Thursday, November 30, 2006

Now Playing: Steamboy

The steampunk genre is an odd one to speak off. Either you get and love the idea of steam powered engines and magics in Victorian times or you toss it aside as poppycock. Rarely have I seen anything in between. So when I threw Steamboy into the queue I knew exactly what I was getting. What I didn't know or expect was just how much I would love it.

The film kicks off in the Artic circle where a team of explorers lead by an over-the-top old man and his son are hard at work trying to harness steam power. When their experiment goes wrong, the scene fades to black and we wind up in Manchester, England, sometime in the late 1800s. The world has changed and both Britain and America are neck-deep in the Industrial Revolution. Environmentalists who complain and moan about how poorly the current generation treats our atmosphere and oceans should collectively look back 100 years to see what happens when no regulations exist whatsoever.

Steamboy, to its credit, never once appears as though the film makers are standing on a soapbox moralizing to the audience about how wrong it is for industry to do what it does in service of pure profit. Nor does it speak out about how much better nature is when left alone rather than used to benefit man. Those elements are certainly there, don't misunderstand me, just as they are in most anime films. But the story is so well told and entertaining in its own right that the "messages" are simply shown rather than hammered into us (I'm looking at you Princess Mononokee).

The story picks up in Manchester and follows young Ray Steam, son and grandson of those guys in the Artic, who is a natural born inventor. He picked up the family gene for technology and can play with something and have it working better in no time flat. When he receives a package from his grandfather at the same time some mysterious men from a shadowy "institute" knock on his front door, the film becomes a literal race to the finish. One bravura action sequence after another follows and as character after character are introduced and the film makers throw marvel after marvel at the screen it takes your breath away.

One of the most annoying characters in the early going actually wound up being one of my favorites by the end. Ray's female equivalent is introduced early on as Miss Scarlett and she's a spoiled American heir to the "institute." She grates at first, but as things explode in the second half of the film her eyes are gradually opened as to what it is her company does. Her relationship with Ray results in some laugh out loud moments, particularly when she can't figure out why he as a boy won't willingly dance with her. It simply baffles her and I was rolling at her reactions.

Another thing Steamboy has going for it is the sense of humor. Far too often anime are weighed down under the combined mass of their "message" along with the sense of self-importance. Steamboy, on the other hand, has several gut laughs in store including the hilarious capper to a deadly serious monologue late in the film. I also was holding my sides at a big "reveal" of the true nature of something at the end, and it's to the film makers' credit that they never went for the cheap laugh at a moment of seriousness. The timing of the jokes is killer, and the quality of the jokes is equally killer.

Steamboy has tons of inventiveness going for it and the details alone in the various applications of steam-powered technologies demands repeat viewings. Steamboy is worth watching a second time not only for the world and its gadgets, but also for the humanity present in its main characters. It would be great to see additional stories in this universe in the future, but only time will tell whether we see the further adventures of Ray Steam and family.

Now that that's out of the way...

Now that The Cruise is finished, relatively regular updates should commence in earnest. Over the past few months I've reviewed several DVDs and have a few more stories to post so these should appear with a relative frequency. By "relative" I mean "better than every so often." I know every time I write something like "I hope to post more frequently" I always come off as lying about it so this time I'm really crossing my fingers and hoping.

We'll see how that shakes out.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Love Boat Saga - The Complete Saga

Whew. After several weeks, endless reams of Word documents, and about a thousand Dr. Peppers later The Love Boat Saga has reached its conclusion. As several readers of various internet blogs also subscribe to the theory of being lazy, which I certainly respect, I've consolidated the saga's posts, and relevant side posts, in one easy to reach, uh, post.

So make with the clicking if you haven't read The Love Boat The Complete Saga and see just what ordeals Yours Truly and My Fair Lady went through on our week-long trip to the Caribbean.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5 Part 1

Day 5 Part 2

We Interrupt This Program...

Day 6

The Finale Approaches

Day 7

Day 8

The Love Boat, Day 8

Day Eight began as Day One had ended: With Yours Truly and My Fair Lady staring out our window at Miami Harbor. The ship docked around 6 a.m. that morning and the unloading began in earnest shortly thereafter. Every night of a cruise your steward turns down the bed and leaves an information flyer on the following day’s activities. The night before we pulled into harbor, however, he left tickets showing what de-boarding group we were in sorted by color, what time we were scheduled to disembark, and other procedures we’d find necessary.

As opposed to just throwing our stuff overboard and making a swim for it. All things considered this would have been the quicker way to exit.

We were scheduled to leave by 9:30 a.m. so we managed to get ready by 8:30 a.m. Since we had an hour to kill we figured we could either go upstairs for one final breakfast or go stand in line. Our appetites won out but since we’d grown tired of running the stairs we opted for the elevators. It’s amazing what happens when a lot of people have already left the ship because the elevators came right to us. Up three levels we flew and away to the breakfast buffet we went.

We must have been the final ones there because while the pickings were far from slim, open places to sit were. In between the pancake and sliced ham buffets we added up what little money we had left and figured it wouldn’t be enough to buy a spot next to the window.
"But we can see Miami Harbor from our room," I whined. "Not to mention we’ll be spending today and tomorrow here."

"I want to see the ocean one last time," replied My Fair Lady. "Besides we’re not going back to our room so this is our last chance to see the water."

"You realize we’re spending the next two days on a peninsula, specifically in a hotel with an ocean view, right?"

"Hush you. Quick! A table just opened up!"
I slung a flapjack like a discus and landed it on the table she’d spied. It is a trick passed down through many generations of Skims but it’s all in the wrist. It helps if the flapjack is somewhat firmer than the fluffy ones I normally cook on Saturday mornings.

We ate in peace and watched as people finished their meals with a weary resignation, took a deep breath, then stood up and headed downstairs to disembark. A "back to the real world" feeling settled across the dining hall but it felt good to be back on land, or at least close to it. We casually finished our breakfast before we too succumbed to the fact that our cruise was at an end. We stood, smiled at one another, then picked up our things and headed back to the elevators.
"Which deck are we exiting from?" I asked.

"Well, it’s decks two and three but we should hit five first and see if we can’t get in line there," said My Fair Lady.
So we took the elevator to deck five and as we exited My Fair Lady snagged my arm and started pulling me away from where the stairs were. I turned my head and saw she was dragging us towards the picture store. Throughout the length of the trip, the cruise line had photographers everywhere. Just about anytime we went anywhere in the ship or stepped off it in port we found ourselves face to face with the flashing bulbs of the paparazzi.

Every picture taken found its way into this one shop and My Fair Lady waited until this exact moment to buy the ones she wanted. A few nights prior she had gone through and selected which ones she was “for sure” on and which ones she could go either way on. But right then and there was the hard deadline to make a decision and she wasn’t going to pass it by.

To be entirely fair to her, every other wife and girlfriend on board had pulled their husbands and boyfriends along at the exact same moment. The other men and I exchanged bemused looks as the women scattered in the store. My Fair Lady proved herself smarter than the average bear because when she was last in the store she had, in a rather clandestine maneuver, taken each one of our pictures and put them all in the same place on one shelf. As such, she went right to them, yanked them out, and put them in front of my face.
"Alright, choose," she said. "But choose wisely. Because while a great picture will bring eternal happiness, a bad picture will take it from us. Me in particular. And by 'me' I mean 'us.' So what do you think of this one?"
She then fanned the pictures in her hand in a move that would make a Vegas dealer proud.
"Uh, which one?" I asked.

