Road Trippin’ Down Under: Rocking it (or not) in Rockingham

It came as no surprise when we awoke at 4am on Friday morning. Since we had gone to bed so early the night before, I would have been more surprised—and probably a bit concerned—if we had slept any later.

By now it was quite clear that we were taking the Forrest Gump approach to our vacation: When we were hungry, we ate. When we were tired, we slept. And when we had to go…you know. We went.

I knew we wouldn’t win any races or set any records at that pace, but neither would we suffer any stress or strain. With any luck, the reward for this outlook—so eloquently expressed by the Spanish as “que sera, sera” and by the Italians as “va bene”—would be the extension of our beauty, vitality, and longevity. And if not, at least I’d have plenty of material for future posts. (You’re welcome.)

And so, with little in terms of a plan other than to grab some coffee and a bite to eat and head south for the day, we hopped on the elevator and made our way down to the dining area to take advantage of the hotel’s breakfast buffet.

It looked pretty much like any other breakfast buffet we had seen with a few notable exceptions. The most obvious of these was the sheer variety of items, which included not only standard breakfast fare like bacon, eggs, sausage, ham, hot and cold cereals, pastries, pancakes, waffles, omelets, and fresh fruit, but also non-standard breakfast food like roasted tomatoes, hot beans, and mushrooms.

Among the more puzzling aspects of this buffet was the table of raw vegetables that were so fresh that they still had their skins and ends intact, and yet were so clean, colorful, and perfect that I assumed they were fake. In fact, I wasn’t until I saw one of our fellow guests eagerly gnawing on a giant carrot like Bugs Bunny that I realized they were not only real but tasty.

Another difference between this buffet and others was the presence of dogs. And I mean a LOT of dogs. All of them sitting or lying on the floor next to one table or another. Not barking. Not begging. Not running around. Just chilling and being dogs.

“What’s with all the dogs?” I asked as the Jarhead and I assembled our coffee, plates, and silverware at our table. “I counted at least nine dogs in his area alone.”

My companion shrugged. “At least they’re being quiet.”

I seconded that, realizing only then how quiet the place was. Although I have no empirical or statistical data to prove it, it was about the quietest breakfast experience I’d ever had. And quite possibly the most pleasant. Especially compared to certain buffets in the US—not saying which ones—where you can hardly carry on a conversation for all the screaming, crying, fighting and whining kids and their parents who are too busy shouting over them or into their cell phones to actually do something about it.

Compared to all that, this place was Valhalla.

And yet, odd. How could a room be literally teeming with people and yet almost totally quiet?

It must be the acoustics, I decided. Because, as I looked around the room, it was clear that people were moving their lips. You just couldn’t hear them.

Then I looked more closely, and realized that most of those people were also moving their hands. And their arms.

That’s when it dawned on me: these people are signing.

“No wonder it’s so quiet in here,” I said. “At least half of the people in here are hearing impaired.”

“Quite a few visually impaired folks around, too,” the Jarhead observed, indicating with a nod toward tables comprised of people with dogs and wearing dark glasses.

“What a coincidence,” I marveled aloud.

“Or is it?” the Jarhead asked with a chuckle.

“What do you mean?” I followed his gaze a sign on the doors at the rear of the dining room.

Turns out we were sitting in amidst a convention for professionals who work with or on behalf of people with hearing and visual impairments—many of whom are hearing or visually impaired themselves.

Boy, did I feel like an idiot—especially when I looked around again and found almost every single one of our breakfast companions wearing a t-shirt with the organization’s logo on it.

In my defense, the t-shirts came in about four different colors. And they were paired with bottoms of about every color, shape, and fabric under the sun, so it’s not as if the conventioneers were all dressed alike. Still. I felt pretty stupid.

Fortunately, no one was paying any attention to me so no one besides the Jarhead knew what an idiot I was. At least not until now.

Anyway, from there we popped back up to the room to grab a few things for the day’s trip south. We were almost to the elevator again when I realized something was missing.

My splints!

By which I mean the custom fitted, nylon devices that I wear on the outer fingers of my arthritic left hand to keep them bent and out of the way. The very same items that keep me from collapsing in pain any time said digits come in contact with anything firmer than water, and without which I could barely function.

