…pursuant to me wanting to dip my toe in the water for work, I’ve moved my blog to Amazon AWS. You should find it a bit faster now. Let’s see how well I learn about doing things on AWS.
So, most people who know me, know I’m a fan of the video game series Mass Effect…something I’ve discussed on this blog before as well.
Since it requires a good amount of time and dedication to enjoy the game, I thought I’d make a list of my favorite Mass Effect quotes for those who have never played it, and likely never will. Its story driven narrative make it compelling to the point where there are shirts indicating one’s preferred romance interest. Here’s a list of some of my favorite quotes, in no particular order. Also, some spoilers ahead…but it’s been ten years; having not-played it yet is your own fault.
Legion: “Human history is a litany of bloodshed over different ideals of rulership and afterlife.”
Legion is a great character, and I could probably make this list solely based on Legion quotes alone. While a gross oversimplification, this single-sentence summary of most of human history is sadly more accurate than not.
Tali: “Tali Zorah vas Normandy, reporting for duty.”
Like a number of other quotes here, there’s plenty of backstory required for this. Tali is a Quarian, a nomadic race who live on a flotilla after being exiled from their home planet. Their names reflect which ship of the flotilla on which they live and serve. Part of entering adulthood in their culture is to go on a pilgrimage, where they leave the safety of the flotilla and explore the galaxy on their own, looking for a contribution to bring back to the flotilla, usually a skill or technology or material the flotilla can use to trade with allies. When we first meet Tali, her name is “Tali Z’orah nar Rayya“, the ‘nar’ indicating that she hasn’t yet gone through her pilgrimage.
In the second game, she is accused of treason. You, the player, go on a mission with her and you act as her advocate in her trial. If you defend her successfully, and her reputation is restored, she chooses to leave the flotilla and, in her first decision of adulthood, becomes a member of your crew.
Javik: “My people would never let such monsters walk among them.”
Liara: “They didn’t care for the competition?”
There’s plenty of context to this one…but wow, this is probably the most savage line in the game.
Javik is a Prothean. Specifically, the last Prothean. He remained in stasis, and through a lot of luck and implausibility, survived cryogenically frozen for 50,000 years. We meet him in the third game.
Liara is Asari. She had a particular fascination with the protheans, and we first meet her on an archaeological dig where she is looking for prothean artifacts. She meets Javik along with the rest of the crew, and is a bit starstruck. However, that quickly fades, as Javik has her seriously reconsidering her concept of what the protheans were like. While she starts believing that they were technologically advanced and had a solid amount of culture behind them, Javik quickly fills in the blanks and made it clear that the protheans were apex predators who ruled primarily through conquest and subjugation – essentially the polar opposite of the Asari’s culture focused on philosophy and harmony.
The Ardat-Yakshi are a genetic aberration, a small group of deadly sociopaths who are both very powerful, and have zero remorse as well as an instinctive compulsion to violently kill. The Asari, being enlightened as they are, don’t kill them; instead there is a monastery on a remote part of their home planet, where, while they are forced to live there, they are not treated poorly otherwise.
So, put all that together – Liara, having learned that Protheans being a race whose culture is based upon conquest and militant colonialism, not only calls Javik out on his hypocrisy, but implies that, if he were to go toe-to-toe with an Ardak-Yakshi, would lose. Wow Liara, that’s definitely the comeback line of the game.
Mordin: “Had to be me. Somebody else might have gotten it wrong.”
Oh, this one is one of the more famous quotes, and it’s a tear jerker. I’m getting misty-eyed just remembering this scene…but again, lots of context.
The Krogan are a race of brute fighters with a thousand year lifespan. In the past, they were limited to their own planet, and going to war with each other. The Salarians watched from afar, and when a war broke out that they couldn’t win, they introduced the Krogan to space travel and pew-pew guns and a bunch of other stuff they weren’t ready for…but, desperate times called for desperate measures, so if the Salarians had a Prime Directive before that war, they threw it away. The Krogan won the war for them, and kept the space ships and advanced weapons…leaving the galaxy with a bit of a problem. Their answer was the genophage, a disease that made 99% of female Krogan sterile, keeping the population in check as a result.
The Salarians are a highly-pragmatic race that opts to resolve conflicts with stealth and science, rather than straightforward conflict. We meet Mordin, our first Salarian crew member in the second game, where he’s running a clinic in a sketchy back-alley medical facility on the Omega space station (think the Cantina in Star Wars or Tortuga from Pirates of the Caribbean, now run a Stat Health there). As the game progresses, we learn that the Krogan were beginning to develop a resistance to the genophage, and Mordin worked with a team of operatives to release ‘genophage 2.0’…and that they were successful.
At first, Mordin defends his work – a galaxy full of Krogan would be bad for everyone, he wasn’t killing them with weapons of war, their culture adapted to it, it wasn’t straight-up genocide…everyone wins. Over the course of the game, he comes to realize that he crossed the line between pragmatism and playing god. His story arc usually (though not always) ends with him looking to right his wrong.
The player has an opportunity to work with Mordin to cure the genophage. In doing so, Mordin chooses to sacrifice his own life to ensure that the cure is released and the Krogan are cured. Depending on one’s perspective, one could take the quote as Mordin acting as God up until the very end…but my takeaway of it was Mordin saying that he was committed to doing the right thing, and doing it correctly, as his penance and intent to undo the damage for which he was responsible.
Shepard: “That doesn’t explain why you used my armor to fix yourself.”
Legion: “…There was a hole.”
Shepard: “But why didn’t you fix it sooner? Or with something else?”
Legion: “……No data available.”
Earlier in this discussion with Legion, we learn that Legion is over a thousand different artificial intelligence entities, occupying a single physical ‘platform’. We also learn that Legion processes thoughts at speeds well in excess of organic beings. Finally, this discussion takes place toward the end of the second game, and we are told that Legion has been watching Commander Shepard, from a distance, since the events of the first.
So, Legion ends up with a hole as a result of a blaster shooting right through him. Legion ignores it for a bit, until a piece of Commander Shepard’s armor is available and fits nicely over it. Legion uses that piece of armor for a cosmetic fix, and Shepard calls Legion out on it, but Legion doesn’t have a good answer. This is funny, interesting, and mind blowing at the same time. Given what we’re told, in the 3-4 seconds Legion pauses before responding (the only instance of this happening in the game), 1,183 distinct AIs compared their data and deliberated to try and find an answer to this question. The answer, obvious to organic life, is that Legion admires and adores Shepard. Since this doesn’t make any logical sense to the Geth programs, however, they realize that there is…no data available.
Captain Kirrahe: “You all know the mission, and what is at stake. I have come to trust each of you with my life. But I have also heard murmurs of discontent. I share your concerns. We are trained for espionage. We would be legends, but the records are sealed. Glory in battle is not our way. Think of our heroes: the Silent Step, who defeated a nation with a single shot, or the Ever Alert, who kept armies at bay with hidden facts. These giants do not seem to give us solace here, but they are not all that we are. Before the network, there was the Fleet! Before diplomacy, there were SOLDIERS! Our influence stopped the Rachni, but before that, we held the line! Our influence stopped the Krogan, but before that, we held the line! Our influence will stop Saren! In the battle today, we will hold the line!”
