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Cruising Off Baja


“A life on the ocean waves,
A home on the rolling deep…”

— Sea Shanty

In travel I once thought there were only three levels of tedium that overtake one between departure to destination. 1) If you go by car, your tedium level is light. You have the power to interrupt your journey at any point as well as a changing view and a task, driving, for diversion. 2) Travel by rail or bus introduces you to the second level of tedium when only scheduled stops enable you to break the journey, but the scenery remains in the middle distance as a diversion. 3) Should you go by air, your despair and terror are lessened by the knowledge that, except for extreme distances, your powerlessness and lack of view will at least last no more than a day.

The three levels of tedium. Each more or less equal to the others and each part of what you pay for wanting to indulge in the mindlessness of modern travel. But I have a fourth level and this level contains all the horrors of travel plus the horrors of actually being there. This is a level of tedium previously unexplored by me, but rumored to exist by sensible travelers who have gone and returned to tell the tale. I should have believed them but, like the fool I have always been, I had to experience it myself. It isn”t too soon to send out a warning in the hopes that there are others out there who will not be the fool I was; who will turn back before committing themselves to the constantly renewing fresh hell on the ocean waves.

But should you have a taste for tedium, should boredom be like mother”s milk and daily bread (lots of it) to you, you will be surfeited by this otherwise antiquated mode of travel. Indeed, for sheer, mind obliterating tedium; for the kind of vacancy induced only by event horizons with no events and fewer horizons; for a feeling that arises in no experience other than incarceration, there is nothing that can beat the tedium induced by that modern masterpiece of torpor, stupor and pointlessness, the Cruise Ship.

“The sane reaction to a cruise would be to throw yourself off the ship in the hopes that the props would convert you to chum before the sharks found you.”

 

This marvel of contemporary capitalism — a hotel that takes its patrons far out of reach of any competition — has no peer when it comes to simultaneously suspending and extending time. At sea, the ship’s clock is all there is and its pendulum pulses exceedingly slow. After a day or so, you exist in this world with either way too much time or outside of time altogether. Either way the first thing to leave your mind and judgment is your mind and judgment. This is hardly noticed by most since management has arranged for a host of activities so mindless that you will be convinced for days that you are actually in possession not only of your mind, but in your right one at that. It is only when the credit card bills arrive long after you are at home that you will realize what you have done to yourself.

The sane reaction to a cruise, once one has trapped oneself on board and has perceived exactly what sort of fresh and renewing hell one is in, would be to wait until midnight and throw yourself off the ship in the hopes that the props would convert you to chum before the sharks found you.

But since you are obviously so insane as to actually get on the cruise ship in the first place, this blissful option is closed to you. Besides, the small pattern of looping dots on the map in the main lounge that lays out your trip to nowhere gives you the hope that, when all the little red dots have changed to green, you will be released and returned to life. Since the ship only moves at a piddling four dots per day, and since the dots are many, you try not to peek too often lest despair absorb you and you hear the chimes of the starboard rail at midnight.

Still, in the brief moments of lucidity that come between meals and naps, an experience aboard a cruise ship is not without its uses. It can, properly considered, instruct you in the deeper meanings of your foolishness. Indeed, it can cause you to re-examine attitudes towards life issues you previously thought of as resolved. Capital punishment Vs. life imprisonment comes to mind at this moment.

Before being trapped aboard this bobbing monument to all that is mediocre in our culture, I had been of the firm opinion that for certain crimes only death was a just reward. After a few days of hiding from Muzak in my ironically named “Stateroom,” I began to believe that life imprisonment in such a room, even if were a bit larger, would be a finer and more just torture than a bit of nod and wink before the big sleep at the end of a needle or rope.

As an added punishment to the condemned, I would allow him the cable system I possess of four channels, two of which endlessly repeat either an infomercial for amber jewelry and the roast of a minor celebrity. The others are devoted to the X-files and Wolf Blitzer and seem, after a couple of days, completely interchangeable. A week of this begins to melt the sheathing from every nerve fiber you possess. Several decades would a hell beyond imagining. For especially heinous crimes, the remote would be removed from the cell and handed to the steward who hasn’t been tipped in ten years.

Another lesson learned when trapped on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean is a lesson, a deep lesson, about food.

I’ ve long held that one of the sure signs of the success of modern civilization in the United States is that we have, for the first time in the history of creation, created a culture whose central problem is that is has way-t00-much food. We have a nation so drenched in food that we now have to have our legislature spend time passing laws making it illegal to sue those companies whose business is offering cheap food in massive quantities to the population. Given that the entire history of life has been a ceaseless search for adequate food, the advent of a nation that produces, winter, spring, summer and fall, way-too-much food is a signal event in evolution. But it still, alas, remains a problem for the human animal that has evolved to consume food whenever and where ever available. Since many cannot just say no to the bacon-chili cheeseburger option, the persistent supply of cheap food is a problem.

