Sunday, October 29, 2023

Another Haunted Gathering

Halloween gatherings are generally my very favorite kind of gathering, and pretty much every year, we either attend or host one with some of our very best friends. Last year, in Greensboro, we had a pretty damned big one; this year, for a variety of reasons, we opted to go much smaller. Still, it was a dozen freaky folks here at Ground Zero, and it was a hollering good time. Lots of great food, a variety of boos, and a fun brain game or two.

Our friends Bob & Yvonne brought along their 15-year-old grandson, Eli, and he fit right in with this particular gangsome. He decided to leave earlier than our other guests, and since his place is in walking distance, he set out on foot. Now, Eli was wearing an inflatable alien-carrying-a-human costume, which was by no means conducive to graceful mobility. When he left, the road was dark, and he went booking along at pretty high speed. Then... a couple of cars came by and caught him in their headlights. Clearly, the drivers were shocked, for they slowed way down and gave him very wide berth. For us, this provided the biggest laugh of the entire year. You sort of had to be there, but I trust you get the picture.

Sadly, we didn't get that many photos of the attendees in costume. Once things got going, the cameras were pretty much forgotten. Alas! Anyhoo, some of us did snap a few shots from time to time. We ended the evening with a showing of The Mist, which went very late indeed.

We've got another gathering — a Halloween geocaching event — to look forward to, and of course we'll have movies aplenty to keep us busy until the big day.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Deathrealm: Spirits in the Wild!

A few of the authors of Deathrealm: Spirits displaying the incriminating evidence of the horrors they have wrought!
Left to right, top to bottom: Jeff Oliver ("The Devil's Bounty Hunter"), Kasey Lansdale ("The Disappeared"), Bridgett Nelson ("Dying River"), Elizabeth Massie("The Campsite), Heather Daughrity ("A Shadow Slowly Shifting"), Meghan Arcuri, ("Fort Lonely")

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Steve Hackett at Durham's Carolina Theater

Supper's Ready
An awesome show last night by Steve Hackett at the Carolina Theater in Durham. A 2.5-hour performance, with a brief intermission, followed by every cut from Genesis's Foxtrot album. For me, the absolute highlight was the first encore — "Firth of Fifth" from Selling England by the Pound. And "Every Day" from Spectral Mornings was so perfect I hollered real loud. The instrumentation sounded great, although the vocals were a bit muddy, alas. I'd seen Steve back in 1980 at the Agora Ballroom in Atlanta, leaning up against the stage, literally at Steve's feet. Here, we were a bit farther back, in the first balcony, but the view and sound turned out to be fantastic.
Running into friend and fellow author Richard Dansky was a treat. Rich narrowly escaped being bombed by a full cup of beer falling from the balcony above. Yesterday was his birthday — thankfully, he survived it, hopefully to see many more. Next time, I hope we run into each other long enough to share drinks and stories (minus plummeting cups).
An altogether fine evening for Brugger and me.
Can-Utility and the Coastliners
Pre-concert wine with Ms. B. at West End Wine Bar

Tuesday, October 17, 2023


Why, yes, here 'tis: the offical release day for Deathrealm: Spirits! There's a better-than-average chance I'm gonna gush insufferably over this book, so be warned. I mean, damn, it features so many of the best of the best, why the hell wouldn't I?

It's been a long, weird road getting here, but I could hardly be happier with the result.

After Deathrealm magazine retired from service, back in 1997, I would say the single most-repeated question asked of me as an author/editor was "Will you ever bring
Deathrealm back?" Until relatively recent years, I said "Not a chance in hell." Back in the late 1990s, keeping that monster on a regular quarterly schedule, with distributors going bankrupt by the score and the traditional publishing realm shifting (and in some cases collapsing in spectacular fashion), I figured I didn't have it in me to attempt to resurrect the property, at least not as it was back in the day.

However, as an anthology project, the idea had some allure. A couple of times in the past, I've floated the idea, and about five years ago, I even had a publisher lined up for it. Due to extenuating circumstances, it never came about, but in hindsight, I'm glad of this. There's no way that project could have come together the way Deathrealm: Spirits has.

I hope you'll check it out — and please, whatever you think of it, reviews are most appreciated!

Monday, October 16, 2023

My Memories of Lara Parker (R.I.P. October 12, 2023)

I just learned via actress Kathryn Leigh Scott that Lara Parker (née Mary Lamar Rickey), best known as Angelique from Dark Shadows has passed away at age 84 years old (October 27, 1938–October 12, 2023). Lara and Kathryn have been good friends since the days of Dark Shadows, so my heart goes out particularly to Kathryn for her personal loss.

