The Blue Lady, Epilogue

Now, for those you who don’t know, The Doctor is my oldest and closest friend. He’s a year younger than I am and exactly 426.8% smarter. The why our friendship worked out over the years was…

I come up with brilliant plan.
The Doctor figures out how to make it happen.

This brilliant plan came about a few years after my cruise on the Norway. I had told him all the stories, possibly multiple times and he agreed that the best possible plan would be to go together. THAT would be fantastic!

So, I left it to his huge brain to figure out the way to our dream vacation and I couldn’t have entrusted it to any better grey matter. In short order, the collusion had begun and the mechanism of our master plan was in motion. Independently, we waited for the appropriate moment with out respective parents. We talked about how great the cruise was. I simply had to keep it fresh in the family memory while The Doctor related my vacation tales with has much enthusiasm over his own dinner table.

Then, well… “Lie” is such an ugly word. I prefer to think of it as “seeding”.

One day, I related to my folks that It looked like The Doctor’s parents were planning a cruise on the Norway! Naturally, my friend was at his house saying the exact same thing about us.

Then the hook.

“Wouldn’t it be great to make the trip with them? You guys could do grownup stuff and I’d get to travel with my best friend!”

Amazingly enough, not only did this work, but it worked almost immediately! The enthusiasm that both sets of parents exhibited quickly quelled any residual guilt and things looked good. The only hiccup that was encountered was the airline to be used to get to Miami. Our fathers looked at different criteria and it led to a little discomfort in the beginning. I remember that the cheapest alternative was Eastern Airlines but their safety record at the time was one of the lower ones in the industry. After a little polite bickering between fathers, we elected to book our flights separately. After all, We were going to the same place. There would be plenty of time to spend together, later on the ship.

Our cabins weren’t very far apart but that wasn’t the point. As far as The Doctor and I were concerned, those were for sleeping in only. We had adventuring to do. This was the part that I dreamed about. I got to show my best friend the ropes on the ship. Where everything was, how to get from point A to point B with out being seen and where hang out and just watch. I’m thinking of the pool viewing room here.

Oddly enough, I have fewer memories of this trip on the Norway than I do of the first one. I remember that Zane, our young waiter from the first time, was on another ship. I can recall that we drank indecent amounts of Coke and that at least 50% of our time at sea, the two of us had the racquetball court signed out. Both of us got really quite good at it on that trip. Even though the memories of the trip have blurred and faded over time I can assure you that we had a fantastic time. We always do when we’re together. We could be running, playing, reading, planning, traveling or even working. As long as we were doing it together, we seem to enjoy the time immeasurably. That’s the kind of friend he is to me. That’s why I call him my brother.

I won’t delve too deep into this time spent on board. We did a lot of the same things I did alone, the first time. It was just better with a buddy. It all ended far too soon and we had to pack our bags, too full of baubles and souvenir t-shirts, and leave them out in the hall the night before departure for the baggage handlers to remove and get ready for transfer to the dock. We kept our secret of how we got our folks to take this trip, thinking that it would be better to let a few years pass before we reveled how our two families managed to go to the same place at the same time. We figured a decade might be long enough.

Many, many years later, I meet a fellow who was seeing a young lady who just happened to be a member of the family who owned Norwegian Cruise Lines. I enthusiastically told him about my time on the Norway and he sort of grimaced. He had been on the ship in the last few years and he had said that she was looking a little rough. I hoped that it meant that she would be getting a refit soon but I was worried. The Norway was an throwback ship even in the days when I had ridden her. Her name even gave it away. She was the S/S Norway, in a day where almost every other ship was the M/S Whatever. The “M/S” stands for “motor ship”, meaning that it runs of diesel motors. Very modern and efficient motors. The “S/S” stands for “steam ship”, meaning that she has boilers and turns the shafts with turbines. A design that came about over a hundred years ago. Hers was a highly refined steam engine system, to be sure, but it was an anachronism in this age.

Her other flaw for modern cursing was one of design. She had originally been built as the S/S France and had sailed on her maiden voyage in 1962. She was meant for transatlantic trips and therefore, built for speed and comfort. As inexpensive jet travel took over the duties of ships, she was mothballed and then later sold to Norwegian Cruise Lines. NCL had her refitted for duties in the Caribbean but after fifteen years or so, she had a hard time competing with the newer, albeit smaller, ships built specifically for warm water vacations. It was simply not what she was designed for. She wasn’t profitable enough.

Then, one day while in port during a refit, disaster struck. A boiler explosion in the engine room and ten crew members died. All work ceased and after damage assessment, the decision was made that she was too costly to repair. There was some interest in her from new buyers and one individual did buy her and renamed her the “Blue Lady”. Naturally, there were high flying plans and naturally, they all fell through. The should have talked to The Doctor, first. As it was, she was finally sold for scrap.

The end of the S/S Norway isn’t really so sad, if you think about it. She did wind up in a breakers yard, getting cut up and melted down but let’s be honest with ourselves. This is a ship. A beautiful one to be sure, but a ship none the less. What other possible end could she meet? So many other great and beautiful liners have sailed the seas and met far worse fates with hideous loss of life. She was never carved up and refitted as a troop ship later to be used as target practice after the war. She was never torpedoed to the bottom of the ocean or ran into a mine field. No Iceberg ever claimed her or fires swept her deck, causing her to roll belly up, still tied up to her berth. No. She passed with as much dignity as a cruise ship could have. Though she never attained the rarified status of the few ships that we choose to preserve, that is a very elite and tiny bunch and one should not expect immortality for an object designed for hard work.

