We took an Alaskan cruise. I kept a log.
[WRITER’S NOTE: This is a long post. That’s not a bad thing, or a good thing. But if you use Gmail, you’ll see a warning saying, “Message clipped.” To read the full story, you’ll need to click the “View Entire Message” link at the bottom of the email. Alternatively, you can click here, which will take you to my Substack homepage, where you can click on “We took an Alaskan cruise. I kept a log.” Sorry about all the clicking, everyone.]
After a two-week hiatus, Situation Normal is back from vacation. Christina and I joined her parents, Steve and Cheryl, on a seven-day Alaskan cruise. The idea was to celebrate Steve and Cheryl’s 30th anniversary, but that was in 2020, and you know how that year went. We tried again for the so-called “hot vax summer” of 2021, but Canada put the kibosh on cruising in their waters. Finally, after two years, our ship came in. The following is a chronicle of our voyage.
Day One - Seattle
One important takeaway from Homer’s Odyssey is that Poseidon ain’t nothing to fuck with. I’m not a polytheist, but I respect the sea god. Upon boarding, we immediately went to our “muster station” in the music hall for a safety briefing.
But just like airlines, cruise ships send mixed signals about safety. First, they tell you what to do in the event of an emergency, then they offer you booze. I’m not a drinker, so I passed on the booze, opting instead for my drug of choice: people-watching.
Our ship, Ovation of the Seas, carries nearly 5,000 passengers. It’s hard to imagine that many drunks making their way to the life boats in an orderly fashion. But in the much more likely event that everything turns out fine, it’s easy to imagine your intrepid correspondent chronicling the seafaring weirdos on this voyage to Alaska. Wandering around the ship, three prospects caught my eye.
The Woman with “777” Tattooed Across Her Throat. Google, which knows all, informed me that such a tattoo could be a Biblical reference, or a gambling thing, or a Nazi thing (yikes!). Or, Google says, it could be that the tattoo’s meaning is specific to the person. Perhaps it’s her luggage combination. Or, maybe she values convenience so much that she wanted a 7/11 tattoo, but she picked the closest tattoo artist, rather than the best tattoo artist, and he fucked up the eleven, making it look like a pair of sevens. Anything is possible! But one thing is certain: the woman with the throat tattoo has a higher pain threshold than me.
The Man Wearing the “All Wright, All Wright, All Wright” T-shirt. He sure looks dazed & confused, but I’m also confused. Is the t-shirt a typo, or is it some kind of homage to the Wright Brothers? Also, where’s our Wright Brother’s biopic starring Matthew McConaughey in a tour de force as both Orville and Wilbur? That would be more than All Wright, All Wright, All Wright with me.
The Bro and His “Working” Dog. The bro looks strong, like a fitness influencer, but it’s his dog, which plays with strangers and doesn’t follow its owner’s commands, that makes me suspicious. And angry! We had to leave Mortimer at home, and an Alaskan cruise is a bucket list item for our dog.
But sea voyages aren’t all about people-watching. There’s soft serve ice cream — a sweet treat and, for this correspondent anyway, an inspiration to maritime vocation.
“If it all goes bad with Situation Normal, I can always put to sea,” I told Christina. “Not trying to brag, but I’m the best ice cream man this side of the international date line.”
Christina didn’t ask about my rival, Schooner Scoop, the finest ice cream man on the other side of the international date line. Instead, she speculated about her maritime career options.
“I think I’d make a great captain,” she said. “What skills do I need for that job?”
“You have to be an experienced mariner. There’s school, and you learn a lot on the job by working as an officer. Plus, sailors are superstitious because the sea is a cruel mistress, so you have to be lucky, like Russell Crowe in Master and Commander.”
“Was he the master or the commander?”
“If you have to ask, you have no business being captain.”
Christina decided she didn’t want to be captain anyway. Too many new skills to learn, and probably a lot of politics too.
“You could be the cruise director,” I said. “You’ve produced entertainment on land. I’m sure you can figure out how to take the show on the road.”
“You mean the ocean.”
“Exactly! You’re already picking up the nuances of the job.”
