Friday, January 3, 2014

Back to the Future

I don’t usually make concrete New Years’ resolutions. I do, however, find some meaning in that moment when the calendar rolls over to the next year. It’s a time to reflect on the past year, put away its baggage, turn the page, and look forward. With all that in mind, while I wanted to add a final chapter to the story of Steve and the Magical Boat, after the new year it just felt strange to cross that line in the other direction. So I was ready to be done with this trip, for blogging purposes at least.

But just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

We’ve discussed this before, but let’s take a moment to revisit one of the purposes of this whole operation I’ve got going on here. As all 3 of my longtime readers know (actually, now that I think about it, there may be more like 6), I’ve always tried to use this space to capture my impressions of an activity, a place, or a time, and to preserve them. That’s why I often stay up far too late just to be able to write an entry on the day its events occur (protip: you can tell how late I stay up by the quality of the writing, which is inversely proportional to the number of hours since I last saw the sun). Even when my computer self-destructed in Kanab, I made sure to write out the day’s entry longhand on a legal pad (why I thought to bring a legal pad on that road trip is still a mystery).

That’s why, when I got home from the Land of the Midnight Derricks and was too tired to write anything coherent, I resigned myself to the fact that the moment had passed and that the last day would just have to remain a mystery, much like the last day at Yosemite (when, by the way, I climbed up 1,000 feet in a mile and a half. There. Now it’s in the blog.).

But apparently my mid-sized sedan full of followers is a vocal bunch. So, since today’s New England sowgasm has left me with an unplanned day at home, I figured I’d give it a shot.

Where did we leave off?

I think it had something to do with piano bars and spooky nighttime apparitions in the Gulf. Well, the next morning was a bit like the last morning of camp. The night before was special, but now you’re just overtired and you have things that have to get done, even though it’s an anticlimactic ending to the whole camp experience. On the Carnival Ejaculation, they call this “debarkation,” which is definitely a made-up word (don’t look that up anywhere, just assume I’m right on this). It’s a fancy word, to be sure, but it apparently means “Get in line and kindly remove yourself from our boat.” The process was not nearly as exciting as its name. We got our stuff, stood in line, and eventually made it back into the United States.

At least, I assumed that’s where we were going. As it turned out, we were entering a strange Carnival-land limbo – not technically outside the United States (because there were people who looked to be policing the area) and not technically inside the United States (because those people were not employed by any branch of that nation’s government). Carnival-land is an odd place. There are signs telling you what you can and cannot bring into the country, but they are oddly lacking in any evidence of government authorship. There are people in all-black uniforms with walkie-talkies and gold badges with matching sleeve patches, but upon close inspection it becomes clear that instead of bearing an image of a bald eagle, those badges and patches sport something resembling the whale-tail funnel emblematic of Carnival boats. I could see what was going on here – I’d learned about it in school: Apparent agency. That’s when someone who doesn’t work for a company acts as if they did, with the company’s approval, which makes the company liable for anything the agent does. Except, these people here were acting as agents of the US government, even though the government made no representation that they were actual customs agents. No, this couldn’t be apparent agency. In fact, it was the opposite – impersonating a federal agent. While, technically, they probably were within the bounds of the law (ask me again after I take Criminal Justice), Carnival’s purpose here was clear: To intimidate all the rich white people on the boat into assuming that if they didn’t listen to the men in black who were barking at them, they would be in big big trouble. I’m pretty sure I could have gotten away with being uncooperative with them (what would they do? Kick me off the boat I had just left?) but I wasn’t going to risk it. Instead, I responded the way I always respond to stupid exercises of authority (see the TSA) – I just muttered passive-aggressive things at them under my breath as I walked by. There. That’ll teach ‘em.

Once we were safely back within the United States proper, we were greeted with the same kind of torrential downpour we encountered there 5 days earlier. I did my best to convince my mother – a science teacher – that this was a cold front and that cold fronts move through quickly and that this could not, in fact, be the same storm raging in one place for 5 days, but she remained skeptical. Fortunately, rain could not cancel the kind of plans we had for our few hours in New Orleans, it could only dampen them (which it did, very successfully). I wanted a metaphoric vat of seafood, and a metaphoric vat of seafood I found.

After stumbling through the French Quarter, we ended up at the Acme Oyster House, continuing the tradition my sister and I had established of accidentally ending up at the highest-rated restaurant in a city. To escape the deluge, we took the first seats available, which happened to be at the “bar.” This bar, however, was not your typical bar. At 11:30am, it was bustling, with 4 men constantly working behind the counter. Instead of doling out drinks, though, they were shucking oysters. The guy right in front of us must have been doing it for years, because his hand was oddly oyster-shaped and because he was constantly placing his life in that hand by not wearing a standard Kevlar/chain mail oyster glove. My apologies for the lack of pictures, but there was no way I was going to do something as touristy as taking a flash picture of a guy doing his job from 4 feet away.

Eventually, the conversation turned to why we have oysters at home so rarely. The problem, I insisted, was freshness. It was then that I had to explain to the science teacher – well within earshot of The Oystermaster (C) – that oysters you buy in the shell are alive until you eat them. I know New Jersey always ranks in the top 10% of the country in terms of education and Louisiana in the bottom 10%, but I have a feeling that if they threw a question onto those tests about the point at which a living oyster becomes a dinner oyster, that disparity might narrow.

Anyway, as we listened to The Oystermaster (C) and wait staff banter, feeling truly immersed in a piece of real New Orleans, I finally got to try gumbo and jambalaya (along with andouille, although not for the first time) all at once. I have a feeling I’ll be spending years trying to replicate that flavor, sometimes coming close, but never really doing the Acme Oyster House justice.

From there, I made it to the airport, ordered a replacement pump, flew back to Newark, retrieved the dog, had one more helping of real pizza, and drove home – spending New Year’s in Boston with friends before kicking off the spring semester yesterday.

And now, my final thoughts. Friends, what have we learned today?

  •  That New Orleans is a fantastic city that I’ll keep on my re-visit list during drier times. 

  • That cruises are paradoxically too much and not enough simultaneously – the luxury and excess of an art gallery, a jewelry boutique, and unlimited food at all hours coexists uncomfortably with the monotony left for those of us who are not art- or diamond-inclined. 

  • That cruise ships are exactly like Las Vegas – Meccas of smoking, drinking, and gambling surrounded by a natural barren wasteland; and that leaving the city for that wasteland will place you in grave danger.

  • That this is the kind of vacation which I’m glad I’ve now done but that have no desire to do again (with the notable exceptions of a previously-discussed large group of friends and of Alaska’s Inside Passage, where the sea is a destination worth seeing in its own right).

  • That I’d rather be there than get there, although I’m also a fan of arriving there. To be fair, though, I didn’t really learn that this week.

  • Finally, that family vacations can be enjoyable. When certain introverted family members are given space when needed, when family members act maturely enough to choose not to bring down their fellow travelers just because they are upset, and when everyone seeks out positive experiences, good things happen. Even at my most frustrated moments with the inanity of the idea of a cruise, I could find an escape and make it my kind of adventure, even if only briefly.

And now, as one adventure comes to a close, another one perhaps even more exciting is just beginning. Oh, who am I kidding. The next 4 months will definitely be an even more exciting adventure than this.

Chazak chazak v’nit chazeik.

Until next time…

1 comment:

  1. I love New Orleans food. The food is the main reason NOLA is on my own revisit list.