Saturday, February 9, 2019

Thank You, Fleetwood Mac

The Houston skyline on screen
There is little arguing that Lindsey Buckingham is a brilliant musical architect, however, after seeing the newest cast of players join Fleetwood Mac live in Houston, February 5, 2019, I will admit that the house that Lindsey helped build can easily accommodate new players. I did not miss Buckingham.

Don’t get me wrong, I consider him one of the best guitarists on the planet and I’m a fan of his solo work. Of course, the Mac replaced him with two fronting guitarists, and also tours with an extra keyboard player, percussionist, guitarist and Stevie’s staple back up singers. (Have I ever seen the Mac or a Nicks solo tour without Sharon Celani? I don’t think so.) I guess it takes all of that to replace that kind of musicianship.

Mike Campbell
Another thing difficult to debate is the size of Buckingham’s ego- equally as large as is his talent- but with that absent, and knowing that Stevie is handily able to command a stage in front of a sold out arena, it was nice to hear Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie chat a bit.

The Face of Fleetwood Mac
New to the Mac, guitarist Neil Finn, who hails from New Zealand, brings quite a storied past with him of great hits and collaborations with musicians of all walks. Commanding a powerful lead guitar and a wide-brimmed hat, Mike Campbell comes to the Mac from Tom Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers. These two appeared quite comfortable in their new band, and along with their musical prowess, their vocals were really what had me not missing Buckingham. It was refreshing to hear the Buckingham Mac-standards with a bit of a twist with Finn’s vocals filling in just fine.

Opening with one of Fleetwood Mac’s biggest hits, “The Chain,” brought the capacity crowd to their feet. Had the ceiling not been bolted in place, the cheers may have lifted the roof off the house, proving that Fleetwood Mac still has relevance! Going next into “Little Lies” and then “Dreams,” the band made it clear right away that they knew what was expected of them. Hit after hit. Christine looked so at home and happy at her keyboards at stage right. Stevie, as always, held center stage. Mick behind her and John McVie kept to his corner to Mick’s right. Stage left was the domain of Campbell and Finn with the girls singing back up behind them. Between the girls and Mick was the touring percussionist. Behind Christine were the other two touring band mates on guitar and keys.

With a new lineup, the band eager to show off a few of their older tunes, thrilling the diehard Mac fans. Included in the show were old hits, such as “Oh, Well,” “Tell Me All The Things You Do,” and “Black Magic Woman,” as sung from the female’s perspective by Nicks. Having Finn on stage, and to my delight, Mick came forward to introduce a song he once heard on the radio, unsure at that time who the singer or the band was, but knowing that the song was a powerful ballad. Nicks joined Finn in the Crowded House hit, “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” which quite honestly, brought a few tears to my eyes. The other time I was in tears, as were nearly all in the venue, was during the encore, when the band played the Tom Petty hit, “Free Falling,” complete with images of Petty, Nicks and Campbell flashing on the large screen behind them.



The crowd seemed to go craziest when Stevie’s songs came around, such as “Gold Dust Woman” and “Gypsy.” But they also went crazy for McVie’s “Say That You Love Me” and “You Make Loving Fun.” It was in the middle of a powerful rendition of “World Turning” that Mick had fun with his drum solo, shouting incomprehensible words, eyes closed, feeling the beat, knowing where his sticks needed to connect with drums, cymbals or blocks. His enthusiasm at 71 years is amazing. It’s like he leaves his body and a drum spirit takes over.

Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks
Another crowd pleaser was a story Nicks told about coming to Houston to purchase her puppy from a local who had saved many dogs during the horrible flooding of Hurricane Harvey. She then dedicated “Landslide” to her new friend, sung so sweetly with Finn at her side.

Gone were some of the ballads I was hoping to hear, such as “Songbird” or “Sara,” but after two hours of hits, I did not leave the arena feeling gypped. With other hits, like “Hold Me” and “Go Your Own Way,” it was almost like seeing the old band again. One couldn’t help wonder if it’s easier for Nicks to sing along to the old Buckingham hits about their broken love affair without seeing his face staring back from stage left.

Final bow


It was an amazing night without a single hitch that I could see. The band was sharp, happy, close-knit and energetic. They seemed genuinely happy- to be together, to be in Texas, and to hear the crowd roar and cheer.

Mick says thanks and good night
As Mick said the final good night and wishing for us all to be safe and kind one another in this ever-increasingly strange world, there were high fives and hugs from the strangers around me. Before the show, I started a conversation with the man two seats to my right. We both missed the old days of seeing shows at the Houston Summit, and began naming great shows we had seen there...Bowie, Elton John, The Greatful Dead, Peter Gabriel. This led to mentions of other great shows in the many venues of Houston’s mid to late 80s, such as Southern Star Amphitheater, the Music Hall, the Woods Pavilion, Numbers, the old Hard Rock Cafe on Kirby, or the Astrodome and Rice Stadium with bands like Heart, Rush, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones. They were impressed at how many bands that I saw back then, so I had to admit that I used to work concert security, so I actually got paid to see most of those shows!

Enjoying my 10th row seats
As my new Mac friends parted ways to leave the arena, I counted the five favorite things I overheard at the show. In random order:

1. So, Christine McVie’s son is playing with the band? (Not realizing that John McVie used to be Christine’s husband!)

2. You mean Lindsey Buckingham isn’t part of the band of the band any more? (Obviously not a huge fan, who would obviously know that he got the boot last year.)

