Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cruising, part 3

I don’t know how big Phillipsburg in St Maarten is, but imagine what happens when not one, not two, but five cruise ships hit town at once. And the monstrosity we’re on, which has 2,000 passengers and another 1,000 in crew, wasn’t even the biggest. Only four could fit at the wharf, so the fifth ship had little boats running back and forth between it and a wharf. To say that the place was madness was an understatement.

Here’s the apparent appeal of Phillipsburg. In the downtown area, right next to the beach are literally hundreds of shops. Some sell tourist kitsch. Some sell really tacky tourist kitsch (when you’re selling five t-shirts for $10, you’re not expecting high quality or creative). And then there’s the rest, which is where the real feeding frenzy takes place.

There’s no duty on items in St. Maarten. Nor is there any sales tax. So there are dozens of jewelry, liquor and electronics stores, all clamoring for your business. It’s a touch on the crazy side. But if you’re looking for deals, I have to admit it is an impressive place to visit.

Cathy was pretty good and managed to not buy that much. I wasn’t as successful, picking up a nice Swiss Army Knife and a pair of Bose headphones. I hemmed and hawed about the headphones. I even walked away for several hours, just to make sure I wanted them, but I broke down in the end. I put them on when I got back on board and selected a random song...”Are you all right?” by Lucinda Williams.

These are the single greatest thing I have ever bought for my ears. Dear God, you can’t hear a thing except the music. The rest of the world just disappears like magic and there’s nothing but the song. Beautiful.

We’re on our way to St. Lucia where we’re going on a canopy adventure tomorrow morning. We’re both really looking forward to that. I mean, the shopping was nice, but we didn’t see any of the island. It’ll be nice to get away from the crowds and go soaring through trees.

Tonight, we’re going to have the surreal experience of watching Jaws while on-board a cruise ship. They’ve been showing movies the last couple of nights. Last night it was Raiders of the Lost Ark. I sat up in the balcony and watched the movie. Behind me, a couple of kids who had never seen the movie before oohed and ahhed at all the right moments. All that was missing was the popcorn.

This is something rattling around in my head. I didn’t have the computer with me last night when it was coming to me, so here’s hoping it survived the 24 hour delay.

It’s about 9 p.m. and I’m on the 9th deck. Cathy’s in the room, trying to sleep off a vicious bout of nausea. She’s taken pills, but they haven’t worked much. Me sitting in the room staring at her with a worried look is just annoying her, so it’s out of the room I go.

There are any number of things to do on board the ship in the evenings. I could catch a Motown singer at the Phantom Lounge. There’s a small casino on-board. There are several lounges where someone is playing the piano. Hell, even some of the hot tubs are still going.

But I find I like the 9th deck, the Lido Deck, at this time of the evening. During the day, it’s packed with sun worshippers and kids splashing in pools. It’s filled with people eating lunch or snacking on pizza. But once the sun sets around 5 o’clock, people vacate it and head down into the ship. There’s little to do and, as a result, only a few people linger.

It’s nice. It’s quiet. I like it. After all day of being surrounded by hundreds of people making their way here and there aboard the Miracle, the peace and quiet is relaxing.

So I’m sitting at a table, a tuna sandwich from the deli in front of me. My iPod is going and playing Hospital Music by Matthew Good. Not a cheerful album, but it suits my mood fine. I’m looking out the window and for the first time since we left For Lauderdale on Christmas Eve, there are lights out the window. We’re passing by some island. There are also lights of several cruise ships. We’re close. There’s a flash of light, breaking across the blackness between the island and the Miracle. I figure it’s a lighthouse and wait for the light to repeat, but it doesn’t. One flash in the dark and whatever it was is gone.

I look back to my book, which is 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill. I read one of his books earlier the year - Heart Shaped Box - and thought it was about the best ghost story I’ve read since I was a kid. This one is a collection of short stories. Not all of them work, but the ones that do, like “Pop Art”, fills me with awe and makes me want to hit my head off the table at the same time. He’s that damn good.

Then again, Joe is playing a little game. He doesn’t give you the other part of his last name - King. It’s not always an advantage to have a famous parent, but there’s a good chance if you’re smart enough, you might pick up a few tricks from the old man. Joe is obviously smart enough.

It dawns on me at some point that I’m feeling pretty good. Good music, good book, watching an island sail past me in the night and hardly anyone around. It’s almost like I have the entire ship to myself. A realization like that, that you’re having an almost perfect moment can snap you out of it permanently. But then a new song starts, one short story ends and another one is calling out to be read. Outside, lights continue to slowly slide by. I sink back into the moment.

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