Cruise Control – A Cruise Review

A famous cruise t shirt once said, “I like big boats and I cannot lie.” I am neither famous nor a t shirt, but I have been on one cruise.  And since this was my first cruise ever and most of my prior knowledge about cruises came from the occasional Love Boat rerun and the ill-fated Speed 2 movie, this review may be as helpful as Speed 2 was entertaining. Yet after three days aboard Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas Bahamas voyage, I believe I can help prepare all of you to be a real Dread Pirate Roberts on your next cruise.

Three characters you will meet on any cruise

Captain Ron:  This is the overworked office employee who’s taken in a little too much sea salt.  Although he’s not a crew member, he thinks he is.  While everyone is swaying back and forth like drunks on the first night, Captain Ron can be seen yelling commands like “hoist the mainstay!” “Avast! Batten down the hatches ya landlubbers!” and  “Where be my speedo?!”  to bewildered waiters and housekeeping staff.  He usually dons an unopened Hawaiian shirt, awkwardly brown tan, wind-frazzled wispy hair and an optional wooden parrot attached to his shoulder.

Abercrombie Axel: This is the frat boy who goes shirtless everywhere on the ship, just because he can.  At least one night of the cruise is “formal dinner night” where passengers get dolled up in order to spend more money posing in front of backdrops of smiling, jumping dolphins and photoshopped sunsets.  Abercrombie shows up with cut off jean shorts and a slim fit, muscle exposing, clever cruise-themed shirt.  Stay classy, Abercrombie!

 

Drunk Deangelo:  This is the passenger who starts walking upright and balanced when the boat is swaying with the waves.  I met DD during a “Battle of the Sexes” game where he staggered on to the stage and was somehow chosen to be the captain of the men’s team. The final challenge involved both teams forming a forward-facing line with legs shoulder width apart. Each team member, starting with the one at the end, had to crawl through until the whole team had passed through the tunnel.  However, when the men’s valiant team captain crawled in, he misjudged the length of the journey and shot up halfway like one of those whack-a-moles,  racking the billiards of another fellow. I never knew observing drunk people could be so much fun.

via GIPHY

Other Maritime Merriment

When we weren’t watching the colorful parade of people on board, we had the choice of other maritime madness such as night club dancing, karaoke and trivial pursuit championships.  Since “Shut up and Dance With Me” was not available on the karaoke lineup (read this story for more on the power of this song) and my club dance moves expire after anything post ’99, my only place left to shine was at the trivial pursuit showdown.  Since our vessel had top notch facilities, we envisioned the trivial pursuit championship as a full-on Vegas-style game show, with Pat Sajak and Vanna White guest starring.  With the massive amount of useless information gathered in my brain over the past 40 years, I knew I would be crowned Trivia King of the Seven Seas and take home a new car.  However, when we arrived at the designated location, we found a gathering of about 15 elderly people surrounding a lounge piano.  Our presence brought the average age down to 70.  Driving this tug boat of fun was a lonely 20-something Australian girl who probably drew the short stick of “cruise activities.”  She was reading off trivia cards unceremoniously, repeating them loud enough for the contestants to hear.  No Pat…no Vanna…no car.  The most exciting part of the game was when she was reading off the correct answer to “Name Snow White’s seven dwarves”.  A silver haired mutiny rose up against the lass when she insisted that that question was worth one point and not seven, much to the crowd’s chagrin.  We left right before they tossed her on one of the wheel chairs and threw her overboard.

Ship Security

You’ll find the staff on cruises to be very helpful, accommodating and informative.  Just how informative is what I wanted to find out.  Sure they could tell me where the casino was,  that the captain did not resemble Captain Obvious and ‘no, sir, we don’t have a crow’s nest’…but I needed more useful information.  I approached one of the security guards: a no-nonsense, stocky, young man of Filipino descent checking passengers as they get on the cruise.

“Excuse me…where’s the brig on this ship?”

“The what?”

“You know…the brig.  Where you put unruly passengers or mutinous chefs.” I was ready for a full tour of an exotic underwater cell.

“Ohh..we don’t have that.  Those passengers get put back in their cabins and they can’t come out until the ship docks.”

“That’s it?!”

“We also put a security guard outside their door.”

“So, it’s like a grown up time out?!”