While Christina dreamed of a cruise director career, I wondered what else I might be qualified to do at sea, besides serve ice cream. I cook and clean at home, so I could cook and clean at sea, but I’m not sure I have any other marketable skills here.
“They need a writer,” Christina said. “I already found a typo on the menu!”
Day Two - At Sea
The scenery on the way to Alaska is beautiful, like sailing through a National Geographic documentary. On a cruise, there’s plenty of time to see that beauty because progress is slow and, this far north, there are seventeen hours of daylight.
But there’s only so much natural beauty I can take before I go bonkers. Eventually, we made our way below deck to the piano bar for trivia.
Across the room, I spotted a man wearing a t-shirt that said, “Trophy Husband.” I think he wore it ironically, but I couldn’t be sure.
At the table next to us, two intoxicated couples argued about the entertainment for this evening. Couple number one insisted that there was to be a musical revue of Billy Idol songs, while couple number two argued that the musical revue would feature Billy Joel songs. Secure in the knowledge that we didn’t start this particular fire, I checked the entertainment schedule on my cruise app. As it turned out, the musical revue would feature the songs of Billy Idol. But rather than sharing that information with a Rebel Yell, I kept it under my hat. I had a trivia game to win.
Unfortunately, the Canadians in the back of the bar, who some say Googled the answers, won the trivia game. I considered turning them in to the captain, but decided against it because I didn’t want to see them thrown in the brig.
After dinner, as we walked back to our rooms, we passed the ship’s sports bar. Cheryl and Christina wondered if the bar would carry the Stanley Cup finals. But Steve, a diehard Tampa Bay Lightening fan and an even more diehard cynic, guessed that whatever ESPN channel the ship received wouldn’t be the one with the rights to broadcast the icy competition for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
“There’s always an upsell, or some scam,” Steve said. “They won’t show the game. I’m positive.”
Christina and Cheryl went to check with the bartender. Steve and I stayed outside and listened to the woman playing guitar.
“Hey, is it just me, or was she singing this exact same song when we walked by this bar on the first night?” I asked.
“Hotel California,” Steve confirmed. “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”
Back in our room, I meditated on the Eagles of it all. Was Hotel California a metaphor for cruises, where you travel thousands of miles, eat at the same buffets, watch the same people day after day, and ultimately end up right back where you started? Or, was the fact that we heard the same song, at the same place, at the same time, evidence of some sort of rip in the space-time continuum, one that trapped us in a floating version of Russian Doll? Only time would tell. Or, would it?
“Honey, I found the job for you!”
Christina handed me the ship’s newspaper, a four-page daily offering coverage of life at sea, the weather report, and useful information about our next port of call.
“I don’t think they outsourced this to a writer back in Seattle,” Christina continued. “The internet isn’t reliable enough for that, and the information in here needs to be tailored to the ship.”
“So, you’re saying there’s a job for me as a newspaper man aboard ship?”
“Yes! You can do an exposé on that guy wearing the trophy husband shirt. Is he really a trophy, or was that irony? Plus, the weather report. Very important. And between stories, you can copyedit the menus.”
I grabbed the newspaper. Christina was right. Someone aboard the Ovation of the Seas was writing this rag. If I played my cards right, that someone could be me! And if it was to me, I’d be asking the hard questions about the ship’s ESPN subscription, cheating at trivia, verification of service animals, and throat tattoos.
Day Three - Juneau, Alaska
Fun fact about Juneau: there are no roads connecting the capital city of 30,000 people to the rest of the state, or anywhere else in North America. Honolulu is the only other state capital not connected by road to the rest of North America, but unlike Honolulu, Juneau isn’t an island; it’s surrounded by steep mountains that make it a de facto island, meaning all goods and visitors arrive by boat or plane.
While waiting to disembark, a few questions came to mind.
What are the odds I’ll find a t-shirt here that says, “If Juneau, Juneau”? And if such a shirt exists, will anyone understand it? Or, will I get the satisfaction of saying, “if you know, you know,” to those who ask about the meaning?
