The Last Hoorah
The photos shown below were created by Dave Niblack of imagebase.net. These photos are not related to the story. Dave's photos are here to add some much needed color to my gray text: Thanks for your support, Dave!
Everybody at the dinner table has closely bonded, and we raised our Champagne glasses to health and happiness. It has been a wonderful cruise. The best I have ever taken.
Now we are at sea. The seas are rough, and the wind is blowing strongly. Tomorrow we spend the entire day at sea. The night is still young. Mother is very tired and has gone to sleep, despite my attempts to keep her up for the gala buffet. She has seen many gala buffets since she began cruising many years ago. This is her seventh cruise. This is my third cruise. This is the life, baby!
When we returned to the ship, we found a very cool red, white and blue Carnival souvenir pin as a token of the company’s appreciation. It is a sweet gesture and I will wear it proudly.
We have been at sea for five days now, and Mother has not gambled once even though the ship has a casino. This is unprecedented. And so is my relative sobriety. Mother definitely brings out the best in me.
The hour is late; time to haunt the ship!
Just returned from photographing the gala buffet. The most impressive spread I have ever seen. Although I did not see my beloved caviar, I saw just about everything else you could imagine: Thousands of pounds of expertly carved ice sculptures, mashed potato sculptures, and sculptures in watermelon rind. You name it, they had it. I learned that the styrofoam sculptures I looked down upon require even more expertise to sculpt than ice.
1 a.m. I’m stuffed.
There was definitely no caviar, but they say it’s all radioactive these days anyway. Everything else was very experimental and delicious. I took a little bit of everything, which created quite a mountain of food.
I particularly enjoyed watching the ice dragons and eagles melt slowly. The rough, snowy cuts turned transparent, like fine crystal. One of the sculptures had the ship’s distinctive logo frozen into it. As it melted, the logo emerged in detail producing a very lovely effect.
Before the buffet, I went down to the Cole Porter lounge to listen to a comedian do his X-rated routine. The place was packed, and I inadvertently blocked somebody’s view by standing in the aisle. He whistled at me, but I was oblivious to his intent. He finally tapped me on the shoulder and said that I made a better door than a window. Looks like there was another comedian in the room. I felt bad and crouched down out of sight. I began to wonder whether it was better to be compared to a door or a window. The logic got complicated after a while, and I came to the conclusion that both metaphors were problematic. I retreated to the bar and sat on a stool.
The comedian had some funny routines. He talked quite up front about how he smoked marijuana all the time. When he gets pulled over and a cop says that the car smells of pot, he replies innocently, “You know, that’s what I thought too!” And when the cop says he’s been driving five miles an hour, he says “Oh really? And do you happen to have any idea where I was going, officer?”
On the subject of sex, he asked the audience when it’s okay to grab another man’s penis. This was a tough question, and the most common reply was when you are a doctor examining a patient. The comedian said he had thought long and hard (no pun intended) on the subject and that he came to the conclusion that it was okay when a man was sinking in quicksand and the only part that was sticking out was his dick.
The comedian also discoursed on the subject of farts and said that women try really hard to hold them in (that’s why they close their legs so tightly). A woman in the audience suggested that when they do fart, they should be referred to as a “fluff” instead. And finally, he said that when a man does fart, it is very much a source of pride.
Saturday, May 19, 2001, Day at Sea, returning home.
Everybody, and I mean everybody, is running out of clean clothes. Last night’s formal dinner was a real stretch of the wardrobe, but we managed to make it through the evening.
I have one word to say on this subject for the prospective cruiser whose ship is not equipped with a laundry, “Woolite.” A bar of soap is fine, but Woolite is a much easier way to get those nasty shirts clean in the sink. Mom and I are barely squeaking through and are very much looking forward to washing our clothes when we get back. Despite all the rest and relaxation, I'm getting a bit worn down. I don't want the cruise to end and maybe that's the best way for it to wrap up.
It is about 7:30 now and time to get up. I didn’t set the alarm, but Mom seems to have an inner clock for such things and woke me up about 10 minutes ago. You never ever know what the hour of the day is from inside cabins. Light doesn’t make its way through here at all. I can hear toilets flushing and showers being turned on now. You can’t miss the toilets. They sound like a firecracker when you flush them.
