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Missing my Cruise Ship

JewelA lot of times missing a flight is completely of one’s control. It’s out of your power if your connecting flight was late, the people on the moving sidewalk were standing in your way, or the person in front of you happens to be the color that the terrorist alert was set to. I once missed a flight because the security guard had to check what exactly I was packing in my pants; which was 228.6 mm of heat. So many times you are not to blame for missing your transportation. I wish I shared that sentiment when I missed my cruise ship. The reason I could not share it is because it is incredibly hard to miss a cruise ship. Nothing was preventing me from missing my ship; I plainly lost track of time.

JunoI imagine most people, when pulling up in their taxi to see their ship sailing away without them, would freak out like a cocaine-less Andy Dick. Instead, my reaction was to burst into laughter. I guess I responded that way because I had not fully realized that I was just abandoned. I kept waiting for the cruise director to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Surprise!” Like it was some joke they played on a passenger every trip. Like, I won a prize for being the most un-organized person on the ship. Of course there was no tap, but there was a prize. The prize was one night of freedom from my 2,000 all white, all old, and mostly fat cruising counterparts.  Of course I say that in a pro; old-fat-white person way (can’t upset the fan base.) I relished in the idea of a night free of constant picture taking and loud boisterous arguments on if that was a whale or just a shadow. “What do you think cast the shadow?” One man said, not realizing how dumb of a statement that was. You get a lot of those dumb statements on a cruise ship. I heard one women refer to the natives of Alaska as, “Alaskamo’s.” My favorite is what her husband called them. I believe the term was, “Snow Mexicans.”

This is not the way I would choose to get freedom from my fellow cruisers. Much like the Iraqi’s, freedom was being forced upon me. However, I do enjoy the idea of being stranded, because it forces me to have to accomplish a mission.  I imagined getting back on the boat and having a news conference to explain what happened, with a banner behind me that said, “A Mission Accomplished.” Then after the conference, everyone says, “I think the boat was better without that guy.” This newfound independence made me feel like I was watching a Laura Croft movie; at first it sounds great, but after, you wonder what the hell you were thinking.

So my fate was decided. I was stay in Juneau for the night. As I still stood at the dock admiring my own stupidity, I thought about all the other times I had been abandoned. There was the time my mom abandoned me at a K-mart. Not in the literal sense, I just felt like she was abandoning good mothering when she actually took me to a K-mart. Or the time when I was 13, my oldest brother Kevin abandoned me at the Salt Lake City Airport. I wanted a cigarette and he said, “If you go and smoke I am leaving without you.” When I ignored his threat and went to smoke he just disappeared with my ticket. I got the last laugh, when I went to security and had them announce over the airport PA, “Kevin Baker, we have found your brother please report to airport security.” So to say the least, I had been groomed for the occasion.

Here are three things to do if you are ever stranded:

Step One: Figure out when you can leave, and do it!

Step Two: Find a place to stay, and rent it!

Step Three: Find a bar and Get drunk. However, make sure that does not cause you to forget about step one.

Step one was no problem. For $119 I was on the first flight to Skagway; where the cruise ship was stopping next. I don’t want to say the particular cruise line, but let’s just say it rhymes with Borewegian. Step two was a little harder. I had to walk around the town in search for an available hotel. It was really interesting seeing the town after all the cruise ships had left. All the characters came out. I kept waiting to see Sarah Palin and Todd stumble out of a bar and invite me over for a game of name that country. To my disappointment there were no celebrity sightings, and it saddened me that I had not seen any of these infamous Alaskamo’s.

JuneauI checked a few hotels and none were cheaper than $150. I have money, but I find something fundamentally wrong with paying so much money for a bed. For some people it makes sense. They need comfort and a sense of security, to be able to get a decent nights rest. As for me, all I need is a blanket. I can pretty much sleep anywhere. To save money in London, I took the subway to the airport every night, and slept at the baggage claim. In Maui, instead of the hostels, I simply slept on the beach. I can sleep pretty much anywhere. Along with identifying celebrity voices, and seeing midgets at far distances, it is one of my X-men abilities. Shelling out $150 for a place to lay my head for a few hours, even Jean Grey would laugh at. I needed to find something cheaper. So, I asked a guy who was trying to sell me a lighter for a dollar, if there was a hostel in town? He didn’t say a word and just pointed up the hill.

