A lighting technician's view of a 21-day cruise through the Panama Canal.

This is an account from a 21-day Panama Canal "repositioning" cruise. Twice a year many ships make a voyage through the Panama Canal, the primary purpose being to go from summer season Alaska cruise itineraries, to winter season Caribbean itineraries. Instead of letting the ship sail vacant, they sell it as a cruise. Due to the length (and expense) of these cruises, they typically are not full. The entertainers they are able to attract for said cruises are also wildly, um, different from the more popular itineraries, and there are more days at sea as well, meaning more downtime where entertainment is needed. This cruise was not terribly different from other long cruises I had done, but it's the one that happened to make it into an email I started to a friend after our departure from San Diego. Satellite internet is now widely available for crew members onboard, but back then, not so much, and this email sat around, growing with the passing of each ridiculous day. So here it is, a long email, turned rant, turned historical account of one poor technicianís cruise through the Big Ditch.

9-25-2003, 11:30am

Greetings from lecture #1 of a very, very long cruise full of inane lectures. Since I will certainly not be taking my laptop ashore for internet connection in, say, Nicaragua, it will be some time before I can send anything.

I am very dismayed to report that our superman backstage manager finally went home yesterday (he'd been onboard 20 months straight), without us even having the luxury of an overlap with his replacement, so I am stuck, at the worst possible time, with showing up to all events even slightly technical to make sure stuff does not blow up. What's worse is that we have a new TV tech also (as his predecessor said, "very new") who woke me up at 9:30am today, freaking out about curtains, and calling from somewhere without curtains, and I really had no idea why the hell I had anything to do with this. "WHERE'S THE BUTTON FOR THE CURTAINS?!?" "In the room with the curtains! Which you are nowhere near!" And now, moments ago, at the beginning of the first of these technical events, he showed up a great deal late (after I had started the lecture without him) and seemed very freaked out that I asked him to press "play" on my cue while I went to focus the video projector. "WHERE ARE YOU GOING???" Sigh. Video tech?

I am even more dismayed to report that today's lecture, as listed in our daily program, is "History of the Isthmus." HELLO?? It's a geographical feature! Does it have a history? It's funny... I've been here half an hour and they haven't even mentioned who invented the isthmus. I think we should do the History of Grass next.

Actually, the lecturer also seemed very dismayed that we had listed it this way, as it is actually, as you may or may not have guessed, the history of Panama. But what he doesn't understand is that it doesn't matter that our cruise director is new. All cruise directors put really ridiculous things in the daily program without ever giving a thought to how stupid it makes them (and the rest of us) look. But at least he seems like a nice guy. Dense and nice is SO much better than dense and fierce.

Speaking of dense and fierce, I've been dying (and forgetting) to tell someone this... On my last call in Ketchikan, I walked by the local Sears store and the lit sign had the 'E' burned out. What a really bad way to attract business, especially from a traveling crowd.

9-26

Well I am only able to type right now because we are having severe technical difficulties with tonight's show time. Thankfully (I guess) they are not my technical difficulties (our guitar-playing headliner just played his whole opening number with no guitar!), so I'm sitting here on my laptop amidst this painful atmosphere of "Where the hell is the show?" Maybe if I made things a little more purpleÖ

Well, FANtastic. It's great that a bad 9-volt battery can completely cripple a guitar player. Boy that really makes us look like idiots. Especially when you hear the following anecdote, which was the sole reason I went to my cabin just before this show to get my laptop. Sometimes before show time they put on game shows, and tonight they had one I hadn't seen in awhile. I forget the name of it, but basically they take volunteers from the crowd and have a panel of three of the cruise staff ask them yes/no questions to determine their profession. Meanwhile the audience knows the profession because itís been displayed on a flip chart that's facing away from the panel. Well, tonight I walked in mid-game, and our cruise director (of isthmus fame, above), who was hosting this exciting event, had displayed prominently on the flip chart the profession of "DUPTY SHERIFF." Now maybe this is not his fault. Maybe this lady is from the south.