I remember the first time I saw Lara as Angelique on Dark Shadows, and I fell in love with her right there on the spot. She was beautiful, powerful, menacing, passionate... everything a nine-year-old boy could possibly desire, apparently. Back then, I adored everything about Dark Shadows, especially Jonathan Frid as Barnabas, but it was when Angelique appeared on the screen that I melted into a mass of lovestruck goo.

After Dark Shadows went off the air, Lara appeared in numerous television series, such as Baretta, KojakKolchak: The Night Stalker, Kung Fu, Remington Steele, The Six-Million-Dollar Man, and Switch, and a few theatrical films, such as Hi, Mom, Race with the Devil, and Save the Tiger. I made a point of watching most of these, and my youthful heart remained smitten, but it took a long time for me to get over my resentment over the cancellation of Dark Shadows... and thus Angelique.

Many moons later, Lara wrote a series of Dark Shadows novels, the first being Angelique's Descent, which HarperCollins released in 1998. At the time, Harper was planning a full series of Dark Shadows novels, and Elizabeth Massie and I secured a contract to write the second book — Dreams of the Dark, which was released in 1999. To my profound excitement, Lara wrote the introduction to our book, and to this day, I remain ridiculously geeked about this. Unfortunately, it wasn't long after Dreams of the Dark's release that Harper shuttered its media tie-in division, and this put the kibosh on Ms. Massie and I writing any further Dark Shadows novels for Harper. In the early 2000s, Tor Books contracted several more Dark Shadows novels from Lara.

Over the years, I attended a number of Dark Shadows events, but none was more memorable than my first — the 1999 Dark Shadows Festival at the World Trade Center in New York City. Most of the show's surviving stars were slated to appear and, more than anything, I looked forward to meeting Lara. And, in fact, she was literally the first familiar face I ran into at the festival. She greeted me cordially but had pressing obligations that prevented her from carrying on a lengthy conversation. Happily, several times, she and I were able to talk at greater length. However, the clincher for me was that she and I appeared together for a presentation on our respective Dark Shadows novels in front of the entire convention group. I had started out with a few butterflies in the old gut, but once things got under way, I managed to carry on without (much) embarrassing gushing.

I met numerous other Dark Shadows cast members at that and other gatherings, but that was the first and only time I ever got to spend any appreciable quality time with Lara Parker. And, of course, that was also the last Dark Shadows event at NYC's World Trade Center. I absolutely cherish the fact that I was able to spend some happy, memorable time there before it was gone forever.

To all Lara's friends and loved ones, I send all my sympathies and respect. She truly played a pivotal role in my childhood, and to me as an adult and an author, she added special meaning and nuance to my career. R.I.P., Lara.

Here are a couple of links to articles featuring some of Lara's thoughts on her acting and writing careers:

The Collinsport Historical Society — Out of the Shadows: Lara Parker
Tor/Forge Blog — Researching the Back Story by Lara Parker

On stage with Lara Parker at the 1999 Dark Shadows Festival at the NYC World Trade Center

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Darkest Corner of the Old Dominion

L–R: William R. D. Wood, Joe Maddrey, James L. Hill, Valerie B. Williams, J. T. Glover, Charles Wood,
Sidney Williams, Old Dude, Mike Rook, D. Alexander Ward
An interesting weekend, this. On Friday, I headed out bright and early, bound for Williamsburg, VA, to participate in today's group booksigning at Turn the Page Bookshop, the writers all having work in Dark Corners of the Old Dominion — a brand-new anthology featuring tales of horror set in Virginia by authors from Virginia. On the drive over, I stopped to hunt a fair number of geocaches (ten or so, I think) as well as procure lunch at Indian Fields Tavern in Charles City, which Brugger and I had discovered on a previous Williamsburg trip. On my previous visit, after experiencing one of their burgers, I went into an excited Tasmanian Devil conniption. This one — the "Charles City Burger" — sent me into that same infernal state. That, my friends, was one of the best fookin burgers I've ever tasted. Whoa!

I had a reservation at Williamsburg's America's Inn, which is pretty close to the Williamsburg Premium Outlets, where the bookshop is located. Upon arriving there and attempting to check in, I ended up having problem after problem, not the least of which was the hotel guy being unable to create a key that would unlock the room door. The room itself didn't appear horrible, but the building was in lousy shape, the WiFi didn't work, and there appeared to be no way to produce a key that would allow me to get in and out of the place. In other words, it was a fucking dump, so I left, figuring I could at least try to get a refund by way of Expedia. My unsolicited advice is to NEVER ATTEMPT TO STAY AT THIS FUCKING DUMP. And now, given the wholly unacceptable explanation that just came in from Expedia — that I will get no refund because they cannot reach anyone at said fucking dump —  Expedia is on my permanent shit list as well. Be warned.