“I guess so.  They can’t leave until the ship reaches the next port.”

“I guess i’ll have something to write in the post-cruise satisfaction survey after all.  Thanks.”

Conclusion

I could write more about my “fat kid in Willy Wonka’s factory” experience at the 24hr buffet, but i’ll leave that for a sequel.

In conclusion, I highly recommend setting sail on your own adventure on the seven seas.  Relax and tan your moon on the top deck pool or keep it classy, like me, and ask fellow passengers to take pictures of you posing as “Jack, king of the world!” at the bow of the ship.  And although the only pirate you will encounter is Captain Morgan, you’ll still have a swashbucklin’ good time.

Suburban Baller

I’ve never earned much street cred from my basketball skills.  In fact, if my high school athletic career were to be featured as an inspirational movie, my character would be played by Charlie Brown (read First At Bat for the screenplay).

Back in my mean, cul-de-sac barrio in Valrico, Florida, kids would gather around a freestanding driveway basketball hoop and imitate the tongue wagging, gravity-defying moves of Michael Jordan.   To really dominate the driveway, however, you not only had to have the moves, but also the mouth.  Trash-talkin’, self glorification and verbal jabs were the bandages that covered missed layups, airballs, and other damages to our fragile adolescent self esteem.  My Reebok Pumps must have had a hole in them in the 90s, because no matter how much I pumped those things, I couldn’t even land a lay up.  Even my best “double pump phantom pass” shot usually ended up sailing over the hoop and slamming onto the homeowner’s car, setting off the alarm and scattering the NBA Jammers like cockroaches when the lights come on.  My comebacks to these fails consisted of “yeah…well… your mom couldn’t have made it either!” followed by a dagger to the heart: “… and get a life, ya spaz!”  The basketball court just wasn’t my domain…unless of course the game was HORSE, in which case Reebok Pumps were useless.

Twenty-five years later, I found myself in a new basketball challenge.  The mean streets of my suburban Valrico barrio were gone, replaced by a 3 year-old bounce house birthday party.  I was playing with my son in a bounce house that included a basketball hoop in the corner and we were accompanied by two other dad friends: Pablo (AKA Pablito del Barrio) and Aaron (AKA Air N, a title from his mean Cleveland streetball days). Like it often happens when dads gather in a bounce house, things started to fly that maybe shouldn’t.  Children were being tossed at alarming heights as grown men crashed into floor, meanwhile cringing mothers walked by wondering where the wives were.  Aaron, not satisfied with sending the children into orbit, had the genius idea of doing slam dunks into the hoop.  I enhanced the idea by adding an “alley-oop” touch to the challenge, along with slow-mo video footage to chronicle our amazing feats.  What resulted was the realization that I severely underestimated my basketball skills… and my barrio was lucky I didn’t unleash my full potential, because there would have been a lot of crushed NBA dreams when they saw me fly.

(unfortunately for Air N, his game is going to need a lot of pumping to regain its Cleveland streetball stature).

Mountain Man

I don’t know much about Sacagawea other than she’s one of the toughest baby-wearing moms in the history of the US.  Back in the days before Velcro and straps, she joined Lewis and Clark in their cross-country trek across the untamed wilderness of a new country.  I suspect that the Tula in the Wild phenomenon is based on an incident where she tracked down and distracted a hungry crocodile with a socially awkward, yet life saving bird call in order to save her friends’ lives… all while nursing her strap-on baby.  I recently undertook my own Sacagawean journey through the winding staircase wilderness of Tallulah Gorge Falls with my very own mini-Sacagawea strapped to my body.

The beauty of nature is all about perception.  An 800-step descent through a majestic landscape leaves you contemplating your place in this world as you gaze in childlike wonder at the handiwork of the Creator.  Zipedee do da whistles in the background and the occasional blue bird perches happily on your shoulder as a friendly squirrel shakes your hand, much to the delight of the giggling mini-Sacagawea.  My oh my, it truly is a wonderful day.

Then there’s the 800 step ascent, with a weary strap-on passenger who’s had enough blue birds, talking squirrels and kangaroo jokes from passers-by.  The sky somehow turns from a cartoonish blue to an ominous grey.  Smiling cherub-faced clouds morph into taunting clowns that point at my burning thighs with every aching step upward, upward, upward.   The flutter of butterfly wings and babbling of the brook is drowned out by the wailing cries of my pocket-sized explorer. No matter, though…as Sacagawea-man I forged ahead through screaming muscles and breathless steps with only a pioneer’s essentials: my wit and a fan-spray bottle.