Besides, she did her job. I have only the fondest memories of traveling in her beautiful hull. I can see the decks when I close my eyes and recall watching the soda in my glass move ever so slightly as the Captain announced that we were plowing through eighteen foot seas. She was a beautiful ship and the glass boxes that have taken her place on the waters look like cheap tarts compared to her elegance. She was a lady whose silhouette will be missed across the oceans but, damn, she still makes me smile when I think of her.

I’m not sure… but I think The Doctor and my secret might have actually out lived the ship its self.

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The Blue Lady, Part II

Soon after my first celebrity sighting, the life vests were stowed away for the next inhabitants of our berth and forgotten by me. It was time to get to know what was essentially going to be my home for the next week.

There are a couple of things about the way I am that make life both difficult and deeply enriching. For what ever reason, my mind tends to ascribe a personality to inanimate objects. I tend to see things less like a piece of machinery, a structure or what have you and more like a bona fide being. The lesson that rooted too deeply in my mind is “how would you like to be treated?” and I have a bad habit of attaching that lesson to most things in my path. Selling a car, for instance, is hell. This same mode of thinking however, means that I get a real sense of pleasure and affection from most things in my life. Not a bad way to live, but it does make you a pack rat. I’ve gotten better about this, but when I was a kid, I wanted to save everything.

Being on this ship now, I was easily understanding why we called them “She” and spoke about them like they were people. To me, being underway and feeling the gentle roll of the deck felt something like being carried along on the back of a very well appointed whale. The movement of the deck made her breathe. Now, I wanted to know what made her work. It was time to explore.

Another goodie that I discovered was that as a kid, being on a cruise also meant freedom. With pretty much the only stipulation being “Don’t fall overboard.” I was left to my own devices. There weren’t many other kids on board. Back then, a kid on a cruise ship was an oddity. To be honest, I don’t recall any other kids there at all. There must have been some but I didn’t notice and really, that was fine. I’m rarely bored and easily self entertain and so, I immediately got down to finding out as much as I possibly could about this floating home away from home. Two discoveries were found that would have made the trip an success if nothing else had gone right. The first was the movie theater. It ran pretty close to continuously and being part of the cruise package, it was free. I watched a lot of movies in that theater. The second find was akin to Nirvana for your average 10 year old boy. As I walked down an otherwise unimpressive corridor, I came upon a small room, unlit and unmarked. I quietly stepped inside and tried to figure out what I was looking at. Then it dawned on me. It was an aquarium… full of bikini clad vacationers.

What I had here was a series of tiny portholes spaced every few feet that went around the entire pool up on deck giving views from below the water line. What ten year old boy wouldn’t thank God for a gift like that.

My day of discovery turned up a few more gems. An arcade was found, ensuring that I wouldn’t be weighed down by those pesky quarters, the bars dispensed bottomless glasses of Coca-Cola, and if you stood still long enough to actually take in where you were, the views were really quite spectacular. The whole thing felt special and grand. I was really coming to like my ship.

Dinner was a lot of fun as well. It was the only organized meal of the day and the equivalent of eating out at a fancy restaurant where the waiters knew your name and preferences. I can recall on person vividly. His name was Zane and on the wait staff pecking order, he ranked pretty low. Not quite a busboy but most definitely not a waiter. He perhaps eighteen and from Micronesia and had a smile that when flashed, had the same effect as opening heavy curtains on a sunny day. When Zane was around, it was always sunny. It was he who, between dinners and desserts, taught me origami. I can still make a frog thanks to his lessons. His good heart was obvious and he and I actually remained pen pals for some time afterward. Like most friendships, we’ve long since lost touch with each other.

Other than Marla Gibbs, the only other “celebrity” on board was some writer/poet whom I’d never heard of. He was a big guy and bald and I think fancied himself a sort of Shel Silverstein. The performance, if you can call it that, that he put on was a reading of some of his works and a talk which was mostly one sided. Pretty boring stuff to a kid. I can, however recall a few lines of a poem that he wrote especially for the crew of the ship. It was made up of nothing but stupid questions that they must hear a thousand times a year. The poem was called, “What Time is the Midnight Buffet?” and part of it went…

What time is the midnight buffet?
Does the crew sleep ashore?
Do those stairs go up or down?
and what’s the little white bag for?
is dinner in the dining room?
is you job really paid? And,
I’d like to change my cabin to the side that’s in the shade.

Not exactly Emerson, but hey, it’s stuck with me for over two decades now. Not too shabby.

All in all, the food was fantastic, the people were wonderful, and the young ladies of the crew sunbathed topless where they thought no one could see. The freedom it granted a young kid was beyond dreaming about. I never wanted to leave. The destination islands that we went to impressed me far less than the ship did. I would have been pleased as punch to stay aboard the entire time.

When our time came to a close aboard the Norway, I was heartbroken, but also determined. I would be back. I would ride on her again… and I did, this time with The Doctor…

Epilogue later.

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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