So, anyhoo, there was a Hilton hotel next door, and since it was late on a Friday afternoon and I didn't care to risk going on a wild goose chase trying to find a habitable room somewhere in the vicinity, I went ahead and checked into the obscenely expensive but assuredly superior lodgings at the Hilton.

Saturday morning, after a fair breakfast at the hotel, I made my way up to the bookshop, where I met friend and fellow author/editor Joe Maddrey, one of the Virginia antho's editors. Joe had paid Ms. B. and me a pleasant visit in Martinsville fairly recently. Soon, our other editor, Mike Rook, arrived on the scene, followed by a veritable deluge of authors loaded with their books. Ten of us, there were, and after a while, a few customers began showing up. Most happily, old friend and proprietor of Horror Drive-In Mark Sieber dropped by. It's always great to see Mark. Back in the dark ages, we used to meet in Durham at the Starlight Drive-In, almost inevitably when the weather was freezing cold. Those were some wunderbar adventures...

Sadly, the weather turned nasty and stayed that way all day, so traffic flow in the store wasn't what any of us might have hoped. Regardless, I managed to do reasonably well, and I believe everyone moved at least a few books. So, overall, to my mind, the event turned out pretty decent. Once we closed up shop, most of us migrated to the nearby AleWerks for a spot of refreshment. And, finally, Joe Maddrey and I trucked down to Fat Tuna Grill & Oyster House, where I found myself facing an utterly incredible surf & turf dinner. I believe Joe enjoyed his dinner as well.

I love hanging out with authors I like and respect, and that counts in spades for this bunch of folks. A couple of them, like Joe Maddrey and Sidney Williams, I already knew, and it was a pleasure to make the others' acquaintance. At the end of the day, it's not just the book sales but the company at such events that make them so worthwhile.
Mike Rook devaluing a passel of copies of Dark Corners of the Old Dominion with his autograph
Author J. L. Hill supporting his little buddy, Fred
Fellow author and tablemate, Sidney Williams, looking entirely too pleasant, while at the left-most edge of the photograph, author Charles Wood furtively slaps his moniker on some books. Yeah, he thought he was gonna get away with it...
Madness at the Alewerks!

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

From Twin Peaks to the Great White North, Part 3

Friday, October 6, 2023: Sky High in Vancouver
There must have been some snafus onboard the Ovation this morning as passengers prepared to disembark because the assigned exit times for each group — ours was 8:20 a.m. — kept getting pushed farther and farther back. After a 45-minute delay, we finally received the green light to get out of Dodge, so out of Dodge we went... and then we got back into another Dodge because the rental car Terry so kindly picked up for us was a Dodge Durango. It took some doing to get all our crap into the back of that vehicle, but Terry managed it. By then, the Great Starvation was upon us, and so we drove into Vancouver to find something for breakfast. Ms. B. found a few promising-looking locations online, but when we got there, all of them had lines out the door. So fuck that, we all said, and plopped ourselves down at a nearby Tim Hortons, which actually turned out to be pretty good.

It didn't take long to discover that traffic in Vancouver is a nightmare, as it took about twice the time we anticipated to reach our destination for the day, the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which crosses the Capilano River north of Vancouver. The bridge is over 200 feet high and spans a gorge almost a tenth of a mile wide. There's also a tree canopy walk and a cliff walk through the lush rainforest around the bridge. All of these attractions might be challenging for anyone who suffers from acrophobia, not just because they're way up high but because the walkways — the bridge and the tree canopy walk, at least — sway precariously.

Rather to our dismay, there was a huge crowd today, which meant the bridge and walkways were choked with people. We'd kind of hoped we might challenge the heights in a somewhat more serene environment. Regardless, we enjoyed the hell out of the experience. The forested landscape there is truly beautiful. I wasn't sure how well I'd take to the heights, but as it turned out, they didn't bother me at all. Both Beth and I made a point to cross the sometimes dizzily swaying bridge without so much as touching the handrails. And we did! One of the coolest things about the place was that it was loaded with Halloween horrors: skeletons, pumpkinheads, spiders, bats, rats... all kinds of cool, creepy things. Apparently, they know how to do Halloween right up here.

There was some very good (very expensive) food and drink to be found at the Cliff House Restaurant & Bar at the facility; pulled pork for all of us, which we found delicious, if distinctly different from the NC-style BBQ we're accustomed to back home. Apparently, the fries weren't bad either, as I couldn't stop eating them.

