If It Weren’t for Bad Luck…


Don’t get me wrong: I’m a Calvinist and don’t believe in luck. But you know you’re in for a bad day of standing in line everywhere once you discover:

  • your driver’s license is going to expire tomorrow;
  • your car registration is also going to expire tomorrow;
  • your train home from vacation on the 21st will arrive about an hour after the primary election polls close;
  • there is no good food in the house;
  • a torrential downpour is about to start.

This was my day yesterday. And, based on that list above, it ran true to form. But I had A PLAN. I even made A LIST. I was ready for this day.

And then I made the mistake of leaving the house.

I figured I’d hit the DMV first and get the painful part out of the way. Plus, that license was going to expire no matter what. I could fudge on the no-food-in-the-house thing, but not on that deadline. I parked way too far from the entrance (of course) and barely kept halfway dry under the umbrella (of course), before walking into the DMV to find it virtually empty. Had my luck changed?

A bunch of folks were walking out of the DMV, though, looking disgusted. This is a fairly typical look for anyone going to the DMV, so I didn’t think much of it.

Till the guy at the counter turned me away. “Sorry, we’re closed. Our computers are down. Come back tomorrow.”

woman holding red and gray umbrella while raising it

Artist’s rendering of what I DON’T look like in the rain  Photo by Bhupendra Singh on Pexels.com

Great. I was now soaking wet. The photo camera card was drenched. I had to swim through three puddles to get from my car to the door. And your computers are down. 

By the time I got back to my car, I realized I wouldn’t make it to the courthouse in time to get my absentee ballot, so I ignored that second item on my to-do list and skipped right to the third one: grocery shopping. I was near the Walmart already, so I zipped over there just as the rain was letting up. Perhaps this part of my Day of Errands would go well.

Sometimes I laugh at my own naivete.

I was shocked to find a decent parking place. I stunned myself by efficiently loading the cart with items from my list… the list I somehow hadn’t forgotten at home this time.

Yes, things were really starting to go my way! I was focused. I was ruthless. I zoomed through the store, picking up not only groceries but various and sundry items such as toothpaste, flower pots, bird seed, guinea pig food, and pantiliners. No item left behind!

And I like to buy most things in bulk, so the toothpaste was a 3-pack, the bird seed and the guinea pig food were both big, heavy bags, and the pantiliners came in a box of 92. I was a lean, mean, money-saving machine.


And then, what was this miracle? The checkout area was virtually deserted! How had my luck changed so drastically? I stopped second-guessing my good fortune and dashed forward with glee.


Whenever I must purchase what I call “girly items,” I try to find a checkout manned by a female. (Well, should I call it “womanned by a female” instead? The whole gender thing is beyond my age group demographic, so let me apologize for all the ignorant terminology right now.) I just didn’t want to go through the checkout with a 16-year-old boy manhandling my pantiliners. Is that so wrong?

I found a checkout with a young woman at the helm and headed her way. There was NOBODY in front of me, so I quickly began dumping items onto the conveyor belt. As she was busily scanning each item, I reached deep into the shopping cart to grab a few canned goods. (I admit it: I like to put things onto the belt in the order I want them bagged, with heavier things first so they’ll be at the bottom of the cart when I load the bags back in.)

In my haste, the lightweight box of 92 pantiliners toppled off the canned goods in my hand and landed on a few other items, which popped the lid of the box open. I watched in horror as 92 pantiliners went flying all over the cart, which still had half my grocery items in it. There were now pantiliners strewn amid the bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s, the can of Bush’s baked beans, the oversized bag of shredded cheddar cheese, and the large bag of potting soil. And the 3-pack of toothpaste.

Meanwhile, the checkout girl was caught up with the things I’d already put on the belt, and she was looking at me expectantly. I tried to explain what had just happened, but, well, you know…

She just chuckled condescendingly. Yeah? Laugh it up, missy. Don’t make me call a manager over here.

Who was I kidding? The last thing I wanted was a manager here watching me try to scoop dozens of pantiliners back into a box. I had foolishly chosen the ultra-long ones, and those things were not cooperating—bending in half backwards, going all perpendicular on me so they wouldn’t fit back in the box. I gave up and started manically stuffing them back into the box any way I could… when I saw a man headed for my checkout line.

In my haste (part 2), one of the pantiliners flew up over the side of the cart and landed on the floor near the candy display. Now I had a moral dilemma on my hands. Should I stoop down and pick that one up, knowing I’d never want to use it now that it had been on the Walmart floor? Or… wait, what was my other option? Oh yeah. I could push it under the candy display with the toe of my shoe.

I’ll let you decide which option I chose, but let’s just say I got a good price for those 91 pantiliners.

The man coming toward me hadn’t seen anything incriminating, so I relaxed a little and continued placing items onto the conveyor belt (more gently this time). At one point I grabbed the clear plastic container of cherry tomatoes… which popped open, spilling cherry tomatoes all over the conveyor belt.


The cashier was now laughing out loud, and I was ready to start tossing those loose tomatoes at her. Clearly she needed an attitude adjustment. Well, one of us did. I just assumed it was her.

She then asked me—with a straight face—if I wanted that 10 pounds of bird seed in a bag. You know, one of those flimsy plastic Walmart bags that you can see through because they’re about 2 molecules thick. I laughed and laughed.

As I headed out the door with my cart full of groceries, including the pantiliner box with the lid still wide open, the torrential rain started up again.

Of course it did. Because there’s nothing quite like feeling a little Carefree in the rain.


Postscript: Today—in delightful 80-degree sunny weather—I did all of the following in under one hour, including the drive time:

  • renewed my driver’s license (I was in the DMV for literally 5 minutes);
  • absentee-ballot voted in my local primary (I was in the election bureau for literally 5 minutes);
  • deposited a check at the bank drive-thru (I was in the drive-thru lane for literally 2 minutes).

Clearly someone thought I had suffered enough yesterday. Amen to that.

agriculture clouds colors countryside

Photo by Alturas Homes on Pexels.com


The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 12, the Finale)

Our last full day on board is mostly uneventful (for a change). But overnight it was ridiculously rocky. Not motion-sickness rocky, really. Just Captain-Ahab-thar-she-blows–rocky. It wasn’t a gentle, lull-you-to-sleep rocky. It was a what-the-heck-was-that-we’re-gonna-fall-off-the-boat rocky.

