Well, I got off to a rather poor start. I ordered a cab for 5a.m. I set both my alarm clock and my phone alarm, seeing as how I’m not used to getting up so early. Both alarms went off, but when the cab arrived 15 minutes later, I realized I had set both alarms for 4:45a.m., rather that 3:45a.m.! Fortunately, I had done everything the day before, so I was able to dash out the door fairly quickly. I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, and took a Cruiseline bus to the port we would be leaving from. Our ship was a Holland America ship named “Eurodam”. Having never seen a cruise ship close up, it was ENORMOUS! It was 11 stories tall. My (windowless) stateroom was on the 1st deck. There was a line outside to enter the customs and boarding area, and for one brief moment I was tempted to complain about how hot it was, until I remembered I had just come from Chicago and one of the worst blizzards in our history!
This was mostly a day for getting settled, but I did meet some crazy ladies who turned out to be part of our group, and they were able to show me the ropes as far as registration, etc. Just as I hope for a unicorn ranch someday, or that President Obama would act like a liberal/progressive, I was also hoping that our Progressive Voices group would be the only ones aboard this cruise. Sadly, that was not the case. We were about 100 out of 2500.
Previous years have seen as many as 400 participants, but that dropped after Air America went out of business. The other 2400 were mostly old, white and in need of some sort of mobility assistance. (God love ’em). Even within our group, I was one of the youngest at 51. But hey, older people know more stuff so this was all OK with me.
The notables aboard were as follows; Robert Kennedy Jr., Cong. Alan Grayson, Mike Farrell (the actor from M*A*S*H) and his wife Shelley Fabares (“The Donna Reed Show”, Elvis movies, “Coach”, etc.), radio talkshow hosts Mike Malloy, Cary Harrison and Leslie Marshall*, Hal Sparks (“Queer as Folk”, E! “Talk Soup”, stand-up comedian, contributor to “The Stephanie Miller Show” on radio, HBO specials, etc.), and Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder joined us mid-cruise. The only disappointment was that Mike Pappantonio was unable to join us. He is very involved with lawsuits against BP for the oil spill, and he had to be in court. Mike can also be seen on MSNBC, occasionally Faux News, and co-hosts the “Ring of Fire” radio show with Bobby Kennedy Jr.
We were given dinner assignment seating cards for the week. The notables would each sit at a table, and we would rotate tables from night-to-night. However, I cheated a little. Being that I was traveling alone and easier to move around than a couple, I sweet-talked one of the cruise directors to use me as a ‘hole-filler’ at the good tables if need be. This worked to my advantage on more than one occasion! On this night we had a pre-dinner cocktail gathering in ‘The Crow’s Nest’ bar, followed by dinner which was fairly uneventful, but lovely, nonetheless. Oh, on the way to dinner I met and shook hands with Bobby Kennedy. Dream (partially) fulfilled. He has the most amazing blue eyes!
Sunday, Feb. 6
We were on our way to the Grand Turk island of Turks and Caicos. The seas were very calm and, as were the skies, a beautiful turqoise color. Our morning session, titled “Guts & Glory”, was with Cong. Alan Grayson. Our host and moderator for both the cruise, and most of the sessions, was the charming & delightful David Bender. David started his political career in 1968, when at 12 years of age, he was a volunteer for Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign which only lasted a few short months before he was assassinated. In 2003 he was a senior advisor for Howard Dean’s campaign. He later went on to host a radio show on Air America called “Politically Direct”. Subsequently he appeared on Rachel Maddow’s Air America radio show, the “Ring of Fire” radio show, and can currently be heard Thursdays on “The Stephanie Miller Show”. He is an amazing man, extremely knowledgeable and funny, perfectly suited to the duties of host and moderator.
Congressman Grayson was remarkable. He talked about his one (unfortunate) term in congress, and about how cutthroat his re-election fight was. He is an attorney, also too, and spoke about being in the courtroom when the Citizen’s United case was handed down. He was devastated. Then he looked over, and there was Mitch McConnell with a you-know-what eating grin on his face. Doesn’t that just make you feel all warm and fuzzy?
Our afternoon session was “American Values” with Bobby Kennedy Jr. I was particularly interested in this session because of Bobby’s involvement in environmental issues. Particularly, mountaintop-removal mining which is the topic of his latest film “The Last Mountain”. He was just back from Sundance Film Festival where the film did extremely well. I was prepared to be very depressed, since the whole topic of pollution is so depressing, but after laying out some of the horrors of corporate malfeasance when it comes to the environment, he talked very optimistically about the gains in renewable fuel technologies. He is such a passionate man, and when he explained that women of child-bearing age have obscene levels of mercury in their wombs, it really made me sick. Mr. Kennedy is also president of The Waterkeepers Alliance, and senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
I was thrilled to be seated next to Cong. Grayson at dinner (a formal event!). We talked about many things. For instance, what his opinion was of all these crazy republicans who were now slated to head the important committees in the House of Reps.
