Monday, February 21, 2011

The Ship that Launched a Thousand Faces

The Ship that Launched a Thousand Faces

Actually, it was more than a thousand faces, but like the Minnesotans say, “We have more than 10,000 lakes (as depicted on their license plates), but it says 10,000 because that’s where we just stopped counting”. Well, there you have it. Before I go on about ship travel more on Minnesota. The “Twin Cities” in Minnesota, don’t look anything alike. They aren’t the same shape and the Great Mississippi does not separate them as one city is on both sides- I can’t remember which. An amateur hypothesizer*, suggested they were called that because “they are next to each other”. Huh? Aren’t ALL cities next to other cities? Even East L.A. must have something to the right of it.

If you are an amateur hypothesizer who wonders a lot about what else I’m wondering, another is why more men seem to like Miracle Whip, and more women prefer mayonnaise. Seems weird since people were probably brought up with one or the other, leading to an adult preference, but certainly there are both boys and girls, or men and women in households where people grow up, so why the split? I have not documented any of my findings, and they are probably based on too many cocktails and a wandering mind, but I have asked a significant (if not statistically) amount of people which they prefer and the hands down winners, with an insignificant variation, is men=Miracle Whip, women=mayonnaise; for what it’s worth.

I love Minnesota and it’s winter. A vacation there seemed silly so I didn't even suggest it. I must hand it to the state of MN; however, for they KNOW it will snow every year and never act surprised about it (Nords are notorious for not really seeming surprised about anything, but still…) My point is, that unlike the entire Mid-Atlantic (or the 4 states I’ve lived in that qualify for that title), Minnesotans know it will snow, so they PLAN for it and act accordingly. If anyone at the Department of Transportation (DOT) is reading this, please tell me, before I add it to my mayonnaise/Twin Cities quandaries: Why do you wait until it has well started to snow before treating the roads? We know it’s coming. It’s been grossly sensationalized and over-exaggerated in the media for a week; we’ve been scared half out of our wits; we’ve started filling tubs with water, filling snow blowers with gasoline (or whatever liquid makes them run), and we’ve brought wool sweaters, snow pants, boots and warm coats to the front of the closet. We have long forgotten in which drawer we keep our bathing suits (bottom left). We are not surprised! We’ve been buying bread, chips and toilet paper for a week in anticipation of not being able to leave our homes because we know full well that the DOT is not going to plow until they damn well feel like it, and throwing down some salt or gravel BEFORE the roads get dangerous is unheard of. Where’s the sport in that? I think DOT invests in companies that buy ad spots during the 4-hour weather reports we’re forced to watch (unless someone famous dies, in which case, they’ll say, “It’s snowing; the roads are crap. Now, onto how many pills were found in Brindyessica’s* stomach!”)? I smell a conspiracy that has not reached areas involving many lakes, great or not yet great. I was a Girl Scout. I’ve been prepared (neurotically, contingently-aware) since the age of five. Are Richard Lewis, Larry David, Wanda Sykes and Woody Allen and I the only three people in the world who think, “What if?”

Back to the vacation (you thought I completely lost my train of thought didn’t you?) Don’t you love trains? You can see things go by that you would never see, like the backs of tire warehouses and real estate that has to be free, or sold exclusively to the hard of hearing, and the grafitti! How delightfully insightive of the artists to entertain us with random mispelled words while we zoom along!

Okay, I’m serious this time. After having just returned from a 9-day cruise, I can honestly say that 1) there are too many free cookies on boats, 2) Boyfriend and I CAN share a 4’ square space and not be tempted to throw the other one overboard, yet we can’t manage this at home, which is okay because we live in a ranch-style house, so it wouldn’t be a big fall 3) the term “butler” is underused in my house, and used liberally on a cruise ship, and 4) I am not a sailor- and I have a new appreciation for the joke Never Again Volunteer Yourself (NAVY). However, if I have to stay dizzy and completely off balance for 9 days to have butlers taking care of my every whim, then maybe it’s not so bad. Eventually I would get used to the feeling of having taken a large handful of blood pressure medication; correct? Who needs to think (or walk) straight or gaily forward? It’s overrated, and there are people telling you what you can do, all of which is optional and there are banisters everywhere. Of course you shouldn’t touch the banisters because thousands of people who have weird diseases, have just picked their nose, or wiped their butt have touched those same banisters moments before you.