Did I mention crowds? Holy fucking shit, Vancouver is a raging, boiling cauldron of too-many-motherfucking people. New York, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, Atlanta... no city I've ever spent time in compares to the crushing crowds we met everywhere we went. By late afternoon, the roads were at a standstill, and we weren't sure we were ever going to make it to our lodgings, much less find a place to procure supplies. I've never seen so many cars trying to jam themselves into a gas station in my life. Hundreds of them. The Costco and Walmart, less than five miles from our place, took 45 minutes to reach, and then... horrors...! We discovered that in Canada you can't buy spirits of any sort at regular grocery stores. You've gotta go to a liquor store, even for wine and beer. Oh, the poor Canadians. And for us, another blasted battle with traffic.

I found a couple of caches, at least.

Anyway, it was a day. A generally awesome day, at that. Except for the too-many-motherfucking-people part. Judas H. Priest.

Saturday, October 7, 2023: Sky Higher in Whistler

I woke up pretty early and set right to work taking care of a bunch of Deathrealm business, as the release date is getting closer and closer (October 17). About 11:00 a.m., we dragged enough of our gear to last us overnight and hit the road for Whistler, a resort community supposedly about an hour and a half from Vancouver.

Haha. This is Vancouver. After an hour and a half, we hadn't even gotten clear of the city. Traffic was at a standstill everywhere, all morning. Canada's Thanksgiving Holiday is Monday, and it seems we've stumbled into the worst ongoing traffic snarls I've encountered in my lifetime. And I used to live in Chicago! Eventually, we hit something akin to open road (for a few minutes) and found a place for lunch on the city's northern outskirts: Mega Sushi, which was as tiny a place as tiny can be, but the food turned out to be pretty good.

Our primary target was the Sea-to-Sky Gondola, a mile-long, almost mile-high ascent into the mountains overlooking the Howe Sound. We'd anticipated being there by noon, but it was around 2:30 p.m. when we finally pulled in. Happily, things were moving along quickly, and our gang mounted up on one of the gondolas in fairly short order, bound for the sky. I'll tell you, the little cars zip up the cable at a good clip, and if you suffer from any degree of acrophobia, it might give you a jolt. The mountainside is steep, the gondola cars small and wobbly. Ms. B. rarely has any problem with heights, but she was squirming and averting her eyes from the outside world for most of the way up (see the photo above). I felt a wee bit of vertigo, but the ride didn't cause me any real discomfort. The views were beyond spectacular.

At the top, there's a gift shop, a slew of overlooks, a suspension bridge, a few trails, a bar, and geocaches. Needless to say, the latter two occupied most of my time up there. The suspension bridge was cool; not as high or long as the Capilano bridge, which we visited yesterday, but it's narrower and possibly shakier, and the gorge below is no less steep. I found a couple of caches and had a fine Bloody Mary before we made the descent back to our vehicle.

Once in Whistler, it was dinnertime, so we found it at Beacon Pub & Eatery. Fair-to-middlin' chicken wings and an Aperol Spritz. Our residence for the evening was the Aava Hotel, which was decent-looking and comfortable enough. Our gang of four sat up in a little lounge near the hotel lobby, drank some wine, and shot some shit. Since our collective batteries were beginning to run low, we retired fairly early.

Some of the views from the gondola...

Sunday, October 8, 2023: Brandywine and Shannon Falls
I woke up pretty early, so I headed out from the hotel and found a handful of geocaches around the Whistler's main commercial center. We regrouped around 10:30 a.m. for a fairly hefty brunch at Stone's Edge Kitchen in the nearby Adara Hotel. Decent food, though service was very slow, despite a small crowd — initially at least. By the time we left, business was beginning to pick up.

We had a much easier drive out of Whistler than we had coming in. Our first stop was Brandywine Falls, a not-at-all tiny trickle of water from a fairly lofty precipice. There was a huge crowd, enough so that there wasn't any parking left; we had to wait for a spell before one opened up. After a fifteen-minute walk on a fairly easy trail, we came to a few overlooks and took plenty of photos. I sought one cache but couldn't turn it up. The bugger may or may not still be there, as it was found the other day, but the empty location appeared consistent with the cache description. Alas!

Then we meandered to Shannon Falls, and this one is truly spectacular (that's it in the above-left photo). It's certainly the highest waterfall I've ever seen up close and personal, even higher than the highest waterfall Brugger and I visited in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (Douglass Houghton Falls). The water cascades down several tiers from a height of over a thousand feet. Again, we took pictures aplenty, and this time I found the geocache I sought — yay! Again, there was a massive crowd here, but we had marginally less trouble getting in and out of the park.

A few slow-downs on our way back to Vancouver, but nothing like the garbage heap we were stuck in yesterday. We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at Medley's Italian & Grill in North Vancouver. Good food, good wine, good service. Ms. B. and I both had Basil Pesto & Linguine; she got grilled chicken on hers, while I decided to skip the protein because I've had no shortage of it on this trip.

