Archive for the ‘Panama Canal Cruise 2012’ Category

Day 30 of planning and tweaking…and splainin’

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Everyone assumes that if I was going to do a two-week Panama coast-to-coast cruise, I would do it with my wife.

Let me explain this as well as I can…she wasn’t interested in how I was doing it for all the years I pushed for it. Frankly, I just wanted an inside cabin and I would eat buffet food for two weeks. I was not picky.

She wanted nothing to do with cruising at all. It involves eight “sea days,” for one…in the volatile part of the spring. I don’t think this a big deal, but it kept coming up and it kept coming up.

So, a few years ago, Pilar said she was fine if I found somebody else to do it with. And me, taking that literally, sent out an e-mail to about 200 people just asking if “anybody” wanted to split the costs of going through the Panama Canal with me. I only got one bite…my wife.

She looked at the e-mail list and started naming people that under no circumstances I was going to live with on a cruise ship for two weeks (female), or that she trusted would actually bring me home alive (male). So it was back to the drawing boards…and waiting another year.

The next time, I had her approve a list of people that I could ask to do it with me. And I got her to approve a budget.

Nothing. I couldn’t find anyone.

Because of work and travel and stuff, a couple of more years went by, and I said, “How about if you go on a cruise and see that you really have nothing to worry about because of how little time you spend in the room and when you do, even after a week, they get on your nerves.

This was basically the “Hey, you won’t even want to spend two weeks with me when you see the whole set up, and understand more about how cruising works because there is so much else to do. Let’s go to Alaska.” She agreed, and the next year (July 2011), we did it.

Only I ran into three snags by the end of that trip:

(1) We got an upgrade to a two-bedroom suite that was HUGE. So much for living together with three of us in close quarters. We even had a butler and steak for breakfast every morning with a private pool. That, THAT, is not how I picture cruising. But that wasn’t my big problem…

(2) She saw how small the regular staterooms were and got freaked out that I would ever share that size of a room with any other woman, no matter how many beds it had. So I needed a new tact and needed to negotiated more and fast. While she still liked the cruise and also had an opinion…and I could buy a downpayment in the lobby for Panama at the cut rate.

(3)…well…before we get to three…

I asked her: “Would you ever go on a two-week cruise either in April or September with me the next two years?”


“Can I go on a two-week cruise in the next two years because it’s been bugging me for more than 20 years and I really want to do it?”

(Insert many quick things that make me a good husband because I never do them, and husbands of people we know have for a lot sillier reasons.)


“Should I just go by myself?”

“No, that wouldn’t make sense for safety.”

(Breakthrough moment.) (Hiding being internally suddenly giddy.)

“So can I ask anyone that you know, male or female, to go with me?”

“As long as you have two rooms and it’s the same as what we’re in now.”


That was the last Friday night of our Alaska cruise.

Now, I have this idea that people who climb mountains or run marathons have this complete sense of purpose when they “break through the wall” of exhaustion vs. purpose. I had that for the next 48 hours.

Now, here’s the thing…I needed to get this figured out and sealed quickly, because you can’t get the cool rate once your cruise is over. I knew more about who I didn’t want to ask than who I did. So I started doing mad e-mails to my friends, pleading a case again. The problem was, I did them all from my cell phone to save money, and for 36 hours, I had no idea none of the e-mails had gone through until we got to Victoria for four hours.


I needed somebody Pilar wouldn’t flip out about, but who wanted to do it — I mean was really motivated for it because, ummm, it is a pretty epic trip — and who I was pretty sure I’d known long enough that we could like each other and hate each other and it wouldn’t ever matter much during the two weeks because there was a bigger purpose.

So, I’m sitting there in a coffee shop on a Saturday late afternoon, thinking “Who?” I have about an hour left, knowing that if I don’t have something soon, my Panama Canal trip is at six to eight years away. (I am not exaggerating on that.) I could taste coffee in Cartegena. But NOBODY was responding as I started trying to send a second batch of e-mails.

And, here was the thing: I couldn’t just mass e-mail because I was in pretty please mode! I needed to personalize this and really almost beg.

I pretty much gave up.

So I logged onto FB just to see what had happened in the week I had been gone…

And this is how stupid I am. Or how non-FB I am. Or was. Or something. DOH! DUH! FB! I have friends on FB!

