Read the previous installment here.
Now, here's the thing: I'd read up on the Zuiderdam. The Dutch take their art seriously, and they had thrown a lot of it around this ship. Well before the cruise, I'd looked up the ship to figure out where the best cabin was... and then seen what was left at bargain prices.
The first cabin I almost booked was close to the elevators. Great. But when I scanned the ship's floor plans, I saw it was one floor above the men's room. No, not in a tropical atmosphere. So we went with something further down the hall, but above a shop. Should be quiet. Partially-obstructed view, but so what? If I want to look at the ocean from my window, I can do so right now.
But I heard that the Zuiderdam had been made for a different market than the usual Holland America Line (HAL) clientele. HAL has a reputation as not your father's cruise line, but maybe your grandfather's cruise line. Navy blue and white are the color schemes. Dowdy. These are not the "fun ships" -- not that they go out of their way to make sure you don't have fun. But the impression I got was adrenaline was not a priority. That all said, Zuiderdam had some glittery, sparkly touches and splashes of red that said, "Grandma's wearing rubies tonight! -- and don't call me Grandma."
First tip-off was the art tour podcast I found on their website. Then there's that giant rhinestone seahorse in the lobby. Not some great atrium you can handglide in, but nice. In fact, it quickly became apparent that the ship had no huge spaces, save for the Vista Show Lounge (the theater in the rear of the ship). This created both a feeling of intimacy and of size. For someone who had never cruised before, I liked it.
The one thing we had heard raves about was Holland America's food was the best of all cruise lines. Well, the Lido deck was one big cafeteria, but it really was top notch stuff. Before the cruise, they try to sell you a soda card, good for godawful amounts of the stuff. But there was an ice tea and lemonade fountain in here, so I just mixed the two and was happy with that for the entire cruise. Why pay inflated prices for something I really shouldn't be having anyway?
As the ship left port (click on the image to watch the YouTube video), we were discussing our options for the next few days. There were just a few excursions we were considering, and then Chandra told me there was a karaoke contest at the Northern Lights nightclub that evening. Having heard her sing, I knew this was definitely something we needed to check out. But we also needed to see our cabin.
For what it cost, this was not bad -- not bad at all. We were expecting cramped. Instead, it was fairly open. In addition, the window was not just a porthole, but floor-to-ceiling windows. Sure, it was obstructed by a lifeboat. But there was tons of natural light, and if I wanted to, I could see the water. And get to the lifeboat before anyone else.
It wasn't perfect, though. The handle on the mini-fridge was broken. There was a very obvious patch job to a hole in the wall above the bed. But there was a couch, a TV, plenty of closets and drawers, and a bath with tub and shower. And except for outside our door, we never heard a soul.
So after unpacking, we took a little rest. But not too long after, Chandra realized that she had developed a rash right where her face touched the pillow. I was fine, though. She called down to the front desk and they said would have new sheets put on while we were at dinner.
But right after, I found I had lucked out, because when asked at booking, I asked for a table for 2. I was told there were no guarantees. There was the upstairs of the Vista Dining Room, and the lower. I had read somewhere that the upper was better. But there was greater availability for the lower, and also better for the later seating than the earlier. So I played the odds, and when they showed us to our seat, the water said, "the newlywed table", with a big toothy grin. Chandra feigned shock, but I'm not one to quibble over details.
Our meals were exceptional, especially, I think because the portions were senior-sized. Just big enough to feel you ate, but not so big you couldn't walk. They were rich, and that was enough. No aruAnd we headed off to book our excursions.
Now, we'd heard that we really shouldn't waste our money on booking through the cruise line. So we limited ourselves to those things that were fairly specific. Our next stop, 2 days away, was the dive center of the Western Hemisphere, Grand Turk. Chandra, not one for doing things in or below the water, decided she might just try a helmet dive. I. on the other hand, hadn't used my scuba license in some time, and thought I better. "How long has it been since you last dove?", the clerk at the excursion counter asked, as I was trying to decide on the beginner class and the experienced class.
"Some time," I said.
"Would you say it was more than a year?"
"Yes. Maybe a couple years."
So she decided to fax the dive outfit on Grand Turk and let them figure out which I should do. The real disadvantage was that the beginner class was for people with no experience diving at all, and you spent the first half of the class just learning. Prior to my trip to find the Lady Washington ten years ago, I took a scuba class with Bob Peck with Adventure Diving in Eastham. My certification dive was in the Mill Pond in East Orleans in October. COLD! A swirling vortex of bubbles and murk and a stray striped bass in my face. So the clear waters of the tropics were no problem. Even if it really had been 10 years since I last dove.
