Thursday, May 01, 2008

The First Dream - Greetings From ... The Ocean!

Originally mailed June 23, 2005.

Hey Y'all...

Seems as though quite a bit of time has passed since my last letter. When your days blend together its easy to forget any concept of time! In any case, we are still cruising Alaska (this being my fourth trip). Lots of stuff has been going on, so let me see if I can remember it all...

Oh, first I wanna tell you something funny I overheard at dinner. We have about five restaurants on board, but I usually eat at the Sports Bar. The Sports Bar is not really a bar at all, but more of an ambiguously sports themed buffet. By that I mean that it doesn't really claim any specific sport or team, it just has a mix of stuff like hockey sticks, autographed glossies of unknown sports figures, pennants that were probably found at assorted garage sales... and they have a lunch and dinner buffet. There is a small bar there, where one can order a drink with their meal... anyway, to the point. I was watching the Baylor baseball game (where they came back 0 to 7 to win against Tulane in the bottom of the ninth! Sic 'em bears!) when I spotted a child sitting on top of the bar sipping a Coke. The bartender didn't notice him, and after a good while his mother called him off. The child came to his mother, who was sitting across the isle from me. The mother then told the child to "go sit at the bar, not on it." Great advice to give to an eight year old.

And here's something exciting! A couple of nights ago I was enjoying a fancy dinner with Katie and Michelosh (our adage couple) at a restaurant which is located on deck 11 aft. All of a sudden the ship started to vibrate hard, making all kinds of noise. We joked that the ship had just hit a whale, and after about a minute the vibration and noise stopped. Well today I found out that one of our engines threw its piston THROUGH the block. If any of you know what a car engine looks like, imagine an engine many times greater and thicker. Pretty scary stuff... supposedly if anyone had been near it when it threw its piston, they'd be dead. Fortunately no one was, but now we are running at 3/4 capacity. Because of that, we are cutting out Sitka, Alaska for this cruise (and probably rearranging future cruises until this gets fixed). So the folks who just got on board are going to be treated to 3 fun filled days at sea before reaching (drum roll) Whittier, Alaska!

What's that you say? Never heard of Whittier? Well, that's probably because no one has.

This is the only picture I have of Whittier, population 182 in the summer, taken atop a mountain I hiked. You can pretty much see the entire town of Whittier, aside from the makeshift airport they have (which is nothing more than a long gravel road that ends with the bay). There's a fishery and a gas station. They also have a grocery store. To their credit they do have about 10 little stores that cater to the poorly misguided tourists that find themselves there for the day. You can get candles, fudge, Ulu knives... unfortunately it's the same stuff that you bought in Kechican, Juneau, Seward, Sitka, Skagway, Hanes (well, not Hanes, I'll get to that next).

Now, you can't see it, but Whittier actually has a skyline. Right below the trees on the bottom left hand corner of this picture is a 13 story pinkish building. I was pretty confused when I saw it sticking out of the town like... well, like a 13 story pinkish building. I later discover why it was there. Way back when Whittier was a military installation. They had a big ol gray barracks building that was about 4 stories tall and ran a good distance. Unfortunately an earthquake ripped through parts of Alaska in 1962 (I think...) and made the building unsafe. The old building still stands on the outside of town, not too far away from the new one they built shortly after. (The pink one) Anyway, after a while, the military moved out, and the town of Whittier moved in. The majority of the town lives there, and on the first floor you can find the Whittier PD, courthouse, post office, small store, and a corkboard with signs that warn against cleaning fish inside the building (it'll cost you $50 if you get caught).

Still, there is hiking there, and Amy (fitness instructor on board) and I went for a nice hike up a mountain. On the way down, we kinda lost the trail. There was still quite a bit of snow on the ground, and somehow we ended up coming down a different way. So we followed our noses for a bit, falling through snow patches up to our knees and finding the stream below. Then we came upon some Alaskan wildlife. No, not a bear, thank God... But something just a ferocious...

