Every other year I go to the Caribbean on the NR Cruise. It's a working vacation. I do panels, and host dinner parties. Every night I sit at a table as the Official Guy from The Magazine, and it's a two-hour confab. Fun! Also, sometimes, work. There are cocktail parties and a smoker. I love it. I love being on a ship; it's great to have 300 other folk who give you a nod or thumbs-up.

This is my ninth NR Cruise, and my 5th on this sunny winter route. Every time I weigh it against the previous one. This one I needed more than any of the others, because I needed a break from the cold and the imperatives of Christmas with its empty-nest vacancy. I was packed three days before I left. I almost ran to the airport, I had so much energy.

This was going to be great.

And? Well? That's what this week is about. Reset to the morning I left; your host is sitting in the airport, drinking coffee.



Isn't this the most amazing picture?


It's the airport, made out pictures people posted on Instagram during the Superbowl. How did they do that? So much work!

Well, I think it's easier when they color the pictures.

Yes, it's the ever-popular pre-trip Airport Entry. Time of day? Who cares. It’s never any specific time at an airport, is it? It’s always the Now, mixed with the About to Be. This is why the bar is open at 7:30 AM.

The speakers were playing Steppenwolf. Magic Carpet Ride. The unedited version. The song is fifty years old. We don’t need to hear it anymore. No one does. The people who care for the song, or feel it sets a certain mood, do not need additional encouragement to drink. If you need to drink at 7:30 AM it’s not because Steppenwolf is playing.

Then the speakers played Kansas. The one about a son, who was wayward, and the importance of maintaining his current course of action. I packed up to move elsewhere in the terminal, and as I passed the bar I asked the bartender if they made her play this.

“They do,” she said with no happiness evident in her features, or her life.

I moved to the quiet side of the room. A guy just sat down at the adjacent row of tables; late 20s, early 30s. Wearing a KISS T-shirt from 1979.

I love this airport, but the G Gate Cibo Express area is annoying. The food’s okay. The staff is hit and miss. I’m guessing the guy I tangled with today is a recent immigrant, Eastern Europe. In his fifties. Teeth that suggest he hasn’t had the most prosperous life. He’s stocking the hot beverage area. I’m looking for a cup of coffee. There are three urns - one decaf, and two called “Jet Fuel,” described as having “Chocolate and almond flavor.”

He asked if I needed help, and I said:

“Is there any coffee that isn’t flavored?”

He pointed to the urn that said Jet Fuel, and I said “no, that’s flavored.”

He gave me a curious expression - curiosity and irritation braided together.

“I don’t want flavored coffee,” I said, “I want coffee flavored coffee.”

Whereupon he said he didn’t know where it was. Okay.

There’s a lot of construction, but nothing’s inconvenient. The descriptions of the future are as perfect as you’d like, but as with all these renderings that drop in cut-out people, there’s an element of melancholy and isolation.

At the gate I realized my lips were chapped, and was annoyed with myself for not bringing lip balm. Gave the stuff away by the bucket last summer, and now I’ve none. Well, there’s no shortage of shops here.

they had Chapstick, of course. I stood behind a woman who was buying a “nutrition” bar and a bottle of water. When the purchase was complete she began to excavate in her enormous bag for a clutch that contained the cards. When the clutch was found she had sort through the cards to find the right one. This was not a brisk process. She put the card in the reader and used the time it consulted with the bank to rearrrange the contents of her bag. Eventually the clerk prompted her to remove her card, which went back into the clutch, which was stored in the appropriate place in the enormous bag, and then it was time to find the right place for the water and the nutrition bar, an act that required moving around more items in bag. By now the clerk has spent more time with this woman than he’s probably seen his mother in the last month, and he looks at me to see if we can begin our transaction. He rings it up, but Mrs. Process has blocked the card reader with her enormous bag.

Ma’am, the clerk says. She looks up, confused; what more do we have to do? At this point she realizes there are other people in the world, and apologizes, moves her bag away from the card reader, but continues to have it on the counter while she moves things around inside. Finally, she zips it up and strides off, unaware everyone was judging her intently, and poorly. Which would be a shock! She spent time on her appearance, she was a nice person, and everyone hated her because she took so much time?

“Pretty much,” we’d say in unison. “Not hate. More like impatient contempt.”

Got on the plane, settled in, and dozed a bit. Fitful. At one point I dreamed I saw a cat floating upside down in a dark room with its paws stuck in a phosphorescent vase. I don’t think I would ever have written that sentence in waking life. Watched a Perry Mason ep. Hey, it's Black and White World! Mason eps are always good for people you know from that other thing.

I saw Men Without Beards open for Squeeze in '82. Anyway, Paul Drake is walking down the street . . .

. . . if the signs are correct, it’s this place.

If you asked someone in 1960 whether or not people in 2018 would be able to consult satellite maps from a plane while they watched a Perry Mason show, they’d say “sure. Also, Perry Mason is still on?”

Landed, went to the forsaken pickup area.


