Tickets, Part I

Things had to be set in motion to make the dream a reality. The most critical of piece was securing the blessing from my wife. After hinting around in the subtlest way I could manage for well over two weeks, all my gentle prodding finally came to fruition.

As she sat in the living room chair one evening, the hoped for statement came rolling out as easily as a wave rising on the shore. “You know, why don’t you take Short Stack to go and see the next Shuttle launch.” Slightly bug-eyed, I tried to play it very safe. Now was not the time to screw things up by acting hastily.

Outwardly, what I believe I said at the time was, “Hmmmm.” as if I was mulling this thought over for the first time rather than the four hundredth and ninth. Inwardly, I’m pretty sure my brain broke into a sweat as I strained to keep from breaking into a spontaneous happy dance right there in there in the living room. It’s not that I didn’t think she would trust me with one of our children far from home and her watchful eye. No, nothing like that. It’s just that Action Girl is not one to voluntarily miss out on something fun. She can barely contain herself if she knows that I have a small gift for her birthday or even if I simply have an entertaining story to relate later on that evening. My wife has a lot of virtues but patience in the fact of impending fun is not one of them. Forgoing an actual vacation that would include palm trees, crisp bed linens, a swimming pool and possibly a beach… well, that’s like waiting for the IRS to send you a letter saying that, hey, why don’t you just keep it all this year. I suppose it might be possible, but you sure as heck don’t bank on it happening.

Even though I’d be going with my three, almost four year old son, it would undoubtedly be a vacation, as well. After all, I’m the stay at home parent in our household and under normal conditions have two miniature people causing chaos around me all day, ever day. Having to wrangle just one is almost like a vacation on its own. I can look back now at my pre-child days and laugh out loud at what I considered to be a busy day. Then we had Short Stack and I thought I knew what busy was. After Lulu Belle came along, I looked back at my time with just one child and laughed again at how I thought that was so hard to do. I’m wiser now. I barely have time to do anything fun and exciting such as sitting down, taking regular showers or making coffee. The idea of adding one or more children to our batch sends me scampering up the trees. Honestly, I know I could do it, but I don’t know how. Personally, I’d rather not think about it.

As I did my best to slowly, “come around” to this idea I cautiously checked her resolve in what might have been a moment of weakness. “Are you sure you’d be okay with this? You wouldn’t mind if I took just him to go and see the Shuttle?” Again, I tried to act as nonchalant as possible while my heart raced at lemming-on-its-third-cappuccino speed.

“Yah, it would be fun for you two. He’s bonkers on rockets and it would be something he’d remember for the rest of his life. I don’t think I’d want to spend that much time looking at rockets as you two would, so it would be better if just you two went. Besides, there aren’t going to be that many more Shuttle launches, are there?”

Here she was completely correct.

The Shuttle had been rolled out when I was just a kid, back in 1981. As a kid playing in the dirt of the school playground, what we were into were rockets. The last Apollo mission had been flown in 1972 and all we had to look up at was something called “Skylab” which sounded a lot like a place to do school work and thus, didn’t interest us much beyond the fact that al agreed that it looked a lot cooler than what the Soviets had with their bulbous Mir. Since the cessation of anything really wowable in the space race, we, the children of the Cold War, tended to look more to the latest high tech bomber or attack submarine for our chest thumping assuredness when it came to America’s ability and know-how. Then… we saw it.

On April 12th of 1981, something very, very noteworthy happened for all to see. STS-1 was launched. As children who were raised on a steady diet of anti-Soviet, Regan fueled, flag waving patriotism, to see this massive and undeniably beautiful spacecraft blast her way into space, well… it was like pouring sugar on an anthill. We all wanted to see it, touch it, ride it… FLY it! She was unlike anything we had seen before and speaking for the eight year old set at Saint Joseph’s Grammar School, we were impressed. Deeply so.

This was STS-1, the first launch of many to come. At the time, we didn’t know what STS stood for (Space Transportation System, by the way) or that this new “Space Shuttle” even had a name beyond the one we’d been told about on television and at school. We knew it as Colombia, but NASA called her OV-102. There had been another before this, OV-100, or in more common parlance, Enterprise but we hadn’t really been paying much attention to that. Enterprise was never meant to fly into space. Her entire job was intended to be as a test bed for what would later become the shuttles built later on. She was never even fitted with engines. The cool tie in name to one America’s favorite Sci-Fi TV shows aside, she just didn’t have the sexy. It was like looking at a full size model of a Lamborghini. Sure, it was kind of neat, but… so? Your average third grader needs more than that. We needed fire! Fire and smoke! Oh, and a really, REALLY loud noise!