Breakfast is at 8:15 a.m.
The ship is creaking, listing and rolling, and I’m thinking it must be pretty nasty out there. I hope our last day at sea is not marred by a storm. On the other hand, a storm might make things interesting.
Incidentally, for modest travelers, you will probably end up checking your modesty at the cabin’s front door. Our cabin is only about 200 square feet, and there is only so much one can do to keep from seeing your companion naked. You try real hard at first, but after a few days, it seems kind of pointless and a waste of energy. So you do the best you can and get on with life. That’s kind of neat, don’t you think?
Saturday, May 19, 2001
4 p.m. Very lazy day spent getting reading for debarkation tomorrow. Luggage tags, questionnaires evaluating the performance of the crew, customs forms, and tips to be calculated for Edmund, our room steward and Titus, our waiter. I even composed a thank you note for my boss that reads, “Diane, there are some things that all the money in the world simply cannot buy. High on that list is time off with my 85-year-old mother. Please accept this ironwood turtle, made by the indigenous people of Mexico as a token of my appreciation. Cordially, Chuck.”
Met a cute Canadian from Vancouver who works with alcoholic Indians and people traumatized from the residential schools. Since she was a psychologist, I asked her if she could fix the regret I felt when I missed seeing the Carnival Spirit pass by our boat the other day. She said it was probably a subconscious decision, a rebellion against deadlines, as it were. Since I had spent twenty years of my life working for a newspaper, that’s twenty years trying to meet deadlines, it was something I had to do because I had something more important to deal with. That does make me feel better, actually. And if missing the Carnival Spirit pass by is the worst thing that happens on this trip, I guess I’m doing OK.
Mom and I played the nickel slots this afternoon, losing a grand total of $7.80. We could have done much worse. People on both sides of us were really hauling in the bucks; I mean hundreds and hundreds of nickels. I found it fascinating that even though they were winning big, they showed absolutely no emotion. Hell, I would have been thrilled! During our debarkation meeting this morning, the cruise director asked how many people won money in the casino. About 15 people clapped (there must have been a couple thousand people in the auditorium). Then we asked how many lost and just about every made noise. Just goes to show you.
Took a spa this afternoon and thanked the lady who ran the front desk for being so hospitable. Everybody is so friendly. Then I went downstairs to enjoy a few minutes of sunshine, and that’s when I met the Canadian girl. Now I’m sitting in my room, listening to the ship groan as it battles the rolling seas. The winds are picking up. I am totally exhausted. I need a vacation from my vacation!
All our bags are packed and sitting in the hallway. Money is fiercely changing hands as people pay off their sail and sign cards, buy last minute pictures from the photo gallery, and drink their way into oblivion. I went to the late night buffet and drank some apple juice but could not eat a single bite. Took one last stroll around every deck of the ship and am now lying in bed transcribing my last entry of the voyage.
A bon voyage, if ever there was one. I’ll miss this proud ship and hope to set sail on another one soon, assuming Mother can stand my company again, and she can get the money up. Who knows? Maybe my ship will come in!
Our room has a 27-inch TV and we have been enjoying the ever-changing selection of movies from day to day. The movies play all day long and you never know what you’ll see. Today we watched “Crouching Dragon, Hidden Dragon,” which I just have to see on the big screen. Yesterday it was “Main Street.” First we see the end, then the beginning and then the middle. Our non-stop activities make it almost impossible to watch it from beginning to end. Enjoyable nonetheless.
This evening’s entertainment was the same comedian from last night who was telling clean jokes this time around, followed by a country western fiddle player who got a standing ovation.
People have gone to sleep early tonight. There is some activity, but I’m very tired and will go to sleep now. Tomorrow is sure to be nuts.
Sunday, May 20, 2001
9 a.m. Sitting on a very comfortable leather chair on the Promenade Deck of the Elation. Impatient passengers waiting to get off the ship occupy every vacant chair or ledge. But it’s going to be a long wait. Immigration officials have to do their job, and they take their time. Frequent announcements beckon passengers with outstanding bills to the Purser’s Office.
