Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Penguinmas Miracle

I'm out of this world!
In December of 1967, my mother turned twenty. Two days later, I was born. I always felt as if having birthdays two days apart made us even closer. Mom didn’t have a lot of money when I was very young, which isn’t anything I ever noticed. I never had big parties with lots of friends and elaborate gifts. What I had was a good meal, home made eclairs with ice cream, a few candles to blow out, and a few gifts, which always meant the world to me, as modest as they may have been. What I had most of, however, was love. I always cherished how Mom and I would celebrate together, on the day in between. My birthday has always been my favorite day of the year, thanks to all that Mom did to make it so special.

As I got older, I found out that I’m not the only one who loves their birthday. Mother Airline loves birthdays so much, they make it paid holiday. I love this, as I’ve always thought it best to work on your birthday. None of that taking the day off for me. I want the wishes. I want the dinner and a round of drinks. It’s the following day, which should be taken off- if nothing else than to recover! As Mother Airline ensures, it IS a holiday, like Christmas is the day for celebrating Christ’s birthday, I always wish others a similar holiday-styled greeting. Happy Jasonmas. Happy Lindamas. Happy insert-name-here-mas!

I scoff when people apologize for belated birthday wishes. Are you kidding? Make my birthday more than one day? Thank you, please! When I turned forty, I stretched it out to a whole freaking month! I had friends all over the globe, so I had a party at home in the Bay Area, I had a party with friends in Portland, I partied all month on layovers all over the country. I now see why they celebrate the emperor’s birthday in Japan. Were I emperor, we’d be all be celebrating my big day.

Penguin's first birthday

Then I hit fifty. All of a sudden, I was of the opinion that maybe it was time to put birthday celebrations to rest, sort of like some people no longer celebrate birthdays, but anniversaries of past birthdays. How could I be fifty? I don’t act fifty, whatever that means. I don’t feel fifty, except when my back is in spasm, my eyes are blurry, I can’t remember what day it is...okay, maybe I do feel fifty!

Really, my fiftieth birthday was just another day. I felt no different at the end of the day as I had from the end of the previous one. Hide my calendar and I would have no idea I had circled the sun fifty times. As I fretted about turning fifty in the weeks leading up to it, the dread soon began to fade. I half wanted to celebrate Penguinmas in a big way, and, as I had done for my fortieth, in more than one location. However, I wound up keeping things fairly low-key.

With Penguinmas being a paid holiday, I picked up a trip to Lima, so I decided to celebrate on the day before, as I had done with Mom for so many years. As the day before came and went, I found some very special things, what came to be known as Penguinmas miracles.

As a stark reminder that this was my fiftieth birthday. I awoke, just barely, and began to stretch. Charlie horse. The pain was mind-numbing, but then I started to laugh. My cats backed up and watched in horror. Such pain and laughter all at once. We start losing our minds at fifty, don’t we? It was a miracle I made it to fifty. What a welcome!

When the pain subsided, I realized that I was hearing rain. It filled my home with that wonderful sound it makes as it hits my roof. My cats don’t normally sleep with me, especially the boy. This day, however, they were both glued to my side. Rain on my roof, a chill in the December air, cats at my side, warm covers, all I wanted to do was remain buried under there all day, but I had a lunch date, so I limped out to prepare for Penguinmas.

Driving in the cold rain across town was nothing in order that I could have a wonderful lunch with a good friend. We met at a nice pizza joint near downtown. The rain was relentless, which is not the type of weather I normally enjoy being out in. Rain is normally for naps under the blanket with cats and an old movie, pretty much the way in which my day had begun. Lunch was had, as well as a wonderful conversation. Better yet, it cost me nothing. For this, I’ll venture out any time, birthday or not, rain or shine.
Mom and both of my grand parents dote over me.

Next on the day’s agenda was drinks with one of my longest-time friends. Living in a high rise downtown, I always enjoy the views of one of my favorite skylines in the world. My love of architecture was born in Houston, because of the modern buildings, and they still catch my fancy. I love being in their midst. My friend and I had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, and he then treated me to a show. While not a huge fan of Winona Judd, I thoroughly enjoyed an evening listening to her tell stories between songs and carols on a stage, which was illuminated by several Christmas trees. It left me feeling very festive.

After the show, the fun continued by meeting a work friend for yet more drinks. I’m not a fan of bars, or the bar scene, but it’s fun to be out and mingling with the other humans. Since it’s something I do so infrequently, I quite enjoyed it.

Then came my favorite- SNOW! I know, in Houston! It was a Penguinmas miracle! It started to come
My grandparents just after the original Penguinmas
down around 10:00pm and it did so for quite a while, in large flake-clusters. The bar emptied for a few minutes as patrons, with phones in hand, set out for the photos that lit up social media. I’m not exactly a newcomer to snow, so I stayed put, sucking down my brew.

I remember it snowing in Houston when I was very young. Mom even picked me up from school early so I could go home and play. Now that I am a homeowner, it was nice to come home that night and see my lawn turned white-my roof as well. Nothing calms like snow. I’m such a penguin!

Penguinmas Eve turned out to be such a special day, but that would soon pale in comparison to my Penguinmas morn. This would leave me feeling like that Japanese emperor, and all of my fans were celebrating. I had so many calls, texts and greetings on social media, it took me over two hours to view and respond to them all.

Around my third birthday, possibly the year it snowed in Houston
It was the first time I’d seen this on such a grand scale. You see, I’m not very computer literate. For years, I have taken a few moments each day to wish friends a happy birthday on social media. Facebook is great at letting me know the day and rarely do I miss anyone’s big event. I’ve noticed in the past few years that I get far fewer greetings than I feel I deserve. I have invested a lot into celebrating friendmas’s, so I feel I’ve been on the short end of the stick with the comparatively few wishes I receive in return.

Recently, I was informed that my Facebook privacy settings were compromised, so I did some poking around. I found a box that was not clicked, something about displaying my birthday publicly. I clicked it. I have over 600 friends on Facebook who previously had not been getting the Penguinmas notification because that box had not been clicked. The flood gates were now opened. Of course, what resulted was me realizing that in the past, people had been recognizing my big day without being reminded by the big computers at Facebook central. This really made me feel special. I hadn’t been ignored the past few years, I was truly being honored by friends who knew of Penguinmas without the reminder.

Adding to the many emails of the day, a few years ago I figured out that most restaurants have birthday clubs, many of which present terrific birthday offers. Sometimes it’s a buy one get one free deal, which I had used for Penguinmas Eve. Other times it’s a free dessert with purchase. There are a few places that flat out give free food! I’ve always loved going to Denny’s on my birthday for my free breakfast. I normally do this alone, after all, who wants to go to Denny’s to celebrate a friend’s birthday? I say that every year, but as I’m sopping up honey with the fluffy pancakes, I’m always impressed at how good the meal is. I get a free BBQ sandwich from Dickey’s, a free slider from Zaxbies (they used to give a free combo meal), and Red Robin throws in a free burger with endless fries. I get so many deals, I don’t normally get to use them all.

Penguin and his mama
Eager to earn those holiday bucks, and milk my big day even further, I was ready to go to work and fly to Lima. When I got to work and checked my drop file, I found another Penguinmas miracle. I had recently attended the retirement celebrations of the 747 aircraft in Honolulu. I was sad to see her go and as an aviation enthusiast, I wanted to get my hands on the swag being offered. There were gift bags, special booklets and even commemorative pins to wear. Some of the swag was very difficult to get a hold of, so I had put out the word that I was seeking them. A flight attendant based in Hawaii found some swag, both relating to the 747 retirement, as well as from other aviation-related events. When I got to work, there was a large envelope full of neat little things, such as Mother Airline playing cards, pins, special aircraft engine coins and a lovely note. There was also a nice birthday card from my supervisor.

At the end of the day, I had extra cash in my wallet thanks to Penguinmas holiday pay, an inbox full of well wishes, a few great memories, some free meals, and I was in Lima, Peru. I joined some flying partners at the bar. It was past midnight, so Penguinmas was officially over, but the celebrations continued and I had a couple of drinks thanks to my crew. I may still organize a little celebration in the spring to be with my friends who live on the West Coast, but even if that slips past me, I had the kind of birthday I would be envious of. I’m glad it was mine, made special by the many people in my life who bring me joy. It really was a Penguinmas Miracle!

I feel like a king on my birthday

Monday, October 23, 2017

Being There: My Meeting with Shirley Maclaine

Penguin from seat 1A

I do love me some Vancouver layovers. It’s convenient that the hotel is walkable. The surrounding scenery is beautiful. The airport is modern and culturally relevant. The Canadian passengers are nice, almost like they’re from another, nicer country. Oh, wait…

With a seventeen-hour layover, I was able to get some writing done and sleep in. I left my room early enough to wander to the food court for a bite to eat before passing through customs and making my way down the terminal to the gate for my flight to Denver. This was day three of a four day trip, so I was a bit tired and sort of happy to be eating by myself. My flying partners met at the plane. They seemed rested and happy- chatty, as usual.

Boarding had begun and the overhead bins were getting quite full, even though there were a lot of empty seats. I was working up front, which would be full, so I closed a few of the overhead bins to save room for my first class passengers. Just as I returned to the forward galley, a man in uniform entered the plane carrying a large, bright red bag. It almost looked like a purse, with large handle straps and a zipper down the middle, but it was large enough that it actually had wheels on one end, and a telescoping handle, so one could pull it behind them with ease. Behind this man was an older woman with short hair and glasses. She smiled as she came on board and noticing the seat number on her boarding pass, moved into row one.

The man in the uniform looked at me for help with her bag. We don’t take bags and place them in overhead bins at Mother Airline, so I pointed to some of the bins I had just closed and he found space just behind the row of seats. In the meantime, the older woman looked at her ticket and saw that she had seat 1B and asked the man if she could move into the window seat instead. He again looked to me for guidance. He was simply the man lucky enough to be hired by the airport to assist certain passengers to the plane, and certainly had no authority to approve this request.