But we survived. We’re just kinda sleepy. And I used up my hyphen quota for the month.

Wayne and I go our separate ways after breakfast. I do exciting things like hitting the gift shop for their last-day sales and packing my suitcase while watching TV in the stateroom. What’s on the TV this last day? You guessed it: The Perfect Storm. Right where I started in Part 1. And some people still wonder where writers get their ideas…


Hello, Mr. Wahlberg, my old friend… We meet again.


I take a short break and sit on the balcony reading. Then I stand to take some pictures of the ocean, and I see… a dolphin leaping into the air! Three times! This is exactly long enough for me to grab my phone—I mean, my camera/alarm/solitaire device—to get some pictures. Sadly, Flipper is camera-shy. But the sight of him pretty much redeems any bad stuff that’s happened on this trip so far. Pretty much.

It’s no surprise that Wayne heads for the casino. He’s feeling lucky after his big blackjack tournament win. Casinos love when you’re feeling lucky, because they know there’s no such thing as luck. Wayne knows it, too, so I suspect his presence there today has more to do with this little card they gave him right after his tourney win:

2019-04-03 14.02.37
This dangerous, dangerous card means he gets free drinks for the rest of the cruise… (wait for it)… as long as he’s playing in the casino.

And that’s precisely how your luck runs out.

To this day, three months later, Wayne insists that his drinks would have cost more than he lost while playing blackjack. And he says this with a straight face. At least he knows not to compare his losses to the cost of our stateroom upgrade. THAT was the real loss on this trip. Plus, I find it oddly attractive that he has this ability to forget how sick he got just a few days ago while drinking. He actually smiles and even laughs when he’s drinking, so that’s a plus… well, until he throws up.

Anyway, I pack my suitcase and enjoy the large stateroom one last day. Debarkation the next morning is a hot mess, but there’s just no way to get 2,000+ people (and their unwieldy luggage) off a ship single-file without it being a mess. We’ve endured it before, so we’re used to it, and at least we’re heading to Port Charlotte to spend Christmas with Wayne’s mom, Mary, and his brother Ed.

Wayne spends too much time while we’re at his mom’s house trying to get Xfinity Mobile to fix my phone situation. He calls them… more than once. He does online chat sessions… more than once. He even drives to the local Comcast office. Nothing works. Everyone either passes the buck or suggests unhelpful things that don’t work. (“Have you tried rebooting the phone?” Gee, no, that never occurred to us.)

The day before I’m scheduled to get back on the train (alone… because Wayne is flying back the day after I leave Florida), my phone still isn’t working. I don’t want to travel without a working phone, so Wayne dons his Don’t-Mess-With-Me persona and gives Comcast one last phone call.

He lays it on the line: My wife will travel with a working phone tomorrow, or else. He invokes our 20-year history with Comcast, having forked over untold millions to pay for their services, having taken out second and third mortgages, and having sold several of our grown children into slavery… just so I can watch Outlander and just so he can tweak the settings on our router every few weeks because “the damned modem keeps resetting itself to factory defaults.”

He lays his outrage on so thick that I fear his mother will grab a bar of soap and wash his mouth out with it. (She’d totally do it, too.) Meanwhile, Ed and I are smiling, in awe of Wayne in His Wrath. It’s a beautiful thing to witness in person.

He’s put on hold (again) and is finally connected with someone far, far up the tech support ladder. This guy admits that nobody below him has the authorization to override whatever was done to my phone when Wayne called to “temporarily” suspend the service. And, lo and behold, the phone now works!



I’m so giddy I almost forget to pack my suitcase! Just kidding. I totally packed yesterday.

Fast-forward a bit: At the end of the week, the train ride back to Pennsylvania is fun, as usual. And relaxing. Unlike plane travel.

Wayne flies home the day after I leave and should be coming to get me at the station around 8 p.m. tonight. Our texts this morning:

Me: I still have my phone!
Wayne: Yes, I got home.
Me: I figured.
Wayne: When you do need picked up?
Me: In theory the train arrives at 8 p.m….but I’m not on that train yet to know if it’s going to be on time. I figured I’d text you later today once I know more. But let’s start with the 8 p.m. scheduled time. I can sit in the station and wait if I get there before you do.

Later, I come to regret this admission. Not that it was his fault…

Around noon, more texts:

Me: This last train (#43, the Pennsylvanian) is scheduled to leave Philly on time in a few minutes. I’ll keep you posted on whether it stays on time today. You can also check train status on the Amtrak site. Apparently it’s pretty accurate in real time.

Also Me: Plus I still have my phone.


Me: Still looks like you getting there around 8:00 or a tiny bit after is good. Easier for me to wait than you.

Boy, I am really going to regret these sorts of concessions…

Wayne decides to head to the Grand View Buffet for dinner (which is conveniently located inside Rivers Casino), so he’ll at least be within shouting distance of the Amtrak station in time to pick me up.

This amount of forethought and planning would have been a great idea (and totally unlike Wayne), had there not also been a Steelers home game within a half mile of the casino that evening. This also would have been a great idea, had there not been a freak accident involving a car catching fire inside the Fort Pitt Tunnel minutes before he left the casino to head my way.

He couldn’t figure out why traffic was stopped dead on the Fort Duquesne Bridge (which leads to the Fort Pitt Bridge, which leads to the aforementioned Fort Pitt Tunnel).

This afternoon:

Wayne: Will you need to eat? I’m planning on eating before I get you.
Me: If there are eggs in the house I can just make eggs when I get home. No problem.
Wayne: OK. Then I’m going to go have a Rivers buffet now. Rivers closes the buffet at 8.
Me: Okay. Just don’t forget to come get me because you’re at a blackjack table.

Later, from the casino:

Wayne: There must have been a football game today.
Me: Yes… Why? Parking garage a zoo? We are just leaving Greensburg.
Wayne: Yes and all the football shirts.
Me: It’s probably still on and near the end…. You might hit a mess of traffic when you leave.

