Saturday, July 21, 2012

Easter In The Bahamas

Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I'm back from the Bahamas and what a story I have to tell you all.  The highlight of the trip was seeing an escape route for soldiers carved by 600+ slaves.  They used hammers and chisels to create this 90 foot gap in what was solid rock.  It took them over 13 years to complete the task and they created a step-way to go from the street above to the one below.  They put 66 steps in it to honor the queen, who they thought reigned for 66 years.  They were off by two as the reign was only 64 years. 

There’s your brief Bahamian history lesson.  Now, on to the the story.  Those of you who have been on cruises will get a good laugh behind this.  Let me try to take it from the top and not leave anything out.  When I got married, my wife's best friend gave us a voucher for a free cruise... three days, two nights to the Bahamas.  Apparently, she went to Massanautten and received this voucher and was kind enough to pass it on to us.  My wife decides that Easter weekend will be a great time to use it and she's taking care of all the arrangements and expenses, airfare, etc.  So she calls to book this cruise and the pitch goes something like this, "We'll give you a reduced rate on lodging if you stay the night before and/or the night after.  The ship will leave Friday and come back Sunday."  So we plan two extra nights, but they won't send her any confirmation via email or anything.  All they say is they'll send the travel documents about two weeks before the cruise. (Clue #1)  When the documents arrive, they indicate there's a 2-hour resort tour scheduled before the boat leaves (Clue #2).  We're guessing they're gonna try to sell us something at the resort they're putting us up in.  Ha!  We have to report to the Welcome Center when we get to Ft. Lauderdale.

We arrive on Thursday and find that the Welcome Center is about 30 minutes from the airport and outside the city limits.  We're forced to take a shuttle... $44 one way.  We arrive at the Welcome Center and find it to be the Ramada Inn, on a highway near nothing but a pottery and a grocery store.  What's worse, that's our lodging.  We're told only then that we've got be in the lobby Friday morning at 8:30 where we would be taken to the resort by shuttle.  There we would receive breakfast and get a 2-hour tour, after which we'd get our cruise voucher; and a shuttle would take us to the port... for $70.  So we're there, we're stuck, we go.  We are shuffled off to a resort about 30 minutes away.  Breakfast consists of bagels, apples turnovers, coffee, and juice... semi-continental.  It’s still lacking a little to be a continental breakfast if you ask me.  We get the 2-hour timeshare presentation after which we get in the car w/ an agent and drive to the models, 15-20 minutes from the property where the presentation was.  They bring us back for lunch where we choose from ham & cheese wraps or tuna wraps.  We opted for tuna, each of which had more salt than a Morton's factory.  Five hours later, after telling two people no about 5 times each, we get our cruise vouchers.  The shuttle comes to take us to the port... $50 one way, $80 if we wanna pay for the trip back, which we do.  So we get to the port, go through customs and read the signs that say, "Due to the rise in fuel prices, a $30 fuel surcharge will be assessed to each passenger."  Damn!  This free cruise is getting more expensive by the minute.  So we go through customs and there it is, The Regal Empress, part of the Imperial Majesty Cruise Line.  "Wow, boat looks kinda old," we say to ourselves.  I could hear the Gilligan's Island theme playing in the background.  But I thought it was my imagination.  So we board the boat and make our way to the A deck where our cabin is.  Sniff, sniff... I can smell gasoline in some locations of the corridor... which made me feel good 'cause now I know my $30 surcharge is actually being put to good use.  To the cabin we go; and as soon as I open the door, my wife looks at me and says, "Oh.... I'm so sorry."  This is what we see:

A small, full-sized bed covered with two twin spreads that have been sewn together.  There's a recessed porthole behind the blinds.  That's the oceanview upgrade.  And it really is oceanview because that porthole was only a couple feet above the water.  There's 12" color (I think) TV to the right that got about 8 channels, all of which had more snow than Canada in the winter time.  Unfortunately, black, white, and gray w/ pink undertones are the only colors the TV actually displays. About the bathroom, does anyone remember McHale's Navy?  It took only a couple trips to realize that the best way to be comfortable (sitting or standing) at that toilet is to put one foot in the shower.  There isn't even enough space to put the seat up.  You can stand against any wall in there and touch the opposite wall.  The water runs from the shower and covers the bathroom floor after each use.  Even those of us living on this craft for a few days couldn't appreciate how small it was until we arrived in the Bahamas and saw it docked next to some more respectable vessels.  Compared to the Carnival cruise ship, ours looked like a tugboat.  "We were on a riverboat compared to the others."  I pulled a baseball cap over my face just getting on and off this thing so that not even strangers would see me.  I could go on and on about this.  But this is getting long and y'all are probably laughing hard enough by now.  I won't tell you about the folks getting sick because the boat swayed so much.  I won't talk about dirty little kids running around all over the place.  One of 'em came up to my wife while she was eating and she literally lost her appetite immediately.  Did I mention that 3 days and 2 nights was actually 39 hours?  We set sail at 5:00pm on Friday and had to be out of our cabins by 8:15 Sunday morning.  I won't talk about the swimming pool smaller than a backyard pool and the jacuzzi that was little more than a plastic kids pool (above deck) with a motor attached.   

I told my friend David Beasley the story.  He quickly went to the internet and found that this boat was built in 1953 and is the oldest cruise ship currently operating in North America.  He found a host of scathing reviews along with it.  Drinks weren't included w/ the meals.  Even soft drinks were $5.50.  Friendly, efficient staff and decent food in the main dining room.  (Other food was pretty bad.)  But you'd be better off taking the Spirit of Washington.  If there was ever a Nautical equivalent of the "Soul Plane," this was it.  Mo'Nique and Snoop would have been right at home on this boat.  Everyone we spoke to had the same opinion and everyone got hit with a timeshare presentation that they weren't expecting.  Did I mention that they lowered the price of the timeshare from $47,900 to $9,900.  I guess we said no too quickly because one group got 'em down to $4,400.  Anyway, the Bahamas was beautiful and the weather was great.  We spent the day (actually 5.5 hours) at Breezes Resort.  And that little trip off the boat cost us $109 each.  When all was said and done, with airfare, transportation, gratuities and surcharges, the free cruise probably cost us close to $2,000 and my wife is still apologizing.  I told her to get over it, but plan to be clowned for about a month 'cause this was one of the funniest things I've ever experienced... and I plan to laugh about it even if she doesn't.  The good news is that they did decommission this boat in 2009 because they couldn't bring it up to code.  They asked everyone to fill out comment cards and at the end of the cruise, they drew one.  The lucky winner got a free cruise for two.  I had a lot to say, but I didn't fill out a card.  I was afraid with my luck, I'd have won the damn thing and had to go back.  What a way to spend Easter weekend.  

Insects and Rodents Playing Together

Friday, May 30, 2008
I spent yesterday evening at Blues Alley, an institution in live jazz in Washington, D.C.  For the past few years, I’ve noticed some changes at Blues Alley: shorter shows, higher prices, fewer nationally known acts, more patrons talking and fewer listening... everything consistent with a dying genre in a bad economy.  But I had to make the trip because my favorite band was in town, the Yellowjackets... four of the best musicians and the nicest guys you’ll ever meet; and they were joined by two special guests.  The second guest was saxophonist Eric Marienthal, who did a great job subbing for Bob Mintzer.  However, it was the first guest of the evening that drew much of the attention and caused my wife to let out a blood curdling scream that would wake the dead. 

Let me talk about Eric Marienthal first.  If you know music, you know how complex Yellowjackets' music can be.  Marienthal played flawlessly, as if he had been with the band for years.  He played alto and soprano saxes with Mintzer maturity and the enthusiasm reminiscent of Marc Russo in the band’s early fusion days.  But it took some great playing and two complimentary glasses of white wine for my wife to get over the evening’s first guest.

