Saturday, May 30

May is over

A month of the tourism season has already gone by. It seems both quick and painfully long. What I've liked about this summer better than others here is living away from the valley. Being able to walk out my door, go two blocks to a coffee shop or a pub makes being up here alone much more enjoyable.

The people I've met at Gold street have had a stereotypical small town cheerfulness that is contagious. Lots of fleece. Lots of hiking sandals. Lots of dogs. Lots of xtratuffs. I'll take a picture of some xtratuffs so you know what I'm talking about.
Tours haven't been bad for me. Organization has been com si com sa at the dispatch office, but that's to be expected. It's been: sunny - more than typical, cold -about average, and miserable - close to none.
The dock reps, two of about 50 are Eddie and Kelly above, have their game faces on, and are doing their best to keep things organized. Any frustrations are getting swept under the rug. It's still early enough for easy forgiveness and a night's sleep.

And I'm moved. I'm happy to be in with Carry and Jackie. They are both cool girls with low key drama. Already the cats are making nice with the dog, and I have my little corner of the house to relax in. I sit right there, on the edge of the bed and type my emails and load my pictures, with Kodak beside me taking a nap and Baxter up on the table.

I've had so much free time in compared to years past, that I'm truckin through books. I can't get a library card without local bills in my name, so I'm borrowing books, and buying books, and reading like crazy. I will have a huge stack to donate to the library at the end of the summer - I am not driving them back to Il.

So, we'll see what June brings. Already I'm bummed I'm missing Benjamin's second birthday. I won't get ahead of myself...

Thursday, May 28

Moved! Again! To Douglas!

I'm out of the house on Gold street. I was going to do half today and the cats tomorrow, with one last night in with the Moldavians, but I got to workin' at it, and all of a sudden, I had vacuumed, washed the sheets, and hit the road.

Baxter is currently hiding under my new bed, and Kodak is staked out under the coffee table, staring at the door, which has a Bruce on the other side. No, not Bruce, the nice old sea boat captain I used to live with. Bruce, the very cat friendly Jack Russel terrier. Baxter and Kodak don't know that he's friendly, as they only know he likes to run at them. It is very safe to say they are freaked out. BUT - There was no scratching, no huge run fights through the house, and nothing broken so far. They will get used to each other, and I bet by the end of the summer, I can even snap a photo of them being cozy and nice.

In other exciting news in my world, I heard from Dan today! He got to a computer and sent some awesome photos from Agra. It is so beautiful there!

There was a fluke today at work that made me feel like an idiot. An embarrassed idiot. They put me on a tour that I've never done, but I've been talked through. Well, I wasn't talked through it correctly, as I didn't know where to go when it came to the actual tour. There are three stops, so after the first, I called a manager and asked them for step-by-step instructions. When it was close to the end, I met up with the location guide, and the owner of the establishment to apologize, but they apologized to me! They didn't know I was supposed to be there at all and they were starting to send their staff home. They didn't have an updated ship schedule, and felt horrible that they weren't ready. Mess ups on both sides, which thankfully didn't make it to the guests. It could have been horrible.

It was a small tour, one in which I have lots of time to talk with everyone. Nine people, all very happy to have someone ask them questions and be interested. I've never been on a cruise, and in situations like these I like to ask their honest opinions of their experience. I want to know if it is like I imagine (over whelming in a casino way, with too many flashing lights and never ending music. Or more rightly, boring.). One couple tells me they've been cruising for close to ten years, going everywhere from South America to Scotland, with several stops along the way. I got some very interesting insight. It's such a crazy world, this cruise ship life! As much as they all say I should go on a cruise, I haven't changed my mind. I'd rather spend the money some other way. Sorry. It's fun to hear their stories though.

Pictures of the new digs and such to come! (Where did I put my camera?)

Wednesday, May 27

Rainy in Juneau, party in BloNo

I packed up my room today and got organized to move either tomorrow or Friday. Yay.