This speech, given just before Kirrahe and his troops go on a suicide mission to stop Saren in the first game, is not done justice by the transcript; you have to watch the video. This particular speech is referenced by Mordin in the second game, and if Kirrahe survives, he ends up as an NPC on a mission in the third.
Jack: “I never had a family…and these guys…if anyone messes with my students, I will tear them apart!”
When we first meet Jack, she is a pent up ball of rage that is so dangerous, even the guards in the prison she’s kept in are terrified of her, and the end of her recruitment mission ends with the whole prison getting blown up. In her loyalty mission, we learn that Jack was referred to as ‘subject zero’ by Cerberus growing up; they wouldn’t even give her the human dignity of giving her a name. She was poked and prodded throughout her childhood by Cerberus to become the most powerful human biotic ever, and trained to fight using narcotics as motivation. It’s an incredibly sad story. Over the course of her time with Shepard, she rediscovers the concept of self-worth and purpose. Even so, when Jack says “I will tear them apart”, she’s being very, very literal.
The mission in which Jack says this takes place in the third game. A set of students who are learning to be biotics themselves are being taught and trained by her to improve their abilities. We see Jack with a pony tail and…wearing something that resembles a uniform. She has a certain maternal connection to these students and shows that she genuinely cares about them; an incredible contrast to her ME2 character that didn’t even care about herself.
Commander Shepard: “Nobody ever fell in love without being a little brave.”
I had something else planned to write about. But last night, I had a simple question about paying my American Express bill. Like any normal person who had such a question, I made a phone call.
That call took six minutes. One minute was spent getting my answer from Charlotte, two minutes were spent on hold, and four minutes were spent convincing the automated phone system that I did, in fact, need to speak to a representative.
No, not the actual command line in itself. I use that all the time. Not for everything, certainly, but I do use one. In 1988, everybody who used a computer used one of these (except of course those Mac and Amiga folks). By 1995…basically nobody did. The reason command line interfaces are relegated to developers and sysadmins is because they have a major flaw: what do you type? It’s not readily apparent what commands get things working, and the list of those commands isn’t intuitively discoverable, either.
Voice-based phone systems have the exact same problem as command lines. I called American Express to discuss a question about paying my bill…but when I said “question about paying a bill”, it then told me the status of my last payment, and asked me if I wanted to make another one. I then said, “Ask a question”, to then be condescendingly read four paragraphs that amount to ‘look at the website’. Eventually, I just held down the ‘0’ key until it said, “I’ll get you over to a representative”. Then, it asked another question ‘so that it could get me over to the right representative’, and when I answered, it said, “I’m connecting you to a representative”. I’ll also mention that virtually every prompt up until this point ended up with me getting a “sorry, I didn’t get that” prompt. The representative I ultimately got connected to understood my question and answered it in less than a minute.
It evoked memories of the episode of Frasier titled “Roe to Perdition”, in which Martin tries to return an extra $20 bill to a bank, and ends up shouting “PER-SO-NAL!” to one such system. When he gets nowhere, he heads to the bank to talk to a human, who herself gets on the phone and yells ‘personal’ in the exact same way. That episode was aired in 2003, and automated phone attendants utilizing voice prompts remain just as useless as they were nearly 20 years ago. The fact that this technology remains just as problematic today as it was in the year Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean were released leads me to believe that the issue is more fundamental than it is technical.
I had some hope about two years ago when I saw the demo for Google Duplex. While the demo was met with skepticism by some at the time, it does appear that the tech is being used ‘in the wild’ at this point. I had always hoped that Google would let Duplex integrate with phone systems, where people could ask natural language questions and talk to an AI that’s able to route users to the right place by intelligently making the distinction between “make a payment” and “question about making a payment”. It looks like the technology exists, but unsurprisingly, it hasn’t made inroads into this field.
This leaves the human element far worse off than it could be. Now, I understand the major issue with having human receptionists: people are likely to tell their whole story to the first human they talk to, even when it should really be handled by someone in a specific department – typically billing or support. While my particular question likely could have been answered by just about anyone, it’s obvious that not every question would fit into that. Automated attendants do help to do some base level routing.
What we have now, though, is a command line. It doesn’t look like one, and it might use words instead of commands like “ls -alFh”, but a command line it is. One might argue that it’s more of a menu driven interface with a hidden menu, but either way, when ‘navigating the menu tree’ takes more time than a plurality of the calls it routes, the result is that callers begin from a starting point of frustration, which increases the level of work call center employees must do to help customers who weren’t frustrated when they dialed. Voice prompts make life worse for both sides of a customer service call, even more so when every attempt to guess a command is “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that”. It’s less human and yields no benefit for the owner phone system.
This leads us to the “For X, Press 1”, truly menu-driven phone interface. It’s the least-bad option, but when the late, great Robin Williams can make them part of a stand-up routine, it’s clear that it’s like being able to say, “at least our customer satisfaction levels aren’t as bad as Comcast”…yes, it’s a good thing that it isn’t worse, but that’s not a statement of success. The problem with menus is that, more often than not, they are implemented poorly. The fact that the website GetHuman.com exists is a testament to this. Many phone systems have too many options, commonly landing users on recordings that take too much time to listen to for the next prompt, and have routing loops and unnecessary levels of complexity.
As I’ve considered how phone systems should be laid out, here’s what I’ve come up with: Until Google Duplex and its enterprise components are integrated into a phone system, Phone menus should have no more than five options, and each of those five options should themselves only have one additional menu with five options on it. This can be stretched to three menus of depth if and only if the first menu purely consists of language selection. This leads to a total of 25 possible destinations for a call, and I’m hard pressed to think of businesses where call centers would need more than 25 possible call destinations, not including direct extension dialing. If there are, then there’s probably justification for a second phone number, and the process repeats again.
So, that’s my rant.
The months since Bermuda have been rather busy for me, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now. I have a few different topics for blog entries coming this month, some tech, some faith, and I’m finally putting a recipe or two online for the first time.
Thanks for reading.
On the bright side of having to bang out two blog entries in one sitting, I had about an 18 hour day yesterday, so if you think I was up before 11…you’re mostly correct, unless you count the call from Jen at 9 that involved me basically saying “so, I’m going back to bed now”.
By time I actually felt like leaving my stateroom, it was primarily for the technical presentation about how the ship works and whatnot, featuring the captain and chief engineer. I managed to only get there for the Q&A session, but there were a few interesting questions asked – some about the stabilizers, others about the desalinators (they primarily use reverse osmosis, if anyone is wondering), one person asked about the fuel types, apparently the ship has 105,000 horsepower, apparently we have two days at-sea at the beginning of the trip because the port isn’t available until Wednesday, and most notably, there’s a “jail cell” on the ship. I really wanted to get a picture taken in there.
Also worth noting is that the water has been pretty rough since late last night. It’s not stormy out, but it is windy and there are lots of waves, so the ship is definitely rocking back and forth a lot. Even I was feeling a bit queasy, so I wasn’t taking chances with anything more substantial than soup…which brought its own challenges as it came from the buffet…but, I got it worked out.