At last, back at our lodgings in Langley, where a quiet and mellow evening was just the ticket. There's a couple of days left on this almost three-week-long sojourn, both of which are going to be kind of batshit crazy. I must say, I'm about ready to settle back into my regular home routine at Ground Zero — although I've got a booksigning in Williamsburg next weekend. Go, go, go, old man.
Old dude and Ms. B. at Brandywine Falls
Martian heat ray streaking down from the sky above Brandywine Falls
Along the trail to Shannon Falls
L: Coupla youngsters at Shannon Falls; R: Okay, maybe not so young. Getting up there was tough!

Monday, October 9, 2023: Where the Fuckowee?

The things some folks will do for wine. Mercy!

During this trip, our gang has acquired a few bottles of wine to take home — "a few" meaning a case for each couple. However, you can't transport that much wine across the Canadian border, so our host from the Seattle-area Air B&B, where we stayed last week, was kind enough to hold it for us. Our flight back home goes from Vancouver to Seattle, then Seattle to Raleigh-Durham. Since we have such an early morning flight out, we felt it most prudent to go back to Seattle — today — to store the wine much nearer to SeaTac and then pick it up during our five-hour layover in Seattle on tomorrow. (If you're following all this, you may be doing better than I am.)

So, that is what we did. Today, we drove down to our former Air B&B, north of Seattle, where we picked up the cases from our exceptionally kind host. Since we were now back in wine country, we figured we'd try a few more tasting rooms in Woodinville. Once again, we had lunch at the Hollywood Tavern, which we'd discovered on our first visit here, and then set about our final wine-tasting venture for this big honking trip.

We found wine, and it was good.

Terry had arranged a place to store the wine cases very near SeaTac, so we trucked down there, found the location... which initially struck us as pretty weird because it was an Ethiopian restaurant. However, the storage service Terry chose — Bounce — has been reliable for us before, and the way it works is that it's a side business for many. Trusting that we were doing the right thing, we left the wine there. Then we drove the two and a half hours back to Vancouver. Packed up. Hit the sack early, since we had to leave to Vancouver airport by 6:00 a.m. the next morning. To fly back to Seattle. And, finally, home.


Tuesday, October 10, 2023: Take the Long Way Home
The reason we were flying out of Vancouver instead of simply leaving from Seattle was entirely due to the airlines' convoluted rules that make it cheaper to do a LOT of flying rather than a little. At the end of the day, we saved hundreds of dollars by making that extra trip from Vancouver to Seattle and back to Vancouver only to fly from Vancouver to Seattle the next before heading home. Got all that?

Up at 5:00 a.m. and out the door at 6:00. An hour's drive to YVR. Terry returns rental vehicle. We regroup, board plane, which takes off right on schedule. A quick, 30-minute flight to SeaTac, and... wow... déjà vu. Weren't we just here?

The last-leg-of-the-trip blues

Now, Terry and I find a taxi and ride over to the nearby Ethiopian restaurant. And... yay! All is well. We pick up our two cases of wine, return to the airport, check the cases, and... four more hours of layover. Much to my delight, I discovered there were a couple of Adventure Lab caches inside the airport to both occupy my time and put in some mileage on my feet (turned out to be about two miles total). We found a decent lunch, and — after three gate changes — found our plane. We boarded and took to the skies right on time.

Not a bad flight. Arrival at RDU right on schedule. Holy crap — at baggage claim, who should I run into but a geocacher of my acquaintaince from the Raleigh-Durham area. Turns out she and her husband were sitting right in front of us on the flight. She'd seen me at SeaTac, but our paths hadn't crossed until now. Anyhoo, our gang picked up our mountain of luggage, Terry took a taxi to his vehicle, parked just off the airport property, returned to pick us up, and... finally... off we headed to their home in Kernersville, just over an hour's trip.

It was about 1:30 a.m. when we reached their place, where we'd left our car. Kimberly and I transferred our bags to our vehicle and hit the road for Martinsville, an hour further on.

We walked... or more like stumbled... through our door at 2:45 a.m. to great fanfare by four cats. What excitement! Hollering, nuzzling, circling, jumping, & leaping. The cats were pretty happy too.

Lights out and collapse.


This trip was an experience unlike any other for all of us, I think. From our several past ventures, Terry & Beth and Kimberly & I figure that we travel pretty damned well together. We know each others' quirks and idiosyncracies (of which there are many), and most of the time, we don't really want to off each other and feed the corpses to the fishies. Can't say that about many people.

Haha. Sort of.