Has anyone ever confused the mustard station with their muster station? It’s one thing to show up at your emergency meeting place, hot dog in hand, looking for mustard. But it’s something else to reach for a condiment in the event of an emergency.
When interviewing, are cruise captains expected to discuss their views on going down with the ship?
To explore Juneau, we rented a Jeep that came with a self-guided tour that played on an iPad mounted on the dashboard. While I drove around in the rain, our pre-recorded guide told us about the Auke and Taku tribes who inhabited this area long before Europeans arrived; the Russians who set up fur-trading operations in the Aleutian Islands and Kodiak; Seward’s Folly, which eventually turned out to be a helluva deal; oil production, which made Seward look like a genius; a negative income tax, which makes oil production look like a good idea; salmon fishing, which makes for tasty treats like lox, unless there’s an oil spill; and glaciers, which are in retreat, in part, because we burned so much damn oil.
At a lake that is the terminus of the Mendenhall Glacier, we got out to take a look. I found a spot at the edge of the lake to admire the breathtaking scenery and futz around with the panorama feature on my phone’s camera.
On a hill above the lake, Christina took a better picture, declared herself a “fucking legend,” and the vowed to make that photo the background picture on her laptop.
Back on the ship, we ate dinner, talked about the perils of driving the rugged terrain around Juneau, and the fact that the dude working port security seemed to have a lot of Hell’s Angels tattoos.
Eventually, the ship got underway, and we settled in for bed. I tried to read James Michener’s Alaska, but got bogged down in the early chapters that recount the pre-history of the so-called Last Frontier, which is to say, I quickly grew weary of the lengthy passages about plate tectonics and migrating mastodons. Christina, on the other hand, was obsessed with the ship’s closed circuit television feed.
“There’s a map channel that shows our position, a shopping channel, and another channel of live footage from around the ship.”
I looked up at the television. On the screen, I saw a live feed from a camera on deck five. Just outside the pâtissier, a couple strolled along eating gelatos.
“Holy shit!” Christina shouted. “His hand is on her ass.”
Sure enough, his hand was on her ass. We made a note to refrain from public displays of affection while on board the Ovation of the Seas, lest our amorous impulses be turned into entertainment for the passengers and crew.
Then we changed the channel to watch the Royal Caribbean learning and development channel, so that Christina and I could get a head start on our maritime careers. But instead of the regularly scheduled video on fire safety, we watched a documentary about the building of a Royal Caribbean ship, marveling at the fact that an industrial film had one crew to shoot the documentary and a second crew to shoot behind-the-scenes footage of the making of their documentary.
“You know Heart of Darkness: a Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, that documentary Eleanor Coppola made about her husband making Apocalypse Now?” I asked. “Watching this is like watching what would’ve happened if Rob Reiner had shot behind-the-scenes footage of her documentary.”
“Meta as fuck,” Christina said.
Day Four - Skagway, Alaska
We woke up to the sound of whistles and coded commands over the ship’s loudspeakers.
“What is that?” Christina groaned.
I looked out the window.
“Safety drill. Poseidon ain’t nothing to fuck with.”
“If Juneau, Juneau.”
After breakfast, while waiting for disembarkation, I eavesdropped on a couple who looked like they had been married thirty or forty years. They were bickering about airline baggage fees, but I got the sense it wasn’t really about the fees. He insisted that bags were included in the price of their tickets. She said, no, the airlines aren’t that generous anymore. He said she was wrong. She said he was a “know-it-all.” He agreed. She went to talk to guest services. Five minutes later, she was back. As it turned out, she was correct about the baggage fees for their flight home. He shrugged, but did not apologize. Briefly, I thought about asking them the secret to a happy marriage, but then I remembered we had baggage too. Doesn’t everyone?
“Is there something we have to do to get our luggage off the ship?” I asked Christina.
“Yup, they’ve got a free service that transfers our bags from the ship to the airline. I’ve got it all taken care of.”
“Wow, you’re the best, honey. Where’d you hear about this service?”
“The ship’s newspaper. It’s full of great info.”
“Damn it, I just got scooped.”
