Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cruise Control - Part 10: Where The Buffalo Roam

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  The Check-In Lady smiles sweetly at me. “So, you’re checking in using your birth certificate instead of a passport?”

  I gulp, having no idea how critical my answer might be. “Yes. Yes, I am.”

  She hits a button on her keyboard. There’s a slight beep as her action is either benignly recorded or the Tri-Delta security police is elevated to high alert. “Could I see your certificate?” She proffers one lovingly-moisturized hand as a receiving vessel. “And a photo ID, of course.”

  Of course. One must have photo ID’s these days, especially when dealing with Republicans, who apparently think that forcing a person to have one will stop them from voting in presidential elections. I place my documents in the lotioned basket.

  “Thank you,” chirps Check-In, who then proceeds to briefly scan my personal proof of existence, and then hits a few more keys, makes a notation of some kind on a sheet of official-looking paper, pauses momentarily to adjust the collar of her perfectly-ironed blouse, because one should never appear unkempt in society, and then apparently moves on without any hesitation. “I see that you already have a credit card on file. Would you like to use that for your sign-and-sail card, or settle with cash at the end of the trip?”

  Wait a minute. That’s it? The birth certificate worked? No questions about where my passport might be? I’m actually slightly disappointed. I haven’t slept for two days, worried about the not-having-a-passport angle. Granted, I didn’t want any trouble, but there should have been at least a few sweat-inducing questions about my lack of international travel documents and whether or not I’ve left my luggage unattended for the merest of seconds.

  But no. Check-In patiently awaits my response, unable to hear the neurotic thoughts in my brain, her head slightly-tilted to one side as if she were a Pan-Am stewardess in 1963, pleasantly taking my cocktail order on a luxury flight to Greece.

  “Let’s leave it on the credit card for now,” I mumble, still befuddled about how things were turning out after troubled nightmares of being thrown into prison for wanton misplacement of my passport. “But wait. Can I put cash on the card once I’m on the ship?”

  Check-In perseveres with her award-winning smile and professional aplomb. “Of course. You can do whatever you want.” She hands me the plastic card which serves as room key, dining key, adult-beverage-purchase key, and general lifeline onboard the ship. “Enjoy your cruise!”

  And we’re done. I turn and stumble toward the rest of my family gathered in a seating area off to one side. Mom hops to her feet. “All good?”

  I smile brightly at her, nodding. I also realize this is the first time I have truly smiled in a few days. Perhaps I’m going about this in the wrong way. If only I could not worry about pointless things. If only. But it’s hard to break life habits, right?

  Mom beams. “Then let’s get on the ship.”

  So we all clatter our way toward another round of signs, leading to a series of continually-rising ramps that theoretically will take us onboard at some point. We’re trudging along the third or fourth riser, with an employee at the end of this section, a sour-faced woman who is bellowing that we need to have our important sign-and-sail cards ready for presentation up yonder.

  Mom suddenly slams to a halt. “Ummm….”

  Oh God.

  Mom: “I can’t find Roni’s card.”

  Hold up. You can’t find the card that someone handed you mere seconds ago? The super important card that you must have on this ship? Are you serious?

  Mom: “I don’t know what I did with it.”

  I don’t take this news kindly. As Mom starts frantically digging through whatever, I grit my teeth. Why is this happening? Why can you not hang on to things for the tiniest amount of time?

  Then Mom says this: “You just shouldn’t have brought me on this trip.” Frustrated and sad.

  And I melt. Yes, I’m still a little irked, but it’s Mom. We’ve had our ups and downs, as all mother-son relationships do, but at the end of the day I love her deeply, despite the fact that I don’t call anywhere near as often as I should.

  Mom makes a triumphant discovery. “Found it!”

  And on we trudge, lots of able-bodied people and one clicking wheelchair.

  At one point, we enter an area where an overly-chirpy photographer and his not-as-chirpy assistant are cajoling people into posing for photographs. (“You can buy copies on board!”) We wait patiently while clumps of three and four people pose with entire fakeness and then move on. Then the photographer addresses us. “How many”

  Thirteen. (Karen and Janet have not yet joined us, they are coming later.)

  The photographer looks stricken by such an overwhelming contingent, stepping back in horror and pretending to be interested in his camera lens. Fine by me, not a fan of having my picture taken. We march past him. We’ll do the group thing later. Love and kisses.

  Finally, after endless twisting and turning, we are actually at the point where we enter the boat. A smiling woman holds out her hand for the sacred plastic cards that we possess. Well, hopefully possess. I glance at Mom. She glances back with an expression of “I got your ass to school every day for twelve years, don’t get me started.” Cards are scanned and we traipse our way into the interior of the ship.

  We are entering on Deck 3, the Lobby deck. As first timers, you really don’t understand the importance of deck numbers and names right at first. Because, basically, you really have no conception of how big these cruise ships actually are. Yes, they look mammoth from the outside, but it doesn’t really register until you need to get from Point A to Point B. Then it becomes incredibly important.

  Anyway, our clan marches forth. And we find ourselves in an area with a mammoth atrium, stretching skyward for many decks. It’s quite impressive, but it doesn’t disguise the fact that down here, on the entrance floor, there are four billion people milling around, most of them not completely sure where to go or what to do.

  A kind attendant, noticing the fear in our eyes, explains. “You can’t go to your rooms just yet. Still loading the luggage and all. And you can’t get to most of the decks. But this deck is open, with alcohol available at the bar over there (she points lovingly and knowingly) and tons of food available up on Deck 9, the Lido Deck. And more bars.”