Cruise ships seem, as part of their most persistent purpose, to be designed to eliminate this problem of way-t00-much food once and for all. Never before have I been in an environment that pushes food at its end users as frantically and methodically as a cruise ship. The offers come thicker and faster than the suggestions to buy at Amazon. Your Gold Box is on your screen all day every day. You can pass but it all comes back the very next instant.

Whole herds were sacrificed for this ship. Flocks of poultry that could darken the skies have be plucked and jammed onto its ravening spits. Oceans of grain and islands of sugar cane have been hijacked into its ovens. In New Zealand, mountain sides of happy, gamboling lambs have been seared black beneath its broilers. And, of course, in the quiet, seldom visited case marked “Sugarless Desserts” lurks the knowledge that “there”s always room for Jello.”

Like the boiler rooms deep below, the buffet pulses heat night and day trying to push out and dispose of all this food. It looks to be way-too-much and on land it would be. But this ship”s passengers are doing their level best to keep up with the buffet. On any given day it is difficult to say who holds the lead, but both sides struggle to stay on top.

While somewhere long ago this ship may have had a sign that said; “Our Policy: One mammal per person per seating,” that sign has long since been purloined to decorate the refrigerator of a double-wide somewhere in Oklahoma. Indeed, a brief, very brief, glance at many in the buffet line that has no end confirms that unlimited opportunities for gluttony was one of the lines in the brochure that made them reach for their Discover cards.

More than the sea or the money, it is the food that fetches them at sea. Five, six, seven times a day. The moist pink carving boards, the sizzling griddles, the burbling steam tables, and the tiers of dessert offerings have lured them here as surely as the Sirens of old lured mariners to their deaths on the rocks of the lee shore. The only difference here is that the rocks in question are made of mashed potatoes with three kinds of gravy, and the comforting knowledge that a portable defibrillator is fully charged with a trained operator on call only three decks below.
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Written for a bottle at sea, somewhere off the Baja California Coast

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  • FrankS November 27, 2017, 10:15 AM

    Finally I have found someone who agrees completely with my view on the torture of taking a cruise. May God have mercy on your soul. Any norovirus outbreaks yet?

  • pbird November 27, 2017, 10:54 AM

    Yuppers. Went on a cruise once against my better judgement. It was a gift from my youngest. Husband spent the whole trip drunk. I guess he had a good time.
    It might have been fun with the right company.

  • ed in texas November 27, 2017, 11:06 AM

    So Jer, how’d you like your cruise?…(snicker)
    I’m with Boswell on this, who likened sailing on a ship to ‘being placed in gaol, with the chance of being drownd throuwn in’.

  • HH November 27, 2017, 11:35 AM

    Never in my whole life have I wanted to take a cruise. Husband thinks it would be fun; I said, “Go … have a good time. Send me a postcard 🙂 “

  • Rob De Witt November 27, 2017, 11:42 AM

    Weeelll…..

    At the risk of joining ghostsniper at the top of the list of contraries, I gotta say I got a gig on a cruise ship to Alaska once, and I loved it.

    The scenery was, of course, staggering, but the best part was the calm that descended on the boat once it sank in to everybody that television (and it was long before cellphones) – and the other modern distractions that had replaced for them the burdens of contemplation – was a thing of the past. On a ship the constant hum of the engines induces in the rest of those aboard a borderline soporific that approaches my own need for quiet and the room to think. Everybody, in other words, slowed down to my pace and introversion. When I smiled, they smiled back. And went on their way.

    There was on this ship a lack of distraction that approached perfection. The only entertainment were various classical music acts, and apart from the one day a week that it was our turn, my partner and I were left to our own devices with endless time to read (and an enormous ship’s library of paperbacks left behind by previous literati) and take in the sights of the Northwest Passage. When a port was reached and the pent-up consumers aboard rushed for the souvenir shops, I turned the other way and walked around Alaska on a fortnight that the locals assured me was the best summer weather they’d had in years. And kept alert for bears, of course. On these, the longest days of the year, the sun made a brief nod at the horizon somewhere around 2 am and then resumed its effulgence for all to see. The entertainers congregated on the aft deck all night and traded jokes to an extent that everybody stocked up on several months worth of new material. Classically trained or not, musicians are musicians. It was very heaven, there was nothing but high-quality music to be heard (no Muzak,) and I wanted it to go on forever.

    Inner resources, G. I’m frankly surprised you found it so boring.

  • Frank P November 27, 2017, 11:42 AM

    Never been able to afford one, but always silently resolved that even in the unlikely event of becoming filthy rich, not a penny would ever be spent to volunteer for entrapment on an oceanic liner with the sort of folks who go on cruises.

