Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cruise Control - Part 22: Mary Jane Appears On The Scene

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  So we’ve arrived in Jamaica, and we’ve been somewhat kidnapped.

  Okay, not kidnapped, exactly. More along the lines of “forced to deal with something one would rather not deal with whilst on a tropical island”. And by “we” I meant myself and Crispy. I had no idea where anybody else was, and that lack of knowledge was starting to get on my nerves just the tiniest little bit. Anyway, the unpleasantness went something like this:

  A hyperactive man who was clearly reinforcing possibly unattractive Jamaican stereotypes had rudely forced Crispy and I to participate in some local custom that involved virginal tourists being subjugated  to un-requested madness. As this man prodded us to an apparent staging area just to the side of the ship’s gangway, he was babbling in an over-emphasized accent and insisting on being our best friends, shoving us toward his buddy, who was quickly snapping presumably trashy and expensive photos. The man threw his arms around our shoulders and made us pose.

  I was so not in the mood for this.

  And he was amazingly sweaty. Drippingly so. I’m not really a fan of sweat, not even my own, unless the wetness occurs during a bout of strenuous and physical intimacy. Then it’s kind of enjoyable and erotic. Not when we’re on a pier in Jamaica, surrounded by billions of tourists that I don’t know on a first name basis. In such a setting, I don’t want to be hugging anything that can easily shoot out of my grasp like a bar of soap at a tawdry YMCA. (Although I might have been a bit more cooperative had someone arranged for The Village People to be giving a performance nearby.)

  But I played along, mainly because any form of resistance seemed to energize the man even more and I just wanted this to be done. He rambled on about this and that, ramping up the exaggerated patter until I thought his dreadlocks were going to explode. When he finally released us from his jabbering performance, he seemed to be expecting a tip of some kind for providing local color. He was greatly mistaken.

  Happily, it was right after this that we ran into most of the rest of our zip-lining party. Karen and Janet were there, both of them being polite at this point, but obviously quite ready for things to get moving, as we had places to do and things to be. Dawn and Tara were also present and accounted for, wearing basically matching mother/daughter outfits and sunglasses, both of them being fully trained in this skill. Tiffany and Terry were still AWOL, but surely they would show up at any second, right?

  Well, not exactly. The happy streams of people that were surging past us failed to reveal any recognizable faces. I started to sweat, partly from the sun (which was already pretty intense at that hour of the day, thusly justifying the pale-faced, probably Norwegian staff woman onboard who had been bellowing “Don’t forget the sunscreen!” as we tromped past and completely ignored her) and partly due to the ticking of the clock. Tiffany and Terry had best hurry, or there would be brutal disappointment in some manner.

  I thought back to my earlier conversations with those two, trying to recall if they had given me explicit instructions on how and when to disembark the ship. I didn’t recall anything like that, but it was not out of the question that I had been distracted by something shiny and didn’t fully understand my given orders. Such personal failures happen much more often than I care for them to happen. Let’s blame it on my troubled upbringing, shall we?

  A check of my watch revealed that we had roughly 10 minutes until our tour bus was scheduled to depart, trundling us off to the jungle setting wherein we would be hurled along somebody’s clothesline for the grand zip-lining experience. The outcome of this situation did not appear promising.

  I turned to the other members of our already-reported party. “Maybe you guys should go on ahead, just in case.” No reason for everybody to miss the excursion. But in a moment of bonding or perhaps simple misunderstanding, they all chose to stand guard as a unit. Probably so we could collectively terrorize the tallying twosome as a solidified coven when the errant duo finally arrived.

  Luckily, it was at this precise point that Tiffany and Terry came strutting down the ship’s runway, both of them fashionably attired and, for the most part, managing to skirt the crazed Jamaican Man and his paparazzi sidekick. (I’m assuming that there may still have been a few random photo captures of someone’s breasts, based upon the way the Man and his Kick high-fived each other after reviewing the latest snaps.)

  Tiffany and Terry made their way to our little gathering, with Tiffany still waving at her fans, something she always has to do when making an appearance in public. We calmly explained to them that we had roughly three seconds to get to the bus or our agenda for the day would be severely altered. Both of them nodded their heads and became instantly focused, being veterans of many past incidents in our family where speed was of the essence or there would be tears and smeared mascara.

  While the score from one of the Mission Impossible movies played in the background, our team scurried to make it past the little welcoming desk where overly happy people were trying to welcome us to their island. We didn’t have time for pleasantries, even though they were wearing very cute outfits and there was the vague promise that free adult beverages were available just off to the side. To ensure quick processing, we politely but firmly shoved a few slow-ass tourists out of the way.

  Once through that mess, we encountered another obstacle we didn’t have time for, namely a maze of little shops where 47 different retailers were offering the same model of bongs supposedly made from plumbing pipes ripped out of Bob Marley’s home. Fascinating as I briefly found that to be (dude apparently had a lot of plumbing), it just really wasn’t the time to be perusing potential Christmas gifts for the bad sheep of the family. (“Hey, Joe Dean, look here at this Bob Bong we brought you from Jamaica. Now please stop selling your teeth to buy drug paraphernalia.”)

