We never even asked her name. I guess it was because we were in full cruise mode. We’d be boarding later that morning at the Charleston harbor.
But first there was the matter of breakfast at the Vendue Inn, the fantastic hotel we’d stayed in Sunday night in Charleston. We’d gotten there in time to walk around awhile once the concierge – that’s right, we were at a hotel with a concierge – made reservations for us and the valet – yup, that too; my first and possibly only experience with valet parking – had taken the car.
We walked down to the dock, saw someone eating green gelato – we never exactly figured out what flavor it was – and took a stroll to our restaurant, Poogan’s Porch. We were there a bit early, that gave us time to people watch, particularly the huge party that gathered on the tiny courtyard. The young couple eating outside near the door seemed pretty distracted by all the confusion.
But we were treated like royalty, ate our fill and then some and walked a little more before turning in for the night.
She greeted us almost immediately when we were seated, looking up from her bananas foster french toast – that’s two of my least favorite things, bananas and Fosters. She was heading out for a stroll of her own after breakfast. She blotted the grease from her bacon as she told us she was from Carmel, Calif. She’d come to Charleston, she said, because she thought it would be interesting. She was small, 60ish, and engaging, nothing like what you’d think of a Northern Californian. She was interested when we told her we were on the way to the Bahamas.
She’d been there; she’d been lots of places, as it turned out. She traveled alone and often. When she left, we speculated she’d probably was or had been some kind of executive in NoCal. Regardless, she put us in a great mood for the days to come, when we’d meet people – interesting, engaging people – from across the country.
Here are random thoughts on some of the most memorable:
Green Shirt Guy: Karen and I noticed this guy right away, because he was pretty noticeable. If he were a woman, I’d say he was built like a brick shirthouse. Except I’d have left out one of the letters. The thing was, he seemed to be a good guy too. He was on the make, but he never looked like he was coming on too strong and he spent a lot of time talking to women you wouldn’t have thought he would have talked to. And looked like he was enjoying it. We saw him at least once, usually multiple times, every day on the boat. One person we didn’t see him with was Ball Cap Girl. Of all the women on the prowl, she was the most obvious. I will say she had a nicely filled bikini, and she knew it. We called her Ball Cap Girl because one night, when she’d obviously had a bunch to drink and was being, shall we say, friendly, she was wearing a baseball cap. At an angle. One of my pet peeves, maybe second to people who don’t have passion, is people who wear their baseball caps backwards. Or at an angle. I saw her a lot, too. I don’t know if Karen did. I didn’t usually mention it.
Mia Hamm and her daughter, Celia: I call her Mia Hamm because she kind of resembled the soccer star. In a single soccer mom kind of way. She asked us to take their photo on the formal dining night. We know 5-year-old Celia’s name because she was selected for a magic trick done by our cruise director, Risa, the pudgy, fast talker who made rapid-fire announcements twice or more a day. Risa gave Celia a magic quarter, which she was to not look at but put under her pillow, and if she believed in magic, it would turn into $5. Which I’m sure pleased Mia.
Bad Ben: We had really good luck, for the most part, when we were seated with other couples in the dining room. The exception to that was the meal we ate with Ben and Barbara. They were from Lynchburg, Va. And Statesville. She was a private care nurse and pretty nice. And obviously lonely. Because she met her blowhard of a husband on eHarmony. He was some sort of engineer who insisted on telling us about how he designed the metal/plastic beer bottles they use nowadays and how hard they were to design and how he loved being a contract engineer and how he had all these medical problems and about his automated insulin pump and more … I quit listening. Karen, who is nicer than I am by a country mile, occasionally got a word in with him. One thing I did hear was how his wife lived five days a week in Statesville with an Alzheimer’s patient. Which had to be less of a chore than listening to this windbag. The other couple that night was Herman and Natalya, who might have been interesting had they been able to get the floor. We ran into them on the Lido deck a couple of times and they seemed so happy to see us. We saw Ben and Barbara a couple of times later and managed to sneak the other way.
Good Ben: The funny was, we thought Good Ben was going to be a blowhard. He had been, he reckoned, on 30 cruises, and he and his wife, Linda, whom we met on the bus from the big boat to the boat that would take us to the charming shopping area in Freeport. He’d been on lots of cruise lines, including Norwegian and Royal Caribbean. He really liked those, he said, because they had more entertainment and stuff and so on. But, he said, he always loved this cruise we were on. Which endeared him to us. So did his answer when we asked him if he’d ever taken his kids on a cruise: “No, we could never afford it then.”
The Johnson City, Tenn., family: Again, we didn’t know their names, but we got in a long discussion with them on the way back from the Blue Lagoon. Actually, we did most of the talking with their three kids, all in college. All, I think, in private colleges. So there was money there, but you sure wouldn’t have known it from the way these kids acted. They formed a level-headed but fun group why acted perfectly happy to talk to a couple of, well, mature vacationers. We ran into them a couple of times later, including when we were disembarking, and they really acted excited about it.
Scott and Danielle: We met them the first night in the dining room. She was also a nurse, a big-time one in the Washington, D.C., area. They lived in Sterling, Va., very near where Lauren and Nicki grew up. But Danielle was from East Tennessee, as were a lot of our favorite people on the trip (there was a couple from Bristol at the table as well). They’d gotten married the day before. I guess they were 40ish. Danielle had lost 80 pounds, she said – she was one of those nurses who despite their profession don’t follow healthy habits. About midway through the meal, somewhere between the brisket and the chocolate melting cake, Danielle asked us if we were newlyweds, too. Now Karen and I have been married nearly 19 years. How sweet it was that they thought we’d just gotten married. (OK, some of you would call it sickening, I guess.) But we saw them repeatedly during the week and each time it was a delight. We just connected with them, and I’ve missed them greatly since we got back.
Fernando, Penelope and Elbert: We also loved several of the Carnival employees. Fernando, our steward, kept the room spotless and made us laugh every time we saw him or one of his towel creations. Especially the towel monkey he hung from the ceiling light the final night. By the final meal, Penelope, the hostess at the dining room, called us by name when we’d walk up. She didn’t have to do that. And we met a waiter, Elbert, that we liked enough to request his tables after he’d served us once. Elbert, who was 37 but looked about 13, told us the first night that he had five children, one in Charleston, one in Miami, one in Orlando … But he couldn’t keep it up. He was always bringing us extra food we didn’t order because he wanted us to try it – we had the best crab cakes ever that way (after he made sure we had no food allergies). He was switching boats after that cruise – they work six months on and three months off – and I really hope we see him again down the road.
Or, even though he’s not on TV, maybe we could find him on another channel.
“Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear. Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important and what’s not.” – James Taylor