Before I could answer, my flying partner, Krysten, let the woman know that we could simply ask the person whose seat she was taking if they would switch with her. Normally, it’s not an issue, and I was quite fine with whatever situation made the most people happiest. The woman began to settle in and the uniformed man took his leave.

I leaned into Krysten, saying how much I thought the lady looked like Shirley Maclaine, but older. Krysten gave me a blank stare, not sure of who Shirley Maclaine was. “Wow,” I said, “you’re so young!”

“I’m not that young,” she replied, and gave me her age, which seemed older than I was expecting. Krysten seemed to figure the name out after I mentioned a few movies that have made her popular.

Returning to the cabin, I took pre-departure drink orders from a few passengers who had settled in, and the woman in 1A stopped to ask me where the movie screen was. “There used to be little screens,” she told me, “they would pop down and we could watch a movie. Where are they? Don’t you have entertainment?” As this was one of my pet peeves with Mother Airline, I almost felt like I was being baited.

The Vancouver Airport
After briefly going over Mother Airline’s decision to remove the screens in favor of passengers watching movies and shows streamed onto their own devices, I had to explain the process of how to download the Mother Airline app, so that once we were in the air, she could connect to the Wi-Fi and commence to be entertained for our two hour and twenty minute flight.

The problem is, I’m not tech savvy. I have a tech savvy friend in the Bay Area who used to help me with computer issues, often over the phone. He would endure my ignorance of computers and technology and spend what felt like hours upon hours assisting me. He would often lament, “That’s not possible! Your computer is doing things that should not be possible. How is that?” There would be a moment of silence from my end, followed by an, “Idontknow.” It’s the only answer I had to offer. He thought I must have some mystical powers to affect technical mischief. I half agreed.

So for this woman to be asking me to walk her through setting up her personal electronic device would be akin to asking the Pope for advice on positions in the Kama Sutra. Fortunately, the man behind her, in 2B, overheard and started giving pointers. I had a lot of things to do, since we were still boarding, so I excused myself. Krysten was still at the boarding door welcoming passengers, and after looking at the passenger manifest, informed me that the lady in 1A really WAS Shirley Maclaine. I could only roll my eyes and gasp, looking back to the actress peering through her glasses at her phone with the young man behind her trying to walk her through setting up the necessary app. But the smile on my face showed her how excited I was to be working in first class with such a talented actress as one of the passengers in my charge. Shirley freaking Maclaine! I’ve met a lot of people with name recognition, but for me, this was a thrill.

As luck would have it, the nice woman who was assigned to 1A took 1B without a word. And as luck would have it, she was tech savvy and was able to answer Ms. Maclaine’s questions. Ms. Maclaine realized that she had a larger tablet in her large, red bag, which might be more conducive to watching entertainment streamed from Mother Airline, and she looked up at me over her glasses. She was not demanding nor rude. She asked if I would be able to fetch her bag for her, so that she could retrieve her tablet, and pointed to where the man in uniform had stored it. I opened the bin and took her bag out, placing it near her feet. It was heavy and full, and felt like nice leather. She had a hard time reaching it, but Miss Benson helped out. Miss Benson helped out a lot during this flight. 

Miss Maclaine in her window seat

Ms. Maclaine got her app downloaded, asked for a water, ordered the chicken mac and cheese and then I asked what she’d like to drink. Her first reply was a Gimlet. I could see Miss Benson look at me, ready to gauge my reaction. When it was determined that no Gimlet would be served on board, her second choice was a Cosmo. Wrong again. Miss Benson seemed entertained and chuckled.

In thinking of a classy woman like Shirley Maclaine, who didn’t seem content with anything normal, it came to mind that we had Moscow Mule on board. I asked her about giving that a try. This seemed to please her, especially when I mentioned that no one ever asks for it. Sold! Moscow Mule it would be. Miss Benson thinking that sounded good, ordered one as well.

The time had come to close the aircraft door and soon we were hurtling across the skies of north America. In just over two hours we’d be in Denver, and Ms. Maclaine would catch another plane to her home in New Mexico. As I always do, I kept an eye on the passengers to anticipate any needs, and Ms. Maclaine often looked up at me. I guess I half expected her to just ignore me, as most passengers do. She appeared to be genuinely appreciative of my contribution to her travel experience. She would look up to regard me being attentive, smile and look back down at her device.

I was glad to see her actually watching a movie. It would have been exacerbating to find her reading a book or magazine after all the trouble we went through to set up her device. While checking on my flying partners in the aft galley, Krysten asked what she was watching, so when I returned to first class, I paused at row two so that I could find out. It was the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast.

She thanked me with a smile when I served her Moscow Mule. She ate half of the nuts in the cocktail snack that I placed next to her. When dinner was served, she paused the movie, removed her headphones and engaged Miss Benson in conversation. How fortunate for Miss Benson, seated next to a legend, helping her with her tech issues and now having dinner with her. They even clinked glasses in giving cheers to one another with their drinks. One sip and Ms. Maclaine called me over to ask for a mini of vodka, saying it was too sweet. Miss Benson agreed, so I returned with 2 minis.

I added the mini and Ms. Maclaine winked. I replied, “Well, that’s just how I would drink it!” She raised her glass to me, still smiling. She was always smiling.

In flight entertainment
Mother Airline provided slices of turtle cheesecake on small white plates. I placed these on the silver lined tray to dispense to my passengers, but upon searching the galley, I could find no forks. I would have to pass dessert out right away, before picking up the trays, so people could use their dinner forks for dessert. Not the classy manner in which I would have chosen to present this service, but sometimes you have to work with what you have at thirty-six thousand feet. Ms. Maclaine was finished eating; she ate rather quickly. She asked if I could take her tray. I asked if she would like cheesecake, and she did. I suggested that she keep the fork, as I had no more to pass out. She took only a few bites, handing it back to me, apologizing that she had found it too sweet for her taste. I told her I’d not judge.

When Miss Benson was finished eating, Ms. Maclaine went back to her movie. She refused another drink, asking only for a glass of water with ice. I was humbled by how human Ms. Maclaine was. To have paused her movie to engage Miss Benson, her always smiling and constant acknowledgment of me and my efforts...she was nicer than most passengers, yet here she was, nearly a household name.

I badly wanted a photo with her, and had hoped she would drink more, knowing that when she got up to use the lavatory would be the perfect time to use my charm to compliment her talents and request a selfie. The opportunity would have to wait, however, until the captain turned on the seat belt sign for landing, which she took as her cue to get up and quickly tend to business. When she came out of the lav, I told her how much I appreciated her body of work, saying that I was a huge fan, and asked if I could take a selfie. She was most accommodating. She got back in her seat, seemingly quite conscious of the fact that the seat belt sign was on, and I invited Miss Benson to join in.

While kneeling down next to them I told Ms. Maclaine how I had met Matthew McConaughey only a few months prior, and the week before meeting him, I had watched the movie, “Bernie,” in which they had both starred. She exclaimed how much she loved making that movie, telling me how fun it had been to work with the locals. I gushed at how much I loved the movie and had found the performances by all the actors to have been so engaging.

The selfie with Miss Benson and Shirley Maclaine

For several minutes, I was able to chat with her about something other than my lack of technology sense, and in bringing up the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal, she had nothing positive to say about his character, which Miss Benson found intriguing. She thanked me again for assisting her so well during boarding and taking good care of her in flight. She told me that she was about to meet the director of the movie she had been watching, but had not seen it, and felt that it was important to do so before meeting with him. She said that the role of the teapot had been written with her in mind, and that they had hoped she would voice it and sing the songs, but she had to pass it up. She rolled her eyes as she said this. I complimented her in saying that she would make a great teapot! In response, she said, “You would make a great teapot!”

I took this at first as a compliment and Miss Benson laughed a bit. But I’m not sure. Was it?

If Shirley Maclaine thinks I could pull off portraying the teapot, I’m willing. Have your people call my people. I can fly to LA first thing and be in the studio tomorrow! (I’ve always wished I could do voice work, after all, I’ve already fulfilled my desire to be a professional actor. I’d love to do some acting again.)

We landed in Denver safe and sound. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve landed in Denver, I could buy a very nice teapot complete with matching cups and the tea to put in them. The passengers began to deplane and Ms. Maclaine was not yet ready. She was still gathering her belongings. She placed the Mother Airlines headphones she had used in the seat back pocket, telling me she had done so, as if I had to account for them. I joked with her that she could keep them as a souvenir. Miss Benson again assisted her and I noticed quite a few passengers craning their neck as they left to catch a glimpse of the actress in 1A. I guess they had noticed her, as I had done.

From the movie "Being There"
She thanked me again, taking my hand in hers as she did so. I moved her bag out of her way and placed in such a way as to make it easy for her to grab the handle. And with that, she was gone.

All five of us working the flight were excited to have her on our flight to Denver. I shared the photos I had taken with the pilots and we then ran into the nice young man from seat 2B, who had helped us before leaving Vancouver.

“I know I recognize her,” he said, “but what was her name?” He couldn’t believe he couldn’t think it when I told him. He was star struck and happy he had the chance to help her out. It was then that I had an a-ha moment, and I was so disappointed in myself for forgetting. One of my all time favorite movies is “Being There,” with Peter Sellers, and she starred in that movie. I wish I had remembered this, so I could let her know, but there are so many wonderful roles Shirley Maclaine has taken on. I was lucky to have met one of the best. (And she was lucky to have been served by one of the best!) Perhaps it was destiny. Perhaps we’d met in a previous life. Perhaps we’ll meet in the next!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Shopping on Lordag

Hot Texas skies over the IKEA parking lot

Such a day I had today. First was a family lunch to celebrate a 65th wedding anniversary. Afterwards, since I was in that part of town, I went to IKEA. I’ve always thought it interesting how in the cities where there is an IKEA, there is but one. The Bay Area had two, but they were in two different worlds, because the bay seems just seems to be as such. So in Houston, now that I live far north of the loop, it’s a big deal to get there, so I took advantage, against my better judgment of doing so on a Saturday, of being inside the loop to do some shopping.

