Roll Call

This entry is part 13 of 25 in the series Cruising With the Mothers
I love the sound of children laughing. Our two boys are downstairs watching cartoons, and the sounds of delight reach all the way upstairs to my office. Of course, the children are aged 20 and 26, and they’re watching The Simpsons. No matter how much things change…

I was almost disappointed when I felt the moment of weightlessness indicating that we were going down. As I studied the elevator’s button panel, the meaning of the “UP” display finally dawned on me.

“Do you know what “UP” means,” I asked Kris.

“Is that a metaphysical or a rhetorical question,” she answered.

“It’s an elevator question.”

“I thought I knew, but on this ship…I give up.”

“It means Upper Promenade. Those displays don’t tell you which way the elevator is going—they tell you what deck you’re on.”

“Why can’t they use numbers like everybody else? And why do they need an electronic display for that—isn’t it always going to say the same thing? Wouldn’t paint do?” asked Kris.

I’m glad I married a scientist. “One of the great mysteries of cruising,” I said.

The doors opened and we let the mothers lead the way. It’s a good thing we escorted them, as they had no idea which way to go once outside the elevator.

“This is one confusing place,” said my mother. I had to agree.

“If you need to go anywhere,” said Kris, “call me, and I’ll come and get you…at least until you’re more comfortable with the ship. ”

“I think that’s a good idea,” said Pat. “What happens next? The party?”

“Yeah—you might as well unpack while you have the chance. We’ll call you in about 40 minutes,” I said.

With the moms safely stowed in their room, Kris and I returned to cabin 220. The luggage was all there, and we set about to unpack. We have gotten very good at this, although to some, our approach might appear to be sexist. Kris is a marvel at soft goods—anything that is draped on a hanger or folded neatly and placed into a drawer. I specialize in paperwork, hardware and shoes. We split the duty on toiletries.

In no time at all, we were comfortably moved in. I admired my handiwork. The wiring was neatly laid out for the laptop, digital camera battery charger, video camera and portable stereo system. The duct tape was in a drawer with the multi-purpose tool, corkscrew and extra cables. A dozen pairs of shoes (2-to-1 in favor of Kris) were arranged in the closet. Excursion tickets were neatly filed in the document portfolio, and the passports were in the safe.

I’m not normally a complainer, but In my own special way, I’ve filed two grievances about Maasdam so far: 1) The cabin/deck/elevator numbering/naming/labeling system is nutty, and 2) The separate door key and ship’s charge card make life more complicated than it need be. My experience with the safe forces me to file grievance number three.

To open or close the safe, you must swipe a credit card through the electronic gizmo. No, there isn’t a charge. Rather, the gizmo reads the magnetic strip on the card during the closing operation, and will only open if the same card is used later on. Although the ship’s charge card has a magnetic strip presumably holding a unique code, it will not work with the safe. The failure of this system is that now one has three things to carry at all times: a room key, a ship’s charge card and a regular credit card. Of course, the latter should be in the safe where it belongs. Other clever cruise lines (well, at least one that I know of) have figured out how to make one card perform all three functions.

When we are on a ship, Kris parks her pocketbook in the safe and makes me carry her stuff (retribution, no doubt, for those times when she is carrying her pocketbook and I give her my things to put in it), so now I’d be carrying five things: Two room keys, two ship cards and a MasterCard. I don’t know if the safe takes American Express…

We finished our chores at about the same time, and stepped back to admire the handiwork. Kris scanned the shelves above the desk.

“Are those your binoculars?” she asked.


“Where did you find them? I thought you gave up.”

“In Ryan’s room…last night,” I answered. The binoculars had been hiding for months, but I had a last-minute recollection that I’d lent them to son Ryan earlier in the year for his climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. In desperation, I asked him one more time if he knew where they were.

“Nope, why would I know?” he answered.

“You didn’t borrow them for any reason?”

“No…I’d remember if I did,” he said.

I gave Ryan the benefit of doubt for a while longer, but after thoroughly exhausting all other possibilities, I finally got up the nerve to go in to his room for a check. This was risky, because if the binoculars were in there, chances were good that I’d step on them. On tiptoes, I ventured into the morass. There they were—under a stack of books stored not on the floor, but in the bookcase. There is still hope…

At a few minutes past 3:00, I collected the nametags and signs I’d made for the roll call gathering, and headed out. “I want to get up there a few minutes early,” I said to Kris. “Can you get the moms and meet me up there?”

“Sure. Where is it?”

“The Crow’s Nest Lounge. Take the forward elevators all the way to the top.”

I followed my own directions and found the lounge with no problem. In the elevator lobby, I taped up a couple of signs that read Chatterbox@Sea (Chatterbox being the name of APHC’s online forum), and drew arrows on them to direct people to the right place. The signs would lead people to the starboard aft corner of the Crow’s Nest, which is where I planted myself. With me in the lounge were two people who appeared to be setting up the bar, and a few men setting up instruments for a band.

For several minutes, that’s the way things stayed. Then I heard voices—a lot of them—coming from the entry lobby. People started streaming in the door, but not a one of them even looked my way. Rather, they rounded the corner and headed across the room. Soon there were at least 50 people chatting merrily at the front of the room, and one droopy-eyed guy in a funny t-shirt talking to himself at the “official” roll call gathering.

People continued to arrive at a steady pace, and eventually one couple broke away from the stream and headed toward me.

“Chester H?” asked the woman.