Non-residents must meet at the Mark Twain lounge to retrieve the passports that were collected at the beginning of their voyage.
The rest of us wait impatiently to disembark. I told Mom to bring her book to keep her occupied, but she packed it away with the luggage that, hopefully, is waiting for us at the dock. Mom and I have found prime real estate on what have to be the most comfortable leather chairs on the ship with ample back support and arm rests. After finishing the chapter of the book my sister Emily gave me, I relinquished it to Mom with the assurance that I would occupy my time writing on my keyboard. She thought, as Mothers often do, that I was giving her the book because I felt guilty. She seemed very bored and her boredom was just killing me.
After seven days at sea, we are all pretty exhausted and don’t have a whole lot to say. People are chatting away, but the atmosphere seems a little more subdued than usual. Debarkation is definitely the great equalizer. Everybody is hanging out on the decks, having been evicted from our cabins by the stewards. People are sitting on the floor surrounded by baggage; some are even lying on the floor. Some wary distrustful travelers, first timers no doubt, chose not to leave their bags in the hallway last night and have schlepped them on deck for debarkation. This probably will not expedite their departure, however, because we all have to pass through customs and large bags must be inspected.
The cruise director explained all this to us yesterday, but some people just never learn. He said that one out of three people raises the suspicion of immigration officials and will be detained. I’ve crossed the border many times and have learned that it really helps to have immigration papers filled out well in advance and have one’s passport accessible. Most important, however, is to be casual and confident as one passes through immigration. Officers look for signs in people who are up to something. It may be a subconscious twitch, eye contact avoidance, a slight stammer, or a delay in answering the simplest question like “Where were you born?”
It’s simply not worth the risk to cross the border with contraband or falsified papers. The cruise director focused primarily on the subject of Cuban cigars during his talk.
There has been quite a bit of discussion about Cuban cigars among my circle of acquaintances during this voyage, and I am now going to set the matter straight.
The US has an embargo on Cuban goods. It has been going on for quite some time now, and it probably will not end until Fidel Castro is dead and buried. I’m not sure what the deal is. The US has established fairly normal trade relations with many countries that are guilty of human rights violations, notably North Korea and China, to name just a couple.
A public announcement is sorting out all of the 2,000 passengers according to decks. If Mom had been so inclined, we could have exited the ship by now being “physically challenged.” For some inexplicable reason, she chose to pass this time around. So now we wait and wait and wait. Mother has become in engaged in “Boy’s Life,” as I knew she would, so there’s no moving her now.
From time to time people get up and go to the bathroom. Before they leave their seat, they deposit some article of clothing or some possession to establish their territory. Cruisers are extremely territorial and as much as I didn’t like this behavior, at first, I find that I am now guilty of this practice. This behavior can be a little risky because the ship is probably full of thieves, so it definitely helps to have a companion around to protect one’s possessions.
There are two other places where territorialism runs rampant. In the Mikado Lounge (the theater), it is wise to arrive at least 15 minutes early to get a good seat. In all fairness, just about every seat in the Mikado is good, even the back seats that help you take it all in. There were times I regretted not being in the balcony for that very reason.
The Mikado Lounge is located about three floors below the promenade deck, and, for architectural reasons, huge supports were built to keep the structure from caving in on themselves. These huge copper-clad columns, about a foot in diameter, can definitely be a visual obstruction and must be considered when finding a seat. On a ship this large and modern, you’d think they would be able to eliminate these columns, but in matters of sailing the seven seas, it is probably a good idea to be overly cautious when it comes to structural engineering.
I read a book in our cabin about The Elation and became better informed about its propulsion system. An electric/diesel generator drives a couple of propellers that pull rather than push the ship. The result is a nice, smooth ride.
Bored, bored, bored. The casinos are closed, the bars are closed, the shops are closed, and people are milling around going crazy. The inspectors are checking out the ship, sirens are being tested, and the tension is mounting. Mom and I appear to be a couple of the calmer people around. I find banging away at my AlphaSmart keyboard to be very therapeutic, and I don’t want to stop lest I become antsy like them.