Had a great conversation with Andrei tonight. Found out that he and the others are not from Bulgaria, but Moldova and they speak Romanian. I had to look up where Moldova was; it's tucked in there! He showed me videos of traditional dance performed by his nieces, and pictures of his wife and little boy, who will be one on June 1st. We used his handy dandy translator software to work out the kinks in our conversation, but for the most part, we were happy to chat. He is really excited to be working on his English.

While he's in town, he works as a house keeper at the Baranof hotel, but at home, he is a Chemistry PhD student. He has completed his research and will complete his dissertation when he returns. We started to go into what his research was on, but I wouldn't know the right words, even in English, let alone what he was trying to add to the field. But, he is happy and excited to return in three months.

It was another wet, foggy day in town. There was a lift for a moment when I had a tour at the hatchery, but it was definitely a rain gear day. I also had the pleasure of being on a tour that was over sold, with six very unhappy people that were guaranteed they would be traveling with their friends. From my point of view, I understand that this can happen from time to time, but apparently, tours were oversold left and right today. There were lots of people being given refunds or offered other tours. It's embarrassing. We are supposed to be a company that is organized and professional.

After I got rolling, my group calmed down and were happily distracted by my commentary and Sarah Palin references. And no, you can't see Russia from here.

This is the driver's lounge. This is where the paper work gets filled out, and the plentiful storage of peanut butter and jelly are. There is one woman who keeps bringing in tubs of both from Costco, saying we are welcome to it. The percentage of returning drivers is about 60%. This woman is a mother to us all, especially the 40% first years, making sure we get something in our tummies to make the 14 hour days seem tolerable.

Also today is Val's 27th birthday! Happy birthday Val! Wish I could be in your back yard enjoying the BBQ and company.

Monday, May 25

Happy Birthday Boys!

I feel like I ordered my cats. I was running the Coffee Hound in Normal, and Kristin White was my go-to Saturday morning crew member. She and I would sweep the sidewalk, talk about boys and house stuff, get the shop ready for the herds to arrive promptly at 8am. Her kitty got out of the house one night and came back expecting. As soon as she told me I asked if she was planning on keeping them to term, and after the yes I said, "I'll take two!"

I got updates on how Prussia was doing, a call when they were born, visited the troupe before they were ready, and then finally got to bring them home. I scheduled myself short days for the first week, with the first two days be off completely, and eversince, we've been a happy little family.

My boys are turning 2 on May 30th. It goes so quick! *snif* *snif* I thought I'd post a ton of pictures of them being cute, because I'm a proud mama. However, this is not a blog about cats. But if you want that, this is a cat blog. And this is a blog written by a cat.

Camping in California

Napping on Dad's couch in Spokane

Napping on Sarah's porch in Scottsdale

Riding in the car down to Carbondale

Kodak telling Dan it's time for a study break

Kodak being incredibly fluffy

Baxter as a baby

Baxter as an even smaller baby

Baxter being a nose

The boys that first day home

The boys at three months

Three months

A year and a half

Weed whackers are blazing outside. There are construction crews and back-up beepers sounding from all over town. Winter has left Juneau!

I had an easy day, and I'm meeting with Carrie tonight to see her house.

I'm exploring the world of Flickr. I'm not happy with photobucket, Facebook is too exclusive, Adobe Bridge isn't linked, and I have Picasa, but wasn't impressed with my first run through. I don't like that Flickr only lets you post 200 photos for free, but I'll play with it and make up my mind later. If you want to be my friend on Flickr, my name there is Ariel_Jane. I'll probably post my Alaska pics there that don't make it here.

I spoke too soon about my tendon. I was feeling great yesterday, and so went for a long walk. Still feeling good this morning, so I walked to work, but half way through the day with going up and down the stairs on the bus, I hurt it again. So more rest is required. I hate this! I told Kristy I'd be running here so when I get back we can do the ISU Homecoming race together. I need to get better!

In other random news, I bought myself a present. One of the stores here was having a grand opening sale and their amber jewelry was 70% off. It was a steal! So I bought a ring. It was $12. Nothing like petrified sap to make a girl feel pretty :)

Sunday, May 24

58 days

Sunday mornings. Two days off in a row. Eventually, I'll go have a waffle at Southeast Waffle Co., because 1 - they are so good, and 2 - sometimes a person just needs to shove a sweet, doughy mass in her face.