Up the hill I went. As I was walking, I passed a house that a woman had just walked out of. She was holding a Yoga mat and dressed like she was headed to work out. Our eyes met and she commented on my Descendents t-shirt.  She said, “nice shirt. The Descendant’s are like the best punk band ever.” I laughed and awkwardly said, “They are one of them.” Without hearing a word I said, she walked right by me brushing my right shoulder. In a very demanding voice she said, “My name’s Laurie, walk me to yoga.” I stood there absorbing the strange request. As I was sorting out the randomness of this occurrence, she continued to walk up the hill.  Without stopping she shouted, “Come on man. I am not trying to fuck you. I have a boyfriend. Hurry up, let’s go.” Her tone made it seem like I was inconveniencing her with my lack of sudden action. Whatever it was, it worked, because I moved like I was Kristie Alley chasing a Snickers bar.  However, it was less of me accompanying her, as it was more of, me awkwardly following her as she raced ahead. Even though she held a distance of five body lengths, she still managed to make conversation. She told me about her bar-tending job and her love for punk music. Fortunately the awkwardness was cut short, when we reached her yoga studio. I asked, “Is this it?” Surprisingly out of breath considering we had only walked two blocks. Ignoring my words and more luckily my sarcasm, she went on to invite me to her house later. “Stop by anytime. You can go there now and hang if you want. My boyfriend is there, but don’t worry he is cool.” She said as she disappeared into the yoga studio. As I walked away, I wondered all sorts of things about my new friend Laurie. I wondered; does she just not like walking alone? Does she do this to every person she passes on her way to yoga? Does she just wait in her window waiting for someone to walk by? I knew my questions would go unanswered and I continued on my quest for the holy hostel. I continued to walk up the hill until the street came to a dead end.  I stopped and asked a guy who was trying to sell me a barbecue skewer for $3.77 and he pointed (with the skewer) down this little path that led through some trees. I followed the path, which led me to a large house. It had a large porch in the front where a gutter punk couple was sitting.

Sam and Jeanie were from Denver, and welcomed me to the hostel. They took to me instantly, because I was wearing a Descendents t-shirt. Never before had this shirt gotten me so much attention. Was there some sort of Alaska-Descendents connection? We chatted on the porch for a while. They had only been in Juneau for 3 days and were giving me the 3 worthwhile spots to see in my 14 hours of furlough. They were staying here for the summer to find work and enjoy the 24 hours of sunshine. They told me about there horrid experience of sailing to Juneau from Seattle. They took a boat that transported vehicles to Alaska for people who were relocating there. 6 days of shaky seas and the disdain for their trip, made me decide not to tell them about the giant cruise ship I sailed in on. I didn’t want to ruin the first people I had met who weren’t selling me something or asking me to walk them somewhere. Finally someone who liked me for the clothes I wore.

The hostel was even cheaper than I was expecting. When the lady at the counter told me that it was $10, I stared at her in awkward silence like it was the first time I saw a women’s breasts. After getting the brief introduction to the hostel I realized why is was so cheap. To cut down on the cost of paying employees, everyone staying at the hostel had to leave from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On top of the 9 hours you were not allowed to be there, you had to be back by 12 a.m. Or you were locked out. Not that being locked out in the warm sun is really that bad? They say that from June 21 to Dec 21st Alaska loses 5 minutes of sunlight a day. So in reality Alaskan’s loose 5 minutes of happiness a day. Not only did they dictate the hours you could be there, they also had the guests do all the chores. My allotted task was to vacuum the stairs and mop the dining room.

krygistanIn my book there is only one downfall about hostels, it is the people who do weird things in there sleep. You are always rolling the dice when you are sharing a room with 4-8 people. Sometimes, you get people who snore; some who talk in there sleep, and once in the middle of the night I even heard people having sex. I love waking up to sex, but only when I am having it. I don’t want to hear the sound of a hand slapping water unless I am the one slapping. My roommate for the evening was Rustam from Kyrgyzstan. Rustam was an extremely nice guy, who would soon be added to my list of people I would never share a room with again. I actually really liked him, until about 6:30 a.m. That was the time he decided to set his alarm for. I don’t get people who set their alarm an hour before they want to get up. I have no problem with people who get up early. Or, people who are making noise as they leave, but I do have a problem for someone hitting there snooze 8 times when they are sharing a room with strangers.