Thus began a frantic search for two tiny, light peach, infinity-shaped pieces of plastic, which I wear nearly 24/7 but usually remove before using the bathroom, putting on lotion, or doing the dishes. Since I hadn’t seen a kitchen in days, I reasoned, the only place I could have left them was on a stand next to a bed or next to a sink in a bathroom. That didn’t bode well considering I had slept in about five different beds and used over a dozen different restrooms in the last seven days. On the upside, the last place I remembered taking them off to apply lotion was in our room right there in lovely Fremantle, Australia—which meant I hadn’t left them back home, in Chicago, or in Abu Dhabi. And because I hadn’t left the hotel since the last time I took them off to use the bathroom that morning, I knew they had to be nearby.

Unfortunately, after turning our entire room inside out and upside down, the splints were still missing, so we decided to check the dining room. Although I didn’t remember washing any dishes, putting on lotion, or using the bathroom during breakfast, because the only place I’d been all morning–other than our room and the elevator–was the dining room, it seemed the only logical place to look.

A few minutes later, after checking our table (which had been cleared and was now unoccupied) and asking the hostess, the servers, and the cashier if anyone had turned in a set of small, light peach, infinity shaped pieces of plastic, I concluded that they’d been thrown away.

And so, with little else to do but get up close and personal with six garbage cans full of discarded food, drink, and god-only-knows-what-else (which was not going to happen in this lifetime, thanks very much. I had enough of that kind of fun thanks to all the happy hours I spent digging though the cafeteria trash in pursuit of my missing retainer back in middle school) we gave up the search and went on our slightly-less than merry way. At least they weren’t expensive.

Trying to hold on to that silver lining while clutching the seat and door handle of the rental car as we cruised down the highway that morning proved no harder than clutching the seat and door handle of any other vehicle on any other day of my life, and in time I forgot about my defeat. There was so much to see outside that car window that I even forgot to be scared every now and then.

The first place we stopped was at a oceanfront park, where we snapped a few photos and made a note to come back when it was warmer and less windy.

Ocean Front 3

Ocean Front 1Ocean Front 4

Continuing down the coast from there, we stopped in at Bell Park in the City of Rockingham.

Bell Park - Rockingham 2Bell Park - Rockingham 3Bell Park - Rockingham 4Bell Park - Rockingham 6

Continuing down the shore past the park, we came to a little sailboat harbor and boardwalk.

Rockingham 3Rockingham 6Rockingham 7

Although the views were lovely, my enjoyment of them was hampered somewhat by the fact that I had developed an itch in the general vicinity of my cleavage, which was mercifully not constant but still fairly irksome, and which became progressively more annoying as time wore on. Not wanting to attract attention by addressing the situation out in the open, I had resolved to find a restroom or other appropriate setting in which to take action while discreetly adjusting my position and that of a certain article of clothing in the hope of maintaining my sanity.

At a certain point—and with no restroom in sight—I couldn’t stand it anymore. Although the itching itself hadn’t gotten any more intense, something—perspiration perhaps—had caused it to increase in frequency. By then I was roughly as curious as to the cause of the itch as I was annoyed by it, and convinced that knowing the cause was the key to making it go away.

With that in mind—and with the Jarhead having stopped off to buy a soda from by a local concessioner—I gave up and gave in. Expecting to find a bite, or a rash, or bits of sand or salt stuck to my skin, I pulled the neck of my shirt away from my body and looked down to find two small, light peach infinity-shaped plastic rings nestled between my—well, you know.

Suddenly, it all came rushing back to me: where I’d put them; when I’d put them there; even WHY I’d put them there.

I immediately started laughing, recalling a video I had once seen and shared with the Jarhead entitled “Titties are NOT Pockets.”

You can see it by clicking here:

I was still laughing when the Jarhead returned from the concession stand with his beverage. He looked at me as I held up my splints. “Where were they?” he asked with a chuckle.

I pointed toward my chest, and then he was laughing, too.

“Now, Billie,” he admonished. “You should know that titties are NOT pockets.”

From there we made our way back to the car. Along the way, I came across this bizarre sight:

TP Boobies

I’m not going to tell you what it is. But feel free to take a guess and leave it as a comment. I’ll give you a couple of hints: They glow in the dark. And they are not pockets.

