Monday, November 21, 2011

“It Looks Like Alabama”

Normally, I can sleep through anything: kids screaming, rock concert, the girls asking me to take out the trash. However, if I’m sleeping in a moving car on a trip, I can feel the fluctuations in the car such as when we slow down or speed up or if we turn a corner. It was the same on the ship. I knew when we had left open sea and were coasting into Freeport and that is what woke me out of a comfortable dream. Our curtains were closed, so I couldn’t see outside, but I could feel it in the motion of the ship, the subtle changes.

Glancing at my phone, which also serves as watch, music player and note pad, I groaned when I saw it was only five in the morning. However, I slid out of the bed, trying not to wake the girls, and peeked out the balcony door. There was Freeport.

I’m not sure what I expected. Perhaps I had seen too many old movies, but I thought there would be more of an exotic nature to the port. I wanted extravagance and hoopla like they show on television when people arrive in Hawaii. What I received was a lone man smoking a cigarette by a trash can. It was not a good sign.

“Okay girls, rise and shine. We made it.” We had paid quite a bit of money for this cruise and I wanted to squeeze every minute out of it that I could. That was the whole reason we had arrived as early as possible the day before. When they opened the terminal doors, I had wanted to be the first one there and I planned on being the last one off. As it stood, we almost were.

“Sounds like you had doubts,” Sarah said as she rolled over. Teri and Char just covered their heads with the blanket and ignored me. It’s terrible being the only morning person in the group, but once my feet hit the floor, I’m awake and ready to go. Of course, usually I go no further than my back porch, but hey, at least I’m out of bed.

I decided to help the girls along with some motivation and yanked the curtains back, allowing the Bahamas’ sunshine to brighten their morning. Instead, three pillows darkened mine.

As they grumbled returning to their slumber, I realized that our cabin didn’t come equipped with a coffee pot like many hotels do nowadays. If I wanted coffee I was going to have to go up two floors to the Lido Deck to acquire my morning nourishment. Now I was grumbling.

My morning ritual at home is to wake up, grab some coffee and a cigar, and breathe in the morning from my back porch. When the girls booked our cruise, they made sure I had a balcony so that the lack of ritual wouldn’t throw my day off, and believe me, missing that morning time does set my entire day off-kilter.

While I had the “back porch” and cigar covered, the coffee was not. I was too cheap to think about room service, so every morning when we would have breakfast, as we headed back to the stateroom to get ready for the day, each girl would take a cup of coffee back with them while I carried two. One morning, Char had even gone down and brought me back a cup so I would have it when I woke up. I am well taken care of, there is no doubt.

Eventually, the girls began to stir from their cocoons and one by one they joined me on the balcony. We leaned over the railing and watched as ropes as thick as my arms were wrapped around gray concrete poles, mooring us into place for the day.

I gave Char a gentle hug. “Well, you’re out of the United States. What do you think?”

“It looks like Alabama.”

For the most part, I could see her point. After all, we were in a port and most ports look alike. Basically, it was a shipyard like the ones around my parents’ area of Alabama. To make the similarities even more real, it appeared to have a couple of oil rigs off the coast. I’m not sure if they actually were or not, but that’s what they looked like from the distance.

I only shook my head. “Let’s get some breakfast, shall we?”

While Freeport may have looked like Alabama, the weather was definitely Florida. As the girls changed for breakfast, I gazed out at the powder-blue buildings that made up the shops and restaurants of this tourist trap. The sky was overcast and a slight drizzle misted everything; everything, that is, except our balcony. It was obvious that it was going to rain at some point that day, but really, we were on a cruise and didn’t care.

We were only going to be in Freeport for twelve hours, leaving at five that afternoon. It was the only part of the cruise that actually had me petrified. I had been fretting for weeks that we wouldn’t make it back to the boat on time and they would leave without us. I grew even more frantic when it dawned on me that I didn’t know if we had sailed out of one time zone and into another. Was their five o’clock the same as my five o’clock? Whenever we visit my parents in Alabama we go back in time and repeat one entire hour of the day. Of course, it doesn’t last long and we’re jettisoned back into our time on the return trip. Did that happen in the Atlantic?

