The Trouble with Pack Mules While Whale Watching in Boston


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North America » United States » Massachusetts » Boston
July 16th 2018
Published: July 17th 2018
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We are definitely looking forward to getting on the ms Rotterdam in two days. Our bags are all full of freshly cleaned laundry and we’re dressing from cloths set aside for the next couple of days. I set the alarm last night for 5:30 AM so that we could be ready for an early breakfast when they open at 6:30 AM. I awoke early and briefly feared I was going to have a repeat of yesterday morning when I awoke with an eyelash in my eye that seemed to take me forever. Sharon tried to help; but, when I saw her coming at me with a Q-Tip, I decided, “That’s okay dear, I got this.” It’s sort of like when I offer to trim her bangs. How hard can that be? Well there is a family story about her mother cutting them once and basically not leaving much if any so… And my right heel is in constant pain and has been for months. I’ve started wearing arch insert supports and they’ve been helping. It all leads me to one very obvious conclusion: Growing Old Sucks! But I guess it does beat the alternative.

I put the lounge area TV on and was searching for the business channel before it would be time to go down for breakfast. Then I remembered what I’d discovered on Friday… we don’t get any business channels here. There is News from the Far Right, and there is News from the Far Left; and, unlike the ms Rotterdam, there is no News with a British Accent. So, our hotel is looking at Two major mark-downs: Elevator Not Working (for days), and No Business News. Yesterday when we returned we noticed that we were down to less than one-quarter roll of toilet paper, and although the maid came and cleaned the room and made the beds and ran the dishwasher, she didn’t give us a replacement roll of toilet paper. It was a borderline mark; but, as long as we didn’t run out, Sharon was willing to let it slide. Overall it really is a nice hotel and working well for us but the elevator really is getting annoying based on where our room is located.

The omelet was good again today, and being there first, there was nobody ahead of me. But Sharon is aching to give them that third mark because for two mornings in a row, again there were no breakfast potatoes. And they’d started out so good on that score.

We return to the room and got ready for our whale watching adventure. On the way to the car, Sharon hands me the camera, and I observe, “That’s really why you put up with me, and bring me along, I’m your personal pack mule.” The GPS took us on a meandering excursion through various townships on surface streets before eventually meeting up with the Interstate that we could have gotten on a few blocks from our hotel. And then we saw why. Traffic was not moving on the Interstate. When we did get on Sharon said, we only need to go 4 miles. I was eyeing the lanes to the left, judging them to be moving slightly faster than my lane. I was looking for a carpool lane. I suspected one was there because a van had merged onto the Interstate in front of me at angle of about 60-degrees to me and continued with that tack across the freeway until reaching the number one lane. That’s when I spotted the Diamond Lane sign announcing the start of the carpool lane up ahead. Sharon looked at me with that “Don’t even think about it” squint in her eye, so I stayed in the slow lane. After all, it is just four miles. And when we came to the car pool lane it all made perfect sense. Here in Boston, they put an actual barrier between the car pool lane and other traffic; so, there is no willy-nilly lane changing into and out of the carpool lane as they do in Western state like Nevada or California. Maybe it’s an “East Coast Thing” like rotaries and jug-handles.

We were guided towards the Aquarium and found the parking garage where it looked like we would qualify for the “Early Bird Special”, whatever that was, as it was not yet 8:30 AM. I pulled up next to the ticket machine dispensing the parking tickets. That’s when I noticed I couldn’t quite reach the button to dispense the ticket. It was both too far away and too high. It looked like it was made for someone driving a Hummer, which we weren’t. I undid my seatbelt, checked, and fortunately nobody was behind me. I went to open the door, so I could get the ticket… but it wouldn’t let me open the door. So, I turned the engine off; but, it still wouldn’t let me open the door. Sharon was going to get out and go get the ticket; but, if it wasn’t letting me open my door, it wouldn’t let her open her door either. So, I forced myself through the window as far as I could, managed on my third try to press the button, and fortunately, the ticket was dispensed a bit lower so I snatched it and collapsed back into my car. There was still nobody behind me. We found a place to park on the second level.