"Any of them. We’re on the clock here, so get a move on."

"Well, I’m not too fond of that one," I said as I vaguely motioned to one.

"Good, I didn’t like that either."
We spent another minute or two going through the remaining pictures and settled on a handful. While at the counter we also picked up a copy of the "Cruise in Review" DVD, which I’m sure will see plenty of time in the home player whenever we host parties. If it had so much as a clip of My Fair Lady frying like bacon during The Quest, then it was worth every cent.

Once our account was settled with the photo store, we picked up our carry-on bags and headed to the stairs. We quickly found ourselves swallowed by an enormous, winding python of an escape line. We looked at one another and wondered aloud whether there might be another, saner escape vector. Bear in mind we were still on deck five at this point, and the line in question wound downstairs through the next two decks.
"What about the opposite end of the ship?" asked My Fair Lady. "Maybe people haven’t figured out that there are multiple ways off..."

"SHHHH!!!!" I hushed her. "Do you want to give out the recipe for the secret sauce too? Or maybe where Hoffa’s buried?"

"Well then, do you want to wait here or try something else?"

"Hey, I voted at the start to toss everything overboard and swim for it but someone, and I’m not naming names here, decided that was too 'risky,'" I said.

"Fine, you can stay here but I’m heading to the back of the ship to see what’s available. I’ll call you from the cab on the way to the hotel."
And here I thought hardheadedness ran in just my family.

We ducked out of the line and headed towards the back of the ship and after descending two decks found ourselves in a much smaller line that at least was looking at an exit. I counted maybe 25 people in front of us and My Fair Lady was properly satisfied. We started chatting up a few of the people around us who were equally as anxious to leave as we were. After waiting for a brisk 15 minutes the color group we belonged to, brown, was called so everyone started moving forward. One of the cruise members thanked us for traveling with them, briskly nodding at each and every one of us, and then we were out and into the maze.

The maze is a series of chutes designed to funnel large crowds through enough small corridors that it thins the chafe from the wheat, so to speak. Whoever is left by the end gets to go through customs while those who didn’t make it... well, the less said of those unfortunate souls the better. The line to exit customs defies description. Consider the size of a full cruise ship’s roster then filter everyone from that roster into two lines and put them in a long hallway.

After successfully navigating the maze, we found ourselves at the back of the right-hand line. I looked towards the front of the line and honestly couldn’t see it. We hoped we were in the good line, but as the one to the left started hustling forward while we remained stock still, it quickly became apparent that we had chosen poorly.

Twenty minutes later we had moved maybe 10 feet while people who had disembarked behind us but went to the left line were far ahead of us. Thirty minutes after that, we’d moved maybe another twenty feet when we heard our names from behind us. We turned and saw The Couple from LA waving at us, so we waved back. I made a motion like I was being hanged, which summed up our feelings on the situation in a single gesture.

Within the next half hour, The Couple From LA was neck and neck with us and collectively we’d finally moved within sight of the customs desk. By this point, the pain in our legs was growing after shifting from one foot to the other for almost two hours. Meanwhile, the left hand line continued moving consistently while our line moved in short spurts.

Once we were within earshot of the front we finally saw the cause for the hold up: The Homeland Security Wench. This over-inflated egotist would point at the people in the front of a given line then direct them to one of the five customs desks where they would check out. We’d filled out the declarations forms before disembarking and since we weren’t loaded down with Cuban cigars or crates of alcohol that, for the record, were only about 8% cheaper than at retail, we knew we’d breeze right past the customs desk... if we could just get there.

In the meantime, someone actually had the gravitas to call out Homeland Security Wench on her complete and utter failure to recognize there were, in fact, two lines of people who needed out.
"I’m keeping the lines even!" she bellowed.

I swear to God and all that is Holy I have no clue how this fool could look these long-suffering people square in the face and say she was keeping the lines even. Immediately after she said that, she waved on five more from the left-hand side including The Couple From LA who shrugged at us in slight embarrassment then headed on to check out. We waved them farewell before they disappeared behind a wave of bodies.

Homeland Security Wench continued to hold us up while the left line flowed freely. People at the front of our line started throwing fits of pure rage as this buffoon improperly controlled the flood gates. I know not where she learned the art of crowd control but I’m guessing she failed. Repeatedly.

This explains why she was working for the government.

Eventually, Homeland Security Wench remembered there was another line and started letting people go. There must have been several families standing right in front of us because the line practically vanished. The Wench held us up when we finally made it to the front, and naturally opened the left hand flood gate once more.
"How many in your party?" she asked them. "Five? Alright, you go. How many in your party? Four? Alright, head to that gate. YOU STAY THERE I’LL GET TO YOU SHORTLY!"
She bellowed that last directly at us. There is an endless list of things I hate about the government and government employees, but a ridiculous level of over-inflated self-worth is in my top five. This cast-iron wench was a textbook example of the worst sort of government employee and we just stood there taking it. We were so close to the end that I wasn’t about to screw things up by trying to drive a stake through her heart, fun though that may have been.

Despite the mental daggers My Fair Lady and I were sending her, she finally relented and pointed us towards one of the customs officials. We gritted our teeth and marched to the counter where we handed the man our forms.
"Do you have anything to declare?" asked Customs Official #1.

"No," we replied in unison.

"Do you have any tobacco products that you’re bringing back?"

"No," we replied in unison.

"Do you have an alcohol to declare?"

"No," we replied in unison.
Customs Official #1 looked up and stared us both in the eyes.
"What the hell were you two doing down there? Did you have any fun at all?"

"Plenty of fun was had, nothing was brought back," I said.

"Dude, you’re done. Get outta here."
With that he stamped our forms and shooed us away from his booth with a quick dismissal gesture. As we walked away we glared at each other.
"They need an express lane for people like us," My Fair Lady bitterly complained. "You know, people without booze, smokes, and other crap. How do they expect to get all that stuff on the plane anyways?"

"My guess is they either won’t, or they’re going to have to ship everything back via UPS or something," I replied. "Of course we could see people pounding bottle after bottle in the airport tomorrow which would be pretty funny."
Heading away from the debacle that is the Miami customs area, we made our way to the baggage claim which we found in full swing. Normally whenever we travel we get to the baggage area far ahead of our luggage but thanks to Homeland Security Wench we found our bags already dizzy from going 'round and 'round and 'round without us to rescue them. We picked them up, double-checked to ensure no one else had gone through our things, and then headed for the front door.