Went back to the SL for a bit, but only a short bit of time, because I wanted to see the crew talent show. While the crew didn’t do the “Only Time” bit that is one of the best memories of my Bahamas cruise in 2007, there’s usually some interesting stuff, and it’s always fun to see the crew do something other than their ship duties; it adds dimension. Two people did traditional dances from their respective cultures (China and Indonesia), which got me thinking a bit. Both had very ornate costumes, but the movements weren’t terribly technical, leading me to believe that each dance had more of a cultural context to it, which was obviously lost on me. I was also a bit curious about the Chinese dance specifically, because the audio track was in 4/4 “common time”, which is far more common within western musical conventions or eastern music reflecting western influence. Another crew member did a magic show; while the acts themselves were relatively common parlor tricks, he definitely had the stage presence on lock. A few others did a K-Pop style dance routine, which was very well received by the audience. Finally, a woman (who apparently was Elsa in a stage performance of Frozen at Disney Shanghai) sang a song from “A Star Is Born”, and was fantastic.
Jen found me about 2/3 of the way through, and we decided to stay for the “Splashtown Extravaganza”, a stage performance of the kids programs. It was circus themed, and the kids demonstrated rope spinning, ‘juggling’ (which involved two handkerchiefs, tops), some clowning, devil sticks, and plate spinning. As one would expect such a performance to go, it was a bit of a cat rodeo, and you could tell that the practice levels were minimal-at-best, there were a couple of the kids who showed promise. One of the older plate spinners actually did a fairly good job. The really little kids basically posed with UV reactant face paint, but as one would equally expect, cuteness was the theme at the time – the UV picture was about the only one I was okay taking since the light obscured the kids’ faces pretty well.
This answered at least some of my questions about what they do with the kids, and the staff working with them clearly loved what they do. It strikes me as one of those jobs that’s probably very demanding (after all, ‘those parents’ take cruises, too), but the right personality would probably have the best days at work, more often than not.
Back to the SL, Wendy was talking to Alyse for a bit; we caught her up on the ship gossip and talked about her work as a freelance court stenographer. The general manager and another guy dropped by the SL and talked to us for a bit; my desire for a selfie in cruise ship jail didn’t seem like something they were willing to accommodate, but officially became a running gag because they were like, “you have to commit a crime”, and then we spent a minute or two trying to figure out a crime that could land me in cruise ship jail, but not actual-jail. We continued talking until the 5PM meeting started. Our final round of trivia revealed that “AT&Team” got second place, which we were okay with. It would’ve been awkward figuring out who got the T-Shirt.
I’ll never quite understand how Norwegian’s restaurant reservation system works. The mobile app says one thing, the touch screen panels say another, calling them on the phone said another thing…and going to the restaurant never seems to require more than a 15 minute wait anyway, so what’s even the point? Anyway, it was the steakhouse tonight, and it was fantastic. Food was great, lots of fun, our wait staff was wonderful…and both the GM and the cruise director came around; we talked to them for a few minutes and my desire for a cruise jail selfie came up again.
Went to the hipster bar to hear Justin perform; Stephanie and Greg weren’t there, but I did get a quick audio recording of his beatbox. One of the things I came to realize about the raunchy humor is that it’s basically funny once. After the initial shock value, the replay is about 95% less funny. Justin still did a good job on the performance side of things, but I didn’t laugh nearly as much.
Went back to the room and packed, settled up my tab (i.e. got a refund because I ended up with a negative balance!), blogged, and dropped by the farewell party.
ughhh, I’ve got two days of blogging to do now…and Friday was most definitely the longest day of the trip…so much to type!
I was awake and off the ship at 8:06. Yes, everyone, my day started early. “Why did your day start so early, Joey?” I thought you’d never ask! Remember yesterday when I said that the putt-putt car couldn’t get a charge? Well, Jen had the putt-putt until noon, so if we were going to go anywhere, we’d need to ask the rental company to free up an outlet for us, and then wait at least two hours. Logic goes that we’d have two hours of charging and two hours of driving, so we *had* to start early. I ended up being the one in charge of holding the keyfob, so the responsibility fell on me to handle this task…which meant getting up early.
I got to the rental shop, but it was 8:30 before I saw anyone. I asked, and they opened an outlet for us, but I wasn’t quite sure how 90 minutes of charging would go, but that’s what we got. So, I headed back to the ship, and it was like that picture from The Walking Dead; everyone else was leaving the ship, but I was the only rando trying to get back onto the ship.
I did so, and made a few stops. First, I went to the internet cafe and the manager was nice enough to comp me back the hour and a half of time I used up by forgetting to log out the day before. Next, I got coffee and met up with Jen and Wendy in the SL. The three of us then departed the ship to take advantage of our last few hours in port.
Wendy isn’t one to walk long distances, but she did want to drop by the pier for a bit and do some souvenir shopping. The three of us got on one of the trams, and dropped by the mall to shop around a bit. There were the usual T-shirts, hats, keychains, shot glasses, and other normal tsochkes, but they also had some more unique things. They had some of that stupidly-hot hot sauce for Jen, another vendor had some unique jewelry hand crafted out of sea glass and pink sand, one vendor even had our clown car scaled down as a children’s toy.
Wendy went back to the ship shortly thereafter, though she did put the bug in our ear to get ice cream – I just wasn’t going to get Hagen Dazs when there was a local vendor not 500 feet away. I rarely get chocolate ice cream, but this stuff was absolutely fantastic. It had a thicker texture and a more authentic chocolate taste than most I have; while I don’t usually put much stock in vendors within 1,000 feet of where tourists all have to pass, this guy knew what he was doing. It was a fantastic breakfast.
Jen went to take a walk around and see The Frog and The Onion, a relatively famous bar in the area. We passed some tourists who wanted a picture near the police station; I was happy to take the picture for them and they enjoyed my usual schtick of cracking a few jokes to get them to genuinely laugh as a part of the picture.
We also went to a local pharmacy, but it was one that reminded me of the drug store in Montauk – technically, yes, they sell pharmaceuticals, but the first 3/4 of their shelves have all the tourist stuff. I got some gum for my housekeeper, as well as some small things for Jen and Wendy.
With that, we went to pick up the golf cart.
We weren’t planning on going too far; our one objective was to get to the sea glass beach. The locals were perfectly fine giving us directions. On our way, we passed two cemeteries. The first one was the one for the Royal Navy. There were lots of well-kept gravestones; while not perfect, it was clear that there were people making sure the headstones were generally visible. It was peaceful, and there were a few wild chickens who call it home.
We walked around the sea glass beach, and I had to laugh a bit. I went searching for sea glass a while ago with my friend Luna, and I remember her being able to find pieces of sea glass smaller than my fingernail. At this beach, there were thousands of large pieces from the shore line to the back of the beach. It was beautiful, and the unique sound of walking around was oddly relaxing. We didn’t spend too long there, but if there was a second ‘vacation moment’ on the trip, that was it. The pictures of the different sea glass artwork were at the foot of the walkway to this beach.
The second cemetery was on the same road, but was very different – it was a “Convict’s Cemetery”, which I found questionable because I would have assumed that convicts wouldn’t have gotten gravestones. Either way, there were far fewer of them, and not one of the stones there were fully legible. There was, however, a feral cat camping out there. The cat took a liking to Jen pretty quickly; they interacted for a few minutes before the cat went back to catting.