You can always tell who the fans are!
3. I love seeing all the Stevie fans dressed in top hats and lace.

4. Mike Campbell even ‘sounds’ like Tom Petty!

5. People won’t stand up during the whole show, will they? I’d like to think we’re all old enough to enjoy the show seated and relaxed. (I sat down only twice all night, as did most in the 9 rows between me and the stage.)


The best part of my night was having three seats to myself for most of the show. Two guys showed up just as the band started. They had booze in one hand and several hundred dollars worth of band merchandise they had purchased in the other. They left after the third song for another drink, and then left again after the fifth song, never to return. Funny!

The show was over too soon and I ready for more!



Set list:

1. The Chain
2. Little Lies
3. Dreams
4. Second Hand News
5. Say That You Love Me
6. Black Magic Woman
7. Everywhere
8. Rhiannon
9. Tell Me All The Things You Do
10. World Turning
11. Gypsy
12. Oh, Well
13. Don’t Dream It’s Over (Crowded House)
14. Landslide
15. Hold Me
16. Monday Morning
17. You Make Loving Fun
18. Gold Dust Woman
19. Go Your Own Way
Encore:
20. Free Fallin’ (Tom Petty)
21. Don’t Stop
22. All Over Again

Penguin at the concert venue in Houston, TX



My video links:

Landslide:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttyM-4Fk43k

Gypsy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_76AC9vNeA

Don't Dream it's Over:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnH_k3xJdDw

World Turning:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JQIqQz7Iu8

Mick's drum solo:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7OjMkNm4S0

Stevie takes a bow Rhiannon:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sL7O3caNZrc

Rhiannon:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ML2htaNdPpg

Everywhere:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8ujjuRzAdY

Black Magic Woman:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxhVE9_ZCSE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3OcVo0ORuE

The Chain:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOEkQbAUEiE

Dreams:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MIIJkJXNNI

Monday, October 29, 2018

Nieuw Amsterdam for a New Penguin

A plane flies over HAL's Nieuw Amsterdam in Ft. Lauderdale, FL


I’m back on Holland America (HAL) for a seven day Western Caribbean cruise (on the msNieuw Amsterdam, October 21, 2018). HAL is like an old friend- not much has changed, but so much has. HAL still has classy vessels with lots of live music and personal touches, such as
linens in the restrooms instead of paper towels. Sailing on HAL is a lot how I imagine sailing was back in the day.
Linens in the public rest rooms rolled tight.

Hors d'oeuvres at social hour
I’ve experienced, and have heard others talk about, a decline in customer service over the  past few years. I don’t recognize my room attendants, because I hardly see them- gone are the days where they’d practically live in the hallway. I sort of miss hearing their "Good morning" sirs. I can now sit at a bar and not have anyone come ask if I want a drink, which used to drive me crazy, but now I just sort of feel ignored, especially when I know there are hors d'oeuvres available and I just want to indulge because it’s been two hours since I put food in my mouth, and I’m at sea, so obviously I need to eat.

The food is still fantastic, the staff super friendly and the talent in the various shows and music venues are talented and quite worthy of high paychecks, which I have a feeling they don’t necessarily receive. I especially enjoy that during the day, the entertainers are allowed to roam around the ship. It’s fun rubbing elbows with them and having the chance to appreciate their work face to face.
This cruise line tends to skew towards the more mature guest, which is another reason why I tend to like them, as I enjoy the more sophisticated cruise experience. I’ll trade in the fifty announcements a day for the belly flop contests, the bingo games, the trivia challenges with ships on a stick and silly prizes of key chains and pins for a bit of class and sophistication. I like that I don’t have to shake my head in disgust at the bubba’s wearing tee shirts and shorts to the main dining room.

Boozy cruise
As one of the Carnival ships left ahead of us from Ocho Rios, the music kicked up a few notches from their Lido Pool and a maniacal man took the microphone. I couldn't understand what he was saying, but he brought the crowd to a frenzy with woos and roars. The sounds faded as the ship left; the party heading out to sea with booze-filled revelers enjoying what they hope to remember of it the next day. I admit, I did feel a twinge of jealousy, the excitement of an exuberant sail-away tends to carry one away. We had no real sail-away parties on our ship. But as that Carnival ship left, I swore I heard it 'hic' from all the alcohol.


Entertain Me

Some of the best entertainment comes from other guests. I was walking to breakfast and overheard a couple discussing things to do. One mentioned that there was a cooking show at 11, they were going to demonstrate fluffy omelets and blueberry pancakes. The woman said, “Oh, I wonder if they’ll have free samples.” I shook my head. It was all I could do to not say, “Um, hey, have you been to the Lido deck for the all you can eat buffet? It’s free!”

At lunch, I was looking for an empty table. I had ordered the burger from the Dive In bar but had fixed some nachos as an appetizer while I waited for the burger to be made to order. A couple recognized me and waved me over. They seemed a bit familiar, so I acted like I knew them and joined. As they began to bore me with the details of living in their state, of the fires from last summer and the influx of craft breweries, I wondered, “Who ARE these people? Where did I meet them? How the hell do they know me and why am I eating lunch with them?” Finally, as they finished their meal and got up to leave, I saw the woman’s name on the name tag hanging from her neck and realized that I had met them briefly at a bar the previous day. I guess I made a good impression on them and was happy to spend some time talking with them.