The doors parted, the Miami air assailed our nostrils, and we dragged our bags towards the cab area. We noticed several groups were slated to go on the next cruise because the matching uniforms were as far as the eye could see. Some Japanese schoolgirls walked by and were quickly followed by a Japanese basketball team. As we walked towards the cab we heard one of the dock workers shout at us.
"Hey, you can’t go over there for the cabs! That’s only for people coming onto to the ships!"
By this point, we were through being told what to do. Our pace was not even fazed as we hiked over the cabs and flagged one that had just unloaded his passengers. He barely got out of the front before we’d already thrown our luggage in the trunk and piled into the back.
"The Beacon Hotel," we said. "And for the love of God, get there as fast as possible."
To the man’s eternal credit, he knew when hostile passengers were in his cab. He stomped on the gas, the tires squealed as they peeled out, and we shot past the dock worker who was probably still shouting at us that we could only get in a pre-approved cab. Once we cleared the docks and hit the bridge going over the harbor, we looked back and saw business as usual continued on the cruise ships. Our cruise may have come to an end, but new faces were ready to sail the high seas over the next week. We smiled at each other then turned to look out the front of the cab and watched Miami get ever closer.
"How are you today?" the cabbie asked us in broken English. Looking at the name on his driver’s license I pegged him as Turkish.

"We’re good, better now actually," I replied. "We liked cruising, but it feels good being home."

"Very good then," said the cabbie. "What are you seeing while in town?"

"Oh, this and that," My Fair Lady said. "We staying on South Beach so we figured we’d hang out down there."

"Lots of fun down there, especially in ocean," said the cabbie. "Do you surf?"

"I body surf but could never stand on a board longer than about two seconds," I said. "As such, I think we’re just going to lie about for the day."
It took us about 20 minutes to get over to South Beach and as soon as we turned onto Ocean Drive I immediately freaked out. It was exactly like I was living in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and I’m not exaggerating. If you’ve played the game but never once been to South Beach, then let me assure you that Rockstar got the geography exactly right. While most people know the area from Scarface, I personally think the movie sucks so opt to defer to the game... which was more or less based on the movie.

When your head is through spinning from that explanation the rest of the story continues below.

The cab pulled up in front of The Beacon Hotel and we yanked out our bags and walked up to the front desk. Clerk Betty stepped up and welcomed us warmly. We confessed to being early and when she checked the list she found our room was two hours away from ready. She was nice enough to have our bags checked and since we couldn’t get into our room yet, we stepped out onto South Beach to explore for the first time.

If you’ve never been to Miami it simply floors you how bright the sky is. On a clear day you can see for miles, and it was very clear that day. The sand wasn’t what I’d call "white" so much as I would "covered with cigarette butts and miscellaneous grit." The water wasn’t much cleaner thanks to copious amounts of seaweed, but we still enjoyed looking at it all. It also helped that a good portion of the people on the beach were easy on the eyes and not wearing a whole heck of a lot. Hey, when you’re on the beach in Miami you either enjoy it or run from it screaming.
"Do you want to get in the water or lay out on the beach today?" My Fair Lady asked.

"I’d like to have a room to change clothes in first, but otherwise I’d be up for it."
We headed back to the Beacon, but instead of walking inside we opted to hang a right and walk down Ocean Drive. One thing that struck me as inspired was how each hotel had their restaurant outside on the sidewalk itself. Whenever you walk down the sidewalk there you will walk through about a dozen restaurants and most of them belong to a hotel. All of them have barkers who will try with all their might to put your butt in one of their seats, so consider yourself advised to come armed.

As we hiked down the sidewalk we looked at the various menus wondering what would constitute a solid meal for later that evening. We spied a few that looked better than the rest, and made mental notes to return for further review. Or at least I tried to make mental notes, but after walking past one restaurant that can best be described as "Hooters meets the Playboy Mansion" I had trouble focusing. I don’t recall the name of it, but oh man can I recall the, uh, menu.

My Fair Lady failed to see anything on the menu she found appetizing, funny enough.

We headed back to the hotel and Clerk Betty handed us our room keys. When we walked upstairs we found ourselves staring at a floor-to-ceiling picture of Al Pacino from Scarface, specifically the scene in the street immediately after the chainsaw incident, and I started laughing. The thought of Big Al walking through the hotel I was staying at filled me with a sense of awesome. Also, I had another flashback to the hotel your character owns at the beginning of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. These flashes would happen roughly every 15 minutes over the next day so whenever I talk about anything we saw in South Beach, just accept that I was also mentally driving around GTA: VC.

Our room screamed "Art Deco" which was appropriate considering the hotel was in the Art Deco district of Miami. Say what you will about the rest of the city, this district had its own vibe, its own unique spirit. A friend of mine’s family lives there and he has his own opinions on the positives and negatives of Miami, but South Beach has a wondrous flavor all its own. Thousands of people have come through and each of them has left their fingerprints on this area of the city. Combine the flavors of people with the rich, frequently vivid passions raging there through the decades, and South Beach swirls around you in a cloud of energy.

I won’t argue that things probably would have been easier had we been fluent in Spanish, but we managed to have fun walking around. A few streets up from Ocean Drive was a main thoroughfare where we saw a slew of high-end cars. I pass by a Ferrari/Maserati dealership every morning on the way to work and I used to marvel at the testers. Dallas isn’t home to as many Lamborghinis as we saw each day, though it truly pained me to watch them only driving 30 mph. A car like that shouldn't be allowed to go less than 75, which would make it awkward when dropping the kids off to school.
"Duck and roll, little Timmy, just like we practiced! The bruising and pain will fade in time. Trust me!"
After dropping off our bags, we suited out, liberated a pair of towels from the front office and headed across the street to the beach. Ocean Drive is a two lane road separating a row of hotels and restaurants from a giant sea of sand dunes. Inter-spersed in between every fourth dune or so was a path to the beach itself. My Fair Lady and I situated ourselves on the towels and actually laid on a beach for the first time on our vacation. The view of the Miami skyline and the crystal blue sky was the sort of view dreams are made of. We snacked on the gummy candies My Fair Lady brings on every trip, and watched the people walk to and fro as the ocean waves crashed in the background.

We sunned ourselves and enjoyed the sea breeze for close to two hours before clouds rolled in threatening rain. Maybe we were gun-shy coming back from the tropics, where rain storms came and went as fast as a person can sneeze, but we knocked the sand out of our towels as quickly as we could then busted our tails back to the hotel. We actually managed to cross the Beacon’s threshold before the rain hit. Seeing that it was approaching dinner, we decided to clean up and head out to eat in South Beach.

My Fair Lady looked stunning. She belonged in the vast ocean of fantastical beauty on display that evening. As we walked through the restaurants it became apparent how the people of South Beach treat everyone else. It is a see-and-be-seen environment, the very definition of overt narcissism which frankly I found hilarious. The menu which grabbed our attention belonged to the News Café and our table was right on the sidewalk. My Fair Lady ordered a Mojito, an object of desire on her mind since before the cruise began, and when it arrived promptly found another love of her life. I tasted it and my face rapidly contorted into its "anti-alcohol" look of disgust.
"Why even bother trying this when you know you’re going to hate it?" My Fair Lady asked.

"Because there’s always the chance I may find something I like," I replied. "You know, like tequila."

"I still can’t believe that for someone who hates the taste of alcohol that tequila is the one thing you liked."

"Neither can I but I still figure the shot of 151 I had before that burned out the inside of my mouth. At that point, I could have licked a tire and wouldn’t have noticed the flavor."
This, dear friends, is a story for another time.