It’s been over twenty years since I lived in Houston, so when going back to those old parts of town I’ve mostly forgotten about, I now use my car’s navigation. I told my car I was wanting to go to IKEA. My car gave me the directions to IKEA, but I guess my car had no further information, which was a shame. I mean, she tells me about traffic and which roads are closed, why can’t she give me some really useful information, like “You’re about to make a big mistake...are you sure you don’t want to just go home?” I pulled into the IKEA parking lot and quickly began to wonder what it was that they were giving away for free.

Everyone was at IKEA. If you were not at IKEA, where the hell were you? Nothing was being given away for free, but as I was buying a “Malm” dresser (Malm having a definition as being an artificial mixture of chalk and clay for making into bricks, which didn’t seem to have anything to do with the product I purchased, but they do have some weird names in there) I did learn that everything in the store was 15% off because of Hurricane Harvey. Nice.

An old photo of the Astrodome and its huge parking lot.
IKEA has a very large parking lot. I think the only Houston parking lot I’ve ever seen that is larger was the one at the Astrodome. One would go to the Astrodome for an Astro’s ball game, or the Houston Rodeo, or a few times I saw big concerts there, like Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones. It would take half an hour to walk from the car to the entrance. It was a very large parking lot.

This was IKEA on a Saturday with a 15% post hurricane sale. Every space was taken. It was to the point that I got behind a car that was slowly trailing a young man with his flat-bed cart to his car. This flat-bed cart was filled to the brim. There really was no brim, but that’s the saying that comes to mind in seeing how full this man’s cart was with boxes, crates, bags and all sorts of nifty things from Sweden, or where ever they make Turd Berglin toilets, Fartful desks, Godis Skum marshmallows, or Stenklover bedsheets. (Those are all actual product names, I’m not making them up!) I mean, I saw trucks loaded with this much stuff when I was in India a few years back, and I was always scared that they would fall over onto us as we would pass them.

So I’m behind Mr. Dood in his big black Texas branded pickup, who is trailing this poor guy who is seemingly furnishing his entire house from IKEA, and thinking, dude, it’s going to take this guy another hour to shove all this crap into his compact car. Because that’s the kind of luck I would have, that he is driving a compact car. Finally, I get around Mr. Dood and find a parking space five spaces from San Antonio! I looked back towards IKEA, now a distant blue speck wavering in the heat of the parking lot. I felt like a kid again, off to the Astrodome, but instead of bull riding and pig races, I was surrounded by what, in many ways, seemed to be the same kind of animals, just not as much riding or racing going on.

With my purchases complete, I started back to my car at the far end of the west forty. It may have been the first full day of Autumn, but no one told Houston. It was broiling outside, and the sweat was now starting to soak my shirt. I was fading fast, but soon had entertainment. In front of me was a couple looking proud of the wares they were about to take home. The husband must have been bright enough to leave the shopping to his wife, while he sat upstairs eating Kottbullar (Swedish meatballs) and Knackerbrod Rag (cookies), because he was looking over the items for the first time. She had two large boxes on the bottom of her cart and he asked why she bought two.

“They were 15% off,” she gushed, “so together, I got 30% off!”

I nearly choked, but no one seemed to notice.

He caught on pretty quickly and responded with “Well, don’t you think we should go back and get four more and get 90% off?”

She stopped dead in her tracks, “Can we do that?”

“I don’t think it works that way, dear. I’ll explain it to you later.”

They reached their car long before I did, and wouldn’t you know that they had a Trump bumper sticker!

Again, taking advantage of being in this part of town, I decided to do another stupid thing. Costco on a Saturday. I could have just as easily walked into a biker bar and made an off-hand remark about Tankwelder’s mom, for I must have been out for punishment. One of the things I love most about my job is having weekdays off for such adventures as shopping at a Costco. I learned quickly to avoid this place on weekends like a cat avoids hairballs on a hard surface and instead makes sure to aim for the carpet. But the store near me was out of the candles they had advertised on sale and I knew the one on Bunker Hill had them.

Some funny IKEA names I found on line.
If you know Costco, like IKEA, you know that parking can be troublesome. I usually just aim for the far away spots and forgo the slow search up down the rows of shiny cars. As I got closer to the entrance, I kept seeing parking spaces closer and closer to the entrance. I wound up with rock star parking, space number one. Any closer and I would have been in the handicap spaces, of which in this row, there were only two. I couldn’t believe this prime score!

The walk to the entrance was now short, which sort of made up for the long journey to and from my car at IKEA. Then my heart sank as I saw the door to the entrance had been rolled shut. It’s funny, I never before realized that the entrance doors at Costco were really garage doors that rolled up and down. There, before me, was a large sign with red letters stating that Costco, on Saturdays, closes at 6pm. I looked at my watch. It was 6:14pm. No wonder I got such a close parking space.

I could see inside the exit door. There were still quite a few checkers working down the long lines of shoppers. There were still people meandering back and forth with their oversized shopping carts of such items at twenty-pound boxes of peanuts and bags of five loaves of bread. Emboldened, I meekly approached the two employees checking receipts and gave them my most tired-looking and yet pleasing smile that I could muster.

“I know you’re closed,” I said, nearly water-eyed, “but I just drove all the way from the North Houston Costco because they were out of the LED candles you have advertised, and they sent me here because you have them in inventory on the computer system.” (I’m not above innocent white lies to Costco employees fourteen minutes after closing.) “That’s the only thing I need to buy,” I continued, “could you let me in real quick, and I promise, that’s all I’m buying.”

Underpowered, they had to call for a supervisor’s approval. I repeated my story and he gladly let me in, showing me the way to the location of the candles in the huge warehouse. I was so glad they actually had them, because it was actually three days ago that I was at the North Houston location when I learned that they had sold out. I was told that the Bunker Hill store had over one hundred of them. All right, so I fibbed twice.

Closed entrance door to a Costco (not my image).

A mocha freeze
I’d spent nearly two hours in IKEA and felt like I had walked half way across Houston to do so. I was hot, sweaty and tired and I looked up on the wall across from the register for which I was in line and saw an image. Like a most wondrous mirage to one trapped for days in the desert, was an icy mocha freeze. It was only $1.45. It looked so cold and frosty, with a hint of chocolate. I think I would have paid $5 for it! It was just what I needed to cool me down on this first day of autumn, also known as the 216th day of Texas summer. There was still a line, so they were still open. So sue me, I lied a third time and wound up buying more than just the candles, but it was one of the best iced mochas of all time.

On the drive home I was treated to a fantastic sunset, complete with silver lined clouds and orange hues. There was no traffic until I got to my exit, which made me smile that I was avoiding it by such a close margin. It was a successful shopping trip. I found some needed items for my home, got some exercise, sweat like I was in a sauna, was entertained by a dim-witted woman who thought she got 30% off because she bought two items instead of one, and talked my way into a super-sized box store after closing. I’m in a good mood right now. Just wait until I start putting together my Malm dresser! Anyone want to come lend a hand?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Two weeks at sea on the Star Legend

Cruise blog

I was so happy that my vacation-bound flight was leaving near midnight so I wouldn’t have to be up early morning and scrambling to get everything done. It had been a nice relaxing day. I finished laundry and then packed, ran an errand and ate lunch out. I even cleaned house so the neighbor watching my cats wouldn’t think I live like a pig.

Most importantly, though, I wanted some quality time with the cats before leaving for my two week cruise across the Atlantic. So as I finally drove to the airport, I was calm and relaxed, looking forward to leaving the stresses behind, and with my bedroom flooding from the Texas rains the previous week, I had a lot of stresses to leave behind.

As I neared the airport, I noted the heavy traffic in the opposite direction and was happy not to be a part of that. I said aloud in the privacy of my car, “You people should be home, it’s late. Or out at a party. Get off the roads!”

My exit was next- a plane flew overhead. Something made me want to check for my phone...not in my pocket. All right, check the console. Not there! Another check of pockets. No phone. I had freaking left my phone at home. I was leaving the country. I HAD to have it. Fish sticks!

Fortunately, I’d left early and I had time to go back home. It would take 40 minutes for me to get back to this point in the journey. After waiting for what seemed to be the longest light in history to make my U-turn, I remembered that traffic going back and decided it would be best to take the back roads, hoping this was not the night to show off my new car to any police officers.

With my phone now happily with me, I took my seat in 7F of a 737, happy to have a window to lie against on the four hour flight to San Juan. I ate a salad and engaged the flight attendant in conversation. I even managed to sleep for what must have been about two hours.
San Juan

My last two working trips had been to San Juan, so I was familiar with the airport. I had a plan; grab one of those really good omelet sandwiches from the restaurant upstairs, and call for a van to the pier. I’d not be able to board the ship until 1pm, but I knew I could leave my bag early and go off to explore. Then I ran into Ricky, a flight attendant from Houston who I know. He actually worked my flight, but I never looked to the rear of the plane to see who was working there. He had a day layover at the Sheraton near the piers, so I asked if I could catch a ride with him, and off we went.

This actually worked out well. It was questionable if the van company could actually take me, and Uber drivers are not allowed to pick passengers up at the airport. Now that I was just a few miles from the ship, I knew I could get Uber. After taking advantage of the crew breakfast discount at the hotel, that’s just what I did, arriving at Pier Uno just before 8am.

San Juan Airport

After dropping off my large bag, I found a nice park in which to sit. A large group of locals dressed in colorful garb approached full of smiles and good cheer. “Welcome to Puerto Rico!” they shouted, as they handed out balloons and bottles of water. Seems I’d encountered some sort of roving welcoming committee.