After leaving the park, we went for a short drive down the coast to admire the architecture and then stopped off to admire the beach and other sights—which included magpies, sand dunes, and about a hundred signs warning visitors to watch for snakes. Apparently, they were just waking up from hibernation and should be expected to be a bit cranky.

After speaking to a ranger, I also learned to watch out for other small animals that might be sitting in the grasses. It seems they will stay perfectly still to avoid detection when they sense a snake is nearby, so if you see one that’s not moving, you should assume a snake is not far away. Of course, they may also sit perfectly still just because you’re nearby, so you never know.

Eventually, we made it back to Fremantle. Not wanting to delay dinner an hour or more by debating what and where to eat, we simply went back to the Monk. This time we ordered burgers, which came with fried polenta. Although I had asked to forego the polenta in favor of a salad, the Jarhead decided to give it a try.

Recognizing right off the bat that we weren’t Aussies, the server, Trevor, asked our names and where we were from. No one had really expressed an interest in us up to that point, and it made a nice change.

Trevor didn’t look like any server we’d ever had—in Australia or anywhere else. With his close-cropped hair, his stern expression, the fitted shirt, and his compact but well-muscled physique, he looked more like Jason Statham in “The Mechanic” than someone whom you’d expect to bring you a burger–never mind the salad or fried polenta. Although to be fair, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the fitted shirt or his muscles had it not been for the fitted shirt and his muscles. (Pretty sure he didn’t get THOSE delivering plates of burgers and polenta—unless he carries a dozen or so plates at a time.)

As I expected, the Jarhead was not enamored with his choice of sides, and asked Trevor to take it away.

Eager to turn things around, Trevor offered to replace the fried polenta with something else.

“Like what?” the Jarhead asked doubtfully.

“How about a salad?”

The Jarhead was less than thrilled by this suggestion—and made no effort to conceal it. “No thanks,” he said.

“He’s not really a fan of salad,” I explained.

“Is that so?” Trevor asked me, before turning to the Jarhead. “What’s wrong with salad?”

It sounded like a challenge, but Trevor was clearly amused, so the Jarhead answered:

“Salad isn’t food,” he declared. “Salad is my food’s food.”

Trevor crossed his arms. “Is that right?”

The Jarhead nodded. “In fact, salad is not only my food’s food; it’s also what my food s***s on,” he clarified with no small amount of satisfaction.

He was being deliberately provocative, and that clearly made him feel better.

“I’m not sure I like you,” Trevor admitted before turning to me again. “Now Billie—she’s delightful—but you…I don’t know. You’re a bit of a pain in the ass.”

I thought I would die laughing.

“He’s really not,” I said, trying not to snort.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. And we’ve been married 31 years, so I would know. The man is just hangry.”


“Yeah. You know. When you get so hungry you’re angry?”

“Right.” Trevor nodded and turned back toward the Jarhead. “I guess I’ll have to take her word for it. Meanwhile, since you don’t want a salad, can I bring you anything else to replace the polenta?”

“How about another beer?’ he replied, smiling.

“You got it.”

That did the trick. Well, that and the big juicy bacon cheeseburger once it finally made its way into his stomach.

We followed that up with brief walk around an area of downtown we hadn’t seen before, and then headed back to our room.

For a change, we managed to stay up until 8pm that night! At that rate, I figured we stood a pretty good chance of acclimating to the new time zone just in time to head back home.


Road Trippin’ 2015: Up Around the Bend

Having survived the night at our less than luxurious lodgings, the Jarhead and I staggered out of bed Tuesday morning and prepared to face the day.

The first item on our agenda—after showering up, packing up, and settling up—was to procure a hot breakfast. With this in mind, we loaded the car and wandered back to the restaurant that had closed early the previous evening. This time we found the place both unlocked AND open for business, but completely empty except for the woman standing behind the counter and a young man—presumably the cook—whom we could see through the window to the kitchen behind her.

Hoping the lack of customers had to do with the limited number of people living or passing through the area—as opposed to, say, a recent outbreak of salmonella or listeria—we chose a table and sat down. Sometime later, we were approached by the woman who looked about our age and seemed several degrees less than thrilled to see us. I don’t know if it was the dead eyes or the mumbled greeting that gave it away, but this gal clearly was not pleased by our arrival, nor was she willing to make an effort to conceal that fact.