Dinner was fantastic, and afterwards we walked the neon-lit streets of South Beach hand in hand. Sure, it sounds more than a little sappy but it was a solid capper to our first cruise together. We retired later that night to the Beacon only to hear people coming and going long past midnight. Apparently when we told Clerk Betty we’d like "a quiet room" she took that to mean "by the front door where we can hear everything." Foresight on our part resulted in us being well stocked on books for the trip so we managed plenty of reading that night, though around 2 a.m. words sort of blended together. The good news was that was when everything quieted down in the hotel and we blacked out.

The following morning we had a massive breakfast outside, because the chefs along Ocean Drive apparently don’t subscribe to the South Beach Diet ironically enough, then hailed a cab and returned to the Miami airport. Thank you for coming along with us through these exhaustive blog posts, wordy though they are, and for hounding me on cranking them out. Funny enough, these have given me an extensive creative work-out in terms of writing what has essentially turned out to be a novella and for that alone this trip was worth while. My thanks also to the many people we met along the way who helped us enjoy the journey to its fullest.

Thanks for the memories.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Love Boat, Day 7

The Final Cruise Day with Our Intrepid Explorers Began Like Any Other...

Wake up/Shower/Breakfast in the cafe upstairs.

On this final day of the cruise we were due into the port of Nassau in the Bahamas. My Fair Lady and her sister (whose nickname is pending) went there as part of a band trip 20 years ago and there was one thing in particular she wanted to check out.
My Fair Lady: "There's this straw market that I want to check out. I need to see if it's still there because you can buy all sorts of funky things there."

Yours Truly: "What sort of funky things?"

My Fair Lady: "You know, funky things! Made of straw!"
My mind boggled at the thought of wonderous funky things made of straw.

Since we were so exhausted from the previous evening we had slept in and missed the majority of the morning. After breakfast we had exactly enough time to go up on deck and watch as Nassau came into view.

The cruise ship came into the port of Nassau and the first thing we noticed was how the jetty was man-made. There were large blocks of cement unceremoniously dumped into the ocean thus extending the actual "land". At a guess this was to make sure ships had enough room to swing out from the port before docking. Our vessel was one of three in port so we held on as the ship did a complete 180-degree turn then backed into the dock.

One can only imagine the size of the rear-view mirror for such a task. I wonder if it says, "Objects really are as small as they appear."

After docking, we disembarked on our final land excursion and walked through the primary gates. When you get off the cruise ship in Nassau they funnel you through this building in the port that has a series of shops and musicians all vying for your attention (i.e. dollars). Walk out the front door and you're on the main drag staring at a row of shops and restaurants. Since the weather was overcast and slightly rainy we ducked into the nearest Starbucks so My Fair Lady could top off on coffee.

To say the local Starbucks was popular with the touristas would be grossly understating the situation. There were so many people crammed into such a tiny space that hindsight makes me realize I should have taken it as a sign. My Fair Lady wasn't so much served her coffee and she barely escaped with it and her life. Sadly, the foam sacrificed itself so we could make it out.

Vaya con Dios, Le Foam.

Once on the street we ran into Seattle Sue and The Barbequer so we chatted them up. They decided to head off and explore while we walked into a local grocery in another vein attempt to procure some form of anti-sinus meds for Yours Truly. Fortunately I did snag a Coke so at least I'd have my own sugar buzz going for the next hour. after returning to the street, but not in a hip-hop way, My Fair Lady spied the infamous Straw Market and pulled me along with her. She kept gabbing about how it was so great and clean and organised when she was last here.

When we arrived at the Straw Market it became immediately apparent to us that time had not been kind to it.

Imagine a giant tent covering a three-ring circus. Now take out all the animals and replace them with row upon row upon row of cheap designer knock-offs. Then cram roughly 2,000 people into it and have at least a third be surly locals who don't want to be there selling this junk to touristas like us.

Ahh, paradise.

We entered the Carnivale fully expecting to see a few midgets and a bearded lady hawking purses. If Brother Justin Crowe had shown up I wouldn't have been surprised.

Obscure HBO show reference for the win.

The heat and humidity of Nassau seemed especially suffocating in that tent which wasn't all that surprising. With so many bodies crammed into such a tight area the barometer will only climb higher. After roughly 10 minutes of looking around, My Fair Lady started having a minor freak out and looked desperately for the exit. She practically spun around and a local asked her if she could help.
"I'm just looking for a way out!" My Fair Lady practically shouted. The woman pointed at a gap in the tent that was to our left.

"There's the door, honey, no one's stoppin' you," the woman casually replied in her rolling Bahaman accent.
My Fair Lady practically lept out the exit while I nodded at the woman before stepping out of the tent. Once we took in enough air to recuperate, we walked around downtown some more. We found an outcropping on one street that looked like a pirate museum which we confirmed upon arrival. The woman who stepped out to greet us was dressed like she just came home from the Pirates of the Caribbean shoot.
"Greetings one and all and welcome to the pirate museum of Nassau!" she bellowed. "Come in and see how the fearsome pirates of the day lived and died and plundered and murdered!"
Now say all that with a reggae lilt in your voice, then apply that to every one in the story who's not us and you'll hear things as we did.

We bought our tickets and walked into the museum and quickly found it to be a rustic dive. The museum honestly looked cheap and touristy, but if you let your imagination run rampant as I did then it's a fun way to spend an hour. There were enough historical factoids on the walls to fill my mental treasure chest, and I kept kicking myself for partly reading Under the Black Flag and never finishing it. I swear when I finish my current book I'm going to hit that one. Maybe after my next one. And now, back to the swashbuckling...

Once we finished with the self-guided tour, we found ourselves in the gift shop where I considered buying a few things but ultimately opted against them. Instead, we sat down at one of the tables and ordered some nachos and Cokes. The nachos, expensive buggers though they were, came out as little more than a bunch of chips covered in local queso. For whatever reason, I was expecting a little more but I will give them the edge in power. Those things were so dang spicy my head liked to have blown off.

Fortunately it had started raining outside by this point so the temperature was dropping. We waiting long enough for the rains to die down a bit before heading back out. We decided to keep the cruise ships to our backs and head inland to see what was around, so off we went. Imagine hiking through a city built on the side of a cliff with all manner of streets as wide as the average desk and you'll do well to remember hiking boots in such a situation. Up one hill and over the next we went before reaching what appeared to be the main thoroughfare of that part of the island.

It was a single lane road down which cars were stacked bumper to bumper, and this road wound around a steep bend and down a hill. Naturally, people walked right next to the cars as there was no clearly defined sidewalk so we joined the fun. My Fair Lady grew increasingly nervous as we hiked down the hill but no cars came close to clipping us. We walked past a school that was letting out which explained the majority of the cars, and for whatever reason I found it enlightning that they wore uniforms. The boys all wore ties, white shirts, and slacks while the girls all wore red and white plaid skirts with white shirts.

The trees surrounding this area were enormous, ancient monsters that stretched towards the sky and back towards the earth all at the same time. Their branchs went out in all directions, and stepping over the broken areas of the sidewalk where the roots had punched through became a form of exercise all by itself.