Just before 8 p.m.:

Me: Am safely in the station and can easily zip out to you when you get here.
Wayne: On my way.

Around 8:30 p.m.:

Me: Are you here? There was a car on fire around the Ft. Pitt Bridge and the tunnel is closed.

No response.

He arrives around 9:30 p.m. He doesn’t have a clue whether we have eggs in the fridge (so much for that forethought and planning), so we stop to pick me up something to eat on the way home.

I’m exhausted, but at least my phone works again…

…until Xfinity suspends it sometime in February for no reason. A glance at our account online shows three cell phones, not two: Wayne’s (which is listed correctly); the replacement phone that he bought and that we’ve already returned (and for which we’ve already received credit), which still has my phone number associated with it and some of my actual phone’s specs; and a third phone, also with my phone number, but with specs that don’t match my actual phone, but which is, out of the three listed, my actual phone.

A few more irate phone calls from Wayne later, my phone is working again. But for how long? Wayne’s thinking that, if Xfinity ever resells that phone we returned, it’ll wreak havoc with my actual phone one more time.

It’s early April and my phone still works… but our account information still hasn’t been fixed.

And I’m getting on a train Tuesday night for another trip alone… with more than a little trepidation about this phone.

If you live in Vegas, let me know what the odds are on this bet, okay?

And what’s the best part of this twelve-part travelogue? 

Gee, it’s hard to pick just one thing, but I have to go with my gut:

Wayne’s first-place blackjack tournament win entitles him to play in the $100,000 Grand Tournament for free in early May… on another cruise… which is not free. The last time he won the smaller tournament, we laughed off this idea as a scam to get people to buy another cruise.

But guess who’s going to that Grand Tournament this time? Apparently he’s still feeling lucky.

We booked the cheapest rooms available: no balcony, no ocean view, not even a porthole. We won’t know if it’s day or night in our stateroom. But it’s cheap.

And Wayne has a chance to win $50,000 if he wins this tournament. And they’re already promising him free drinks in the casino again. What could go wrong?

Well, how about this email he got from Natasha from Carnival Cruise Line three days ago?



My response?



Wayne’s response? …  “Hello, Natasha?”



The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 11)

It’s Friday morning. We’re scheduled to spend the day at Grand Cayman, a beautiful little island we’ve been to before, on another cruise. We’ve also missed this port before, on another cruise. The port of Grand Cayman uses teeny tiny little tender boats to shuttle a handful of passengers at a time from the cruise ship to the shore. It doesn’t take much in the way of bad weather to shut down the whole day here.

Which side of the coin are we on this time? Three guesses. The first two don’t count.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m awake just before the alarm on my phone goes off. You know, my “phone” that is now just an alarm and a small device for playing spider solitaire. Really, I should be calling it anything but a phone, since that’s now the one function it cannot do.

I get up and head for the shower, and only then do I hear over the loudspeaker that high winds have canceled our entire port day here at Grand Cayman. As an avowed night owl, my first thought is, “I could have slept in.”

My second thought is, “Wait, no sting rays!”

I secretly wonder who Wayne bribed to shut down the port so he wouldn’t have to touch sting rays, or any other living animals, on this cruise. And did the bribe cost more than the puddle-upgrade we paid $600 for?

These are all purely theoretical questions, of course. He’d never admit it. When we had to fix a buried terra-cotta plumbing pipe in the yard in 2006, he surreptitiously bought three ugly gnomes and placed them on the mound of dirt in the front yard. Thirteen years later and he still hasn’t admitted it, even after I found the box hidden in the basement a few months later.


IM000857.JPGThey’re creepier than the average gnome…


Anyway, nobody’s getting off the boat today. Unless they want to swim back to Tampa. Pretty sure none of us do, so we’ll now have two “sea days” in a row. Except for the no-sting-rays thing, I’m okay with this. I love just being on the ship. If they put me on a cruise and just sailed around in a very large circle for a week, I’d be happy as a clam. Well, as long as it’s not too tight a circle. I get motion sickness easily. Plus, I have no idea just how happy a clam really is. Apparently they’re cheerful little chums.

Because we didn’t find out about the cancellation early enough, Wayne and I are showered and ready a full hour sooner than  we’re used to. We head to the Lido deck for breakfast … along with approximately 2,000 other people who are now stuck on the ship and still need to eat breakfast too. Everyone’s still chipper and content, though. Carnival is still feeding us like kings and queens, and none of us have to do the dishes. For me, that’s always vacation enough.

But this will teach me not to book a one-opportunity shore excursion for the last port, especially if it’s one that uses teeny tiny little shuttle boats. Lesson learned.

After another yummy breakfast, I grab ICCC #6 (chocolate-vanilla swirl, as usual) midship on the Lido deck and walk back to the stateroom. I mostly walk in the right direction this time. Because the cruise is almost over. By the time we debark on Sunday morning, I should know exactly how to get to our stateroom.

Another towel animal has appeared. I’ve kept all our animals intact all week, because it just feels wrong to disembowel the towel and then use it to dry off after a shower. “This used to be the beautiful swan towel animal…. Well, at least my butt is dry.”

Yeah, that’s just all kinds of wrong.

Besides, they’ve been keeping Boris the squirrel company on the sofa.

I think all the towels are named Terry…

At the end of the week, I plan to blind all the towel animals, and take their plastic googly eyes off and bring them home. There have to be dozens of ways I can use these things once I’m home.

I spend most of the day either meandering around the ship, enjoying the fact that it’s now a few days till Christmas and I’m wearing capris and sandals on deck and sitting barefoot in a deck chair on our balcony, reading to my heart’s content and soaking up the sun while listening to the waves.


A deck chair, a Kindle, and the sound of the sea…

It’s beautiful.
It’s glorious.
It’s refreshing and inspiring.

But it still ain’t worth an extra $600. Sorry, Wayne.

Next installment: Don’t rock the boat… except with Xfinity Mobile.



The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 10)

It’s Thursday, I think. We’ve docked in Roatan, Honduras, and the weather is ultra-warm. Gosh, I love cruise vacations in December.

