family, and it was nice to reconnect with people we had not seen in a while. You discover that most people do not change much. Even if you have not seen them in years you usually just start up where you left off as if it has only been weeks. But for this blog, these “friends” don't count because we already know them.

You meet the nicest people on a cruise
On the cruise, it is hard not to meet people. There are 1400 people together on a ship for almost 20 days; unless you hide in your cabin, you have to meet people. We ate in the main dining room every night at the same time at the same table with three other couples. I don't know how the cruise lines do it, but we always seem to be seated with very nice people who we get along with very well. As we got to know these people we had dinner with, we did more and more with them, often meeting up after dinner for the shows and other events. As we parted ways on the last day, everyone exchanged contact information and promised to keep in touch.

Or on shore excursions
You meet people wherever you go on the ship. Whenever you go in to the dining room for breakfast or lunch you are asked if you want to sit with others, and so we always met different people at these meals. Even if you eat in the Lido Buffet, you often share tables. You also meet people in line for coffee in the morning, at special programs, or sitting in the show at night.

We met a woman from Texas one morning. She had been living in Texas for forty years and had lived in New Jersey before moving to Texas. You would have thought she might have developed some accent during that time, but no, her German heritage still overcame all her time in the US. She even had lots of helpful advice on Kansas City for us because her son lived there. Her advice on the Airport shuttle was perfect.

Then there was the couple who we met at lunch one day who after a pleasant chat over our meal, said that with all the people on the ship, we probably would never see them again, but in fact we saw them over and over again, including on one of our tours and in the airport as we were flying to Kansas.

And of course "What happens on the cruise . . .
Now with the fierce debate over the US government shut-down, and Obamacare, we often were faced with questions about our Canadian health care system. The interesting thing is that the supporters of the democrats want to hear about how long we have to wait for things, and the Republicans want to hear how everyone has good care at no cost. They all love to talk and debate the Health Care issues and compare Obamacare and Canadacare, but no matter what you say, it doesn't seem to change anyone's opinion. We actually tried to avoid these discussions whenever we could, saying that we really do not know much about it, because it works so well we don't even think about it.

Arriving in Kansas, we discovered that although different in many ways, the natives of this city are much like good old Nova Scotians. They are friendly, cheerful and always willing to help. One interesting thing we noticed is that like Maritimers they always apologize for things even if it's not their fault. Two people stepping out of the elevator at once, and both say “Sorry” and step back to let the other go first. Two people come around a corner almost running into each other; two “Sorry's”.

My first day at the Kansas Speedway, I had to call to arrange the hotel shuttle. I had no cell phone, but the man sitting behind me in the grandstands gladly called for me, and when I had been standing out by the road waiting for a while, and started to worry about the violent thunderstorm getting closer and closer, the lady directing traffic, called again to check on it for me, and even left her number for them to call back when the shuttle was closer. The security guard walking by was probably thinking “What is this crazy guy doing standing out in the open waiting on the storm? Does he know his is indeed still in Kansas?”, but what he said was “You have a pleasant evening?” Walking to the bus stop the gardener for the hotel inquired as to where we were going, and when we told him about going downtown, he suggested visiting the Steamboat museum down by the river. I did, and it was the highlight of the daytrip to KC.

Yes, you really do meet some nice people.

The Secret . . . .

Holland America Zaandam
You hear it all over the ship. “I think I gained 10 pounds!” One of the best reasons to go on a cruise is the food; even on the least expensive cruises, they food is gourmet quality. There is normally at least four courses; appetizer, soup or salad, main course, and desert. This is of course in the formal dining rooms; if you choose to go to the Lido Buffet, you can have as many courses as you like. People come on a cruise and they suddenly lose all self control – people who would normally eat pretty carefully, suddenly pile their plates with anything under the glasses. Why stick with the Italian menu when you can get regular food, Italian, Asian and possibly even Mexico. People stagger to their tables with plates piled high. The ships encourage it, the cruise staff constantly remind you of all you can eat, and the amount of food is the standard joke for all the entertainers. You can't escape the food, and to make it worse, there is often special food events at midnight, and just in case you missed something, there is 24 hour room service. As a result, people are always complaining about how much food they are eating – they're not doing anything about their eating, just complaining about it.
The Dining Room - Pounds to Gain

Now, I do not seem to have as much problem as most; my clothes seem to still fit at the end of the cruises. I do however have to work at it. And I'm willing to tell you my secrets.