I've never been comfortable leaving home for too long a spell, and this was the single longest trip I've ever taken. Thus, I can't say that Kimberly and I didn't stress a bit, especially since we're so recently settled in Martinsville, and the cats have never been under someone else's care for so long. Happily, all has ended up pretty damned well.

We got to see so many things I don't often see in Martinsville. Arctic Ground Squirrels! Whales! Rattlesnake! Moose! Bear! Kyle MacLachlan! We saw the Pacific Northwest. We saw Canada. We saw Alaska. We went to many utterly gorgeous, very high places that challenged whatever acrophobia any of us might suffer. We discovered wine. Our cruise allowed us to view spectacular landscapes and seascapes the likes of which many people never get to see. And there were geocaches!

There is a lot of catch-up to play at this point. The real world beckons again.

So... here's to our next little break from it....

From Twin Peaks to the Great White North, Part 2

Friday, September 29, 2023: North to Alaska, Go North the Rush Is On...
We had a lovely, panoramic view of Seattle as we set sail from the port on Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas late this afternoon. During our time in Seattle, we rarely found ourselves in a location from which we could catch a view of the city's skyline, so this perspective was pleasing. We've enjoyed our time here, but Seattle didn't strike me as a place to which I absolutely must return. It's oftentimes oppressively busy, with typical urban transportation ills — so much so this afternoon that Terry and I weren't sure we could get the rental car back to SeaTac and then locate transportation to the cruise port before the blasted ship sailed. Fortunately, we found a cabbie who probably set speed records along the way. (He likely does this run daily.)

Once we were settled on board, the four of us headed to one of the ship's cafés for a little afternoon Good Morning, America. After a stiff, much-needed caffeine pick-me-up, we went to dinner at Wonderland Restaurant on Deck 5. This upscale establishment is an "experience" in dining, and I'll go so far as to say it was one of the best meals I've ever eaten. I started with a "Smoke Ring" cocktail, which is something of a souped-up Old Fashioned, heavily smoked. It was delicious, though not particularly strong — probably a good thing since the cruise ship is basically a big floating bar. A round of various, tiny appetizers based on five natural elements — Earth, Sea, Fire, Ice, and Sun — featuring lobster, shrimp, mushrooms, eggs, and other savory treats followed. For the main course, I chose braised beef and mashed potatoes, which came with an array of puréed vegetables that perfectly complemened the cooked critter. It was the tenderest, most flavorful beef ever. Brugger went with a chicken dish, also excellent. Topped off with delicious desserts, this was indeed a wonderful (if very expensive) and memorable meal.

Afterward, we plopped down in the ship's theater to watch the ship's cruise director make funny, followed by a comedian named Landry, who generally was funny. That was about all the energy we had in us, so we called it an early night.

Good night, Seattle — we love you! (Kinda.)

Saturday, September 30, 2023: High on the High Seas and There Be Whales Here!
The view straight down through the
glass flooring on deck 15

Brugger and I rose early, mainly because there was a time change during the night — we crossed from Pacific Daylight Time to Alaska Daylight Time, so we had to convince our still slightly discombobulated bodies to back up yet a hair further after having finally adjusted to Pacific Time. After a very light breakfast courtesy of room service, Ms. B. and I set about wandering the ship, seeing the sights and seeking certain necessary items from one of the onboard shops. According to my health app, we put in two-plus miles, which I reckon we needed since our feeding frenzies have been frequent and impressive.

From our stateroom balcony, I noticed a voluminous spray not far from the ship and, a moment later, a big, dark hump that broke the surface and then submerged. How cool is that? A whale! So far on this trip, we've seen Kyle MacLachlan, a rattlesnake, and a whale. Don't see any of these much back home. Not ever, really, when you think about it. So chalk up another new and different experience.

We joined our compadres for lunch at one of the ship's restaurants; it was good, not great (I think it was grocery store–bought BBQ). For afters, Brugger and I headed to the uppermost decks to hitch a ride on the Northstar — a globe that holds about a dozen folks, attached to an arm that rises to a height of 300-some feet. For fifteen minutes, from way up high, we had a wide view of the open seas as well as the mountains of Moresby Island. The wind was strong — right at the limit of the Northstar's tolerances, according to our host — so it was bumpy up there, but we didn't fall over or anything. That's always a plus.

Later, our gang gathered for drinks at a couple of the shipboard establishments, and Terry and I enjoyed several intriguing games of pool — intriguing because the less-than-level-and-steady surface of the pool table presented us with ongoing and amusing challenges. I won the best of three, but I kinda of credit this to the table performing weird acrobatics beneath our balls.

Dinner and a brief, ill-fated visit to the casino rounded out the evening. Tomorrow: Juneau.
View of the Ovation from the Northstar as it rises to its full height
Sunday, October 1, 2023: Juneau What? We're in Alaska!