    Never sussed you as one of those G.
    WTF caused this rush o’ blood?? Musta been a woman. Not your ma, was it?

  • Bram November 27, 2017, 12:15 PM

    I’ve been on 2 cruises. One was an award from work my wife won. It was free and I wouldn’t pay a dollar to repeat the experience. We did have a short stay in Key West and I seriously considered not getting back on the ship.

    I also had a cruise while in the Marine Corps in the Pacific on a LST (Landing Ship Tank). There was a nice storm that made the flat-bottomed (so it can drive right up to a beach) ship bob like a cork. The food served was standard Navy fare – and generally exited through our mouths at high velocity as the ship corkscrewed in the storm. In case we all weren’t sick enough, at one point they had us climb down the side on nets and enter landing ships that bobbed even worse in the sea. Afterwards the squid driving it complained about the deep layer of vomit on the floor of his boat while we climbed back up the net with what little strength left. I got paid something less than minimum wage for the experience.

  • Gordon November 27, 2017, 12:32 PM

    I have a friend who likes to knit, and who finds winter far too cold. Once a year she goes on a knitting cruise. She sits in a deck chair and knits, surrounded by other knitters, and she gets warm. She is a Finn, so it satisfies her need for social interaction. Me, well, no, it’s not for me.

  • ghostsniper November 27, 2017, 12:50 PM

    I agree with you Rob, I would create my own space on that barge and enjoy it to my utmost. An alaska ride would be especially enjoyable since I’ve already done alaska once.

    Long ago we, my spouse and I, did a short cruise to one of the islands aboard a, get this, triple master. Yeah, one of those. I think it was a Windjammer or something. I enjoyed the journey better than the destination though the destination wasn’t bad either (Barefoot, Sandels). It was like being at a real life small venue Jimmy Buffet concert both ways.

    But a venture on one of the big dawgz would be like Disney World all over again, and food has nothing to do with it except as a pit stop now and then. Yes, I’ll have that 2″ prime rib again and double the shrimp cocktail order please, and leave the umbrella off my azure colored double rum drinking material as it almost poked my eye out last time.

    I’m a designer unlimited and I would wander that engineering marvel with my eyesballs filled to the brim, to know and understand every little detail on how a building built sideways rather than vertical, can deny the sciences as it does. Perhaps deny is too strong. Down in the parts of the hull where nobody normally goes is where I’d be, headlight on 800 lumens to examine inside the crevices, looking at the huge ribs, counting the bolts and considering their placements for maximum structural stability. The enormous electric panels, saline convertors, sewage systems, and communications, larder size, orientation and organization, all of it would taken in as christmas gifts of rarity. By cruises end I will have consumed a (vintage) college degree of information that will entertain and delight me for decades into the future and my overall knowledge base will be advanced exponentially.

    My wife? The on-board book store would tire of seeing her as she’d take up permanent residency in one of those portside balconies with 400 page Ann Pratchett novel on her lap and iced tea on the chair arm, and maybe a small bowl of manicured exotic fruits on the table, over and over again.

    I’ll remind you life is what you WANT to get out of it and if you accept it on other people’s terms then your hell on earth, or water, is deserved.

    Friendly tip, once again:
    “If you can’t get OUT of it, get INTO it.”
    –gs, 2099

    Tip 2:
    “Regret is a terrible thing, maybe the worst of things, and so easily avoided with eyes wide open.”
    –gs, 2099

  • Snakepit Kansas November 27, 2017, 4:04 PM

    My longest ship ride was an overnighter from Manila Bay to Coron Island, Palawan Province, Philippines. The reason for the trip was scuba diving on a number of Japanese ships sunk around the island by US Navy planes during WWII. Four to a room on the ship and I got a top bunk with a little curtain. The on-ship bar was loud, smokey and the ceiling wasn’t much taller than 6′. Beer was cheap and cold. I might have been the only white person on the ship. I had a great time on the ship as well as diving. I would have to check my log book to count the number of ships and caves we dove on, but the ship ride to/from was quite memorable with good Pinoy friends.

  • Sam L. November 27, 2017, 4:22 PM

    I’ve been on 3 cruises. The first: Cabin reminded me of the one the Marx Bros. had in “A Night At The Opera”. Dinner tonight, prime rib or lobster. OK, who’s for Seconds? Later, Thirds.
    Second: In-laws got all the children who could come, and their children. Third was honeymoon trip. Food, food, more food.