Just in case they decided it had been too long, I signed up for the helmet dive. Leaving it in God's hands whether I would be put in grave danger alone or spend the morning sharing an one-of-a-kind experience with my steady. The clerk said they'd call and let me know the verdict tomorrow. The verdict, she said.
Casting aside my concerns about punctured eardrums or nitrogen narcosis, Chandra was very excited to check out the karoake. But stopping back into our room first, we found new sheets and a towel sculpture of... umm... an animal. Perhaps an armadillo. Or a Gremlin. Maybe even a Disney version of a cute, cuddly bedbug. To me, it looked like a cross between a crab and a rabbit -- a Crabbit. Whatever it was, Chandra squealed appropriately, and I half expected her to tuck it under her arm for the rest of the evening.
When we got to the Northern Lights Disco, things were pretty much already in full swing. As it turned out, it was part of a competition. So I managed to throw enough elbows to get through to the precious clipboard with the signup sheet, and back to Chandra for her choice. Then I had to escort her back again to the DJ booth so she could pick out a song.
After a few performers with various degrees of talents, Chandra got her chance, giving a rendition of "Heartbreak Hotel" that really impressed the slightly-older-but-not-quite-regularly-on-Metamucil crowd. Then there were a few more good performances. Then Julie Andrews got up. Okay, not really Maria from the Sound of Music. She was early middle-age, very tall, thin, blond, blue-eyed. Maybe wound a little too tight. But a woman who obviously did A LOT of musical theater in the midwest. She hit her cues flawlessly, had perfect choreography and stage presence, and so her rendition of "I could have danced all night" was just a kinda creepy in the dark, glossy disco.
And then we learned that this was just the first round in something called the Zuiderdam Superstar -- their version of American Idol. There'd be two rounds to winnow down the competition, which meant now we'd have to go back and do this again. Which was not what Chandra really had in mind, but people were really being supportive, so why not? All she'd have to do is find a good song to do next time.
"What do you win?" I asked. They wouldn't say.
For her birthday, Chandra wanted to go on a cruise. This is not my normal way of travelling. I'm much more of the swing from branch to branch and hop into an idling sampan or jetboat school. In fact, coming from the Cape, lounging when it is warm is anathema. Summer is for work, not play. Make hay while the sun shines and all that. But it was not my birthday, and I had gotten to choose the year before. So it was cool.
Not having gone on a cruise before, I did a little research. Well, a lot. And I found the Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Spirit heading out of New York to the Florida and the Bahamas for 6 days. I was on hold with American Express Travel when a call from Walter Brooks came in, and he related a tale of woe about a Norwegian Cruise from none other than Don Howell. While trying to get in touch with Don directly, I did a little more research and found that bedbugs were becoming a problem on board New York cruise ships, which I then related to Don.
He subsequently went on to blog about it, and I promptly gave up on that trip, much to Chandra's consternation. My idea of a vacation might be different from yours, but I'm sure neither involves being trapped far offshore in a large tin can filled with parasites. And I've been a paralegal.
What helpful news the Blogfather did relate was a ringing endorsement of Holland America from New York -- which gave the benefit avoiding an airport by simply driving to the dock. When I investigated further, I found that nothing they were offering from there worked for our schedule. So instead, we booked one from Ft. Lauderdale aboard the Zuiderdam (pronounced "Zy-der-dam"), having to take into account the extra cost of the flights. As it worked out, it was cheaper to fly one way on Air Tran there and one-way back on JetBlue, than either airline roundtrip.
Fast forward a few months to the day of departure. Well, really, the day before. Chandra and I arrive at Logan and they promptly pull her aside for extra, extra patting down. Then another. Then into the side room for another check. White, late middle-aged female TSA agent just would not let this go. Another check. It was obviously the stud in Chandra's tonque setting the metal detector off. And another check. Unfortunately, as a young black woman in Boston, she's all-too familiar with this sort of extra attention.
Arriving at the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, we were met by my oldest friend, Jake Smith, who lives in Coral Gables. Before crashing at his place, he took us out to, Les Halles, a brasserie nearby that not only made the best macaroni and cheese (gruyère, of course) we've ever had, but also a Salade d’Auvergne (arugula, apple, bleu cheese and walnut salad) that I craved repeatedly through the whole cruise.