Since we didn't see anything of further interest, we walked around the school and headed back downtown again. The goal this time was less oriented towards shopping and more oriented towards finding some place with air conditioning where we could cool down for 10 minutes. As we migrated along the shopping district, we found our way into a Nicole Miller store that blasted the AC so fiercely we could feel it from the street.
"AIR!" cried out My Fair Lady.
Like Speed Gonzales, all I saw was a puff of smoke where she used to be. Hopefully the store won't bill us for the My Fair Lady-shaped cut-out currently punched through Nicole Miller's front door.

Once we cooled off and could feel our legs again, we went outside and hailed a cab. We had heard about the Atlantis Resort and Casino but since we figured it was a complete tourist trap we weren't as inclined to check it out. When we looked at our watches we saw we didn't have that much time and basically said, "Why not?" Off to Atlantis we went.

For those of you who have never been to Las Vegas, the size of each individual casino/resort is daunting. I advise anyone who goes out there expecting to win their fortune at the tables step outside and look straight up. The House didn't build that because they lose consistently.

The Atlantis resort was massive. It's a sprawling mega-plex that covers acre upon acre of land and stands in stark contrast to the bleak, almost Third World levels of poverty and decay we saw on the interior of the island not five miles away. For the record, the people we met on the interior of Nassau around the school could not have been nicer or more polite, but the conditions surrounding that location resembled slums.

By comparison, Atlantis was a shining becon of excess and we walked into it out of sheer morbid curiosity. Everything was plush and decadent, but the true attraction for us was the aquarium. Ringing the entire resort was a salt water aquarium housing all manner of sea life. We walked downstairs into the main foray and stood stock still as we starred agog at the size of these animals. A giant manta ray casually swam by with half a dozen fish under each, uh, wing. According to the staff, this monster was over six feet across and the glass was not meant to make things appear larger than they actually were.

Before heading into the exhibit we swung by the gift shop on the off chance they had medicine. Low and behold they had DayQuill available, so I snagged a small box and flew to the men's room. After popping my pills I found My Fair Lady and we bumped into Seattle Sue and The Barbequer. Both extolled at length the joys of the aquarium, and insisted we journey through it. We assured them we were about to, and as they parted to head back to the ship we set sail towards the aquarium.

My Fair Lady and I differ in many ways, but one of the primary ones is my love of water. She swears I'm part fish because I can, and will, jump into any body of water and immediately take to it. Conversely, put the two of us on a mountain top and she'll fly down it at full speed while I'm left standing there wondering how best to get down without plowing into a tree. Or several. When we were on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia back in 2002, she sat on the beach while I saw. Backstroking on the water while having a school of fish following me ranks as one of the great pleasures of my life, but that's a story for another time.

The short of it is I like water while she prefers land. Such is the balance of life.

/end philosophical ramblings

We walked through the exhibit which was cleverly designed to resemble an archaeological dig in the fabled city of Atlantis. There were all manner of Atlantean designed diving suits right next to faux hieroglyphics which must have told of ancient battles and great explorations of the sea. Very crafty design on the part of the hotel.

The aquarium itself stretches all along the interior of the exhibit so as you stroll through the belly of the massive hotel you see all manner of marine life. The size of the lobsters alone guarantee that patrons of the diner upstairs would not leave hungry. We took several pictures to illustrate the size of these animals, one of which is Yours Truly kneeling by a tank with two fish behind me that are each the size of my torso.

Across. Length-wise they're almost as long as I am tall.

After roughly an hour or so of wandering through looking at everything we found ourselves outside looking at the other end of the exhibit. In between us? A lot of water that looked very, very dangerous.
"I bet we could swim it," I challenged.

"Oh no you couldn't," replied My Fair Lady.

"Yeah, I think I could. Look it's not that far and... is that a fin?"
We walked to the edge and looked out over the water and sure enough, fin after fin broke the calm surface. Looking just beneath said surface we could see about a half dozen very big sharks circling.
"You still think you can swim it, big guy?" My Fair Lady challenged.

"With that sort of an incentive I wouldn't be swimming. I'd be running."
We also looked to the right of where the sharks were swimming and noticed a bridge. On the other side of the bridge? Families swimming in a pool.
"Someone clearly didn't think things through," I said. "Either that or they have a mean streak a mile wide."
We walked around the complex and found the remaining portion of the exhibit: The Sharks. If you're in the Atlantis, then on the far edge of the aquarium is what looks like a massive hut covering a bar. This somehow manages to be both misleading and spot-on because when you walk into the bar, you actually go down stairs in the middle of it and that's where the rest of the exhibit is. We walked around down there marvelling at how enormous so many of these creatures were, and again marvelled at the thought of putting schools of huge fish in the same tanks as them.

As we walked back out of this on the other side, we walked across a rope bridge and came to a small area overlooking yet another pool. A sign near-by advised that the water wasn't safe for swimming, but any enterprising four-year-old could easily climb over the wall and take a dip. Unfortunately, they'd be taking a dip with the three hammerhead sharks that hang out on the shoreline. When I say "hang out on the shoreline" I mean exactly that. We watched as this massive dorsal fin broke through the water and kept going higher, and saw the shark come in so close to the shore he may as well have climbed out and had himself a suntan.
"Candy gram," I whispered. My Fair Lady stared at me blankly.
Sometimes I feel old.

We walked across the remaining bridges and found our way back at the hotel and casino. We cut through the casino just to get one last dose of AC before heading back to the ship. Once out the front door we hailed a cabbie who was kind enough to drop us right at the dock entrance. Everyone on our ship and the others moored there were leaving at the same time so we merged into the throngs and went back through the welcoming offices, now devoid of merchants and their wares. We talked briefly with some other passengers who also spent time at the Atlantis before climbing back on the ship and making our way to the cabin for some much needed showers.

After cleaning up, we ran the stairs up to the top deck and hung out on the balcony watching the ship pull away from the dock. This was to be our last stop on this fateful voyage prior to pulling into the port of Miami, and it was an alright way to close out our adventures. I find myself in no way anxious to return to Nassau, but I can certainly justify the experience by saying I've been. My Fair Lady was of similar feelings regarding the island, and as she leaned back against me we casually watched the sun recede behind the red and purple-hued clouds as the ship was gently rocked by the sea.

Following this romantic interlude we headed back to the cabin to ready ourselves for the final dinner. As we walked down the hallway towards our room, I ran into the back of My Fair Lady who stood stock still.
"What's up?" I asked.

"Holy crap!" she exclaimed.
I looked over her shoulder and saw that the room next to us and the two across from us had already packed their luggage up and were ready to de-board in the morning. How could we tell?

Everything was alreayd lined up and tagged in the hallway. My Fair Lady spun to look me in the eyes.
"Were we supposed to have this done already?" she cried out in terror.

"I've been on exactly one cruise, counting this one, so I'm probably not the best person to quiz on the subject," I answered.
This was apparently not the answer she sought. She whipped back around and spotted our steward. She grabbed his arm and assailed him with a flurry of questions. I barely got half of what she said but considering how fast this man natively spoke I'm sure he had all the answers before she finished.
"No worries there, simply get everything out and ready to go before midnight and you will be fine," he assured us.
My Fair Lady looked visibily relieved. We went back into the cabin and started prepping for dinner.