We got back to the car rental spot with time to spare. Jen had a snorkeling excursion, and I didn’t…because I canceled mine, and did so without the required amount of notice, so someone made a 100% profit off me, but I digress. There really wasn’t much to do around the pier, and I wasn’t going to roll the dice with 2 hours left on the island and very little money left, so I went back to the ship and blogged and uploaded photos while I still had data service on the island. The picture of the circular brick thing is apparently a distinctive feature of the Bermudian port; lots of people were taking photos there.
i checked in with Wendy about doing a late lunch once the ship set sail, but she brought up the logistical quagmire that was ‘going to a restaurant at 3′ that closed at 2. We kinda left it vague, but uploading photos on a slow bandwidth connection takes time, So I knew I needed to get started. While I was there, some kids were playing ping pong, and weren’t very good at it, so ball fishing was a common occurrence.
For all the “I see what you did there” when they played “You’re on Vacation” and “New York, New York” while we were leaving New York Harbor, I was surprised that no one had the similar idea to play Enya’s “Sail Away” as we left the dock from Bermuda. After I got my sailing away pictures, I went to see if Jen was around the restaurant we intended to go to; she was at a nearby bar, in a discussion with a fellow traveler. Once he left, we talked for a bit about her snorkeling experience, and were pleasantly surprised that the bartender had a really good sense of humor.
We went back to the SL and met up with Wendy, and played trivia shortly thereafter as a part of the 5PM meeting. The group headed to the regular dining room, but I was amidst a bit of a quandary. Not only was I *still* full from the Jamaican place the day before, I had two premium restaurant passes and two nights to use them. I decided to join the group for an appetizer or two, and go to the Brazilian BBQ venue toward close, since I didn’t have a reservation.
I dropped by the hipster brewery spot; Stephanie and Greg weren’t there.
Headed up to the Glow Party. I’m usually torn about this one because it tends to be EDM heavy (which I like), but similarly tends to be heavy on a style of remix where there is an extended instrumental section after the chorus, which is usually unrelated to the original song, save for key and BPM. I’m not generally a fan of this sort of remix. The DJ did a pretty good job overall. A notable remix he played was between a Rihanna song whose name escapes me (didn’t chart well), and the Bingo Players’ “Get up” – look it up on Youtube, you *know* that song, I promise. Amongst the reason that song stood out to me was because of the context. Apparently, lots of the kids from the teen program came to the glow party as well. Initially I wasn’t big on this (should they really be out after midnight amidst a very-inebriated crowd?), but then I watched as I saw teens, people my age, and people likely sporting AARP cards, all dancing and having a blast with the people around them. It was a moment that seemed to completely transcend age, musical taste, dance style, and basically every other barrier, and it was fantastic to witness.
I promised Jen I wouldn’t go into detail about how the night ended for her, but it’s an entertaining story that will remain with her, Wendy, and I.
So, I feel like I’m trying to sum up three days here. It’ll easily be the longest blog post I’ve written, so grab a snickers.
…so, last night, Wendy, Jen, and I went to O’Sheehan’s and got dinner. Well, I got dinner. They were midnight snacking. O’Sheehan’s is like Denny’s – nobody goes there because they’ve explicitly chosen to do so, so much as we end up there because it’s 12:30 in the morning. As much as I was glad to eat, the ‘Jerk Chicken wings’, while edible, didn’t taste like anything resembling Jamaican Jerk.
Also, apparently, somewhere between ‘getting back on the ship’ and this point, I cracked the screen on my phone. I’ve been planning to replace it anyway, but it’s super annoying.
While there, the three of us decided that it would make sense to do breakfast before leaving the ship. So, we coordinated it out that we would meet there in the morning to eat.
We did. It was ‘meh’. But it did the job. We tarried a bit, because it was raining. Like, a lot. We weren’t doing excursions, and I wasn’t walking, but rain on islands doesn’t tend to last long, so…we weren’t sure what the deal was going to be, but carpe
I went back to my room, and very painstakingly applied sunscreen again. Even on my eyelids. Because apparently, you can get sunburn on eyelids when your eyes spend the whole time open. Ask me how I know this. I grabbed my passport and my phones. I debated bringing my battery pack because why would that be needed?
At first, Jen and I were considering having one of the private taxis take us around. But, she ended up having a better idea: She ended up renting a Twizy, an electric car that isn’t legally considered a car, so the requirements for using one are “pay the rental fee, be 25, drive on the left side of the road, and don’t get in an accident”. This thing is tiny, and by ‘tiny’, I mean ‘a seat on Southwest is an upgrade’.
I offered to drive, but she was down for doing so, leaving me to be Miss Daisy, but also the one in charge of navigating, so I became Miss Daisy Magellan.
Amongst the reasons we decided to do this was because we both wanted to go to the zoo/aquarium/museum, which was inconveniently located right in between where we were, and St. George where the ferries were going. By time we got a taxi to get us there and back, we’d basically have spent the same money, but we have a car for the day and could go other places.
Driving through Bermuda was an interesting experience, even more so in one of these Twizys. The lady at the rental spot described it as a golf cart with a windshield wiper and a radio, and let me tell you, she wasn’t far off. I’ve heard descriptions of driving a Chevette as being a bad experience, but I’m pretty sure this thing was a step down from that. The speed limit on the island is 35kph (about 22mph). We spent most of the time going 45kph (about 28mph), and I would commonly tell Jen “get rid of your entourage”, a signal to pull over and let the 3-10 cars tailgating her pass. Especially as the battery life was consumed, Jen was ‘petal to the metal’ to get this thing up to 45, and while Bermudians are fantastic and friendly in person, they drive like they took their road test on Manhattan island. 15 degree inclines were so difficult for this Little Tikes car that it made us both wish there was a Fred Flintstone option. Have I effectively painted this picture well enough yet?
There were lots of interesting things to see as we were driving. So many picturesque water scenes, we crossed over several bridges, there were more than a handful of cool buildings…but I could either take pictures or navigate, so I had to make the tough choice to be Magellan, rather than Ansel Adams.
With that being said, Jen and I definitely made a good team. She handled the otherwise difficult situation quite well, and I was able to call out directions to her satisfaction; no arguments were had the whole time. It took us about 45 minutes to drive the 17 miles from the cruise terminal to the zoo, but we got there.
The aquarium section was relatively small, but their mainline exhibit were three seals, all sisters in their sunset years but still water puppies at heart. The staff was feeding them, and another staff member gave a play-by-play, describing that the seals were all in their thirties, two of the three had cataracts, and so on. The interior only had about two dozen tanks, but they were still interesting, notably having several varieties of coral, some eels, lots of colorful fish, an octopus, a sea turtle with a gas problem making it difficult for him to swim properly, and a legitimate baby shark. The staff fed their large tank, including the turtle. He said that turtles don’t tend to eat meals the way other animals do; I was amused at his description of them as being ‘underwater goats’.
Moving on to the zoo section, they had several different habitats, but notably, there were areas where the animals were able to walk freely amongst the visitors. Peahens roamed about one of the main sections. A few ground marsupials were in the first habitat section, which surprised us. Some bright orange monkeys, “pink chickens”, as I called them, a few tree-dwelling birds (notably a rainbow mccaw), and some lizards were all uninhibited from interacting with the people walking through, though none seemed to want to interact with anyone. In other partitioned exhibits, there were snakes, otters, a Galapagos tortoise, a boa constrictor, big iguanas, tiny poisonous frogs, and apparently an alligator (which we didn’t see).
