Been here and done this. Same hotel we had in 2010, an enormous Embassy Suites. Same ship. Same early arrival and strange sense of impatience - let’s go, but no, you can’t; we don’t leave until tomorrow, Enormous room with a tiny balcony overlooking the least scenic part of the town: the big tanks that fill the ships with the fuel they need to run to Mexico and back.
In the evening there’s a meet-up for ricochet.com members at Pier 42, a bar up the street; it’s a 20 minute walk, so I head out. I'm on the top floor, almost, which is nice - except it takes a while for the elevators to arrive. The view, however, is worth the wait.
Outside: dark, warm, deserted. Minnesota seems a million miles away. November seems a million miles away. After a brief appearance I walk back and write a column, then head to bed with the same impatient sensation: tomorrow will be the wait.
The wait to board the bus. The wait to take the bus. The wait to check in. The wait to have your group called. Up the escalator, skip the photos (I really don’t want to see a picture of Just Me standing in front of a tropical background on the great wall of embarkation pix; that would be pathetic) then the slow shuffle up the gangway, the bong! as your card is scanned, and the Great Pile-Up of Confusion as people try to figure out where the hell they are and where they are going. Juke left, up the stairs four flights, smile at the familiar art, down the corridor, key in the door -
Annnnd the old room again, my home for a week.
Time to get everything squared away! Except there's no luggage yet. It's being hauled up by the staff, which is having the worst day of the week. They have to get everyone and everything off the ship, reprovision, clean, and conjure the illusion that people were not actually having bowel movements and clipping toenails in this room.
This ship is an old friend. I’ve been on the Nieuw Amsterdam five times now. When I came on board I was thinking well, this won’t be new, the name aside. No surprises. But there were: new carpet, a big improvement. Some new art in the gangways, I think. New signage in the buffet. Otherwise the same old friend, though, and I felt . . . so happy. I love this. There’s a pang when I see places I know I saw last with Wife and Daughter; I know I’ll be bored some afternoon and wish I wasn’t alone. But right now the ship hums with the thrill of the first day. I never tire of the sight of the sea or the clouds above or the razor line on the horizon.
Here we go, again. The only challenge is for the Bleat:
What can I possibly say that's new?
Let's cast off.
First Stop: Half Moon Cay, which is a manufactured location owned by the line. The ship staff gets up early in the morning and changes into Tropical Native Garb and occupied the island in advance of the boats; one after the other the tenders depart, and ferry us to our pristine island with pristine white beaches and pristine deck chairs all lined up as far as the eye can perceive, and then the staff walks up an down the beach trying to sell us alcohol. It is a rather elaborate way to sell alcohol, but this entire industry is basically an elaborate way to sell alcohol.
Let's take a little ride - a mere seven seconds, but you get the flavor of the ride through the rocky estuary.
One beer vendor guy has a chant: The best ship - is a relationship! There’s a third line but it’s obviously not memorable, because I’ve forgotten it. He probably uses the line when there are two vessels at the island; another ship of the fleet is anchored here as well, so there’s the possibility for a gang war.
Nah. Although the other ship seems to have brought a lot of large phlegmatic Germans who walk in thick knots of five and mutter and stop and block everyone’s sun.
From some angles it seems remote and underpopulated -
- but from others you see a sea of people standing in the water, up to their shoulders, silent; it’s like the extraordinarily well-behaved victims of a shipwreck, who have decided to drown with as little fuss as possible, because they don’t want to be a bother to anyone. They don’t cry out because that’s just not done.
Oh really, hush. no one wants to hear that.
So I enjoyed the sun for an hour or so, which according to my scalp was like nine days on Mercury, and read a Martin Beck novel. When I was done I went to the main shopping area, La Plaza A La Doloroso, which is what I call it because it’s just sad. Buy a shirt! A shirt that says you went to the place where you can buy the shirt that says you went to the place! Really, I don’t mind this place - the beach is great and it’s all for us, and there’s none of that smiling at vendors who want you to buy a bracelet so they can make the rent this week, and watch you pass by with a stony heart.
When it was time to go I stood in line to get through the metal detector; there were two lines, bt some Germans decided to make a third and barged in front of everyone. GOING AROUND LIKE YOU WENT THROUGH BELGIUM, EH FRITZ? The metal detector was an odd touch, since they control the entire island, and I never run into anyone walking along the beach with a bag selling firearms.
We got in the tender, and the pilot of the boat was an Indonesian version of Mr. Magoo on apricot brandy; he banged the vessel into the dock, backed out too close to another tender, causing a long horrible squeak of rubber. Everyone groaned and laughed nervously; underneath our commotion was the thought oh we are going to drown? In a lifeboat? Then he gunned it and smashed into a larger boat with such force we heard the Fiberglas hull crack.
After which we steamed into the ocean. It’s like the Titanic hitting an iceberg as it was launched in Belfast and then Captain Smith saying “shake it off Mr Murdock, and take her out to sea.” It’s probably my lifeboat, too. The idea of abandoning ship and having your lifeboat start to sink is really not up to maritime standards.
We are motionless alongside Cuba -
- no, we just started moving. Apparently I have telekinetic powers of which I was unaware.
- and we just stopped. So realizing my powers undid them. Drat the luck. Unless we weren't moving at all. That's possible. Sometimes the ship stops and you don't notice it until you realize you've been looking at the same coastline for an hour. It's possible that you've entered a part of the Caribbean designed by Hanna-Barbera background artists. It repeats and repeats and repeats.
I wonder if there’s anyone there looking at us. It looks deserted, forbidding.