As we sat stage side 45 minutes before the show, my wife let out a scream that surely drew glances from passersby throughout the Georgetown neighborhood.  When I asked her what was wrong, she said she had seen a mouse on the stage and it caught her by surprise.  She seemed to lose her appetite almost immediately and ordered a glass of white wine, the first of three.  It took about 5 minutes for the Stuart Little look-alike to show again.  This time, like a member of the band, he moved across the stage from back to front towards our table; and he moved with seductive precision, as if he were the opening act sent out to warm up the crowd.  This couldn’t be a visiting mouse.  Eric Marienthal didn’t look this comfortable.  This mouse was in familiar surroundings.  “He’s not supposed to be here.  This is a supper club,” said my wife.  I asked her to reevaluate her position given the fact that we were in an alley; and she only spends two or three nights a year at Blues Alley while the mouse obviously lived there.

After spending a few minutes with her feet up in a chair, we switched places so that I faced the stage.  I tried not to let on as the little brown fellow went from left to right and back again across the stage probably half a dozen times before the band came out.  “I’m sorry,” said the waiter.  One waitress said, “We had a problem with them a while ago but we took care of it.”  “Somebody forgot to tell him,” I joked in response while pointing to the stage.  My wife asked to move only after the best seats behind us were taken... figures.  But she knew that moving was not my first choice given we were practically on stage with the band... my favorite band.  

With Russell Ferrante’s first note on the piano, the furry creature disappeared, not to be seen again all night.  A few tunes and a couple glasses of wine later, my wife was moving her head and writing feverishly as rhythms reminded her of some youthful times that she wanted to document while fresh in her mind.  By the second set, her eyes were closed and the mouse was a memory.  I admit, I ate my salad with a bit more care and precision than I was accustomed to.  But that was a small price to pay.  They waived the cover and the minimum for us for the second show.  It was the cheapest night I’ve ever spent at Blues Alley: two shows, a meal, a dessert and four drinks for about $100; and the Yellowjackets were in rare form.  I think I’ll take a rodent with me next time I go... just in case.  On second thought, it’s Georgetown.  I can probably grab one on the way.

Aging Gracefully.... NOT!

Sunday, December 18, 2011
Last Father's Day, I gave my father a 10-lap drive around Dover’s “Monster Mile.”  This seemed like a fitting Father’s Day gift for a racing fan who’s done just about everything else.  I remember my father playing competitive sports until he was almost 50.  So driving a race car six months shy of his 80th birthday didn’t seem like such a big deal to me.  After all, he drives everyday.

When he turned 80 a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t help but look at him and wonder... what in the world happened to me?  Yes, this blog is all about me!  If it weren’t for a twisted sense of humor, you’d never know my father and I were related.  He looks pretty much the same as he has since I can remember sans the head full of gray hair.  He’s the same size and with the exception of a little selective memory loss, every bit as witty.

I on the other hand, have aged 50 years in the last 20.  In 2007, when people told me I was too young to retire, I’d quickly retort, “Police years are like dog years!  Twenty years on the police force is like 50 years anywhere else.”  That was a joke, so I thought.  But at 47, I feel like my  best years are about 40 years behind me.  Now an armchair athlete 20 years removed from any sport, Scrabble is about all I can handle.  There was a time when my father and I went out and people thought we were brothers.  Sadly, we’re no longer related. 

He’s up at the crack of dawn every morning ready to tackle the tasks of the day, which have somehow increased since he retired.  I start every morning with a backache and a shower.  My shave is as long as the shower since it now includes a head that used to be covered with hair.  I put inserts in my shoes to combat the heel pain, then sort through an endless number of prescribed pills and ointments to see what I need to get through the workday.  After I find my keys, I’m out the door... trying to remember what else I left behind.  But once I get to work, I’m good.  I’m fairly efficient there, thinking with clarity, never forgetting an appointment and seizing every opportunity to pounce on a co-worker with my father’s wit.  Foot-in-mouth?  I’m on it.  Wardrobe malfunction?  Got it!  Everyone (including me) is fair game if it will lighten the mood in a place that can be down right depressing to work sometimes.  My toughest decisions are where to eat lunch and what non-prescription meds I need to get at the CVS next  door... cough drops, Tylenol, Gas-X, Imodium A-D... you know the ones you don’t need until you really, really need them?  I’ve got to buy meds I’m already familiar with because by now, I’ve realized that the thing I left behind was my glasses; and I can’t read the directions on those little bottles anymore without them.