Finally, we ended up in the museum. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time there, but there was at least one thing that I was a fan of seeing. As many such establishments do, there was a focus on ensuring the preservation of the environment. They gave several examples of how there have been environmental impacts, but what I liked was that they gave plenty of examples of how conservation efforts have worked, how several species have been able to bounce back, and how some of the bans on certain forms of fishing have prevented even bigger problems. More so than most other places, their “heal the earth” message came with a degree of hope and encouragement.
I wasn’t super hungry, but Jen didn’t want to eat the lowest-common-denominator food available at the aquarium, and I certainly wasn’t looking to argue. As we continued driving, we almost stopped at a pizza spot based primarily on availability, but ended up missing the turn, which I was perfectly fine with. Something something, did some more navigating, ended up finding this hole-in-the-wall Jamaican spot. The woman there was a bit surprised to see tourists drop by; it is definitely a very out-of-the-way spot. She was, however, very welcoming and happy to have us. She gave us a rundown of everything she made, she let Jen taste a few different things, and overall just fantastic and personable. We had the usual tourist discussion (“where ya from, how’s your vacation”), but purchasing the food was as great as eating it. The jerk chicken I got (because it’s a Jamaican restaurant) didn’t have the traditional jerk chicken flavor I was expecting, but it was so, so good. The pork was also fantastic, and the rice…I forget what she called it, but if I had to eat a metric ton of carbs, the rice was easily the best I’ve had all year. I was so glad I found the spot, it was easily the best thing I ate in Bermuda. As other people came to get lunch there, several had discussions with us as well.
Remember how I said I didn’t pack my battery back because why would I need it? Well, Google Maps takes plenty of battery power, so my battery was already south of 20%, and I still needed to navigate. Our Jamaican hosts charged my phone for me, which was incredibly helpful. I really can’t say enough about how wonderful these people were. It’s why I took a selfie with them.
Jen wanted to see the Unfinished Church…y’know…the spot I was at yesterday. So, that was our next stop, at which point we came to the rather poignant realization that parking is approximately Brooklyn-bad on that part of the island. We parked two blocks away and walked to the structure. On the way back, there was a particularly friendly chicken who hung out with us for a bit. I was not expecting this. Jen pulled into the parking lot of the Tobacco Bay beach I was at yesterday, but didn’t look around.
More driving, and we started to realize that we were due for a charge in our golf cart. Jen wanted to go to Hamilton, and since there was a charging station there, we made a beeline for it.
12 miles later, we were in Hamilton, with the car on a charging station. We went to a nearby pub that was the first good internet I’ve had since I got to the island, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for that, and my phone battery was basically-dead again at that point.
…I can’t keep my eyes open anymore. To be continued, and yes, I have pictures…
Okay, I’m up and awake; let’s see how far I get before we pull away and I lose my crappy-but-free data…
So, Jen and I are at the Robin Hood bar. It definitely had the more classic vibe; I was definitely a fan of the red phone booth (no blue ones, sadly), and I’m surprised at how popular pizza seems to be here. I guess it’s the actual-Caribbean places who have more distinct cooking. We stayed there for a bit; I got a seltzer and she got an iced tea; neither of us wanted to think all the way through getting a DUI in a different country. Still full from the Jamaican place, we didn’t entertain any of their food offerings, either.
Across the street was a gas station with a convenience store attached; we went there to get some candy. It was interesting, though unsurprising, to see American staples and British goodies side by side.
Our vehicle still needed to charge, so we walked around Hamilton for a bit. Remember how yesterday I was trying to figure out where everyone went? Yeah, I found them. Hamilton is basically Bermudian Manhattan, complete with complicated one-way streets, awkward street parking, the alternating aroma of amazing food and the fact that it’s trash day, and walk/don’t walk signs that are about as useful as a turn signal on a BMW. Apparently, there’s a sailboat racing competition coming up in April, and they’re pretty stoked about it. Front Street follows the coast line, and while it’s more developed than beach front, it makes basically every restaurant ten times more awesome to go to…but we didn’t do that either, though I did find one of those sidewalk chalkboard signs that were worth putting on Instagram.
We just walked and walked until it got to be just about sunset, and we hoped that two hours would be enough charge (and late enough past rush hour) that we’d be able to make it back. We drove back, and while our battery definitely wasn’t in a place to go anywhere else, we weren’t exactly terrified about having to call an Uber and push the clown car…somewhere. Jen did note, however, that she was flooring it for most of the trip, and toward the end, even 40kph was hard to sustain. Between this and the range anxiety we were definitely facing (what would have happened if we were trying to get back to the cruise ship before it left?), it’s not much of a secret as to why these “putt putt cars” haven’t supplanted regular cars on the island, despite the fact that gasoline is nearly $10 per gallon. To be fair, had we rented in advance, they do have a larger model with more space and a bigger battery. Personally, I won’t rent it unless it also comes with clowns.
We attempted to find a charging station, but weren’t successful. One of the individuals at the security booth near the pier tried to point us to one; Jen recognized her from when we left so she definitely had a long shift. The station she pointed us to, however, had the UK-style outlets, while our Southwest-inspired golf cart had a US-style connector cable. We ended up parking it on the street in a marked space.
As Jen and I were heading back to the ship, we ran into Justin, the guy I met the day before at the Mr. Chicken. He was glad to see us, and we spoke for a few minutes more. Apparently, he prefers it when it’s cruise ship season? I’m still calling him biased since he doesn’t deal with the tourists for eight months of the year. Either way, I twas super impressed that he recognized me, in the dark, and wanted to talk to me again.
When Jen and I got back on the ship, we met up with Wendy and went to our second premium restaurant, La Cucina, the Italian one. Now, to be fair, I was still full from lunch. However, this was easily the weakest meal we had so far that didn’t come from Denny’s O’Sheehan’s. Every entree had a dealbreaker of some kind; though I keep trying to avoid ordering the steaks if I’m not at the steakhouse, I was surprised that neither eggplant parm nor chicken parm were on the menu, nor any variant thereof. Many of the entrees featured some form of seafood (the kind I don’t like), leaving me to order fettuccine alfredo with mushrooms. Now, again, I don’t want to sound like I’m all up on my high horse or somehow ungrateful to be eating, but I could only find literally one mushroom? In fairness, I got half a dozen mouthfuls in before I was stuffed beyond all possibility of additional food consumption. Also amusing was that Jen got a round of rum swizzles for the table. That part wasn’t amusing, but the part that did make us laugh was that while Wendy and I were one-and-done, Jen was up for a second. She’d only asked for an extra for herself, but the waitress came back with three glasses. Apparently Jen wasn’t going to try for four, so we ended up giving them to the table next to us, where another couple was sitting. They took them, and expressed appreciation, but they were still untouched when we left. You do the math. She also got us all these mixed shots containing vanilla vodka and Frangelico, which had a taste similar to chocolate cake. Again, the wait staff seemed to be hellbent on us leaving with an inability to walk straight; the goal was shot glasses, but they came back with this mixture in a glass that looked like half a champagne flute, and easily contained closer to three shots’ worth. None of us managed to finish them.