It was a gorgeous day, but it was starting to warm up and the humidity soon made it so that my back felt damper than I was comfortable with, so I took my leave of the park and the tables of locals playing chess and giving what appeared to be astrological readings, and I made my way to the neighboring Sheraton. (And no, I am not receiving money from Sheraton for product placements in this blog!)

Many people had the same plan of wasting time at this hotel. The fancy, old lobby was packed...some were coming off the ships in port and waiting to head to the airport. Others, like me, were waiting until time to board for their cruise vacations. We all enjoyed the free wifi and ability to charge our phones. I spent the next four hours meeting a family from Scotland, a couple from Central Texas, two ladies from Maryland and a group of friends traveling from California.

I was so anxious to get on board and it felt great when I finally was. I was so tired that I hoped to lie down in my suite for a bit of a nap, but first, I did want to unpack my huge suitcase. I hung up my shirts. I grabbed my tees and shorts and placed them in a drawer. My socks went into a smaller drawer and underwear in a drawer below my socks. I soon was looking at an empty suitcase. Pants. Where were my pants? Hanging in the closet were my shirts, but where were the pants! I panicked.

Had I forgotten to pack slacks? I remember distinctly picking them out, not wanting too many of the same color. How could I have forgotten to pack them? Where could I go in town to buy new ones? I didn’t need to buy new ones, as I have plenty at home, but I couldn’t wear the same pair every night on a two-week cruise!

Suddenly I realized the shorts I had placed in the drawer seemed like more shorts than I recalled packing. Pulling the drawer open, I was delighted to see that I had blindly placed my folded pants there. I laughed out loud as I placed them on hangers. I pack for a living- I’d like to think I’d not forget to pack pants!

I did lie down and maybe 20 minutes after falling asleep came the muster drill, “Grab your life vest and report to your muster station,” said the captain over the PA. As I did so, I looked in the mirror to fix my hair, don’t want to make a bad first impression. I looked a hundred years old, pillow wrinkles on my cheek, red eyes, lifeless expression. Yay, me! Let’s go muster!

Me on the Legend in San Juan before sailaway
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the ship, meeting staff, taking photos of the ship and of other ships as they departed San Juan. Next to us was the Carnival Fascination. She was a very large party ship with water slides and disco lights emanating from within. I was happy to not be on that.

Soon, the Disney Magic sailed by. The moon rose, the sun set and it was our turn to slowly back away from the dock, turn around, and start up the propellers, which would not stop churning for 14 days. It was a wonderful night for a sail away.

Day2 Sleeping in on Vacation

When I first came to life, it was as I was rolled over in my sleep as we hit a wave. The room was dark, but I looked towards the window. Inside voice told me that it was probably around 8am. Bladder said, “Let’s get up,” so I obeyed. I looked at the clock and called it a liar. No way was it really just after 11am. I went to bed around 1230am. I asked my phone for the time, and she agreed with the clock. I had slept nearly 11 hours. ELEVEN HOURS!!! (I told you I needed a vacation!)

Looking up the main staircase on board
Now I know the body does not recoup lost sleep time. There really is no such thing as making up for lost sleep, but I would suppose that with the stresses of life in the week leading up to this vacation, the lack of sleep the night prior, the excitement of being at sea after a two-year absence, and the smooth rocking of the vessel traveling about 10 knots made for my body to find comfort in slumber for nearly 11 hours.

Lunch was moved from the aft outside deck to the main restaurant midships, due to wind, so I broke my fast with round from the salad bar followed by a thin breast of chicken with vegetables.

I was able to accomplish some writing, and then spent 45 minutes in the gym before getting ready for the evening, which began with a champagne reception to meet the captain and his staff.

The captain looked like he could easily win a prize at a Curley Howard, Three Stooges contest. His thick Scottish accent over the PA made it sound as if he were speaking with marbles in his mouth. His voice actually pretty much matched his appearance. He was slightly rotund, which he admitted is something his wife admonishes him for, so he asked that we eat all that we could to leave less for him.

Penguin on the bridge
His humor kept me smiling during his entire presentation, and I wondered if he had someone to write his comedy routine, or if it all came natural. He spoke of keeping his hotel director drugged to keep him smiling for his final two weeks of his current contract, of how the medical doctor appeared to be 15, but he did check his resume and it checked out. He was also the only person on board who was asked not to work at all, because if he was working, it meant there were people not feeling well, and that was the last thing he wanted on board his ship.

After a fantastic dinner of beef wellington followed by dessert (both a wonderful lime tart piled high with a fluffy meringue as well as a peanut butter crème brulee- I just had to try them both) I later found myself at the forward bar, where I had a nice conversation with the captain and Katie, the spa manager. Turns out, Katie did write the captains jokes, but he tried to convince me that he is funny and says something different for each cruise, so if I were to sail with him again, even if it were the very next sailing, I would hear different jokes.

As I do with any cruise, I ended my night with live music. This ship has two duos. When one took a break, I’d off to the other bar to hear the other duo. I left the forward bar when they went on break and went to the aft bar. After one song, they too went on break. I laughed, and after Ryan, the pianist came over to say hello, I put in a request that the two duos better coordinate breaks. To make up for it, when their break ended, they played a special request for me...Don’t Stop, by Fleetwood Mac.

The ship vibrates with the rotating propeller. There is a wonderful sea breeze. There are no lights on the horizon. The clouds drift overhead illuminated from the top by a full moon that hangs lofty in the skies and tonight is kept company by Jupiter, who is within an inch away. The world is covered two-thirds by water. It’s times like these that I feel like I should be spending two-thirds of my time on it. I love being at sea.

Day 3: Day of the sleepies

The alarm was set for 8am so I could have breakfast and then attend a talk with one of the officers in the Yacht Club. We’d set the clocks ahead the night before, the first time of what would surely feel like 100 on this sailing, but I try to ignore the fact that I’m losing an hour and just go to bed at the time when the clock says it’s midnight, so I could get 8 hours. Body, for some reason, said, “Let’s wake up at 715am. That’ll be fun!”

With a large window in my cabin, I enjoyed sitting and watching the waves. We still had a pretty good roll on board, which we’d pretty much had since leaving San Juan. I had what I thought was a fairly good breakfast of an egg scramble, 2 pieces of bacon, one link sausage, a donut and a fruit smoothie. Of course, now that I’ve written it all out, I do understand a bit more why later, I felt queasy. That’s surely twice the amount of breakfast I normally eat!

It always happens when I’m sitting at the front of the ship when it’s rolling. I sat across from one of the officers who was answering all of our questions, and the rolling, the up and down, the constant vibration...I knew it was time for me to head downstairs. I took some ginger and it didn’t seem to do the trick, so I took a motion sickness pill they distribute on board. I was tired, so I lay down on my bed. Ninety minutes later I was up. The good news is that, normally, once I feel queasy, that’s it for the rest of the trip.

Penguin inspecting a knot
Not feeling hungry, but still feeling tired, I went for my daily work out in the gym. Then I had a quick dip in the pool followed by time on the bridge learning how to make knots. Well, I wasn’t learning them, but observed the others try to learn them. I was intrigued by the woman who was adamant about wanting to do them along with the various instructors, as if she was going to retain all of the knowledge, and upon returning home after this cruise, would be making knots on a regular basis… “Glad you could stop by, here, let me make a monkey’s knuckle knot I learned on a cruise while my husband fixes you a drink.”

I spoke to a woman I’d met on day one about writing, and then actually did a little bit of writing, and then I sat on the couch in my suite. I awoke an hour later when it was time to get ready for dinner. Two naps!

As is my custom on these cruises, I enjoyed a pre dinner drink while listening to one of the duos perform. I miss the classical music they play on Holland America, but I’m really enjoying this small ship, which, with 131 passengers, is only slightly over half of capacity.

There are no lines. Normally, you’d see tea on the daily and expect to arrive for said tea at the published time along with 50 others and have to wait three minutes to be seated. Today’s tea was from 3-5. I walked in at 301 and there were about 8 people in the room. Nice.

Then another night of airline talk. Last night it was the couple who’s daughter is based in ORD, tonight I dined with a couple who were interliners, he retired after over 30 years working heavy maintenance at the SFO facility. He did confess later in the night that he was reticent to discuss airlines, knowing that I must get tired of it. I informed him that as long as he’s not complaining about Mother Airline, I’m OK.

Day 4: Game Day

My alarm went off too soon and it wasn’t even one of the days we changed our clock. I was so tired that I laid in bed for nearly another half hour. Then I heard the room steward next door and suddenly realized that I’d not placed my do not disturb sign out, so I popped up and got ready for the day.

Plan A was to join the galley tour. I’ve seen ship galleys many times, and I used to work in large kitchens, but it’s always fun to see them. I wasn’t smart enough to come up with plan B, so upon learning that the tour had filled up and that I was now on the list for the next one to be scheduled in a few days, I found myself at breakfast without a real plan.

Before I knew it, I was playing trivia with the various teams in the Yacht Club. My team wasn’t doing so well, the questions were quite difficult, (what is an oologist, or how am I supposed to know the technical term for a tightrope walker, or the name of any disease that can jump from animal to human?) but we wound up tied for second place, even with our paltry four correct answers. The team whose sheet we graded got seven correct. I’m not sure how they cheated, but I’m going to find out!

Each day, in the dailies, is a photo of an obscure object. Identify the object and its location and enter it at the front desk. I have no idea what the prize is, but I knew the first two days without issue. I couldn’t find the third, so one of my new on board friends and I went searching for the day’s photo. I had a few ideas of where to search, but wanted to ask the front desk about the possibility of one of the locations I had in mind, but it was closed off to this cruise because the water deck would not be in use. We were told that is one of two areas used on board for athletic activity. I knew instantly the location of the photo, so off we went to the spa to find it.