I woke up this morning, looked out our stateroom window, and, through a veil of mist and rain, saw Alaska drifting by. When I stepped out on the balcony with bare feet, I hollered a bit, because it was... well, Alaska. Initially, there wasn't much to see because the atmosphere was so thick, but Brugger and I did lay eyes on another whale not far from the ship. As we drew nearer to Juneau, the fog began to lift and the mountains along the shoreline — only a few hundred feet away — grew taller and greener. Soon, we saw numerous waterfalls that plummeted from the tops of the high ridges all the way down to sea level. Eventually, we saw the buildings of Juneau creeping up ahead on starboard. Our original arrival time was supposed to be 1:00 p.m., but we were apparently quite early, having made considerable headway overnight.

There was still some time before disembarking, so Brugger and I spent a brief but relaxing spell in the hot tub at the ship's solarium. We had a quick pizza lunch with the Nelsons, I slapped my geocaching hat on my head, and then... Alaska, here we come! There were several caches around the port, and I managed to make quick work of them. Well, work of them, anyway. The womenz went shopping, needless to say. Terry and I found drink and light vittles at a quirky tavern called the Red Dog Saloon, Eventually, Brugger and Beth joined us, and we hung out for a while before going our separate ways — the womenz back shopping, Terry back to the ship, and I out for geocaching. Six and a half miles I hoofed it, which was enough for me to explore a fair part of this very small city. I saw the entire port district, the governor's mansion, several fun little backroads, and some panoramic views from on high. I logged six traditional caches and fourteen Adventure Lab stages, which I'd call a dingy-dang good total for the day.

Ms. B. and I had intended to have dinner at a particular seafood restaurant in town, but it was closed for the season. We checked out a couple of other places — also closed — and when we finally found an open one, they were so full up (no doubt because every other place was closed) that we would have had almost an hour's wait. So we said fuck that, trucked back to the ship, and found dinner at Izumi Sushi, which I'd call one helluva good dinner. We closed out the night with a final drink at the Schooner Bar, which would become one of our regular shipboard hangouts.

Tomorrow: Skagway.
Into Juneau
Nary a crabby person to be seen at Red Dog Saloon. Well, maybe one.
Monday, October 2, 2023: Moose and Squirrel!

The Ovation dropped anchor in the port of Skagway, Alaska, very early this morning, and, after slaughtering a decent breakfast, our gang made its way into town to procure a vehicle for our do-it-yourself tour to Emerald Lake in Canada's Yukon Territory. Vehicle acquired, Ms. B. got behind the wheel and drove us through blinding rain and fog high into the mountains, where — happily — the sun came through, burned off most of the errant vapor, and presented us with some of the most spectacular scenery any of us have ever seen.

We spotted bear! We spotted moose! We spotted squirrel! We spotted mountain goat! We spotted geocaches! At Emerald Lake, while seeking a cache, I happened upon a ruffled grouse, who gave me such a stink-eye that I damn near ran away. Then he flew off, thoroughly berating Ms. B. as he passed. What a jerk!

Once back at the ship, our gang had dinner in the restaurant, drank at one of the bars, danced... somewhere... and then Terry and I hit the casino. I must say, he had far better luck than I did, and I suspect my gambling on this trip is over and done with. All in all, though, I'd call this one incredible, spectacular day. Looky at the pictures!
Tuesday, October 3, 2023: Endicott Arm
About dawn, the Ovation entered the Endicott Arm, a channel of the Inside Passage south of Juneau, so that we might view the Dawes Glacier. Brugger and I got up for an early breakfast. Then we spent a frigid morning on (and often off) our balcony photographing the spectacular mountains and myriad waterfalls as we sailed slowly past. Once relatively close to the glacier, the ship stopped for a while, but thick mist prevented clear views. The glacier was definitely cool to see, but it was the mountains and waterfalls along the channel that we found most inspiring.
Iceberg! Right ahead!
At noon, our gang met at our regular shipboard dining room for lunch, which was leisurely... perhaps a tad more leisurely than we usually prefer. The ship is jam-packed, bordering on oppressive for those of us who suffer from crowd anxiety (which gets to me more and more in my old age). The food in the main dining room is pretty good; better, I think, than the fare on Rhapsody of the Seas on our Mediterranean cruise a few years ago. I have to give a lot of credit to the Ovation's servers and crew in general, most of whom bend over backward to make sure you're satisfied. I'm pretty easy to please, so none of them have chucked any heavy or sharp objects at me. I'm not so sure about the others in our party...