Fifteen minutes before I really needed to be walking super fast to the dock from The Empress for the last leg to Seattle…

So I made a very quick list in my head of which people were my FB friends that I would bet on having a good time for two weeks sharing a cabin one cruise through the Panama Canal. (I am a super lucky guy, because, basically, almost everyone of my 40-some-odd friends was on that list. Sorry sister-in-law and et al that are either pregnant  or have kids less than one, etc.) Once I had the list figured out…

I started staring at the screen. I was the only one on FB. I decided I was going to just ask as they pop up in order.

And I did. First my brother-in-law…whom I have cruised with before. No dice. “Too long.”

Second, my friend Brian. “No, I have to be around for the kids and school.”

Five minutes to go…

Kim’s name popped up. So I am thinking…

I’ve know her 20+ years. I like her. We have fought in the past. We have a weird synergy of shared pasts. She’s friends with Pilar on FB. We probably would like the same things on shore. She drinks so there is none of that caring about how many beers I have when we’re at sea. She’s probably smarter than I am.

I mostly just had Canal Fever. I was being infected by the same thing that has crawled into the heads of French engineers, American Presidents, West Indians, Panamanians…I just wanted to get through the damned canal. Screw all the reasoning. I was fighting my own ismuth and I have been since I was 10…

So, I asked.

She said yes.


Kim and I finalized all the pleasantries and then I was, uh, to say the least, panicked. I needed to get a room for the cruise so when I told Pilar back on board I had a plan and it fit all of her criteria, and now I am going to go swim laps in the pool because I’m so happy…see you in Seattle…and don’t ask me any more questions and I really am trying to look like it’s no big deal…

Here’s something I hadn’t thought of until this very moment

There were no rooms with two bedrooms available for that cruise at the moment.

OMG! None. Well, there was, but it was like $25,000 or something.

Shit. Again.

So I am briskly walking back to the Norwegian Pearl. I can see it getting closer and closer.

My legs are kind of rubbery. I know Kim’s good for it. And I have a simple part of the criteria I can’t deliver on at the moment for Pilar, but I pretty much had someone who was going to do it with me and help pay. Whattodowhattodowhattodo…

I am not very proud of this next thing. And I hope everyone that reads this understands it takes a big man to admit it. I came up with a plan to stall. And maybe lie just a little, tiny bit.

I hate the fact I did this. The next thing I told Pilar was technically not true when I told it to her back on the ship: “It’s all set and it meets your criteria exactly.”

And maybe the other two or three times I said it in the last month while I called every day waiting for someone to cancel.

The thing is, I had an out in my head…maybe…if a two-bedroom didn’t show up soon: I would just cut Kim to the wind and eat my airfare to Miami out of my personal budget. (Sorry, Kim, but that’s what was the plan in my head walking up the gangplank….er, ramp, to the ship.)

I feel bad about that…but sometimes you can’t be literal. And you get Canal Fever and you start thinking of a plan before you walk up to the dock…

Here was what I thought I’d do…

(1) Tell Pilar that it was all set that we would have the exact same cabin with two bedrooms. (Now (a) I had no freaking idea how much that would cost or (b) if one would even become available.)

(2) Get the airplane tickets to Miami bought and paid for because, for both Pilar and Kim, I could make the “good money after bad” argument if the cabin I got wasn’t up to par for either of them.

(3) Get some cabin that had a whole bunch of beds and some privacy. Any cabin that sounded like it was big. (Seriously, I am walking to the dock and this is my plan. Feverish. I was seeing tsetse flies.)

(4) Buy the first two bedroom cabin I can get my hands on when it happens.

(That was a month ago. The next installment will be about reactions to the overall plan in the meantime.)

But I am true to my word…finally, Saturday night, a two-bedroom suite became available and I got it. The only little white lie I ever told to Pilar was that I had the room a month before I had the room. It just took a month longer. But I apologized profusely and came clean about that, too. I think I will be forgiven…I wouldn’t be doing this if my wife didn’t know, over the course of the last 20 years, I push the envelop at times. About a lot of stuff.)

Canal Fever. It has made men do stupid things for almost 150 years.



The Ditch

Monday, July 25th, 2011

My great grandmother had a completely over-hyped impression of my abilities. She would give me gigantic books and old coins and civil war doo-dads and books and more books, and more weird knick knacks that she always said, she’d “know I’d appreciate.”