Now the cruise ship (oddly unaffiliated with the Department of Transportation), has THOUGHT of this! You can’t swing a dead mouse on that ship without getting accosted by a person whose job it is (!) to stand there with hand sanitizer and squirt unsuspecting recipients, much like those obnoxious people in department stores, who I can only guess must have failed 3rd grade, making them the optimum choice for that profession. Of course you can recognize the nose pickers as the ones who don’t partake in this particular assault of their manual dryness. Me? I could have performed surgery during most of the trip for all the hand sanitizer I used. I voluntarily walked up to these people and stuck out my hands over and over, throughout the day and night. You can’t SEE germs- therefore they may be there, or they may not. I’m not a big risk taker when it comes to the communicable. There are people from countries I’ve never heard of before (and I've heard of a lot of countries), and like the mongoose in Hawaii, their particular set of germs are not indigenous to my body. My motto is, cleanliness is next to hygiene- in the thesaurus.

The cruise began with 3 days at sea, which is apparently about 30 days less than it takes to get used to being on something that constantly moves under your feet. I have recently ruled out space travel, and anything else that involves weightlessness, other than, of course, Weight Watchers; which is good. Cruising is not a bad way to travel from the standpoint of cookies and butlers, but wouldn’t you think a floating 14 story hotel would stand a better chance of warding off some little 4’ waves? It’s doesn’t. It rocked like the rock of ages (note to self, ask Carrie Fisher to ask Paul Simon what that meant). Ironically, the 1,000 or so folks who likely were on too much blood pressure medication, thanks to new diagnoses such as “pre-hypertension” (allowing pharmaceutical companies to interfere with your biosystem in advance of actual indication), seemed fine. Maybe it was the hovercrafts (“We’ll work with Medicare to make sure you never have to exercise again!”), or the oxygen tanks that kept them moving faster and more lithely than moi, but regardless, I was a head-floating mess and not a butler on board could fix the problem. C’est la vie, or la sea, or le mer, which doesn’t rhyme at all.

Wouldn't it be more useful and clean, if those hovercraft things also vacuumed while people rolled around?

If you are using this as an actual travel article (and, seriously, why would you), I’ll recap the highlights so there is some usable data. From Baltimore, MD, you are on this ship for 3 days and then you dock in Miami. Miami is okay, but it’s big, so you need to find something to see or do and go do it. You cannot just wander around Miami and see stuff that is interesting like you can do in smaller cities or cities where “culture” means “museums” or “opera” and not “Cuban” or “pink and green”. We headed to South Beach since none of us had been there, and let’s face it; my “magnetic north” leads straight to South Beach, Dupont Circle and Poodle Beach. South Beach is a reasonably sized area with expensive, Euro-type stores that eventually lead to a beach. So far, so good, and the people in the South Beach area are relatively good-looking, which is always nice. It might be the antithesis of the DMV (in any city), where it seems that the unattractive gather. That’s another quandary. I know almost everyone drives, yet I have never walked into the DMV to find anyone other than the unkempt and underdressed. Next time you go, please wear eveningwear and don a little makeup or whatever it takes to make you better looking. And for god’s sake, don’t wait until the 30th to get your tags done! I think this could lead to World Peace. I’m not certain, but it wouldn’t hurt.

So, after an espresso bar that I thought was going to tell me what I owed in Euros, a trip to the beach, and a nice outdoor lunch, we were back on the boat (SHIP!) and headed to Key West (compass was happy). Now, I’ve been there, but there was a hurricane called Irene, so I didn’t get a chance to see everything on account of the brown outs, torrential rain and winds, and the fact that they kept telling us to evacuate. What they didn’t tell us, was how to evacuate when we arrived by plane. I’ve seen flight delays that stemmed from far fewer deadly causes than flying a little tiny airplane over the ocean during a hurricane, so I imagine that wouldn’t have been an option even if we could get a water taxi down Duval and over to the airport. This time we had great weather.

With limited time, we decided on a trolley tour so we could see as much of the island in the shortest period of time and learn something useful along the way. Hemingway drank! Our Terry Bradshaw-look-alike driver was funny, if a little droll and we actually did learn things- though none come to mind immediately because I keep picturing free roaming chickens and polydactyl cats. I also confirmed some personal things. Normal people do not move to Key West. It’s small, and the industry is completely dependent on tourism. Completely. This means that if you’re not in the service industry or an alcoholic writer FedExing* stuff to your publisher regularly, you ain’t going to make it there. However, it makes for a great visit and Sloppy Joe’s really does make really good Sloppy Joes! Apparently, they invented the sandwich. It was a good lunch and only 90 miles from Cuba; so there you go!