In the end, my pint-sized pilgrim and I pushed through the staircase wilderness and emerged victoriously on the parking lot, embracing the water fountain with abandon and ignoring all sense of sanitation and propriety.

I now realize that survival is all about facing nature on its own terms, and then laughing in its face as you slam the car door and crank up the a/c.  

sacagawea    IMG_1224-3_20160327030131451

Resolutions

In order to get a jump on my 2016 resolution to “Keep the Beach Bod the Good Lord Gave Me”, I decided to take advantage of an early wake up and go for a run while the family was still nestled in their night caps.   I knocked out my mile run at a blistering 12 minute pace and slipped into the shower without disturbing the still-slumbering Yarei.  I felt invigorated by my jump start and imagined myself running slow-motion on the beach, Selsun-Blue hair flowing in the wind,  laughing at the cares of the world.

After drying off and getting dressed, I stood in a triumphant ‘Superman Pose’ over my snoozing wife and waited for my presence to awake her.

“Mmmfff…what are you doing?” she grumbled while squinting.  No doubt my glory was too much.

“You have two more wishes” I replied.

“What are you… a genie?” she moaned in a raspy voice as she rubbed her sleepy eyes.

Hmm… her prolonged time of dormancy has dulled her ability to recognize the demigod standing before her.  

“Guess what I just did.” I announced in my best superhero voice.

“Get dressed?” she stretched her long arms and yawned.

“No.” I continued my barrel-chested pose.  “I went for a run… and my knee didn’t hurt, and my heart rate immediately returned to normal. I’m practically superhuman.”

“Mmm..” she took a sip of her nightstand water and sank back into her pillow.  “You know what I did?”

Anticipating her equally eager desire to get a jumpstart on her 2016 Resolution, I imagined Yarei doing ball slams, body squats, mountain climbers and short sprints while I was deep in slumber.

“Tell me!!” I squealed; excitement covered my face.

“I woke up.

 

       And so we conclude 2015 with newfound powers: Regeneration Man, with the power to run a mile at breakneck speed and return to pre-run state within minutes, and Wake Up Woman, with the power to rouse herself at will and zap opponents with her Dry Wit Ray while still in a state of drowsiness.


Thanks to all my Suburban Luchador readers for reading and sharing my stories.  I truly love writing  for all 18 of you and appreciate all your comments and feedback! Keep reading and sharing next year! My hope for each of you is:

May the Lord bless you
   and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
    and be gracious to you.
 May the Lord show you his favor
    and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Confessions of a Dance Floor Diva (Part Two)

And now the conclusion of “Confessions of a Dance Floor Diva”

“Alright party people, we’ve got a special request coming up after this raffle… so let’s keep the dancing going!” the DJ spat into the mic as he pumped a party-fist in the air.

I scanned the room looking for my dance girl, but she had vanished.  Suddenly, the opening guitar tune for my song resounded through the speakers… it was time.  I frantically scanned the strobe lit room and spied Yarei near the dance floor.  In a swooping motion I circled around her like a lion hunting a gazelle and pulled her onto the dance floor.

Don’t you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me

She mouthed the words and looked intently into my eyes, index and middle finger pointing to her eyes,  then mine.  The gauntlet had been thrown.

I said you’re holding back

I mouthed back in defiance as we circled each other, locked in a stare down.

She said shut up and dance with me!

 Yarei fired back without missing a beat ,finding the weak spot in my dance armor as we locked hands, arms extended.  The room spun behind us.   We were victims of the night.

The red and white strobe lights had blinded me, so all I could do was imagine the throng around us, ready to lift us up on their shoulders as we approached the crescendo of the song.  We dazzled them with signature moves like the fish-on-a-hook and  the lawn mower as we danced around like a couple electrons…and the party floor was our atom.

The song reached the point where the crowd pumps their fist in the air in one defiant move, so I prepared to lift Yarei off the ground…

This woman is my destiny, she said Oh Oh                      SHUT UP AND DANCE!