10-1

Greetings from Nicaragua! I was not particularly compelled to go ashore today, however I did want to go ashore in Guatemala yesterday, but I had to stay onboard so that I could rehearse for hours with a Bavarian woman who plays flutes at wombats. I really don't know how they find the entertainers for these long specialty cruises. We have one or two entertainers (in a 21-day cruise) that anyone has ever heard of, and the rest is completely left to the wombats. (Did I ever tell you that the guy I had to stay onboard all day for in San Francisco was a freaking MIME??) So this lady comes on with two DVDs full of videos that she wants played during the various songs in her show. Six total, and all but one are videos of herself footing around the globe playing flutes to all manner of animals. (The other video is of her playing flutes at Chinese children in exchange for apple juice. I guess this is supposed to be diplomacy.) And I bet you didn't know that giraffes liked the flute. She played La Bamba (recall: on the FLUTE) to a very confused audience of Sri Lankan elephants. In all fairness, I have to say that the penguinös were thoroughly entranced by the whole thing. Although, also in fairness, I have to say that those sheep nearly chewed her face off.

10-3

Greetings [again] from the house of technical difficulties. Today... Today I'm running a Power Point presentation not only in black and white, but also on a laptop with Windows XP *Dutch style*. I can't even begin to sort out the color problem with buttons like "standaardbeeldscherm." All because some slughead at our head office in Seattle told our lecturer (of isthmus fame, above) that he could run a Power Point presentation merely by showing up with a CD. "I can tape that to the projection screen if you'd like." "Don't you have a D-drive in there?" his wife asks. "Sure, let me lop it into the D-drive of this 5-year-old computer. I'll just open up this file here with Notepad, and project it up onto the screen via a complex system of mirrors." So after asking practically everyone onboard if they had a laptop with s-video out and Power Point, finally we found a Dutch officer that was willing to help. Of course, that was 15 minutes prior to this lecture, and there are way too many consonants in his freaking operating system to navigate successfully.

I have just received our daily program for tomorrow, the day we transit the canal, and they have listed a very appropriate Drink of the Day in the lounges onboard. It's the "Panama Delight." What is a Panama Delight, you ask? I too was curious, and was delighted to read that it was "a splash of grenadine, garnished with a cherry and orange." Only $3.75!! Those Panamanians sure know how to party. I hate to disappoint you, in that I don't know the actual ingredients, overlooked by our ever-diligent staff.

10-5

There's been a massive cultural revolution, and as usual it has been brought to my attention by today's daily program. You'll never guess what's happening today, exclusively in the m/s Zaandam's Hudson Room! Yom Kippur! 5pm! Please inform all your friends that may not have seen today's daily program that they will need to fly to Panama's San Blas Islands (please see the "San Blas Islands jokes" section of the internet (and if you hadn't been aware that the internet has sections, please wait for tomorrow's daily program)) to join the ship if they wish to observe the holiday. Of course, this message will arrive late, due to the fact that the San Blas' internet capabilities are not quite up to par (please refer to the previously-mentioned section of the internet).

In other news, tonight's entertainers (a Chinese man who twirls large vases on his head, and three Argentinian gauchos - I don't know how these guys ever got together) are disembarking the vessel tomorrow in Cartagena, Colombia (although according to tomorrow's daily program, we are actually going to Columbia, which I believe is located in much less violent South Carolina). They are not at all looking forward to this, especially as they have to spend the night, and fly out the next day. I personally know a couple of people that have been mugged in Cartagena, and it's very hard to find any of the crew that donít know someone who's been mugged there.

10-6

Currently I am sitting through a Colombian folkloric show (as opposed to a Columbian folkloric show, which would probably involve bobbing for okra) and I must say that it really says a lot about a port of call when SO many crew show up in the middle of the afternoon - on their time off - to watch one of these shows. I mean, so far, it's not bad, but it's about on par with all the other folkloric shows I've done before. The Dancin' Grandmas (the hula show in Hilo); the "Lock Everything Up That's Mobile" show (the folkloric in Martinique, wherein half the cast routinely does not show up - presumably because those individuals stole everything they needed from us the week before); or say, the "I Think I'm Julio Iglesias and Don't You Enjoy All My Witty Banter Even Though I'm Not Speaking English" show (the tango show in Buenos Aires).