When I get home, I change, then head to the basement for some exercise.  I stare at the programable bike for a few minutes, take the clothes off the handlebars and the papers off the seat.  I bend down to turn the bike on when I feel that twinge in my back.  “Hmm... maybe tomorrow,” I think to myself.  I could lift weights.  But all that stuff that was on the bike is now on the bench.  So that’s a no go.  I spend a few minutes with the bass, another round of pill and ointments, then off to bed.  Another Monday down.  Even if it’s not Monday, it sure felt like Monday.

Everyone who meets my father says, “Wow you’ve got good genes!”  Sadly, my best jeans came from Macy’s in New York City; and like their owner, they’re all worn out and they don’t really fit anymore... anywhere.  When did I become Larry David?.... old, bald, achy, and irritated by everything.  I ain’t my father’s brother anymore.  I’m just heavy.

Sleeping With The Enemy

Sunday, October 2, 2011
The most interesting part of the daily grind of a 9 to 5 is the commute.  There are some interesting sights in the city:  the man urinating into a bucket in the middle of the subway platform or the guy on the bus who smelled like he had been on the bus for a year.  A walk through the kids at the Minnesota Ave. metro station will almost certainly give you some insight into which 12-year old girl is “f*%$ing who and whose a$$ is gonna get beat later because of it. These are the types of commuter stories that usually make their way onto my Facebook page.  But it’s been a while.  So I thought I’d share my most recent tale.

Last week I’m on the Orange line in a car with just one other passenger.  At the next stop, a woman boards the train and sits in the side seat reserved for the elderly.  I’m sitting in the first forward seat to her left.  This woman, a white woman, not unattractive, late 40’s... maybe 50, weathered skin, t-shirt, hiking pants, ball cap, and a large backpack looks at me and asks, “Do you mind if I sit on the other side of you?”  This is an unusual request for anyone on an empty subway car.  “Tell you what, I’ll switch with you,” I tell the woman.  I’ve only got a couple more stops to go, but I’m not ready to relinquish my subway seat independence just yet.  So she explains why she hates the side seats and we go on to discuss the differences between the subway systems and their riders in New York and D.C.  And here’s where the fun begins.  The woman’s voice now drops to a whisper and she proceeds to lean in and say the following:  “You know, there are a lot of white people that ride the Orange line... and I’ve noticed (looking left and right suspiciously)... that the white people don’t like to sit beside the black people.”  “Really?” I tried to look shocked by her observation, but I couldn’t.  I leaned towards her, looked around the car which now had about 8 riders on it and said, “I’m not really surprised.  I ride a commuter bus filled with white people from Annapolis everyday... and on that bus, I’m that guy... the guy that nobody sits beside.”  Her eyes got sad as if her heart had been broken.  Remember how white people looked in ‘77 after Roots aired?  Well that was the look.  “Have a nice day,” I said with a smile as we arrived at Metro Center.

Fast forward two days later.  I’m sitting on the commuter bus near the back.  The bus is starting to fill up and a white woman, maybe 30, starts walking towards the back.  This woman, an attractive woman with curly brown hair, a form-fitting dress and a build like a brick outhouse, says good morning and sits down beside me.  This never happens and those who do sit never speak.  I give her the courtesy good morning greeting, then put my headphones on and start listening to my iPod.  Within minutes, the brown bombshell is asleep... very asleep... so much so that she sways with every turn of the bus.  She’s kept upright only by the armrest on her left and me on her right.  She’s comfortable.  Her shoulder against mine, her legs kept closed only by her tight dress, which was now 5 inches or so above her knees.  The bus turns left and the woman’s head swivels right so that she’s now facing me... her head almost on my shoulder, her face just inches from mine.  And she stays this way for several minutes at least two or three times during our morning commute.