With a frozen fist in the air, my eyes adjusted in time to realize we were the only electrons on the dance floor.  The mob that was supposed to hoist us triumphantly in the air was actually a crowd of onlookers at a bad car accident.  Time stood still; I stared at the onlookers with shock and slight concern as I could only hold my Dirty Dancing pose so long before we both came crashing down. I acted decisively and swung Yarei behind my back as the music resumed, ignoring my newfound lone-dancer reality.
Oh don’t you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me…

Carpe Shut Up, I thought… and we launched a triple-electron-shake-spin followed with an unsure  dip which flowed smoothly into the big finish: a semi-synchronized cheerleader victory pose with one foot in front of the other, knees slightly bent, index fingers to sky.  We locked eyes and held that pose for what some would consider an awkward amount of time, but our message was clear:

   This woman is my destiny… ooo ooo, SHUT UP AND DANCE WITH ME!

Danger Zone

A while ago I was deployed on a special nocturnal reconnaissance mission: acquire milk and baby puffs to keep troop morale high and prevent a possible mutiny. Yarei gave me specific instructions to not deviate left or right, lest she be court martialed in my absence.
I strapped into my 2004 Kia Sedona speedwagon and fired up the engine.  A cloud of white smoke puffed from the exhaust.

Smoke screen deterrent…check.

I adjusted the rear view mirror as I gave myself a confident look.
You’ve got this.
Muffled wails and screams of “papi’s coming with leche!!!” could be heard just beyond the garage door. I had to be quick… but not before the radio was properly tuned. As we all know, a mission without a soundtrack is nothing more than a grocery run.
With the comm properly set to receive any important intel and soundtrack pertinent to my mission, I pulled out of the driveway and charged the night.
After safely stopping at the intersection and then looking both ways, the radio crackled and came to life. Danger Zone, from the Top Gun soundtrack, filled the atmosphere as a sign that from this point on, only awesomeness was allowed.    As if possessed by the music, my dashboard flipped over like a trap door and revealed a complete F-16 cockpit control board.  Check engine light?  I don’t think so… try electronic warfare indicator.  Automatic transmission shifter?  No more… behold my throttle stick with anti-aircraft trigger.  I turned up the volume to an inspiring level, then instinctively reached for the sunglasses in the cockpit ceiling panel, because you can’t have Danger Zone playing in the background without sunglasses on.  It didn’t matter that they were Yarei’s… I wear my sunglasses at night.

Revin’ up  your engine, listen to her howlin’ roar

I waited for the station wagon to my right to safely pass by and then let all six cylinders roar… until I got to the next stop sign leading to the exit of my subdivision.  Again, I waited for the ‘all clear’ to take off.  Blasted delays, I thought. 

Metal under tension, beggin’ you to touch and go…

An opening emerged in the traffic, so I floored the thruster and glided gracefully into the right lane as I redlined the speedometer to 45… 5 over the legal limit. After all, this is the Danger Zone.   I set my coordinates for the Publix airstrip and felt the g-force push my frame into the crayon-encrusted pilot jumpseat.

Highway to the Danger Zone… ride into the danger zone…

I squeezed the heat-cracked steering wheel to get a feel of her power as I scanned my surroundings.  Nighttime bike rider with a reflective light at my 2 o’clock, Toyota Tercel with an oversized spoiler–apparently the project of a high school welding class– at my 3 o’clock… no hostiles in my perimeter. I barrel rolled into the passing lane.

Headin’ into twilight spreadin’ out her wings tonight. 

After a couple more barrel rolls followed with a zoom climb,  I was given clearance to land in the Publix sector and brought my vessel to a smooth halt.  Although I caught a good tailwind, the clock was quickly winding down.  I had to acquire the supplies for the front lines and make it back to the Kia F16 before the song was over… lest my return flight be powered by the likes of Bell Biv Devoe or Lionel Richie.   I couldn’t risk such loss of power… not when so much was at stake back home.

Highway to the danger zone… i’ll take you right into the danger zone… 

The view from the “don’t make me turn this van around” mirror, AKA The Eye of Sauron.