Mom is clucking away like a hen at the author’s description of his father and his tendency to wear stripes with checks. I’m definitely going to have to finish that book in the next week which is going to be a real trial since I read at a snail’s pace. I type like lightning, but I read ever so slowly: always have, always will. I read books like some people sip fine wine. If a book is worthy of my attention, I savor every single word.
Wednesday, May 23, 2001
6 p.m. The cruise ship only had one gangplank for passengers and the logistics of unloading 2,000 of them is chaotic. I saw this coming and regretted Mother did not want to disembark with the passengers with special needs but respected her decision that I thought was motivated by pride. It was not. She said that people with handicaps can be extremely rude and obnoxious at the end of a cruise and she wanted nothing to do with them. That made perfect sense; wheelchair bound people had pushed me around on the elevator of the ship and then there was a really obnoxious guy who just couldn’t wait on the tender in Cabo San Lucas.
Perhaps us bipeds need to take a traffic course sometime in our lives, for there are definite rules of the road or should I say rules of the hallways? Well, bless their hearts; it must be tough to be stuck in a wheelchair.
So, there we were; Mom and I were part of a mass of humanity on the formerly quite elegant Promenade Deck fiercely protecting our ergonomic leather seats waiting for the PA to announce debarkation of those passengers whose luggage bore red tags. They called gray tags; they called purple tags; they called pink tags. I’m not sure where we were in the hierarchy, but the red tags were most definitely not being called. And judging by the press of people trying to make their way off the gangplank, I figured we would be crushed either in the elevator or the stairwell. It looked like things were thinning out some, so I turned to Mom and said, “Let’s get out of here, now.”
“We can’t,” she said, “Our luggage has red tags, and they haven’t called for red tags yet.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Since our luggage has red tags, and we have no tags at all, they can’t possibly know whether we are telling the truth or not.”
Mom saw the wisdom of my logic, and we disembarked at the tail end of the pink-tagged people. It was a fairly unrushed leisurely disembarkation with plenty of elbowroom to spare. We even took the elevator down to the Atlantic Deck, where the gangway was situated.
And so we disembarked the ship. A representative from Carnival, totally unconcerned that we had jumped the line, helped us find our bags. I mean, how can one challenge an 85-year-old woman and her doting son? You cannot.
We found our bags and breezed right through customs past two dogs the size of horses to the bus stop where we put our trusting, naïve souls into the hands of the people who ran the shuttles for the $10 an hour parking lot. Big mistake! These people could care less about anyone, and the only way you can possibly get their attention is to push, to shove, to swear and in general, to act like a crazy person.
You would think after a week at sea, a week of being catered to like royalty, a glorious week of rest and relaxation, that these pampered passengers would act like decent human beings. Oh no. These people, most of them from California, were back in their element. They could care less that an 85-year-old woman was waiting at the head of the line with a huge suitcase. They pushed past us and rushed onto the bus, filling up every square inch and leaving us at the curb, exhausted, frazzled and absolutely demoralized. It was hot and humid and I was totally pissed off. This guy from India looks at us and says, “There will be another bus here in just a minute.”
Another bus does arrive in a couple minutes, and the same damn thing happens. Greedy, self-absorbed people who couldn’t care less about anything other than their own problems rushed onto the bus. I was absolutely shocked.
“There will be another bus in just a minute,” the driver assured us.
Well, maybe a Mexican minute. We waited a good 15 minutes until one arrived. This time driving past the beginning of the line and allowing people from behind us to approach the door of the bus. It was an absolute nightmare, and I knew what had to be done.
I ran to the door of the bus and yelled, “Nobody gets into this bus until me and my Mom get on this bus,” and I barricaded the door and glared at the driver like I was going to kill him, which I very well was going to do. He could see at that point that I meant business as I started to load our bags into the bus. Unfortunately, this small victory was somewhat tarnished by the fact that my nice new jacket got hooked onto a sharp portion of the van door. I knew it was hooked, and I knew if I made any movement at all, the jacket would be ripped. So I gradually eased myself off the jagged piece of metal and saved the jacket. “Frida can fix that,” Mother assured me.