The most interesting part of the show, I must say, now that it's ending, is that it's not over. I mean, it looked over. Most of the cast was half-naked and almost having sex on stage, and then they were bowing, so down came the curtain. And lo and behold, they began to dance again! Hmm. Well, such is when none of them speak English, and none of us are fluent in Spanish. The problem with this is not so much that we couldn't understand enough to get by, so much as when in this situation most people will not even try to communicate. They will just assume we know what's going on. haHA! Just ask us about the isthmus.

10-10

I'm sorry to report that nothing interesting has happened lately. I shouldn't complain, really, as interesting usually includes a whole lot of irritating. Certainly, tonight's variety show time is rather irritating, however it's not particularly interesting. Right now, I'm listening to a man play Johnny B. Goode on the ukulele. Next we have a Polish mime, followed by a lady who, according to her bio in the daily program (and we know how accurate that is), has been nominated for two Grammys. If so, why she has chosen to be in this nutcase showcase is beyond me.

This guy just sang something about a weed eater and Fruit of the Looms, and if ever there's a cue to black out, that's it. On that note, I guess I better go. American internet soil is imminent. Yay!

May your days be more mime-free than mine,
r

10-11

"But wait," you must be saying to yourself. This email is not over yet. Indeed! Interesting a.k.a irritating happened today. Let me stress that I HATE JAZZ. At least now. Isn't there a band or a song or a political movement called Johnny Hates Jazz? I think I must find this Johnny. We have a jazz charter coming up November 1, and the organizers came aboard today to get general info about the systems on the ship. I've known about this meeting for over a month. What I didnít know, is that they would spend the entire day talking about how great the buffets are, and never once participate in any activity that might be considered essential "Jazz Cruise Reconnaissance". "Wow, so they didn't have all this new gear on the Maasdam last year... blah blah blah You know our jazz players will really like this amp.... blah blah blah Ok so how many music stands do you have onboard? Can you buy me a Coke? You know, it's weird how they do the purchasing onboard... blah blah blah" "Yeah, we haven't been off the ship in 20 days, except for being mugged in Colombia, and we're out of food and toothpaste, and we haven't talked to our families in weeks, and I think I gained a family member recently, but I'm not sure..." "Really? So do you like the food on the ship? The food on the Maasdam sure was fantastic." Couldn't we have just sent them information about power outlets and the pasta bar in an email??

So long story short, I didn't get ashore with my laptop, I didn't get toothpaste, and I didn't get to talk to my parents for more than about 5 minutes. But I have a great week to look forward to in November.

10-14

Ok ok ok ok. I finally got ashore today, but only to participate in striped fish and beach chickens. But I will most likely get to go ashore tomorrow, and there's *internet* in St. Thomas. Almost exclusively. Internet and diamonds. So you will most likely be getting this then.

And speaking of ashore, one of the last times I was on land, I was in Vancouver. And I decided to go to a MAC makeup outlet, as I'm a makeup idiot. The casts I've worked with always seem to talk about it, so I figured I could go in and have someone help me. Well, I wandered in to a department store in downtown and right there by the door, MAC had their very own large corner. How convenient. As I'm entering I hear blaring on their sound system some old country music. Like something I may have heard on the very first Hee Haw, had I been watching the very first Hee Haw. Odd ambiance, I think, but I slowly continue anyway. Then, from around the corner of the counter in this empty store, comes a very tattooed, very pierced, bald man, about our age, and inquires if I need help. WELL. I'm not sure. I decided that this guy, obviously finding employment here, couldn't possibly do worse than I do on my own, and besides, an adventure in Vancouver is always a good story later. Well, as it turns out, he did a fine and dandy job, with me getting an unexpected makeover out of the deal. And being the player of all things Hee Haw, he was just so delighted to learn I was from Texas.

So advance greetings from St. Thomas, land of sweltering jewelry, and may you still be mime-free,
r


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