Birds of a feather?
There’s a group of Submarine vets on board. Next to us in port was another cruise ship. The sub vet behind me was telling tale of being at sea to his wife and new friends, and made mention that the ship next door had lowered one of its tenders to ferry passengers to shore. I looked and saw that there was not a missing tender- those being used, and in the water below, were quite obviously not one of the tenders from the ship. The open space was not for a tender, or life boat, but where the ships faster boat was stored. Hopefully, his role in the Navy was more as a grunt. I felt it was best to say nothing.

The ship seems sort of empty. Each night at dinner we marvel at how many open seats we see around us. At our own table of eight, it’s just been three of us. There was another couple the first night, but I’ve not seen them since. Last night the three of us were joking that we must have scared them away. I took the blame, having the odd name of Penguin. “We’re not going back to table 50 for dinner, David. That strange fellow with the bird name will be there.” We all laughed. I did see them a few times later in the cruise, and they always said hello and waved, so maybe it wasn’t me. And that's the beauty of cruises. You can create your own agendas and itineraries. It's all about options.

Today was a sea day. I love sea days. I love the rolling of the ship and vibrations of the engine. I love watching the water roll by and searching for life- both above and below. When you work in aviation, you’re used to looking up at aircraft. At sea, there are so few to be seen. All evening, people I met asked how my day was, or wanted to know what I had spent my day doing. “Oh, I did this and that...I didn’t leave the ship, though.” That always gets a laugh.

Tonight’s show blew me away. For years I’ve complained about Stiletto Entertainment, the company who was contracted by HAL to perform the shows. The singers are always of great talent, but the writing of the shows were just awful. How many medleys do I have to endure? To accompany the great dancing and voices, there were spectacular sets- which HAL has invested over $3 million in- phenomenal costumes, great songs and strong choreography. After the show, I hunted down Nate, our cruise director, to tell him how thrilled I was, as was everyone around me. Later, I met Michael Hibbs, one of the dancers who I felt stood out for his confidence and precision in his dancing, and how well he plays to the audience. He was quite flattered and was my new best friend.

My other favorite entertainers are...well…all of them, really. The piano duo at Billboard On Board, who sing and play all the greatest hits from the sixties through today are a great asset to the cruise ship. The band in the BB King’s All Stars Lounge really get the place rocking, and it’s always fun to see how many people they can get on the dance floor. There were two specialty acts, a funny comedian and a female vocalist, Derrick Cameron and Tricia Kelly.

Mugging with the entertainment after the vocalist show

I do miss the late night disco up in the Crow’s Next, but I noticed that tonight, after the All Stars show ended, they had a DJ take over, which wasn't advertised. However, I left to hear the piano duo knock out great sing along tunes. If they would throw in a table of sandwiches and chips late at night with some drink specials...

For a cruise line that tends to cater more towards the older crowd, I’ve been impressed at the amount of younger people on this cruise. I usually feel as if I’m one of the younger people on any given ship. Not this time. There are quite a few people in their 20s and 30s, and a lot of eye candy, too. I’ve joked about how I must like older women to enjoy cruising as much as I do, but I have found myself letting my eyes wander at all the young, pretty ladies, and while enjoying the gym and the spa package, feel quite inadequate working out next to the young, studly men with all the muscles.

Some of the young crowd late at night

While in the Sea View Pool tonight, just before sunset, watching the mountains of Eastern Cuba float by in the distance, a couple emerged from the Lido restaurant. The woman in her tight black dress was obviously pregnant. The young man was also dressed in black. I was impressed at how well the pants and suit matched, not a bit off color. He wore a white shirt with no tie and the scruff on his face diminished the older look the receding hairline was beginning to give him. She sat down on a lounge chair facing Cuba and he stood in front of her facing the pool. The seemed very European. The way he stood there was as if he was born to be there, standing like that.


Tendering in Half Moon Cay
There are over 500 submarine veterans on board. For the most part, they are what you would expect when you hear that a group of submarine veterans are going to be on board. There are a lot of old men in ball caps with ship names, vests full of patches and slow, pudgy white-haired spouses. There are certainly a lot of walkers, canes, wheel chairs and scooters on this ship, right now. But they are a really fun group of people. I met some guys just after coming aboard on Sunday. One asked me if I knew the two different types of ships. There are submarines... and rest are targets. I told him that didn’t make me feel any better, knowing I was on a target, and I hoped this would not turn out to be a submarine voyage.

In the past, other guests have called me cruise director. I’m known for being social, sharing tables, introducing myself, and interjecting a bit of comedy whenever I can. Today, while in the gym, I overheard a woman complain that after she had just lost twelve pounds, she was concerned about the fact that she’s already eaten ice cream twice, and this was only day three. I told her not to worry, as I heard they remove the calories from the ice cream. She took me a bit too seriously and left in silence. She probably went for some ice cream.

Lounging by the sea
This afternoon, I found a nice seat in the shade overlooking the Sea View Pool from deck 10. All I wanted was a nice, quiet place to do some reading with the Caribbean breeze keeping me cool. The position I found was near the vent from the kitchen, where they were obviously baking bread, another thing HAL is known for. There is nothing like the fresh-baked bread on a HAL cruise ship, except, perhaps, for the aroma of it baking! But then, I noticed that the pool on the deck below was now entirely in the shade. Since I’m anti sun, I decided to give up on reading and changed into my swim trunks for a dip in the pool and time in the Jacuzzi- a decision well made! I enjoyed it so much that an evening swim just before getting ready for dinner became tradition.