I went up to the deck and began to blog; the Giants/Patriots game was on. Apparently, our ship is primarily comprised of Giants fans. Also, apparently, they were unhappy.
But, I didn’t make it all the way through the blog entry, because I’d walked another five miles yesterday and by 11:30, I was absolutely done.
…oh, you wanted a blog entry, too?
Yes, I did make it up in time to watch the ship dock. While my iPhone doesn’t seem to want to actually acknowledge that an alarm was set, Wendy was super awesome and brought me a few of the pesto tomatoes, and called me in the morning to let me know she had done so. Wendy wasn’t in the ST lounge when I looked, so I just grabbed a seat in the aft section of the top deck and took some pictures. I went back to my room to change and prep, then headed out.
Did I have a plan or a destination? No. No, I did not. There was a ferry about to leave, and I got on it. Did I know where it was going? I didn’t know that, either…but if I was about to get abducted by the little known group of Bermudian pirates, I have other questions. More directly, the crewman on the boat who was prepping everyone told everyone that in order to get back on the ferry, we had to have our cabin keys, and to say the password “Bermudaful”. The ferry ride was about 20 minutes; I turned on my phone for the first time since NY and let the texts flood in, responding where practical.
The ferry took us to the other side of the island. I got off, picked a direction, and started walking. I did a LOT of walking. The weather was absolutely perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Enough sun to feel like I’m on vacation, enough cloud cover to make up for the fact that I was a derp and forgot my sunglasses at home. Warm enough to allow me to walk for a good distance, but not so warm as to make the walk unbearable.
The first place I went to was a small public park; it seemed well maintained but I was surprised that there wasn’t a plaque or anything indicating anything about what prompted its creation or who pays for the upkeep.
Next up, the Gates Fort National Park. One of the amusing things I’d noticed was the difference in scale. This national park had less square footage than the smallest restaurant at which I’ve eaten dinner on the ship. The building itself was the sort of building straight out of a video game; I was half expecting to find some ammo or a health pack in there. I didn’t…but given the set of cannons there, the building probably did legitimately hold ammo in the past. One of the slots that presumably held a third cannon was empty, and it was possible to walk along the rocks and look out at the ocean. I heard my mother telling me to be careful…and I was.
There were plenty of geckos around there…like, I really thought one of them was going to save me 15% on my car insurance. As I kept walking, I came across the next place where the British stuck some anti-naval guns, equally in need of a little WD-40.
As I kept walking, there was a bench in need of repair…and I was in need of 5 minutes of a bit of shade. I saw some steps, and going down, there was a tiny beach…like, size-of-my-stateroom tiny. Two other individuals found it and were sunbathing; I hung out there for a few minutes, took the sand photo, and kept up on my journey.
The boat I saw had me confused. There was enough overgrowth to make towing it out in a truck problematic, and it was on blocks, rather than a boat trailer. The other side led to a cliff several dozen feet up, so it’s not being pushed into the water that way. At the same time, it wasn’t rusted or rotted out; someone was maintaining it. Hence, it got the nickname ‘the Gibbs boat’.
I was surprised to see livestock around the island. While I guess it ultimately makes sense for cows to be there, I definitely wasn’t expecting to see them. Similarly, I was surprised to see not only chickens, but wild chickens. I was annoyed I couldn’t get a picture of the one I saw crossing the road. I asked him why he did it. He wasn’t very insightful. Also unpictured because getting wildlife photos with an iPhone is more luck than anything else, was a particular bird with very bright yellow feathers under its wings. Finally, a few of the houses had cats camping out on their front porches. One, a black cat, acknowledged my existence by meowing at me in the low, angry tone that seemed one step away from a hiss and a swat. The other, a white one with brown stripes, refused to even make eye contact with me. Say what you will about how I’m a stranger to these small tigers, puppies almost always seem excited when a human greets them.
More walking, and there was a big building under construction, but strangely, I didn’t see any construction workers. I saw one guy, but I got the “espanish…no inglish’ when I tried talking to him, so I wished him a good day and didn’t belabor the point.
A bit later on, I passed another gentleman and started speaking to him, primarily asking where everyone was. I’d walked nearly two miles away from the pier at this point, and I only saw one guy with a leaf blower at the first park, the Spanish-speaking day laborer, and other tourists. Yes, I’m from New York and used to insane population density, but it really seemed like there were more people on the cruise ship than live in Bermuda, so I asked the guy. He was nice enough, and said something to the effect of “everybody is at work”. Seems logical, but after looking a bit more at the map, I think the corollary was that we were on the half of the island that seems a lot more residential, so the population was simply where the businesses were – the half of the island where the ship docked, rather than where the ferry took us. The gentleman apparently knows someone who lives in Babylon; I told him it’s a nice place (though not “Bermuda nice”), and that I had been there many times. He asked if I knew his friends, to which I had to respond, “Long Island has 5 million people on it”. He was understanding, but I was impressed that he knew of a specific town I work in and pass through regularly. We ended our conversation with him telling me that he was a Jehovah’s Witness. I took his card, we shook hands, and we parted ways.
At this point, I was getting a bit thirsty, and was once again very surprised that I didn’t pass somewhere that sold anything to drink. Back home, I’d have passed four gas stations and twelve 7-11’s by now. I walked a bit further and came up to the beach at Tobacco Bay, where there was a beach, some taxis, and the sort of small food-and-drink shack one would expect to find at a beach. I ordered a seltzer, and since the awesome Trinidadian lady yesterday was adamant that we should all do so, I also got a rum swizzle. The guy who served the drinks told me there was free wi-fi there, so I was like, “finally! I can post all these pictures!” …yeah, I’m beginning to think there’s no such thing as good internet on this island. It’s pretty bad when the internet on the ship is ‘the good internet’.
After battling with the internet connection to try and get the pictures uploaded for about 20 minutes…the rum hit me. Now, one other thing I should note: at home, our streets are nice and wide, complete with a shoulder lane and a sidewalk. Here…two vehicles passing each other is done with approximately one molecule of space in between them. There is no shoulder, sidewalks are sporadic and thin. I wasn’t wasted, but I stuck around the beach a bit more to let the drink wear off because walking down the road was a bad idea.
I walked to the other side of the drink shack, and there was this separate small area of beach that was probably fully submerged during high tide. The water was very shallow, so I took off my shoes and stepped in. I acclimated to the water after a bit, but the water temperature definitely reflected the fact that I was visiting Bermuda in October.
As I stood there, feet buried in the coral sand, the small fish swimming in the four inches of crystal clear water, the small waves gently crashing on the rocks, and the faint sound of the crowd on the main beach, I had ‘the moment’ – the moment for which every vacation exists. The one where every server project, every time entry in Autotask, every political Facebook post, every unread e-mail, the hideously neutral ringtone of my Blackberry, every bill that’s due, every contact I debated deleting…every last bit of it completely faded away, and I was able to be fully present, in the moment, without any care in the world. It was the absolute best half hour I have had all year.