We exited the parking garage and saw that Boston Harbor Cruises were just across the street for their catamaran whale watching tours. We were over one hour early, so we took some pictures on this very foggy day, and I bought a “Boston” hat, because that’s what I do. We sat on a bench for a while by the pier. “We could buy tickets for the Trolley,” Sharon observed, “The ticket booth is now open.” I said, “Why do it now, our plans may change.” More prophetic words have seldom been spoken! After a while I was ready for some shade. We’d had the foresight to put on sun screen, so at least were not going to start out looking like lobsters. We found a shady seat over in the park across the street, and it was very nice sitting there. Sharon notice, “People are starting to get in line.” And it was clear she wanted to go over there and stand for forty-five minutes in the sun. They weren’t supposed to open the line for another 15 minutes; but, there they were, lining up on the gangway. She’d given me the tickets to put in my wallet, so I gave her one, so she could go get in line to get us “good seats”. Patience is not Sharon’s long suit. I continued to enjoy the shade and played a few turns of “Words With Friends” on my phone. Another 15 minutes passed, and I decided to head over towards the pier. The line is long now and stretched all the way up the gangway towards the ticket checker. He scanned my ticket and I passed a few inches past him, where I was behind a family of six; but, I was also standing in the shade of the umbrella of the ticket checker. I spotted Sharon and she me; but, I saw no reason to push my way through the throngs of people growing redder in the sun. The line did start to move, and slowly I made my way down the gangway to the floating pier, and then onto the catamaran. And then a brief moment of panic overcame me. I had the camera around my neck; but, not the camera case. I hoped that Sharon had it; but, I feared I (the pack mule) was supposed to be carrying it. I found her on the second deck inside by the window in the front starboard side in a rear facing bench seat by the window. I spotted something by her that might pass for a camera bag; but, saw that it was just her purse. I explained that I must have left the bag in the park and made my way through those behind me still trying to board. There was a mother with three small children sitting on the spot where I had been just ten minutes earlier. There was no bag, and they’d seen none, although, she did ask “A black camera bag?” I checked with a ticket booth; but, they’d seen nothing either. I figured, I’d better get back on, and the ticket checker allowed me to take the short-cut reserved for those taking the ferry. I get back to Sharon who’s glaring at her pack mule with no camera bag, “Well that’s $500 just gone. Okay, I’m ready to go home. I’m thinking, “I’m just the stupid pack mule, remember. Why would you leave me by myself?” Wait, did I say that out loud? Sharon answered, “You wouldn’t come with me!” I must have given her that exasperated depressed look that I’ve mastered, because she then said, “Am I going to be stuck with ‘Grumpy Boy’?” I hate it when she does that. And I think she knows that I hate it when she does that. But at least I know that she’s over being mad, and already trying to figure out how to replace what’s been lost, assessing the viability of getting overnight delivery from Amazon to the hotel, and I ask, “Why don’t we just go to Best Buy?” We reviewed several other options, and Sharon eventually checked on the Best Buy website and confirmed that they had the extra camera batteries that we’d lost in stock, along with the camera memory, and they had camera bags to boot but probably not the special storage bags she’d bought for the batteries and memory cards that were in the camera bag.

We’d combined the whale watching with our Boston Trolley day because it would save us an extra trip downtown. Sharon wanted to “throw tea into the harbor” and assures me that this is really fun and go see the swan boats she remembers from being there as a kid. And she wanted for us to eat in the marketplace. The more she talked about it, the more it sounded like street vendors. I was looking across the pier and spotted a dated brick building with signage “Chart House” and underneath that “Seafood – Steaks – Prime Rib”. Now, this was something that looked more like what I was looking for in food, and I pointed it out to Sharon, and I could see that she was thinking “Filet”. My spirits started to rise with the promise of a good meal for lunch.

I must have missed the safety presentation; because, I don’t remember it. Sharon said they paid lip service to it, briefly on the cabin monitors, but nothing that would be construed as rigorously useful. We were underway, pulling away from the pier. The cabin monitors were spewing out non-stop whale-info and interspersing these blurbs with trivia tidbits. “What creature is thought to have inspired unicorns?” The choices were (a) Walrus, (b) Narwhale, (c) Rhinoceros, and (d) Billy Goat. Sharon goes, “Duh, let me think.” Narwhals being a sea-creature that she’d like to see in the wild. So, I said, “Okay, let’s see how you do on a HAL Trivia Quiz (from my spreadsheet of course). “What whale dives the deepest and stays down the longest?” I was surprised that she didn’t get this one. “It’s the sperm whale,” I said. “Okay, what is the biggest animal, ever?” She knew this right away: Blue Whale. Then I stumped her with “What is a group of humpbacks called?” We learn this every two years when we go on an Alaskan Whale Watching Tour: A group of humpbacks is called a “gam”.

It was a one and one-half hour journey out of Boston to get to the prime whale watching area. Today’s tour was visiting what I heard the guide call “Stellwagon Bink”. The guide clarified that a “bink” is a submerged underwater plateau. Later when the guide came around I was able to clarify that a “bink” is really a “bank”; but “bink” is what it sounds like when a Bostonian says “bank” (at least to my ears). I later saw the name on the monitor, and it is actually Stellwagen Bank. This underwater kidney shaped feature causes a concentration of nutrients above the plateau, creating the perfect environment for plankton, which attracts schools of smaller fish, which attracts the humpback whales that need to consume 1 million calories per day. The guide said that this was equivalent to eating 16 Oreo Cookies every day for a whole summer. I didn’t think that that math quite worked out, did a quick back of the envelope calculation and concluded that a better equivalence was if “day” was changed to “hour”. Sorry, it’s just the “engineer” in me coming through.