  This is something I’m keenly invested in at the moment, the mention of multiple bars. In fact, I’m fairly certain I could start a new religion that is alcohol-based. Worse things have happened in the history of the planet, right?

  Based on the fact that we really can’t even breathe properly on Deck 3, there are so many people pushing and jostling, it’s fairly clear that we need to get our asses on Deck 9, where there’s both food AND adult-beverages. It’s a survival instinct.

  So we make our way to a bank of elevators, only to find that most of the planet also wishes to make their way towards heaven. It’s clear that we can’t go all at once, what with so many people on the verge of brandishing switchblades just to get on a damn elevator. We wish each other luck, and then it’s every clan member for himself.

  Eventually, I manage to clamor into one of the glass-walled contraptions, along with about 300 other people, with one woman in particular that had felt it necessary to wallow in a vat of some low-grade perfume that clearly also doubled as a pesticide in third-world countries. When the doors finally opened on Deck 9, I stumbled out of the confinement, gasping and wishing for the death of strangers who douche incorrectly.

  And I found the rest of the family, staring at me with an air of wonderment about why it had taken me so long to join them. So sorry. I didn’t realize this was a race. My bad.

  So we assess our predicament, and the general consensus is that we should get something to eat, and then deal with whatever after that. A few of us are a bit hesitant, eyeing the enticingly-placed, liquor-proffering bars perched here and there, but we should at least be nice to one another on the first day. After that, screw everybody.

  We meander into what we will soon know as the “buffet area” of Deck 9 (Lido Deck for those keeping score), and peruse our options. There are thousands of people in this space, fighting over free food and hogging the places to sit. Somebody spies an unoccupied table, way in the back of yonder, and an emissary is sent to stake a claim. The rest of us get in one of the several buffet lines, definitely on a learning curve and making things up as we go.

  And the next lesson in our Carnival syllabus involves an introduction to the wildlife species know as the Buffet Buffalos. Your first encounter with these animals can be quite startling, especially if no one has bothered to adequately prepare you for what these animals do in their native habitat.

  Firstly, these are very impatient creatures, hopping from one foot to another in anticipation, craning their necks to better study the freshly laid-out grub ahead, and knocking the civilized people about, completely unaware that they are practically drooling down the back of your neck and letting loose with primal grunts.

  Secondly, the Buffet Buffalos go completely insane once the line moves forward enough that they can actually begin shoveling food onto their surfboard-size plate, serving themselves mountains of steaming everything, with juices and gravy splashing all over the place. Their plates will become so heavy that they can’t even carry them, and instead start shoving them down the buffet counter from one serving station to another, piling on more grease-drenched this and fat-based that.

  It is completely unbelievable the first time you see this.

  Oh, and the Buffalos have catchphrases that they utter, things like “Why are you just giving me ONE chicken-fried steak. I want FIVE” and “I’m just going to take this entire jug of ranch dressing with me, they have more” and “I am SO hungry!” even though they are still belching from the last meal and haven’t even bothered to wipe their chins off.

  Tiffany and I just looked at each other, stunned. What happened to these people in their lives that made them be such gluttonous pigs? Geez.

  We hoist our modest-portioned trays at the end of the line, and head toward the distant table that is hopefully still being saved for us, carefully avoiding a few thundering buffalos who are actually headed back to the line to fill up another tray, before they’ve even touched the first one, in case something goes horribly wrong and the endless food stops pouring out of the kitchen for two seconds.

  There is no way, in hell, that these folks can even eat half of the food they have taken. No way. I don’t care what special talents they may have, or what type of training programs they may have been involved with in the livestock pens of local farms, they cannot get all of that food in their bodies.

  It’s obviously never occurred to these people that if they didn’t waste so much food, the cruise tickets would be cheaper. But that line of thinking involves logic and restraint, and the Buffet Buffalos are clearly complete strangers to both of those concepts.

  The journey to our table takes a bit longer than we care for it to take. There are people everywhere, with over-excited children, further stimulated by the free ice cream gushing out of self-serve machines, dashing about and bouncing off things like a giant pinball machine. One innovative little urchin even plops his empty juice cup on my tray before scampering toward an older brother urging him to hurry up before anyone made them stop having fun. Two points for neatness, but you’re still a brat.

  Oh, and we were still lugging around our carry-ons, can’t get to our rooms yet and all. So there we are, struggling along, hot and sweaty and tired and trying to keep everything from sliding off our trays and whacking innocent grandmas in the back of the head. And the soundtrack of our trek is the ceaseless, irritating drone of hundreds of strangers babbling about nothing.

  It is right at this frustrated point, with all the etiquette-deprived people and my disdain for crowds, that I start to think “Wow, I really might have made a mistake coming on this cruise. What was I thinking?”

  We get to our table and plop down our trays. Tiffany and I start to disinterestedly pick at the food. (Side note: The food looked and tasted mighty fine. We were just, well, pretty much done at the moment.) Then we hear someone clear their throat, and we look up.

  A smiling Carnival person is standing there, bearing a tray with large, tropical, probably adult-oriented drinks. A small sign on the tray announces that these little jewels are nine bucks a piece, further bolstering their possible adultness.

  “Do those things have alcohol?”

  “Yes, sir. They have rum and vodka and-”

  “I’ll take five of them. Tiffany, you want anything?”

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1 comment:

  1. I've never wanted to go on a cruise, but now I know why, in painful detail. I'm sitting here rooting for you... wanting you to be greeted by the Love Boat staff and guided down thick-carpeted hallways to your luxury comfort rooms where you can shower off the vomit and dress up for evening cocktails, meeting up with other freshened people in a purple plush velvet bar room with a tinkering blues piano.... guess not!