Before I left the beach, I saw a guy talking to an individual with a blue shirt and a name tag about…something, I don’t quite remember what. When the other tourist was done, I asked Carl what he does, and what it’s like to work with tourists for a living. His answer reminded me of the lady on the beach in the Bahamas: the overwhelming majority of tourists are nice, friendly, and easy to work with. There is the occasional jerk, but for the most part, he is happy to work with all the visitors. Clearly an extrovert, his job was to maintain and upkeep the beach – stacking the beach chairs, getting rid of the occasional piece of trash that is left behind (he made a point of saying that the majority of people are very good about keeping the beach clean so his time spent on that task is relatively minimal), and on rare occasion, deal with a safety issue – typically people who had one too many rum swizzles and are more a danger to themselves than other people on the beach. He ended his story by saying that there was one time he had a guy come to the beach several days in a row, while being a member of the KKK. I laughed and asked, “uhm, was he aware of where he was going?” Carl and I had a good laugh, and he said, “apparently not”, but by the end of that guy’s time there, they shook hands and the guy gave Carl a $50 tip. It was a touching story, and I was grateful to have been able to take a few minutes and talk with Carl.
Freshly hydrated, and with my BAL close enough to normal to not be a safety hazard, I started to head back to the pier to pick up a ferry back to the ship. The next place I stopped at was The Unfinished Church. It was at that point I realized that I’d been there before, which then led me to realize that my memories from my senior trip are *very* faded. The Unfinished Church looked familiar, and I remember doing the dance routine to “Shackles” in that park somewhere, but other than those three minutes, I have zero memories of my time on the island when I came here in 2004.
While I was at the church, I ran into two other tourists, who asked me to take a picture for them. I was happy to do so, and they reciprocated.
Oh, and at this point, it started to rain a bit.
I looked for somewhere to eat; I was again surprised that I’d passed neither a restaurant nor a supermarket after several miles of walking. I did end up finding somewhere – about the only place within another mile of walking – a “Mr. Chicken Express”. I decided to go for it; though it was a walk-up and walk-away sort of a place, there was a waiting bench and the people there were fine with me sitting and eating. There was definitely a human touch to the chicken; KFC, this was not. While I was there, another guy by the name of Justin was ordering his food and started talking to me. He works for a warehouse and unloads palettes for a living, so he doesn’t typically interact with tourists and was happy to talk to me for a bit and ask about New York and why I chose to come to Bermuda and so on. We only talked for a few minutes, but it’s moments like that which are common in Bermuda but rare most other places of the world, especially places with tourist-heavy economies.
Adjoined to Mr. Chicken was a small convenience store; though the chicken was good, I was again parched. I got a ginger beer, and was incredibly happy because while some I’ve tried have been incredibly sweet, I’ll never forget the one time I got some at Aldi’s with my sister and it was basically like trying to drink a carbonated ginger root. This stuff was the Goldilocks of ginger beer – juuust right.
I high-tailed it back to the pier, and of course, I’d missed the 3:15 tender boat by about ten minutes. Another one, however, was right behind it. It wasn’t the one from the cruise line, but it was brilliant in that they charged $5 to get to the same place. I learned my lesson, but it was a good thing I did. While it was drizzling a bit toward the end of my walk, it was legit-raining by time I got back on the ship.
I got back to the ship, checked my Apple Health, and it said that I walked about seven miles today. I’m not quite sure I buy that, but a fantastic day it was. I fell asleep for about 40 minutes, and went to the ST.
Unsurprisingly, our 5PM meet-up was sparsely attended, to the point where Kareem decided to kick the can on our salsa dancing lesson and opted for trivia instead. Yes, Wendy and I did pretty bad, but in our defense, a LOT of the questions are geography based.
I went back to my room, only to find a message on my stateroom phone that my excursion to the Bermuda Triangle had been canceled due to the weather. I think I’m making it a rule to just stop trying to schedule excursions because I inevitably pick the ones that get canceled – Between this trip and the one to the Bahamas, I’m 3.5 for 4; if my snorkel excursion on Friday (rescheduled from today) gets completely canceled again, I’ll officially take it as a sign to give up.
So, I went back to sleep for a little while longer, woken up by Sweetie, my housekeeper. I took it as a hint to get back up and finally try and get my pictures uploaded. I hope you were all entertained, because between resizing the pictures, getting them uploaded, battling WordPress to deal with the low-bandwidth connection to the point where I had to manually enter the HTML code and upload via FTP, and write this 2,500 word blog entry…I’ve been at this for the past three hours. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?
While I was on the pool deck doing this work, the kids program came up and did this whole spiel where the kids marched in line and their director person led them to battle a pirate for their treasure…or something like that. I didn’t exactly have a great view of it, but I heard it. That’s been something I’ve been curious about; I see entries for the ‘Guppies’ program, but for bleedingly obvious reasons I’m not one to exactly take a tour of how they handle the kids. I would imagine they allow the kids to stay in their own area for long stints at a time; the longer mom and/or dad are in the casino, the more money the cruise line makes. Additionally, I’m sure that even the most loving parent still looks forward to having their child in good hands while they can unwind…but that leads me to think a bit more about the logistics of the kids programs – How do they deal with the child whose parents lost track of time? How do they keep kids entertained for ten hours a day, or deal with kids being a bit too rough with each other, or the fact that children still learning to communicate may have challenges understanding some of the heavier-accented cruise staff? If the kids programs run while parents are on the island, how do they communicate if the child needs their parent? Can I even ask these questions and not end up on a list somewhere?
Aaaand, just to double down on making sure I end up on a list, after the kids fought the pirate (and, I’m assuming, got treasure?), the pool deck cleared out for the teens pool party…which seemed to have its challenges. I feel like the guy who was overseeing it got handed the task in a raffle or something. He was DJing, but did a pretty bad job – jumping genres wildly, no beatmixing, cutting songs off pointlessly…definitely not one of the regular DJs on board as all have been pretty good; this guy could have improved things dramatically using iTunes automix. They did a few minute-to-win-it games and just kinda hung out in the pools and hot tubs, but this guy clearly lacked the sort of enthusiasm and stage presence required to keep teens engaged.
I should probably find some dinner.
Now, in my defense, overnight we’d passed that logitudinal barrier such that we’re officially an hour ahead of you. Also, the majority of the vacation part of this cruise is being able to do whatever I want, so waking up at almost-11AM is something for which nobody gets to judge me.
At the same time, Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song” was basically my anthem this morning. I didn’t go to breakfast, I didn’t meet up with Wendy, Jen, or the Randys. I did basically-nothing for the first hour, but for the second hour, I did something I’ve been planning to do for weeks…
I wrote a blog entry earlier this year about how strangely protective I am of the contacts in my phone. I left feeling a bit internally conflicted about being so protective of a contact list that was so out of date. I knew that during this trip, I wanted to spend some time overhauling it. “Marvin”, a number that got added to my phone back from my Staples days, but never called, needed to go. Mosaic, a Greek restaurant owned by a friend but which I’ve never visited, need not be a contact. Amanda, Stephanie, and Valerie, two women I met on eHarmony nearly a decade ago but with whom I haven’t interacted in several years, no longer needed to be on my list. Alexandra, Jeff, Darrell, and a few others who have died over the past decade: their memory need be honored in how I interact with those who are living, rather than as a number that will never be dialed.