We pack up all our gear into our oversized tote bag. Wayne packs three cans of Diet Coke, two bottles of water, and one bottle of “water” (meaning, of course, the cheap rum he bought in Mexico and has kept in the wall safe in our stateroom). We’ve eaten another leisurely breakfast on the ship, so now we walk the long, winding sidewalk from the pier to the beach, which seems about a hundred miles away, possibly two. Wayne decides not to spend $14 per person to use the sky chair lift, which carries you right onto the beach. After all, he’s carrying cheap rum and cheap Diet Coke and he bought himself a cheap straw hat. The man has to keep up appearances of being a skinflint. (Note: they ain’t just appearances.)

About halfway between the ship and the beach, as we trudge along the never-ending sidewalk watching the chair lift overhead, twenty-eight bucks starts to seem like a bargain, but we soldier on.

DSCN1953Even with my fear of heights, this starts to seem like a good idea.


On the beach, we find two empty deck chairs under a palm tree—but the palm tree has very few branches and only about two or three square inches of our chairs are shaded from the sun.

DSCN1954If only our palm tree had that many branches…

We slather on the SPF 2000+ sun block. (We use a lot of this stuff. The man is blond and bald and carries around a lot of surface area.)

I settle into a deck chair to read on my Kindle. As I glance around at the crowded beach, I’m relieved that I am, by far, NOT the fattest person in a swimsuit, which is really saying something. And frankly, some of these people clearly did not know what size they really are when they bought these swimsuits.

The beach is packed because there are two full ships here today: ours and the Rotterdam from Holland America (which is owned by Carnival).

DSCN1948Don’t get back on the wrong ship later!


So, up to 4,000 people are crammed onto this beach today. No wonder we’re sitting under a palm twig. We could have rented a canvas clam shell to shield us from the sun, but, again… skinflint.

Wayne heads to the bar to get a drink, but he just wants the plastic cup they’ll give him so he can be his own mixologist of Diet Coke and “water” for the rest of the day. He gulps the beverage he paid good money for and then pours Diet Coke into the cup, followed by some “water.” The woman watching him from the neighboring deck chair wonders briefly why this man is pouring water into his Diet Coke, but then smiles and says, “I take it that is NOT water.”

Wayne says slyly, “What do you mean?” We all just laugh.

It is the last time I’ll laugh for the rest of the day.

Wayne takes his drink (which now his second if you’re keeping count, and you should be keeping count) and heads into the water for a while. I’m sweating on my beach chair but still enjoying it, reminding myself that it’s five days till Christmas and I am on a beach in the Caribbean. I read and sweat.


At some point Wayne comes back, drips water everywhere, and mixes another drink or two. By this point, I’ve lost count and the “water” is disappearing fast. Later I will regret not keeping count. He heads back out into the water again. This time he is in the water for more than an hour. I’ve moved our things from the exposed deck chairs to a little wooden “boat” with a thatched roof just behind where we were. This is shaded, at least, though the bench seats with no backs aren’t all that comfortable.

After about 1.5 hours (give or take ten minutes), I decide it’s time to call it a day. We’re supposed to be back on the ship no later than 2:30 anyway and it is now 1:45. Plus, I have to use a restroom, and, as any woman who’s worn a one-piece swimsuit knows, that gets complicated. I’d rather be back in our stateroom for that little presto-change-o act.

I can’t go back to the ship alone, though, because I have Wayne’s ID and room key, and he can’t get back on the ship without them. So I pack up all our gear and head down to the beach to the edge of the water to get his attention. Unfortunately, he is waaaaay out near the rope… and he’s facing out to sea, gabbing and gesturing with a younger couple, who are just nodding a lot. He’s never this chatty when he’s sober. I start counting the drinks he’s had with my fingers, but I run out of fingers.

I can’t get his attention, despite waving his large hat in my hands. I start trying to will him with my mind to turn around. He stubbornly just won’t turn around. I’ll never have a career as a psychic at this rate.

A woman who is here with the couple he’s serenading offers to go into the water to get his attention. I hang onto our several tons of gear and Wayne’s straw hat, thank her, and wait on shore.

She returns and says, “He’s three sheets to the wind.” Tell me something I didn’t know. She also says that his response when she told him I was waiting on shore was twofold: “My wife gets nervous” and “She’s just a woman.” Apparently he then looked at her and added, “Oh, so are you.”

Nice way to make friends, Wayne, you sexist.

He takes his time getting out of the water—well, he was probably going as fast as he could, given his state of inebriation—and I tersely remind him that I was stuck with all our stuff until he decided to come back on shore.

When I tell him what time it is, it’s clear he had no idea he’d been in the water that long. I hand him his hat and his T-shirt, and as he’s dressing he’s talking too loudly and making jokes about how much the ship is rocking. (Note: we’re standing on the beach.)

He’s hit that point where he thinks everything he says is hilarious… and where I think nothing he says is hilarious. We’re like a bad family sitcom from this point on.

We begin the long walk back to the ship, and he mentions more than once that we’ll have to walk uphill the whole way. I keep saying, “No shit, Sherlock.” I try to say it nicely, but there is really no way to say “No shit, Sherlock” nicely. Besides, he’s not really listening to me anyway.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking the walk may sober him up a little. Instead, he walks erratically and keeps mentioning how much he’s had to drink. The walk back seems twice as long as the walk down. With the way he’s walking back and forth, it probably is twice as long for him.

As we’re finally boarding the ship and showing our ID cards, Wayne loudly asks the crew, “Will you guys let me back on board if I’m drunk?”

I answer: “I’m pretty sure it’s ME you have to ask, not THEM.” Everyone laughs. Except Wayne, because my jokes aren’t funny and he’s still not listening to me anyway.

Somehow we get back to our stateroom intact, and Wayne heads to the bathroom first. Meanwhile, I’m calculating how long it’s going to take me to get out of this swimsuit once I’m in the bathroom. You have to be Houdini to know how to get out of this thing.

Just as I’m wishing Wayne would hurry up in there, I hear the shower running. Now I’m stuck here in my sweaty swimsuit waiting for a drunk man to shower on a moving ship.