I've been up for sometime listening to the Bulgarians make breakfast and chat. It is a wonderful language to listen to, but when I try and say the words they teach me, I feel like I have to wrap my cheeks around a marshmallow to get the right mouth stance. It's hard for me. I feel so completely American, with my lack of a second language.

I've got to be honest, I'm not feeling very good. I just got some financial news that has me questioning my logic and reasoning skills. If I have learned anything these two years of home ownership, it's that I'm hiring someone to do my taxes next year. I'm not good with surprises, even good ones, so when they show up and want things like money, I'm doubly upset.

Being in Juneau, I feel unprepared to do battle with the federal government. I don't have my paperwork. I don't have my records. I can't defend myself. They are storming the castle in the middle of the night! Wake the troops! Oh, right. There are no troops.

My right hand in Bloomington, Alex, who has been checking my mail scanned in the entire packet that came, so I have the paperwork I need to file for an extension, and this is what I'll do. Not the end of the world. My confidence is a bit wobbly is all.

All that and I'm sad.

I'll get over it. Everything will be fine. I'm a Johnson. I'll take care of it.

My friend Danny sent this to me, and I really like it. Made me happy on this morning of not so happy things. Hope you enjoy it too.


Christoph Niemann - Coffee

I like coffee so much that I have tea for breakfast: The first cup of the day in particular is so good that I’m afraid I won’t be able to properly appreciate it when I am half-asleep. Therefore, I celebrate it two hours later when I am fully conscious.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee

I must have been 5 when I first discovered the taste of coffee, when I was accidentally given a scoop of coffee ice cream. I was inconsolable: how could grown-ups ruin something as wonderful as ice cream with something as disgusting as coffee?

A few years later I was similarly devastated when my parents announced that for our big summer vacation we would go . . . hiking.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee

When I was 10 I still hated coffee, but fell in love with the ritual of making coffee. My parents were thankful enough about me fixing them coffee every morning that they overlooked my first clashes with brewing technology.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee

At 17 I still suffered from coffee schizophrenia: I loved the concept of coffee, but resented the taste. I decided to cure myself through auto-hazing. Around that time, my parents took me on my first trip to Paris. We arrived by train early in the morning and went straight to a little cafe. I ordered a large café au lait and forced down the entire bowl. It worked. Since then I have enjoyed coffee pretty much every day.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee

When I was 21 I worked as an intern at a magazine. The art director and I would brew a gigantic pot of coffee around 9 a.m. to help us get through the day. The pot would simmer in the coffeemaker, and through evaporation the coffee strengthened noticeably at lunchtime. In the evening hours, the remaining coffee had turned to a black concoction with a stinging smell and tar-like taste. We endured it without flinching.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee

When I came to New York in 1995, I was delighted to discover deli coffee. At the time, I was focused less on taste and more on quantity and price. Thus, I was in caffeinated paradise.
In January 1999 a friend seduced me into switching to latte. Within weeks a considerable portion of my budget ended up at the L Cafe in Williamsburg.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee

My inner accountant quickly convinced me to buy one of those little espresso machines (for the price of approximately 10 tall lattes). It had a steam nozzle to heat milk, which one should clean very thoroughly after each use. I didn’t have the patience to do so. Within a few uses, an unappetizing, dark brown, organic lump developed around the nozzle. A few days later it had become unremovable, and I reverted to getting my coffee outside.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee

Here’s a chart that shows my coffee bias over the years.

For good measure I have added my bagel preferences over the same period. (1) Drip coffee, (2) Starbucks, (3) blueberry bagels, (4) sesame bagels, (5) poppy-seed bagels, (6) everything bagels

Please don’t hold my brief affair with blueberry bagels against me. I cured myself of this aberration.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee

I order large coffees, but stop drinking when the coffee gets too cold. There’s always a couple of ounces left in the cup, so I can’t just toss it into my wastebasket. I dread the long haul to the bathroom to properly dispose of the coffee remains. Hence you will usually find a tower of paper cups on my desk.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee

Hot milk greatly improves the taste of coffee, but I find milk foam useless and annoying.

