Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cruise #9: Rachel!

My favorite cruise of the gig, because I had a very special guest:


Second City has what they call their "Conjugal Visit Program", which basically means that they'll fly out one guest on their dime, and they get to take the cruise for free. This is the only way my girlfriend and I could possibly afford to go one a cruise like this, so it was, as the poet says, awesomenacious.

She flew out on a red-eye from LA, and was immediately introduced to the life of a Lonely Planet traveler. We met up in a Holiday Inn lobby that the cast frequents because they have free internet and will let you use the bathroom. I know, I know. Romantic. We managed to get on the ship with the first batch of passengers, and the adventure began.

This was also our first cruise where we were classified as crew. It's a complicated distinction, and proof that red-tape floats, but there are two different manifests that every cruise ship maintains. One for passengers and one for crew. For the last couple months, all the guest entertainers had been classified as passengers, but they've got all that worked out, so we're crew again. This is great, because it means we can hang out after-hours with all the other people we work with on the ship. Hooray crew bar!

Let's take this one port by port.

Samana, Dominican Republic:

Samana is interesting because it's a port that's just starting to develop. I'd only been off there once, because we have to tender in, and it's a show day, so I have an early tech call. That time, we went to a private island, Cayo Levantado, which was a whole lot of fun. The problem is, a lot of people expect all our ports to be super-developed, super-touristy, and Samana is decidedly not that. If you're someone who dreams of heading for the nearest Senor Frogs(a Spanish term that roughly translates to "Mr. Ranas"), go to Cayo Levantado, not the town. Trust me on this one.

Rachel and I decided we'd just walk around and check out the town, then head back to the ship and hit the spa.

Rachel hugs all of Samana at once

Horus, the equine god who protects the Dominican Republic from pirates

Two Samana Presidentes -

The Beer

The guy who looks like Dennis Farina

Tortola, British Virgin Islands:

February 11th. My birthday. Rachel and I hit up my absolute favorite place on earth, Marina Cay. We had a great cab driver take us out to the Beef Island Ferry, and off we went.

Relaxing at the Beef Island Ferry, apparently on D-Day

The ferry ride was great, the weather was perfect, and it's probably my favorite birthday yet. There were only about 10 other people there, so it was a welcome escape from the million-tourist-march beaches you can often run into. No beach like this should be appreciated with a full complement of brain cells, so we eased into the birthday drinking painkillers from tin mugs.

Rachel, meet painkiller. Painkiller, meet Rachel.

Rach had never been snorkeling before, so we rented some gear and hit the water. It was gorgeous, and I decided I wanted to get a souvenir to remember this magical day. The one I picked was a sea urchin spine, which I tucked away safely in my heel.

The sea urchins are defending themselves somehow!


After the birthday day, we were both pretty tired, so we slept in today, then went and wandered around town for a bit. We had an improv show that night, so we headed back to the ship a tad early.

Wadadli cats are what house cats would look like if they were boats

I live one one of these. Try to guess which one. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised


Rachel had an excursion that she wanted to check out, which was a tour of the Malibu Rum Factory. I was definitely up for it, if only because I had a sneaking suspicion that there might be rum there.

We toured the entire production line, which was interesting, and it finished up with an entertaining video which showed how they used rocket ships to deliver their rum to all the alcoholic countries of the world. There was also a detailed lecture where we tasted samples and were educated in the intricate scientific processes used in the manufacture of Malibu's product. I learned from this that rum is tasty.

This is the second time I've seen Rachel in a hardhat

Nothing says paradise quite like industrial development

Afterwards, we went to Malibu beach, which, through a stunning coincidence, is located directly behind the rum factory.

When was the last time you tanned next to a silo? Huh?

Portrait of the Caribbean as an Awesome Sea

St. Lucia:

Our last port on the cruise. Also, Valentine's Day. We celebrated the way most couples do, with a whale-watch. We didn't wind up seeing any whales, but we ran into a whole school of dolphins, some of whom we saw leaping out of the water and flipping around in the air. Awesome. It also afforded us a great view of the Piton mountains on the southern end of the island. The Pitons are the national symbol of St. Lucia. Here are two views:

The Pitons -

The way God likes to see them

The way I like to see them

On the boat with us was a delightful woman named Allie, and I would like to take this moment to apologize for my entertainment recommendation. She knows which one.

