Cruising to fifty, part two: Frodo and the immovable bus

This is the second part of a series of blogs about the cruise the Wife and I went on last October.You can read part one here.

A quick set up:

I turned 50 on October 6, 2012. My wife surprised me about three weeks before, during a particular low spot in my life with a piece of paper. “Happy birthday,” she said. I opened the paper and quickly scanned it.

“We’re going on a cruise?” I said, and my mind kind of shut down with happiness after that. In fact, it wasn’t until several minutes later, as I was refolding the paper, that I saw the word “Greece” and just about shit. This is the story of what happened on that trip, taken almost exclusively from the diary I kept along the way.

Have mercy
Been waitin’ on the bus all day

ZZ Top

October 6 – My birthday!

I turned fifty over the Atlantic, but didn’t notice it until a couple of hours later. Could be I was tired. Could be I was old. Either way, I’d crossed that threshold.

The flight landed twenty minutes early and for the first time, I stepped on European land. Not that I had time to think about it. I think we’re spoiled in Canada and the U.S. when we walk off the plane and straight into the terminal. In Venice, we walked down a flight of stairs, stood on the tarmac and a crazed transport driver came by and did his best to make us puke, or at least drop us all to our knees on the ten minute drive from plane to terminal. Sharp turns with no warning, rapid acceleration and rapid stops were the order of the day.

We managed to hold down our nasty airline food and, once in the airport, desperately look for a washroom. I was quite happy I was male at this time, as I was able to simply walk in, find a free urinal, and do what I needed to do, which was to pee in my first European urinal. You’re a peein’ indeed! My wife, on the other hand, lined up for a solid twenty minutes. We both survived, then got our baggage, then we assembled to wait for our transport to the ship. If I’d known exactly how exasperating it was going to be, I would have hired a taxi. Ah well, hindsight’s 20/20, right?

So the first endurance test was to wait within the terminal. We had to wait until all the Transat travelers arrived. No biggie. The plan was to hop on the bus and get delivered to our various floating holiday accomodations, the Divina, the Jade, and ours, the Splendour of the Seas.

It wasn’t a horrible wait. We’d landed by noon local time, got our luggage by 12:30, and by 1:00, a short, balding, slightly anxious, hobbit-like driver walked us from the terminal to the bus with his hand raised to shoulder height–this from a guy barely scraping 5’3″–as though that hand could be followed through all of Middle Earth to the depths of Mordor.

Ten-ish minutes later, we were at the bus and we separated our luggage out depending on which ship we were headed to. A second group showed up, all headed for the Divina. We were all told to wait outside the bus. It was about ridiculously hot outside, but one of the other passengers described the bus as being “about 900 degrees” so we figured outside was better. Twenty minutes later, our hobbit driver started up the bus and the air conditioning and loaded us on. We were left with the impression we would leave shortly and, after eight hours in a cramped seat on the plane, here we were again, stuffed into a seat with no legroom. Meanwhile, Frodo was out chatting up another bus driver and sweating profusely.

Soon, a couple more groups showed up, stowed their luggage and got on the bus. It’s probably important to note at this point that this bus could likely seat about 70 people. I mention this because that first group I mentioned? The ones going to the Divina? There were eight of them, four couples. They obviously felt a deep, abiding love for each other and very much looked forward to spending a week with each other at sea, because when they got on the bus, they each claimed a section of two seats for themselves. Yes…sixteen seats for eight people. Four couples. Or, should I say, eight ignorant assholes. The other groups that got on the bus kind of gave them all the stink eye, then moved toward the back of the bus.

Anyway, it’s now about 1:45, almost two hours since we’ve landed, when Frodo finally climbs aboard and puts it into gear. Yay! I think, prematurely. We drive out of the parking lot, down a short laneway and get out to what looks like a main thoroughfare–a total distance of maybe a quarter-mile. Frodo then says, “Sorry!” and some other stuff in Italian that we couldn’t catch, then pulled a U-turn and we headed right back to the dreaded parking lot. He parked us in the exact same spot and leapt from the bus and ran back to the terminal.

Several minutes later, sweating worse now, he showed back up with more people and luggage.  He’d stow their luggage, direct them on the bus, grab a little fanny pack from the driver’s cockpit, say something about dropping off tickets, then scoot back to the terminal. Ten minutes later, he’d show up again.