My mother (who makes the most delicious coffee in the world), is obsessed with a particularly potent mechanical foam maker. The result is a layer of impenetrable foam, a kind of lacto-stucco. I have to gnaw my way through it before being able to get to the actual coffee. Apart from that she really makes the best coffee in the world.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee

Once, after a grueling all-day design conference at a university, I was invited to dinner on campus. To go with the various delicious pastas, salads and quiches, coffee was served.

When you are craving a beer, coffee is the most disgusting drink in the universe.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee

In New York, I was always envious of people who could walk into a coffee place and the guy behind the counter would know them so well he would just start fixing their order, without any exchange of words. It took me more than 10 years to get to that stage, but at the very end of my tenure in New York I finally achieved it: I would enter my little spot on Eighth Avenue and, with nothing more than maybe a nod of acknowledgment, my buddy prepared my personal choice: drip coffee with steamed milk.

Christoph Niemann - Coffee After a couple of blissful weeks though, things took an unfortunate turn. For some reason he started making the wrong coffee (half and half, two sugars). I knew that if I corrected him, our mystic bond would be forever tarnished. So I swallowed the coffee, instead of my pride.

The link is here if you want to visit it again.

Friday, May 22

Up for air.

And just like that, I've worked 67 hours in a week. How quickly it adds up! This is more my pace. This is what I signed up for.


Back in March, I went up to Chicago with Dan for his spring break. Before leaving, his mom gave me a book to read called The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I blew through it earlier this week. Linda said it had some incredible ideas in it, possibly some that may help me in spreading word about my coffee shop, when ever it comes to fruition. Part of me expected it to explore business strategies, but I was way off. This book is incredible. It has nothing to do with money. It's about people.

Days after finishing, I'm still buzzing from it. Gladwell takes several examples, such as the sudden popularity of Hush Puppies and the rapid decrease of crime in New York City in the 1990's to talk about how cultural epidemics are started. He talks about how small notions can have huge effects, and when those notions get in the hands of specific types of people, the outcome can be even bigger than seems possible.

I don't want to write a book report, so I'll just say this: this book is worth reading. It has gotten me interested in a whole world of group psychology that I never thought I would look into.

The tourism industry is fascinating. I see 140,000 people flood into Juneau, and 150 of those intimately, on my bus, face to face, everyday. Not only am I responsible for keeping the bus under control when I'm driving, but also the moods of 50 people. The amount of emotion shuffling and juggling is incredible. One person's mood can "infect" the rest, good mood or bad. I'm doing quite a bit of thinking of the negative situations, where one person would turn the rest of my passenger's against me, and what I would do about it.

My opening speech when everyone is sitting and waiting to leave the dock is a powerful moment. It's really the only time I'm facing the group. It's like the first day of class where the teacher sets the tone. I have one chance to let these people know they are going to have a good time. They hope they are, but I need to prove it, and prove it quickly. Some may be angry they didn't get the front seat, some may be uncomfortable, some may not have gotten the tour they wanted. Regardless, I need to make them forget all that. I've gotten pretty good at my pitch pointsin that first five minutes I'm given to do my "safety speech." What happens in those five minutes? What is it that I've gotten good at? Tone, humor, competence?

In the time these 150 people are with me, I share a lot of information. Like a good mix CD, I switch speed and tone, between facts and tid bits, long stories and short, keeping them from zoning out. There are jokes, I laugh into the microphone, and more times then I can count, people comment about it. I have one long story and sometimes, after my long 6 hour tours, the last 10 minute stretch is just quiet, letting them enjoy the road vibration and the warm sleepy feeling of being worn out. Every tour is different. But they all start with that first five minutes.

I'd love for you all to ride my bus.