After that, the bus driver, who I’m sure realized at this point that he and his company had fucked up big time, helped us onto the bus and got us to the car and her handicap space. We loaded up the trunk, switched the air conditioner on high and got the fuck out of there. Or we tried to. We had to pay for the parking at that point at the exit of Parking Concepts, location 229. The fee was $70 for 7 days at $10 a pop. Had we arrived just ten minutes later, the meter would have clicked another $10.
“Bet people get mighty pissed off when they arrive a few minutes late, and they have to pay for another day,” I joked to the exhausted, poorly paid attendant.
“They sure do,” she said, glad to find somebody with an ounce of empathy.”
After that experience, I was ready for LA. Maybe The Port of Los Angeles does these things on purpose: treats people like shit, destroys their clothes, caters to the strong, and delights in their awful treatment of the old and infirm. Maybe the whole city is like this when they are not on their best behavior. Maybe this is what happens to people when they live in a city that is polluted and congested.
All I can say is this sort of thing never would have happened in Albuquerque, and all I have to say to those people who disembarked with us is shame, shame on you! I hope you feel good about your reprehensible behavior. And please, don’t ever foul the Land of Enchantment with your money or your arrogant, selfish ways. We don’t want you.
When Mom and I got back to Sun City, I threw my stinky clothes in the wash, took a shower, and headed out to visit my very good friend Manuel in beautiful San Juan Capistrano, home of the Mission of San Juan Capistrano and the famous swallows.
After crossing the mountain range that separates Sun City and the entire Riverside corridor from San Juan Capistrano (SJC) in my mom's Toyota Celica at 4:30, I arrived at Manuel’s little bungalow.
It was only a 30-mile drive, but it might have been another planet. Sun City is hot, dry and very much a desert. SJC, on the other hand, is lush and tropical, yet the wind blows in from the ocean and keeps everything nice and cool. A person can easily get along without air conditioning or at least a fan.
Manuel was gardening in his backyard tending to his herb garden when I arrived. It was like old times, and he hadn’t changed a bit. Manuel and I have known each other since we were 10 years old. I was his patrol leader in boy scouts. He was my friend in high school. We both moved out to the west coast within a year of each other and have been in close contact ever since.
I have watched him and his family move from Malibu to Palos Verdes Estates. Then when Manuel moved out on his own, I followed his movements from apartments in Manhattan Beach to Hermosa Beach to Laguna Beach and finally to his home in San Juan Capistrano. He has worked his way through many jobs and over a dozen girlfriends. He has met many of my girlfriends.
During our formative years, we were detained at the Mexican border barely avoiding arrest. After Manuel taught me how to ski, I put him up at my place for an extended ski vacation in New Mexico. He has graciously put me up more times than I can count.
We have had so many adventures together over the years, so many road trips, and so many trivial arguments; we have a friendship that has survived many peaks and valleys, and I treasure our relationship.
“You are an excellent judge of human character,” I said to him once. “That’s why you’re still my friend,” he said.
And so it was time to have yet another adventure. I had only planned to stay a night, but he insisted I stay four days so there was definitely time for us to get reacquainted. Looking into his cheerful, mischievous eyes, I knew that nothing had changed. Whatever horrible things I have said about Californians were not at all true about him.
“Why can’t they work things out in the Middle East?” he said, looking at the awful headlines of the day. “Why can’t everybody just love each other? Why can’t they just get along,” he said, echoing the words of Rodney King, the black man who was savagely beaten up by police some years back.
He handed me a beer, put a Genesis CD on the stereo, and I knew everything was going to be just fine.
After getting sufficiently mellow, Manuel gave me a tour of his garden. As we sat on his lawn chairs, absorbing the last rays of the sun, we could hear the bell ringer at the mission call the flock for evening mass. The mission was only two blocks away, and the bells rang loud and clear. Real bells, mind you, not the pre-recorded stuff they play at the university. And his little concert went on and on. Manuel said he never had heard him play so long. It was a stunning performance.
After the bell ringing, I gave Manuel my housewarming gift, an authentic Coca-Cola bottle opener.
Manuel loved the gift and wanted to hang it up immediately. I warned him from experience that placement was critical in order to achieve a successful bottle opening. So we spent some time experimenting with various locations and height of placement. Having determined the perfect spot, it was time to put in the screws.
