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Thursday, Oct. 06, 2005
Dammit.

I started my third (and for the sake of my nearly depleted picture storage allotment, likely the final)installment of the cruise story Sunday morning. Yeah, like four days ago Sunday.

I had a storyline. It was interesting enough that even I liked it. Pictures! Asshats! Pictures of Asshats!

Naturally enough, since I was zooming along at a good pace, the wonder that is Windows XP picked that point in time to have . . . . a problem. XP never just freezes, or delivers a particularly nasty looking screen, or goes blank on you. No. XP is a lot like the bland, uninteresting yuppies who inhabit Microsoft in general. Rather than a good old fashioned blow-up, with some pyrotechnics or crisp DOS lingo, XP rather dryly reports, “A problem occurred. Do you wish to report it to Microsoft?” What a wimped out, classically 21st century line of thinking that is. “Things are bad, maybe we should run and tattle to someone.”

Well fark me. Would it make a shred of difference if I did? I just lost an hours work because I rarely save these entry‘s as a file unto themselves. It’s goin’ on the web, ain’t it? Why have it duplicated on a hard drive?

A problem occurred. Uh huh. Takes me days to sort out some of these problems.

And patchin’ that hole in the living room wall where the laptop hit wasn’t any picnic either.


I was tempted to just toss some pictures on here with no commentary at all, such was the state of my bereavement over losing all that storyline. Plus, it seems like months since I got back from this cruise. 12 hour workday months.

Cozumel. Mexico. Come to me, oh tourist weary of being pampered.

Bring thy wife, resplendent in wind and sea as we flee from a hurricane some few hundred miles to our stern. Bring dollars, as shopping the avenue promises bargains and trinkets and silver mined from secretive places, gold from an Aztec tomb. Alert the Thundering Herd, that shipboard mob which moves with purpose and resolve.

At least until they actually get on shore, and can’t quite see the next bar down the street. And are obliged to wait for one or two straggling shoppers in the group. Oh yes, then the Herd shows how they inherited their moniker.

It got to the point where there were only four of us. Ally’s sister and her husband stuck with us for quite a while, here seated at a dynamic eatery which had lured the men folk with the irresistible - a Cuban and a Coronna for five bucks. Turns out they were out of Cubans, which was fine with me, I’m not a huge stogie fan. But for one fleeting moment they made gestures that the Coronna bin was dry too, and my indignation knew no bounds.

‘Cause if there’s one thing that will cause a rift in international relations, it’s getting betwixt me and lunch. It was, after all, a very hot day. Go figure. It was the end of summer and we were on an island on the Mexican side of the Caribbean. Think it was hot? Oh indeedy yes.

About the only thing hotter was the shopping. I’m not entirely sure of this but it’s possible to keep a woman happy on a luxury cruise ship as long as she is keeping a careful eye on that dangling carrot at the end of a stick, that feast of unlimited jewelry in some foreign port. I let Ally feed, and feed deep at an endless array of baubles at a seemingly endless street full of stores. She likes the occasional workout with a lump of cash. Works hard at it when she gets the chance. So I gave her the reins for a while. Let her get good and wore out, I did.

Then I turned her loose on the poor waiter in a trashy dive who knew that the answer to “Pina Coloda?” is a resounding yes. We discovered that our new best friends were a tribe of housewives from Florida (and interestingly, they thought nothing of laughing hysterically at their husbands stuck at home, found me to be a rarity since I’d accompanied my wife shopping. I got news for you gals. The husbands are home with a beer and a recliner and a blissful look. I’ve been on those sort of vacations, too).

Ally had such a good time that I had her convinced she could probably pump liquor out at a faster rate if she wanted to go ahead and use self-service. Of course, there was no lack of helpful bar staff to slow down that particular part of our consumptive spree.

No lack at all. I wanted to keep ‘em as souvenirs but there was that whole bothersome Customs thingy.

And by the way yes, I’d look favorably on a return trip to Coz. Next week, say.

But after we staggered back to the ship, managed to set a new daily record for number of trips through the metal detector (5), left the bag with Ally’s new $watch$ and several ingots of silver on top of the detector and got to know the Mexican port authority cop on a first name basis, I dunno.

I got a feeling they might have my picture on a wall somewhere, some place it has no business being.

In contrast, Grand Cayman, our next berthing, was a stuffy sort of place. A bit on the staid side, showing a lot of British influence, a lot of American gloss. Ally found out a little about the whole British thing when she stepped off the first street curb she came to and nearly got mowed over by a cab on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.

And if we thought it had been hot in Mexico, it was positively tropical in the Caymans. Which again, it was summer, it was the Caribbean . . .

We tried some shopping in Grand Cayman. But it was a whole lot like shopping at home, and the exchange rate was working against us. Nice T-shirts, though. Nice bar with cold beer. Nice architecture all around. Just . . . nice. Not gritty, not a lot of soul. Not exactly representative of island culture.

I mean, if somebody wanted a trim carpenter and this was the place they shipped me off to, I reckon I’d survive. I’d get by. Maybe even learn to drive on the wrong side of the road.

But the dinner bell was clanging onboard, the dark island was lurking somewhere off to the east.

