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Emily Grossman


March 30, 2009 at 10:40 PM

The problem with volcanoes is ash.  The problem with ash is, you can't fly a plane through it without sustaining severe mechanical damage.  You can imagine, then, the havoc wreaked at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage when countless Alaskans tried to make it home from their Spring Break vacations after eighteen (scratch that, nineteen) back-to-back eruptions from our friendly neighborhood volcano.  With cancellations backing up air traffic like a stack of bricks, our 9:00pm flight from Honolulu was inevitably rescheduled to 2:00 am the next morning.

Unfortunately, the rental car was due back by 8:00 pm, so I called Avis car rental to inquire about the price of adding a day onto our car rental.  Instead of service, I got a fast-talking, impatient man with a thick accent who wanted an RA number, or RV number, or XYZ-something-or-other number.  I couldn't understand him, so I hung up and dug out the contract, which explained that an additional day was $32.19, but after two days, they would send the cops after me.  Which raised the question: what if we were delayed for more than two days?  I should speak with an Alaska Airlines agent, just to make sure George and I weren't about to become incriminated via circumstantial volcanic activity.  This time, however, I checked out the web site, where Customer Service was just a click away.

Instead of an agent, I got a virtual conversation with a virtual assistant who answered virtually none of my questions, save a brief response to inform me that she did not respond to "that type of language."  By this time, our flight status listed a further postponement of 5:00 am, so I abandoned the cyclical computer animated conversation in pursuit of securing a place to stay for the night.  Of course, then began the long process of rescheduling all of my Monday lessons.  Just imagine opening ten successive phone conversations with the following line, and you will begin to understand what it is like to be a violin teacher in Alaska:

"Hello?  Yes, this is Emily, and I'm currently stranded on a tropical island because the volcano blew up.  I'm sorry, I'm afraid I'm going to have to cancel tomorrow's lesson.  Any chance we could reschedule for Thursday?"

Being stranded on a tropical island is actually much more romantic on paper, isn't it?  In reality, it plays out a little more like a dark comedy.  Redoubt is erupting again as I type these lines.  I still don't know if we'll be getting off the ground in the morning; it's possible we will be rerouted even if we do.

In that case, does anyone happen to know a good tiki bar in Portland?


From Ray Randall
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 3:52 AM

Log onto and it will tell you how to bypass nitwit computers and get to the real McCoy who hopefully cares about the customers. Good luck.

From Patrick Hu
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 4:18 AM

hope everything works out for you!

How was your spring break?  Hope you had fun in my native, hawai'i.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 7:57 AM

Being stranded on a tropical island because of a volcanic eruption near home is certainly one of the most unusual problems I've read about on this site.

Years ago, one of my colleagues and his wife flew from Maryland to California for a vacation.  Just when their vacation ended, all the airlines in the U.S.that they could have used were stopped by workers' strikes.  My colleague called in every day to let us know that they were stranded, and you could almost hear a big grin in his voice.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 8:18 AM

We had such a wonderful time, Patrick!  Don't you miss living there sometimes?  My favorite part was bird watching, people watching, and hiking.  Oh, and frosty cold beverages.  And this one Vietnamese restaurant.  I'm still thinking about the oxtail pho there.

The coffee is better in Alaska, though.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 2:22 PM

Good luck getting back. 

From Royce Faina
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 5:16 PM

I know of some people in Oregon and have a step brother in Portland, I believe. I'll double check to make sure.  He's a drummer and has gigs here and there.  But may can set you two up with a place too stay.

my number is (307) 399-4555.  Laramie has an airport and I have a large guest room here.  Colorado Springs has an airport and my folks have room too.


From Emily Grossman
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 5:32 PM

Hey, well, it looks like I made it home after all!  Thanks for the offer, Royce.  A total of 250 flights and 10,000 people have been stranded.  Saturday's eruption sent my friend to Portland when he tried to leave Maui.  They were going to send us there too, but the Anchorage airport opened back up.  Just past the critical turn-around point on our flight, Redoubt erupted again, so our pilot took a wide swing around the cloud and  beat it to Anchorage, thank goodness.

Everything's kinda filthy around here.  I wish I could blame it all on ashfall...

From Terez Mertes
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 6:17 PM

 Love the blog; love hearing about your adventures. Your life cracks me up.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 6:19 PM

Redoubt is erupting again as I type these lines.

This happens to me every time I sit down to write. ; )


From Gene Wie
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 7:12 PM

This happened to my youth orchestra when we were in Australia/New Zealand back in 1996. A few hours before we were due to depart, a volcano went up and all planes at the airport were grounded.

Ended up getting carted out of the airport, and the airline supplied buses, huge food vouchers, and a stay at a luxury hotel over there overnight. :)

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 7:50 PM

Glad to hear you got home safely and the car hire people didn't give you a coronary.  Can you see any evidence of the eruption from your home - ash/smoke etc or is it quite localised around the volcano site?  

From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 8:31 PM

Glad you made it back. was about send out the St. Bernards with casks of brandy to make you and George even more comfortable in paradise than you were.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 9:17 PM

You could still send brandy, if you like; we won't reject your offering! 

I'm disappointed to say, Redoubt is now enshrouded in her own haze.  I caught sight of a steam plume last night as the sun was setting.  This morning, the car had a light dusting, but nothing more than you would get from driving a short ways on a gravel road.

From Royce Faina
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 5:24 PM

So glad that you both made it home safe.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 8:23 PM

The state is having trouble getting its exports up there.  KFC, Bourbon, and cigarettes aren't getting through.  Pictures of basketball are making it though.


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