The fact was, I did grow to appreciate them. I read the books. I learned about the artifacts and coins. And, you know, it was actually kind of interesting. I read Sandburg’s Lincoln, well, two and and half volumes of it, before I was 12. (Honestly, Volume I and I didn’t agree until about half way through.)

But the book she gave me of which I have never forgotten was “The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal.” It was written by David McCullough in 1978. I think I was about 14…so my great grandma would have been around 86 (she lived by herself into her 90s, only to die in a kitchen grease fire baking chicken).

What I remember is the way she explained why the Panama Canal was important.

Let me digress…

My great grandma was awesome at this type of story telling when she was on her game. She taught me all I needed to know about faking things in Scrabble into her late 90s. Her dog was named Oggie (even the next dog, and the dog after that), and she was as tough as sandpaper about some things.

So, back to the Panama Canal…

She told me the story from her perspective…

Theodore Roosevelt was the greatest president that ever lived. The only great feats of anything were because of Democrats, she said. And (now remember this is the 1980s, so we had put a man on the moon and won two world wars, etc.) “he made that Panama Canal happen before I got married.” (Actually, no, but close…she got married in 1917, and the Canal was completed in 1914.)  She declared it was still more important than anything else that has happened in her lifetime. I mean, this was a passionate rant that I listened to…nothing was more important than the Panama Canal. And (as she called him) “T.R.” was the last great POTUS.

But I won’t bore you with the whole discourse. She was pissed off that it all went to hell when Woodrow Wilson got into WWI and sent her husband off to Europe. And the last great president was T.R. because of the Canal.

(I just saved you about 45 minutes of her diatribe…)

But the gist was this: The Panama Canal was the greatest thing that had ever happened and great things only happen under Democrats. And she didn’t vote for another Democrat until Johnson. But she never voted, ever, ever, ever, for another Republican…because Wilson promised to stay out of WWI. (Actually, it’s funny as I type this, because it might have been around January 1986 when I had this conversation with her, because I remember that she said Johnson wouldn’t have let the space shuttle blow up…but I digress.)

Anyway…I read the book. I’ve read it twice since then. I even just bought the post-hand over edition to see how that played out.

I had to see it.

There are easy routes to this. I had my chances. I could just figure out how to skim off a business trip and pay my own dime and be in Panama City and take a tour boat through the locks.

But no. I wanted to, as a friend of mine said, “Do it like it was meant to be done” and go from one coast of the United States to the other. I have read the books, I know the history. Heck…you can stream it on Netflix with a PBS special.

In my head, I checked off the other stuff in the meantime. Man-made icons of the modern world. I went to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. I took a train across the country. I went down in the London sewer system. And I’ve been inside the Hoover Dam (pre-9/11, of course).

So about five years ago, I really started to push on this. My wife had no interest. In fact, no one had any interest.

Basically, it’s 14 days and nights on a giant cruise ship with me going from one coast to the other. And to make it work, we’ll just have two twin beds with a couch in between and a shower in the bathroom.

But I was serious about this.

And here’s were it gets me. My grandma said that the only people she had ever met which had been though the Panama Canal were soldiers. She hoped people would someday go through it just because it was “neat.” (Her exact word.) In grandma’s head, T.R. was the reason Woodrow Wilson didn’t screw the country up too badly, because people came home faster from the war.

So I asked around. And I asked some more. I even had a little savings account. I was going to go through the Panama Canal from one U.S.A. coast to the other because it was  ”neat.”

This went on for years.

And then, one day, I was chatting with a friend and I asked, “You want to take a two-week trip through the Panama Canal?”


“How about September?”

“Doesn’t work for me.”

“April 15?”

“Sounds good. Let’s do it.”

It took as long as it took you to read that. I spent the next 10 minutes doing all of the “are you sure” stuff. Discussing costs, blah blah blah…and we were on.

Within 48 hours I had our room from Miami to LA on April 15, along with flights.

I’m scared as hell…I won’t lie. Two weeks is a long time to share three beds and a cabin. But I’m not going to war…and I like my travel mate. An old friend and foe that has known me long enough to know me long enough.

I know there are a whole bunch of great things that will happen on this trip. I am going to see stuff in Colombia and Costa Rica and Mexico, etc…but I will think of my great grandma and the reason I really, really have always wanted to do this.

Just because it’s…