Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Bag Lady and the driver's license

If you're the usual driver on vacation roads, you should have a current driver's license. Here's the Bag Lady's story of a recent experience on the Big Island in Hawaii. A name has been changed for the sake of marital harmony.

Bag Lady and her husband Henry got together when they were in their 40s and each had been driving for more than 20 years. Each was terrified by the driving of the other. Henry thought Bag Lady stopped too quickly at intersections and didn't allow enough space between herself and the car in front of her when stopped at an intersection. Plus she had had seven accidents in the last 45 years where she backed into something - either a mailbox, a garage support post, or another vehicle. Bag Lady cringed every time Henry drove over a curb when making a right turn, or accelerated from an intersection as though he was in a race, or refused to yield on the freeway when a car was merging into the right lane. Plus, he never met another driver who wasn't an idiot or a "blonde on a cellphone". Henry felt honor bound to coach Bag Lady on her driving, but resented any attempt on her part to encourage him to drive more safely. At home they often went to events in separate cars, especially in the last year when Bag Lady decided she had to finally set a boundary to feel safe on the road. At night, Henry drove and Bag Lady hunched in the front passenger seat. Her night vision was very poor, and Henry swore that his was as good as it had ever been even though he was now over 70 years old.

When they went on vacation Bag Lady always drove; whether it was a road trip or a fly-in-and-rent-a-car, she was more comfortable with unfamiliar places and had a much better sense of direction. She didn't mind driving four hours at a stretch because she didn't worry about her own driving and she wasn't constantly glancing over at Henry to make sure he wasn't falling asleep at the wheel - which he had done, twice, in their years together.

Bag Lady and Henry loved to spend a week or two in Hawaii in the fall, when the seasonal rains started in the Pacific Northwest. On their last trip they'd had especially good fortune with their scheduling. Airport traffic was light, security even more so. The TSA guy was friendly and he and Bag Lady even had a chat. He said, "Sundays are usually light days for traveling. Oh, and by the way, your driver's license has expired. You don't need to worry because it's still valid for a year as a photo ID."

Bag Lady didn't remember getting a notice of her license expiring. But she thanked the TSA man and continued on her way to the boarding gate.

It was over 80 degrees and humid when they stepped off the plane in Kona. Their luck continued; as they walked across the street in front of the airport their car rental shuttle drove up and they were the first ones on. And also the first ones off. Bag Lady trotted into the rental car office while Henry retrieved their luggage.

The rental car guy was smiling and friendly. "Aloha. Welcome to the Big Island. Is this your first visit?"

"Nope. We've been here half a dozen times in the last ten years. It's our favorite island."

The man smiled and asked for her driver's license, as usual. Then, "Did you know your driver's license is expired?"

"Oh, yes, they told me that at security in Seattle."

"Well, you'll have to give me your husband's driver's license."

Bag Lady went outside and retrieved Henry's license.

"Okay, now a credit card." Bag Lady handed him her MasterCard.

"The name on the card has to be the same as the name on the driver's license."

Bag Lady went outside and got Henry's MasterCard.

The man smiled again. "Your husband is going to have to sign the contract."

Bag Lady said, "I always drive when we rent a car."

"Well, you could go to the police station and see if they'll give you a waiver for the time you're here. I hear that sometimes happens."

Bag Lady went outside and traded places with Henry. She sat down on a bench with the luggage while Henry went in to sign the rental contract and pick up the keys.

Henry was cautious as they started off. He'd always been a passenger on these roads and he didn't have a good sense of direction. Bag Lady became the navigator and they made it to the police station.

Bag Lady went inside and told her story to two friendly police officers. They said no, they were sorry, but no waiver could be provided for her to drive on this vacation. Bag Lady said, "What would happen if I drove anyway?" They said driving without a license was a crime in Hawaii, she'd have to go to court and pay a fine as high as $500.

Bag Lady walked back out to the car, considering whether she should drive the rental car with an expired driver's license. She was a good driver. Then she remember just last year, on this island, she she'd backed into another car in a parking lot in Kona. Maybe not, she thought.

After a week, Henry had driven over three curbs and gotten into an altercation with another driver at an intersection which morphed into an altercation between Bag Lady and Henry. But the rest of the time he kept them safe on the road.

The day after their arrival home, Bag Lady got her driver's license renewed. The lady at the Department of Licensing said "the system" had neglected to send renewal notices to 18,000 people in recent months. Bag Lady was glad to know she hadn't just forgotten.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The lava we didn't see

We've been on the Big Island for a week now. Our routine has been quite relaxing: we eat, we sun, we read, we take a short walk to a neighborhood Thai place. We have visited this same Waikoloa resort five times before, and on previous visits we've explored most of the island, so we are taking it easy. It's been humid this week - unusually so, I thought - and I heard today from a woman that the trade winds are about to begin, which will reduce the humidity. I remember it's usually been windy here on the slope of the mountain, and I can hear the wind tonight, so we may not sweat as much during the five days we have left here. Even so, we love it here.