By "prepping for dinner" I mean I laid on the bed watching some old black and white war movie starring James Coburn and James Garner while she decked herself out.

Once My Fair Lady was properly coifed, we headed downstairs to the dining room. As we walked in, we were greeted by the boisterous sounds of… an empty hall. For whatever reason, whenever we showed up at the hall we were usually in the first 10 people to arrive. Keep in mind the hall was three floors tall so we routinely felt a little lonely at the start. Our Man Mauricio was quick as always in welcoming us.
"We have a special surprise for you tonight," he said with his ever-present smile firmly in place. "We’re going to take a' good care of you all tonight and this is something you’re really going to enjoy."

"Thank you, sir, we're looking forward to it," I replied.

"That lobster the other night was fabulous," commented My Fair Lady.

"We aim to please, milady," said Our Man Mauricio.
He then whisked away to the kitchen. But in a manly fashion, just so we’re clear.

People started filtering in and from the looks of things the wait staff would soon have their hands full. Say what you will about the benefits of the Early Bird Special, it struck me that most everyone on the cruise had reserved a spot at the late dinner. So much the better for the multiple layers of servers all due their tips that evening.

Quick Digression Time™. The wait staff on board a cruise is comprised of a multi-tier hierarchy. You have the Head Waiter, the Servers, and three or four people in between. When it comes to the tipping situation, you have the choice to pre-pay or pay-as-you-go. We opted to pre-pay so everything we’d normally cough up would instead be tacked on to the final bill. That being said, I would honestly argue the merit of 15% going to three people who showed up at the start of each dinner to say hi, then vanish for the remainder of the evening while Our Man Mauricio busted his tail all by himself. For the record, this guy deserved a 30% tip MINIMUM while those other fools deserved exactly nada. But that’s just me.

Regardless of the tipping situation, once the rest of the gang arrived Our Man Mauricio proceeded to treat us as though we were the lords of all creation. One course after another soon arrived and fortunately everything was staggered out just far enough so no "stacking" occurred. My Fair Lady gets a twitch in her eye whenever courses are "stacked" one on top of the other. I’ve yet to see her Hulk Out™ but she’s come close on a number of occasions. Our Man Mauricio proved himself a professional that final evening, just as he had the previous nights, and delivered nothing short of five star service.

Somewhere before the dessert course, we noticed a sudden calm fall over the dining hall. Every waiter and servant stepped away from their respective tables in unison and began filing out. We didn’t think much of it at the time, though the thought of mass poisoning did fly through my head before exiting just as quickly, so engrossed were we in our conversations. Then the lights dimmed and the hum of a loudspeaker kicked in.
"May I have everyone’s attention please?" rang out a voice from above.
We looked up but didn’t see anything, then glanced to our left and saw Iron Chef Caribbean standing off to the side. Clever trick being able to throw his voice via PA system. The hall quieted down as Iron Chef Caribbean stepped out of the shadows and held everyone’s rapt attention.
"We have a special treat for all of you tonight," he said, echoing Our Man Mauricio’s sentiment from earlier. "On this cruise line, we strive to present an unparalled dining experience each and every evening, and this week has been no different. But tonight... tonight we present to you your servers and dining guides for this past week. These are the people who make this trip as enjoyable, and the meals as wonderful, as they are. Everyone please welcome the people who have made these meals for you!"
With that, Iron Chef Caribbean stepped aside, techno music swirled down through the rafters, and every server on the ship strode forth clapping in time. They marched in en masse around the hall one after the other and down the three flights of stairs and into the main hall. After circling around all of us, who applauded their expertise the entire time, they marched up the stairs and stood before us in the presentation of the dining staff. It was our turn as patrons to stand as one and applaud the top-notch service performed by the staff. Fortunately for us, Our Man Mauricio was close by and he heard us shouting his name. He turned and waved to us as we all took his picture.

Iron Chef Caribbean took this moment to say a few more words but by this point I had tuned him out. We hadn’t been served dessert yet, and that ice cream was dang tasty. As such, I wanted said presentation and recognition of the wait staff over so they could resume serving me my dang tasty ice cream. Good thing for my stomach that the final words were short, then everyone went back to what they were doing.

During the meal, My Fair Lady and I spoke with our fellow companions about our cruise experiences and reminisced deeply over the past few days. We spoke at such length that come 11 p.m. w were still chatting like there was no tomorrow... which technically there wasn’t. This was truly the end of our trip and we all wanted to snatch every last second we could before bidding a final adieu to one another. We collectively realized at 11:15 p.m. that we were all monumentally screwed if we didn’t split up right then and there and fly back to our rooms to commence with the packing. Our Man Mauricio took a few group pictures of us then we made with the e-mail exchange list, each vowing to stay in touch with the others. As it stands, My Fair Lady and I are due in Seattle next summer for her cousin’s wedding so we might drop in on The Barbequer and Seattle Sue at the very least.

Once the good-byes were said and done, we sprinted to our room. According to the clock, we had roughly half an hour to pack up two suitcases worth of stuff between us, not to mention all the collectibles we’d accrued during the trip.
"Can you imagine what things would be like if we actually bought a lot of stuff for everyone?" asked My Fair Lady. "We’d be screwed!"

"We still could be if we don’t stop gabbing and make with the packing," I said. "You like what I did there? I made a little rhyme. Aren’t I the funny?"

"Only when you try harder than rhyming ing with ing."

What we did over the next half hour wouldn’t normally be called "packing" so much as it would be called "throw as much stuff as possible into the bags, jump on 'em and hope everything fits." It’s amazing how quickly two people can strip down a room and pack everything in sight into two suitcases when under a time crunch. Lucky for us we’d already disposed of the bodies otherwise we’d have had a crisis on our hands.

Without warning we heard a loud thud in the hallway outside. We froze and stared at each other.
"Are they on to us?" I asked.

"They can’t be," My Fair Lady replied. "Check it out, I’ll cover you!"
I leapt to the door, threw it open and looked down the hall. Nothing but suitcases lined the walls with nary a courier in sight. I looked the other way and my heart seized.

They were coming.

I quickly calculated how fast they were moving versus their proximity to us and concluded we had another 10 minutes at best. I spun to find My Fair Lady’s expectant eyes burning into mine.
"We’ve got another five minutes, hurry!" I shouted.
It should be noted that my philosophy when in a rush is to cut people’s time to complete a task in half. That way when they accomplish it, they have at least a minute or two to double-check their work. For whatever reason, this works nine times out of ten. Try it some time on your significant other and enjoy the fireworks!

As the clock counted down, we rapidly flew around the cabin. Everything that could go into t6he suitcases found its way in and with a final body slam for each of them, we were able to get the zippers zipped up and the locks in place. My Fair Lady threw open the door then ducked as I hurled our bags over her head and out into the hall. The suitcases rebounded off the wall adjacent to us and landed against our cabin wall standing straight and ready for pick up by the couriers.


As My Fair Lady shut the door, the couriers started snagging the bags in our section of the hall and began taking them downstairs. We looked at the clock and saw it was 11:59 p.m. with five seconds to midnight.