Next on the itinerary was Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. I was unaware that there was more than one Bahama*, and I’m still not sure how many there are but Nassau is, well… sad. We went to the dock/shopping area and it was as any tourist trap would be. There’s junk for sale to anyone who wants to buy things like shells and you don’t have to ask twice for the hair braiding opportunities, which were plentiful. This baffled me because even those who have only laid eyes on me for 2 seconds can tell that braiding my hair into cornrows would not solve any of my hair problems. Though my hair does lean toward the African American side of texture, unlike most of my Black friends, I have given up completely and take no pride in spending time or money on trying to tame, lengthen, straighten or cover my hair with wigs. The thought of extensions particularly cracks me up- more frizzy hair for a couple of hundred dollars? No, thank you. So, we all passed on this endeavor.

After Tourism Street from hell, we headed to Cabbage Beach, where we were very efficiently accosted by a Bahamian willing to sell us temporary chairs, weird cocktails in real coconuts that I’m not sure they wash between uses, and lies. Yes, they sold lies. We confirmed later that a) 16 is NOT the legal drinking age in the Bahamas, b) “it is [not] better to get hammered with your parents than with strangers” and c) we suspect that the islands we saw off of Nassau were maybe NOT where they filmed Gilligan’s Island and Blue Lagoon. We suspect there were Hollywood sets involved in the latter, but we don’t have the energy to confirm these stories, probably due to the coconut-tourist-germy alcoholic beverages that we had. This can remain a mystery, but the mayonnaise thing still stymies me.

Back on the ship for more vertigo-inducing travel with nice scenery, cookies and butlers. We’re off to Coco Cay (pronounced Coco Key). This is a private island owned by the ship, so it’s swank and the food is brought in by the ship staff and therefore inclusive. Inclusive is my new favorite word, but it comes with a lot of asterisks. This island is beautiful and they have limited the tee-shirt/shell selling natives to a select few who were actually fun. Best part for the family? The snorkeling- they loved it. I chickened out knowing that I have a bad gag reflex (no jokes), and honestly I was perfectly happy on solid land a couple of inches above sea level in a non-rented beach chair with a native island cat I called Sandy. I named it after petting it half bald (I missed our cats terribly). Sandy was very friendly and seems happy on the island. I am NOT going to worry about what the cat eats, where it gets fresh water, what it does in a monsoon, or what keeps it company when I’m not there. There was a chicken roaming around; presumably they are friends. Sandy was a lovely cat and if I wasn’t worried about having to quarantine it for 6 months in the US, I would have smuggled it in. Note to Customs- I would have easily gotten away with this cat-jack. I think we were profiled. They didn’t ask what we bought or ask for the card I painstakingly filled out with minutia the evening before. The ship told me to fill out the card, and if nothing else, I’m a rule-follower. It saves worry, and I have enough of that (see mayonnaise references).

On board life (for those who still insist on using this as a gauge for future travel plans) - Well, there is the feeling of just having smoked a lot of dope, but without the benefit of everything being funnier. You are definitely hungrier, which I believe is a direct correlation to the price, proximity and availability of food (inclusive, everywhere and abundant, respectively). There were gobs of things to do, but balance was required for many of them. I worked my core everyday by getting from place to place without falling down. The spa packages offered no help for green gills, though the warm stones for the massage may have been helpful if I had put them in my pockets to weigh me down.

Can I just break for a minute to tell you I’m eating the leftover baked sweet potato I got last night at a place called Logan’s Roadhouse (where cleanliness is next to peanut shells all over the floor and two of the many neon signs on the wall that are next to each other (like Minneapolis and St. Paul, or Odenton and Dundalk) read, “High Balls” and “Restrooms”. This was the best mistake or clever placement of landmarks I have seen since I realized that Mother Seton Catholic Church is on Father Hurley Blvd. So, in essence, many people (or 4 families consisting of 85 people each) can include in the directions to the blessed wedding, “Right- Mother Seaton’s on Father Hurley”. Who edits these ideas? I’m thinking the DOT, since we KNOW they have a sense of fun!

Ramble out-

* Don’t use these words in sentences

Copyright Suki Eastman 2011

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