I have worked out each day, so far, and had I been more observant, I may have realized that the 35 pound free weight was the answer.

Scott and Jennifer are a fun couple I’ve met on board. As it turns out, they live about five miles from my home! They love to play games and one of the games they have on board is my favorite- Balderdash. We had lunch together and spent the next three hours playing that and a few other games. My father and his third wife used to play backgammon all the time, but he had never taught me to play. I finally learned, and discovered that I really don’t think I like it that much.

Diane teaches me Rummikub. Love my face!

 Next, we played Rummikub, a tile based game much like rummy. I’d never played, so our friend Diane had me sit next to her and she taught me. I caught on really quick and enjoyed getting to spend more time with Diane. She and her husband, Ernesto, live in California. He’s from Santiago, so we got to talk about how much I love going to Chile, and what a great city Santiago is. Diane and Ernesto have become one of my favorite couples on this cruise.

Games were fun and I met a few new people. I got no writing done today, but I’m fine with that. This is a vacation, after all and I want to allow myself to do what ever my body or mind decides to do. Sleep 11 hours? OK. Two naps in a day. I’m fine with that. Laughing with new friends? I’m game!

The ship hit some gray clouds and we spent all afternoon cruising through rain. Tonight was supposed to be the on deck BBQ, an event Windstar is known for. Due to the weather, it was moved downstairs to the Amphora dining room. It was a grand buffet, with a suckling pig, sliced steak, lobster tails, shrimp, ribs, paella, a huge salad bar, and a table with about a dozen desserts. One thing I’ve impressed myself with...so far… is that on this cruise, I’ve not been eating as much as in past cruises. I did have five lobster tails (which they cut in half, so really, I had 2.5), and I did taste just about everything, but just very small portions.

Tomorrow is a fairly light day. I’d like to write more, will get another workout in, and there is a treasure hunt that I’d like to partake in. We changed our clocks an hour ahead tonight, so I’m sure I’ll sleep in a bit and just sort of meander through my day- allowing myself to do what ever I feel. Everything is up to chance.

Day 5: Cinco de Cruise

Yet another day where I was able to sleep in up until the time where bladder says it’s time to get up. I think bladder is on vacation, too. Is it the rolling of the ship or the salty air that makes bladder seem smaller?

Interestingly enough, however, when I went to my phone to turn off the alarm, so that I could lounge in bed for another half hour, or so, there were only three seconds until the alarm was to sound. Good timing, bladder!

After a light breakfast of oatmeal and a danish, I returned to my room to get some writing done. I almost felt badly that I’d not written at all yesterday, but this is vacation and I have no real agenda other than rest, relaxation and fun. So far...mission accomplished.

Writing became difficult when the captain came on the loud PA to announce that a fire drill was about to commence. He told us that it was a drill, but soon was announcing for passengers to grab their life vests and proceed to their muster stations, making sure not to trip on the straps, and to keep to the right of hallways and stairwells. It felt awfully real, and I know certain people who sleep in until later than 1030, and feared that a few people may not realize that it was a drill.

Crew fire drill
As part of the drill, there was a fire reported in the crew laundry room. Fire team one was to fight the fire, while fire team two was to begin to search for four missing persons. Soon, it was announced that the fire was out and no hot spots were found. Three of the missing persons had been found, but passengers were to remain in their muster stations. I kept happily in my suite watching the wonderfully blue waters slide by my window.

Next, it was announced that all four missing persons were found, but the fire had returned and spread to another deck, so it was now time to load passengers and crew into life boats. He then stated, “Abandon ship. Abandon ship. Abandon ship. It felt awfully real. I now what it sounds like to hear that, and I think that’s a good thing. I still felt terribly sorry for those who were unsure that it was drill. I half wanted to peek out into the hallway to see if anyone fell for it, but I didn’t want to look as if I was checking to see if it was real, so I again kept to my cabin.

For the first time since leaving San Juan, the aft lunch area was open. It’s been closed due to weather. I ate there before we left, and it was so windy that lettuce was flying off of my plate! It seemed like a silly place to put a lunch venue before I boarded, and it seems more so now. I suppose when the ship is anchored off of an island, as it often is, that it’s better suited for dining out than it is when traveling at 10.8 knots in the middle of the Atlantic. I still think it would be better suited for the pool that was removed to make more seating room. Seating room I’ve yet to see utilized.

Team Awesome racks up points for the treasure hunt.
After lunch, I returned for more writing. At 3 was a treasure hunt. I joined Scott and Jennifer along with Joy and the youngest person on board, Mark, an 11 year old from Berlin. We came in first. Our prize was a bottle of wine and a 50 minute massage. The only reason I did the damned thing was that I’d heard the prize was a massage, but I assumed everyone on the team would get one. We only got the one.

The boy couldn’t drink, so they allowed him to mix his own virgin drink at the bar. He seemed quite happy. Joy and I decided neither of us wanted the bottle of wine, so Jennifer and Scott took that. That left the 50 minute massage for Joy and I to share. I tried to barter for the whole 50 minutes with the $50 spa gift certificate I had won on day 1. She would have gone for it had it been for the bar and not the spa. She declined my offer, saying for her half of the massage, she wanted it to be the top half. She’s so funny!

I asked if I could combine my half massage with the $50. When Katie said yes, I found that I could live with that, as I’m sure they will allow me to bump up to the 50 minute massage with both.

I had another great gym day, followed by a nice soak in the pool. It’s at this stage of the voyage that I find myself finding my routine. It’s too soon to be ready to get off. I know the ship and a great deal of people. I can’t go anywhere and not wave across the room at this person or that. Jack stopped me to tell me to sign up for the engine room tour. Chris helped me find the photo of the day quiz. There is Bill, here is David and Jackie. Nancy waved and Stu was at the Star Bar. It’s a new little family.

After pool time, I encountered an older man with coke bottles for glasses. We were talking with the bar tender about food and he made a negative comment. I was confused, and asked if meant the food was bad, or the selection. He made a face and gave a big thumbs down. I told him we must be on different cruises, as I keep waiting to have a disappointing meal, and have yet to be let down. The lasagna was fantastic. The oysters were magical (so much so that I had 2 orders). From soups to crab cakes, from shrimp to steak, it’s all been so fantastic. Go away grumpy old man. No? OK, see ya...and I was gone.

Before dinner, I was seeking out hors d’ovres and found myself in the Compass Rose bar. Seated there was a man who appeared to be my age next to a woman who was much older. They seemed close and invited me to join them. This was Kevin and Renee. They’d met years ago on another voyage and had kept in touch. Kevin had booked three days before sailing and neither of them knew the other was going to be on board. Imagine their surprise!

Turns out Kevin was 11 years older than I. He was hilarious and kept everyone laughing. Joy joined us and the two of them started telling tall tales. When asked where Joy was from, she said she was in the witness protection program. It just steamrolled from there and we all laughed. I mentioned that I had been wishing there were comedians on board...I’d just not met the right people.

Wearing Kevin's Cardinal's ring.
It was difficult to miss the huge diamond-studded ring Kevin was wearing. I’m not a sports fan, but I knew it was a championship ring. When asked, he freely took it off to let me admire it. His partner was the team’s doctor, so when they won the world series, he got a ring, as well. And when they won a second, he had it sized for Kevin to wear.

I wound up dining with Kevin and Renee and had a wonderful meal. They have nick names for many guests, such as the couple who never smile, they call Sady and Grumpy. I asked what they called me, but since they had just discovered me, they decided on Penny, after hearing of my penguinish name.

Many people had been looking forward to Karaoke tonight. My dinner started half an hour later than expected, so I wandered into the Compass Rose half an hour after karaoke began. I could hear my name uttered from all corners of the room. It reminded me of the Bugs Bunny cartoon when Leopold enters the band shell to conduct the orchestra, and everyone begins to mutter, “Leopold...Leopold...it’s Leopold!”

I found Jennifer and she handed me the list of songs and the small piece of paper on which to write my song selections...as if to say I had no choice but to sing. “It’s been the Stu and Ed show so far,” she said. “They’re the only ones who have sung.”

I found Dreams and put in my request. I was well received and felt good, so I put in Every Breath you Take. I did OK, but had a hard time with the key and had to change a few times. Ugh!

Next I sang Raspberry Beret, by Prince, but failed to realize that I mainly only know the chorus, so for much of the verses I failed, but I was able to hide it fairly well. The crowd loved my enthusiasm. Stu and Ed had been much more rehearsed and people seemed to be tired of hearing from the two of them. Ed definitely does a lot of karaoke. Everyone just seemed to be happy to hear from someone else.
Penguin singing a Stevie Nicks song

Seeing me be brave enough to sing brought others to the stage. I was glad to know that I was not the worst of the singers that night. Feeling yet again encouraged, I next sang Day-O and messed it up fairly well, but again, had such a good time and bantered on the mic with the crowd, they didn’t seem to care. I then found Stop Dragging my Heart Around listed under Petty Nicks, and not Stevie. I killed it! They even applauded me mid song! Finally, I was talked into joining Michelle from Florida (the knot maker) for the male part to Summer Nights from Grease. Killed it again.

But wait, there’s more. Stu began to sing Imagine. I couldn’t help but run up and grab the second mic to join him. I thought we sounded great together and it was much fun. That is how the night ended in the Compass Rose.

Tomorrow is Friday, the day Mom goes into the hospital in Denver for a biopsy of her lung for possible cancer. I’ve been thinking of her a lot and happened to mention it to Janet as we left the room. We spoke for a while and she told me that she would send good energy and keep Mom in her thoughts for tomorrow. I greatly appreciated hearing that. I’m happy I’ve made some really good friends on board. I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep in touch with many of them, unlike how I did after my sailing on the Spirit. But for these 14 days, I have some really fun people surrounding me.