With more travelers and luggage. Which would start the whole cycle all over again. Stow, direct, fanny pack, tickets, scoot, ten minutes.

Every time he came back, there was a feeling of anticipation, of woo-hoo, we’re on our way! Each time we saw more travelers, that feeling would deflate again. This went on for five full trips to and from the terminal for Frodo. By now, it was just getting old.

A solid hour after he’d left the parking lot, then returned, somewhere around 3:00, we’ve now been in Venice a total of three hours and seen nothing but an airport, a parking lot, a bus and a tantalizing glimpse of what lay beyond. We finally left the parking lot again, the bus packed to the gills and the ignorant assholes finally having to give up their individual sections and sit with each other.

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Our first real glimpse of Venice from the bus.

On the way into Venice

On the way into Venice

Our first glimpse of our ship

Our first glimpse of our ship

Fifteen minutes later, we were at our boat. We’d waited almost two and a half hours for a fifteen minute trip. Goddamn.

Anyway, the Royal Caribbean staff were all young, attractive and friendly and we were welcomed with big smiles. From their welcome, we then walked down a long, covered gangway and then…then we were on our ship. And it was beautiful.

The ship from the gangway

We found our way to our room and it actually had a birthday greeting right on the door. Karen let me open the door and I found the room decorated with birthday s

tuff. Holy crap! In all the fuss with Frodo, I’d forgotten it was still actually my birthday.

By now, it was about 3:30 local time, or about 9:30 am by what my internal clock was telling me. We’d been up for about 28 straight hours. We were tired and hungry.

We headed down to the solarium–a beautiful area, by the way–and had an excellent carved roast beef sandwich and it was nice to just sit in a comfortable chair with legroom  and look out at Venice sprawled in front of us.

Venice

At 4:30 (29 hours and counting), everyone had to attend muster–gathering beneath our designated lifeboat (ours was #10) and were taught, in English, Italian, German and Spanish, how to put on a lifejacket. It was interestingly refreshing to not get the instructions in French, as we would have in Canada.

We took a couple of pictures then went back to the cabin for a nap. Okay, I went back for a nap.

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I’d just laid down when Karen dragged me back out–twice–to look at interesting things. The launch of the ship out of port and Venice sliding by.

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I should say, it’s always been a dream of mine to go to Venice. And here it was. I wanted to enjoy it. I truly did. But 30 hours awake and 4500 miles of travel by plane, bus and ship had done their work. I fell on the bed and died.

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I woke up at 6:30. Karen had been too excited to sleep, so she’d taken pictures and unpacked. I’d slept through it all.

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It was time for dinner, so I clambered into the teeny, tiny shower and scrubbed off the exhaustion of the past day and a half, got dressed and we headed down for dinner. I had an excellent dinner of pork medallions, mashed potatoes and mushrooms in a ragout sauce with a Caesar salad. Dessert was Strawberry Povlova…which was crazy good.

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We took a brief walk around the ship, then came back to the cabin and we both fell down in exhaustion.

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And that’s how I turned fifty years old. A little rough in spots, but overall, it turned out fantastic. Story of my life!

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 124-2Tomorrow was going to be a better day.

See part three here.

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A salt with a deadly weapon

So we’re out to dinner last Saturday and the Boy, yet again, was on.

This isn’t a surprising thing, as the kid has more wit at 15 then I’ll ever have.  I mean, any kid who describes a crap as releasing the chocolate hostages is an interesting person to have around, let me tell you.

Anyway, we’re in the U.S. and in a restaurant, we’ve ordered and we’re in that dead time that parks itself awkwardly from the orders being taken, the drinks arriving, then waiting for food.  The Boy, of course, sees this as an opportunity to entertain.

He worked his way up to it, starting first with a pair of mirror aviator sunglasses I’d been wearing.  I don’t think they’re particularly flattering on me, but they remind me of my early twenties, when I thought they were cool.

Anyway, the Boy grabs them and puts them on.  I must admit, my first thought was, that the little bugger rocked them.  He looks a hell of a lot better in them than I ever will.  But then, he begins his spiel.

“Look at these things!” he says, touching the arm of the shades reverently.  “These things were made to take off!”