Skagway is an old mining town that boomed during the days of the Klondike gold rush in the late 1890s. Like all mining boomtowns, Skagway once had a reputation for depravity, debauchery, and violence. But today, it’s a peaceful tourist town where you can board the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad for a two-hour loop up into the mountains.
The Yukon wilderness is stunning, the stuff of Jack London’s Call of the Wild. But those views mean riding a rickety train that reminded me of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland, except you know, without all the safety stuff.
We didn’t talk much on the train because we were too busy looking at the views and listening to the guide, who spoke a lot about the history of the area. But back on the ship, over dinner, we took stock of what we’d seen.
Cheryl and Christina talked about the rugged beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. Cheryl wished the weather had been clear, but Christina thought the rain, the clouds, and the misty mountain tops really gave the scenery that “Alaska vibe.”
“Did you notice the train kinda leaned to one side as we went around the curve?” Steve asked. “It basically hung over the side of the mountain.”
Cheryl looked worried, even though the danger was behind us.
“The funny thing about that railroad is that it didn’t do much good for all those gold prospectors,” I said.
“It didn’t?” Cheryl asked.
“I thought they built it for the miners,” Christina said.
“They did,” I said. “But the gold rush was short-lived, so by the time the train was finished, the rush was pretty much over.”
“And the whole thing was kinda pointless anyway,” Steve added. “Because while all those miners we’re breaking their backs and getting their pack animals killed trying to get over the mountains, the Canadian army officer who first surveyed the area had tipped his son off, and his son had already secured the best claims.”
“Plus, a lot of those prospectors never got out of Skagway,” I added. “The Canadians mandated that prospectors have enough supplies before they entered the area, so I’ll bet lots of dudes showed up planning to accumulate supplies in Skagway. But instead, they spent their money on booze, gambling, and prostitutes.”
“That’s where the money is,” Steve agreed. “Don’t go looking for gold, sell shit to people who are dumb enough to go looking for gold.”
“How do you two know all this?” Cheryl asked.
“The guide told us,” Steve said. “Weren’t you listening?”
“No, I was too busy looking at the views.”
Day Five - At Sea
Christina booked us a couple’s massage, but the only available time was 8am, so we got up early. The timing was fortuitous because we were up in time to see the ship sail through the Endicott Arm Fjord, which runs smack dab into the Dawes Glacier.
After our massages, we ate a late breakfast, then met Steve and Cheryl on deck to watch the scenery go by. We also saw some wild life, including eagles and whales, but we weren’t quick enough to get photos.
It was a lazy sea day, and for a time I enjoyed the bliss. But then for some reason I felt the urge to listen to Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The song is based on a real life shipwreck in Lake Superior. With powerful lyrics that ask if anyone knows where the love of God goes / when the waves turn the minutes to hours, I wish more people would sing Lightfoot’s classic at Karaoke. But given the song’s grim subject, it’s probably not appropriate to sing it on a ship. So… I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who heard me singing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on the deck of the Ovation of the Seas. Sorry! And, Poseidon, if you’re reading this, may curse be upon me and me alone.
On the way to dinner, we shared an elevator with a sixty-something couple who were drunk off their asses. The man, who wore a white linen suit and held a beer can in his unsteady hand, gave me strong George W. Bush vibes. But Steve said the suit screamed televangelist. Regardless, the couple bragged about how their last cruise, which coincided with spring break, afforded them to opportunity to press all of the buttons on the elevator.
“We really messed with those dang kids,” said George ‘televangelist’ Bush. “It was awesome.”
“They were so drunk, they didn’t know it was us,” his wife added. “They’d be like, what’s wrong with this elevator? And we’d just grin and snicker. Then we’d get off and laugh and laugh and laugh.”
Their shenanigans struck me as rude, but mildly amusing. Still, I made a note not to get on another elevator with them.
At dinner, I was excited to see that Baked Alaska was on the menu.
“I’m ordering it,” I said. “I’m not a fan of sponge cake or Neapolitan ice cream, but it’s a cruise ship classic and I’m a classic dude.”