Tomorrow is another port stop, and I anticipate the masses leaving the ship to me and a handful of others who, like me, won’t be leaving. I’ll work out, enjoy the spa facilities, lunch with no lines, and the ability to move from one end of the ship to the other without a wall of slow-moving grandparents who have created a human wall armed with walkers, canes and scooters, around which it is impossible to pass.






Ways I like to live deliciously on a cruise ship:

Spa package. I wake up, eat a light breakfast, explore the seas and horizons, or port views, work out, lie in the relaxing thermal spa loungers, take a steam bath, shower, Jacuzzi, steam bath, shower, lie a second time on the thermal spa loungers. If time permits, repeat.

Lunch. Maybe a freshly-made burger? Hand-thrown pizza? Sushi? Fish and chips? Whatever- don’t pass on some dessert. Desserts used to be bland. Yay! Now they are tasty and hard to pass up.

Explore, then find a shady spot and do some reading.
Lunch from the Lido Buffet

When at sea, watch the waves float by. Count the seaweed. Look for whales. If you find none, check the Lido pool.

High tea with scones and dainties. It’s only been three hours since I last ate!

Nap. Preferably in a shady and breezy spot on deck, or in my cabin.

Afternoon swim and whirlpool on the Sea Deck.

Grab a cheese plate and fresh-baked bread and enjoy with a glass of wine in my room as I ready myself for dinner.

Happy hour with new friends.

Dinner. If I can’t choose between two items, I order both. If seated with great table mates, order extra dishes to share! I've never had a bad meal on any of my Holland America voyages.

Penguin and ice cream
After dinner show in the main stage.

Post show entertainment.

Evening ice cream.

Time in my state room writing.

Bed time and sleeping in late.


Penguin with one of the on board penguins
Penguin Anonymous Part One

I really wanted some anonymity on this cruise. The last time I sailed was the day of the Dr. Dao incident, where a man was dragged off a plane in Chicago. For the next few days, as we sailed across the Atlantic towards Lisbon, news would come in about the incident. As I met more and more people, they would ask me about it- had I heard the latest? (Duh.) What did I think? Had I had anything like that happen on my flights? And more annoying… “Let me tell you about what happened to my sister on her flight to Boise a few years ago...” like I care. Let me tell you horror stories about my interactions with your job while you’re on holiday!
In the ever-social Crow's Nest, deck 11 forward

I’ve failed. I keep meeting people and making new friends. Then I run into them later and get distracted from my agenda of seclusion. Sometimes I am good at remembering who they are. I was ordering a burger and had been looking at the menu board. I turned to order to find standing in front of me, a woman, who had not been there before. She figured out that I was about to place my order and asked if she was cutting in front of me. I stated that she was, indeed, but I was not concerned about it, and invited her to continue. She insisted that I go ahead and order, and we struck up a conversation. Later in the day, I walked past her in the Gallery Bar, one of my favorite spaces on board the ship, save for the annoying TV screens with sports. She called out and asked if I was looking to cut in line. I asked her if there was something going on that was worth cutting in line for. After all, on a cruise, if you see a line, you tend to want to get into it. It’s either involving delicious food, something being given away, or a chance to get off and explore a new port destination.

I met a wonderful couple from Nova Scotia and we were hitting it off quite well. They asked what I did for a living, then realized that it came across as rude, and said I needn’t answer if I didn’t want. I laughed, and they looked at me quizzically. I had to explain that I was thinking of telling people that I worked in the mail room, just to avoid having to talk about my job while on vacation.

There was even a book of penguins on board
When you are Penguin, you are quite memorable. Everyone knows the name and my namesake is on all of my shirts. I can’t walk down deck three and not hear the photography guy shout out, “Hey, it’s
King Penguin!” Wish I had brought my crown! I am starting to feel like a big fish.

Tonight, I sat at the Billboard On Board bar to listen to the fantastic piano duo. I like to sit at the piano bar to watch the players pound the ivories and hammer out hit after hit as the crowd, and I, sing along. I turned to see who else might be in the bar and saw the older Jewish couple I had met the night before. They waved, called my name and seemed to want me to go join them. I turned again to sing along to the band, not wanting to. Nice couple, with fantastic stories, but I wanted to sing and not engage in conversation in a room where it was difficult to hear, with a couple who had difficulty in hearing.

Later, one of the entertainers I had met the night before came in and sat down. He was by himself and waved to me- it was my new friend, Michael Hibbs. I love meeting entertainers, so this time I got up and joined him at the back of the bar. He informed me that he was not allowed to sit at the bar unless there were no passengers there, and thanked me for joining him. It was fun asking him questions about ship-board life as we joined in singing along to the various chorus verses. I thought we sounded quite good together. Did I mention that I had already had a few drinks?

At the end of the set, I was talking to the piano duo and mentioned that Michael and I had discussed the practice of entertainers not eating in the main dining room unless invited by guests. It didn’t dawn on me to invite Michael to dinner, so I asked they would do so for me, as well as extending the invitation to the two of them. They would join on our final night, but only half of the duo could make it. Your loss, Megan!

