Sunday, July 25, 2004

(Leaving the Destiny)

Well, this was all a bit rushed (obviously). I only slept an hour Saturday night, as I was up late packing and it was hot in my room. Because of the short notice, there wasn't any kind of send-off. Before I packed I went to the crew bar, sat by myself, and had a drink. For that matter, I only slept an hour on Friday night, two hours on Thursday night, and never fell asleep on Wednesday night (as the A/C gave out altogether).

The move seemed a bit odd, as the other I/S manager on the Destiny had JUST signed on, didn't know the ship that well, and is only starting his second contract. The Imagination (normally) is easier to run without a second I/S manager than the Destiny also, so we were wondering a bit about the choice to move me. They hadn't even gotten my ticket 'till late the night before, and there weren't any flights to Miami. I was going to have to fly to Ft. Lauderdale and take a cab to Miami, where I was to get on the ship on Monday morning.

I had to get up EARLY Sunday morning for immigration. Yes, I am a U.S. citizen in a U.S. port, but I have been to other places. For most of the people it is quite a process, but more a formality for me. I had to be at immigration at 6 am, as they sign off the employees separate from the guests, and early so they can catch flights. I was there at 5:45, as I wanted to just get it out of the way. It was a national holiday in Puerto Rico, so the immigration officer didn't show up until MUCH later, I actually waited around 'till 11 to go through immigration. I could have stayed in bed another 5 HOURS. I decided to go up on deck and watch the sun rise. It was a nice morning, but a bit overcast. My last view of San Juan, for a while at least, was a nice one.

When it finally opened, I went down to breakfast and ate. I kept seeing people I knew, either coming in after working overnight or just getting up. People would sit with me, eat, then leave . . . and then someone else would come sit with me. I was just killing time anyway, so I had several (decaf) coffees and sat in there for three hours. Someone from the crew purser office saw me and told me that a package had JUST come in for me. I was expecting one, and had thought that they would have to forward it to my next ship. I went to grab it, and came back into the mess.

The package was three more books by Bill Bryson. These were from someone named Jo Farrington. I haven't ever met her, but her and her husband are friends of my grandparents and apparently are avid readers of my web page. It seems funny to me that someone who hasn't met me would want to read about me, but she has started e-mailing me also. She happens to be a big fan of Bryson, and told me that she was going to send me three more of his books. Jo, if you are reading this before you get my e-mail to you, I'm really sorry about not writing earlier. It has not only been insane since I got them, but they have now blocked AOL from me at work, and I haven't been on the net since I got here. :( The books are Notes From a Small Island (about England), A Stranger Here Myself (about coming back to the States to live after 20 years in England) and A Walk In The Woods (about hiking the Appalachian Trail). I have already made it through A Walk, and have just started on Notes. As in the book my aunt gave me, his writing is great . . . as well as his wit and experiences. His description of the AT really leaves you feeling almost what he was feeling, and his side-tracks into history and small facts are great.

When I got to the Destiny, I (as I had been instructed) had packed really lightly and in as small of bags as possible. Unfortunately, they more than tripled my luggage with uniforms, and I didn't have time to have my larger bag (with wheels) sent to me. I wouldn't have killed for that bag per se, but I would have considered committing a lesser crime. I packed everything back (my plan of having less books when I left didn't quite work, I donated 10-12 books that I had read to the book swap, but have acquired that many in the meantime from gifts and from going to the book store) in my original suitcases and packed the uniforms into a box. Now I had a substantial backpack, a medium-sized bag without wheels, and a medium-sized box. I had, a number of times, to carry all of it at once, and I still (two weeks later) have a bruise on my left side where the box was digging into me.

After FINALLY getting out of immigration, I had another wait ahead of me. It turns out that the passenger immigration also took longer than normal, as the officers were late for them and there were three times as many non U.S. people as normal. As I had to wait for the passengers to get off, I was sitting in the mess for quite a while. I ended up eating lunch in the meantime, and Julio was nice enough to take my bag and box to the marshalling area. I didn't know about this part of the process, and to be honest it made me a bit nervous. There weren't any bag tags or anything, all of the employee bags were just piled up in an area with little security and then off loaded with forklifts.