First, I usually try to eat in the Dining room. The servings are smaller, and although you do get four courses, they are pretty reasonable. If you go to the buffet, it is just too tempting to sample everything. If I go to the Buffet, I use it for lunch, and instead of moving around the buffet table sampling everything, I do not pick up plates, drinks or utensils until I walk around examining what is available on this particular day. I then choose one thing, and that is all I get. On this cruise for example I discovered that the Asian menu was excellent, and they serve it in nice small bowls. If I ordered rice and one of their Asian dishes I ended up with a very tasty reasonable lunch.

The Buffet - Too Tempting
The other secret is the gym. Hidden way up in the front of the ship is a very well equipped gymnasium; stationary bicycles, elliptical machines, treadmills, and a whole slew of exercise machines. The best thing is that although other venues on the ship can be crowded, with the age and health limitations of many of the passengers, the gym is usually deserted. I have never had to wait for a stationary bicycle to free up, and the exercise machine I want to try is rarely being used. On this ship, there are perhaps four other people who regularly use the gym, so it is never a problem working out. There are of course always someone who comes in, looks around and tries out some of the machines – sit down, read the instructions, try to work it, change the setting to minimum and do five or six reps. They rarely come back.
I go to the Gym every day and do the same work-out every day. This keeps my back and knees in shape for exploring the ports of call, and it also lets me work off some of the extra food I have been eating. I only hope that the ships do not actually put two and two together and discover that their gyms are used more by their staff than the passengers. They may decide to take out the gym and add another wheel-chair accessible card room or a Polka bar.

The Commute

Vancouver, City of the Commute
Coming to a city like Vancouver, you learn to appreciate living in Nova Scotia. We worked in schools that were located in the suburbs while we lived in Dartmouth, so we were generally going against traffic going to work and coming home afterwards. My favorite was the year I worked out in Sackville. I would leave the house, head towards halifax, but turn off towards Bedford before hitting the traffic to Halifax. I would then head up the Magazine Hill all alone on the road facing a solid line of traffic on their way downtown. Coming home was the same, I'd leave the school, take the exit to the highway, and see a steady stream of people coming out of the city on their way home. No traffic jams, no waits, no frustration – it was great!

I recall being out here in Vancouver on another visit and was amazed at how much commuting was involved in living here, but this time we really noticed it. I think it was because there was so much construction and our friend picked us up from the airport and warned us about the interruptions and traffic delays all the way home. So, in between catching up on things, we were told about all the commuting horror stories. It was worse for them, because they just recently moved back out to the suburbs from an apartment right down-town. When they lived downtown there was no commute, and so the hour long daily drive which was just part of living in Vancouver before was suddenly a real pain in the butt!
Easy Commute - Water Taxi !

It is probably more obvious with people like our friends who commute all the time. They know all the problem areas and the short-cuts. It's on the freeway, off at this exit, down this back road, back onto the highway, avoid the bridge, through this short-cut, don't forget the construction on this section. I could never have duplicated the complicated route from their house to downtown Vancouver. We did get to see lots of British Columbia scenery on the way however.

"I don't do commute - I fly"
Now everything about the commuting wasn't negative. There is the entertainment value. Our friends do not always commute together, so have developed their own unique routes to minimize their commute. As a result there was a fair amount of; “Why are you going this way?”, Where are you going NOW?”, “Don't take this exit, it's a mess!”, AAAAH, didn't you remember all the roadwork down this road?”

But at least we did not have to drive . . . . . .

Names withheld to protect the guilty.