Dinner with Michael from the piano duo, Michael Hibbs, the dancer, me, Annette and Matt, my table mates


Drill Time

There was a life boat drill on board. As a flight attendant serving on our local safety committee, I found it quite interesting to observe- not only the manner in which the life boats are swung out over the water and eventually lowered into it, but at how the crew seemed to be learning and taking instruction from others who were quite obviously astute at what it took to orchestrate the abandoning of ship, even in drill form. On another day, I was able to observe a man overboard drill. People kept commenting on how long it took to get the boat into the water, failing to realize that most occurrences take place at sea, and it takes time for the ship to come to a safe speed for which to lower a boat into the water.

Lifeboat drill on Deck 3

Today’s port was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Most of the ship’s passengers were in port. I worked out in the gym with only about five others. I had the thermal spa to myself. I had the whirlpool to myself. I was in heaven. When I was finished, I thought it must be about 12:30. I was an hour off. How time flies when having fun! I went to the burger bar, The Dive In, and had a burger and fries. They must be the best burgers at sea, with fresh baked buns and crisp- as-hell fries. Love it!

For the fourth time, I joined my table mates, Matt and Annette, in the Main Dining Room for dinner. Talking to my table mates, from Washington state, is fun. They are young, in love, with grown children, and seem to love life in the same manner as I do. I gave them my card at dinner. I hope I hear from them, but they are not on social media and never gave me their information. As nice as it is to meet people, there are times I guess you just know these people are only now people. Matt only recently started drinking, so it was fun every night to hear of his new drinking experiences that day. They attended mixology classes, tried new drinks, went on booze cruises in port, and were really enjoying their time away.

A look at the anchor chain
I tried something new. I exfoliated. When I bought the spa package, it included an exfoliation kit. It’s basically salt and seeds. It made a huge mess in the shower, but it all washed down the drain just fine. My skin is so freaking soft, I can’t stop touching myself. It’s very awkward. I don’t care. Most of these people will never see me again. Only a handful know who I am. I am Penguin, dammit. By the way, I’m talking about my arms and face.

Three more nights left. I really dislike how short a seven-day cruise feels after being used to 13-16 day cruises. I keep getting lost on this ship, thinking I’m going forward, when I’m going aft, thinking I’m port side when I’m starboard. I’ll get the hang of things on day six. Then I leave. That’s how it works. On the longer cruises, just as I start to feel like I know the ship, I think to myself, had I been on a seven day cruise, I’d be leaving tomorrow.

Our voyage on the map


The Wall

There comes a day on each cruise where I hit a wall, much like a rogue wave that hits a ship and turns it sideways. There is much food, so much drink, so much fun, my body kicks in like, whoa, that’s enough. Slow down. We can only handle so much vacation at one time. I know...it’s quite odd. My whole life is a vacation. I’m not used to drinking this much. I’m not used to the rich foods. I’m not even used to working out so many days in a row. I’m not used to being so friendly to so many people. I really am in introvert and I need my time to recharge. And I know, that also sounds odd, as a flight attendant, who is always on stage to make people feel welcome and valued. I’m on vacation, so I don’t want to have be that person, but I can’t help it.

To the lady looking for the forward part of the ship, I am her guide. To the woman asking how to get to the Lido buffet, ignoring the fact that the last thing in life that you need is a buffet, I’m your guide. To the guy in the seminar asking why there are 24 hours in a day and not ten, or some derivative of ten, acknowledging that there are 13 lunar cycles, I will mention that we live on Earth and not the moon, and there are different lunar cycles than solar, and that we divided it into 24 because that is how many times twelve noon hits at the height of the solar cycle, and you may shake your head like it’s the fault of the man trying to sell you a shiny Tag watch, and you may disregard me as some know it all, while the entire staff are secretly giving me fist bumps and high fives for speaking up, which they can’t do, I am your guide. Even if I may be, like you, on vacation. It’s hard to turn it off.(I thought these Navy guys were all going to be smart!)

Penguin towel in my room for down time

With my walls caving in on me, I took it easy for much of the day. After all, I am on vacation. I awoke and commented out loud as I walked into the Lido dining room, “What the hell are all of you doing here? Shouldn’t you all be off the ship and exploring Grand Cayman? I had to wait in line for my Eggs Benedicts, a wonderful Holland American tradition. I do ask for double ham, as I find their slices to be quite thin. They oblige without issue. I also love the crispy hash-browns, which always compliments a full and quite healthy breakfast. Right? Whatever. At least I passed on the freshly-baked cinnamon rolls. That’s no easy task, as I’ve found in previous mornings perusing the lavish buffet offerings. Avoid the temptation and order the free room service!

There are so many interesting people on board. Some I meet fact to face. Others. I overhear. As we left Georgetown, Grand Cayman, following the Carnival ships with their wing-like smoke stacks, I was talking with a young man from England and his girlfriend. I met him on our second day, as he boarded the elevator going up, with his tattooed arms and shoulders exposed and red as a lobster from a day spent in the sun. His cute girlfriend with her blond curls clung close to his side but never spoke to me. He was seated next to the pool with a man who obviously was his grandfather. A man walked up to him, “You still look hot. How is your sun burn feeling?” The young muscled man answered that he was doing quite well. His girlfriend shot a glare that burned through him, the most animated I’d ever seen her. I laughed, and the sun tanned youth looked at me quizzically. He was obviously being hit on. I mean, come on… “You still look hot?” That’s a come on if I ever heard one. The man moved on, stumbling a bit.