I believe in finishing with time to spare, baby.

We quickly prepped everything we’d take off the ship with us when we de-boarded that morning then passed out shortly after midnight. We figured we’d be exhausted in Miami the next day but it didn’t matter. We’d be on American soil for the first time in a week and we both could hardly wait.

As it turns out, waiting was only the beginning.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Finale Approaches...

I swear to God that I'm working on Days 7 and 8 of the cruise saga. To say the least there's been a lot of things going on the past few weeks, ergo the lack of updates. But Day 7 should up in the next day or so and worst case Day 8 will be published later this week around Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, here's a cute picture to tide you over. And by "cute" I mean "funny in a disturbing sort of way."

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The Love Boat, Day 6

We return you to your irregularly scheduled edition of "The Love Boat" already in progress...

... the perfect days to sleep in are the ones where you know ahead of time that you won't be doing anything spectacular. Or the ones where you know you're completely trapped in your surroundings and can't leave, ergo you just have to cope.

Welcome to Day 6 and the continuing adventures of My Fair Lady and Yours Truly as we navigated the Caribbean...

Following the excitement of Day 5 and the midnight buffet, neither of us could move in our bed until almost 11 a.m. that morning. When we finally staggered out of bed we found our inability to function coherently was probably a sign the vacation was starting to wear on us. Either that or someone must have laced the chocolate-covered strawberries from the buffet with knockout drugs.

So what was left for us to do all day on the ship? We decided to simply walk around and see what sort of trouble we could get in to. Our first stop was the top of the ship back behind Johnny Rockets because we figured another round of miniature golf would be more fun without all the wind that plagued our previous match. So guess what we find the second we get upstairs?

A full-on gale blasting away. Round Two of Extreme Mini-Golf commenced forthwith.

We snatched up our putters, grabbed our balls then started swinging. You actually get more of a work-out while putting in high wind because the balls just fly everywhere. Playing with the wind mostly benefits the stellar tactician since you can bank a shot then watch the force of the gale slow the ball's acceleration right when you need it most.

Which is naturally the moment the wind would stop blowing altogether.

Meanwhile God sits atop His throne and says, "Uh-uh dude, I'll help for the big things in life but when it comes to mini-golf you're on your own."

After devoting far too much time to chasing errant golf balls, we opted to try out the rock climbing wall again. On a previous day, I honestly forget which, I scaled it so quickly that the instructor below stopped telling me which rungs to grab and just kept my safety rope secure. My Fair Lady tried that same day but was unable to ring the bell at the top. She had, in her words, only one reason for returning to the obstacle that thwarted her vacation:


She was determined to ring that bell come hell or high water so again she strapped on the helmet, the safety harness and the shoes and stood in line. When it was her turn, she hurled herself against the rock wall and proceeded to climb. The instructor below gave her suggestions, some good, some not so much, and My Fair Lady's resolve kept her focus honed on the bell. Higher and higher she steadily climbed working with the wall's different facets, not against them as she had during her previous attempt. One hand went over the other while her feet were each firmly planted on ever higher outcroppings until the bell was within her reach. She stretched forth her hand, grasped the small rope line hanging from the bell, and rang it as hard as she could.


Admittedly, it was a cheap bell no one would think belonged at Notre Dame. But My Fair Lady's roar of triumph over the previously insurmountable wall was unmistakable as she leaned off the wall and was lowered down by the instructor. She jumped with excitement as soon as her feet were back on the deck, and I walked over and congratulated her with a big hug.

"I did it!" she exclaimed. "I just kept my focus, put one hand over the other, listened to what the instructor said, and got to ring that bell! Whoo-hoo!"

She did her patented victory dance/hop then it was time to head out to the rest of the ship. We walked back towards the pool deck and arrived there just in time to witness the start of the Belly Flop Competition. The crowds were already gathering so we managed to snake our way through the throngs of admirers and stand close to the pool. Looking down we noticed The Barbequer and Seattle Sue sitting on the edge of the pool equally anxious for the flopping to begin. We exchanged friendly waves then the crowd went silent.

The Cruise Director stepped forth and asked if we were ready to see some flopping. The roar of approval carried to the heavens and without further ado the participants stepped forth. Each of the guys who took to the pool edge were in ever-increasing weight classes until Big Dave took the stage and made everyone else irrelevant. He took a few steps, lined up with the edge of the pool, leapt into the air and came down on the water with a thundering splash. When one achieves a truly epic cannonball or belly flop, there's a split second pause from when the water underneath the body is pushed down to when the water explodes up in the air.

Somehow Dave's pre-splash lasted five seconds. All of us had time to shout, "Oh holy crap!" before the pool exploded in the air in a mushroom cloud of salt water. When we could see again the majority gave him top marks. Those who didn't were angry about being blinded by all the water so gave him a score of one.

I'll let you guess as to which finger they used.

Even though Dave was the foregone conclusion as winner another contestant stepped up. I honestly thought it was a joke at first because the man, aka The Scotland Twig, was an older gentleman made of nothing more than skin and bones. Here's a basic analogy for you - Day:Night::Big Dave:The Scotland Twig. The Scotland Twig gets ready to go, rubs some cold water over his bones then opens his shorts and drops cold water down them. This was to ensure those of us who hadn't already been blinded by him with his shirt off voluntarily gouged their eyes out before he jumped.

He leaped and splatted down with a small splash. Complimentary applause went around the pool. The final scores were announced and Big Dave was declared Victor Supreme.

Next on the "To Do" agenda for the day was to hit the "Bingo" match down in the theater. In case I haven't come off as an old person before now, I voluntarily went to play bingo with My Fair Lady. Whoo-hoo.

The theater filled up pretty quickly and after we'd been situated for a while we saw Seattle Sue enter. We waved her over and she hunkered down next to My Fair Lady and the two of them began chatting up a storm. Chita Rivera quickly took to the stage and rattled off how paying attention would pay the big monies in BINGO. Somehow those words were always capitalized whenever she spoke so shall they remain in this blog.

If nothing else, I aim to provide an accurate translation of foreign languages.

There was a big scoreboard up on the stage and Chita Rivera pointed to it noting how it formed several different patterns. We had to match up the cards we purchased prior to the event with the corresponding patterns on the board. Once accomplished, we shout BINGO. To give her and the audience a heads-up we needed to actually stand up when we were one or two squares away from the requisite BINGO. So began the elusive quest for the right sequence of numbers.

Chita Rivera's energy was all over the stage as she rattled off numbers in her exquisitely elegant accent. We burned through our cards one after the other never coming close enough to hit BINGO. Seattle Sue and My Fair Lady continued to laugh and giggle and chitchat their way through the contest. Meanwhile, I was grateful to years of web surfing because I soon realized I could quickly scan each card if I was looking for something specific. I like to take my time reading a novel but when it comes to finding specific information in a sea of letters and numbers my brain automatically does a CTRL-F and goes on the hunt.

Basically I played BINGO while the two of them chatted and occasionally played BINGO.

When it came down to the final cards, Chita Rivera told us that we needed to fill in the entire card. It would have been in our best interest had she not focused on two specific lines for most of the contest, but we had fun nonetheless. We came down to needing two squares before someone shouted "BINGO!" so our spirits were crushed. To soothe our wounded souls, we walked over to the pastry shop on Deck 5 and had some snacks.