Now, I’ve touched a little on the pampering that went on when you were on this ship. No question, it’s luxury all the way, you are nearly overwhelmed by the food and amenities that are in your face all day long. The staff is polite and reserved to the point of making you want to drag them off and corrupt them in some way. But a lot of that is due to the older crowd typically on these jaunts, a moneyed crowd who think nothing of engaging you in conversations that start off with “Oh, this is our 32nd cruise, and we just love it. Or is it the 33rd?” I’m not saying they were snobs, ‘xactly, but there was a bit of sniffing going on whenever the subject of Jamaica came up.

“Don’t know that we’ll be getting off in Jamaica, you know. Lovely to look at but my, you don’t want to go too far inland. Gets a little scruffy, it does. And those vendors! Pushy pushy. Won’t leave you alone, poor devils.” And so on. I noticed the same people who raved about the Caymans had little to say about Jamaica. Call it a perception of class or what-have-you. The dark island just wasn’t making it for ‘em.

The Thundering Herd had no such illusions, of course. It was a younger crowd and the only time they get to feeling stuffy is when contracting a good head cold. They were rarin’ to go. Jamaica, mon.

For some reason I was up waaay early on Jamaica morning and took a lap around the ship. I’ve read and heard so much about seeing the lights of a distant shore, but I’ll tell you. To see a thousand tiny lights from an island that is little more than a cloudy hulk against water? You can take all the pictures of it you can, and I did, but there’s a memory of it that means a whole lot more. Watching Jamaica wake up, the green of it, the smudge fires here and there, how abruptly the beach rose to a forested mountain. It was eerie, it was drop dead gorgeous and silent at 5 am, standing along a teak rail and gliding past a majesty of calm.

I often wonder if there was a fella standing at one of those house windows, sipping a cup of coffee and wondering what it would be like to sail around in a big ship all day instead of trudging down to his skiff and setting out for a day of casting nets for crab.

Right about then I’d have traded spots with him.

We harbored in Ocho Rios and yep, there were plenty of vendors and a horde of taxi drivers. I don’t know, I didn’t find them necessarily pushy. Friendly and talkative, yes. “A taxi, mon? Let me show you Jamaica, going to the river? The Falls? My name is Isaac, let me tell you a bit about myself now . . .” And they would, if you wanted. Tell you their life story right there, whether you got a ride from them or not. It’s my one regret actually, that I didn’t get ‘Isaac’ to take Ally and me for a drive around. Get up in those hills and see things, if he was of a mind to. I know the Margaritaville side of things, show me the trees, mon.

Yeah I know. He woulda clanked me over the head, stole all my cash and roared off with Ally as a hostage. Yeah, yeah. But I’ll bet he wouldn’t have been stuffy about it.

We hiked, we shopped. We found a little bar (not a touristy approved one either, one of those hole in the wall places that is mostly porch and a big open door to the counter, I was still kicking myself for not going on a drive so I was gonna rough it regardless) and verily, the Red Stripe was a-flowin’. The waitress was smiling and bitching all at the same time. Just like back home. And once fortified, a little more shopping. I stumbled onto a silver store about the size of a garden shed with two island ladies manning the helm. “I’m looking for earrings for my daughter, hon. What you think?”

“Oh lad, (she called me lad, I was hooked) let me show ye. We have racks, many things. Your wifey along?”

“Yeppers, she’s back a ways.”

“Well it’s fate that brought ye then, we doesn’t get many men in here by themselves. Here, all the girls be lovin‘ these long earrings like this” and she produced a two inch twirly number with a high silver count (I’d been paying attention to stuff like silver count when shopping with the wifey, you see).

“How much then?”

“Lessee mon, for you, fateful lad, we call it $24 American” and lawd, how she rolled that ‘rrr’ in American.

Like I said, she had me hooked, I’m an easy target for an easy going sales lady and this one was about as laid back as they come. I dug in the pocket for the loose cash and came up with . . . exactly $24.

She wasn‘t even surprised. “Fate, lad. I tol’ ye so.”

“Maybe I better go get the wifey. She’s gonna love you, darlin’.”

Ally did love her. Matter of fact, I think Ally made the silver lady’s day. The two of them were fast friends in seconds, sisters within five minutes as I stood in the little doorway and hooted “Buy more, Ally, it’s fate darlin’! Fate I tell ye!” in a fog of Red Stripe fumes and Jamaican good will. We fell into that good will at several places, Ally re-discovered her shopping prowess and the bags started multiplying. I don’t know whether we bought out of the sense of finding cool stuff for a bargain or if we just liked dealing with the people, but me and the wifey, we had a ball.

And the snobs onboard ship? Never even gave ‘em a thought all day.

It was fitting that Ally would lean against the rail later on, look long and hard at the green hills, the houses that clung to them and with a nod, “I could live here. Right here, I really could. This is . . . “ and she trailed off without finishing it but she didn’t have to.

I could live there too.

We sat at the fantail pool for a long time after coming back onboard and just sunned, and stared at the hills. Such a contrast it was, a society level pool set against that lush backdrop.

We sat for a very long time, and watched the island slip away until it turned back to a gray line on the sea, then a dark spot, then nothing at all. Fate, lad. It were fate that brought ye here.

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