Boy, did we get it!

The Blue Lady

Many years ago, when I was just a dusty kneed kid, my parents decided that we might try something new for one of our family vacations. We had done the Disney thing, and even the Hawaii thing and many other places, far and near. We had truly enjoyed our selves on all these trips but there was one kid of travel that piqued my parent’s interest that we had never done. Cruising.

Living in western New Hampshire, my exposure to cruise ships had been mostly limited to “The Poseidon Adventure”, “A Night to Remember” and “The Love Boat”. The lesson that my young brain had extrapolated from all this dubious infotainment was that if the icebergs or rogue waves didn’t get you, Gopher would. I had my doubts. Actually, I didn’t want anything to do with them. The whole prospect of swimming for the life boats or meeting Carol Channing, frankly scared the hell out of me.

I stood as firm as an eight year old kid can to his parents. Basically, I implored them not to do it. Then one year on vacation, we found ourselves with easy access to an actual cruise ship. We were in St. Thomas and from a high mountain road, you could see right into the port and down on to the docked ships. My Father spotted a likely looking one and drove us down just to “take a look”. Dad always likes to “take a look”, with varying amounts of hilarity and/or upset armed guards involved. His personal best was wandering off into “no go” territory in Yalta during the days of Reganomics and the old Soviet Union… but I digress.

So, we drove down to the embarkation center and much to my amazement Dad asked an official there if we could go aboard and look around. I would have been worried but the request was obviously so ludicrous that even I knew the answer before the guard had time to react. I started to turn back to the car.

“Sure. Just be off before we leave port.”

WHAT?!? I did my best to keep my eyeballs from falling out of my skull.

Very, very pensively, I accompanied my Dad up the gang way and on board. We were going to get lost on the ship and it would leave with us.. I knew it. I have rather vague memories of being on the ship and I can’t recall what line it belonged to but I do remember being impressed. The lounges were plush, the air conditioning, cool and on the whole, the place looked like a lot of fun. I definitely felt like an interloper and was too anxious about being on board too long to really enjoy the novelty of it. My Father made a point of showing me the life boats and how sturdy they were. I had to admit, they did look rugged.

We did get off with out incident and my perception of cruise ships changed a bit. Perhaps it wouldn’t be to bad. I hadn’t even spotted Carol or Gopher lurking about.

The next year, the itinerary had been set and we were going to do it. By now, I was actually excited at the prospect. We had gotten to pick out our berth from a glossy brochure and the places the ship would go sounded like fun. What I didn’t expect was that the ship would become far more special to me than the places we’d go on her. The departure port was Miami and when our taxi pulled up to the docks, our ship stood out boldly. There were three other ships there, one gate per ship… except ours. She had two. She was the S/S Norway and to say that she was big would be an Olympic sized understatement. She was vast. Not only that, she was the biggest there was. She was number one in the world as far as passenger ships went. Her baby blue hull looked like an unending wall of steel and little doors could be seen all along her length, letting cargo and crew move back and forth. I was awed.

Once aboard, you tended to loose the sense of her size. She felt more like just a big hotel and our berth looked far smaller in real life than it did in the brochure. The one thing that really impressed me though were the portholes. We had PORTHOLES! How cool was THAT?! Once we were mostly unpacked, it was time for the cast off. This, I had been waiting for this! I had watched about a thousand hours of the “Love Boat” and couldn’t wait for the part with the streamers and waving well wishers and such. It looked like such a party on the TV!

Cruise reality tip number one: That doesn’t actually happen in real life. It’s a big, fat lie.

I can vividly recall feeling cheated. Seriously… What the heck? After getting over my disappointment and watching Miami float away to our stern, it was time to reassure the passengers before everyone got drunk. It was time… for the life boat drill.

I had been warned about this so it didn’t catch me off guard. We were instructed via the P.A. to go to our rooms and get our life vests. After that, we had an assigned lifeboat station that we were to go to. Dutifully, we all seemed to do as instructed and soon enough, the majority of the passengers were standing at their allotted places listening to the “How to get into a life boat with out getting killed” talk. As I stood there in my orange life vest, paying strict attention to the guy with the megaphone, my father tapped me on my shoulder. “Look over there!” he whispered as he surreptitiously pointed into the crowd of our would be lifeboat mates. “It’s Marla Gibbs! You know, from The Jeffersons! She’d be in out life boat!”

I secretly wondered to my self how old you had to be to get a drink on this thing?

More later…

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