Su Lum: Slumming
December 1, 2010
One of the most interesting aspects about a cruise is finding out that most of the other 1,800 passengers aboard come from all over the world and have stories to tell. At first glance, my friend Hilary and I perceived the masses as an anonymous bunch of graying white people served by 800 brown people, but after seven days the ship seemed much smaller.
A large man in his 60s (“Bob”) sat down with us at the communal lunch tables on Lido deck and within 10 minutes had revealed that he and his second wife were on an anniversary cruise, that his first wife had died and he was so lonely and bereft he consulted his doctor, who, to his surprise, recommended an Internet dating service. Four dates later he found his second wife, a widow, and they had married on a cruise with all their children and grandchildren in attendance.
If you’re on a train, or trapped in an elevator, or on a cruise ship with people you’ll never meet again, the true stories seem to emerge spontaneously. People talked in elevators. One of our Indonesian cabin cleaners was besotted with Hilary and joined us on our balcony, telling us tales of the underbelly.
A gay couple, who had been together for 26 years, regaled us at dinner with stories of their travels, including a narrow escape from Egypt to Israel, then got into a heated political debate with a Republican couple from Juneau.
On the fourth night, we dined with Erin and Lindsay, one of the youngest couples on the boat – not as young as we first thought, having been married for 16 years and having three daughters aged 6 through 14 – who immediately got our attention by saying that they had wandered up to one of the higher decks and had seen a whale. Whoa! A whale? Yes, and there had been a man who had been whale-watching from that deck for hours, who was a bit taken aback when they had stumbled up there just in time to see the whale surface.
Not only that, but they had come across the rescue of the man with a “medical problem” for whom the ship had made an emergency stop at Cabo San Lucas. And they had witnessed a woman on the scene who had fainted and been taken off with him.
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Damn! I had been lurking around hoping to see the rescue and hadn’t seen a thing but, again, these guys had stumbled on it, just as they had stumbled upon the whale sighting. Clearly this was a couple we wanted to know more about.
The next night, Erin called our room to see if we were up for a rematch. It turned out that it was her birthday and we got a table just for the four of us, a coup. Erin was beautiful and looked 20 – Lindsay was a gentle giant of a man who was broadening his horizons, he said, as he ate an escargot from Hilary’s dish.
This was their first cruise and it was all an adventure for them. Their story this night was that they had taken a boat ride to some primitive village of thatched huts, followed by a walk to a waterfall, and at one point they had left the group and were walking down the beach when a procession of men carrying a dead body on a gurney passed by. The body was partially covered with garbage bags, but an exposed foot led Lindsay to think that the body was white.
Thatched huts? Dead body? Garbage bags? Damn!
Erin worked with disabled kids and had a brother with Downs Syndrome who was married to a woman with the same condition. Lindsay had diabetes (caused, they thought, by a nearby mining operation) and they had trouble in airports carrying insulin bags. Erin had had a weird cancer that manifested itself as a pregnancy. Stories, stories, stories.
And after an irreverent blurt on my part, we learned that they were Mormons, opening up another avenue of discussion (no, sadly, there were no other wives).
On our last night, Hilary and I shivered on the balcony of our aft-end room, watching what we could of the helicopter rescue of a woman (ailment unknown) – chop-chop-chopping across the back of the boat and then reappearing on the boat channel TV screen, lowering a sling and, with much swaying, pulling it up to the blurry, snowy chopper.
“I just know Erin and Lindsay are right there on the scene,” I groused. But, tucked away in their inside room, they were unaware of the evacuation. However it was Erin who, the next morning, noticed that we were parked right next to the Carnival Splendor, the ship with 4,500 people on board, that had been stranded for 72 hours without electricity or hot water.
Then it was off to the airport with quick good-byes – ships that had passed in the night.
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