I was finally able to get off the ship. THANK GOD the guys who were helping guests with luggage came back to get mine. He put it (and someone else's luggage) on a hand-truck, and stood with us in line. We first had to go through scanners, and then they lined us all up. They took a drug dog slowly by each bag, and then came back and ran him slowly by each one of us. Then then made many of the people open their bags to do a search, but thankfully did not do this to me. Then I had to turn in a declarations form, and the guy took my stuff to a cab. Another guy and I split the cab to the airport, where I then had to pick up everything by myself. I didn't have far to walk, but it was a killer. There were signs everywhere saying that I had to go through an agriculture search to go to the U.S., as well as some guys working there who told me the same thing. I was at the agriculture station for a while (they seemed to be out for lunch) before some other officer finally told me that if I was coming as an employee from the ship that I didn't have to go through. I got inside to an obscenely long line (after everything I was running a bit short on time for my 2:30 flight) and slowly pulled my stacked bags along the floor. I made it through line, they put my stuff on the belt, and I was finally on my way.

Now, I don't know how many people think about the selection process for when they select people to do the "random" intensive search at airports. Let me let you in on some "flags" that they use to determine whether or not to pick you. One is if you got the ticket late (of course, we ALWAYS get our tickets late, this one had been gotten the night before). Also if you have a one-way ticket (yes, that would be me too), or are coming into the U.S. from a foreign country (obviously me). It doesn't help, when they scan your carry-on, if there is a lot of electronics (electric beard trimmer, electric toothbrush, GPS, laptop, digital camera, steel-bodied electronic Advantix camera, cordless mouse, memory-stick reader, etc.), all things that I didn't want to send through checked baggage to get damaged or lost.

So yes, I get the whole advance search each time (as I did when I went TO the Destiny). I finally got to my gate with about 15 minutes to spare, which wasn't exactly a comfortable margin. I had found out only this morning that, contrary to what I had been told, the Imagination actually was NOT going to be in Miami the next day. No one had checked the schedule, it was actually on its way to Grand Cayman, and had been in Miami yesterday.

On the flight I finished Cat and Mouse by James Patterson. I felt about it the same thing that I felt about reading Fight Club (the movie, oddly enough, is MUCH better than the book) a few nights before. James Patterson tells a great story, in a great way. It is entertaining and interesting . . . but lacking. When a new author comes out with a book that they spent long and hard refining into something that the publishers will pick up, it is often good and sells like crazy. The publishers, being businessmen, want a steady stream of books to follow this. What is lost in the speed of the process is the refinement and editing that goes into the first book. Both of these books read like first drafts. The reason that the movie of Fight Club is so much better is that they spent a lot of time refining the story and dialogue, and dramatically perfected it. If you gave me (or a good editor) Mr. Patterson's book for a month (or any of the pop books that I have read lately), it could be edited and refined to a place that would make it a much better read. Unfortunately the publishers are going for quantity and speed, and the average U.S. reader lately is going for price and excitement (and doesn't read that well anyway). I also read The New York Diaries, by Daniel Drennan, last week and I highly recommend it. The way that he writes is a little hard to read, as he tends to have sentences that take up whole pages . . . but the style tends to give you the sense of hurriedness or the frantic pace that he is trying to bring across.

So, I got on the plane, knowing that I was going to have to take a cab to another city, spend the night in a hotel, and then grab another plane. The tickets were to be waiting for me at the hotel, so I didn't even know what time my flight would be yet (they were VERY last-second). It would have been SO much easier, in hindsight, to have gotten off the Destiny in St. Thomas (avoiding all of the lines and immigration waits and such) and flown straight to Grand Cayman.

When I got to Miami, I just happened to take a picture out of the window right where the cruise port resides. If you look closely, you can even see the "Whale" tail of a carnival ship. This is a picture of some stadium in Miami just before we touched down. I decided that I wasn't going to carry all of my stuff again, even for a short distance. I paid $2 for one of those little "rent a carts" and got my luggage from baggage claim. It was kind of funny, the luggage started but then almost immediately stopped. I was waiting (with a ton of other people) for a couple of minutes before I realized that my bag AND box were the first two things that had come out. I was literally the first person out of the building. There was a stand to get a cab outside, and I got one from Airport Express. I HIGHLY recommend them if you happen to land in Ft. Lauderdale. Their prices weren't bad for the distance that I had to go, and the car is the nicest car that I have been in short of a limo. It was brand-new, spotless, all leather, and huge inside. My last cab ride in Miami was in a horrible car, and cost as much per mile.

I got to the hotel, splurged on food at Chili's (very good after the ship food, and looked better than the hotel food for the night) which is only a block or so from the hotel. I got my plane tickets and answered a lot of e-mail, and went to bed.

I am going to end here and finish on a new page, as it is just after 3 am and I want to get some sleep before uploading this in Miami tomorrow. At least I will get a couple of pages up, and I will be in Miami again later in the week.