Eventually I get my turn. By the time I come out of the shower, Wayne is nodding off on the bed.


It’s 3 p.m. It’s our second formal night for dinner, and tonight is the blackjack tournament at 8:00, so I need to wake him up by 5:30 so we can head to the dining room around 5:45… so he can make it to the blackjack tournament by 8:00.

This cruise involves too much math.

I awaken Wayne at 5:30 and get dressed myself. I’m done and ready to go, and he’s barely getting up off the bed. I nudge him some more, reminding him about the blackjack tournament and dinner. He stumbles into the bathroom and is in there a little too long for someone who has already showered.

Eventually he appears and announces that he feels better now and that he threw up while he was in there. Now, I’ve seen him slightly tipsy before but I have never seen him get sick. That’s been my territory in years past.

Nothing says good decision-making skills during a card tournament like a hangover. He can kiss his chances at winning goodbye. I wonder if he’ll make it through the tournament without getting sick. Or even through a formal dinner with rich food. (Tonight is filet mignon. I swear if that makes a reappearance on his plate, I’m going to ask for a different stateroom.)

We leave for dinner around 6:30 instead of 5:45. There’s a note tucked into our mailbox in the hallway saying something about our stingray excursion tomorrow being canceled due to “inclement weather.” Figures. The ONE port for which we’ve booked an excursion.

Wayne looks tidier in dressy clothes (without the hat), and we have a lovely dinner that doesn’t involve vomiting. Win-win.

Last night, when the waiter asked what flavor of ice cream Wayne wanted with his dessert, he said, “Surprise me!” And, the waiter did not disappoint. He came back with two scoops of every single flavor of ice cream and sherbet they had. (I counted: that was 16 scoops. Wayne ate them all.)

48391253_10157248193277214_8962206869565210624_nI couldn’t fit them all in the picture…

Tonight Wayne shows a little more restraint and does not order ice cream. This is a wise choice.

While we’re still at dinner, Wayne checks shore excursions online and finds that only OUR excursion has been canceled but that others are still available. I really wanted to do the stingray tour, so he finds a similar one that is still open—and it’s actually $20 cheaper per person. We book it. They’ll deliver the tickets to our stateroom, probably sometime overnight.

We get back to our stateroom around 7:30. Wayne stays dressed up but dons the straw hat and heads to the casino for the tournament. He’s a lot quieter than he was this afternoon on the beach. Gee, I wonder why. I haven’t a clue how he’ll do in the tournament in his current state. Is that math-brain functioning at 100%?

I head to the balcony with my Kindle to read. I’ve finished Howards End so I pick up The River Widow where I left off back home.


At about 9:15 Wayne comes back to the stateroom. Miraculously, he didn’t throw up on the blackjack table, so that’s good. He did, in fact, come in first place on the leaderboard and needs to dash back to the casino in a few minutes for the final round. I wish him well and go back to my reading.

Wayne comes back about 10:30 with a winners T-shirt and a second “Ship on a Stick” trophy.


He won the tournament! This nets him $500 cash and a spot in the grand tournament next May on another cruise. So, his cash winnings mean that the bathroom puddle has now cost us only $100 in theory. This brief foray into math doesn’t make me feel as good as I would have hoped.

First place in the grand tournament in May is $50,000. I can tell he’s already plotting out another cruise in six months. I can almost hear the wheels turning in his head. But at least he’s no longer sick. Once the math-brain kicks back in, I know all is well.

We have a lengthy, animated discussion about how to set alarms on our phones. Mine is still showing two separate times (ship’s time and Central Time, where we currently are). We do everything by ship’s time but my alarm app is showing Central Time so I have to adjust the alarm to make sure it goes off at the right time to get up, get fed, and get in place to meet our excursion in the morning. I can’t figure out if that means I set the alarm an hour earlier or an hour later. This quickly turns into a philosophical discussion.

I’m stifled by the amount of math on this vacation.

We responsibly go to bed early, which is easier for Wayne since he’s still under the semi-lingering influence of today’s rum. I mean, “water.”

Next installment: And they call the wind Mariah… but I call it inconvenient.

The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 9)

I wake up and check my phone, though I’m not sure why. We keep changing time zones, but without cell service my phone isn’t always updating itself properly. The lock screen says one time, but the phone clock itself has a different time on it.

Plus, it’s not like I missed any phone calls. There is, however, a notification on my phone that it’s been activated. I get all excited until I realize I have no dial tone, no phone service, and no real activation. Wayne’s phone is working fine, except for updating the time. So, his phone is currently showing a different time than mine and we have no clue which one is right or what time it is.

But we’re on vacation so it doesn’t matter.

We’ve arrived just off the coast of Belize overnight and are ready to leisurely head off the ship and meander around in the glorious warm sunshine, remembering fondly our family and friends back in freezing Pittsburgh. At breakfast on the Lido deck, all the buffets are mysteriously closed. We briefly wonder if our phone times are SO far off that we’ve missed every meal there is, but then remember that there is always something open on a cruise ship. Literally. There is pizza available 24 hours a day, and room service, plus that damned soft-serve ice cream cone machine. (My current personal ice cream cone count [ICCC]: 4. That number will most assuredly get much higher by the end of the week.)

But no… something has happened. The water shuttles have suspended operations. Most of the crew have gone missing. It’s approximately 9:45 a.m. local time (10:45 ship time… at least that’s our best guess). We’re told absolutely nothing, and a lot of folks are meandering around looking confused, bemused, or amused. Or all three. (Those are the folks I steer clear of.)

There is a brief announcement that also tells us nothing… except that the shuttles aren’t currently operating and most of the crew members have been told to report to various stations, whatever that means. Only a week ago, a young man on a different Carnival ship fell overboard and died, so we worry that some emergency has happened.

We never do find out what caused the turmoil, but at least there aren’t any newspaper stories about it once we’re back home, so it must not have been that bad. Eventually, crew members reappear on the Lido deck and breakfast resumes. I am just petty enough to pout that there are no scrambled eggs at the buffet, and I have sausage, bacon, and coffee for breakfast instead. My life is so rough. I suffer. I suffer.