Perhaps she wasn’t as unhappy to have us there as much as she was unhappy to be there herself. Maybe she wasn’t feeling well, I allowed, and there had been no one available to cover her shift. Or maybe she was just a miserable person who enjoyed making other people uncomfortable. Either way, it was obvious she wouldn’t be going out of her way to make our visit a pleasant one.

To be fair, I hadn’t expected anyone to throw confetti or fire a cannon when we arrived. Nor would I expect her—or anyone, for that matter—to be overjoyed at having to wait tables at 7am on a dreary day in the sticks of Alaska. But I also didn’t think it was asking too much for her to smile and say hello when she grudgingly handed over the menus.

I wasn’t about to point this out to her—although, believe me, I was tempted—in part because I didn’t want to make a scene that ended with our walking out and going hungry, but mostly because I didn’t want my food to arrive with a complimentary side of saliva. Instead, I graciously accepted both the menu and her half-hearted offer of coffee, and hoped the quality of the eggs, hash browns, and deer sausage they served would make up for the inhospitable atmosphere.

As we sipped our coffee and waited for the food to arrive, the Jarhead and I flipped through the various booklets, brochures, and other materials we had picked up over the last few days to check out what there was to see and do between Glennallen and Valdez. Our options included a hike up Worthington Glacier, a visit to Blueberry Lake, hiking, biking, whale watching, fishing, ferry rides, boat rides, train rides, and helicopter rides.

Holy cow, I thought as I reached the last page of our largest booklet. There was so much to do I was exhausted just thinking about the possibilities. Expressing roughly the same sentiment, the Jarhead swapped his booklet for mine, and we continued to read.

While we were reading, three more parties arrived at the restaurant. These included two older but not old ladies in tourist clothes, two thirty-something men in work clothes, and an elderly gent who I’m sure was wearing clothes but for whatever reason, I can’t seem to remember what kind.

My lack of recall on that topic may or may not have had something to do with the arrival of our food, which to my delight and relief, was both delicious and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. It looked and tasted so good, in fact, that I momentarily forgot about the server and her attitude. Of course, by then we were so desperate for a hot meal, she could have brought us each a plate of toasted construction paper wrapped in foil and drizzled with Elmer’s glue and we probably would have gobbled it up like cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.

With my hands, eyes, and mouth now too busy eating to read travel guides, my mind was free again to contemplate what was going on around me. The two young men had been the first two arrive, and were being treated about as warmly as we had been. Although I’m ashamed to admit it, this made me feel better about how we’d been received since I no longer had reason to suspect it was personal.

The older fellow had arrived next, and unlike the other two men, had been greeted both warmly and by name. He was also treated to friendly conversation about the news and weather. This irked me somewhat, since you shouldn’t have to KNOW someone in order to be pleasant toward them, but I tried not to let my indignation get the better of me.

The two ladies, meanwhile, had arrived last and were now getting the full court press, which about set my hair on fire. Because I knew from their clothing and southern accents that they were not locals, but tourists just like us.

So what gives? I wondered as the server stood beside their table several feet from ours gesturing with the coffee pot like she was at home with her two best friends.

And then it hit me: She, too, had a southern accent. And while it was clear from their conversation that they had never met before—because, YES, by then I had abandoned my good manners and started to eavesdrop—they were carrying on about this and that as if they’d known each other for decades.

It wasn’t fair. I may be a tourist and a damn Yankee but I have lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, and I can do a southern accent with my eyes closed and both arms tied behind my back. And I definitely would have used one if I had known that was all it would have taken to avoid feeling unwanted and unwelcome. If I’d known which state she was from, I probably could have approximated her specific dialect and the two of us could have carried on like it was old home week, too.

I realized then that I’d gone around the bend. And at that point, I wondered if the Jarhead could sense it too. For although ALL of the aforementioned thoughts had—somehow—gone unspoken, I had gone WAY too long unspeaking. Which, in the Jarhead’s experience, is not always a good sign.

“Whatcha thinking about?” he asked, having finished his own food and scavenging what remained of mine.

“Just pondering what we should do with our day,” I lied without hesitation.

Sometimes it’s best not to tell anyone what you’re really thinking.

At least, not until the moment has passed.