After we got off the whale-watching boat, we decided we'd hop in a cab and go exploring. We wound up a Choc Bay, and fantastic little beach I'd never heard of that was only a few minute from the port. There was a great restaurant next to it, as well. We spent the afternoon swimming in the clear blue water, then heading up for a lunch of fish cakes and rotis, which are sort of the Caribbean version of a burrito, but with curried potatoes. Great to eat, terrible for the breath. Advantage, Compton.

It's no Jersey shore, but it'll do

Why this isn't a postcard, I'll never know

Mmmmm...the Wharf Restaurant

Remember kids, there's a little Los Angeles in every place on earth

There were too many other great things on the trip to count. It was a wonderful cruise, and my only problem was that it was over so soon. Good times. (dramatic, wistful pause) Good times.

Cruise #8: The Superbowl - Like Canadian Football, but with an audience

The most exciting thing I did on this cruise was something I'd never be able to do on land. I watched TV.

No, not the He-Man Christmas special. They're not showing that one anymore. Actually, they've replaced that on the crew channel with "The Perfect Storm", which makes as much sense as showing "Alive" on a USAir flight. But we also had the Superbowl.

There's a big-screen TV in the Atrium. I mean really big. Gabby Hayes big. It stretches from floor to ceiling, and is two stories tall from top to bottom. Beautiful picture, great sound, everything you could want for a game except for beer. In front of it is a bar. Advantage, Compton.

Kevin showed up mere seconds after getting on the ship and snaked he, Sam and I three seats right up front. By the time the game started, some 600 people were watching with us, in seats, leaning over balconies, or hanging off the stairs. Mostly vicious Giants fans at that. One Tom Brady fan made a peep midway through the game, and was immediately sent on Norwegian's "Torn Apart by Wild Dogs" excursion. Who brings wild dogs on a cruise ship? People from New Jersey.

Jock Crow and Jock Tom Servo watch the game

New England turns out to be just as tough as the old one

It's a hell of a way to watch the game. It's great having a crowd that big, especially for a game that had that crazy an ending. The beer was plentiful, and good times were had by all except for the guy who got rabies.

The rest of the cruise was pretty relaxed. Yes, I am aware that is perhaps the second least surprising sentence ever typed in English. The first is "The invasion of Russia went poorly." It was another 5-day, stopping in Cozumel and Grand Cayman. Cozumel has turned into a bit of a business stop for us these days. It's sketch-show day for us, so we have to be back on the ship early to tech, so it tends to be spent in exotic locations like "Starbucks" doing things like "Using free internet". If you're wondering, the Spanish word for "Frappuccino" is exactly the same as the English one.

I got to hit the Eden Rock Dive Center again in Cayman, though. It's a great little dive shop that's about a five minute walk from where we tender. "Tendering" is what they call it when we anchor offshore and take a small boat to shore. It's a lot like when you're on a bus, and they can't get you right where you need to go, so the put you on the little tiny bus they keep in the back and drive you there on that. Maybe that's just an LA thing.

Seven-Mile Beach, which is all two of those things

For $5, you can rent a locker at Eden Rock, and hop into the water right out back. There are two reefs nearby, Devil's Grotto and Eden Rock, both filled with fish and all these beautiful coral formations. You can spend a whole day there without realizing it. You find yourself going "Holy crap, look at that iridescent school of fish! Holy crap, there's another one! Holy crap, there's a barracuda! Holy crap, I'm on land!"

View from the pier. Eden Rock is to the right and Devil's Gorge is to the left

The Carnival "Fun Ship" meets the Grand Cayman "Drunken Scurvy Ship"

I also moved into one of the single rooms this week, which is great and a downer. It's great because I finally have my own room, but it's a downer because my old alarm clock was my roommate leaving, so there's a good chance I may accidentally sleep through the next cruise.

All in all, a fun week, and the next one will be even more fun, as I have a special guest.

A slightly better view than when I lived over the meat factory

And now, your moment of zen

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cruise #7: And then there was Rum

Another 9-day run.

In case you're wondering, here's the day-to-day schedule of a seabound improvisor in paradise:

Friday: The United States! Land of Freedom and Democracy!

Itinerary - 9:00 AM Get off the ship, take train to Target
11:00 AM Sit in Holiday Inn Lobby for two hours, pretending to be a customer and leeching free wi-fi.
2:30 PM Six Million Phone Calls
5:30 PM Sailaway. Embark on nine day voyage of magic and wonder

Saturday: Sea Day. The utter vastness of God's creation is too enormous to take in.