The entertainment on this ship has been phenomenal. The show with the dancing cast a few nights ago was filled with song and dance sequences that really dazzled. I made these comments to Nick, the cruise director. As much as he appreciated hearing my praise, it was nothing compared to the feedback from one of the dancers, when complimenting his confidence in his dancing. He really looks like he’s enjoying what he’s doing, not just making a stage smile for the audience. The second show, while packed with great voices, more excellent costumes and live music, was not as spectacular. Never a fan of medleys, as I’ve mentioned, that’s pretty much all it was, save for a few full songs, including a duet with a performance of Whitney Houston that had me in tears during the song and on my feet at its conclusion. They should create a show like that! Singing with legends!

Me with our Cruise Director, Nick
As I waited to speak to Nick, he was getting an ear full from a woman who had obviously had a few more sheets added to the wind than most. She was complaining about things a cruise director has no influence over. When she finally stumbled away, Nick extended his hand and we exchanged pleasantries. I leaned in and said, “So, I want to discuss with you my displeasure in the quality of toilet tissue on this ship. I know you can do something about this.” He laughed out loud, and we spoke at length at how similar our jobs can be in dealing with some interesting characters.





Penguin Anonymous Part Two

One of the things I really used to love about HAL cruises is the daily high tea service. It’s just so proper. I cruise to experience what it must have been like back in the heyday. This cruise, I have given up on my daily high tea experience, realizing that I can have tea on my own, when I want it, where I want it, and as necessary...alone.

It’s always the same. I walk into the main dining room for tea at 3:00. I’m seated at a table with people I have yet to meet. So here I have to decide once more, do I lie and tell everyone I work in the mail room of an insurance company ensuring no more talk of work, or I do spend the next half hour holding court answering questions about my job, my route, how long we stay in a city, or giving my opinion on what their cousin Frank should do about the horrid experience he had on my airline six months ago?

There were 7 ships in port in Cozumel

Next, I use my poker face to hide any reactions watching these heathens fail at how to take tea properly. I soon get over this as I realize that the service is spotty. Sometimes I get passed by with the one tray of food I’m interested in. On this sailing, a tea was poured into my cup. It was black English tea. I don’t drink black English tea. Time was, you got a cup of hot water and prepared the tea yourself. Oh, wait. We are dealing with a majority of heathens who can’t prepare a proper cup of tea.

Soon, the captain will make an announcement about the trip and expected weather, but I can’t hear it because no one shuts up to listen. They keep going on about the shop where they bought their blouse, the lousy pour of the bar drinks at that one bar they go to back home, or about their kids having another baby soon, which means they’ll want to book another cruise to avoid baby sitting duties.

One tea on this trip was enough for me to realize that I can simply gather a cup from numerous locations around the ship, as well as some dainties or small sandwiches- if I’m even hungry- from the Lido buffet or up in the Crow’s Nest, which, on this ship, has been converted into a game room, cum library, cum shore excursion HQ. It’s still a nice place to sit and meet, while taking in the expansive views from twelve floors above the water, looking over the bow of the ship.

Doppelgangers

My friend Kevin spoke up as soon as I mentioned this cruise on social media, saying he wanted to come along with me. We were in a mutual friend’s wedding and we’ve known one another for a long time. I’ve always enjoyed his company and picking his sharp mind. He had to back out, in the end, which is why I’m on board solo. He is, however, on board. At least, someone is on board who looks so much like him, it’s all I can do to not go up to him and ask why he didn’t just say he wanted his own state room.
Ben Franklin and Penguin

Also on board is my best friend from LA, Shawn, complete with lanky legs and intense brown eyes, only about 15 years younger. Tonight, I met Ben Franklin- got my photo with him, to boot, if you don’t believe me. That’s not all. I sat next to a man last night who looked so much like New York Mayor, Ed Koch, I thought I heard taxis honking on the street outside.

I did a double-take when I saw a woman at lunch who looked just like the one I dated years ago. I longed to go engage her in conversation, but her large, brutish husband kept me seated securely in my table across the room, far from his fists.

Then, there’s Lewis CK. He’s on board. I actually do believe it’s really him, however. That’s exciting. I’ve not had the chance to get up close to meet him, and I’d break my Penguin silence to do so, even if I have to hear him complain about flying. Then suddenly, I never saw him again. I think he must have been on board to discuss upcoming entertainment options and returned home from one of the port stops.

Branding

Everyone knows that I’m a brand ambassador for Holland America. I love the classic style, the smaller ships, the little touches, the live music. I have more status on other lines, and while there is a cruise ship for every person, something good about every cruise line, I’ve found a line that I love in Holland America.


I think one thing that kept dawning on me, since it’s been about three years since my last sailing on this cruise line, is finding disappointment at some of the changes I noticed. The funny thing is hearing the same comments from others when making mention of it. One person even told me that Holland America is known for change. So if you’re listening HAL, I just want to say stop it. I’ve found what I like. If you keep changing things, if you keep wanting to be like the other cruise lines with their brassy looks and huge ships, then I might as well just leave now and try Princess, or RCL.

