I can’t think of a better way to begin a cruise consisting of National Review readers than sitting in your hotel room with Jon Voight pointing a gun at your laptop.

But we’ll get to that. Let’s drag this out for the entire week, shall we? I have 7,432 words in the bag, ready to be doled out in chunks that suggest a narrative arc where none existed . . . except one did, in a way. We begin where no travelogue should really begin: the airport, with a review of what I watched on the plane.

Hey, it's the Bleat; if a week goes past without a black-and-white screen grab you'd wonder who was writing the thing.


For years - ten, eleven? - a morning flight meant a stop at McDonald’s, for a pancake (see also, previous week’s pathetic account of Los Angeles breakfasts) and coffee. But the area is being overhauled and improved, and that means banishing the places that drew the hoi polloi, and required too many service people. I’m convinced that’s part of it. The McDonald’s always had a calamitous din, with the manager shouting out order numbers and the staff yelling requests for this or that. It was so common. This is what they want, on the left - sleek and white and digital and somehow 70s, inasmuch as the 70s thought the future would look like. And they were right! Proof you can affect the future simply by speculating what it will be like. Although in the 70s we didn't see this coming: a restaurant where every table has an iPad.

Settled into my large seat in the first row behind First Class, read the WSJ going up, then went through the rituals. Mid-Morning Matters with Alan Partridge, and then the worst Perry Mason I’ve ever seen. How bad? This bad:

Slept hardly any. Read mostly. Landed entirely. Called the hotel for a shuttle, and they would be happy to oblige except that there wasn’t any reservation for me. Oh. For. Criminey’s sake; what is it with my luck on these matters? LA I show up, nothing in my name. The other side of the country, nothing in my name. But they have a room, so not to worry. It’s here:

Florida on the inside, a Panopticon on the inside:

I think that was the term I used two years ago, when wife and child came with. Now no wife and child and hence a certain aching gape. Walked to the adjacent shopping mall, felt as if I should turn around and find them looking in a window. Remembered that my wife bought a belt at that shoe store. All she packed, and she still needed a belt. Sat outside waiting with daughter, rolling our eyes. Mom and her belts! And now they’re not here. Picked up a rock and threw it through the damned window of the place. STOP REMINDING ME of things.

After dinner at the hotel “Transformers” was playing, and that’s where Jon Voight comes in.


But why would I? This will be fun. I like these people. They are (based on the pre-cruise party I just attended and post-cruise recollections written on the plane) from all walks, all varieties of the creed - from Young-Gun yee-haa right-stuff types (literally; two guys are Air Force pilots) to old withered weathered eminences stooped with the weight of a score of campaigns (eh: you win some, you lose some. Actually you lose a lot), to straight-ahead businessmen who made a pile by devoting their life to the perfection of the mass production of rain gutters , to the odds-and-ends solo types who sign on to be among Their Kind - a delightfully nebbishy mathematician who spent his life designing programs to project troop-strength requirements for the military, and would pull out a disposable film camera to snap a souvenir picture - for God’s sake man finish the roll! There are three guys at Kodak waiting for the last one to come back so they can close up the office and shut down the company! They have families to get to! There’s a trim reserved fellow who will tell you, after sufficient inquisition, that he just finished a stint as an executive producer for an independent film. A cheerful amazon with flashing black eyes who wants the whole table to know about “Westward the Women,” a proto-feminist 50s western. The doctor who seriously wants to give you a high five because you can whistle a few bars of Bix’s “Chlorinda” and he’s, like, the biggest Bix guy on the boat, to the bluff hearty big ol’ dairy farmer you met a few years ago on the cruise whose family happened to buy themselves an airline from the ruins of a Minnesota Ponzi-scheme empire a while back and who reminds you, if you ask, that no they don’t get upgrades just because they own the thing. That would be bad business. You don’t keep ‘em flying by giving stuff away.

All that. Six hundred of us - and friends, too. Michael Walsh, novelist and Hollywood guy, raconteur extraordinaire; Rob Long, the mercury-tongued “Cheers” writer with a new show that’s doing well, thank you very much, got picked up for more episodes and that’s nice; Roman, the lanky Russian composed of equal parts gloom and loyalty - and so on, and so on. Done this before. Was looking forward to it for months. The first night at the hotel a woman came over and took my elbow and delivered me to a table of people who read the Bleat, one of whom read “Graveyard Special” on the plane over from England. Heaven! It’s more than a vacation. It’s work, yes: a few panels, and duty as the Designated Representative at the table during the nightly set-piece in the dining room. But it’s mostly the Big Reward at the end of the year. You pound out the pieces for a pittance in your studio, alone - then you get winched into this world, and you’re reminded that while it’s one thing to write, it’s another to be read. Here they are! The audience, incarnate! The tribe! Gabba gabba hey. Let’s point this beast out to sea and pour on the coal. Go

But you have to get on first. The Nieuw Amsterdam was late, due to a storm on its Atlantic crossing, and because they’d had more than a few cases of blurt-and-heave, they had to give it the double-bleach treatment. Boarding was delayed.

The line into the terminal. The line to the X-Ray machine. The line to the line to the check-in counter. The line-for-no-apparent-reason line upstairs, the slowness of which was due to the obligatory welcome-aboard photograph. Traveling alone, I explained that I was an international fugitive and did not wish my picture to be taken. Up the gangway and into the atrium where people stood in confusion, beginning the process of acclimating themselves to the ship. Since I’d just been on her sister, I juked right and took the stairs in the fore; found my room and slipped in the key and laughed: we meet again.

Unpacked in a trice, set up the little stereo system, put the iPod on the Gleason playlist and listened to swank lush strings and the cocktail rue of Bobby Hackett’s splendid trumpet - a sound that makes Sinatra’s Capitol period resemble a 45 RPM Romper-Room record - and waited for that first gentle tug when the great vessel engages, and moves, and slides away from the dock like someone taking leave of a lover he doesn’t care if he never sees again. The great slow pivot - the sun is low enough to illuminate all the people on the ship across the bay -

And then we head out, smaller ships piloting us along, past the causeway, past the people who’ve come for no other reason than to watch the leviathans glide into the gloaming. The horn blows. It fills the world. You’re past the last light and the small boats turn back. The horn blows again. This is all the world you have now.

Cruise enough, and you’ll find yourself admitting it: the best part is the first part. Sometimes I realize it’s not the trip itself I look forward to. It’s this. Departure. The feeling that there’s a rope in your hand, playing out - and when it reaches the end, you don’t grasp it. You open your hand and let it go.