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Stick to the Plan

By | July 9, 2013

Saturday July 7, 2013
Chicago to Vancouver to Sea

I met my brother and sister and their spouses at O’Hare this morning, on our way to an Alaskan cruise. Katie and I had made a plan to meet at the check-in counter between 6:30 and 6:40am. She texted me last night to say they just found out their shuttle wouldn’t get them there til 6:45, and was it ok if we changed the plan. I thought it was an ish plan in the first place, so of course I was fine with it. Ben and Becky had just been dropped off by her dad when I walked up from the blue line entrance. Katie walked in the door exactly at 6:45.

We waited in line much longer than necessary because one couple had a three agents with furrowed brows problem that got resolved with frowning passengers and the customer service representative smiling at the end. We still made it to our gate with plenty of time to spare. I ate my traditional airport breakfast of McDonald’s egg and cheese biscuit, and I threw an extra yogurt parfait in my bag for later. (Cringe and shudder all you want, but that’s what I eat at airports. Except for Midway Airport, where you can get great baklava. So there.)

The Vancouver airport has a nature exhibit, basically an indoor river, that you could nearly kayak down. Unfortunately, we could only gaze longingly at it from above as we hustled, not through customs, but to our direct transfer to the cruise ship port. With a flash of our papers, we were escorted onto a bus which was promptly shut and officially sealed, I am not at all kidding, with a sticker, to prove, when we arrived at the dock, that we had not set foot on Canadian soil. We traveled across Vancouver for 55 minutes, through downtown in our hermetic bubble, in the city but not of it, trapped with a bus driver practicing his most dated and sexist tour guide shtick. We gazed longingly at the mountains, the parks, the artsy shops and the Asian influenced restaurants, the expensive real estate with the fabulous weather and the strong social safety net and almost non-existent violent crime rates, and the amiriteguys “jokes” droned on.

Our seal was checked at four separate check points to make sure no one accepted dangerous packages from strangers or defected for a free liver transplant or smuggled in farm animals or fruit or a second bottle of booze. I wondered if anyone of my fellow pre-cruise cruisers had read David Foster Wallace’s essay, ” A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”

Then we were off the bus, and we followed guides through two more checkpoints, and I horrified everyone by declining to set my bags down again and have my memories of boarding photograph taken in front of the fake scenery in an otherwise bare concrete hallway, with dirty windows looking out on the Cascades. Then we were divided at a fork, abruptly and almost forcibly, Ben and Becky to the left and Katie and Jared and I to the right, and then we were in our stateroom, so we had gotten on the boat. Becky had called out, “Meet you at the buffet on 14,” as we were prodded down our separate hallways, and we wondered how she knew there was a buffet on deck 14. The only reason I had boarding passes or seats on the plane or arrived on the correct day at the correct time was because my sister actually read the ten pre-cruise emails they sent us and printed out important documents for me and sent me texts telling me what to do and when to do it, with confirmation codes included, without me requesting that she do so. But neither of us had any idea about the ship’s geography until we were in it.

But we were hungry, and after staring at the tv for a few minutes, because a plane had crashed earlier today at SFO and 75 percent of my immediate family on this trip is diagnosably anxious if not outright scared of flying. As usual, the outlier being me, who likes everything about flying, down to on-board lavatories with their vacuum flushing and economical and well-labeled use of space, and ashtrays, even though it is a federal offense to light a cigarette on an airplane.

So we determined it was around 2:00, though our cell phones were roaming and sending us messages that it cost extra to send and receive texts because we’re in Canada, ostensibly, and none of them showed the same time. And we knew that our Muster Drill was at 4:30 and dinner was promptly at 5:30 and we might have time to shower somewhere in there after sitting in transit, sweating the sour sweat of getting out of bed very early and waiting and nerves and the opposite of exertion through several time zones all day long.

Katie and I mustering

And we found our dad and the rest of the family, who had flown in earlier in the day from St. Louis, at the buffet as soon as we walked in the door, as if that were on our itinerary as well.

And then dinner was over and we did not know what to do. We did not have a schedule any longer. We discussed our options, came to no decisions, and went for a walk. We stopped at the fitness center to determine class times throughout the week, and I ended up flying Sergei and Christo, the trainers, and Sergei was a pretty big guy, and they were impressed, and said to come and see them again.

Then we discussed what we could do tonight again, and settled on the hot tub, and then sat around in the water, and then for a while out of it. Another passenger, unasked, informed us where there were changing rooms and we could get more towels.

So far there is no cell reception, and wifi is really expensive, maybe fifty dollars an hour, we heard, so we sat without our phones and with nothing to do, and we thought about things we left undone at work, and that was it. And Ben and Katie and I discussed how we had all taken gymnastics lessons for years, and were never any good at it.

When Katie and I returned to our room to turn in for the night, we reviewed the Princess Patter schedule for the next day. We could show up for a new activity every half hour starting at 7am. Or we could sleep in and then lay about the deck interspersed with spurts of eating and scanning the horizon for whales. The first world questions remain: do something or do nothing on vacation? Are we wasting our precious free minutes, or using them wisely? I set my alarm for 6:30 just in case.

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