“I’ll bet they don’t light it on fire,” Steve said.
Cheryl looked worried.
“Actually, we don’t light it on fire anymore,” our waitress said. “It’s a safety thing.”
“Between your dessert choice and your song choices, you really are tempting fate,” Christina said.
Day Six - At Sea
During the night, our course returned us to the Pacific timezone. Thankfully, the ship’s newspaper told us to set our clocks forward by one hour. But while circulation is high, readership for the ship’s newspaper is low. At least, that was my explanation for the clusterfuck at the breakfast buffet, where 5,000 passengers appeared at the exact same time to battle over poached eggs and smoked salmon. Of course, there was another explanation for the boondoggle at the buffet. As Christina reminded me, I had tempted the fates yesterday with my music and my dessert order.
“Michael should probably go back to our room and think about how he’s going to make things right with Poseidon,” Christina said.
“Or, we could check out the casino,” Cheryl said.
On the way to the casino we passed the ship’s most disconcerting attraction, a robot bartender. I’m no Luddite, but I fear the rise of the robots and the hell they’ll bring. OK, sure, it’s just a robot bartender, you say. But I don’t like what the automated drink-slinger portends. Best case scenario: these robots displace a perfectly good human workforce and undermine a Cheers reboot. Worst case scenario: Skynet forces us to drink Jägermeister shots, then nukes our drunk asses into oblivion.
Thankfully, the robots sat idle, while the flesh and blood bartenders kept busy. In my book, that’s a win for humanity and a potential Cheers reboot.
“What they need to do,” Steve suggested, “is make the robot bartender’s appointment-only. That way, people will think they’re in demand, and when people believe something is in demand, more people always show up.”
Steve’s logic was flawless, but I told him to shut the hell up because the Royal Caribbean corporation might hear his insights and put them into action.
At the casino, Christina and Cheryl found a pair of slot machines that looked promising.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked Christina.
“Yeah, why not?”
“Because the house always wins, that’s why. Remember that scene in Casino?”
“This Japanese whale took the casino for, like, two million bucks,” Steve said. “But on his way out of town, they told him their private jet had mechanical problems. So they comped him a room and everything, but he couldn’t resist the tables, and the casino got their money back, plus millions more. They ruined him.”
“So?” Christina asked.
“So, this particular house is floating on the ocean,” I said. “If you win big, there’s no way we’re getting off this ship alive.”
Christina shrugged and put forty bucks in a game called Golden Buffalo. Cheryl put in twenty. Right away, Cheryl lost all her money. But Christina went for a wild ride. Within minutes, she was up $100. Then a moment later, she was on a downward spiral.
“You’re down to eighty cents,” I said.
“Never tell me the odds,” Christina screamed.
Then she hit the button. Lights started blinking, bells began to ring, and then we heard what sounded like a heard of angry buffaloes rampaging through the casino.
“Holy shit, I’m on a heater!”
Christina rode that heater and won $280. Then she quit, saying, “I’m not an idiot.”
After Christina’s lucky streak, we got some coffee and snacks. Then, despite the fact that I had disrespected Poseidon, I had a bit of luck too.
On the couches outside of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, I heard two men debating which types of handguns cops should use. Now, a normal person might run away from a pair of wackados talking about firearms, but I am not a normal person, which is why I’m your intrepid correspondent. I found a nearby chair and did some eavesdropping.
Almost immediately, the firearms talk gave way to a conversation about shore excursions. The older man, who wore a shirt with an eagle on it, was pissed that his helicopter tour of Juneau had to be canceled because of weather. Evidently, someone hadn’t read the ship’s paper, I thought.
“But they refunded you, right?” asked the younger man, who wore a hoodie with the word “Mercenary” written across the chest.
“They give you credits,” Old Eagle said. “It’s out of control with these credits. Between the damn airlines and everyone else. Points and credits aren’t nothing. Cash is king.”
Mercenary agreed, but added, “with inflation, cash ain’t what it used to be.”
