(The following were culled from drunken writings during my most recent vacation. I’ll post these as often as I find them.)
At the time of this writing, I’m sitting on a cruise ship somewhere between Miami and the Bahamas. I’m drinking a screwdriver, listening to music and people-watching. That’s as much scene-setting as I can do; I’m not going to tell you what kind of underwear I have on (tasteful boxer shorts with little tiki men, ladies!).
Cruises can be hokey – it seems many of the activities are designed specifically to embarrass the cruise-goers. Cruises can be fun – everyone seems content to start drinking at 9 a.m. like the end of the world is nigh. Cruises can be exhausting – this morning, I woke up, ate and then went right back to sleep because I felt like it and I could. And of course, cruises can be a little dangerous and disgusting, although I’ve seen no poop-covered walls on this one (although this was written on Tuesday of a week-long excursion).
But the biggest thing I’ve taken away from both cruise experiences I’ve had so far is that every cruise ship has every cross-section of humanity on board at any given moment. Carnival and Royal Caribbean are the modern-day melting pot. For an amateur people-watcher such as myself, the buffet line is as much for the observation of human nature as it is for the fried chicken.
The most stand-out of the cruise-going populace are the rednecks, mostly because they are so very loud and in your face about what a good time they’re having. It’s 11:30 in the morning, they’re a sixer in, it’s time to party and you’re either with them or against them. They start the week with the intent of having the single best week anyone has ever had; they’re usually tapped from a combination of low-level alcohol poisoning, heat stroke and high-grade sunburn by the third day.
Other people are almost exactly the opposite, refusing to spend money and nickel-and-diming their way through the cruise and only doing things that are free. These people usually have children, and they’re usually very angry.
Some are foodies. I don’t mean that in the ‘food snob who needs to know what’s in what and how it’s prepared’ way; I mean people who come on these things in order to eat like a starving Ethiopian child at a Golden Corral. My father-in-law is one of these; by my guess, he’s had four meals today. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon.
There are some who can be found either in the gym or poolside. I have to assume that they spent the last few months putting a ton of effort into their bodies and want to keep that going (by using the gym) and show it off (shirtless/in a bikini at the pool). Not to delve too far into personal tangents, but the reason I worked out and ate right since January is so I could eat whatever I wanted, drink and smoke as much as was necessary and not keel over dead on Thursday. Short of elective plastic surgery, cutting out beer, getting hooked on HGH and going vegan, I doubt I could attain that level of muscular fortitude anyway.
And of course, the degenerate gamblers are out in full force, ranging from those content to sadly pull a slot lever over and over again for hours on end to the ones that are happy to lose at blackjack to the Horrible Shuffle Machines or worse, the Carnival incarnation of old-fashioned Vegas blackjack with shoes – only minus all the queens in the four decks, which is awful and should be outlawed. When I sat down at the blackjack table for the first and currently only time, one guy to my left had just had no luck at all; he was down to just a couple of chips and was justifiably frustrated by his inability to get good cards. Of course, I lost 25 bucks in about four minutes and fled the table; I know when I’m not wanted. I wandered by a few hours later to observe the same guy in the same spot with the same miniscule amount of chips. He could’ve treaded water the entire time; he could’ve gone on a huge run and lost it all; he could’ve been down $15,000. But the fact that he was still there led me to believe he had a problem. I believe he said he was a schoolteacher; I hope math is not his subject, because probability has kicked him in the dick.
And that’s just the crazy people pay money to come here. The people that work on cruise ships are insane. Allow me to tell the following story:
So Monday night, I break away from the family for a cigar-and-whiskey tasting back in the cigar bar. I’m one of the last people to get to the bar for the tasting, so naturally I’m one of the last people out and the bartender, a Filipino chap named Gerry, strikes up conversation. As we get into this, I find out a few things about him:
- He works on boats for six months at a time, going on six cruises per month, before getting two months off. Workers are allowed off the boat for a few hours whenever it docks in its home port (in our case, Miami). That means in a given six-month period, Gerry and the rest of the crew are on land for right around 72 hours.
- He’s worked on boats for 27 years. He told me he was in his early-50s. He also said that the night bartender on the deck above us had been working on cruise ships for 32 years; I have to assume he’s the Methuselah of cruise ship bartenders.
- Gerry is married; his wife lives in the Philippines still. He sees her when he’s on his two month break, meaning he gets off a boat after six months, then goes to the airport to fly halfway around the globe to see her. And my wife hates it when I’m gone on a week night.
(Some of the details have been marred by the consumption of beer and ALL the liquor.)