Sharon did a double-take when they announced that it would take us about ninety minutes to get to Stellwagen Bank. We proceeded with caution through the foggy channel until we cleared the channel markers; and then that cat went into high gear. We were warned to observe the “Three-Point Safety” when walking around the craft: Two feet on the floor and One hand holding onto something. It was a bumpy right and many people were not feeling well. Others were dozing off, as I was. I awoke to an unpleasant smell in time to see someone on the port side depositing a barf bag into the recyclable bin on that side of the craft. I said to Sharon, “At least he didn’t put it in the one over here by me.” Sharon cheered me up with, “Someone else did though, while you were sleeping.” One of the ship’s mates was walking around, handing out barf bags like they were candy. He talked to the Asian mother and several kids on the port side, “It’s best to go outside, get some fresh air, look at the horizon.” They looked at him with a blank stare and green gills and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that they didn’t speak English. They just stayed put the entire trip, going through barf bag after barf bag, and huddled together in community misery. Sharon heard somebody else say, “Well they should have told us that it was going to be this rough.” Finally, our speed diminished, and we no longer could hear the whine of the engines, and the craft began to move only with the occasional swells.

Almost immediately the guide came on the intercom again, excitedly announcing, “Our intern Jennie has spotted some whale splashing on the port side at about nine o’clock.” And then people began oohing and aahing and were pointing out whale activity veiled by the thick fog. Sharon headed outside with the cabin while I performed the appropriate pack mule responsibility of watching her purse. Then I spotted some activity on the starboard side. First, I saw a humpback spray and saw a fluke. Then suddenly a second humpback did a full breach out of the water, and was spiraling out of the water, getting all but his fluke out of the water. This appeared to be a calf, or younger humpback, but was very active. Then came a breach by a much larger humpback rising out of the water and falling back into the water. The guide said that this was a “chin breach”. The “fin splashing” was also unusual, where the humpback would take its pectoral fin out of the water and flip it back and forth a splash water one way and then the other, over and over again. The guide said that all of this behavior is unusual while the humpbacks are in their feeding grounds. Breaching is normally an activity reserved for the mating season in the warmer waters near the Dominican Republic. There are those that have noticed that humpbacks will behave in this manner in poor visibility weather such as this and may be one way that they communicate. I was wondering, are they communicating with us to make sure that we see them and don’t run into them accidently. The guide had a book of humpbacks in these waters, with pictures of their unique flukes. These are used to identify them, and each has been given names. The one that we’d seen doing all of the fin splashing was “Shuffleboard”. Another popular one is a cow named “Salt”. She has quite a few humpbacks that she’s mothered, who have been given condiment names, such as “Mustard”, “Salsa” and “Pepper”.

Almost all of the activity came in the first ten-minute window of our arrival. Sharon wasn’t too confident that she got any pictures to write home about. It was just too foggy. I took the camera for a bit, but there wasn’t much activity, and you just couldn’t see anything but the gray fog. And our early success was broadcast and soon there was a whole fleet of whale watchers joining us and our viewing was further restricted. We stayed at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary for about forty minutes, when the captain announced that we’d be returning to Boston. The ride back was much smoother than our ride out; but, that didn’t seem to help those who were under the weather.

After disembarking, we walked over to the Chart House. I asked to eat inside; although, many appeared to be enjoying great weather on the patio. Inside, we could choose from both the lunch and dinner menu, and were seated on the second floor with several other diners. Sharon was able to get a filet from the dinner menu. I eyed the Lobster roll at $24 (which probably would have been excellent); but, settled on the lobster stuffed scrod for same price with Yukon mashed. My iced tea a bit over brewed, and while the table next to us seemed to get stellar service, or every time our waiter came over to check on us they would ask for something else… Sharon said to me, “He must not like waiting on fat old white guys.” See, she really knows how to cheer me up. I also ordered a cup of the lobster bisque for $6, and it was as good as any I’ve ever had at a fraction of prices back home. And it was full of lobster, and big pieces at that. It seemed that every delicious spoonful included bits or chunks of lobster. So that “Grumpy Boy” was disappearing fast.

We decided to leave touring Boston for another trip; and, I was glad we hadn’t bought those tickets earlier. Now our only remaining task was to visit Best Buy and load up on camera accessories. Traffic wasn’t too bad. We found everything that we needed and got out of the store for under $125. I chided Sharon, “I thought you were blaming me for $500!” “Well, we only got 2 batteries, and 1 memory card, and…”

We got back to the hotel and I asked, “Do you think that they fixed the elevator?” Sharon looked at me skeptically and asked, “Are you kidding?” “Well, do you want to go by the front desk and ask for a roll of toilet paper?” Sharon checked the time, and said, “They should have fixed the room by now.” So I challenged her, “Okay, are you willing to bet whether she left us toilet paper?” “Sure,” she said. “So loser has to go get the toilet paper if it’s not there?” She agreed, and then said, “I think it is there.” “Really!” I said, smiling. I don’t think that she thought about her choice. “I don’t think she left us any!” Then Sharon qualified her answer, “But only if she’s made up the room.” I smiled again. “That’s not the problem, Babe. I can’t lose this bet.” As we approached our room the maid service cart was parked by the room before ours, as it was that first afternoon when our room had yet to be done. Inside, Sharon calls to me, “She made the beds… I don’t believe it. I can’t believe they didn’t leave us any toilet paper.” Sharon was out for blood now. This was the third black mark. I went out in the hall and the maid was just coming out of the other room. I got two rolls of toilet paper and gave them to Sharon. “I love you, Babe!”

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