 

 

 

Future Planning

I heard it once said… “A man has a plan.” This is why we have retirement plans, hurricane planes, and zombie apocalypse plans. But what about “embarrassing picture plans”? You know… the ones you purposefully take so that your child can remember his humble beginnings before he was a “cool kid.” By the time my son graduates from high school, it will be the year 2030. Mars will be the newest vacation spot and subsequent safe zone from Skynet. The highlight of that year, however, will be Elias’ “life in review” pictures. Who knows, maybe we’ll even have the ability to turn them into 3D holograms that can be experienced. And leading the parade of milestone memoirs will be this picture with his best amigo.

Here’s to the future.

chicken motivation

the Junk Yard

I recently had an unfortunate encounter between my van and a  mail box, which left my passenger side rearview mirror smashed.  After receiving a $400 quote from the Kia dealer, I found myself motivated to explore my own Undiscovered Country: The Junkyard.
Up until now, the only exposure I’d had with junk yards was from  80s cartoons such as Fat Albert and Heathcliff, in which  neighborhood kids, cats and their friends lived or played in a junkyard. It seemed like quite the fun place, filled with fish bones, hollowed out cars in which cats slept, spare parts that could be used as instruments, and the occasional metal trash can which is now a vintage item in most neighborhoods. I was excited to explore the undiscovered frontier, albeit a bit unsure.
When I called the local junkyard, I wanted to make sure I didn’t sound like it was my first junkyard rodeo.

“LKQ Auto Parts,” said the gruff voice on the line.

“Uh..hello… is this a..” I paused before continuing.  Were they still called “junk yards”? Was that term offensive or obsolete?  Had there been a cultural shift since the 80s that gave these cartoon wonderlands a more politically correct name?  After some quick thinking, I continued:  “Auto salvage yard?”

“Yep,” came the reply.

He went on to explain how the process works: 1. they tell me if they have the model i’m looking for. 2.  I bring in my own tools and take the part from the car. 3. Pay for the part on the way out.

Fascinating, I thought as I imagined a real-life Fat Albert world where I could legally break into any vehicle while exploring an actual junk..er… auto salvage yard.

After watching enough YouTube part-removal tutorials to make me look like an auto salvage pro, I arrived at the final frontier.  The main building had two long desks, one for checking in and one for checking out. Several oil-stained, burly men (and the occasional woman) were walking in and out with wheelbarrows full of random parts.  I approached a Herculean man at what I assumed was the check in desk with wide-eyed wonder.

“Hi! It’s my first time in your fine establishment.  My side view mirror was recently smashed in an unfort–”

“Make, model and year of the vehicle you’re looking for,” interrupted the large man.  He sported a black baseball hat and a slim fitting black tank top which showed off a tattoo of a woman’s silhouette.   First contact was a success.

“Kia Sedona.”  I paused like a mysterious cowboy  addressing  a  saloon bartender.    “2008. ” I always speak confidently about my “man’s van.”

“It’s two dollars to go into the yard.” He motioned with his head.  “Head to the back left part where you see the sign for imports.  Kia’s are there.”

I gave him my two dollars like a kid giving his hard-earned allowance to the carnival attendant. In return I got a cool red stamp on my hand.

“Is this all access… all day?” I asked eagerly, showing off my stamp.

“Uhh… yeah,” he responded, slightly confused.

“Awesome… so all the way to the back, left at imports?”

“That’s right.”

I proceeded to the double doors that led to “the yard.” As I stepped through I was amazed at the sight before me: a desolate expanse of vehicles as far as the eye could see.  The brightness of the Florida sun was almost blinding as it reflected off this mass graveyard of cars of every size and style.  I soon realized I wouldn’t be seeing Fat Albert or Heathcliff in this place… no, I was more likely to meet Mad Max in this post-apocalyptic car scene.  I set a course for the Kia quadrant and hoped for the best.

junkyard1

As I trudged past row after row of car corpses I noticed other travelers of every stripe.  The yard had transformed all of them into  scavengers, picking every last useful piece off these once glorious machines and leaving only empty shells.  They looked me over, as if knowing I was a stranger among them. Perhaps it was the occasional picture I took, which I noticed no one else was doing.    One scavenger caught my eye: a man who looked in his 70s who may just have lived there his whole life.  He was not at all frail, but rather rugged and weathered like a sailor… a yard sailor.   All he needed was a patch over his eye and a mechanical arm and I would have named him Mad Max.