Nearly half of my contacts were people I hadn’t talked to in over five years. Some (like Valerie) are Facebook friends, others have decided to part ways with me. Lots of changed names; some people got married, others have been in my phone since “first name” was all that was needed, still others had legally change their names. I needed to make those changes.
It’s not all sad though; my friend Annie has been my friend for nearly four years; I never made her a contact. A few others share her story. Some people have gotten new numbers that I was happy to add. Back in 2009, my Windows Mobile phone used to automatically add Facebook posts to the contact information of linked friends. Some people still had information from that time in there; it was amusing to wax nostalgically at that time. I cleared most of them out, but some people I kept with the intent to share it with them when I get back home.
Once I finished with that, I straightened up my room; I am grateful for my housekeeping staff but there’s a difference between ‘having your bed made for you’ and ‘putting them in an awkward situation regarding your dirty laundry’. I then went to the main buffet dining area for some lunch; yes I’m on vacation but I’ve been consuming way too many calories to not get a salad or two. While here, I was shocked and excited to see my friend Stephanie and her boyfriend; it’s a very big ship and the law of large numbers says that running into at least one person I knew was probable, but I haven’t seen either of them in a while and it was a very pleasant surprise to do so.
Wow…okay…so, what started as a lazy day definitely took a turn.
Stephanie and Greg left the buffet area earlier than I did, as I was finishing up my morning blog entry. They went to a trivia game, along with two other friends they were cruising with. I joined them a few minutes after. As it turned out, the host was Kareem, the same guy who coordinates the Solo Travelers program. Stephanie and I agreed that Kareem was doing his best, but that he lacks the skill of our friend Michelle, who has the sort of personality, wit, and stage presence that makes a trivia host truly entertaining. We ended up getting 14/24, which put us in second place.
After that, I had about an hour or so to kill, so I napped for a bit, and was out in time for the 5:00 meet-up. Wendy and Jen were there; both expressed that they were a bit concerned since neither of them had seen or heard from me all day. I briefly filled them in, and the meet-up began. “Tennessee” lady brought her entourage, who may not have been wearing “Rosé all day” shirts, but were most likely doing so. I felt a bit bad for Kareem as he tried to hold the attention of the room, but they certainly weren’t making it easy for him. Kareem did another round of trivia questions in the Solo Lounge with us…and about half of the questions were reused from the time before. AT&Team ended up with 12/17, in no small part because I remembered most of the answers from a few hours prior. Once he awarded us the win, I yelled out, “are you going to reuse questions tomorrow, too?”. He blushed, awarded me with a Norwegian Cruise Lines water bottle, and then told me that he promised not to recycle his question sheet tomorrow. We had a good laugh about it.
Wendy, Jen, and I had discussed going to one of the premium restaurants tonight. I’d tried to make reservations, but it was tough to find somewhere that had one available, on short notice, that wasn’t one of the two steakhouses (Jen is a pescetarian). We discussed it, and as it turned out, the French place seemed to have an opening at 6:30 that showed up on the screens, but not on the app. However, the screens are supposed to let me make a reservation, but didn’t. Strange. I ended up just calling the reservation line; I was amused that it took nearly four people to ask me to hold before I got someone to talk to. Even more amusing, that person said, “Just go to the restaurant and see if they have an opening”. Seems to defeat the purpose of a reservation, but whatever works.
The three of us went there and asked, and apparently they had an opening, but for an hour and a half later. We said ‘okay’, and then went to kill some time. Jen and Wendy got drinks at the bar. It was at that moment that I remembered there was a rum tasting on one of the other decks. Wendy was cool to people watch; Jen and I did some rum tasting.
The tasting was done by a Trinidadian woman who had just the most fantastic accent while also being very easy to understand. The tasting was basically sponsored by a single company; seven of their nine rum variants and mixed rums were available for tasting. One of those two was a 12-year aged rum they wouldn’t let us taste because the bottles are relatively rare, the other is 151-proof and isn’t allowed on the ship because it’s a fire hazard. The did let us taste all the others, and I was particularly a fan of their coconut one and their ‘gold’ variety, which tasted similar to amaretto. I wasn’t up for trying their 140-proof variety; 80 is basically my limit and I know it.
Jen and I enjoyed the demonstration and met up with Wendy when we were done. We sat and people-watched for a bit, then headed back to the restaurant, who did end up seating us.
The salad had good presentation, but could have been dressed a bit better. Jen had a mushroom soup she thoroughly enjoyed, while Wendy had a bowl of mussels she seemed to like as well. I ended up going vegetarian this go-round; I forget the exact thing it was but it involved a portabella mushroom, goat cheese, a bell pepper, and…maybe some eggplant? I forget, but it was absolutely delicious and just the correct portion.
The highlight of the meal, though, was the fondue dessert. I don’t know what it is about dipping fruit into chocolate that makes it about twenty times more enjoyable than if the fruit came pre-dipped, but we definitely had the most fun with it. As is common with fondue, the fruit-to-chocolate ratio wasn’t right, so there was leftover chocolate to be had. The fruit was served in a cut pineapple, which meant we had more pineapple to use for dipping. Now, the wait staff, skilled as they are, took away all of the cutlery that was on our table, except for the fondue forks. So, the ladies were laughing in amazement as I hacked away at this pineapple with a fondue fork, slowly but surely cutting off one edge section at a time. “We can ask for a knife”, Wendy offered…but I’m sure that exactly none of you reading this believe that I took the practical or expeditious route on this. I did end up getting the pineapple cut, and enjoyed it the most.
I left pretty much right after that, because Stephanie invited me to join her group in one of the bars where a particular entertainer was playing, known for his style and humor. He played a number of ‘bar classics’; “American Pie”, “Sweet Caroline”, “We Are The Champions”, “Wonderwall”, and of course “Piano Man” had the whole bar singing along with him. However, I was impressed with how he did everything else. At the behest of one woman who requested Taylor Swift (but it was ‘for her husband’, who was apparently a Marine for 22 years), he played Shake It Off, and did pretty good. F.U.N.’s “We Are Young” was also played, as were a few other pop tracks. However, the draw were his satires and original songs. “Old MacDonald’s Deformed Farm” was a stand-out; this farm had a “stuttering cow” with a mm-m-mmmm-mmoooo mmmmm-oo here…”, a dyslexic sheep (with an aaab aaab here…), a drug-dealing duck (with a crack-crack here…), and several other not-PG-rated animals, he had the bar in stitches. I was super torn about him playing “My Neck, My Back” because it’s literally the dirtiest song I have ever heard played at a party, but his rendition was incredibly skilled, and while *he* sang the radio edit, the crowd had no problem filling in the blanks for him. He played Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”, which floored me because he actually knew the lyrics to the Shaggy part that’s very difficult to understand. However, the absolute standout of awesome to me was his beatbox. He did a beatbox of about five different songs, in a dubstep format, complete with the vocal distortions, basslines, tempo changes, and even vinyl record scratching sound effects. Did I mention this was all a beatbox? Being a good bar pianist takes practice, being able to an incredibly difficult vocal performance that effectively? That’s legendary.
We dock in Bermuda tomorrow morning. Do you think I’ll manage to be awake at 7:45AM to watch it and take pictures for you? You’ll have to wait until tomorrow afternoon (or something) to find out….