The main problem is not how many times he hit the snooze; it was how long the alarm lasted before he hit it. The alarm was not loud enough to wake him up, but was loud enough to wake up me, and the people in the room down the hall. Also, the alarm sound he chose was the most annoying thing I have heard since the first time I heard Celine Dion’s voice. I can deal with birds chirping or, a cool song, but his alarm made the sound of babies crying sound like ocean waves. It was one of those alarms that the longer it went, the louder it got. Before Rustam hit the snooze, the alarm would be going off for a good minute (which in official sleep time is the equivalent of 32 minutes.) Not only did it begin to get loud, after 30 seconds it added a voice saying something in some strange language. I imagined it was Kyrgyz and the voice was saying, “Get the fuck up you inconsiderate asshole.” Finally I sat up and in my politest voice said, “Hey dude, you got to turn that fucking thing off. Fuck…” He obliged, but not in the way I was hoping. I assumed after an hour of hitting the snooze button, and waking me up every 5 minutes, he would turn the alarm off. Instead he switched the alarm to what he thought was a more pleasant wake up call, a rooster crowing. The moment I heard the first cockadoodldoo I jumped from my bed and headed across the room. My intention was to take his phone and throwing it out the cracked window. Instead, Rustam rolled out of bed and apologized for waking me. Since I was standing there in my underwear looking as pissed as if I was Tom Cruise finding out scientology was just a ploy to get my money. I accepted his apology and went back to bed.

My sleep did not last long, because again I was woken up prematurely. This time however, it was the lady who checked me in inflicting the punishment. As she was shaking me she said, “Mr. Baker, you have not done your chores yet and you have to get out by 9.” I rolled my eyes and told her I would get right on it, which I did. I got out of bed, got my things together and when the lady wasn’t looking, slipped out the door and got right on getting the fuck out of there. I caught the first cab I saw, and instructed him to head to the airport. When we arrived at the Juneau International Airport, I had to ask the driver if this was the right place. I had to check because we were sitting in front of a building no bigger than a Radio Shack, and there were no planes in site. There was a long strip of land that resembled what an abstract artist might paint as a runway, but nothing that would hint to future archeologist that planes actually landed there.

skagwayThe inside of the airport didn’t inspire much hope in me either. I felt like I was on the set of Wings, which ironically was the name of my airline. I walked up to the counter and told them I had a reservation and they handed me a ticket. No asking for a name, no looking at ID, no asking if my bag had hazardous material, I guess they just give ticket to anyone who claims they made a reservation. The security was just as lackadaisical as the check in. Apparently, metal detector technology has not made it’s way to Alaska yet. To be honest it was quite nice to not have to take my shoes off and put everything in a baggie. When I heard you were not allowed to bring 3 oz of liquid on a plane, I wondered what next? I thought, let’s just hope the terrorist’s don’t figure out a way to make urine dangerous. The frustrating thing about security screening is that every airport is different. There is no unified system to what they allow and don’t allow. For example, The Seattle airport allows me to have shaving cream, but when I go through Spokane; an airport the size of my middle nut, they freak out like I am secretly plotting to lather up the plane and shave it. Another time in Lisbon, they pulled my bag aside because I had some liquid that exceeded the amount allowed. When they opened the bag and found my axe body spray, they laughed and let me go. It was strange, like I was secretly shooting a commercial for axe.  Regardless, of if other people were bringing on bombs that would crash and kill everyone on the plane it was nice for once to not have to throw out my toiletries.

When the flight was ready, the counter lady went around; from memory, and got all the passengers who were flying to Skagway. All 9 of us huddled up around the grey bearded pilot, like he was going to give us some sort of strategy we needed to stick to if we all wanted to survive. No real strategic maneuvers, all he said was, “Alright, we got a full flight. Be careful walking out on the runway there are a lot of holes and I don’t want you to twist an ankle.” I laughed out loud because he reminded of me of Santa Clause preparing his reindeer for the tough flight. We all got on the plane, and I was the last to board. As I was about to get on, Santa say’s to me, “I like you. I want you to be my co-pilot.” Shocked; I replied, “Really?” The thought flashed through my head of having to land the plane on a glacier because someone took out the pilot with their nail clippers. The same ones that normally get confiscated because of metal detectors. I was excited. When I got on the plane, I realized that the only seat available was the one sitting next to the pilot. Even though Santa was being nice in making me think I would actually assist him in the flight, I did not let that stop me from thinking I was the Neo of this flights matrix.

I have flown on a lot of small planes. I think this was the first plane I had been on where you can flick the pilot’s ear from the back seat. The co-pilot’s seat was comfy. So comfy, I fell right asleep when my ass hit it. Finally a sleep not interrupted from annoying alarms that make you want to punch nuns, or people shaking you trying to get you to do some mundane choir. I awoke to the sound of wheels hitting the gravel that paved the Skagway airport. My eyes opened to see my cruise ship sitting there, beckoning to me to come aboard. It was a nice way to wake up. Even though I had been gone less than 24 hours, I kind of missed the little things on the cruise you take for granted; like the drink holders next to the urinals and the people on carts driving around while drinking Franzia.  The moment I walked on the ship I was greeted in the elevator by two middle aged folks who took the elevator up one floor and it made me glad to be back.