9:00 AM Wake up
10:00 AM Discover that "Full House" is on the Crew Channel
10:02 AM Leave Cabin
12:00 - 2:00 PM Work
2:00 - 6:00 PM Read and write on the sun deck
6:03 PM Spa to recharge from all that work

Sunday: Samana. The vibrant wonder of an intricate Caribbean culture.

9:00 AM Wake up
10:00 AM Discover that "King of Queens" is on the Crew Channel
10:01 AM Leave Cabin
10:03 - 11:00 AM Gym
12:01 PM Spa, since everyone else is out exploring this strange new world
4:00 - 5:00 PM Work
6:00 PM Shave for the first time in three days
7:00 - 10:30 PM Work
11:00 PM Much needed drink at the Whiskey Bar after all that work

Monday: Tortola. A sparkling gem in the crown of the British Commonwealth.

8:00 AM Wake up
9:00 AM Discover that "The He-Man Christmas Special" is on the Crew Channel
11:30 AM Leave Cabin
12:00 - 4:00 PM Lounge on the beach on Marina Cay, snorkeling and drinking brain-slapping rum concoctions out of a tin cup
6:00 PM Spa. Still exhausted from work yesterday

Tuesday: Antigua. A rich, glowing tribute to all that is beautiful in nature and the human spirit.

9:00 AM Wake up, swear off Crew Channel, decide to make today a day I'll remember for the rest of my life
10:00 - 6:00 PM Sit in internet cafe
8:00 - 9:30 PM Work
10:00 - 11:30 PM Cocktails with the cast
11:33 - 1:00 AM "He-Man Christmas Special" on Crew Channel

Wednesday: Barbados. The pulsing heart of God's sun-drenched paradise.

9:00 AM Wake up
10:00 AM Discover "Smallville" is on the Crew Channel, inexplicably subtitled in English
10:01 - 10:30 AM Make fun of shoddy subtitling
10:30 AM Realize I'm doing this out loud. Feel stupid
10:33 - 11:30 AM Gym
12:05 PM Go ashore to the boatyard
2:00 PM Crew party. Watch Sam lose a tooth and win a beer-drinking contest. Feel smart.
4:00 PM Spa, for no reason whatsoever

Thursday: St. Lucia. An gorgeous island ripped straight out of a utopian imagination.

9:00 AM Wake up
10:00 AM Can't find remote
10:02 - 12:15 PM Panic
12:16 PM Find remote under couch, decide to clean cabin
10:00 - 11:30 PM Work
11:40 - 2:00 AM Finish cleaning cabin

Friday: Sea Day. The sun begins to set on this magical vacation

9:00 AM Wake up
10:00 AM "Full House" back on the Crew Channel. Close eyes and pretend that Dave Coulier is Man-E-Faces
10:30 - 11:30 AM Gym
12:02 PM Can't find chair on Sun Deck. Decide to look on Deck 15
12:04 PM Suddenly reminded that Deck 15 is "Clothing Optional"
12:06 - 4:00 PM Cry in darkened cabin
4:00 - 5:30 PM Work
6:00 PM Watch snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. Think back to Deck 15. "The horror. The horror."

Saturday: Sea Day. Last day of the cruise, and we're going to make it the best day yet.

9:00 AM Wake up
10:00 AM Vow to watch no more television on the entire cruise
10:05 - 12:30 PM Watch "The Bourne Ultimatum"
1:00 PM Attempt to go to Spa. Flashbacks to Deck 15 in locker-room. Run away
1:15 - 3:45 PM Hide out in library. Discover that my dislike of Robert Ludlum continues unabated
4:00 - 5:30 PM Work
6:00 - 11:00 PM Dinner with the cast
11:00 PM Drinks in the Bliss Ultra Lounge, what the year 2525 would look like if it took place in 1977
1:00 AM Off to bed, prepare myself for another grueling 11-hour workweek.

We hit Marina Cay this week, but I managed to have a working camera this time. The afternoon was spent snorkeling, dodging sea-urchins, and drinking painkillers, a drink that's comprised of coconut milk, orange juice, pineapple juice, and all the rum in the world.