I’m embarrassed for this lady, who looks so vulnerable.  What would the woman on the subway say about this?  Imagine this lady’s shock and embarrassment if she wakes up nose to nose with me, a total stranger.  Like a felon with malice aforethought, I had to make this look like an accident.  So I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep too.  But I couldn’t rest easily.  To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind... but I digress.

As we arrive in the city, the lights came on and the woman awakened.  “Fourth Street!”  The bombshell gathered her belongings, pulled her dress down and said without turning around to look at me, “Have a good day.”  “Will I see you again?” I asked shamefully... only in my mind of course.  “You too,” I responded, with equal disinterest.  And that quickly, she was gone.  No kiss, no cuddling, no phone number.  I felt like Eddie Murphy in Boomerang, minus the $200 Robin Givens left on the nightstand.  Ten minutes later, I arrived at my destination... feeling like a modern-day Rosa Parks.  I had passed the integrity test for black commuters citywide.  I can’t wait to bump into that Orange line commuter again.  I want to share my story and restore her faith in commuter humanity.

Brother Can You Spare A Dime

Thursday, February 9, 2012
There are an abundance of homeless people in the nation’s capital.  And the area in and around the white house could have the most in the city.  They’re everywhere.  Jessie’s at 14th & G talking to himself until he sees someone who has given him money before.  “Hey how you doin’?” as he makes a mad dash towards the person.  The “Groper” walks the street silently with his mouth open and his hand out waist high, squeezing his hand as if it had a roll of Charmin in it.  And who could forget the guy in the wheelchair wearing the boxing headgear or the lady in front of Au Bon Pain with multiple carts of stuff.  She’s got more stuff than I had in my first apartment.  They’re all over the place, in all shapes, shades, and sizes.
My co-worker calls me mean because I never give anything to these folks.  I’m charitable otherwise, but I think panhandling is a racket.  I did throw a dollar into the case of a 10-year old playing “Donna Lee” on the corner of 12th & G one day.  Kids playing Charlie Parker deserve encouragement.  But I’ve seen too many homeless people guzzling your donations from a paper covered bottle an hour after you give.  However today, I went into my pocket.

Picture me walking north on 14th St. NW; and I’m moving pretty fast because it’s a little chilly out.  All of a sudden, a black man, 30’s, scruffy, 5’10, knit hat, olive green coat... you get the picture.  He runs up and starts walking with me stride for stride.  He’s marking me and I’m planning how I can shoot him without taking out any innocent bystanders (if it goes bad).  Suddenly he speaks and the conversation goes something like this:

Him: How do you get a drunk on the roof?
Me: (Shrugging)
Him: Tell him drinks are on the house.
Me: (Still walking)
Him: What did the fish say when he swam into a wall
Me: Dam!
Him: Oh, you know that one.  What did one house say to the other house....

This continues for two blocks until traffic keeps me from crossing the street.  Now he’s more determined than ever:

Him: What did one butt cheek say to the other butt cheek?
Me: I don’t know.
Him: Between the two of us, we can rid of this sh*t.
Me: (Shaking my head) That’s bad.

He follows me across the street and as we reach the curb he says:  What’s the greatest nation in the world?

Me: I don’t know.  I haven’t been to them all.
Him: (in one long unpunctuated sentence) doe-nation brother I’m trying to work up enough money to get a good meal can you help me out?

HAHAHAHAHA!!!  Laughing hysterically, I reach in my pocket and say to him, “That’s worth $2 my man.  That was hilarious.”  He thanks me very much as I slide my $2 into his beat up McDonald’s cup.  And off he went, probably to meet his next client. 

Okay, I gave.  But he wasn’t panhandling.  He kept pace with me for two block and told me five or six decent jokes, the last of which had me laughing for the next hour.  Think of it as a cover charge.  Notice to all the homeless:  You want anything from me, you’ve gotta play some jazz or tell a joke.