Manuel carefully marked the placement of the holes with a pen and made a starter hole with a rechargeable drill that was almost totallydrained of its power. When the holes were drilled, he inserted the screws and turned them manually until they were set into the wood: That’s what I like about Manuel, he always does things correctly. Were it up to me, I would have just screwed it directly into the wall and cracked the wood.
Having succeeded in mounting the opener, it was time to test it. We both grabbed a beer from the fridge and pried open our first cap. The cap came off successfully and dropped to the floor. Manuel then had the idea of mounting a large plastic cup under the opener but I said it would look tacky and suggested some sort of fancy tin cup instead. He came up with a tall and narrow anodized pail with a long handle. He then set a picture hanger about a foot beneath the opener from which he hung the pail by its handle.
By this time, we had finished our first beer and it was time to test the pail. Manuel put the beer in the opener, pried it open, KA-CHINK! Two points! The cap went directly into the little pail, rewarding us with a lovely little sound and the satisfaction of knowing that this process of opening a beer had turned into a game of basketball! I tried it and the cap ended up on the floor. Clearly, this took some practice and I was more than willing to invest the required time to reach perfection.
Next it was time for Manuel and me to become reacquainted. We sat on his overstuffed sofas and spoke of old times, old friends, family, the past, present and future.
Somewhere along the line, we began assessing our physical appearances. “You’re lookin’ good,” he said. But then he said something about the hairs that were growing out of my ears, saying I should cut them. “Well, if you don’t like it, if it bothers you so much to look at me, maybe you should cut them.”
“Right!” Manuel laughed, “That’ll be the day. You want me to preen you!” Then he went on about how my socks looked strange riding up on my calves the way they did. He suggested that I scooch them down so that they didn’t look so odd.
Suffice it to say that I do respect Manuel’s sense of decorum and the last thing I want to be is a source of embarrassment to him or his friends. So, when he was not looking, the socks came down and the hairs in my ears were cut out. Not a huge sacrifice to make for a friend though I was truly oblivious to my lack of coolness or proper grooming.
Manuel asked me what I would like to listen to on the stereo, and I told him to play whatever he really liked. Manuel’s taste in music is very contemporary and cutting edge. I have always enjoyed his selections and sometimes adopted them, at a later date, into my own repertoire.
We were both burned out, him from a late night of partying and me from my cruise, but we were also hungry, so he suggested we go out to get something to eat. He suggested a sit-down dinner, but I had been eating gourmet sit-down dinners nonstop for the last seven days, and I wanted something simple and basic.
I suggested we go to Pedro’s across from the Mission because for some reason I had good memories of it from my last visit. Manuel said that Pedro’s lease would soon expire and he would have to move. Pedro’s is one of the last places of its kind in San Juan Capistrano. Catering to poor Mexicans, it is affordable and friendly. I told Manuel this one was on me and we ordered a mountain of food and drink, the total coming to around twelve dollars.
It was good food, nothing to write home about because the food in New Mexico is so much better. The Rellenos had way too much breading on it and didn’t taste at all spicy. Manuel’s enchiladas looked good but overall it was a pretty forgettable meal. I just had to sample thehorchata, the Mexican rice drink and ordered a large. I wanted the "Jamaica" but it was sold out, settling instead for the off-white version, which was alright.
As we walked to the beckoning blues music pouring out of the Swallows bar, I told Manuel that the Horchata was good, but that “this is one drink I could get tired of real fast.” He pointed to the garbage, and I tossed it.
I have not been to a California bar in years, and I was pleasantly surprised with the "Swallows" experience. The floors were covered with sawdust; the walls and the ceilings were covered with concert posters, flags and pictures. The live music was good, and the beer was plentiful. Best of all, the bar was non-smoking! I never thought I would see the day when I would go into a bar and smoking was not allowed, but smoking is not allowed in any public establishment in California and has not been allowed for years. This was definitely my idea of heaven.
Unfortunately, being a Sunday night, the music ended early, and there wasn’t much to do except drink beer and talk until late into the night.
This marks the end of the third installment of "The Last Hoorah." Please click this sentence to view the fourth installment.
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