I finally arrived at my target and began my own scavenger metamorphosis in the blistering Florida heat.  After fumbling over which socket size to use and hoping the locals didn’t notice, I pried  off my prize from its derelict host and raised an oil-thirsty hand. The sounds of shrieking paneling    and ripped glue filled the junkyard air.  Victory was mine…MINE!

mirror

At the checkout I plopped my spoils of war on the counter and paid the fee for the hunt. I was still awe-struck at the experience and hoped I could return one day… perhaps sit by a midnight fire while Mad Max tells other scavengers of days of old when he would pry mufflers off with his bare hands.  And we would all sit in silence and listen in total amazement.

fat albert

 

Blame it on Milli Vanilli

As the rest of the nation has seen, Florida recently experienced a heavy downpour that left lawns across the state defying suburban mowers everywhere.
One morning during this episode I scanned my overgrown lawnscape, like Batman overlooking Gotham City as the hordes of darkness  advance.  And like those hordes of darkness, the grass taunted me with each drop of rain because it knew it would not be challenged anytime soon. As the unruly gang of green blades and weeds was amassing large numbers for an eventual takeover, I pondered what lied ahead. If the unrelenting rain continued, our trampoline would be irrelevant… my child could just climb the roof, jump and free fall into a small rain forest. My fledgling lemon and orange trees wouldn’t have to worry about making it past infancy because they’d just give into peer pressure and turn into a long blade of swaying grass.

From my vigilante post in the living room, I spoke to no one in particular in my best Batman voice, “The grass is winning… but perhaps it’s the grass I deserve.”

“What?” asks Yarei as she lounges on the couch watching Grey’s Anatomy.

I continued Batmanning.  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of unruly grass…  is for good mowers to do nothing.”

“Mmm…” she sipped on her chai tea latte, engrossed in her silly  medical drama while evil was encroaching upon us.  “You may wanna mow that before the HOA does something.”

“The HOA has no jurisdiction here… besides, the words of Milli Vanilli ring true today more than ever,”  I mused; in the distance thunder clapped and lightning lit up the sky.

“Is that a coffee flavor?” she continued sipping and watching.

I Ignored her naiveté and allowed her to live in her safe bubble… for now.  I continued scanning the dark horizon as the heavens poured down their wrath.  “Yes, that’s exactly what i’ll tell the HOA…Blame it on the rain, yeah yeah… ’cause the rain don’t care.

(this is an interactive blog, so go ahead and cue the song below to experience the darkness of the moment).

Blood Date

I’ve recently heard a lot about blood moons and their possible significance for the end times. Over the centuries, this mysterious phenomenon has drawn the curiosity of both believers and non believers  who wonder what this ominous sign may bring. My curiosity, however, has recently been more of the strictly hemoglobin type: the alluring Blood Date.

There is nothing ominous or foreboding about The Blood Date… in fact, before reading this blog, you had never heard about it. Therefore, it would be unfair for the heavens to use it as a sign for the end times because you haven’t had any time to prepare (unlike the thousands of years of blood moons).  So be at peace, chicken littles.   Unlike the Blood Moon, The Blood Date comes every 56 days, when the Florida Blood Services determines you can donate blood again and get a fabulous assortment of date-worthy prizes. And although they may not usher in the end of the world, they certainly would make it more fun if it were to happen.

Last week, on a grey and stormy day,my wife  Yarei was driving to Publix when she saw a sign…  literally.. that said “Free Gift Cards.”  This sign, united with a previous blood donation that scored us movie tickets, aligned two celestial bodies that brought forth our very own… Blood Date.   We knew this was the beginning of a new era for us… or at least a cool hashtag.

So next time the Bloodmobile crosses between you and an eclipsed sun, don’t run in fear of the  Apocalyptic Needle.  You are witnessing a harbinger of hope for those in need of blood, and a call to adventure for those seeking a free date. In fact, I would encourage you to go as far as putting on a sandwich sign that says “The Blood Date Is Near… Give Now.”  Embrace your destiny and  fulfill the prophecy of your own Blood Date.  And when you show up to claim your free dinner, make sure you confidently tell the hostess:

 

“Party of 2…  hashtag, Blood Date.”

It may even get you seated quicker.

Blood Date
    Blood Date

 

 

Ominous Date
Ominous Date