June 2003
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Hello wonderful friends,

Well we are back in Seattle after nearly three weeks on the east coast.  We’ve actually been back for a few weeks, but we have all been getting over a mild dose of the flu (yuk).  We chose to go in early June to miss the summer vacation traffic.  What a good decision that was.  Firstly we did not have too many problems with long lines at security, only about ½ hour.  Buffalo airport was the only place where the computer spat out a “sss” on our ticket, which meant we were chosen at random to have a full security search of person and bags.  By this time, I had gotten smarter and had taken all my jewellery off, so that was cool and Rod did not wear his walking boots that have some metal in there somewhere.  They make you take your shoes off and send them thru separately.  What fun, I wonder how many socks with holes they get to see!!  As the summer vacation time came on, Seattle International Airport found a great way to piss travellers off, by making them wait in long lines, take two hours to get thru security and for some, miss their planes all together, needless to say the place has had a battering in the press.  This coming 4th July holiday they are “importing” security people from elsewhere.  Glad we are not travelling now.

The days of airplane food no longer exists, except for the first early flight from Seattle to Cincinnati, where you got a “paper bag breakfast”.  All other flights only serve drinks and pretzels.  Did you know you can get too much of pretzels?  We certainly did!  We also became adept at asking for the exit seats, which give you a bit more room.  And we figured out that you need to buy your food at the airport before boarding the flight.  Despite all the stuff over here about possible terrorist strikes over the Memorial Day weekend (we were in New York that weekend) the planes were quite full … drat!

New York was just awesome (a favourite American word, pronounced aaarsome), we chose to take the bus and then the subway (silly us with our bags) to our hotel, which was just off Broadway Avenue, not far from the middle of Central Park.  We did all the tourist stuff, Empire State Building, Museum of Natural History, Ellis Island and “the Statue”, even stayed on the train out to Coney Island.  Security was a bit of a drag because of Memorial Day weekend and the Navy Fleet being in town.  If you are a person who likes a man in uniform … it was smorgasbord time !!!.  For each place you went it was the line and the metal detector and bag check stuff.  We found going early made a difference.  At the Guggenheim Gallery … the exhibit they had on was weird and distressing, so we did not stay very long, the bucketing rain outside was a better option!  The World Trade Centre site, known locally as Ground Zero, was a sobering experience.  We even had to go back for a second look, because Rod was so blown away the first time that he forgot to take any photos.  Fortunately, the site has not been “improved” in any way, with a simple wide footpath & high chain fence overlooking the construction works.  Very low key & no vendors on that side of the street.

The shopping in NY is to die for, put a limit on your credit card, all the retail therapy your heart desires!!!  Get rid of your therapist and come shopping!!  The outlet stores are just something else.  Here each season has “a look”, and it changes each season, so there is a lot of stuff in the outlets at 75% off.

Time Square was everything you expect it to be !!  All the colours, lights and buzz you see on TV, right down to the giant Toys’R’Us on one of the main corners – it has a mini Ferris Wheel about 2 stories high, in the foyer.  The Rockefeller Centre was also fantastic, you can look in the window and see them produce the CNN News, and just off this street is another danger zone for credit cards … The Diamond Street, where all the diamond traders are, it was almost too much for a girl to take.  No, I was good, no purchases, but boy it was hard.

Security was pretty tough.  The US has a 5-level threat alert system – low (green), guarded (blue), elevated (yellow), high (orange) & severe (red) - their website.  The whole time we were away, it was at orange, although we had reason to believe that during the Memorial Day long weekend, it had been raised to red, but the public hadn’t been informed.  It remains at yellow at present & is unlikely to go below that.

They don’t get many long weekends over here, for that matter they don’t get many public holidays – only about 4 a year.   The next big one is the 4th July, when it seems the whole country takes to the road.