We taxi to shore in a water shuttle and Wayne wheels and deals again, this time for a city tour on an air-conditioned van-bus thing. Oh sure, we could book an official Shore Excursion, but where’s the fun in that? It’s much more fun to haggle with the locals and whittle their price down to twice what they were willing to take if you’d started to walk away.

Besides, we did buy a big Shore Excursion for our stop in Grand Cayman. I’ve miraculously talked Wayne into another experience with live animals, which he hates. The first time we were in Honduras, I talked him into an excursion involving monkeys and parrots. The monkeys and I adored each other back then…

IM000172.JPG2008: Linda has a natural way with all of God’s creatures… except Wayne.

But one of the monkeys promptly climbed onto Wayne’s arm and then bit his finger.

im0001612008: The last time Wayne touched a live animal voluntarily.

To this day I’m surprised he didn’t sue Carnival over that one. Anyway, I’m excited that we’re going to swim with adorable sting rays on Friday! Wayne’s going to love it!

Where was I? Oh yes, we’re in Belize. We’ve been to Belize several times before (we keep taking the same cruise over and over, like some infinitely better version of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day), and some of the sights are familiar, like the second-floor bar we visited last time in order to use their Wi-Fi. (Note: Do not guzzle cheap liquor in the heat and then try to use foreign Wi-Fi on your cheap phone and then try to walk down the narrow, rickety wooden staircase. It’s a disaster.)

Since I am a proofreader by trade, I notice that some places haven’t changed in the 4 years since I’ve been here, despite upgrades to their signage:


This was the sign outside the Wet Lizard bar in 2014… So close, sooo close!


dscn1940The Wet Lizard in 2018. New sign! But wait… still sooooo close…

Wayne wheels and deals again—it’s really his favorite pastime while on vacation—and gets us the city tour that includes a stop at a liquor store for some rum-tasting. I begin to see a pattern developing with this man. It is a pattern that will continue for most of the week.

We are sitting at the back of the bus. We find the bus driver funny and entertaining, despite the fact that the air conditioning seems to reach only the first 1 or 2 rows of seats. As I start sweating profusely, I remind myself that it’s about 10 degrees back home. This doesn’t help much. I keep sweating.

Belize is the only officially English-speaking country in Central America. We pass a call center that handles calls from all over the United States, and suddenly every tech support phone call I’ve ever made makes a lot more sense. Sadly, this happens because the minimum wage here is something like $1.75 an hour. So next time you call for tech support or customer service, just be nice to that poor guy at the other end of the phone. It’s not his fault. And that call center where he works is ugly.

At the rum factory, we each get about a thimble full of rum to taste. That’s plenty for me in this heat. Plus, I’ve always been a cheap date. It’s one of the reasons Wayne still loves me. There are also larger cups of various flavors of rum to sample for a buck apiece, so Wayne is standing at the back buying one after another. He’d have to buy 16 of them to equal the price of a single watered-down drink on the ship. I can almost see him doing the math in his head… well, until it’s obvious his head is getting a little fuzzy. Then, it’s all smiles and to hell with the math.

I take some photos in the little museum room off to the left as Wayne continues gulping plastic cups of every kind of rum they have. Dollar bills are flying everywhere, and I hear him say he’s trying to decide which ones to buy. I can hear him because he’s talking a little more loudly with each plastic cup.

Click… click… I’ll just stay over here taking photos where it’s safe.

dscn1925I don’t quite know what happened here in the past, but it was roped off and looked antique so I took a picture of it.

dscn1930These don’t look very sanitary, but they do look authentic.

dscn1927If Wayne tears himself away from the plastic cups long enough, I’ll ask him what all of this means. It looks like an engineer’s dream.

We’re told to head back to the bus, just as Wayne settles on two bottles of rum to purchase. He’ll be allowed to take these onto the ship, but he’ll have to surrender them to storage until the end of the cruise. God forbid we should actually drink legally purchased rum on the ship when they can sell us cheaper rum for ten times the price.

But I digress. I’m outside now, having told the driver to wait for Wayne, who is inside paying for his two bottles of flavored rum. He’s sampled so many that he probably doesn’t remember which flavor he bought. The driver has no problem remembering Wayne—that tall guy with the straw hat who looks like the guy who starred in Cocoon. I stand outside the bus, waiting for Wayne and taking pictures of the local parking lot wildlife:

dscn1939It was either this or a picture of a chicken. 

Back at the terminals in Belize, we use the rest of our time in port to sit at a bar called Better Belize It. I grab a sugar-laden strawberry daiquiri and Wayne orders the Belize Special. He doesn’t know what’s in this drink, either, but at least it isn’t fluorescent blue like the one on the ship. These 2 drinks are a bargain at $18.

Side Note: Most of the bars have funny signs out front that say things like “Husband Day Care.” Oh, what those locals must think of us wacky Americans…

Perhaps it’s the effect of guzzling the strawberry daiquiri, but it feels weird to carry 2 large bottles of rum onto the ship proudly instead of in plastic water bottles hidden in Wayne’s cargo shorts. The bottles are tagged and sent away. Wayne gets a tear in his eye as he waves goodbye. We’ll be reunited with them the last night of the cruise, just in time to pack them in my suitcase.

We’ll eat an early dinner tonight and look forward to tomorrow’s port of call, Honduras, where we’ll soak up the sun on Carnival’s private beach before Wayne participates in the blackjack tournament on board the ship tomorrow evening. Four years ago to the day he won their blackjack tournament, so we’ll see if he can duplicate that amazing feat…

But last time he wasn’t plastered when he entered the tournament…

Next installment: Can an engineer still count to 21 if he’s drunk? Asking for a friend…

The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 8)

We eat a leisurely late breakfast up on the Lido deck around 10:45 a.m. This is my kind of schedule.

Back in our stateroom, we see that today’s towel animal is a lizard. I think. I pose Boris the Squirrel with him on the bed for a portrait.




We are optimistic this time. But Marvin keeps apologizing every time we see him. We try to make it clear that we know it wasn’t his fault, and that there was nothing more he could have done for us than the things he did. He keeps apologizing. We’ve already pre-tipped everyone before we got on board the ship, but we’re going to tip Marvin again before we leave. The poor guy.