Aside: Before the web, there was The Newsletter, most recently described as a proto-blog or paper blog. I put it out once a month, roughly, to keep friends informed of goings on and otherwise impress girls with how whitty I could be. Word spread and after a while, I was getting requests from people I didn't know for copies. And it was Jake's then future ex-wife, A. Manette Ansay, who wondered when there would be an email version. I had featured the cover of her book, Vinegar Hill, in The NL -- and only 4 years later, Oprah picked it for her book club... coincidence?
Saturday, Jake was heading to back to the Ft. Lauderdale airport himself, and was able to drop us first at the cruise ship terminal. We were running early, and figured we could stop into a CVS/Walgreens/what-have-you to pick up forgotten toiletries. Except that the area around the airport and Port Everglades (the proper name of the place where you get on the boat) is nothing but industrial land. Miles of it. So that was out.
We got there about 11:25 AM and were third in line. Check-in took place at 12... or so.
First our bags. Then security. Then eventually letting us get on board the Zuiderdam and head to the Lido deck to hang out while they got our bags to our room and did mysterious other nasty things to the rooms probably involving bleach, DDT and asbestos suits (I hoped). I was able to grab a table by the window and we were finally able to decompress. Now all we had to do was wait for the room to be ready.
The Chatham Board of Selectmen regular weekly meeting on December 18th, 2007 included prolonged discussions on state mandates for extra liquor licenses and an introduction to the new head of the Cape Cod Commission.
To watch highlights on YouTube, click the image to the right here ---->
As a former Chatham Selectman myself, here's the kind of meeting I would have liked. Using simple desktop digital video technology, I've boiled it down to about 7 minutes -- which still is probably too long for some. A good chunk of the interminably long opening credits remains, however.
This past week's meeting focused primarily on issues surrounding South Beach. At over seven minutes, this may feel like a longer online video. But for those who are familiar with such meetings, and especially those who have served, this is paced like a bat out of hell.
On the first of December I finished up a major writing and photography project. It had consumed the better part of the past 6 months for me, and had taken longer than expected - partly because of technical issues (my computer is old and slow) and partly because of environmental conditions (it was raining or foggy when I needed it to be clear). So when I raised my head up and finally had a chance to look around, it was the smack in the middle of the holiday season. And it has never been so welcome.
First off, Thanksgiving had just wrapped up, but I was still in a thankful mood. I still had 4 weeks in which to get things together, coherently, for Christmas. As typical of my gender, I will give thought to gifts for loved ones as early as the day before Christmas Eve. But I'll wait until the shopkeeper is walking to his front door with key in hand at 9 PM on the 24th before I relent and make a commitment to actually buy presents.
This practice, more often than not, benefits local merchants. After all, your store has to be within a few minutes' drive of my house. And open. Otherwise, everyone on my list runs the danger of getting a pint of outboard motor oil, a pack of Camels and king size-Baby Ruth from Cumberland Farms.
Also, the holidays mean I can't really get started on anything new until after they're over. Instead, I can throw any leftover creativity into being in the spirit of things. I don't think I've ever had a tree, in the house, up and decorated all before the winter solstice. Fake trees don't count. Nor do trees that were up due to lack of taking down from the previous year (I feel that any Christmas tree you eventually have to dust has lost any spiritual or cultural meaning, and is automatically demoted to simply furniture).
Christmas cd's in the stereo - up. Outside lights - up. Big red ribbon with bells that plays "Sleigh Ride" whenever Sofie presses the button (meaning every chance she gets) by our front door -- up. Video I took of Santa arriving at Chatham Fish Pier - uploaded on my YouTube channel.
And I find myself, not one full week into December, with the luxury to contemplate the holidays. Come to think of it, it is kind of funny that we have one holiday of giving thanks, followed by one of giving presents, and then finally one that is about new beginnings and making resolutions - clustered around the absolutely longest nights of the year.
Quite a demonstration on what a lack of sunlight - or fear of the dark -- will do to the human mind. It can actually get us to behave in ways that we wish we did the rest of the year. Decently. Kindly. Generously. Maybe even nobly.
Now I juxtapose this against the next upcoming event to grab our attention: the presidential primary season.
As we get closer and closer to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, the behavior on display provides a striking contrast to the season we are now in. So I'll use the spirit of the holidays to judge the candidates.
(read the rest of the column at The Cape Cod Chronicle here)
Recently, Chronicle Editor Tim Wood wrote about cutting the cord on his television. It caused me to reflect on my own evolving relationship with the box.