The reason I was so frantic was because char and I didn’t have passports. If we wound up stranded how would we get back in time to feed the cats? Who would record Castle for me?

No, I wanted us back on the ship no later than four o’clock.

“Relax, Robbie, we’ll be fine,” the girls assured me, but these were the same ladies that were late to parties in their own house! I was taking no chances and kept checking the time every thirty minutes.  It didn’t matter really, we were back by lunch time.

Before we had even boarded the boat, they had put us in front of a camera and taken our picture. They did the same that first night at dinner and every night afterwards. A guy would go around trying to guess who was with whom and squishing them together to take their picture that they could then later purchase for $19.99. That price never made sense to me. Why not just say twenty dollars? Are consumers really so stupid as to think that .01 cent is such a better bargain? “Hey, it’s only $19. Let’s get it before it goes up to twenty.” It makes as much sense as the price of gas having that .009 cent attached to the end of it. Just round it up and let’s be done with the shenanigans.

As we crossed the gangway ready for our adventure in Freeport, they stopped us on the wooden bridge and snapped another photo of us entering the island. Still nothing exotic and I wanted to head back to my room.

The first couple of shops had the girls intrigued. One had dresses and oddities that seemed unique to the place while the other, The Mad Hatter, had all kinds of hats and backpacks made out of moleskin that resembled blankets the boys had brought back from Honduras and Ecuador while on their youth trips. Char had loved those blankets, but none were to be found here and I saw no sense in a moleskin purse.

We also went into an old drug store that appeared like something from an old rustic campground. The shelves were almost empty, which made sense being at a ship terminal. I’m not sure how busy that port was, but it couldn’t be busy enough to require a Walgreens. However, Char did manage to find cold Mountain Dew and quickly made her first purchase.

“The Sensation is a Coke ship,” she said. “I hate Coke.”

I love Coke, but all I did was shake my head.

We did, however, visit this one store that had dresses hanging outside on the top half of mannequins. A long dress with a giant butterfly on the stomach caught Teri’s eye, and as she stood there ooo-ing and aah-ing over it, the store’s owner moved in for the kill.

“Oh, baby, that dress looks so beautiful on you. You should buy now. It’s thirty-five, but for you I make it thirty. You want me to take it down?”

Teri is my price-tag checker and even with the “You’re so pretty, I give you five dollars off” discount, she still thought the dollar amount too steep. However, the sales lady had allies in her camp in Char and Sarah and soon I was stating my standard, “If you want it, get it. We’re on vacation.”

She did, of course, buy it along with some shirts for the kids, shot glasses for friends, and a wooden wind chime with a turtle top. However, the sales lady’s pitch was everyone’s pitch.

“It’s twenty-five, but I give to you for twenty-two.”

Eventually, I started responding, “Good, but I buy from you for twenty.”

From there we wandered around and came across some tables set up under an awning as some sort of flea market. The tables were covered with jewelry and other trinkets that could be purchased for three dollars less than the original price. There were also small huts that had been turned into gift shop duplexes, each selling the same merchandise that all looked like it came from Oriental Trading Company. I wondered how any of them made a living in such a flooded market. It defied logic. However, the same could be said back home with all of the Gift Shop Emporiums along the beaches that specialized in Disney merchandise and cheap beach towels. A tourist trap is a tourist trap no matter what country you were in.

We took some photos of us standing in front of fountains and statues; signs that told us where we were so that we would remember next year, and then decided to return to the ship for lunch. Why pay for a meal when an abundance of free food was only a football field away?

After our bellies were full from the Mongolian buffet, we slowly waddled back to our stateroom and did what most people do on a vacation; we took a nap. We stowed the gifts we had bought, hung the wind chime on a hook so it wouldn’t get broken and then slept our exhaustion away. It was peaceful and quiet and even docked the boat still had a gentle rock that lulled me to sleep like a baby in his mother’s arms.