Niagara Falls was everything we expected it to be.  We crossed the border to Canada & stayed there for 2 nights, in one of the hotels that overlooks the falls.  The Canadians have certainly done a lot of work to make their side attractive to tourists, while maintaining a balance with the natural beauty of the area.  At one of the sites, you go down a lift (sorry, elevator) & through a tunnel in the rock, to come out at the river in the gorge below the falls, then walk along a boardwalk on the bank.  Having nearly drowned in a Grade 3 rapid, Rod really appreciated seeing a Grade 6 one from the safety of dry land.  The Maid of the Mist boat really is all that it’s touted as – it charges right up into the base of the main falls – the power of all that water just takes your breath away & that’s while you’re been drenched.  There is also a walk that takes you behind the Falls, so that you come out at the base on one part and actually behind the water, down a further tunnel --- fan-bloody-tastic!!!!!

We explored over to the US side of the Falls – to find a tired looking area with many shops and stores shut, it looked very sad.  Especially when you go back - thru customs … yes, you guessed it, more uniforms asking questions in that abrupt voice - back to the vibrant Canadian side.

Our next stop was to the city of Orlando in Florida.  What a difference, from jumpers to hot and humid.  We got in at midnight, got our rental car and did not get lost on the way to the hotel.  How come? – Because the car had one of those little boxes with a nice lady trapped inside that told you that “in 0.5 miles you are turning left”.  What a blessing the GPS system turned out to be.  Got us down to Daytona Beach, Coco Beach and a drive thru the Florida swamps without getting lost.  Only one thing though, did you know they don’t work in a gale force thunderstorm?  We found out the fun way – in winds that almost blew the road sign over.

We came to Orlando to play, and that we did.  We chose not to go to Disneyland this trip (that’s for California).  We went to Universal Studios – what a blast, the rides are fantastic.  Rod and Stew did the Rollercoasters (seats were size challenged for me J). The Men In Black and Terminator 3 rides where thrilling.  It was so hot that you didn’t mind the “getting wet” rides like Jurassic Park.  Again we learnt that getting there early means less time in long lines that can take 75 mins before you are on.

We also went to Seaworld, where Doris could have stayed almost forever. We spent ages at the baby dolphin pool & saw the Orca show. Doris was awe stuck to see these wonderful whales at such a close range, but was torn about it as well. She felt that after seeing them in the wild, that was where these whales should also be. It is a bit of a payoff – at least here they can help to teach people about our world and all its blessings and treasures.

A short drive to Kennedy Space Centre was Rod’s choice. The amount of resources that go into the space program is thing that actually gets to you after a while. Of course you don’t get to go NEAR anything, but it’s nice to at least see the good stuff from a distance.

Daytona Beach was “interesting”. Stewie’s rally navigator description of the speedway is, “Go fast, turn left, repeat”. We did at least get to drive on the beach on the other side of the continent & rescue some damsels in distress who had driven off the “road” a bit too far. We had only just pushed them out when a Beach Inspector came along (capitals included to denote importance). Instead of simply admitting that they had made a error in judgement, he came the heavy with them first, babbling on about it being a felony to drive on the turtle eggs, then backed off to a warning. They were just glad to get out of there & get their feet wet.

Volunteering has proved to be much harder that any of us could have imagined.  You seem to need to be prepared to go through the bullshit processes before you can do anything. Maybe it’s to prove that you REALLY want to help them.  It’s certainly given Doris a lot of thinking material on how to treat people when they walk through that door. Have we mentioned yet that Americans in general find it hard to think outside the square? Combine that with up to 4 levels of government, Federal, State, County & City, and you finish up with enough bureaucratic crap that it’s no wonder they have to go to war to feel good about themselves.  Did we say that, out loud? Oops.

So far, Doris has helped out a few times at the local Thrift Shop & managed to be treated like a piece of furniture, Stewart has played for a local High School Rugby team & not made any new friends out of it, and trains with another Rugby team who have even less regard for him.  There are, however, a couple of faint glimmers of hope.  Stewart is about to start as a volunteer Gym administrator, helper, type person at the local YMCA & both have started the 4-week training program to become Zoo Ambassadors at the Woodland Park Zoo, which is one of the best that we have seen.

And Rod continues to go to work 9 days a fortnight & can’t tell you any more than that or he’ll have to arrange to have you shot, because he can’t do that himself.

Next month