Filtered the pic to give it that “Communist Eastern Europe recalled with bittersweet, conflicted emotion” look. (It’s a setting in the app.)
Ordered an Uber, had the driver cancel after she got there. Couldn’t find me, I guess, even thought I sent messages and called her number. Great. Six dollar charge, which I disputed, and had dismissed. Another guy took me to the Hilton.

My view:

It’s always strange to be here after leaving the cold, but it feels blissful, as if I’ve been sprung from a cold dark keep. Walked to Tap 42 to meet some Ricochet folk, and that was a nice half-hour jaunt. Done it before, same path, same dark warm night, same bone-deep exhaustion, same weary resignation to the long day ahead. Getting on the ship is always a pain, like any sort of embarkation; the lines, the baggage, the minor annoyances, the calamitous noise of the shed where you queue, the wait for your group to be let on board - but then you spring up the gangway and enter the ship and it’s all worth it. Hours to go before you cast off, and since your luggage hasn’t arrived, well, head up to the Lido deck and COMMENCE EATING. COMMENCE DRINKING. The trip hasn’t begun and you’re already full and tipsy.

That’s tomorrow. Long day. Finis. Zzzzzz.











Woke to great clanging. Not my head. The bridge was going up:

Two small sailboats went through, under their own power. Probably 300 people on both sides were forced to wait while two boats sauntered through. They're scheduled, so you can't complain.

I was keen to get to the terminal as soon as I could, since the lines can get long. They started taking reservations for the shuttles at 9, so I joined a queue and arranged passage on the first shuttle, due to leave at 10:30. Out it went, on time. Short voyage. When we got to the terminal there was a line. A very long line. I found the end of it around the corner of the structure. It was 10:45. Half an hour later, the line had not moved.

Then a guy I know who arranged these cruises I work came over and said the bomb dogs had alerted to something, and the ship, pier, and terminal were on lockdown. A few minutes later security bade us to move in the opposite direction, if we would be so kind, so the end of the line is now the front of the line, and everyone is guided towards an another terminal. It’s empty. The counters are empty. No one thinks this is where we’re going to do alternate check-in. Everyone knows this is the start of a long, long wait.

A somewhat confused HA rep came around to hand out these:

“Ah,” I said, “now begins the black market, as people with 4s want to trade things of value or a 3, or a 2.”

I muttered to myself about being a Four. Mind you, this is just the group that goes back to the terminal to start the boarding process. I felt better when I saw they were handing out cards that said 17.

A few minutes before noon a Holland American rep took the mike and explained what was going on, and said it would be at least an hour. So I figure I’ll get on the ship around 2:00, grab lunch, take a nap before we push off.

Aggravating, but there is nothing that can be done.

LATER: spoke to a guy in our group who’d got a 21 and traded it down to 19 with someone.

We were allowed back on after 1:30 or so. The box contained cleaning supplies. The combination made the dogs think something was up, after which those most dreaded words: the matter was in the hands of Broward County Officials.

Once we had the all clear, the routine resumed. Queue to get to the queue, get my keycard, up to the room - huzzah, my luggage! - and then bolt up to 9 to get a sandwich and sit on the deck in the sun and eat, absolutely happy and grateful. Unpacked and stowed away everything for the week to come and realized that somehow I under-packed socks.

The good thing? It’s not a sock-intensive trip.

LATER Ready to go.

That's not my ship, obviously. If it were I'd be in trouble.

I have never been on this ship; I know this ship. Aside from the new Konigsdam, which I believe has a different design, the Dam Ships have the same configuration, same names for the same places. When I go up to the Crow’s Nest after dinner for drinks it’s old home week in a place I’ve never visited in my life. I like that.

Ever joyous and oddly bittersweet; having done this so many times, it seems, every other year, things different every time, me seeming the same but not so now - and not so ever, in small ways that only work their way to the surface at their own pace. I’m listening to Gleason in my stateroom, which is the tradition. Sappy schmaltzy stuff with Bobby Hackett’s horn.

Shoved off at sunset as usual, sailing past the enormous condos right by the sea; people blew horns and waved, and I waved back. You have to. It’s tradition.

It's slightly skewed because I was holding the camera, not looking through it. I want to see this with my own eyes, not through a sheet of glass.

Dinner was good; table had a young kid to bring the demographic age down to an average of 70, talked games and other Youth Things. Computers and old games with Boss Mongo on the other side of the table. Hardly any politics, which is nice. And odd for a National Review cruise, but I have no particular desire to talk about them out of the scheduled events.

At the Crow's Nest at evening's end - the bar where the diehards meet - a fellow said “Howdy neighbor,” and he meant it in a different sense than “you’re next to me at the bar.” He meant my home in Minneapolis. He lived a few blocks away. Wasn’t on the NR cruise, but knew about it. So we chatted about the neighborhood and also servers and fiber-optics and other things connected to his profession.

That was a long day, and it was something different. It’ll all be forgotten soon. The first few days are always forgotten until you get on the ship, slide past the strangers waving from afar, and head out into the blue. That’s when it all begins.

From the back of the ship at the Sea View Bar: adieu for now.




blog comments powered by Disqus