It's hard to tell, but that's a porcupine. Now, its either shaking water off itself or shooting quills at me. Since I was taking a picture of it as it was shaking itself, I of course had to jump back and yell like a girl. You'll have to imagine the yelling part for yourself, but believe me, I did. Like a little girl. Anyway...

Another city I have visited on the beautiful Norwegian Dream is Hanes, Alaska. (I say Alaska because we do stop in Canada once a cruise... that'd be Prince Rupert... Canada) So, Hanes... ahh... Hanes... What can I tell ya... Well, here's a bit of trivia for ya... The movie White Fang was filmed there (kids movie about a wolf, circa 1992). They also have a hammer museum there. Oh, and much to my dismay, I was unable to find any Hanes underwear, which would have been sweet. The town, like Whittier, is not really set up for tourism. It has only a couple of stores that would be called tourist traps. Others are merely thrift stores with Ulu knifes in the window. (What's an Ulu knife? Well, its a curved knife with a flat handle on top. Sometimes they come with a wooden bowl type cutting board with which you can then roll the knife over your vegetables and stuff).

I hear the hiking there is good (To these towns' credit, hiking and outdoor activities are great and in abundance) and I have the trail guide for next time... Here are my two favorite pictures from Hanes...First the beauty:

Yeah, that's a thick layer of clouds with mountains peeking over the top. Now, the beast:

Outside the local supermarket was an old dog taking a nap (I didn't check for breathing) I think he sort of metaphorically represents Hanes. I'll let you draw your own parallels.

What else... oh, back to ship life. We have had some casting changes lately. Christy and Victor (singer and gymnast) decided shortly after reaching Alaska that they had had enough of being JARs. So they called the office, and gave them something like 3 weeks to find replacements. In a way, I could see it coming, as she had no problem letting you know how much "this sucked" and that "I hate it here." So they left to pursue another ship occupation: auctioning art at sea. I'll tell ya more about this in another letter, as believe it or not, there are several jobs on cruise ships that can get ya quite a bit of dough.

So, anyway, they left, and in their place are Udi (pronounced ew-Dee) and Lisa (Lee-sa). Udi is a gymnast from Barcelona who was on the 2004 Spanish Olympic Gymnastics team. He can flip and twist and do all kinds of neat stuff, which is great because if he wasn't here it'd be up to me to fill time with my cartwheels on stage. Lisa, our new singer, is from England and fits in with the cast very well. She has an awesome voice and picked up all three shows in a little over a week.

And we just found out today that one of our dancers, Billy, has decided to leave as well. To make a long story short, he is twenty years old and likes to go up to the passenger bars and get totally hammered and then proceed to stumble over things, toss the F bomb around, and ask passengers to buy him drinks... sometimes while in the bathroom as I understand. Not good considering NCL likes to punish an entire group for the actions of one dummy. So, he leaves in a few weeks, and I imagine someone will come to replace him shortly.

But enough about that, how about another amazing hiking picture!!!

This picture was taken in between two snowy mountain peaks in Seward, Alaska. The amazing part was how I was able to balance the camera on a bunch of rocks and run all the way down there in 10 seconds. It took me a few more tries than the old snowball in the air picture I sent earlier. The town of Seward is like most of the Alaskan ports, so I won't go into what you can buy there (Ulu Knifes is my new band).

This is a picture that I took during one of our night visits to Kechikan, Alaska. No story here, just purty I guess.

Here I am with some fellow crew members on the bow of the ship enjoying the majestic views of the Hubbard Glacier. Notice how bundled up everyone is... You can take the boy outta the country...

And speaking of country, I actually kinda feel sorry for Alaska. Here's a place that we bought from the Russians, for pennies on the dollar. We really wanted Alaska. We promised that we'd take care of Alaska. We'd feed it, bathe it, give it attention. So we got it. For a while we played with it, we'd come home from work and say "Whose my big little state?" as it would jump on us with its great big paws and lick our face... But time went on, and we found other things to occupy our time, and Alaska just sat there. Occasionally we talk about Alaska, but only when we dump a ship load of oil on it. Whoops. Otherwise, how often does poor Alaska come up in conversation? How often does the National Forecast include poor ol' Alaska? Alaska has weather too, ya know... Why doesn't Alaska have things like a professional basketball team? LA has the Lakers and the Clippers... Why not the Juneau Jumpers or the Anchorage All Stars?

