I packed before the last port. Usually you pack after you’ve pulled away from your final destination, and there’s no sea day to get it all done. Packing to go home is easier anyway: just dump it in and zip it up. But we were slated to be in Victoria until 12 PM, and arrive at Seattle at 7 AM. We had an excursion planned for the city. I packed, and bade my family to do likewise. This is hard for women because they have bags of small tubes and lotions that CANNOT be packed away, but must be used the next morning, although some might be able to go with the luggage, but we’ll see. Like most men I had a razor, a toothbrush, and a small box of pills and tinctures. Nothing else. (The box of bandaids and medicines is one of the things my family knows better than to tweak me about, because they will need a bandaid, and someone will want an aspirin - and in this trip my wife got a hard cold halfway through, and wasn’t I just the hero for having Nyquil capsules and some international Dristan. The good stuff.)

Good thing we pulled in to Victoria in the afternoon; long night before up in the Crow’s Nest, where the diehards assemble for one last batch of revelry to seal the day. Lucky me ended up in a bright happy confab with three young women who were NR staffers, Katie Pavich, and David French, who was a total World of Warcraft geek. Which undersells him, somewhat. A gamer mag did a profile on him because he’d set up a WoW server at his FOB in Iraq. Also a lawyer. Wrote a NYT #1 on ISIS. Brilliant guy with lots of insight on current affairs, so naturally we end up talking about Battlestar Galactica. So we’re all having a grand time. The hours tick away and the crowd thins and I end up having a conversation until last call about classical music with New Best Friend of the Evening.

It’s not a cruise without a late-night intense confab about something in the Crow’s Nest - which, by the way, is more or less 10 Forward, if you’re a Trek Geek. Big windows with cushy chairs, library, computers. During the day it’s where people go to look at the sea and read; it’s where trivia is held. Daughter and I went there daily for coffee, writing, and UNO. She wanted to play UNO. She has no idea how much that meant. Years ago we started playing UNO in the afternoon on rainy or snowy days, and you’d get that sequence of draws where no one can put a card down. “One of these,” I’d say, or she’d say. Six years ago? Seven?

We had one of those draws where no one can put down a card.

“One of these,” she said, almost to herself.

Anyway. The last day comes around, and you start to shift. You have your tickets for the bus to the airport; the packet arrives with the luggage info. You will put out your luggage at midnight and not see it until you’re home. On a normal cruise the last night has a ragged feel; some people are still having the usual good time, but the public spaces are mostly deserted. There’s a general agreement that it’s over. Not this time. One more port, and it’s late.

And it’s Canada!

Rain. We got on a bus and were deposited down at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, which is a lovely, lovely, expensive, lovely city. Brilliant civic center - harbor, Provincial Capitol Building, the grand hotel smothered in ivy, a commercial street stretching out with exquisitely preserved buildings. For me, it’s heaven. It has that level of decency and poise and quiet genteel confidence you get when you mix England + Canada + early 20th century civilization, and all the bad parts are gone. Project what you like on the remnants. Glory in the art and the solidity of the artifacts. Stroll through the hotel and feel an overwhelming, almost desperate desire to have tea and small sandwiches.

We had two and a half hours, so we went looking for a Tim Horton’s. Daughter had to see a Tim Horton’s. She’d heard so much. No luck. Off the main drag Victoria got a bit less historic; lots of shops with marijuana leaves in the windows. A few signs of classic signage:

But mostly fine old buildings like . . .


. . . and . . .


Louis Sullivan would have been proud. Maybe he would have sued, but he would have been proud.

Ate dinner in a bayside joint that was once an industrial facility, and had Honest Brick Walls to show we were having an authentic urban experience. Back to the Empress to meet the bus, and a quick visit to the hotel’s archives in the basement. Old menus and brochures. Photos of grand events in the massive ballrooms. I couldn’t help but whistle the official theme song of Bygone Hotel Events, and so I did. The acoustics were nice. I love that song, and whistle it whenever I’m in such a place and it’s deserted.

It really is lovely, and you want to live there back then when the font choices were exquisite and the pace of life was genteel and people behaved. But then you would have to put up with menus that had tongue & cucumber sandwiches and interminable stuffy social affairs and glowering dowagers and all the rest of the baggage - and that's if you were a part of this world, of course.

Now anyone can walk in wearing sneakers and sweatpants.

If you'd like to take a walk, by all means, stroll downtown.

Back on the bus and back to the ship. Daughter finished packing and ran out to say goodbye to her Peer Group. Really, that’s a direct quote. This was the first cruise where she connected with kids her age in Holland America teen club, and after years of telling her she could find members of Her Peer Group there, she did, and she adopted the term. Wife finished packing and fell asleep. Suitcases out in the hall. Room service menu on the door. Read and fade off to sleep . . .

Except it was 12:30 and Daughter wasn’t back. It had been two hours. Everything was closed. Well, they were probably at the Lido, but I’d best get her because we were on the 7:30 list for debarking, and I’d ordered the food in the 6:30 - 7:00 window. Because if you order it for 7:00 - 7:30 and it arrives at 7:25 there’s no time. YOU HAVE TO GO! Even though you don’t. But I’m bad that way. The key element is getting through security. The flight boarded at 11 AM. Better to have two hours at the airport in leisure than wander merrily along through the morn, then have a panic spasm because the TSA line is a mile long.

So, let’s go find Daughter.

Couldn’t. Of course, I just missed her; she got back to the room minutes after I left, but it gave me a chance to walk through every public space on the ship, one more time, when it was deserted. A fine farewell.

Not entirely deserted. A few in the Crow’s Nest. Roman the Russian was up, which is always a signal that the evening is not over.

Have a seat, he said. Join us.

Next time, my friend. Next time.




Anything more to say? Not really. But . . .



No, that's it. The rest of the trip is just going home. Never fun. Breakfast arrived early, and I sat in the room and ate dry toast while making periodic grumbles for everyone to get up, already. Off the ship, our cards beeped one final time. No going back. Your home is no longer your home; you are cast out. Begone! New people anxious to pretend their room was never occupied before are waiting. The ship must be bleached and reprovisioned; the crew must enjoy a few hours of work without having to flash smiles or say anyone’s name or pretend this is all a jolly lark. No trace of the previous voyage will be allowed to infect the next identical passage up the same route. Out out out.

Bus to the airport, and of course we were early. Fine with me. I wandered around the airport, enjoying that weightless feeling of being between two places without a care, spending an hour in the embassy of In-Between. The families clumping their way to the gate; the professionals striding along with a small carry-on; the inevitable soldier, the inevitable Big Dude in Shorts and Floppy Hat with a look of habitual stupification. Nothing makes me feel becalmed and peaceful like a lot of time at the airport. Nothing matters. After a while the call to boarding is almost an interruption, an intrusion. There must be tranquilizers in the air.

When we got home - well. That’s the column.

Thanks for reading; wish I’d had greater adventures, but it was simply a good cruise with endless gorgeous rock, and there’s only so much you can say, except: that was grand.

Back to normal next Monday; see you around!




blog comments powered by Disqus