For the better part of the afternoon, we hung out in the solarium, both in the hot tub and in the multi-level pool. In the hot tub, a young woman noticed my geocaching hat and mentioned to me that she geocached as well. We ended up having a long conversation, while Terry ended up yakking with a Navy vet, with whom he apparently shared some history. That left Kimberly and Beth stuck between their husbands carrying on at length with other folks. At least they had each other.

Before dinner, we met again at the Schooner Bar, and then... Italian night at the restaurant. The second-best beef carpaccio I've ever had. A fair filet of sole, and a delicious Coffee Pot del Crema for dessert. Afterward... somehow... we ended up back at the Schooner Bar and listened to their entertaining piano man. Throughout the evening, the seas had grown increasingly rough, and the ship rocked and swayed madly during our entire outing. We drank a bit, but the ship's movement made us feel positively blasted. After our gang broke up for the night, Brugger and I went down to the pool tables for a bit of fun and... oh, my lord, trying to play pool on a rocking ship was silly enough that we figured it for an impromptu slapstick show.

Apparently, while we were doing these things, the ship's crew hung large quantities of Feel Better Bags on all the stairway railings for those inclined to get seasick. Thankfully, for us, all that rocking and rolling made for nothing more than a good night's sleep.
That's the glacier in the center; the mist was too dense to make out much detail.
Wednesday, October 4, 2023: It's Pitch White Outside
Today was a full day at sea, and Brugger and I felt it was high time we took a break from the typical cruise routine of starting drinking at an early hour and keeping it going. There was a time change last night when the Ovation crossed back to Pacific Daylight Time from Alaska Daylight Time, so we basically lost the hour we had gained on our northward voyage. It's still three hours earlier than back home and, most of the time, we don't even know what day it is, much less the time on the clock. Maybe even more so today because, outside, there's an impenetrable veil of fog that's hung there since we crawled out of bed.

I wanted to make some forward progress on the short story I'm composing, so, for a while, I sat out on the balcony and composed away. At noon, we met Terry & Beth at the restaurant for lunch. A fair burger, it was. Then Brugger and I decided to find a place on the ship where she could make art and I could write, just for the change of scenery. We secured a couple of acceptable seats outside Vintages Wine Bar on Deck 5 and proceeded to write, paint, draw, drink coffee, and leer at the passersby. When we returned to our stateroom, it was still pitch white outside.

It's feeling kinda like The Lost Continent out there.

Or maybe... Gojira! No sooner had I written the preceding than a brilliant burst of white light appeared on the ocean's surface some distance to starboard. I knew right away this was Godzilla rising. Kimberly said it was a reflection of the sun, now burning its way through the fog. But I know better.

Late in the afternoon, Terry, Beth, Ms. B., and I met for the shooting of some pool (or in my case, the massacre of some pool) and then an excellent dinner at the restaurant; shrimp cocktail and lobster tails for this old landlubber. For the remainder of the evening, we settled ourselves in Vintages with a round of decent red vino.

We have one more full day on the cruise. Tomorrow, it's Victoria, British Columbia. Don't know much about Victoria, but the geocaching map tells me it will be worth my while. I dunno about anyone else's while.

I'm telling you: it was Godzilla out there. Because I know better.
Thursday, October 5, 2023: Named After Our Lady

Today, it was Victoria — our penultimate destination on the cruise. Tomorrow, we'll dock and disembark in Vancouver.

I set out early this morning, shortly after the Ovation docked, bound for several caches around the port area. For a couple of them, I ended up walking all the way to the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater, which was good for a good mile and a half of hoofing right there. After that, Brugger came out to meet me, and we headed toward town, stopping at shops and caches along the way. For lunch, we happened upon the Cactus Café, which turned out to be an agreeable, somewhat upscale establishment. Terry and Beth soon joined us there — what late bloomers! The food was good, and the Aperol spritzes were tasty and refreshing.

After that, we wandered a bit more and eventually ended up at Fisherman's Wharf. It's loaded with food kiosks and beer joints, which would have been more appealing if we hadn't already had lunch. It was kind of fun to visit, and I did grab a cache there. At last, we decided to head back to the ship. At the end of it, I'd put in right about eight miles on my feetzes. And now my feetzes are kinda sore!

For the evening, our priority was packing up for an early departure in the morning.

Overall, this has been an enjoyable cruise; some hiccups with elevators out of service, EXPENSIVE internet service that tended to be sporadic at best, seemingly endless chaos getting settled in the dining room, and a few other glitches... mostly only minor annoyances. The spectacular stuff we've seen and done has been REALLY spectacular, so it more than balances out. I've now seen a part of the United States as well as a country — Canada — I'd never previously visited, so I'm calling this an experience I deeply value.

And all with the best of friends. It doesn't get much better.
In the Houses of Parliament, everybody's talking about the President
Canadian Dinosaurs!