The plan was to only nap for an hour, but our exhausted bodies tricked us into two. So, we relished every snore we could get without worry or guilt. We woke in time for the girls to get sushi and show off another pair of shoes.

Char and I don’t particularly care for sushi. Char doesn’t like the taste and the only food I like raw is Reese’s Cups. So she and I grabbed pizza while the other two dined on fish. The sushi, like everything else on board, was all you can eat and both girls knew they wanted more than just that measly plateful they started you out with, so Char stood in line for her fair share, which she passed off to the others to split. I, however, didn’t even want to get close to it.

Dinner the second night at sea was the formal Captain’s Dinner. You were supposed to dress up for the occasion and it was for this very reason that the girls had dragged me to Kohl’s at nine o’clock at night and made me buy a new sports coat. I’m on vacation and they’re stuffing me into a coat and tie. How is that a vacation? Still, as in all things, the girls wanted to do it, so we did.

After our nap and sushi, the girls stole the next two hours primping and I escaped to the balcony for more scotch and another cigar. I take fifteen minutes to get ready at my dirtiest.  Therefore, I always go last so that I don’t have to worry about dripping something on me or getting my outfit wrinkly and getting scolded by the girls who had already pressed my clothes, which on a cruise is a good thing. You’re not permitted to bring an iron on board so if you have to press something you need to take it to the ship’s laundry room and who wants to travel through the corridors carrying their clothes instead of wearing them? Although, Char did do it once with one of my shirts, which must have misbehaved while in the closet. I would have just punished it by leaving it behind and choosing another, but Char felt sorry for it.

Getting dressed last also allows me some alone time in peace and quiet. Well, not complete quiet because I can hear the girls giggling through the glass, but to me that’s the music of wind chimes.

The girls were ready faster than we thought, so we headed back to the Atrium for their gold sale. I don’t even know why we went into Freeport. The Sensation had better deals and Char was able to buy a bracelet that they made right there on the spot, tax and duty free.

We timed our arrival to dinner closer to 8:15 this time, but the lobby outside was still crammed full of hungry people only this time most were well into their drinks and dressed to the hilt. We looked like a congregation that had been denied access to a church.

I knew where we were going this time and soon we were seated snug in our spots, holding our black leather menus. They were handed to us each night almost as soon as we sat down, and while they were fancy in appearance, they were simple in content.

The left side of the menu never changed. It had all the comfort foods that they assumed people would eat if they couldn’t eat anything else, things like flat iron steak, southern fried chicken, and salad. The right side changed every night and offered more exotic fare that you could experiment with and then go for pizza later if it didn’t set well. You could also order a couple of different dishes from each section and stuff yourself, but we didn’t figure that out until the final night and by then we were too full to even eat one dish.

Once again we decided to end the night with laughter and after dinner we made our way to the comedy club in the Plaza Lounge. They were hosting a different comedian that night and we decided to risk it, holding out hope that this one would be funnier than the last. There was no way he could have been worse.

“How’s everyone doing tonight? Did you enjoy Freeport?” He screamed into the mic. There was a mixed response, mostly silence. He then starts laughing. “Freeport sucks! We only take you there to make Nassau look good.” I discovered the next day that it wasn’t much help.

The comedian, Ronnie Bullard, turned out to be quite hilarious and I found myself doubled over in laughter for most of the hour. It had been dubbed “Adult Comedy Hour” and Ronnie fulfilled to the fullest. He even succeeded in playing off a heckler in the audience, making the guest the best prop in his act.

When the show was over and our drinks gone, we decided to end our comedy experiences on a high note and not venture back. From what I heard it was the smart choice.

Exhausted and once again awake past midnight, we decided it was time to turn in. As soon as my head hit the pillow I was out. However, something, I’m not sure what, woke me up in the middle of the night. As I lay there listening to the girls breathing, I also heard the wooden clacking of the wind chime that I had hung up earlier in the day. The rolling of the ship was enough motion to make the wind chime sing its lullaby.

I lay there, staring at the ceiling, thinking, “It’s a good, good life.”

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