Day 6: No Time

Each day they post a photo in the daily for the “What is it – Where is it game”. They post a small, cropped photo and those of us crazy enough to play, go from place to place looking for it. Some are hard, some easy. I found today’s before I went to bed last night. It was the 12 from the clock at the Star Bar.

I ran into one of the fellow game players who I work with in finding the photo item each day. She asked if I knew today’s photo, and I asked if she wanted a clue or to be told. When asked for a clue, I told her I had no time to give it to her. She knew what I meant, and I gave her the hot/cold for a clue as to where she could find it.

Chef Klaus in the galley.
I then went to tour of the galley with Master Chef, Klaus. It was a nice and clean galley and we got a great tour of the stations and stories of how menus are created, how food is ordered and stored, how inspections work, what happens with leftovers and more. (Some are given to crew and the rest are ground, dried and fed to the fish in the sea.)

This tour had me eating lunch a little later than normal, at nearly 1230 instead of noon. When it was 1pm, I then recalled that I had scheduled a foot imprint session at 1230. Oh, well, I’m sure I’m not the first guest to miss an appointment. Katie was gracious and we’ll try again tomorrow for 10am.

I spent nearly and hour on the bridge today. It was fun talking and joking with Lucy and a few of the others, Hammish, Toni and Adam. I see them frequently. It’s amazing to me that often there is only one person on the bridge, and often they are doing paperwork, looking at a chart, drinking tea, talking to passengers...there isn’t nearly as much looking out for things as I would have expected.

Of course the ship runs itself, and I’m told whales are run off by the sound of the ship approaching. Other ships will show up on the radar, but the ship and its instruments do not warn humans of other traffic in the way, like aircraft do. So they do have to look for ships, but I guess at the current rate of speed, they can easily see it and make heading corrections to avoid any possible impacts. It’s a great policy that Windstar allows passengers to hang out on the bridge just about any time they like.

It was a lazy day. The above, a nap, a good workout and time in the sauna followed by a dip in both the pool and Jacuzzi. I had happy hour with a few funny friends, and for dinner, I went to Candles. I was told it was full, but after saying it was only me, they said they could accommodate me, and I assumed they would do so at a table with others. I showed up and they had a table for one. I had just finished telling friends at happy hour that I was fine dining alone. I get tired of telling my life story every time I dine with new passengers.

My dinner at Candles at sunset
Candles is the specialty restaurant on board. Its view is aft. Had I been slightly earlier than 745pm, and had the sky not been mostly overcast, I would have had a great view of sunset. The service was fantastic and the food phenomenal. My chosen appetizer was shrimp wrapped in prosciutto in a shot glass of vodka cocktail sauce. There were two. For the main, I had a filet mignon that was perfectly pink for how I like it. My sides were creamed mushrooms with leek, and broccolini. Each bite brought the little happy food dance that makes my foot tap, my leg sway, my eyes roll and my voice to make a little yummy sound. The steak was like butter, with a wonderful Bernaise sauce. It was on par with some of the best steak restaurants I’ve ever dined in. And for dessert was a crème brulee, that was pretty good. I was stuffed.

This, as most crossings I’ve done, is not a sailing that is known for its nightlife. Not in just what is provided, but in the amount of people who stay up late. I’m amazed at the people who stay up until two...three...four minutes after 9pm!

There was a game show in the Compass Star after dinner with a panel of cruise staff, including the Captain, about telling the truth where definitions of odd words are concerned. The duo started their tunes right away, but within 10 minutes, the crowded room held only about a dozen people. I keep wishing for a little more to do at nights, but I have a feeling it would only be me and very few others taking part in them.

The cruise is about half over now. I’m really enjoying it. It may be one of the best cruises I’ve taken, and I know I have said that after previous cruises. I just keep raising the bar in what I’m experiencing. I love my Holland America Cruises, and this ship is very much like a smaller version of HAL- fresh flowers, linen to dry your hands in the lavatories, friendly, attentive staff, quality food (I keep waiting for a bad meal, but have yet to have one) and great amenities. I would have no issues choosing another cruise with Windstar, and certainly would do so on a crossing, but then again, I don’t need all the activities of a larger ship.
Penguin, Diane and Captain Reville

Day 7: The Spa

I’ve been very good about going to exercise every day so far. The on board gym is very small, with only five cardio machines and a few weight machines. I’ve never been into using free weights, even when I lifted weights in college, but there is a rack of nice ones on board. Katie tells me the 20 pound weight has gone missing. I told her I didn’t take it...I can barely lift it, let alone carry it to my suite!

Today, in the spa, I had an appointment to have my footprint analyzed. I don’t know what made me think it was going to lead to vital information about my feet, their structure or my posture. It was, of course, just a ploy to have me purchase plastic inserts for my shoes. The handsome young man from South Africa got to the part about how much less they are to purchase on board than on land, and I changed the topic. “So, how long have you been on this ship? What did you do before? Which do you prefer, the land job or the sea? Yeah, I know what you mean about loving to travel, and why not do it and get paid? Well, I’m going to get on the treadmill before someone else beats me to it, see you in a bit.”

While in the gym working out, I heard him come on the PA, “Attention all crew, bright star...bright star...bright star. Deck seven spa. I repeat, bright star...bright star...bright star. Deck seven spa.” Having sailed on other cruise lines, I knew this was a medical emergency. I went into work mode and walked down the hall to see if I could be of assistance. The captain was the first person to arrive, and asked that the spa be shut down to move people out of the way. Within seconds there were at least a dozen crew members on hand, including the ship’s doctor.

Later I found out that Tom had passed out in the sauna. He was out for about thirty seconds. Eventually, he was wheeled past me and was alert and looking great. Soon, the rumor game was in full swing and passengers were saying things like, “I hear his heart stopped,” and “He was air-lifted off the ship after a heart attack.” I should really start some good rumors next time I sail.

The spa had a special today in the sauna, which may have been the reason he was there in the first place. Free of charge, one could try a mud mask to use while relaxing in the steam room or sauna. I’ll give anything a try if it’s free. It had a wonderful peppermint scent and was sort of fun to put on. Afterwards, my skin was silky-smooth!

After lunch I did some writing and took a nap, standard stuff. I then got in the Jacuzzi, and ran into Scott. He asked if I had worked out and I was about to ask if he had gotten the mask. He told me that he’d used the rest room in the spa earlier and was asked as he entered if he would like a mask. He wondered what was wrong with the restroom that he might need a mask. Did it stink? He had no idea why he would be asked about needing a mask. We laughed so hard.

Engine control room
For years, I’ve always wanted to see a ship’s engine room. Finally, today, I was given a tour. Down some stairs, around a few corners, through a large room with huge, loud, hot engines, we reached the heart of the ship- the engine control room. It was much like where Homer Simpson works at the nuclear factory. A large bay-shaped console with buttons, needles, gauges, monitors, sensors, phones, diagrams, and an alarmingly great number of depictions of Jesus guiding sailors. It was almost like being in church. We were allowed to take photos and they answered all of our questions. It was terribly fascinating and such a terrific experience.

Dinner was wonderful, as usual (I had the baked fish with potatoes) and I sat next to a man who used to edit the business section of several newspapers. Don and I talked about writing and he gave me great encouragement and a few wonderful ideas for my fiction story. He feels there is great potential in my project and urged that I write my feelings without worry of editing, which can be done later. That way I’m sure to connect with the reader.

I ended the night with a darkened tour of the bridge and talk about some of the constellations in the northern hemisphere. We were also to go out and star gaze, but with the cloud coverage, we could only see about five stars...and Jupiter.

Being in the bridge at night is a wonderful experience. They keep it very dark to assist in searching the horizon for lights, and they monitor the screens for any debris that might be in our way, such as floating containers that may have fallen off a container ship. They seem to monitor things more intently than I’ve seen them do during the light of day.

As I walked on the outer decks before retiring for the evening, I found myself thinking that I might be able to spend a great amount of time at sea. If I could find the right job, maybe as a lecturer, I could see living this kind of life. Of course, having a wonderful suite with a large picture window and a nice gentleman making my bed and turning it down every day helps!

Day 8: Midpoint

A view of the seas from the Amphora restaurant
We crossed the point at which brought us halfway between San Juan and Lisbon today around 10am. I was at a late breakfast because I’d slept in a bit after the time change. Also, perhaps, slightly because of the rough seas that rocked me in bed nicely. Today was the roughest day of the voyage. I felt fine until this afternoon, after five hours of the rocking and drinking an iced mocha from the Yacht Club. I went to my suite and watched “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe” and took a nap.

Today was also Easter Sunday. There were many eggs decorating lunch. They had deviled eggs, but they weren’t as good as what I’m used to. The rocking of the ship made it so that I ate light at all three meals. Saying that I ate light may sound good, but I still didn’t pass on desserts.

Dinner brought yet another great conversation with people I’d yet to really meet. There was a couple from Perth, Janine and Glenn and Dave, from the Dallas area who calls square dances for a living.

I skipped the spa today. I think after seven solid days of working out, my body deserved a rest, and rest it got. I slept eight hours, took an hour nap before lunch and got another quick cat nap before dinner. It sounds nicer doing this on vacation, but the truth is, with my fatigue issues, this is really quite normal for me.

The day ended as it usually does, listening to the duo, Vee and Ryan, perform in the Compass Rose. Soon, I found myself chatting with Kevin and Renee and eventually shut the ship down for the night with Captain Reville (who cusses like a sailor after a few drinks and with no other passengers around save for Kevin and me), Adam, one of the second officers, Fred, the chief radio operator and Katie from the spa.

It’s fun when the captain knows your name and he seemed to really enjoy our conversation. I’ve dined with the captain from one my past cruises, but having a drink and hearing him speak freely without other guests around was top-notch! I feel like I own this ship!