“What?” I ask, more than a little bewildered.

He pinches the arm of the shades, sweeps them off with a flourish as he turns his head to look at some far-off vista.  He holds the pose for a second, peering intently.  Then he turns to me.  “These things are the shit!”

Of course, I’m laughing so damn hard I can’t answer.  He does it again, staring off to some interesting horizon like one of those cheese portrait poses.  It’s even funnier the second time.  The Girl and the Wife are laughing just as hard.  He pulls it a third time, somehow managing more emotion in the removal of a pair of cheap sunglasses than Shakespeare ever wrung from a tragedy.  His gaze holds more intensity than Justin Bieber eyeing a tube of zit cream.  I’m dying from laughter.

The Girl says, “You’re better at that than that guy on CSI: Miami!”  She’s right, of course.

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But then, he moves to the main event.

Turns out the Wife carries a lot of superstitions.  But she’s a touch scatterbrained on a few of them.  She knows enough not to walk under a ladder, and if she gives you something sharp as a gift, like a set of Ginsu knives, she’ll include money.  She won’t put shoes on a bed.

But the one that drives her crazy and brings out the scatterbrain is spilling salt in front of her.  It literally makes her bugshit crazy.  Her eyes bulge and she trembles.  Her voice finds upper registers that only bats and dogs can hear.

Yeah, her and spilled salt don’t go well together.

So of course, the Boy has to go for the salt shaker.

Just picking it up is enough to go to DEFCON 1 for the Wife.  There’s no food around, so picking up that instrument of evil can bode no good.  But she tries to keep it cool.  “Put that down,” she says, thinking her voice is still all smooth and calm.  In fact, anyone could hear the tremor of fear that courses through it.

“What…” the Boy says, glancing at the salt shaker.  “This?” he finishes as he gives a threatening tilt to the container.  It doesn’t tilt much more than 10 degrees from the vertical, but it’s enough for the Wife to involuntarily lurch in her seat.

“No!” she says.  He knows he has her now.  She’s dropped any facade of dealing with this reasonably.  Now, there’s a real chance salt will spill.  This is Bad News.  This is Horrible Stuff.  This is Superstitions Come To Life.  May God have mercy on us all.

The Boy gives a couple more cavalier tilts of the shaker, just to torque his mother up.  And she responds faster than a Pavlovian dog at the dinner bell.  She’s twitching and jumping, giggling nervously and trying to look stern.  Her eyes are bulging and watering.

“Put that down right now!” she says, enunciating each syllable like a machine gun shooting.  Then she reaches for the shaker.

The Boy pulls it back, dangerously agitating the granules inside.  “No!” she cries, reaching again.

“BACK OFF!” he says, his own eyes bugging.  “I’M CRAZY!  I’M CRAZY!”  He jiggles the shaker.  “I’LL DO IT, MAN!  I’LL DO IT!”

The sad thing about this?  If the salt drops, she’ll furiously swipe at it with both hands and toss it over both shoulders.  Why?  Because she can’t freaking remember which is the proper shoulder to toss it over, that’s why.  This would be the scatterbrain portion of our show.

Luckily, that hasn’t happened yet.

The Wife looks to me for help.  I see this through the blur of tears as I try desperately to hold in the laughter from spilling out and getting all the patrons to look at this morbid tableau.

Eventually, we’re able to talk him down from that salty ledge, but it’s a near thing, I gotta say.  The Wife continues to hyperventilate for a solid ten minutes after the shaker is released.

Seriously.  How many women do you know can be held hostage by a slightly canted salt shaker?  Thankfully, she’s not a chocolate hostage.

And why does my wife lose all sense whenever we travel to the United States?

A Thursday Collection of Random Thoughts

Mark Zuckerberg Kills What He Eats

Huh.  So the guy that created the biggest timewaster of the 21st Century has challenged himself to only eat what he kills himself.

Apparently his previous challenges were (two years ago) to wear a tie every day, and; (last year) to learn Mandarin.  No word on how either of those worked out for him.  So this year, after having a thought-provoking pig roast last year where some friends admitted to loving “eating port, [but] they really didn’t want to think about the fact that the pig used to be alive” he decided that sounded irresponsible.  So he decided to take responsibility and be thankful for what he eats.