 

 

 

 

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Underground Room

Written by Jon Baker and Matt Baker (no relation)

In my life, I have met so many unique people. From a world record holding chainsaw juggler, to the inventor of the deep-fried Twinkie, to the man who inspired the song “Spoonman.” I’m not just talking about people who show up on my Facebook and Twitter pages, but people who have actually played a role in my life, people I have been honored to call my friends, the type of people that I would help on the drop of a dime.  This is a story about the legend of Jon Baker.

Part 1 – The Jon Con

My old friend Jon Baker (no relation) and I were in a band together called the Interstate Hikers. Not the worst of names for a band, but it certainly illustrates the fact that we had no idea what we were doing. Interstate Hikers? Sounds like a special on 60 Minutes. “Tonight on 60 Minutes: Interstate Hikers—green transportation or a band of homeless vagabonds looking to rob you?” Although our name was not great, it was certainly better then the music we played.

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Since the four of us liked drugs, starting a band seemed natural. What we lacked in music ability we made up for in aptitude for conjuring up ways of getting money to spend on drugs. From pooling our lunch allowances and picking up recyclable cans on the roadside to hawking our parents’ stuff, nothing was sacred in our quest for eternal hallucination.

During one such hallucination, it became perfectly clear that we needed to spend less time making money to get high and more time actually getting high. That’s when Jon came up with the idea of a perfect con.

Usually, our ideas for the infamous get-rich-quick scheme involved an old lady, pantyhose and a potato gun, but Jon’s plan had what all of our previous ideas lacked: brains behind it. Here’s how it worked: Jon printed out a pieces of paper with future dates on them. A person would give Jon any amount of money they desired, and they would receive the dated piece of paper with his signature guarantee. If that person presented the signed note to Jon on the date indicated, he would give them four times the amount they originally invested. He called this con the Back of the Alley Banker.

Since we had been stuck in low-end cons that would produce maybe $20 at a time, naturally we were beaming with excitement when Jon showed the band his giant wad of cash. He held it in his hands like it was some sort of a fragile magic lamp; one that would grant him the wish he had always dreamed of. We stood in silence, eyes wide and staring, like it was the first boobs we had ever seen, dreaming of a future filled with hallucinations and enough drugs to kill a small horse. However, Jon ignored his bandmates’ pleading cries to spend the money on beer, drugs and giant crates of Costco muffins; instead, he elected to spend it on something he had always dreamed of doing: building an underground room.

Unbeknownst to me, this plan was 3 years in the waiting.  Jon had been charting, drawing schematics, and crafting his plan since he was 14. His mom never gave him permission to build the underground room, and so, at the age of 17, Jon’s defiance level was at an all-time high. With his mom leaving for a month on a work retreat, Jon attempted to seize his dream, which in Latin is called carpe dreamin. If given a month home alone, most 17-year-olds would spend that time watching re-runs of Looney Tunes naked and trying to figure out how to get laid. That is what made Jon so unique; he was to spend the next 4 weeks of freedom digging a giant hole in his mom’s backyard.

We all doubted his bizarre plan, but in the summer of ’99, the construction began. Operations were running as smooth as a sanded-down baby’s bottom, and by the end of the first week, Jon had dug a hole the size of a midget standing on top of a MINI Cooper. Word of his project reached the kids in the neighborhood and they quickly gave him the nickname, “The Ground General.”

At the end of the first week, Jon ran into his first setback. He realized one small detail of his master plan for an underground matrix had been glossed over: where to put the dirt he had unearthed? Not one to panick, he decided to put it where most people would put the dirt from their underground rooms: in between his and his neighbor’s fences.  Operations were back on, as Jon began piling mounds of dirt in the empty space between the fences. A second problem quickly arose and that was that the solution to the first problem was not that great. The mound of dirt had begun to cause the fences to bulge like Kirstie Alley eating an Oreo. His neighbors noticed and threatened to call the police if Jon did not do something about it.

Jon was at now at a crossroads. He had nowhere to put the soil, and there was no way he was going to give up on his dream due to some small logistic. So he kept digging. Soon, what looked like two side-by-side models of Mt. Vesuvius were visible over the top of the fence. And still he kept digging. The plan was to tell his mom that the dirt was from some landscaping he had done while she was away. Not the best plan, but knowing Jon, we all knew he would somehow make it work.