Days 9 and 10: More days at sea

Does it really matter at this point if I combine days? And kudos to you if you’re still reading. We are still cruising across the Atlantic- one happy family on vacation. Some of us are partying. Some of us are reclusive. And some of us are a bit of each.

Ringing the ship's bow bell
I’m becoming well known, as usual when I cruise. On past cruises I’ve been called ‘Cruise Director’ and “Mr. Opera” (the name of the ship we were sailing on). It’s easier to meet people when you travel solo. I always like to introduce myself and get to know people, you never who you’ll meet or the connections you can make. However, I’m getting to the point where I’m tired of telling my story, tired of talking airlines, and sort of tired of small talk to be polite. However, there are now very few people I’ve yet to meet.

Last night at dinner, I was being seated next to my friends, Scott and Jennifer, I was just about to pull the chair back to sit, when an older woman comes up to the other empty seat and exclaims, “Where will my husband sit?” Inside voice was saying, “I don’t really care, there are plenty of tables all over this dining room, enjoy dinner.” Inside Voice can be sort of rude. Inside Voice can be very therapeutic, as well...as long as he stays inside.

So I took my leave and the dining room manager started to lead me to a table of people I didn’t really know, so I stopped him and asked if I could be seated with people I already knew, telling him that I just was not in the mood. He understood and I ate again with Peter and Don, the editor from New York.

I’m eating much less on this cruise than any I’ve been on. What’s of interest is that the food on this cruise is possibly the best I’ve had on any cruise I’ve been on. I just don’t eat the late night snacks, as I normally might. I eat less at at lunch, and nearly every day I’m eating a salad from the salad bar. I have a light breakfast, since I’m usually eating at 930 or 10am and lunch is usually around 1230 or 1. I often also skip on an afternoon snack. There are no tea services, so I’m not eating scones and sandwiches every afternoon, as I do when I’m on HAL cruises.

I do enjoy my dinners. I have no qualm about eating two entrees if I can’t decide on one. I do tend to limit myself to the two, so I’m sort of out of luck when there are three I like. I have an appetizer, but often not the soup or a salad. I have dessert, and a few times I’ve had two. They say the average passenger gains about a pound per day on board. I am doing what I can to be below average.

If I thought I was popular before, with my meeting everyone, with my stint singing a few songs at karaoke, or with my being a flight attendant for the one airline that seems to be in the news every day, I’m really going to be famous after tonight’s crew show. I think the whole ship turned out for it, the room was packed. Various crew groups or solo artists got on stage to sing and or dance, to show off their local customs from back home and to entertain the crowd.

On stage with Laura, singing opera.
Laura, the singer for the Latin duo, began singing an aria. She went up the far aisle flirting with the men. She went back to the stage and then began to come up my aisle. She got to me and grabbed my hand, leading me back to the stage, to much applause. I went into actor mode and gushed, and hammed, rolling my eyes, fanning myself and eating up the attention unlike anything I’ve done since my days acting at the Texas Renaissance Festival over twenty years ago.

Afterwards, there were many comments on my wonderful performance and new people I’d not yet met on this vacation were introducing themselves to me. Everyone seems to want to get to know me. I even overheard people at the table next to me at dinner the other night talking about me. “He’s the one who works for the airlines.”

As much as I love the brief fifteen minutes of fame (I may regret it later tomorrow) I’m not the only star on board.

I heard last week that there was a movie star on board. She has blond hair and blue eyes. The only woman who really met that description was a woman I’d been hanging out and playing games with. We had lunch with her, and when she and her husband got up, I asked if anyone knew her last name and suggested that she may be the one. The idea was poo-pooed, so the search continued.

In the meantime, I’d met Thomas Malmberg and Michael Hall. Thomas informed me that Michael was a movie star, having performed in numerous movies, including 1946s ‘The Best Years of our Lives’, ‘This is the Life’ in 1952, and ‘Blood of Dracula’ in 1957. He also purports to have inherited Marilyn Monroe’s cat after her death. Tonight, I had dinner at their table and they gave me more information.

Michael was friends with Katherine Hepburn, who once told him, “You know why we don’t get along, Michael? We’re too much alike!” He also once stalked Greta Garbo in a grocery store only to ask when she was going to make another movie, to which she replied, “I don’t know. I’d like to order half a pound of bacon.” They later became friends and he asked if she remembered him. “Of course I remember you,” she answered.

Michael now buys and sells major pieces of art. By major, he means famous. (We later looked him up on line and found out that he had an apartment-cum-museum in Manhattan that was recently on the market for just over $13 million!)

Later in the meal, Thomas said that they had met the other Hollywood star on board the previous night. He couldn’t remember her name, but remembered that her husband was Ernesto. So it ‘was’ Diane, who I’d been playing games and eating meals with! She is so cute, kind, refined and it made total sense that she was from old Hollywood.

Drinks with Diane Mountford and Ernesto

I never did find out if it was Diane who recognized Michael, or Michael who recognized Diane, but I think they both knew Hepburn. As a child actress, Diane played Helen Burton in ‘Children’s Hour’ with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley McClain. She was also Gabrielle, the blind girl in ‘Bonanza’, Gail in ‘Family Affair’, as well as roles in ‘My Three Sons’, ‘Leave it to Beaver’, and ‘Perry Mason’. She may best be remembered for playing Trudy in ‘The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker’ or when co-starring with Bill Williams in the role of Patty Greer in ‘Assignment Underwater’. I never let on to Diane that I knew her secret, she never brought it up at all.

What’s funny is that I’ve met many famous people in my life, from President GW Bush and his wife Barbara, to Al Gore; from Jimmy Buffet to Alice Cooper; from Matthew McConaughey to Russell Crowe. While it’s fun to meet the famous and even more exciting to talk to them one on one and hear great stories, I was more taken with my new friends Michael and Diane. I liked and admired them long before I knew they were stars of film and television, and quite honestly, I know little of what made them stars. And on this ship, we are all in the same class. We are all just people enjoying a vacation together...playing games...chatting...having a meal together.

I may never be a star on the silver screen adored by millions all over the world, but for now, I’m one of the stars of on the Star Legend! As I stated on the photo I posted before leaving San Juan, “Star Legend- It’s like she was named for me!”

Day 12: The Best Days

What a way to end the day at sea! After having dinner with two of the cutest people on board (Katie and Serell, from the spa) I sang karaoke again. I thought I did a much better job than last week, feeling more comfortable, having a smaller crowd, and a crowd I was more familiar with, I belted out Dreams and Stop Dragging my Heart Around. I did a fairly good job at Sweet Dreams. Then, my name came up again to sing Your Song, by Elton John.

As I sang, I nearly cried. I think I’ve found my karaoke song. Even Stu called me over as I walked away to tell me how impressed he was. He said I only need to reel it in when I get artistic and fancy.

Captain Richard on guitar.
After all the guests left, it was just me, the captain of our vessel (Capt. Richard Reville), the duo (Ryan and Vee) and Katie. Capt. Reville, started playing Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here on his guitar and I started to sing. Ryan handed me the mic and I kept going. So here was Penguin singing Pink Floyd to the captain’s playing. I messed up, he messed up. It was awesome. He then started to play The Best Days of Our Lives, by Green Day, but no one knew the lyrics. It was the most awesome!

Dinner was also excellent tonight. Not just for the great food (chicken Kiev with a baked potato, asparagus soup and a chocolate decadent cake a la mode). I had asked the captain earlier in the day if I could invite Serell and Katie, and he was most happy to oblige. I had a great time talking to them about their jobs, their homes, their duties in the crew drills and all sorts of things. I really enjoy getting to know the crew more and how things work on the ship. They seemed to have a really good time and then accompanied me to the Compass Rose for karaoke, where we arrived almost an hour after it began.
Gusti, Penguin, Katie and Serell

People were so happy to see me that I was immediately asked to take the mic. I was full, somewhat intoxicated from wine at dinner, and out of breath from walking up the stairs. I accepted the task, simply asking for Dreams. They cued it up and I started. People seemed very happy to be hearing me sing and it made my head swell.

Other than that, it was another day of eating great food, chatting with new friends, playing games in the Yacht Club, soaking in the hot tub and waving at people all over the ship, everywhere I went. I skipped working out, and I don’t feel so bad about having done so.

The captain welcomed passengers to a cocktail party, where I managed four glasses of wine (thank you Captain) and felt like I knew everyone on board. I sat near the entry and just kept waving as people came in.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been more impressed with a crew, with a ship, with the staff and officers, with a cruise, as I feel with this crossing. I may have a new favorite cruise line and I would not hesitate one second to sail on the Legend again, whether for another long crossing or a shorter week...although I think I’d prefer a crossing. I love that I get to know so many passengers and crew- even if I am sick of talking about my job and hearing people complain about flying with Mother Airline.

Tonight I feel as happy as I could be, thanks to a great dinner with staff, singing with crew (I also joined Claire in singing both a Patsy Cline song and Summer Nights) and most of all, hearing and singing along to the captain’s guitar playing. He’s not so bad!

Day 14: The Saddest Day
My suite

Yesterday, when I woke up, it was sort of hard to believe that this cruise is almost over. This was the final chance to get things done, to see new friends, ask questions, get contact information, and start accepting that being pulled off the boat kicking and screaming would not make me look good- and with the news still cycling about the passenger being drug off an airplane, I would just look like I were jumping on a bandwagon.

One hundred and thirty-one passengers were all dealing with their emotions of ending our trip. Many were eager to start the next phase of their vacation. Diane and Ernesto would be seeing sights in Portugal and Spain for a few more weeks with Lola and Ed, who live in Galveston (I also hope to see them again.) Greg and VeAnne were going to Paris. Michael and Thomas would be going to Germany to hunt for more art for Michael’s collection.

I wasn’t one hundred percent ready to go back to reality, to hear about the politics dividing our country and world, to be confronted with the new attitude against flight crews or to leave behind the numerous staff and crew who had made my Atlantic crossing such a wonderful experience.

