Cruisin’

(Friday, 4 pm #WiFi Scarcity)

“Where’d you go?” my dad asks when I answer my cell phone. He had seen me on the porch all morning charging through the Epic of Gilgamesh – only the third bullet on a long list of summer reading assignments for English Seminar this coming year. The humidity had run me off, though, and I had retreated to the living room AC.

“I’m on the couch, Hof.” Man, cell phones have made us lazy.
“Well come on back outside for a second. I want to talk about something with you.”
For the purpose of this post, here are some things you should know about my father, who my family and I affectionately refer to as “Hoffa”:
In general, he is not a very thoughtful gift-giver, and he is definitely not a planner. As a businessman, he often runs with his out-of-the-box ideas. He is a natural delegator and prefers for others to do work for him. For instance, if Mama ever goes out of town, rather than cooking dinner, there is a nine in ten chance that we’ll be eating at a restaurant. He may be lazy on occasion, but he is also the king of unpredictable fun. I don’t know of any other father who has surprised his children (and wife) with a dock platform and thirty-foot rope swing! Above all, Hoffa is loving. He greets friends and strangers alike with a tight bear hug that will leave them gasping for air, and humbly goes out of his way to help treat others with kindness.
Since I had reminded Hoffa the previous day that Mama’s birthday would be tomorrow, I figure he is summoning me to help him with some last-minute outlandish birthday scheme. I am interested to see what crazy idea he has concocted, so without argument I close Gilgamesh and return outside.
“Mama has been working hard at Old South,” he says very seriously as I sit back down in the Adirondack chair next to him. “She needs to fly somewhere with cool weather for a couple days and relax.” For most people, this idea would almost be too ridiculous to believe. I just keep listening. This is such a typical Hoffa move, making up forgetfulness with extravagance. “I was thinking you could take her for her birthday. Look up some direct flights out of Charleston for tomorrow.” Now there was a curveball even I wasn’t expecting. There are perks to living at home for the summer and working for one’s father.
After a few searches, excitement building with each click, I reply, “Well, there’s Boston, Chicago, New York City…Selfishly, I’d choose Chicago.” Within minutes Hoffa has me recite the flight number and begins dialing United Airlines.
But look at those flight prices! I think. Chicago isn’t even that much cooler. And then we have to figure out a place to stay and check out the Chicago sights and walk around everywhere. It would be a lot like my weekend jaunts back in Italy – full of exploration and highly educational, but flat-out exhausting. Hoffa has good intentions, but a last-minute trip to a hectic city is not what Mama needed, especially at such a high price tag.
“Wait, Hoffa! Don’t call yet.”
I’m really not sure what made me even check. Maybe it was the daydreaming I had been doing of a potential spring break getaway this coming year. I did not know anyone who has been a passenger lately; the last time we partook in this gluttonously fun festival was a decade ago. I, like many Charlestonians, had become blind to the giant red, white, and blue eyesore of a smokestack fin sticking out over the harbor. For whatever reason, though, I find myself searching for upcoming departures.
“What about a cruise?!”
Bingo. In two days, the Carnival Fantasy would be embarking on a five-day sail to the Bahamas. The Bahamas! Now that sounded like a relaxing vacation. What’s more, it was a third of the price of a plane ticket. I share this information with Hoffa.
“Huh. Well that actually sounds pretty good,” he says. “But FIVE days?! I don’t know if I can handle everything around here that long.” Oh, brother. He needed a taste of Mama’s life.
Rather than booking the cruise online then and there, Hoffa had to ensure that we get the best price available. He contacts Cameron from Carnival Cruise line inquiring on any last minute deals with the persuasiveness that only Hoffa can muster. Cameron gives us the same price that I found online. Exasperated, Hoffa retorts that we already know about this price. We’re calling him for a deal.
“Are you working with a travel agent?”
“No, man! We’re using the Big I, the Internet! This is last minute, ship’s leaving either way. We don’t have to go, but shouldn’t the law of supply and demand work in our favor?”
“Uhhh, I think that’s already a pretty discounted price, sir. I can check with my manager and call you back.”
“Yeah, you do that. We’re countin’ on you, now, Cameron.  Call me back.”
Oh, Hoffa.
***
Georgia: “WHAT THE HECK?! If anyone needs a vacation, it’s me.”
Rosa Marie: “I could come back from Girls’ State early!”
Cain: “That’s so unfair! Why wasn’t I invited?”
Mama: “Wow. I definitely wasn’t expecting that. Y’all certainly are creative. What fun!”
These are the immediate responses to the announcement over dinner that Mama and I would shortly be cruising to the Bahamas. Cameron can’t provide a lower rate, but Hoffa decides to book it anyway.  It is unfair, and if I were in my siblings’ shoes, I would have had the same reaction. But, as it was, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.
I’d like to take a moment and set the record straight. I am not a huge advocate of cruises. I appreciate the boost their devoted passengers provide to the Charleston tourist industry (and thus, the Compton family income.) I understand that they are incredibly convenient and more economically feasible than alternative modes of travel. But cruising has got to be one of the most superficial forms of “travel” around. Rather than diving into a different culture and meeting locals, you immerse yourself even deeper into a bounty of American consumerism. Upon port of call, some 2,000 homogenous sunburnt Caucasians barge onto a pristine coastal town for five hours, pushing the tacky-ometer to disgustingly high levels. I think my beef is that it’s so easy. It takes all the fun out of the difficulties of adventure and travel – no navigation, no research, no work at all. Cruises are also terrible – TERRIBLE – for the environment. The fact that Carnival even has an environmental policy that is “committed to pollution prevention” I find quite comical. There are unusually high numbers of of grossly obese people exposing too much cellulite. Yet somehow, there is still an even greater amount of food waste. That kills me, especially when most of the waiters clearing our plates of leftovers are from countries plagued by extreme poverty. If all they know of America is from their service on deck, I cringe to think of what their impression of our country is.
And yet, despite my reservations, Mama and I have now been onboard 24 hours, and I am so grateful to be here. This isn’t travel, and that’s okay. Chicago would not have been rejuvenating. This is vacation, and the momentum from our busy lives is slowing down. In his spontaneity and generosity, this is the best kind of birthday present Hoffa could have given Mama. She desperately needs to catch up on sleep and to be served copious supplies of delicious food. As I write, my mother has now slept a solid three hours in the middle of the afternoon. She really is one of the most selfless people I know, but even she must make time for herself. No one deserves a few days of R&R more than her.
As for me, I don’t need a recuperation vacation. I had the flexibility to go and be Mama’s companion though, and this trip is exciting nonetheless. I’m not a very good relaxer, but it is nice to have several straight days of free time to read, write, and meet new people. Plus, with three other siblings, I never anticipated an opportunity to enjoy extended time just with my mom. I can already tell this time together will be a memory both of us treasure for the rest of our lives.
Even though Mama slept right through our plan to enjoy a cocktail by the pool this afternoon, I have a toast. Cheers to one of the most deserving mothers around. Cheers to a loving Hoffa, to good conversation, no preparation, and lots of relaxation. And, reluctance aside, cheers to cruising!

 

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