“You’re in the right place,” said. She introduced herself and her husband. We made small talk while I flipped through papers on my clipboard and found a nametag for each of them. Several more people appeared, and the roll call party was on.

By now, the group at the front of the room had grown to about 200 people—so large that it was starting to merge with the roll call party. Kris arrived with the mothers.

“Wow! This is quite a turnout,” she said. “I thought you said you couldn’t get anyone interested in doing this.”

“There’s something else going on here,’ I said, almost shouting to be heard above the din, “and whatever it is, it keeps growing.” I nodded at the handful of couples wearing nametags. “Here’s our group.”

We had another round of introductions for the benefit of the new arrivals. A man walked up to me and asked, “Are you the tour guide?” I guess the nametag and clipboard gave him the wrong idea, and he was disappointed when I suggested that he fight the crowd and seek the guide at the front of the room. He never got the chance though—at that moment, the mass of people began departing for their tour.

More people found us, and I had a line waiting for nametags. I motioned Kris to come within earshot.

“Would you mind getting me a G&T from the bar?” I asked.

“Sure—can I have my card, please?”

I dug through my pockets and produced the card before greeting the next person in line. The new arrivals included Susan. I was somewhat surprised to see her. Although she was probably the most active poster on the forums (besides me), she had expressed skepticism about the whole idea of a get together. Turns out that Susan is a freelance writer in Minneapolis and a real character to boot—of all the passengers on board, we would see more of her than anyone else.

Kris returned empty handed. “Did I give you the wrong card?” I asked.

“The bar is closed. Nobody is there,” she answered.

“Great,” I said. “I told people the bar would be open. This is supposed to be a party…” My duties as host distracted me from obsessing about the lack of libation for very long.

A couple approached me, and once again, the woman took the lead. “Chester?”

I knew right away who it was. The British accent gave it away. “Catherine?”

“A pleasure to finally meet you,” Catherine said.

I had received an email from Catherine way back in January. She “knew” me from the early days on CruiseCritic, where she is an admitted “lurker.” She read my mention that we’d be on this cruise, and tracked me down through my website. When I showed Kris the first email from Catherine, she got all excited.

“Is he the famous scientist?” she asked. Catherine’s husband shares the same first and last name with a Nobel Laureate who broke ground in the field of DNA.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Wouldn’t he have to be about a hundred years old?”

Kris thought about it for a moment. “I suppose he would. Maybe he’s the son.”

“Could be,” I said. “We’ll see…”

Catherine and her husband are big fans of APHC. In one email, Catherine wrote:

I have been a fan of G.K. for many years, since hearing him read one of his books on BBC radio. We have always listened to APHC whenever we visit the USA(2-3 times a year) and since I got my computer 2 years ago, I listen every week, sometimes live, although this starts at 11pm here in England, so I usually listen on a Monday when it goes in the archive. We have managed to see one show live when it came to Dublin, Ireland, which is the nearest it has been to us. We flew out one day and back the next, and it was wonderful to be part of such a special event. I just can’t wait to see the live entertainment on the cruise, and to be with like minded people.

We spent quite a while talking. I kept looking around for Kris so she could meet the famous scientist, but she had disappeared. Several minutes later, she appeared carrying a G&T. What a gal…

“Thanks. Where’d you get this?” I asked, taking a healthy sip. “Ahhh, that hits the spot…”

“I went down to the pool bar,” Kris said. “I’ll pass the word around in case anyone else is thirsty.”

“I’d like you to meet Catherine and her famous husband, [name withheld],” I said.

“No relation,” Catherine clarified. “We’re just regular people, I’m afraid.” And delightful, I might add.

Among the interesting tidbits I picked up is that the charter company refused to accept a booking from overseas. The couple had to have an American friend book their passage.

The mothers worked the room on their own, mixing with the twenty-seven people who ultimately showed up at the gathering. Not a bad turnout, I suppose, but my future as social host is by no means assured.

Muster was scheduled for 4:15, and Kris departed with the moms a few minutes beforehand to help them find their room and lifejackets. She and I agreed to meet in our cabin, leaving the mothers to fend for themselves in finding their way to the muster station. I thought it was important to inject a little realism into the exercise.

I arrived in the cabin just as the call-to-muster sounded. We donned our lifejackets and climbed down the stairs to the assigned station.

“Hey, the mom’s have the same lifeboat number as we do,” Kris said.

“Do you think they’ll find it?” I asked.

The atmosphere on the promenade was rather unruly. In every other muster drill I’ve attended, passengers were lined up like soldiers. In this instance, people milled about aimlessly. The PA system came to life, and I assume the announcer gave some instructions. Unfortunately, the speaker closest to us was ready for retirement, and I didn’t understand a single word. When the garbled transmission ceased, a crewmember who was leaning against the railing stepped forward and shouted a number. Then he shouted it again.

“Here!” came a voice from the crowd.

“Oh, they’re taking attendance,” I said. “That’s a new one on me.”

A little while later, the crewmember shouted, “220!”

Kris and I replied in harmony, “Here!”

People continued to wander around during this part of the drill. Kris was craning her neck to see through the crowd.

“Do you see them?” she asked.

“I’m not looking,” I said. “They’re big girls…”

It occurred to me that I hadn’t brought the camera. I was thinking about how I would convince the moms to put on their lifejackets later for a little fashion photography session when my ears perked up.

“660!” shouted the crewmember. Silence.

660! Cabin 660!?

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