So, do me a favor... next time you're discussing stuff with someone, say "Hey, you wouldn't believe this... but the Alaskan State flag was actually created by a 13 year old!" And they'll say "No, really?" to which you'll reply "Yes, really! They had a contest to see who could come up with Alaska's State flag, and a 13 year old boy colored a blue flag with the big dipper and the North star on it!" Then you can both go out for ice cream. And Alaska's nose will itch...

Ship life itself is good. One of the things I have really come to enjoy is the passenger talent show. The last full day before the cruise is over, at around 3:30 in the afternoon (in case your in the neighborhood) about eight or so contestants show the rest of the pax their hidden talents. Now, the cool part is, the winners of each talent show have their video tape sent it to NCL HQ where every few months a person is selected to go to some sort of semi finals or something. Since the finals are held on a cruise ship, they get a free cruise! Ultimately, the grand prize winner gets to develop their own 45 minute set and perform on the ship, with the possibility of being hired by NCL. Anyway, some of the better contestants I have seen (okay, more memorable):

ONE dude played the saw... How does one bring a saw on a ship, anyway?
THEN there was the 81 year old clogger.
ONE lady sang "Memories" from CATS. She was somehow able to get to the bridge before the band, and continue on so that there were two completely different songs going on at the same time.
BUT who could forget the man who sang "If I Were A Rich Man" from FIDDLER. Of course, his version was spicier than ol' Zero Mostel's... since he sang with a thick Scottish drawl... plus, his wife (who was sitting in the front row) would throw her hands in the air and provide the "lie-de-die-de-die-de-da-dee-deedle-deedle-dum's" at the top of her voice. Truly amazing.
I STILL can't figure this one out, but a guy got up and told a story about a pig and a chicken, and used a pink towel as a prop... That's all I understand...

So, there is no shortage of entertainment on board... Oh, and lucky you... I now have all three shows on tape, so in a few days you'll get a song from one of the shows. It might even have me singing on it...

Ha, I almost forgot the guest entertainers! Some stay for a few days, others for a few cruises at a time. We have had lots great singers, comedians, magicians, ventriloquists, hypnotists... Oh, the hypnotists... We had one guy come on board. He was in his late sixties, skinny as a bean pole, with a full head of white hair and a nicely trimmed beard... and he was from Tennessee. So, I attend his late show to see people fall under the "power of suggestion." During the very beginning of the show he was doing his thing, talking to the audience and telling them what he was going to do and the rules of hypnosis and stuff, when a lady in the audience talked back to him. He got totally pissed off! He stopped what he was doing, and started with "Now, ma'am, I don't talk when you're up here!" Then he got really nice and asked "Ma'am, what's your name?" She didn't reply, so he asked even sweeter "Ma'am, come on, now.... What's your name?" She replied "Alice." He then said back to her "Alice... SHUT UP!" What a way to connect with his audience.

He then told his life story, and went into detail about how much he hated "young people." Since the majority of the audience here was older (it is an Alaskan cruise) he felt that these were his people. He then described a Spring Break party that he worked, and how no one was doing it right... Then he said he'd like a gun so he could shoot all of us dead (us being young people)... If that wasn't funny enough, imagine hearing the ENTIRE audience hoop and holler and applaud! What the hell??? I slept with the light on for a week after that.

Which really doesn't matter much when you consider Northern Alaska doesn't really have a night. The sun will start to set around 11, and will still be lingering around 3 AM, where after it will slowly start to rise again. One night I was on one of the aft decks... to the West was the sunset... lots of oranges and reds. To the East the moon was out and almost full, a bright shade of yellow. Over the next hour the moon set over the horizon itself, turning deeper and deeper red until it finally disappeared.

Well, I can't think of much else to tell y'all at the moment. Let me know how all y'all are doing, and I'll send over a little diddy from one of the shows in a few days (I'll try to keep it below 3 MB for those who have small in boxes). All right, time to go!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola

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