One special treat we've had is spending time with Danielle and her husband Phil. Danielle served in the Navy with our daughter Laura, and we'd met her two years ago in Mexico at Laura's wedding. She's since met (online) and married Phil, a modern-day sailor. He's at sea for a month and then home for a month. Danielle moved from Chicago, her hometown, to Hawaii. What a difference!

They've got a home near Hilo on an acre of land with a bunch of tropical fruit trees. 

We wanted to see the current lava flow near Pahoa, which is about ten miles from where Danielle and Phil live. On Friday night we went to dinner in Pahoa; on the way we drove on Pahoa Village Road toward the flow until we were stopped by a "Road Closed" sign, a policeman and two National Guardsmen. They were friendly but firm. Close to the road is private land; further away is state land. The edge of the flow is about 400 feet away. Letting people near would be dangerous. It was almost like a make-believe scenario except the whole area smelled like sulphur, our eyes were burning and our throats were scratchy.

This week Art and I have decided to walk on a couple of beaches. Three outstanding ones are six miles downslope from us, on the Kohala Coast. We'll try out 'Anaeho'omalu Bay (where we scattered my mother's ashes from a glass-bottomed boat six years ago), Mauna Kea, and Hapuna (where we've walked several times before). These beaches are fit for postcards.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering the Hawaii travel day

We've traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii more than half a dozen times in the last ten years. But I'll remember yesterday.

We live about 12 miles north of Seattle, and Sea-Tac is south of the city. If there’s no traffic it takes 35 minutes to get from our house to the airport. Yesterday was Sunday. We decided to leave home at 8 a.m. to have time to catch our 10:05 flight.

It’s sometimes a challenge to find a ride to the airport if our time away is long enough that we don’t want to leave our car in a lot nearby. Usually we can find a friend or an offspring to drop us off for $20. Once in a great while we resort to the airport shuttle.

Yesterday my brother-in-law Virgil was our ride. He and my sister Alyx live in their RV behind our house, and Virgil is often blessedly helpful. He dropped us off at the Alaska curb and carried our luggage to the sidewalk. For free.

We checked our bags in five minutes. This year we’re MVPs on Alaska Airlines (last year we flew 25,000 miles on Alaska or its partner airlines, so we get a special check-in line until the end of this year). The agent was friendly and envious of our Hawaii destination.

The security line was short.The TSA security person who checked my identification and ticket was friendly, even as he told me that my driver’s license expired on September 20, my last birthday – seven weeks ago. But it was still valid as a personal identification.

The TSA-Pre line was even shorter (a couple of years ago we paid $100 each for five years of preferred security. We no longer have to take off our coats or shoes, and recently we no longer had to remove our CPAP machines from their case. Now that Art has a pacemaker (in addition to an artificial hip and an artificial knee) he gets a special machine for his pieces-of-metal check. He was through security as quickly as I was. We had an hour before our plane left, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.

By the time we finished our meal, used our respective restrooms and walked to gate C-15, nearly everyone had boarded the plane. I noticed a man and three young boys standing near the desk. As we approached the gate, one of the women murmured “Myers”. She said to us, “Would you mind trading your seats (7-D and 7-F) for seats further back that aren’t together? Three boys are traveling alone, and they’re nervous flyers, and they’d like to be seated together.” I said, “That’s fine.” Then I added, “Can we get a bonus of some kind?” We followed the lady over to the desk and received two new boarding passes and the promise of 2,500 frequent flyer miles each. Art’s new seat was 12-A (a window seat) and mine was 21-D (an aisle).

We made our way onto the plane. The man just ahead of us said, “Do you have an aisle seat?” I said yes. He said, “Would you be willing to trade it for a window seat?” I said okay. So my final seat was 17-A – in an exit row with about a foot of extra legroom. Score! I’m flying to Tucson on December 3 with Larisa, our Designer Cat, and she’ll be in a soft-sided Sherpa carrier that fits beneath the seat. In the next few days I’m going to change to 17-A on that flight. The two of us will have ample room - as long as the airline allows a pet carrier in the exit row.

I chatted with my seatmates, telling them I was happy for the extra legroom and explaining my travel plans. The man said he was a veterinarian, and he recommended Feliway as a product that you spray into the carrier. It is a synthesized version of the pheromes produced by cats that tells them they’re in a safe place. He said it should work well to maintain Larisa’s peace of mind rather than the Happy Traveler which I tried out last week and which got her loaded.

The six-hour flight was routine except for 25 minutes of the worst turbulence we’ve ever experienced. Fortunately, I remembered that no plane has ever fallen out of the sky from rough air. I looked out at the wing on my side only once. It was bending and shaking. I reminded myself that these airplanes are built and tested for extreme conditions.
Our luggage arrived quickly at the carousel. We crossed the street just as the Thrifty shuttle bus pulled up, and we were the first ones on – as opposed to the 45 minutes we waited last September in Boston. At our destination, Art handled the luggage while I disembarked. I was the first person in line at the Thrifty counter. The agent was friendly as he informed me that my driver’s license had expired. “I’ll need your husband’s license.” I went outside and got his license. A few minutes later, “I’ll need the credit card with your husband’s name on it. I got his credit card. “Your husband will need to sign the contract.”