  • azlibertarian November 27, 2017, 4:45 PM

    Add me to the list of contrarians. First of all, vacationing via a cruise ship was Mrs. Azlib’s idea, and as the wise man once said “Happy wife: the end”. We’ve been on 4 cruises (Alaska, the Caribbean twice [once by ourselves, once with the kids and grandkids], and a river cruise in Europe) and are looking forward to a 12-day cruise to Australia and New Zealand in late January. On land, between the two of us, she’s the more out-going , but put her on a ship, and she’s the one curled up with a book. I’m the quiet one on land, but give me that list of tomorrow’s activities, and I’m charting my day minute-to-minute from one end of the boat to the other.

    The food can be quite good, or it can be mediocre (but in large quantities). The people you meet can be interesting or dull. You make of it what you will, much like everything else in life.

  • GoneWithTheWind November 27, 2017, 8:52 PM

    I doubt I would enjoy a typical cruise. I don’t drink, I like to eat but I would eat a McDonalds or a prime rib with equal pleasure (well, almost. I would probably prefer the hamburger if the fries were fresh). And I don’t like crowds. But I did spend a week on a 133 ft sailing schooner and enjoyed it immensely. We, about 20 of us, were the crew and we sailed it everyday. Got to sail there 10 foot wooden dinghys when we were gunkholed in one of the many small harbors around Puget Sound.

  • Ann K November 28, 2017, 5:18 AM

    My husband refuses to get on a “plague boat,” but I have enjoyed a couple of cruises with friends. I’d love to take the cruise to Alaska.

  • ghostsniper November 28, 2017, 6:48 AM

    Looks like most people’s disapproval of the cruise ship thing is centered on the over abundance of people and the asshole behavior they demonstrate and I don’t disagree with that sentiment, in fact, I agree wholeheartedly. Doubtful there is anyone on the planet more disgusted with humanities insane behavior than I. So read my next to last sentence in the above comment.
    “Figure it out.”

    Then find your own personal bliss in what might be a once in a lifetime experience.
    Do NOT let others dictate the parameters of your enjoyment.

    I simply would not cajole with idiots and would lots of other stuff to accentuate my experience and would only associate with assholes was there was no other way, like, consuming as many high fat content food stuffs. Maybe I stack a plate to the rafters and head for the cabin, or out to the railing and when done consuming throw whatever remains to the sea creatures. Great Whites gotta eat too ya know. And if an assholes decided that the only place along both sides of that 1000′ long engineering marvel he could find his bliss was within my 3′ or so, well, GW’s like dessert too.

    Point is, once again, anything can be your heaven or your own personal hell and you get to develope to the maximum of your capacity anything within your sphere.

    If I found the opportunity to latch on to a 21 day cruise in the Caribbean or up along the Canadian-Alaskan coast for say, $5k, I’d be on that big bitch in a nanny second and everybody else be damned!

    $5k. It’d have to be a really good deal to lure me out of my lair here in rural heavenville.

  • GoneWithTheWind November 28, 2017, 9:01 AM

    I enjoy micro-segment hiking of the Pacific Crest Trail. Typically a segment that is just long enough to not finish in a day but easily finish in two days. Don’t get me wrong I would really like to hike a longer segment but I’m 74 and being able to hike at all depends on factors that are sometimes beyond my control anymore. So I set smaller goals. Costs me very little, usually I get a ride to the start and sometimes the pickup point as well. Already own the gear and the food is simple fare when the hike is so short. That is I don’t need light weight freeze dried food and titanium cookware, just some supermarket food that only requires adding water and heating. Cheap and healthy entertainment.

  • Barry from Victoria November 29, 2017, 9:07 AM

    I’ve only been on one sea cruise, and that was from San Pedro, Cal to the South China Sea with stopovers in Hawaii and Olongapo. The ship was USS Platte, AO 24. The fireworks off Da Nang, courtesy of some cruisers, were spectacular but I’m glad I wasn’t on the other end. Much amusement was provided whenever the ship we were refuelling failed to properly secure the hose. Its hilarious to watch a bunch of sailors slip and slide on gushing bunker C while their destroyer bobbed in the waves. That was in the old days. No air conditioners in 130degree weather, no women, nothing for recreation except the punching bag on the fan deck which helped keep me sane. I did like the ocean phosphorescence and the brilliant stars at night.

  • Smokey December 10, 2017, 9:15 PM

    I think I recall a short video posted right here (but on the old AD site), showing the dining room of a cruise ship during a storm. Tables, chairs, etc. were slip-sliding this way & that, accompanied by appropriate music as the waiters and stewards hopelessly tried to maintain control…

    …and you still went on a cruise?

    Is it because of early-onset Alzheimers? Or masochism? Or maybe you’re almost as foolish as I was, when I accepted Mrs. Smokey’s suggestion that we take a river cruise down the Mississippi.

    You haven’t lived until you’ve viewed hundreds of miles of an unchanging shoreline, populated with trees, trees, and more trees—and nothing else. After which, it will seem like you’ve lived for too long.

    Anyway, glad it was good for you, too. Because misery loves company…