In other news:
  • I got the go a head to move from my land lord. He found someone to fill my lease, so starting June, I'll be over on Douglas Island again. Yay! No address yet, but I will post it when I know it.
  • My Achilles tendon seems to be healing, thankfully, without going to the doctor. I'm not running yet, but with my nightly stretching and longish walks on flat ground, it seems to be better. No more pain at least.

And on a more personal note, Dan leaves for India on Sunday and will be gone until July 21st. Everything has been so sporadic, with our conversations being a hybrid of text messages and short calls, with a long one here and there. He'll be 13 hours ahead of Alaska time, so this will be a challenging few weeks. But, he'll get back, then he's coming here! Sometime in August I get a Dan-sized package on an airplane!

Sunday, May 17

Ariel whale watching!

Erin took this while we were out whale watching. It's nice to have a picture of myself that isn't a self portrait taken from arms length!

Silly Alaskan Laws

In Juneau:
  • Owners of flamingos may not let their pet into barber shops.
  • Buildings that preserve scenic vistas are awarded bonus points by the government. They don't go on to explain a point is or how they can be redeemed.
  • While it is legal to shoot bears, waking a sleeping bear for the purpose of taking a photograph is prohibited.
  • It is considered an offense to push a live moose out of a moving airplane.
  • No one may tie their pet dog to the roof of a car.
  • It is considered an offense to feed alcoholic beverages to a moose.

Another move

Ok, after this, I don't expect you to keep up with my moving anymore. I realize it's starting to get ridiculous. But...I'm moving again!

There is nothing bad about my current living situation, other than the price of being there. I've kept up the housing search, knowing I can find something for less than $708.25 a month. I shared my search with a local friend and her partner. They decided to clean out one of their rooms, currently being used for storage, and let me take it over. They live on Douglas Island, fairly close to my first home here. They have a dog, which from what I hear, won't be a problem, as he is docile and cat friendly. We'll see.

I am so excited to be over there. They are a great couple, super sarcastic, and fun. They are both big into WoW - which they thought would be weird for me, but I explained my familiarization with its demands. A washer and dryer will be at my disposal, and WiFi. And I'm back in the range I originally wanted to spend for housing here. I head over at the beginning of June, and hopefully won't move again. I'll have the place to myself for June, as they are house sitting for Carrie's mom. Going from Paul, Paul, and Bruce, to Carrie and Jackie will be a nice change. Sorry boys, but a clean bathroom is an invaluable gift.

This means I'll have a new address. I'm great friends with Paul the pilot, so if anything happens to wonder in after I've left, he'll make sure it gets to me.

This is Carrie back in 2004 when I first came to Juneau. That silly boy with her is Joel, one of the class clowns from that driving year. Drivers are so fun. Really, it's like summer camp up here.

Saturday, May 16

Fjordland Tours

Work today wasn't work at all. Eleven drivers went out to the end of the road to see a specific stop that we'll be picking up passengers from. We went through the specifics of the turn around area, then were taken on a boat tour of the bay. We were out on the water for two and half hours and saw some incredible things.

Right off the dock there was in wonderful flock of Skim Scooters (sometimes called Snorkel Ducks). These ducks would line themselves up, maybe 400 of them, in a long row leading out of the bay. Starting at the front, they would dive underwater, the ones behind not diving until the progression made it's way down the line, stay under for 20-25 seconds, then pop back up some 30 yards away from where they dove down. It was a wonderful ripple of dunking under and resurfacing, almost like they teleported to a different area of the bay. They dive for small fish and muscles underwater. After they ate, they'd all fly off at the same time, settle out farther in the inlet, then reform their line and start over.

We also saw sea lions. A huge gathering of sea lions. There were a three bulls, all with their harems surrounding. The noises they were making seemed more like a football team having a belching contest than a herd of sea animals. And they were so loud! After watching for some time, we notice there was one female off by herself. Then there was something moving that was red. She was having a baby! A pup was being born, right there on the rock! The second picture below has the mama and pup. We took a second pass, to get another look, but mom had moved the pup to her tummy side to feed and we lost view. But what a moment!