The biggest appeal to me in a cruise vacation is being that I am no CEO of a corporation- my bank account is far less limited, my bar tab will not be able to fund small third-world countries- but when I sail on HAL, I feel like I’m royalty. For the time I’m on board the ship, I’m just as rich or as important as all the other guests. My fine watches tick the same as theirs, and I do have some fine watches. Maybe I don’t have the big suite or priority boarding or free laundry service, but when I’m sitting at the table enjoying tea, or ordering wine with my meal, or enjoying a culinary class on board, no one else knows that. That’s a secret between you and me.

Grand foyer centerpiece

Other cruise lines nickle and dime everything. They throw in all these specialty restaurants and charge more money. Want to use the dry sauna? On HAL, it’s included. Others have the belly flop contests and chug-a-lugs and ships on a stick prizes. I enjoy my rolled rest-room linen instead of paper towels. I relish the fresh flowers all around me. I gawk at the pieces of art aboard the vessel. I cherish the opportunity to, for a week, enjoy a nightly dinner and a show. Ah, the delicious life.

In the past, some of the shows have been disappointing, and I’ve never held back in stating my opinions. The talent is usually there, but the shows were simply lacking in appeal or relevance. There is a lot of talk among passengers and crew of entertainment changes coming to Holland America in the near future, and some, it seems, may be relegated to larger ships only. HAL has gone the route of branding with so many icons, it’s hard to tell upon which cruise line I’m sailing. The NY Times, Oprah, America’s Test Kitchen, XTC Tours, The Lincoln Center, Billboard Music, BB King- all have good billing on board.

While one of my favorite things on HAL sailings are the options for live music, I’m hearing tale of fewer stage shows in favor of more music walk venues. Instead of dinner and a show, as rumor has it, soon it will be dinner, and then walk up and down deck 2 for the entertainment. There will be five or so acts in various locations, all with three shows a night. You go from one to the other. You have to chase down the entertainment. And on the main stage will be acts brought in from here and there.

Steak and lobster dinner
I noticed how the classical music that used to play before dinner now has show times that do not always revolve around dinner time, and some nights, there was no performance at all. Gone are the times they would come into the dining room and play a few songs between sets in their own venue. Not a single night was I able to enjoy a glass of wine and listen to classical music before taking my seat at dinner.

As far as options, it sounds great on paper. But even with just the two main late-night music venues on Nieuw Amsterdam this past week, I was entertainment-deprived! I loved the piano duo sing along in the Billboard On Board lounge, but I also loved the BB King All Stars. One group takes a break, so head to the other venue. Then, they take a break, and the first venue just finished their show. Ugh.

Normally, things on Hal cruises shut down early. They are known for not having the youngest crowds on board. There’s nothing worse for an artist than performing to an empty room on a ship with a few thousand guests. This cruise was different, and where I normally seem to shut the ship down at night, I never left for my cabin where there weren’t tons of fellow cruisers out, playing in the casino, sitting in the empty Lido Buffet (because it closes far too early), looking for more entertainment and things to do. It was a bit Twilight Zone to hear people, and not just the young ones, comment that there wasn’t enough to do late at night. Maybe it has come time for me to start checking out other cruise lines. Just as I earn my third star in HAL’s Mariner Society.

Speaking of Royalty

There is a head of state who is surrounded by all things luxurious. There is wealth at his finger tips. There are assistants at his beck and call. At times, he must give audience to those he might rather stick a fork in his eye than to endure another ten minutes of them going on about themselves and their dreary little lives. But I digress.

Feeling fairly regal

When I’m enjoying my cruise, I feel like such a head of state. I wear my best watches and turn my manners up to ten. I can converse with the cream of the crop as easily as with the crew. My bed is made each day and turned down. I am treated to live entertainment. Champagne often flows. And there are times I must give audience to people I really hope to never see again, and for the life of me, while they know who I am, I keep mulling over in my mind who the hell they are and when did we meet? As long as I keep smiling and nodding, they think I’m actually interested in what they say. Why I do that, I don’t know. I’m not head of state and I don’t need their vote!

I don’t have a big bank account, but I live a wealthy life. I surround myself with great people, adventure, good taste, as much laughter as possible, and allow myself the freedom to take advantage of things in life that I value, that provide the opportunity to grow and advance, and expose me to new ways of looking at things.

It was so interesting to disembark from the ship today and head outside to await my prearranged transport to the air terminal for my flight home- what felt like should have been a private plane after the week of pampering I just enjoyed. What I found so amazing was that I was still surrounded by all the passengers on my ship...I even recognized quite a few…but there were so many people I had never seen before. Again, this is why I enjoy smaller ships. How many times have I met fun and interesting people on one of the last nights of the cruise, to hear, “Why didn’t we meet this Penguin guy sooner?” I know! Why?

My new friend, Michael, and staff wave farewell

I suppose this is the reason why Penguin Anonymous failed. I keep searching for interesting people, good times, opportunities. Those don’t often present themselves in a vacuum. This is also partly why I enjoy sailing solo. With a group of people, all doing the same activities, sharing tables and tours, it’s more difficult to make those connections that leave you searching for people on the last night to exchange contact information. Some people, as I mentioned are only now people, but I have quite a few friends from past cruises who I’m still in touch with, and love hearing from. Adding to that list is something I like to do.

Inside the airport, checking in for my flight home, I encountered people from the hotel before the cruise, who had spent the past week on other ships. I almost wanted to ask how their vacations went, but I had gone back into introvert mode and needed to recharge.

