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Monday, Sept. 26, 2005
I donít know why this should surprise anybody, but getting back into the work mood is, how best shall I say this?
Worse than overpriced beer on a cruise boat.

There, I said it. But amazingly enough, Iím doing some work. Waiting for bondo to dry on some knotty redwood is work, isnít it?

I mean, I could be looking at my wife in the first evening moonlight on a stateroom balcony. Boy wouldnít that be awful.

Or maybe, I could be rushing to the aft deck at some ungodly hour to see the sun trying to peek through the clouds of a rapidly approaching hurricane. A hurricane which, on the second day out, caused no small amount of high speed maneuvering on the part of our fearless Captain, who came on the intercom to announce a slight change in venue.

ďLadies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that there has been a slight change in course. We are not going to be able to proceed to St. Thomas and St. Marteen as originally planned. We will, instead, be going west to Mexico and Jamaica. With a stop at Grand Cayman in between of course. We are so sorry to abort our original trip, but we have hurricane force winds . . .Ē

I donít think I heard too much more, not that it mattered. I wasnít the one steering, but the thought of doing Cozumel, Mexico and Jamaica in lieu of a couple of stuffy old Virgin Island ports didnít Ďxactly put a damper on my mood. We were, in fact, getting a bigger bang for our buck. If anybody benefited from the wiles of a Cat 5 hurricane this season, it was us.

Hell, he even tucked in a stop to a private island in the Bahamas on the way. Dashing fellow that he was.

So we pulled into a little place, a little touristy place all set up with umbrellas and cabanas and a shack to purchase trinkets. I dunno, call me callous, but going thorough all the hooting required to get off ship just to sit on a beach and rotate in the sun just didnít suit me or Ally either, so we played hookey and stayed aboard, a not so bad move when you consider we pretty much had the run of the boat by doing so. Pool time.

This happened to be the forward pool, and yes that is the ship's name for those of you wondering. Iím not going to get into a lot of name dropping for the Google crowd, but you can take what you see and search to your hearts content. The forward pool only worked for us this first full day, it was a shipwreck of family bathing and large hostile women from up north the rest of the time. But it really is lovely, isnít it?

Iím getting a little ahead of myself. We had breakfast before the pool, as we did so many mornings onboard. Now at home, breakfast and I might be acquainted on Sunday mornings but during the week? No way. No time, for that matter. So it was ever a shock to my system to walk into a buffet line at 7 am, load up a plate with fruit and eggs and pork flesh and just sit there, watching the waves go by, slurping Machine Room coffee (I loved it, but I was in the minority) and feeling the teak get warm underfoot. I knew I was in trouble when I started critiquing the eggs benedict, or the potato soufflť, like I get those every day. Being spoiled and quietly bitching about it? Only here, and only when you felt like it. Itís a cruise ship thing.

The food in general was just amazing, if only for the variety. You could, as we did, choose a meal plan that allowed you to eat anywhere at essentially anytime, or sit in the same place at a prescheduled hour and be served by your own Romanian slave boy. Iím from the back country, and wanna eat when I damn well please. So buffet lines and the occasional sit down suit me just fine. I never did get a picture of the dining areas but trust me. They had it all.

And after breakfast and a swim, what to do? What, Indeed?

Sitting on the balcony, supping with Don XXís and watching the kids frolic in the surf seemed like the thing to do.

By the way, I have no idea who that good looking portly man in the hat is, or why he was sitting on my starboard side balcony in the middle of the day drinking a beer. Or why he was wearing a hat in the first place. Iím just saying.

It being a Sunday, we were requested to don formal attire for the evening. This is as much a matter of peer pressure as anything, because for me to wrestle myself into a monkey suit and tie requires a level of gravity normally reserved for visits by head of state. And I coulda just gone up to the pool deck and nabbed a pizza for heavens sake, which is my normal course of events on a Sunday. But, you know. Wives and kids. ďI bought this kicky little black number just for formal night and Iíll be dipped if youíre going in shorts,Ē she wailed. And my Eldest was right on her shoulder with the same rant, so it was off to our splendid boudoir that Navy people call a head for a heated session of buttoning and swiping old dog fur from the lapels of my own little black number.

Mary, Ally, some random asshole and the Eldest. A veritable tribe of debutants, sitting in the center gallery.

Ally and Beth had locked heads and decided on an upgraded dinner. There are a couple of restaurants onboard which feature food a bit different than the normal free and excellent fare in the dining halls. A bit more upscale.

And a helluva lot more pricey. At $15 a head as a cover charge, I was all set for this, believe you me.

The four of us (yes, still garbed in the finery) rolled into a steak house which screeched of high end living (I mean, the maitre Ďd was from Poland, and the waiter from Sicily. How could it not be the Bentley of onboard dining?) and were seated at a very nice table. They paraded, after the usual pause for effect, a cart full of raw steaks alongside for our perusal and were given a brief history of each cut and the animal from whence it came.

Ally kinda leaned into me at one point and whispered, ďMaybe you better get back there in the kitchen with these guys, you know how you are with steak.Ē I nodded gravely, and itís true. Steak prep is a art, one best practiced on a flaming drum grill set under a live oak tree, with a spatula at least a foot long and having a beer bottle opener conveniently cut into the flange, a series of marinades and spices racked up on the side table. Itís best to have ribeye, bought that very morning at the neighborhood grocer, a ribeye thicker and wider than a two by six, and charred until itís black on the outside and just barely pink in the center. Whipped onto a serving platter from Wal-Mart just as the sun set and hustled into the house at a rapid pace.

I figured these guys, surely, would grasp all of that.

But for all their European training and clipped Italian accents, they buggered it. They just barely grazed the charbroiling part of it, heaped some sort of mutant vegetable on top and called it good. And they didnít even plonk a dab of KC Masterpiece on the side!

Amateurs. Now that I know, my future job as chef in the cruise line steakhouse is in the bag.

But the dinner did get a smile out of the Eldest.

After all, we were on our way to Cozumel.

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