Before we head off the big boat to see Cozumel (in the rain), Wayne’s phone rings. Of course, my phone doesn’t ring. My phone still cannot ring. We’re a little unused to any phone ringing, though, since cell service on the ocean is sketchy, but we’re now in port, in civilization. Civilization that sells cheap rum. But I digress.

Turns out it’s Guest Services right here on the ship. Apparently a 6’4″ hulk of a man who looks like Wilford Brimley, complete with a big bushy mustache and a perpetual frown, showing up at your Guest Services desk gets some answers on this ship. The woman from Guest Services asks if they can send us a bottle of wine for our trouble with the puddle. Wayne semi-nicely explains to her that:

a) his wife has diabeetus and really shouldn’t be drinking wine;
b) we don’t even like wine.

This is where Wayne’s bold lack of shame comes in handy, because he wheels and deals to get us a free internet package for the week, which typically costs $85. More than a bottle of wine probably costs. (Probably.) He’s still slathering hand sanitizer everywhere (and I do mean everywhere) as a result of the germ trauma he suffered, but he pats himself on the back for this result.

Now we’re ready to head to Cozumel, so we grab 2 bottles of Carnival water (since we’re no longer allowed to bring our own bottled water on board and must buy theirs), our phones (mine is really just a camera with Spider Solitaire on it), our wallets… and an umbrella. It’s really raining out there.

Because we’ve been to Cozumel 3 or 4 times before, you’d think we’d just skip heading out in the pouring rain to see the tourist traps right off the ship. But, Wayne is a man on a mission. This is his one shot at getting more cheap rum on the ship, in order to avoid paying $16 for a single Skinny Captain on board. We start feeling like drowned rats as we head through the town, with Wayne using his GPS to find that same liquor store he’s visited several times before (“It’s next to a gas station” is only marginally helpful). I swear they’re going to recognize him and call him by name this time.

I can’t bear to accompany him on his illicit journey, so I sit in the covered pavilion amid the shops and start guzzling bottled water. Wayne returns with his contraband, and we empty both water bottles.

Guess what’s in that white plastic bag? A local purchase, perhaps?

Now, whatever shall we do with these empty water bottles?

I take a stroll around the shops while he casually pours rum into our water bottles. I cannot be party to this rum-smuggling operation, though I still find it hilarious. I just don’t want to end up in Carnival Jail when we try to get back on the boat.

I find a shop selling cute, colorful wooden toys (which probably all have splinters in them) and buy a few for my grandson, King Arthur, whose intelligent mother will never let him actually play with them if she knows what’s good for her. Which she totally does.

dscn1904I brought these back onto the ship legally

When I get back to the table, Wayne is sipping some of the extra rum he hasn’t managed to get into the empty water bottles, and he’s smiling. Of course he’s smiling. He’s on vacation and having rum for lunch. And no, it doesn’t affect him at all…

dscn1900Why is he always hugging inanimate objects more than me?

It’s full-on raining now as we head back on board. I’m soaked, and I beg Wayne to let me board 10 or 20 seconds ahead of him through security to avoid the embarrassment of seeing his ass hauled off the ship when he gets caught with “water bottles” of rum in his shorts pockets.

But the line to reboard is long, and most of us are stuck waiting outside in the downpour, so security is rushing people through without much thought (unless you clearly have a weapon, which we don’t). We make it to our stateroom safely, and Wayne stashes his two “water bottles,” grabs 2 more actual water bottles, and heads back out the door, grinning. It’s like a game to him. I can smell the testosterone from clear across the room.

He arrives back at the stateroom about 45 minutes later, with two more “water bottles” and a new straw hat he purchased. His transformation into Wilford Brimley is complete.


2-brimley-1-wilfred-brimley-600x450It’s uncanny…

Between the straw hat and his Duluth Trading “Ask Me About My Underwear” T-shirt, he looks like such a tourist that I can see why he successfully got back onto the ship with rum in his pockets… again. He’s confident the rum will now last him the rest of the cruise. (He is correct. We end up having to smuggle one of the “water bottles” back OFF the ship when the cruise ends.)

As we’re getting ready to leave Cozumel, 6 young folks in a hot tub on the cruise ship next to ours see me on our balcony and wave. I stand up, yell and wave back, and they cheer. Clearly they are drunk if this entertains them.

We skip the dining room dinner, and I continue reading on the balcony while Wayne naps and does a lot of nothing inside the stateroom. When I awaken him around 9:30, asking if he wants to just sleep, he says, “No! I want to get up and DO something!”

So we head to the Lido deck for a bite to eat and he sits in the restaurant using our free internet package to putz around on Facebook for an hour.

You know… stuff he could have done at home. For free. Without paying $600 extra.

Next installment: “This is not a drill…”


The Perfect Storm: A Vacation Travelogue (Part 7)

Marvin tells us that he’s called the plumber, so at this point there is little to do except wait … and continue to use Marvin’s three hundred towels to mop up the recurring puddle. The next morning we have a lovely late breakfast on the Lido deck and then split up. I head for a quiet spot on the Atlantic deck overlooking a beautiful view of the ocean.


Unfortunately, staring at all that wild, uncontrolled water keeps reminding me that there is too much uncontrolled water in our stateroom right now. So I use the time to jot down notes about the vacation so far. That book ain’t gonna write itself.

Then again, it kinda is writing itself. I can’t make up shit this good. (I’d say “make up shit this funny,” but it’s not funny yet. Maybe once we’re home. Maybe.)

Speaking of shit, Wayne’s biggest concern is that the water might not be coming from the tub, even though the puddle seems to always end up there. He reminds me that we’re on a moving, rocking cruise ship and that the puddle isn’t necessarily going to stay where it started out.

He has a point.

His concern is that it’s water from the toilet. Which completely freaks him out. But, I raised four kids and changed diapers for years. I’ve been blanketed with pee, poop, and projectile vomiting. A small puddle of toilet water isn’t freaking me out.

What’s freaking me out is that we paid $600 extra for this small puddle of toilet water.