Okay, on paper, that’s great, I guess.  Actually, I’m fairly ambivalent toward it.   Really don’t think I’d enjoy killing an animal to eat it, but if I needed to, sure, I would.  And apparently so will Zuckerberg.  Earlier in May, he tweeted, “I just killed a pig and a goat.”  He cut the goat’s throat with a knife, “the most kind way to do it,” according to Chef Jesse Cool (no, I’m not making that name up).

So, lovely, he offed to animals.  My question is, is he responsible enough, or thankful enough to wade in and gut and skin and bleed and dismember those animals?  Yeah, I doubt it too.

Still, it’s good to challenge yourself, I guess.  And when you have more money than virtually anyone on the planet, I guess you can be a little silly.

I just hope he doesn’t hit a raccoon while driving.  I wouldn’t want to eat that.  Maybe he can invite some of his irresponsible thankless friends over for a raccoon roast.  Nope, there ain’t a “Like” button on that one!

Canada’s Spectrum Auction

Sigh.

Here we go again.  As Canadians use more cell phones and cell phones have more and more data streaming into and out of them, the need for more spectrum becomes a necessity.  The last one was in 2008.  That’s the one that held back the Big 3 (Bell, TELUS, Rogers) so the little guys like Wind, Mobilicity, Public Mobile, Videotron, and Shaw could come in and get some bandwidth first.  Since then, Shaw hasn’t been able to get their act together to get any phones out there.  Wind basically flew in the face of the rules about ownership and somehow managed to get going.  Okay, lovely, more competition.

Canadians rejoice and all that.

Now, the next auction is coming up in 2012.  And all those little guys are still yelling to get first kick at bellying up to the trough.  They need more, they say.  The Big 3 are hogging it all, they say.  If you don’t like the landscape, don’t get into the business, I say.  Don’t go crying to Dad to change the rules.

One exec at Wind is quoted as saying caps and limits “are perfectly reasonable options for consumers.”  Yeah, until Wind gets a million or two subscribers, then needs to build up or build out its network and stop crawling on the backs of those nasty Big 3 that have spent decades and billions of dollars on network footprints so you can come in and get it at a bargain price because the government says so.  Let’s see what happens when you get big and some other incumbent comes along wanting special treatment.

And while we’re at it, I’m sorry, I have to say this.  Canadians are always quoting that we have the highest cell phone rates in the world.  So, do me a favour.  Pull up a map of Canada that shows population.  Now do that for the U.S.  Now do that for Europe.  Now back to Canada.  Now back to Europe.  Now back to Canada.  Sadly, Canada isn’t Europe where you have small countries that would easily fit into one of our provinces with room for a jacuzzi and in ground pool.  We have a lot of freaking land to cover!  And that means building out a ton of network.  It’s not cheap.  It’s not easy.

So, please.  Stop whining.  If you don’t like it, use Skype, or your home phone, or Zuckerbutcher’s Facebook or something.  Jeez.

Stephen King & Mick Garris

Mick Garris is about to butcher film another Stephen King novel, BAG OF BONES.

My question is, who keeps throwing money at this loser to destroy one good King story after another?  Let’s look at his non-King work.  Critters 2.  It stank.  The Fly II.  It stank.  Hocus Pocus.  Please!  Psycho IV: The Beginning.  Really?

Then there’s Stephen King’s stuff.  Okay, Garris is not the first, nor will he be the last to bugger up a good King story.  Hell, King did it himself with Maximum Overdrive.  But at least we got a great AC/DC song out of it.

But Garris just seems to keep coming back to King stuff.  It’s like he can’t quite screw it up bad enough that someone finally says enough.  So, instead, we’ve suffered through Sleepwalkers, The Stand (this was a TV mini-series and, though still bad, was at least tolerable), The Shining, Quicksilver Highway (in which he butchered both Stephen King and Clive Barker), Riding the Bullet, and finally, Desperation (another mini-series).  Now another will fall prey to his evil lens.  Why?  All of these movies suck from boring cinematography through wooden acting (though he seems to attract great actors) through horrid script revisions (done, at times, by King himself) to the ultimate no-no…making a compelling story boring as hell on the screen.

Maybe Stephen King should write a horror novel about a hack writer/director taking a great horror author’s work and sucking the life out of it.