 I always drive when we’re out of town. Art has never signed the contract. I told the agent. He said, “Well, you can go into Kona to the police station. I hear that sometimes they’ll give a waiver that allows a person to drive while they’re here on an expired license.” I thanked him and went outside, replacing Art as the keeper of the luggage.

(I went to the police station the next day. The agent was incorrect. Driving with an expired license in Hawaii is a crime. I would be required to come back for a court and potentially a $500 fine. The police were friendly and sympathetic, but no. I considered the car I backed into last year in Hawaii and could not justify saying to myself that I’m a really good driver and willing to take the risk.)

We retrieved our car, a Ford Focus, and drove south eight miles to Costco to pick up the basics. Then drove north 30 miles and upslope another six to Paniolo Greens at Waikoloa, where we always stay.  Checked into our condo and shortly thereafter welcomed our guests Danielle and Philip. They live on the other side of the island and were staying the night with us. Danielle and our daughter Laura are friends from their Navy days. We’d met Danielle only once, and Phil never, but we had a great dinner and conversation. The perfect end to our travel day!

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Going-to-Arizona lists

In four weeks we're leaving for our winter home in Tucson. This will be the third year for us to travel from our home in Seattle

to our park model in Tucson

but it's more complicated this year for a couple of reasons: (1) we own the place now and (2) we're taking Larisa, our Designer Cat.

If you're renting your winter residence, you just find someone to live in your regular house and take loving care of your Cat for a few months, find three nights worth of lodgings, load up your car with clothes and personal essentials (CPAP machines, small exercise items, food coolers), and go.

If you now own the winter place, you load up your car with the usual stuff plus what you have in Seattle that you want to take to Tucson permanently: the extra Keuric coffeemaker you bought on sale at Fred Meyer last week, decorative items that will look better in your Southwest place than they do in your Northwest place. One way to declutter in Seattle is to decorate in Tucson.

If you are taking your Cat, you make plane reservations for one person. You don't want the Cat roaming in the car for four days - because the car is loaded with your stuff - or caged - because there isn't room in the car for the cage. Plus, you don't want to hassle with three pet-friendly lodging places or stop at rest areas to put on a cat harness and leash. You think first class will be better because of more legroom, and you buy Happy Traveler, an herbal capsule you will sprinkle in the Cat's food on the day of the flight so she will be calmer than you are. You try it out a month early and find out the Cat gets quite loaded and calm. A good sign, you think.

The car needs to get to Tucson before the Cat because the driver has to go to PetSmart in Tucson to pick up a cat box and litter and a favorite spin toy, and also get groceries and get the park model in some kind of livable shape so there's not a lot of settling-in chaos that will disturb the Cat, who will be freaked out enough just because she's in an unfamiliar place. So the Prius will leave Seattle on about November 30, driven by husband Art and brother-in-law Virgil. They'll probably make the 1600-mile drive in fewer than our usual four days; I've heard mutterings about "driving straight through, because my brother and I made it to San Antonio 45 years ago in 36 hours without stopping".

So, here are the lists I'm making:

1. What to load in the car: anything Art decides, plus:
  • All my clothes for four months, except what I'll wear on the plane
  • A bin full of paper records and projects; we'll be doing our taxes in Arizona
  • A case of Purina Friskies Prime Filets with Ocean Whitefish & Tuna in Sauce - purchased on sale, six cans at a time. The only food the Cat will eat without throwing up.
  • Two laptops and a wireless printer
  • Christmas cards and a few decorations
  • Two CPAP machines
  • A new king-sized blanket I bought in March and had hemmed to fit the queen-sized bed in Tucson
2. What to do between November 30 when the men leave and December 3 when I get on the plane:
  • Clean out both refrigerators at home; they'll be unused for four months
  • Stop the Seattle paper
  • Have the mail forwarded
  • Start the Tucson paper
  • Do a final load of laundry so I'll have something clean to wear on the plane
  • Everything Else 
3. What to take on the plane:
  • The Cat in her Sherpa carrier lined with her favorite blanket from our bed in Seattle - in her harness because she will have to be taken out of the carrier going through security
  • A purse with my essentials for the day
  • Nothing Else
These lists will probably be added to during the next few weeks. They're all my lists. Art has his list in his head and I have no idea what's on it. I know from previous trips that he's pretty reliable about getting the necessities packed. And he doesn't want to know much about what's on my lists. He knows from experience that I'm pretty reliable about doing most of the planning.

We haven't got a lot of time. We leave next Sunday for 12 days on the Big Island of Hawaii, then come home for a week to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family, then leave for Arizona. That's why I'm making these lists in advance.

The Pacific Northwest is entering the Long Dark. We're going to the sun.