When in doubt, pizza + pastries = good times.

After grabbing a snack it was time for the ice show My Fair Lady bought tickets to the first day of the cruise. We get down to the theater and are all set to go in when the following conversation begins:
MFL: This is going to be so much fun! Did you grab the tickets?

Yours Truly: Uh, I thought you had them.

MFL: No I was sure you grabbed them off the...

*audible gasp*

Yours Truly: They're sitting on the counter, aren't they?

MFL: Can you run and get them?

Yours Truly: Five flights of stairs, down to the other end of the ship and back again inside of five minutes? Not sure, but damn that sounds like a challenge.
And away I ran like a flash up one flight of stairs after another. By around deck six I started seeing spots and by the time I hit deck eight I was gasping for air. Undeterred I bolted down the hallway essentially betting my soul there weren't any cleaning crews in the way. I stopped at our room, threw open the door, snatched the tickets off the counter, took a deep breath, then raced back down the hall and flew down the many stairs to land by My Fair Lady's side as she returned from the restroom. Final time? Exactly 4:45.

Lance Armstrong can kiss my foot.

We quickly found our seats and I immediately started cooling down. I chose to sit on the aisle so my body odor would only befoul a woman accustomed to it, and not some unforgiving stranger. We ordered Cokes from the bar and after pounding two of them I regained enough of my vision to see the show. Then the lights dimmed even further and I realized I wasn't going blind. It was the show producer screwing with me.

Yes, I believe he was targeting me specifically. Now leave me to my paranoia and read on.

If you've ever been to an Ice Capades then cut three quarters of the ice rink off and plant what's left in the bow of a ship. Then surround it with colored strobe lights and deafening techno music and that's a rough approximation of how hot "Ice Dancin'" appeared to me. The dancers hit the ice and My Fair Lady's excitement went through the roof. The lights swirled around the audience and across the ice, the colors danced over everyone and everything, and people started leaping across the frozen floor.

Meanwhile, my mental DVD player threw on Once Upon a Time in the West.

I was through the opening at the train station when I mentally hit pause. The star of "Ice Dancin'" stepped out and if I do say so she was so hot I'm surprised the floor wasn't melting. She and others continued their dancin' while I leaned over to My Fair Lady and complained there wasn't enough hockey to keep me interested.

Oh, that I would be careful of what I wished for.

Immediately after the words left my mouth, Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" queued up and the cast changed into a hockey wardrobe with the scorching hot lead as the puck. They went through their dance number for a while and I was marginally entertained. As they started winding down I unpaused the movie in my head and zoned back out. This last all of three seconds as the next song on the floor kicked in. It was the famed cover of "Roxanne" from the tremendous Moulin Rouge and my attention immediately went back to the floor.

The scorching hot lead and her male partner began a routine that eventually culminated in her spinning like an out-of-control top while hanging off his chest. It's difficult to accurately describe it but somehow she was spinning like the Tazmanian Devil and about two inches from this guy's face. The afternoon would have ended very differently had a rogue wave struck the ship at that exact moment.

Several other performances hit the ice over the course of the next hour but that one routine was the one that stuck with me. Overall, it was a moderately entertaining show and My Fair Lady was sufficiently pleased. Had there been more hockey and/or some fighting thrown in I think I might have found more to recommend.

With this show completed it was time to hit the cabin and prep for dinner. We were going to miss our compatriots that night because we chose to make a 7 p.m. dinner reservation with the Italian restaurant Portofino's instead. Reportedly this place had primo steak, Italian, and seafood so we scheduled our reservation earlier that week for this evening. After plenty of showering and prepping in the room, we headed upstairs and found our way to the steak place.

Once inside we were, frankly, stunned as to how good the service was. My Fair Lady is heavily against the practice of "stacking," i.e. immediately bringing out the next dish after a patron finishes their first, and not only was the practice nowhere to be found, but if one person was finished yet the other wasn't then the server waited to clean the table until both parties were ready.

It's indicative of how poor the service industry is in our society when these simple things make us marvel.

As for the meal itself, it was nine slices of Heaven. The appetizer was amazing, and soup was fantastic, and the entree was some of the best fish I've ever tasted. My Fair Lady's meal was equally wondrous. We also got to know the couple sitting next to us. They were a couple from Boston celebrating an anniversary, if memory serves me well, and there were about as nice as you could find. It was a fantastic dining experience all around.

Following the dinner neither of us were able to walk so much as waddle so we opted to go sit in the hot tub up on deck. It amazed me how packed the pools and saunas were during the day, yet at night no one was in sight. As it turns out, sitting in a hot tub immediately after a massive meal aids in digestion. I guess it makes sense when you say it out loud, but after 15 minutes in the hot tub I could actually move without fear of passing out. We hung out on deck for an hour or so alternating between the hot tub and the pool where I taught My Fair Lady a few basic swimming lessons. Apparently they don't have much in the way of water out in Lubbock so she never took to water the same way I did. It was a fun and slightly romantic way to spend the evening.

Following our swims we swung by the nightclub lounge to catch the final part of a "Men Vs. Women Trivia Challenge" then retired for the evening. The next day we'd pull into Nassau and the day after we'd finally be back in Miami. By this point, I don't think I was the only one ready to be done with the ship.

Friday, November 3, 2006

We Interrupt This Program...

I realize I still haven't posted the remainder of our adventures on the cruise but writing this simple saga has turned from a blog series into a novel. I'm averaging six to seven pages per post so it's taking quite a bit longer to complete than I initially figured it would. All that aside I have several reviews and commentaries stacking up that I don't want to post in the middle of the story. Once "The Love Boat Saga" is completed I'll post everything else I've done in the meantime which should keep the content flowing for a while.

But this was too good not post immediately.

My Fair Lady called me up in the middle of the afternoon yesterday. She was anxiously awaiting the bar results for the past month so much so she'd spent the previous day hitting "refresh" repeatedly while on the state bar's website. Her call goes something like this:

MFL: "Hi, it's me. Results are out."

Yours Truly: "Okay, so what are they?"

MFL: "I haven't clicked yet. I want you on the phone with me. You ready?"

Yours Truly: *yawn* "Sure thing."

There's a brief pause on the other end of the phone followed by the sound of gasping then a slight weeping.

Yours Truly: "Hon?"

MFL: "I passed..."

We went out and partied last night which is why I haven't posted this until now. If you live in the Dallas area I highly recommend Coal Vines, a pizza/wine bar just north of downtown. Fantastic pizza and plenty of wine which My Fair Lady enjoyed plenty of.

Our respective families now have an attorney in the bloodlines. She is the first of these and ideally will be far from the last. Our families are extremely proud of her and simply could not be happier to see the results of her hard work. The indignities she has suffered to get to this point are legion and to see her pull out this final victory, even though I knew from the beginning it would happen, is vindication for everything she's been through.

So a hearty congratulations goes out to My Fair Lady whom I love and adore beyond all scope and measure. I'm proud of you beyond words, and will happily drive you to the swearing in ceremony. I might even drive the speed limit too.

Crazy times, these.