Theo, from the Jean Ann Ryan Dancers, who has messed with Texas and lived to tell the tale

The dock at Marina Cay

Like an LA beach, without all the mercury

The sand, the bar, and the ride home

This is slightly nicer than the Santa Monica Pier

Gulls! From the sea! Can't see these back in Los Angeles

Kevin is tanner now

Floatin' Joe Latessa surveys his domain

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Words I have heard rarely since leaving technological and public policy research and taking a job on a cruise ship

1. Logistically

2. Standard-Deviation

3. Steampunk

4. Supply-Chain

5. Realpolitik

6. Sino-American

7. Implementation

8. Statistically-Significant

9. Infrastructure

10. Toner

Cruise #6: In Which I am Shocked by Seeing Tatoos and Drinking on the High Seas

Not a lot of pictures on this cruise. It was another 5-day, hitting Cozumel and Grand Cayman. The five-days are a much younger demographic, and the crowds tend to react to the shows much more boisterously. This crowd was heavily inked up and ready to party.

I did get to go snorkeling again, this time in Grand Cayman. We had a rehearsal in the afternoon, so I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time there, but I grabbed my snorkel gear and wandered off into town to see what I could find. I walked about five minutes down the road and found a little dive shop. I ducked in and it turned out there were two reefs directly behind the place, about a ten minute swim. I rented a locker and swam out to Devil's Gorge, this time armed with a waterproof disposable camera. I only swam for about an hour, but wound up amid a huge school of brightly colored fish. If I can find a one-hour photo place, I'll post pics at the end of the next nine-day cruise.

All the shows went really well. We've got the adult show down, with a great starting game, "Battle Rap", courtesy of Montelione. It's nice and energetic, and is also a fun way to probe the audiences limits so we can understand their comfort zone. I met another really fun bunch of folks, including a professional livestock auctioneer and a really cool marine biologist from Philly. All in all, a good cruise.

Sunset through the clouds over the Caribbean

Kayaking in Miami; or "Traffic has made us retarded"

There was some bad news, however. I had my follow up with the doctor on Friday, the day we got back into town. Unfortunately, it looks like the bones in my wrist healed at an angle, so they're going to have to re-break it and set it properly. I find it a little flabbergasting that you could ever have a moment in your life where you find yourself saying "I guess the medically appropriate thing to do here is to pay a man to break my wrist." I suppose I'll just have to trust that Doctor's Rocco and Vincenzo know what they're doing. It looks like I can pick when I want them to do it, though, so I'm going to aim for having it done the last Friday I'm in Miami. That way I'll get to play around in the Caribbean for almost the whole time, and the cast will wind up coming off shortly after I get back to LA.

Hi ho.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cruise #5: Unlike Yul Brenner, I Have Fun Breathing Through a Plastic Tube

Back to the 9-day run, hitting Samana, Tortola, Antigua, Barbados and St. Lucia. The highlight was definitely snorkeling in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. I'd never been snorkeling before, and it was amazing. Of course, my camera batteries died the minute I stepped onto the ferry, but, aside from that, it was awesome.

Floatin' Joe, our music director, knew of a little out of the way beach on an island not far from Tortola. We took a twenty-minute cab ride to a free ferry, then rode that to a small resort island called Marina Cay. They had a great little bar, a place that rented snorkel and scuba gear, and the best part was that it was almost totally deserted. It was also my first chance to get into the Caribbean water.

First of all, the water. The Caribbean is like God's bathtub. Warm, buoyant, crystal clear. Totally amazing. Getting in for the first time was beautiful. Come to think of it, it might be the first time I've actually been swimming since I was in college.

The first time I put on the mask and went underwater was mindblowing. The minute you get your head down, you realize that there are millions of tiny, iridescent fish surrounding you. The beach sits on the edge of a large reef, so you can swim out over the top of it, and, once you get to the other side, there are a million fish all over the place. Simply amazing. I'm picking up disposable underwater cameras next time I'm in Miami, so I'll be able to put up pictures.

Winters & Montelione: In no way Goth

Sam and I celebrate the death of the Stock Market

Clemson Fans in the Caribbean. Start playing "Dueling Banjos" on a steel drum

We're about a third of the way through our contract, so this is as good a time as any to meet the cast.