This is Erin and I. We had fun last night listening to bluegrass, and happened to both have the same duty today. She was taking tons of pictures with her new present to herself, which I'm hoping to get copies of. The whole group had fun joking on the way out the road, then back again when it was over.
The boat was manned by two, Captain Glen, and deck hand Sierra. I shared with them that they shared my dad and sister's names, telling them I'd have no problem remembering. Glen built this business from scratch, his wife as marketing manager, and kids as workers. Sierra is one of their hires from California. She's been with them for six years now.

Harbor seals hanging out on a buoy!

It was such a great day!

Friday Night!

Friday night in the big city! Or something like that anyway.

I was off today for all but two hours where I and my fellow drivers were educated on how to safely and effectively handle the following situations: emergency evacuations, Noro virus presentation (vomiting on the bus), and spill response (some sort of fluid leaking from the coach). Very useful. Very informative. There were limited times in which I felt I was being parroted to, which is progress, I think, from the last Hazard Training Class.

Came home and worked on some paintings. They still need a lot of work, and the more I do this stuff, the more I think I should take a basic drawing class or something. Since most of my pieces have to do with body parts, maybe life drawing is more appropriate? Or maybe just more practice. I'm going to go with practice for now.

I went out to dinner with one of my roommates, Paul (the pilot), as he came home and was just gushing to tell someone the crazy day he had. There was an ambulance involved, a passenger with what seemed to be an exploding hernia, and a race to the landing strip in which he barely beat an Alaska Airlines jet. Pretty good for a little prop plane! So we went to the hanger and ate. I love halibut. Dinner tonight just reiterated that. Halibut = Win.

Then tonight, the dispatcher from Allen Marine, which is the company we partner with to sell and transport cruise ship passengers to whale watching tours, was playing bluegrass music with his band down at the Alaskan Bar. The guys are great! Violin (or is it a fiddle if it's this genre?), mandolin, standing bass, banjo, and guitar. Sorry Dan, no jug or tub players. But great still. I met some of the drivers out, as well as some of the other tour industry folks. Throw in a couple bosses and a few beers, and it was a great time had by all. And dancing! I still thank Ms. Luhn for casting me in her play as the stand in (for my brother) and made me learn how to swing dance. I love swing dancing! There were a few people there that had an idea of how to lead, and were happy to find a partner who could, at least, follow along. It was great!

Most of the time, I was leading my friend, Erin, along the floor, as she was too nervous to dance with strangers (what?) but even then she and I were laughing over our clumsiness and confusion about who was supposed to do what. The down side to all this - I may have hurt myself even worse. I didn't really feel anything, as I was under the influence of the delicious Alaskan IPA, but now, sitting here, I'm sure I'll need to nurse my heel in the morning. Oh well! It was so fun! I love dancing!

The band plays again tomorrow night, so at least I'll have a fun time tapping my foot along, if I'm too injured to partake in the galloping. Hearing really good bluegrass live - there is really nothing like it.

Thursday, May 14

Day off

The weather has been unbelievably awesome here. I had two tours yesterday, both Juneau City Highlights. I drive around the downtown area, spend some time at the salmon hatchery, and then to the Mendenhall Glacier. It's a nice 3 hour tour. Not too long, not too short. It's safe to say I'm back in the saddle, with commentary coming easy again. I'm learning new things, most recently, about porcupines and the governor's mansion. Did you know that porcupines' skin produces an antibiotic? They hurt themselves so often with their quills (from doing things like falling out of trees) that they have developed this handy chemical secretion. I thought that was really cool.

I've been doing a great job of locking myself out room lately. Keeping the cats corralled, waking up super early, and being terrible at mornings means I've been seeing more of my landlord than I would wish to. I'm making some key copies today.

And because they are too cute to not share, here are Kodak and Baxter. I was painting on Tuesday, and Kodak decided to join in. He has a big blue splotch on his white cheek now. I'm getting it worked off a little at a time.

In most things at the moment, it's going pretty slow. Next week the cruise ships will be on their full schedule, so dispatch is trying to give 1st year drivers as much experience as possible while they still have time to work out the kinks. Good in the long term for everyone.
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