I can’t decide whether he has the best life ever – cruising around the globe, seeing new places and sending all his money home to live like a prince two to four months out of the year sounds pretty alright. However, I can’t imagine not getting to set foot on land for more than a couple of hours a week. And again: my wife hates it when I’m gone to Wal-Mart for too long of a stretch. I like being married; seems like it takes a different breed to stay married to someone in an occupation such as that.
Looking around the boat, it certainly seems like the workforce skews ethnic. My blackjack dealer was of vague Scandinavian descent. I was brought drinks by a myriad of Filipinos, Laotians, and others of either Asian or Eastern European descent. The spa workers we were introduced to were British and South African. Our waiter was a tall, deep-voiced gent named James who I’m pretty sure was Jamaican (most of these nationalities are what I can remember them saying, what I read on their nametags or drunken guess at their accent). Asking around, it seems that the younger people from other countries take these jobs to see the world and the older ones do so to provide a much better life for their families back home.
It’s interesting to watch; the staff is respectful, yet have clearly heard some things from intoxicated passengers to the point where an unspoken I wonder what this shithead is going to say? looms over certain exchanges. Some passengers are courteous to everyone; some would elbow old ladies in the throat to claim a Ship on a Stick, the award du jour for winning at one of the silly games (I’m the proud owner of Ship on a Stick; sports trivia!). It’s very odd to watch and yet highly entertaining. If you enjoy observing the drunken human condition, you’d probably enjoy this.
Gather ‘round children, it’s time for another episode of ‘Why the World is a Scary, Scary Place’. Today’s episode: Cruise ships!
For the past week, it’s become painfully cliché for people to pooh-pooh the notion of going on a cruise, because apparently after two powerless days at sea, the boat turns into the plot of Lord of the Flies and people begin behaving like savages even when they aren’t drunk out of their minds. Apparently, nobody that takes a cruise has ever experienced an ice storm.
While it’s certainly embarrassing that people devolve into Neanderthals when faced with the prospect of no air conditioning, I can’t blame those on that ill-fated cruise for what happened – chances are excellent I would experience a return to cavemandom if part of my daily routine suddenly became consumed with finding a bag to poop in, and following that up with making sure I disposed of that poop in a safe and courteous manner.
(New rule for cruises that will add entertainment and provide a new class of jobs: Hiring Gilligan’s. I think there’s a place in this world for a weirdo that’s moderately handy but can keep everyone loose and sane during a prolonged crisis. And I think that place is working on cruise ships if something horrible happens.)
See, here’s a new theory I just devised: almost all our leisure activities come with some small detriment. If I’m reading or watching TV, I’m being slovenly and my body is going into repose. If I’m working out, I’m working harder than I’d rather be. All the food I love will kill me, and all the food I hate allows me to live an extra 10 minutes. Booze, tobacco and driving too fast are all bad for you and for my money those are the three best activities one can partake in while fully clothed, if you so choose.
So it’s only logical that events and excursions designed solely for leisure would have their own hiccups. Like to travel overseas (or here, for that matter)? Hey, isn’t airport security is a gas these days? Enjoy theme parks – and the accompanying hour-long waits to ride anything? Love casinos? That whole ‘losing all your money’ thing is a real kick in the balls isn’t it? The beach is too hot, the mountains too snowy and if you have a drive that’s longer than four hours to any of these things, you may as well kill yourself because it’ll save time and money.
None of these things are necessarily as bad as poo-covered cruise ships, but if you are unfortunate they could be. Planes crash, or get delayed. Hurricanes hit beaches; snow-covered mountains have avalanches and cars crash. Shit happens on vacation too.
The point to this meandering narrative: why let a bad thing ruin a good thing? Isn’t the point of vacation to relax? Dead engines and human feces suck; no doubt about that. But if there was ever a place to make the best of it, I’d say it would be a cruise ship. It’s not like living in a third-world nation; you’ll be gone in a few days.
For the honeymoon celebrating the day Future Mrs. Me became Mrs. Me, she and I set sail on a cruise from Mobile to Cozumel, because the first word that comes to mind when you think of sunny Mobile, Ala. is ‘romance’. However, the interminable drive – only two fights in eight hours! Yay newlyweds! – left us in Mobile only long enough to assume our car would definitely be slept in and possibly stolen by the vagrant watching the parking lot. These were the concerns before we ever set foot on the boat, too. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive, especially since I was going to be on a boat in the middle of the ocean for a week.
What happened? I spent a week eating three-course meals every night, began drinking at 11 every morning and played blackjack to my heart’s content. I even swam with dolphins. And had I been trapped on the boat for an extra four days while the boat drifted aimlessly ashore, well…eh. An awesome vacation is still an awesome vacation.
Then again, maybe I’m a sucker for an awful story.