Both men blamed Joe Biden for the economic calamity—a calamity so calamitous that they found themselves complaining about “hard times” on an Alaskan cruise! They could’ve found some self-awareness, or requested a tune from the world’s smallest violin. But instead they blamed my home state of California.
“You see where those idiots in California are gonna pay everyone in the state $400 a week because of gas prices?” Mercenary asked. “California—always making things worse.”
Suddenly, I felt the urge to speak on behalf of my people, the so-called dipshits. But before I could speak, Mercenary changed the conversation to his grandparents.
“My grandma can’t afford her assisted living facility,” he said.
“I thought they had money,” Old Eagle said.
“They did. But grandpa gambled it away at the Indian casino. And what he didn’t lose to the Indians, he spent on whores.”
“Grandpa ran off. We tried to sell the house to pay for her assisted living, but he had mortgaged it. The house was under water.”
Grandpa sounded like a piece of shit to me, but Mercenary, who was kind enough to pick up the tab for grandma, blamed Joe Biden for the cost of assisted living.
“The Democrats aren’t just stupid,” he said. “They’re evil.”
Both men said they missed Trump, not his tweets, mind you, but his policies.
“He could’ve been our greatest president ever,” Mercenary said, “but the Democrats just wouldn’t let him do his thing.”
Old Eagle shook his head.
“He is our greatest president.”
I took note of Old Eagle’s use of the present tense to describe Donald Trump’s presidential status and braced for some real-deal QAnon shit. But just like all QAnon conspiracy theories, this one turned out to be a bust. Instead of sharing the unadulterated crazy, the two men went back to blaming Joe Biden and the Democrats for every misfortune in this world.
“I’ll tell you where the Democrats really fucked up,” Mercenary said. “Healthcare. Trump had a plan, but they wouldn’t let him do it. Now, it’s so messed up. Tracy has to have her tonsils out and it’s gonna cost a fortune.”
“Yeah, she has tonsil stones.”
“What the hell are tonsil stones?” Old Eagle asked.
“I never knew about them before I met Tracy. But some people get this little stones in their tonsils. They can pop them out, but they hurt like hell.”
“Oh yeah. There are internet articles about them.”
The conversation shifted to Old Eagle’s health. He needs to lose weight and get his knees replaced, but he can’t lose weight because he can’t exercise with bum knees, and he can’t lose weight without exercising.
“It’s a classic Catch-22,” Old Eagle said. “Probably gonna stick a fork in me one of these days.”
I could’ve listened to Old Eagle and Mercenary spew hot air all day, but we had plans to play an all bagpipe edition of name that tune.
Despite the talent of the bagpiper, name that tune with bagpipes was very difficult. For the most part, the bagpiper played pop songs, but for reasons I’ll never understand, none of his selections were Dropkick Murphys songs. Go figure.
We did OK, but when it was time to tally our score, there was an accounting error. We claimed victory by mistake. But I didn’t feel compelled to correct the record because the prize was a ballpoint pen, and the second highest score belonged to the Canadians who had cheated at trivia several days prior.
That night, we went to bed early because we had plans for a whale watching trip on our final day.
“You had some good eavesdropping today, baby.”
“The two guys outside of Jamie’s were great,” I said. “But honestly, I’m a little hung up on a fellow with a pompadour I’ve seen several times throughout the cruise.”
“Is he in your log?”
“Just snippets. But I can’t get a fix on him.”
“What have you got?”
“Well, the first night I overheard him say, and I quote: I live footloose and fancy free, so that’s a little bit about me.”
“Oooh, that does sound promising. And the pompadour really paints a picture of someone who is footloose and fancy free.”
“I know, right? Then when I was walking around on the top deck, I heard him say: And that’s how you create wealth.”
“Interesting. He’s footloose and fancy-free, and as everyone knows that can be an expensive lifestyle, so it’s important to be independently wealthy.”
“Yes, and to be honest, I also want to know how to create wealth.”
“Um… by winning big at the casino and then walking away.”
“Hey, we’re not off this floating casino yet.”
“Then there’s the last snippet. I have to warn you, it’s quite troubling.”