Jen Winters: Jen was the only person I knew when I started this gig. She's another grad from the Second City LA Training Center, and performed with the Group on Wednesday nights when I was performing with Welsh Poets on Tuesdays. She's originally from Walla Walla, Washington, and has worked as a masseuse and a Yoga teacher when she wasn't doing improv. Jen and I can fall into the role of the parents of the group, partly because we're older than the others, and partly because neither of us show much affinity for standing on a bar and playing to win in a beer drinking contest.

Joe Latessa: AKA Uncle Joe AKA Floatin' Joe. Joe's the music director, and has worked on the Pearl for the last eight months and on ships for the past two years. He's originally from Detroit, and worked as a music director for TourCo and at IO in Chicago, among other places. Joe and I are roommates, and will be for the next couple weeks. Joe's a wi-fi-seeking missile, and can tell you where to find free internet access more than a dozen countries. He also possesses an invaluable knowledge of all the ports and of all thing's ship-life. His book "Floatin' Joe Speaks Boat" will be out this fall on the Scribner imprint.

Sam Richardson: AKA Colossal Sam. Originally from Detroit as well, Sam's spent the last few years teaching at the Detroit training center. Sam was the first guy in the cast I met, and we wound up having a ridiculously fun evening with my brother and a bunch of old Carolina hands. Sam's great claim to fame is that he can eat his weight in food, double his weight, then eat that weight in food. Sam's our most ubiquitous cast member. Everybody seems to know him, and that's only partially attributable to his spending every waking hour in the ship's disco. He did the Ship'n'Males strip show on this cruise, which I didn't go to. That absence saved our friendship.

Kevin Sciretta: Kev's originally from New York, but has lived in Chicago for the past several years. He comes to the Pearl from the venerable Cupid Players, the big musical sketch-show at IO Chicago. He was also on Bullet Lounge, one of the Harold teams there. Kevin holds the world record for most times fired at Navy Pier. He's also disturbingly reminiscent of my friend 40 from college. We will actually get to hang out the minute football season ends.

Eileen Montelione: Another Chicago hand. She worked in the office at Second City before landing this job. She's a training center graduate, and can sleep for over 120 hours at a time, if the situation calls for it. Eileen is a fantastic singer, and regularly saves everybody's ass during Blues Jam in our Stardust show. She's also obsessed with "The Room", a bizarre cult film that's been playing regularly in Los Angeles for the last five years. It's astounding that I stared at the billboard for it every day in LA, but finally saw it somewhere between Barbados and St. Lucia in the middle of the ocean.

Anyway, the rest of the cruise was a blast. I met a bunch of very cool people, and got to hit a few of the ports I hadn't really explored yet.

The last, lonely tender out of Samana

Beach Volleyball with the crew of the NCL Pearl

The Boatyard: Where you can swim, surf, and be run over by a sailboat

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


The Two-Armed Bandit

First up, the cast came off on Friday. I’m icing it down a couple times a day and doing physical therapy exercises to get the swelling down and the range of motion back, but it’s off, and I’m overjoyed.

Not a lot of pictures from this last cruise. It was another 5-day run, Miami to Cozumel to Grand Cayman. This was our first non-holiday cruise, and it was an incredibly different crowd. The passengers were young, enthusiastic, and an amazing audience. All four shows killed, especially the adult show, which I think we’ve finally gotten the hang of. This one actually ran about 10 minutes long, and they would have been with us for another 30.

One of the volunteers for the first improv show is a student at American University, where I went to college. Apparently my old group, Mission Improvable (or, as it’s now known in improv circles, “Mission Improvable, no, not that one, the college improv group at American University”) is still kicking around, and the campus television station is as boring as ever. Ah, continuity.

It’s amazing how much of a wimp this gig makes you. I almost typed the sentence “This was a pretty busy week”, until I realized I was talking about working 11 hours over a five-day period. It’s like moving to LA and the weather. You could have moved from Ice Station Zebra, but, after two weeks, you’ll still find yourself going, “Sweet Christ it’s freezing. It must be like 60 degrees outside.”

When we hit Miami at the end, I hopped in a cab and headed out to the doctor. The X-Rays looked OK, so they used the highest available medical technology and took a circular saw to my arm. I understand the guy’s a doctor and all, but when you see someone attempting to take a rotating sawblade to your arm, your natural response it a healthy, Darwin-approved urge to get the hell out of there.

Fortunately, it all went well. I picked up a splint from the boat doctor, listened to his method of explaining all medical diagnoses or prescriptions using beer, and took the first normal shower I’ve had in a month. And all was right with the world.