Tag Archives: cnn

Sometimes you win, sometimes you cruise

I had my first cruise experience when I was 19 years old.

There’s something about a cruise vacation. It’s different than your typical tropical vacation to Cancun or Tahiti or Cabo.

I guess the general point — the specific mission of each trip — is pretty similar.

It’s about getting away and soaking in sunshine and sipping fruity drinks by some body of water. Paradise, right?

But if you’ve been on a cruise, you probably know that cruises are different.

You’re on a ship with the same 1000 people or whatever — and something happens during those six or seven or eight days you spend on the water.

The cruise ship becomes a sort of small town on the sea. You interact with the same people. There’s only a few places to eat. And if you go on a really long cruise, like eight or nine or 10 (!) days, other vacationers — other cruisers — start to develop reputations. You learn about the family from Michigan with three daughters. Or the creepy-nice family from Texas, with the mullet-rocking dad who always extends his fingers like guns when he sees you and says HEY!!! I KNOW YOU!

These are people you feel like you’ve known all your life. And yet, they still don’t seem real. Nothing seems real. You go eat ridiculously large meals and you go to the “Cruise club” at night — a place called the “Viking Lounge” with a disco ball in the center, a place you would never go in real life, but this is a cruise and faux-reality rules the day.

By the end of the trip, you have memories that blend together. You remember certain things, like the free soft-serve ice cream machine on the pool deck, but you’re not sure if what you just experienced really was paradise — or just some strange construction of it, designed by some marketing executive at Royal Caribbean who works in some office somewhere far, far away from the sea.

I thought about all of this yesterday when I stumbled upon a story on CNN.com about a stranded cruise ship with 3,300 passengers on board.

On the surface, the story seems mildly absurd. Apparently, the ship lost power on Monday after a small fire began in the ship’s engine room. That, of course, wasn’t the ludicrous part. The ludicrous part is this: Sure, we feel for the cruisers, who had their vacations ruined and suffered a few mild inconveniences. But the story on Wednesday made the whole ordeal sound like a national catastrophe, like a real-life version of that terrible movie “Poseidon,” with people rationing food, and guests running around the ship all frazzled, with their shirts untucked and fresh sets of stubble covering their faces.

According to the story, the USS Ronald Reagan was called in and guests were forced to eat — wait for it, wait for it, — pop tarts and cold cuts…

Oh the horror.

From CNN.com:

“Passengers said they were not told there was a fire. Guest Marquis Horace said the cruise line told passengers there was “a flameless fire. … Everybody just laughed.” And passenger Ken King said guests were told there was “a lot of smoke.”

“It was absolutely deplorable,” Horace said. At one point, the ship ran out of food, he said, and “they started making mayo sandwiches.”

“I expected a really nice time and it was like Gilligan’s Island or something,” he said.

He said he ate a lot of bananas and dry cereal, but at one point didn’t want to eat anymore because the smell of overflowing toilets, spoiled food and rotten milk was overwhelming.

Once the USS Ronald Reagan showed up to assist, passengers felt safer, he said. And the Navy provided good food — Horace said he particularly enjoyed the bean burritos.”

You serious, Clark?

Oh, we certainly have sympathy for the maligned cruisers — especially the elderly woman who rode a motor scooter and had to be carried up and down the stairs because the elevators didn’t work.

That sucks for her. And we feel. We really do.

But let’s not pretend this is some sort of tragedy.

A bunch of rich people paid thousands of dollars to go on a vacation and eat gluttonous amounts of food — and then they had to settle for cereal and bananas and mediocre deli meat* when a major snafu occurred.

*Oh, yea… thank god for those bean burritos.

Still, we’re still wondering what the heck happened to all the food that was on the ship in the first place. I know that a lot of food will go bad really quickly. But in a matter of hours?

By Tuesday, the USS Ronald Reagan had resupplied the ship. According to CNN.com, “Sailors stood on the deck in 50-yard lines, handing off boxes of water, frozen bread, sandwich meats, granola bars, paper plates and more…

“Reagan received 60,000 pounds of food, bottled water and supplies by airlift for the cruise ship, said Cmdr. Greg Hicks, spokesman of the U.S. Third Fleet.”

60,000 pounds? By my rudimentary calculations — that’s about 18 pounds of food and water for each passenger. That doesn’t include all the staff, but these people weren’t exactly starving*.

*I have a friend who watched his first episode of “Man vs. Food” a few months ago, and when I asked him what he thought, he paused for a moment and uttered the following words:

“I’m pretty sure that’s why the world hates us.”

Well, file the Carnival cruise catastrophe under the same category.

Again, I hope nothing like this ever happens to you or yours.