I slipped past security without incident, and now that I was back in my world, as an aviation worker, returning to my turf, boarded my flight home having to take the jump seat in the aft galley because the flight was full and I was flying standby. It was a disappointing way to end a week on one of the better ships upon which I’ve sailed, but it’s this that allows me the opportunity to experience vacations at sea. I spotted some of my HAL ship mates on board my flight, as I sort of hid in the back galley. I half expected to hear my name being shouted. “There’s that Penguin fellow! Let’s have a chat!” Maybe next time, my friends. See you on board!

Some happy cats when I got home for nap time!




Feel free to check off your reaction and leave your feedback below!

You can also read other related stories: 
https://penguinlust.blogspot.com/search?q=lyngbakr
https://penguinlust.blogspot.com/2011/11/penguins-cruise-to-bermuda.html
https://penguinlust.blogspot.com/2017/05/two-weeks-at-sea-on-star-legend.html 


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Near to my Heart

Stylized view of Corpus
One thing I may never get used to as I age is how time seems to warp. In school, a year took forever. Now they fly past like the clouds in the windows outside my seat at 34,000 feet. When I was a boy and I got to fly down to Corpus Christi, I pretended the clouds were giant space ships and my shuttle craft was dodging around the armada amassed in the nearby star system. I’ve always had an active imagination, and I always loved flying to South Texas.

The last time I flew to Corpus Christi was in 1990. That is when we moved my grandmother to Dallas. Corpus is so full of rich, wonderful memories- walking to the corner grocery store with my grandfather, holding his hand, which to do so, my arm raised up to meet his. The cicadas sang in the trees, leaving their brown shells on the swing set, in the bushes, and even on the side of the house. I would help my grandparents in the garden behind the garage, its bounty would become fried okra, boiled greens, green beans and potatoes- side dishes to the best home-fried chicken and skillet corn bread made with bacon grease. It was always amazing how they could gather so many vegetables for all of us.

My parents were married in Corpus. I love viewing the old photos, seeing my mom’s family there in Corpus, all so young, along with my dad’s family, who had all grown up in that house. There were so few times the two families were together. I loved how the back yard was always the prime backdrop for family photos. I remember my grandmother telling me how, when they moved into this house when it was new, across the street was farm land.

My childhood trips to Corpus with my cousin were the best. She and I would play restaurant in the back yard, or bus company in the dining room. Sometimes, I took the bus to and from Houston, so I had a fondness for Trailway’s buses. As I got older, I would fly down. It used to be so inexpensive that I could buy my own tickets from what I’d saved from my allowance.

Departing Corpus in the early morning
When I saw that I had a Corpus layover in my line for the month, I had to call my Aunt to find out when it was that Memaw moved to Dallas. We struggled, but finally determined that she moved to Dallas just in time for her 80th birthday. Subtracting when she died, we determined that she moved in 1990, and this where the time warp freaks me out.

It’s been twenty-eight years since I was in Corpus. I was twenty-three then. There have been more years that I’ve been away from Corpus than when I went to visit my grandparents. It just doesn’t seem possible. Was it that long ago I was in the rear-facing seat of their huge land yacht, also known as a station wagon, with my cousin, waving at motorists behind us, while listening to the Police sing ‘Every Breath you Take’ on the radio? Was it that long ago we’d drive to Mustang island to swim in the surf and languish as I’d look back to see my grandfather waving me back in, fearing I was out too far in the surf? Was it that long ago we’d come in from the back yard, back full of sweat, to hear the string of bells hanging on the door sill chime as the door closed, as our eyes adjusted to the darkness inside, the way it was kept, in order to keep the heat at bay as the window air conditioning units strummed in unison? Was it all that long ago?

It’s nice that these memories still keep me company and have me longing for the more simpler times, when Memaw would brush my hair, my grandfather would teach me how to play dominoes, and we’d drive to the T-heads to go fishing. When I feel old, I think my cousin, Leslie, and how we would have so much fun together.

Penguin on the T-head
Corpus Christi is near and dear to my heart. I’ve always loved the city by the bay and that iconic bridge over the ship channel. After Pa died and Memaw moved to Dallas, I no longer had a reason to visit. I’ve missed it terribly. The house my grandparents bought across from the farm lands, which soon became homes, where we’d wash off in the back yard from the garden hose after returning from the beach. The same yard where we’d hide Easter eggs in the bushes (one year, finding an egg overlooked from the year prior!) is still there- its trees taller. That old house is just how I remember it, still white with green shudders, just as they left it only, it’s not in as good a shape and is showing its age.

Shrimp boat
I have another trip to Corpus in a few weeks. I hope I can get back many more times. It’s such a bitter-sweet trip. I didn’t realize that on the ride to our hotel we’d pass the old bank building where Memaw used to work and would love showing me off to her friends. I saw it as we buzzed past on the freeway, pointing it out to my crew, “Oh, that’s the building where my grandmother used to work.” Of course, the bank has changed names.

The lump in my throat nearly brought a tear to my eye as I could see my grandparents, with their white hair and smiles, looking down on me standing in the back yard in the shade of the trees planted when my father and his siblings were infants. And those bells that hung on the door sill that rang as the door opened or closed, now hang on the sill of the door in my own home. We may leave the past, but the past never fully leaves us. I’m just fortunate to have such a rich and happy past that I bring along with me. A past that is still very much alive in Corpus Christi.