“I heard the man with the pompadour say, when the fascists win. Then he looked around like he thought someone might be spying on him.”
“You were spying on him.”
“That’s why I quickly looked away. But it was too late. He clammed up.”
Christina pondered the snippets.
“What do you think it all adds up to?” I asked.
“I don’t know. It had a promising start, but fascists ruin everything.”
“Even Alaskan cruises.”
Day Seven - Victoria, British Columbia
In high school and again in college, Moby-Dick was required reading. But I didn’t doing the reading because I already knew what Captain Ahab should’ve known: it’s better to watch whales, than hunt them.
At the pier in Victoria, we boarded a tiny vessel called Catalina Adventure for a three-hour whale-watching tour. We saw seals, otters, and porpoises. But with time running out, it looked like we might not see any whales.
We were about to head back to the pier, when someone yelled “whale.” In the commotion, I missed the magnificent creature, but with a whale in the area, the captain of our charter, went full-Ahab, vowing to extend the trip until “everyone sees the whale.”
It took another fifteen minutes, but eventually the whale surfaced long enough for everyone to catch a glimpse. The crew was even able to identify the whale as one they’d seen many times before. Whale-watchers in the area named this whale Gibbous, but nobody could remember why that name was chosen.
At our final dinner, we talked about the highlights of the whale-watching trip. Steve credited the “reliable mammals” for being so reliable.
“You always see seals and otters,” he said. “Because they’re always just hanging out on the rocks. But whales are tricky.”
We all agreed that whales are, indeed, tricky. Then we turned to another tricky subject: gratuity for our waitress and the assistant waiter. There had been some debate about this earlier because tips are included in the price of the cruise, but I left those debates out of the log because they were boring.
“I’m dividing my casino winnings evenly between our waitress and the assistant waiter,” Christina said.
Cheryl concurred with Christina.
“I vote yes,” I said. “That makes three.”
“We have a quorum,” Christina said. “Dad, how do you vote?”
All eyes turned to Steve. Normally, we cringe when Steve gets political because he makes the Republican party look like a bunch of pinko leftists, and also because he and Christina sometimes fight about politics, which tends to ruin a good time. But this time Steve’s radical right-wing politics left zero margin for dispute.
“You already decided the outcome before the vote, so I’m not participating.”
“Motion carries three-nothing,” I said. “One abstention.”
Christina and I returned to our room. We placed our bags outside our door so the crew could transfer them to the airline, which with any luck, would return our bags to us twenty hours later at the Burbank airport.
“Good trip,” I said.
“I think so,” Christina agreed.
“I would’ve liked some closure on the pompadour guy, and the woman with the throat tattoo, and that highly questionable service animal.”
“There’s no such thing as a perfect trip,” Christina said. “But I think you got plenty of good stuff for Situation Normal.”
“Too much good stuff. I’ll probably cut the Baked Alaska thing.”
“Yeah, a flaming dessert that’s never set on fire is a little like a saccharine version of Chekhov’s gun, only you know, the gun doesn’t go off, so what’s the point?”
“But hey, I’m proud of you, honey.”
“You set a goal not to fight about politics with your dad, and despite some close calls, you accomplished that goal.”
“Yeah, I did, didn’t I? What about you? Any vacation goals unlocked?”
“Yeah, but it’s kinda boring. My goal was to eat more salmon. Actually, that’s a 2022 goal, but I haven’t eaten any salmon this year, so I figured this trip was a good time to start.”
“You ate lox every morning and you had salmon once for dinner.”
“I know. I’m crushing it.”
“Yeah you are.”
“There’s just one more thing that bothers me?”
“The fact that we cheated at name that tune with bagpipes?” Christina asked.
“No, I can live with that. What’s bugging me is that we never heard from the captain, never saw the captain, never even heard mention of the captain.”
“That is weird.”
“What do you make of it?”
“Well,” I said, clearing my throat. “Either the crew mutinied, threw the captain overboard, and continued providing excellent service, or…”
My voice trailed off as I contemplated the unspeakable alternative.
“Or, what? Don’t leave me hanging.”
“Or, I’m the captain now.”