Having grown up without cable in a reception area where TV Guide could have as listed the stations as "Snow", "Static" and "Don't Get Used to This", television was almost a guilty pleasure. At friends' houses, I'd see tired re-runs and just revel at the clarity of the picture and sound.
Like meeting a childhood crush years later, I had a second romance with television when shows like "24" came out. I was much more mature and had developed other interests in its absence. My news came from NPR. My entertainment was from movies or books. My pastime was writing.
Television itself had grown, too. Firstly, its complexion had cleaned up meaning, I had gotten cable. And I was surprised to see we had more in common. As I became disappointed with what was offered at the movies, television produced shows of higher caliber, with taut writing and high production values. So I that hooked me. But that branching off brought with it so much non-reality reality television that I started to wonder if this relationship had a future.
A surgeon would operate. A radiologist orders a CAT scan and an MRI. An oncologist would test for cancer. And so forth.
Similar thinking happened here. People don't like to come out of their area of expertise, because, well, that's how they've chosen to make their living or otherwise define themselves.
As for the patient and their family, they put their trust in their general practitioner, whose head may be spinning from the myriad of approaches, some contradictory or mutually incompatible. And, like so many patients when faced with a systemic problem, we take half measures, or do nothing.
At the housing summit, it was clear how people started off: When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The housing authority has said solutions lie within federal and state restrictions and funding formulas, but those only cater to the poor, not the near-poor or middle class. Habitat for Humanity can only get people into home ownership if land is donated, which is a problem in an area where open space is very limited and expensive.
Bill Marsh, a developer, put the blame on zoning that made density the enemy, but has done more to raise the value of his real estate holdings by limiting supply. And the affordable housing committee, using the threat of further Chapter 40B end-runs around zoning, religiously sticks to the need to meet targets set by the state, which are admittedly arbitrary and more relevant to Chelsea and Haverhill than to Chatham and Harwich.
The main thrust is this: State statistics say we do not have enough housing affordable to the lowest 40 percent of income-earners state-wide.
(read the rest of the column at The Cape Cod Chronicle here)
Author's note: This post was written one year ago today, during the frenzy of the primary campaign for the 4th Barnstable District. In the middle of composing it, I inadvertently posted it instead of saving it. When finished, I had something more personal than originally intended, and decided not to publish it then. But when I was informed that the first part of it was already "live" online, I chose to withdraw that section and save the entirety for another time.
Except for a breeze and a stray puffy cloud or two, the weather today eerily reminds me of five years ago.
My in-laws were in the middle of a visit from Austria at the time, and had gone to Six Flags a couple days before. While there, the light attendance made me remark about it to the gate attendant. She replied that the economy really seemed to be slowing down. So there was a little foreboding in the autumn air.
In the summer, the Board of Selectmen in Chatham meet every two weeks, and I had convinced the Chair to allow evening meetings to see if this would increase attendance. This was pre-televised meetings, after all. Almost no one knew what went on down in our basement at the Town Offices until Tim Wood wrote about it in the Chronicle.
Not fully realizing that we had gone back on our weekly schedule, I had talked about making plans to take my wife and in-laws down to New York on the train. As a commercial fisherman, I wanted to visit the Fulton Fish Market, where much of our Cape product ends up. My father-in-law, Emil, a lover of all things seafood, said he'd enjoy seeing it, too.
So the day-trip to Manhattan on Tuesday was just about set, with us arriving into Penn Station just before 9 AM. But when I looked at the train times and saw we had a Selectmen's meeting at 4 PM, and I knew this was cutting it too close. We cancelled. Instead, I would stay behind to work and they would go to Plimoth Plantation.
Needless to say, like everyone, we spent the morning watching the news.
I traced on a map where Penn Station is and where the Fulton Fish Market was. Knowing that we all like to walk a lot in cities, and we probably would have stopped off along the way to see the World Trade Center. It was very clear that we would have been at Ground Zero or close to it at the worst possible time.
Before the day was even half over, my wife and I were talking about wanting to do something. I think that's how we all felt at the time. We were wanting to do more, to sacrifice, to help.
Every time I take people on the tour of the State House, I bring them past the bust of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Our U.S. Senator in World War II, he resigned his office to become a tank commander in Europe. A noble and decent gesture considering that it was his grandfather who blocked the U.S. entry to the League of Nations following World War I.
That sort of action-matching-the-rhetoric never fails to inspire me. My hero, Teddy Roosevelt, was better known for his sacrifice prior to Lodge's, when he resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to form the Rough Riders for service in Cuba during the Spanish American War.