Spent the morning reading on the uppermost deck, where you can get away from the mounds of wattled basters around the pool. Since there’s no port, everyone is here, and everything clogs up. On the way back to the room after lunch - an amazing Indonesian bowl and two bites from two small desserts (That’s the great thing: if three desserts look good, take them. Have a bite of each. You’re sated. At least I am; I rarely gain weight on these cruises, because I eat sparingly, take the stairs everywhere, and try to keep moving. Also, I usually ingest a tapeworm before I board) I heard a couple ask a steward an interesting question:
where is the buffet?
Leaving aside the fact that it’s obviously on this deck, because there was a sign by the steward that pointed to the buffet, and people walking around with plates, how can you be on this ship for three days and not know where the buffet is? Unless they took all their means in the dining room, that is. Some do. It's civilized down there. You get at least six forks.
Last night was the Nite Owl session, and it was . . . a hoot! Hah. No, it was really good. Previously I’ve done it with Jonah Goldberg and Rob Long, but Rob’s out this trip since he got a job as show runner for “Kevin Can Wait,” so Jonah was repositioned to another one with Podhoretz, and I did one with Kat Timpf of Fox et al and Charles CW Cooke, bone-dry Englishman. (The CW stands for "Continental Wastrel.) I suggested that we each start with a set piece, just to establish tone and character and have our say before the others started interrupting (I hate being interrupted when I’m doing a bit) and this meant I could compose, oh, five or six minutes of stand-up. I did this standing up, on a main stage on a cruise ship, so I can now say I did stand-up on a cruise ship. Add that to the list of lifetime goals accomplished. Also, Charles interrupted me when I was doing a bit. My revenge will be long in coming, and its sweetness will be all the more delicious because he won't know, at first, what is happening, and then the horror will dawn.
Oh, and that happened at my bit at the end of the Nite Owl, when someone started heckling me from the audience about something that happened two years ago on the last Caribbean cruise. It was Podhoretz.
Now I have to add him to the list.
And now we take our leave of Grand Cayman, of which I saw not an inch. Well, I saw it from the ship. Been there, done that, didn’t buy the T-shirt because the place held no appeal - there were things to do, I’m sure, but I had to moderate a panel on the First Amendment. As one does.
Actually, I don't, or haven't. Usually I’m on a panel, but for some reason I was moderating this year. Less responsibility - I didn’t have to have a set-piece with Jokes and Insights; more responsibility, because I had to come up with eight ways into the topic for the four guests. But they’re all smart and loquacious fellows, and it was no problem to provide connective tissue between their answers and the question for the next guy. Seventy minutes; flew past.
Then another pre-meal cocktail party at the pool. This is not a normal cruise. Usually you're with someone. For me it's long stretches of solitude punctuated by intense social activity. It is my job to circulate and talk to as many people as possible, and thank them for being here and reading the magazine. Same with dinner. It’s fun if the table’s spry, work if it’s not.
So far I’ve had great tables, though. Last night I had two Minnesotans, one of whom said he was in the spirits business. Bottling, distilling. Really? What company? Oh, little outfit called Phillips. (It’s not little.) What do you do for Phillips? Oh, well, I run it. At which point I said: UV is my house vodka. (It’s one of their brands.) He’s pleased, and we talk about vodka marketing. I mean he RUNS THE COMPANY, and here we are having dinner. Tonight was just great - guy sitting across from me is New York in radio, and we get talking about old radio shows, and Al Bowlly, and Bobby Hackett, and all these other things about which I have nattered on about here over the years. I tell you, it’s just a delight. I am literally singing for my supper, but it’s fun.
It’s also an audition for the next cruise. I found out what it’ll be: an Atlantic Crossing on the Queen Mary. Holy Jeezum Crow. I asked the publisher if I could be on that one, and the he said sure. I was delighted, and told someone that I’d just gotten news I would be able to do the Atlantic crossing next summer.
“You just heard?” he said. “You’re in the promotional material.”
I suppose I should have checked that first.
En route to the theater I noticed that the ship had entered the Twilight Zone.
I’d like to think they had our destination defined. Cruise ships aren’t known for playing it by ear.
Afterwards, the Crow’s Nest, where I have had many a fine night, and another was had; not often you find yourself chatting with a fellow who was this close (thumb-and-index-finger-a-quarter-inch-apart) to being rolled out as a Doomed Anti-Trump Choice, but that’s what he was. Before Evan, there was David, and while he never really seriously considered it and was amused at the presumptions made on his behalf, it made for an interesting tale. Which I can’t tell you, alas.
This cruise is the best NR cruise in a few years, and I’m having a capital time, but since nothing is happening I fear this day will be nothing but a book report. One book a day, that’s the pace so far. Reading “End of Watch,” because on every cruise I read a Stephen King, an SPQR, and a Micheal Connolly. The King book concludes a trilogy. The first annoyed me; too much Scooby-Doo, with some smart scrappy kids foiling a plot. The second started well and rambled on into unrealistic territory. The third goes full King, introducing a supernatural-type element into what had been a detective series, and it’s okay. It did not begin promisingly, as King’s ear for American vernacular seems stuck in 1979.
Sent Daughter another picture. At this point in her life I’m sure a text from Dad is not the most important thing in the world, but I sent her a picture of two individual packets of Nutella, which she was overjoyed to find when we first started cruising years ago - proof that this was a magical voyage where the normal laws of life had been suspended. Today I sent her a picture of the emergency exit sign, which is just peculiar. We always laughed at the Nuclear Family Attacked by the Tiny Arrow Men:
Well, that’s today; a day at sea, and nothing to show for it but indolence and happiness.
I should start a novel.
PS: I did
More tomorrow - including news on that new stone everyone isn't talking about anywhere! I leave you with this: the glory that ends each day.