  We made it passed all of the folks loitering in the primitive shopping mall, along with all of their distinctive aromas. (Why are there so many cultures in the world that don’t value daily bathing? Is there something I’m missing?) We then spied a woman prancing around in a vaguely official uniform who was giving off an aura of possibly being privy to directional information. We descended on her, en masse. Where do we go to meet the buses?

  She pointed.

  At the other end of her finger was an area with lots of little signs on poles, advertising the various excursions, with snippets about “Snorkeling With Dolphins” and “Submarine Tour of Old and Wrecked Ships” and “Drunken Fiesta on a Beach”. Hurray! Trouble is, there were no longer any people lined up at these signs. No matter, can’t stop now. We raced to the non-existent line for the Zip-Lining tour.

  And we waited for a while as absolutely nothing happened.

  Then, miraculously (I bet good ole Bob had something to do with it), a woman came sauntering in a door, waving a clipboard. People bearing clipboards know things, right? We pounced. She responded. Why, yes, the tour buses for the Zip-Line extravaganza were still in the parking lot. Follow me.

  We loved her instantly.

  So our merry band of dysfunction followed Mary Magdalene-Mon out into the parking lot, where rows of buses were belching fumes into the air. She led us to a particular bus, spoke briefly with a man standing beside it who might have been the driver or might have just been a serial killer on a break, then she turned to us and indicated that we should climb aboard.

  We did so. Or tried to do so. Turns out there were only four seats left on the bus, and there were eight of us. My sister Dawn, who did not have a designated place to stick her fanny and was therefore still outside the bus, proclaimed quite defiantly that this arrangement would not work. We were all going on the same bus or this whole thing was not going to happen.

  Part of me was not thrilled with this Norma Rae moment, as I was one of the lucky four with a fanny-place, and I was rather enjoying the cushiness of my temporary home. But the other part of me knew that she was right, and I climbed back over the couple from Canada who had been very accommodating when I first staked my claim, but were now not so thrilled with me butting them in the face a second time.

  Mary Magdalene-Mon, still efficient but obviously not satisfied with all aspects of her profession, led us to another bus. This one happened to have enough seating for the entire tribe, although a few of us had to perch on these odd fold-down seats that effectively sealed off the back section of the bus, a not-really-happy thing that could prove irritating should we need to hastily evacuate the bus in the event of a fire or the inability to withstand another round of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”.

  I guess it didn’t matter, though, as Mary scribbled something on her clipboard, murmured another something to the serial killer who was indeed the bus driver, patted the side of the bus in a manner that could have meant “God speed” or “Please have this one fumigated before you return” and then she marched off, presumably to a place where over-worked bus-designators can unclench for a few moments until the next ship of fools arrives.

  The serial killer selected a gear and we drove off.

  Now, the area just outside of this little port was fairly industrial. Maybe they always are, I don’t know, not having had many experiences arriving at a port in a foreign country and then boarding a bus that will take me to a place where I can pay people to let me ride a clothesline over gaping chasms. It might be standard procedure to drive past questionable buildings where there are odd, leaky 55-gallon drums stacked alongside said buildings while rusty, clearly inoperable cars are parked nearby. Perhaps this is that they mean by “atmosphere” in the travel brochures.

  But we soon progressed out of that area and found ourselves in a more city-like area. We were now seeing cute little houses and cute little shops and cute little cars that were apparently driven by people who were out of their minds. It was this last bit that caught my attention. Was it normal that people just dart about with no respect for lane boundaries, proper turn-signaling, and, I don’t know, potential casualties from their automotive decisions?

  Then we pulled up to a stoplight at what appeared to be a major intersection, and I got a second dose of local culture. I was in the midst of aiming my camera out the window, attempting to take one of those travel photos that end up being important only to you and that no one else will ever care about, when I lowered my camera in surprise.

  The man driving the car right next to us was clearly smoking a joint. And not in a furtive way. He was really happy, and he was ready to share, holding the reefer out his window at the surprised, touristy faces that were reviewing his actions. Wanna hit?

  Actually, it turns out that I was the only one who was surprised, apparently. The other folks sitting around me, including members of my own family, were discussing the situation with nonchalance. Yep, pot is legal in Jamaica. Smoke it anywhere you want, no problem.

  Why did I not know this? (More importantly, why did everybody else know this and not me?) Not passing judgment, not at all, I went to college, enough said. But seriously, I didn’t know if I was really cool with people sucking down on ganja whilst on the open highways, especially if the munchies kicked in. Because you do crazy things when you have a drug-induced fixation on a particular food combination that you would never consider when weed-less. (According to people I have spoken with, of course.)

  The random driver beside us, realizing that no one was going to partake of his kind offering, whipped his hand back and took another deep drag, with burning embers dropping off his special spliff and extinguishing in his beard without any notice on his part. His reddened, watery eyes made it clear that singed hair was a small price to pay for basic happiness.

  Connecting the dots, I glanced forward to our own driver, he who was in control of the bus and our eventual fates. His eyes were a perfect match to Mr. Friendly on the left. (Have these people never heard of Visine?) Was the entire island stoned? Were we really being taken to a place where people could zip-line, or were we about to become drug mules in a tawdry scheme resulting in us living in dirty hovels, wearing ugly clothing and having sex with strangers just to pay the light bill? (Because isn’t that what always happens in Lifetime movies?)

  The light turned green and the bus continued through the intersection…

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