So, the agreement I made with my wife was simple: One or the other of us would join the service and see who would be of greater value. Whichever that was, the other would support their decision.
But I learned that, having had my 35th birthday the previous May, I was five months too old to join anything. So it fell to her. Ironically, the day she was signing up in Boston, I got a call from a National Guard recruiter saying I could join up to age 36.
She shipped out to Basic on January 1 and graduated in March. Her stationing in Germany in May meant it was only a matter of time, so I tendered my resignation from the Board of Selectmen, effective one year to the day of my election. At the time, I said this was our way of saying thanks to the firefighters and police who had given so much.
My travel papers as a military spouse came through about a month and a half later. I gave up my home, my job and my office to go into junior enlisted housing with all the other families of the 1st Armored Division in Wiesbaden.
Sofie was born over there. I learned a great deal of how the military operates, and was exposed to the European health care system. Being in Europe during the invasion of Iraq was especially informative for my world view. And I returned a single father, to the best place I could raise my daughter. A safe place.
So if people ask me how my life was changed by the events of five years ago, I have an answer.
I wasn't out pounding on doors today. It just didn't seem right to be campaigning this day. Instead, I dropped into the Chatham Fire Station to say hi. When I did, I saw the flag had gotten a little tangled up. So Roy Eldredge came out, and while we talked a little, he set it straight.
Sofie has been swimming this summer. She's always loved the water, and her natural buoyancy as a butterball baby and toddler helped in keeping her confidence. But as a three- and four-year-old, she's elongated without gaining weight, and actually having to work at staying afloat is now required. Placing her in swimming classes at the Oyster Pond this summer became necessary, along with frequent trips to the freshwater ponds, and a weekly trip to the ocean for Papa to check on her progress.
It is a constant reminder that not all learning is linear. Likewise, I bought Sofie a bike at for her birthday in March. A two-wheeler with training wheels. She was excited, but on the uneven pavement of our driveway and quiet side street, the training wheels would lift the back tire off the ground -- and she'd be left pedaling without any traction.
So I took the training wheels off, figuring that since I hadn't learn to ride a bike seriously until someone had done the same to my bike, we'd see if Sofie might do the same. Still, she hadn't quite mastered the trio of balancing, pedaling and steering yet. I put the training wheels back on this past week, but saw I could set them higher. The bike is tippy enough to let her work on balance, but not enough to allow her to fall. Non-linear progress.
Two steps forward, one step back still means you're one step ahead of where you started.
At the recent town meeting in Chatham, I went in with the belief that the result would be a splitting of the difference. Four million dollars for filling the breach would be turned down, but voters would relent on the $150,000 for studying the effects on the Pleasant Bay environment.
But that's not how it came out. Instead, Selectman Sean Summers made a simple yet compelling case that money spent on the study would just as well be flushed out the breach with the next tide. People are not shortsighted in not seeing the value of having a study that would serve as the basis of plan of action in the coming years. Rather, experience of Chatham voters is that they've been paying for study upon study upon study, and feel they have little real progress to show for it.
(Read the rest of the column here at the Cape Cod Chronicle.)
July 5, and I have appointments in Orleans, Eastham, Truro, Osterville, Cotuit, Mashpee and Marstons Mills.
Or so I thought.
The triple head-on collision in South Wellfleet left traffic at a standstill on Route 6 in North Eastham. Eventually I had to call the customer in Truro and say sorry, it just couldn't happen today. Not if I were going to fit everyone else in. No problem, so we rescheduled.
The day after the Fourth of July on Cape Cod. It was raining. And the schedule of insurance inspections set for me was as tight as a drawn bowstring.
These days, with all the driving back and forth from one appointment to another, I find myself driving over the same roads, again and again, But there's something different. We all know the way to various supermarkets, and know how to get to shopping in Hyannis, over the canal, or the route to Ptown.
But I'm not trying to go shopping. I'm assigned to go to random residences around the Cape. I'm getting deep into subdivisions that no one except the residents travel in and out of. And while it does give me a greater understanding of the Cape's population, it has also provided an even greater understanding of traffic. Especially as it changes throughout the seasons.
What I realized most of all is that when it comes to the summer, especially on muggy days at the end of the week, when the sun is refusing to come out, what many drivers truly need is a large bucket of ice water thrown down their sun roofs.
Meaning they need to calm down and pay attention.
(Read the rest of the column at the Cape Cod Chronicle here)