But then again, unknown toilet water is gross. At least the pee, poop, and projectile vomit were all from cute little babies who share my DNA. I rethink Wayne’s concern.

He has a point.

Then again, when he bought the sleeves of Diet Coke and the Ace bandage, he also picked up a little something he never travels without: a large pump bottle of hand sanitizer. He has a thing about germs.


I never ask him why he doesn’t just buy a travel-size bottle, because to Wayne, this IS a travel-size bottle. In fact, he’s concerned that he might run out. And at this point, I think he might. He’s going through this stuff in a panic, mumbling things I can’t quite hear but that sound like “toilet germs” and “bubonic plague” and “lawsuit” and “refund.” Those last two are becoming a sort of mantra for him. I think he mumbled them in his sleep last night.

So, while I’m taking notes on the Atlantic deck, he’s at the customer service desk on the Promenade deck. Since this is still early in the cruise and tomorrow we will be in port for the first time, all the customer service lines are jammed. People are ironing out stateroom issues and dining room issues and sea sickness issues and shore excursion issues and probably Oedipal issues, too. In fact, half the ship’s passengers are in that line this morning, so I’m grateful he’s willing to take one for the team.

Plus, we both know I’d knuckle under and walk away from that service desk placated with another half dozen VIP Club pins. I have no backbone.

The other half of the ship’s passengers are on the Lido deck getting another soft-serve ice cream cone. That ice cream machine is going to be the death of me yet.

As I’m enjoying the view and scribbling in my notebook, I realize my Birkenstocks are killing me. They’re fairly new, and I hadn’t worn them for any serious length of time before. Now I’m walking 3 or 4 miles just to eat breakfast. Well, more like 6 or 8 miles since I keep heading to the wrong end of the ship.

I finish my notes and then stop in the gift shop to price a pair of softer sandals. No go. We’re a captive audience, so a pair of sandals in the gift shop would mean refinancing our mortgage and putting my grandson up as collateral. I’ll look for sandals when we’re in Cozumel, Mexico, tomorrow.

In the corridor to our stateroom, I see our door is open and I hear noises. I pass a guy in coveralls carrying a toolbox as I head to our room. I use my super-sleuthing brain to deduce that he is the plumber. And he’s leaving.

In our room, I find Wayne chatting amicably with a woman who has opened the safe for him. Marvin is also here, still apologizing, in several languages I don’t know. I nod a lot and smile. The entire metal front of the whirlpool tub is off.

Wayne and I try to discuss our activities for the day, but two more crew members arrive with a loud shop-vac and cleaning supplies. Wayne tells me the plumber will be back. I look at the torn-apart bathroom. Gosh, I hope so.

Tonight is our first formal night for dinner. Carnival calls it “Elegant Night,” but clearly they’ve never seen me in a dress.

I realize Wayne’s brand-new dress shirt needs to be ironed (it’s still in the package), as do several of my cotton capris, so I grab a handful of items and head to one of the laundry rooms.

There’s nothing I’d rather do right now than some ironing. I don’t even iron things when I’m at home. I hate it twice as much when I’m on vacation.

There is a drop-down ironing board like you see in vintage comedy movies, and the iron is hanging from a metal hook about a foot over my head. I say a prayer and get it down without poking my eye out or dropping it on my foot.


Grateful that the ship isn’t wobbling around too badly, I iron the items without burning myself. But, getting the now-hot iron back up on that hook over my head strengthens my prayer life in ways you can’t imagine. The dual mantras of “lawsuit” and “refund” spring to mind. I envision another design engineer getting fired.

I bring my laundry back to the stateroom and hang it all up neatly in one of our $600 unused closets. We haven’t eaten since breakfast, so we head to the Lido deck to grab a quick burger. Wayne orders a $10 drink of the day, a concoction called Ocean Blue Cocktail. It’s bright blue, and he has no clue what’s in it. This doesn’t seem to bother him, though.

This is the same man who was freaked out over some possibly-but-probably-not-toilet water on the floor. Now he’s drinking chemicals from Monsanto, for all we know. Expensive ones, too. But at least they’re blue … the same color as the toilet water, by the way. Once he makes that connection too, he’ll head back to the stateroom to gargle with some of that hand sanitizer.

Back in our stateroom, we find the tub put back together and everyone gone. Wayne calls poor Marvin to say that the bathroom floor was not properly cleaned after the crew workers left. We’re told it was a sink leak, not tub or toilet, but I suspect Wayne isn’t convinced.

I sit on our balcony and read instead of watching yet another crew member clean our bathroom yet again. Wayne tries to nap, but of course the cleaning crew shows up as soon as he starts to nod off.

Later, we head to dinner, all dressed to the nines and without a clue what that even means. We try not to make eye contact with all the photographers on the Promenade deck coaxing people to have their pictures taken in their finery. Pictures they will sell back to you for twenty bucks.

Two young women are having fun with their photographer and posing on the furniture in “cheesecake” shots, hamming it up, and then another photographer without a customer runs into the shots and poses with them. It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen since I got on the ship.

Then again, I lost my phone and we’ve had not-toilet-water all over our bathroom floor for 36 hours. My standards for humor might be a bit off.

In the dining room, the maître d’ asks us our names and our stateroom number. Wayne gleefully announces, “Stateroom 7296. We’re Dixie and Steve!”

The maître d’ doesn’t get the joke. That’s okay, though. I get the joke, and I’m not laughing either. That won’t prevent Wayne from saying this every time we enter the dining room all week long.

We end the day after our lovely dinner with another soft-serve ice cream cone because we’ve walked past the machine on the Lido deck again (accidentally on purpose), with a clean bathroom and a dry floor, and with a cheap rum and Diet Coke. Wayne bemoans the fact that Papa Bert’s Sippin’ Seat doesn’t hold nearly enough rum for a 7-day cruise.

Tomorrow, though, we’ll be in Cozumel. Wayne has a 100% track record for getting cheap Mexican rum back onto the ship from Cozumel.

We’ll see if he can maintain that perfect score. They’re calling for rain all day tomorrow.

Next installment: Jack Sparrow taught him everything he knows about rum smuggling…