Seriously behind schedule, Jon began to work day in and day out, busting his ass to finish the room before his mom got home. With only a week left before her return, the project was only half finished and new problems kept arising; the biggest being that the dirt walls kept caving in, forcing Jon to dig out wheelbarrows full of dirt on a daily basis. Jon was working harder then a Mexican donkey to dig his hole, which far surpassed his careful renderings and had grown to the size of a short yellow school bus. In this gaping hole, with only 2 days until his mom’s inevitable return, Jon began to build the room. Using the money he conned (about $200), he bought the wood and went to work on framing an enclosed box.

The night before his mother was scheduled to return, Jon finished his pièce de résistance, a structure that would change the meaning of the term man cave forever and would cement his name in the neighborhood folklore. Jon deserved it. This was not just your run-of-the-mill underground room. It had everything you would want in a bedroom, let alone an underground bedroom. Jon had dug a trench from the house to his new hideout, which allowed him to run extension cords to power his TV, phone and lights. He threw in a bench, a bookshelf, a futon and a Plexiglas window that looked out into the soil. 9035_180471555475_554235475_4169344_7010837_n

From the outside, there was no way to tell there was a room below the surface. Jon had neatly re-laid the original sod.  The only way to enter the room was through a flat hatch door that was covered with some dead shrubs. It was like a pot grower’s wet dream. A hideout that would make Anne Frank say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The only thing that indicated something remotely suspicious were the gargantuan piles of dirt that looked like an unfinished dirt sculpture of Dolly Parton. Surely his mom would buy the landscaping story. Right?

I asked Jon to explain to me what happened when his mom came home and he wrote this:

“At first it was my intention to keep the underground room a secret. That plan briefly worked. When my mom came home, she immediately noticed the comically sized primitive pyramids of dirt that were once the intestines of the underground room. She asked, “Where in the world did all the dirt come from?” I replied, “Well, I’ve been doing some weeding.” For whatever reason she left it at that. However, the next day she brought it up again, pointing out the absurdity in my reply. “Well, Ma,” I said, “Do you really want to know?”  “Yes,” she replied, “Ok, follow me,” I said and I led her to where the trap door to the room was. I asked her if she noticed anything strange. “Well, it looks as if you’ve Rototilled the ground or something.” I kicked aside the brush, revealing to her for the first time the door that would lead her into a new understanding of her only child. “Now do you notice anything strange?” This was met by only silence. “Here lift the handle,” I suggested. It wasn’t until 3 days 9035_180471325475_554235475_4169343_1967265_nlater that she approached me and said, “You know, Jonathan, it’s actually quite impressive what you did. I wish you hadn’t done it behind my back, but I’m impressed.”

Jon lived in the underground room for 3 months, until the winter rains arrived and the room’s only structural flaw was revealed: the flat roof necessitated an interior gutter system to allow the inhabitants to live comfortably. But by then, Jon, now 18, could finally move out without a co-sign on a lease, rendering the underground room’s main purpose obsolete. Water filling the room daily, Jon decided to abandon his baby to live in something more conventional: something above ground.

Jon’s room remained in his mom’s backyard and the contentious dirt piles remained lodged between the two fences. Over the next 2 ½ years, neglected, the underground room accumulated a horror film’s worth of snakes, slugs and spiders, eventually deteriorating into a miniature swimming pool of cess, until the day Jon’s mother unilaterally condemned it. Jon returned and, over a couple of visits, refilled the hole with the same dirt he had dug out so many summers before. Why, I wondered, didn’t he just spend the money on drugs?

When I think about Jon’s room now, I imagine a scene 200 years in the future. I visualize the face of a man as he accidentally digs up this underground fortress. I envision the excitement he will encounter as he uncovers the treasure that will make him rich and give historians of his day crucial information about the people who inhabited the land so many years before. Camera crews arrive, speculating about what could be inside: aliens, a king’s tomb, maybe artifacts of the ’90s. The whole world watches on live TV in anticipation. Then, I picture the disappointment on everyone’s faces as they open the hatch and begin the gridded excavation, only to find an abandoned 9x9x9 room with nothing in it but a High Times 9035_180471700475_554235475_4169345_2101968_nmagazine and a Plexiglas window looking out into the dirt.

The scene will cause the kind of laugh that happens only years after a joke’s inception, like an Andy Kaufman skit.

Now I understand why Jon didn’t spend the $200 from his con on drugs that would wear off in 300 hours and instead spent it on something he knew would be hilarious for centuries: the underground room

 

 

 

 

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