But if it does, and you happen to be stuck in a semi-inconvenient situation, here’s one idea:

Take a moment to think about the millions around the world who will spend the next night without power, wondering when the next meal will come. Consider yourself lucky that you’re wealthy enough to be trapped on a cruise ship. And then unwrap your pop-tart, take a bite and savor the moment.

It just might end up being the most enjoyable thing you do all week.

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Traffic Jamming

There are times when the words won’t come out, when the fingers punching the keyboard can’t produce what the mind desires.

There are times when excessive commitments from work or social life take away any opportunity to write.

And then there are times when you hear about a nine-day traffic jam in China and the thrill of absurdity and inexplicability knocks down any considerable blogging obstacle.

So, did you hear about the traffic jam?

The one that’s lasted for, oh, about nine days. NINE FREAKING DAYS. People have been caught in traffic. Not moving. In their cars. FOR NINE DAYS.

That’s six days longer than the Isner, Mahut zombie match, longer than “Ben-Hur” and only a day shorter than the average checkout line at Wal-Mart.

And it’s actually still happening, all of it on a road connecting Beijing to inner Mongolia. The armada of cramped, immovable cars stretches for more than 60 miles.

I’ve never been to China, but I’ve read about the driving and the roads and the congestion from the author Peter Hessler. It’s grating. The best way to describe its insanity and mind-warping annoyance is this: Picture the worst traffic you’ve experienced and multiply it by 735, add thicker-than-L.A. smog, an alarming number of Volkswagens, bad tires, and a lack of passion for the well-being of an automobile, and then pretend that in addition to those variables you also have Dane Cook sitting next to you in the passenger seat.

Yeah, it’s that bad. This time it became worse because in addition to the usual problems, there was also construction. Yes, construction. A few oranges cones and cranes have led to a nine-day and counting headache.

Reports say people are playing cards to pass the time and sleeping in their cars. Food comes from vendors who are gouging the unfortunate drivers. But these stories aren’t nearly enough in-depth. This is the biggest event in weird news history. There should be on-the-clock CNN reporting*. So many questions are unanswered.

*Perhaps if there were a balloon boy hovering above, CNN would increase its coverage.

What have people been listening to on the radio?

What if someone left behind his or her cell phone at home that day?

What if you were driving back from a first date?

What do you tell your boss?*

Sorry Bob, not going to be able to make it in today, tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, next Monday, next Tuesday, next Wednesday or next Thursday.

What if you had to go to the bathroom?

What if your air conditioner was broken?

At what point did drivers decide to put the car in park and rest their legs. Or is there still a driver out there with his car on, keeping his foot on the brake pedal and thinking that at any second the flow of traffic could resume?

Even without stories, we know this would be an absolute nightmare. Besides Dane Cook, there are few nuisances in our society worse than traffic. A famous scene in “Office Space” displays our cultural opinion.

Either the bald guy or Michael Bolton is on his way to work. I think it’s the bald guy. Anyways, his lane stops moving so he switches into another that is moving. That lane stops. His former lane starts moving. He switches back. That one stops. He screams, he pounds his steering wheel and that, my friends, is traffic.

But this, this Chinese ordeal, isn’t traffic. It’s beyond that. It really isn’t even a nightmare. Nightmares contain bits of reality. This can’t be real. Our imaginations can’t wander far enough to create such implausible, lasting chaos.

I remember getting stuck in traffic for two and a half hours last fall. There was no construction and no accident. It was just plain ol’ Texas confusion! And it sucked. My IPod shuffle saved the last piece of my sanity.

I can also think of the worst traffic I’ve seen. It was in Cairo. A main avenue was fraught with honking cars and a whole lot of random vehicles, like horse-drawn carriages and makeshift buses where people sat on top of the roof and hung out doors and stopped wherever the quote-un-quote bus driver felt like stopping. There was even a guy in a sweatsuit running in the middle of the road. I’d never seen anything like it.

And this is 735 times worse. Drivers in China are living something beyond the throes of nightmare, and the strangest part is they hardly seem to care.

I looked over and over for quotes about this event, about this insanity, and I kept coming across only one.

It comes from a guy with the last name Wang.* Wang is a trucker. He told a reporter that from CBC News that he had been stuck in the jam for the past three days and two nights.

*Really? In a story about Asians, the lone guy quoted has to have the last name Wang.

He told the reporter that drivers had been advised to take detours, to get the hell out of the mind-bending traffic snarl. But he was going to stand his ground. He wanted to stay as long as he could.

“I would rather stay here,” he said to CBC, “since I will travel more distance and increase my costs.”

And unfortunately there are no words to justify that man’s decision.

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