So much was my funk, I had a very light breakfast and then went and sat for lunch without eating. Nothing looked good to me. Not the magically still fresh salad bar. Not the egg drop soup or the venison chili. Not the burger or sliced pork loin. I didn’t even have a piece of cake or another bowl of hot and tasty bread pudding. I guess I was tired of eating and that means it’s time to go home.

I spent the 13th afternoon playing games with VeAnne, Jennifer and Greg. I had an Italian sandwich while we played Hand and Foot. Then I excused myself to begin packing, while enjoying my last Sangria on board. I attended the farewell from the captain and crew, and was shocked to find myself the only one giving them a standing ovation. When I commented on this to Jennifer, she reminded me that most people were too old to stand up!

Our last dinner was enjoyable. Ed and Lola had reserved tables for us in the center of the dining room. For the first time since meeting Jennifer and Scott, we had dinner together. Diane and Ernesto sat at the table next to us. People came by to say goodbye, to give out contact information and embrace. I had written a poem inspired by Michael Hall’s story about the first time he met Greta Garbo, so I stopped at his table to thank him for the inspiration and leave him a signed copy of my work. Diane gave out neatly wrapped boxes of trail mix. Then Angela and Janet came by.

Jennifer, Scott and Penguin
Angela and Janet were the very first people I’d met. We were in the departure hall waiting for the strike of one to be allowed on the ship. I stood next to them and we talked. Over the last two weeks, I enjoyed talking to them and had shared my stress of being away while my mother underwent a biopsy to find out that she has lung cancer. When Janet threw her arms around me and told me that she would be thinking of my mother. I started to cry. I had actually, secretly, wanted to cry about leaving this vacation behind for the past three days! It felt good to wipe the tears as I returned to my table and try to hide that I’d done so. Funny.

So here was day fourteen. It started much earlier than I had anticipated, but I wasn’t surprised. Most cruises wake me up early when we reach port. For one, the engines generally churn and shake the ship. My anticipation gets the best of me and I’m up to watch the activities.

I awoke at 230am, after about four hours of sleep. It was dead silent. There was no movement. I wondered if we hadn’t already docked! There were no sounds, no vibrations. It felt as if we were dead in the water. I got up and looked out my big picture window to find that we had yet to enter the inlet that would lead to the dock. There was land ahead, but behind could still be seen the great vast darkness where there was nothing but water and sky...and the lights of a few ships. We were crawling along very slowly and quite smoothly. What a graceful ship.

I went back to bed and maybe wound up with another hour of sleep, before I was up and realized that no amount of struggling would get any more sleep for me. I got out of bed and dressed. I went up to deck seven to enjoy the view, just in time to pass under the large, orange bridge that could easily be mistaken for San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. I was back in Lisbon.

Lisbon bridge

Soon, the pilot was brought on board. Then a tug raced past and helped nudge us into dock, right behind the Rotterdam, a ship I had sailed on a few years ago. She appeared larger than I remembered.

The sun came up slowly, as if not wanting to disturb anyone. One final breakfast, a few last goodbyes, then they called for my departure. The last person I saw on board was Jennifer. I looked forward to seeing more of her and her husband, Scott, who lived so close to me.

I took a deep breath and walked down the gang way. At the end was Captain Reville, who shook my hand, called me by name and assured me that next time I saw him, he’d do a better job at playing Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. I laughed and nearly wanted to hug him. Instead, I smiled and said farewell, walking a few steps away for a final photo of the ship that had become my home for two weeks.

Parting shot
She was a good ship. She had a few flaws, such as a gym that I thought was a bit too small, not as much entertainment as I had hoped to enjoy, and some wasted spaces, but these were all surpassed by the things I loved about the Legend. Her small size, her great crew, her large cabins, her ability to pamper. For two weeks, I was just as rich as anyone on board. I ate the same meals, received the same gracious service and enjoyed the same amenities as those who could afford the largest suites. I would not hesitate one second to sail on this ship again!

I found a great routine that included time with new friends, chatting with officers and crew, working out nearly every day (I’d lost five pounds before the cruise and gained only ten, so I’m only up five over normal...the diet beings when I get home!) and enjoying the steam room, sauna, hot tub and pool. There were planned activities, but there were never so many that I felt pressured with too many things to do. Most everyone on board was quite content in having a lot of free time. People read books, played games, did needlepoint, watched movies, talked, and enjoyed the days at sea.

My journey home took just over 14 hours; that’s only one hour for each of the days I’d just spent getting there. I could have easily gotten right back on board and done the crossing in reverse!

The Poems inspired from this voyage:

Here are the two poems inspired from my meeting with Michael Hall. He was such a dapper man, riding in his scooter and cared for by his friend and business partner, Thomas Malmberg. He was always polite and dressed colorfully, usually in a tweed sports coat and often wearing elephant print pants, which he bought in either Cambodia or Thailand, he wasn’t quite sure. He did say that he’d bought about a dozen to give away, but found that he liked them so much that he decided to keep them for himself. He also always wore an ascot around his neck. I could see me trying to be like that when I’m in my 90s!

He and Thomas, while polite and genteel, seemed to relish their privacy. They always ate at a table for two, but I did manage to have lunch with them one day, and another night I sat next to Michael at dinner. I had hoped to hear stories, which he at first indicated he was reticent to share, but eventually he did open up to talk about a few.

Baby, the cat he inherited from Marilyn Monroe, was not named Baby by her. Thomas mentioned that Baby was a little terror, jumping onto the backs of other cats. He asked Michael how Baby came to pass. Michael thought about it for a moment and said he had bothered a neighbor who had a canary and that he was pretty sure the cat had been poisoned by the neighbor.

He told me about hearing that Greta Garbo was shopping in a store across the street, so he hurried over. He spied her from behind the bread counter and around corners. He finally got up enough courage to approach her and she looked at him. He asked simply, “When are you going to do another movie, Miss Garbo?” He mimicked her accent in telling me that she answered him, and without missing a beat, turned back to the butcher and ordered half a pound of bacon.

Thomas then brought up Katherine Hepburn, mimicking her voice, saying, “You know why we don’t get along, Michael? We’re too much alike.” For a second, it sounded as if he was simply saying this to Michael, but I knew he was talking about Hepburn before he said the name. He did the line and looked at Michael for his response, who picked up right on it and repeated it to Thomas. He then looked at me to indicate that Thomas was making fun of something she had once told him. I think Thomas enjoyed hearing the stories as much as anyone.

That was about the extent of the stories I was able to get out of Michael Hall. He was very kind and I was thrilled to meet him, without knowing who he even was. He was just so interesting and worldly. Thomas had a bite to him, and could use a sharp wit to have me wonder if he was trying to be funny or cruel. He was calm, quite polite to others and had very expressive eyes that seemed to give him away as being kind and gentle, however, as Michael’s business partner, and seeing his wit, I’m sure he keeps people in line when it comes to Michael’s investments.

I told them both that I would have loved to spend more time getting to know them. I left them my contact information and gave Michael signed copies of the following two poems. I hope I hear from them, and they did say if they ever came to Houston that they would let me know. He was very appreciative, and Thomas had to point out an error that I had made in my poem...when Michael had Baby, he lived in a house, not an apartment in New York. I asked if he were that factual when ‘he’ wrote poetry. He indicated that I had won that battle of wit, and thanked me for my art. Thomas also gave me grief a few times for needing to shave, while his face clearly had cuts. The second morning, I told him I would shave, but didn’t want to be seen with razor cuts! He loved my comeback.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn had a cat named Baby
When she died the cat came home with me
Marilyn had a cat named Baby
Who seemed as cute as could be

Baby had a way about her
Riding on the backs of other cats
Baby had a way about her
She made it hard for us to relax

Up atop the mantle piece
That Baby she would hop
Up atop the mantle piece
Laughing as the art would drop

Baby bothered everyone in the building
She did not discriminate
Baby bothered everyone in the building
Until a canary she nearly ate

Now Baby is back with Marilyn
Away in the great beyond
Now Baby is back with Marilyn
Baby and her beloved mom

Deli Counter

I saw her in the local store
A shy boy, that was me
I spied her while shopping
She was a star of stage and screen

Finally I approached
My heart, I think it skipped a beat
I asked her for another movie
She replied then ordered meat

Many years later we would meet again
By now I’d had my own taste of fame
But of course she remembered me
For Greta Garbo was her name

I would end every night with a stroll on the upper decks, looking out to sea, watching the clouds pass under what was a full moon when we left, and got smaller and rose later each night. Some nights we had many clouds, and others there were hardly any. Aside from the lights on the very vessel on which I traveled, there were none, other than the stars above...and Jupiter. I loved the gentle rise and fall of the ship, the wind in my hair, the cool, salty air. I don’t know why I don’t cruise more often.

At Sea

No lights anywhere
No shore to be seen
No ships on the horizon
Twas a dark and barren scene

The moon danced behind the clouds
That passed by overhead
The stars were out in fields of black
The ocean before me spread

Feel the wind that blows me now
Feel the salt water air
Feel the shudder of engine props
That take from me my cares

I love to be on board a ship
As she sails across the water
I love the constant moving about
I love being a globe trotter

Star Legend
Some of the crew and me

I sailed aboard a ship
A star and legend of the seas
I sailed aboard a luxury yacht
One hundred-thirty passengers and me

The captain and his staff in white
Put us all at ease
The crew on board took good care of us
They really aimed to please

In morning- midday- and at night
We had a feast to eat
With meals that went down oh, so right
And desserts that were so sweet

There were musicians with many a song
Who daily would play and sing
We smiled and danced and clapped along
For the cheer that they would bring

When the ship arrived at port
I started feeling sad
As I thought about the friends I’d met
And the good times that I had

Here is a link to my favorite photos from this cruise: https://goo.gl/photos/2x91fBLyz67TXEUT9