In a nutshell, he said the next 2 years were going to be hell. I concur. We also, oddly enough, spoke at length about bonobos! If you don’t know what they are, google ’em. They are the primate closest to humans in DNA and, unlike chimps or orangutans, they’re are very peaceable. After dinner, we gathered in ‘The Crow’s Nest’ for a little stand-up comedy, courtesy of Hal Sparks. He is brilliantly funny, and quite the Renaissance Man. Hal was born in Kentucky and raised in his head. He knows a lot about a lot, including politics. But, and I kid you not, part of his routine was about…. BONOBOS! Just a coincidence to be sure, but one that tickled me! Oh, and the Superbowl was on too.
Monday, Feb. 7
This morning’s session with Hal Sparks, Alan Grayson, Mike Malloy, Mike Farrell and Cary Harrison was “Is Barack Obama a Progressive?” I think we all know the answer to that. Although, some thought that in certain areas he is. Mr. Malloy, the cruise curmudgeon, was the most critical of the president, but most of the others are still willing to see what happens in the rest of his term. The moderator for this panel was the charming & delightful Jon Sinton who started Air America. Jon is coming out with a Progressive Voices App for iphones. He describes it as “a one-stop-shop for everything progressive”, including a news aggregate site (cuz Huffpo is worthless!). He expects it to launch live at the itunes store on March 1st.
Dinner was with Mike Malloy. Although curmudgeonly, he was very interesting to talk to. He talked about his time producing for CNN, and about politics in general. The Eurodam was headed for San Juan, Puerto Rico.
This morning’s session with Hal Sparks, Alan Grayson and Mike Malloy was “Is the Right tougher than the Left?” The answer to that is… YES. Lots of good back and forth dealing with Faux News, the Tea Baggers, Koch Bros., etc. with humor thrown in for good measure.
We left the boat in the afternoon for San Juan. It was a lovely old city. I found a store called Cariloha that sells clothing made from bamboo. I bought the most amazing sheets and towels! The sheets are softer than 1000 thread-count and quite yummy. Plus, they shipped it all to my house for free!
After we stopped for an obligatory cocktail or two and a chat with Hal Sparks, we headed back to the Eurodam. On the way back, we noticed an inordinate amount of young men in inappropriately short shorts. We found out that another cruise ship, the biggest in the world, had also docked and was disgorging 5200 gay men. That’s right, a ginormous all-gay cruise ship! David Bender, who has ‘teh gay’ was a little bent out of shape because Hal was getting all the attention (he doesn’t have ‘teh gay’)! It was quite amusing.
Dinner was with Mike Farrell and Shelley Fabares. Mike apparently is very shy, he didn’t have much to say, and Shelley wasn’t feeling well, so it was a low key dinner.
Wednesday, Feb. 9
We arrived in St. Thomas with the continuing luck of beautiful weather. There are about 600 diamond and jewelry shops in St. Thomas, but I’m not much of a jewelry person. HOWEVER, I’ve always wanted an emerald, which is my birthstone. So, having no intention of buying anything, I went into ONE store and found a perfect ring. Yes, I bought it. I bargained down from $450.00 to $380.00 and I don’t regret it one bit.
Dinner was with Mike Malloy again. Afterwards, we cheered-on one of our group in Karaoke finals. He sang ‘Sweet Dreams’ by the Eurythmics. He didn’t win, some Canadian girl singing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ ran away with first place. (Is it only Canadian women that can sing that song?)
Thursday, Feb. 10
The morning session was with Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder. She won her first term to congress in 1972 from Colorado. She served 24 years in congress and has written a book titled “24 Years of House Work… and the Place is Still a Mess!” She was incredibly engaging and warm, sharing stories, good and bad, about her time in congress. And, I got to meet and have my picture taken with her. The best part is, I was wearing my ‘Worst Governor Ever’ t-shirt and she loved it! She asked me where I got it, and when I told her zazzle.com, she wrote it down saying she had just “done her Christmas shopping for the year”! Woo Hoo!
We were at sea all day, so I rented a private cabana deckside of the pool on the Lido deck. It was heavenly! I had dinner with progressive radio talk show host Lesley Marshall, along with her very handsome orthopedic surgeon husband. She is one of the few women in progressive talk radio, and they were both awesome.
Friday, Feb. 11
We docked at Half-moon Cay in the Bahamas and took a small boat to the private island. It was gorgeous. White powder sand beaches and, if you walk far enough down, you can find very private spaces. I spent some time reading, napping and listening to the sound of the waves gently lapping on the shore… priceless!
Dinner was with… Malloy again. That was OK. He’s a lot of fun, and his wife and 6-1/2 year-old daughter were a pleasure as well. After dinner we were treated to more stand-up comedy from Hal Sparks. The boy is seriously funny. And smokin’ hot, also too.
Saturday, Feb. 12
Well, it had to end. It’s go-home day, and Ft. Lauderdale was 40 degrees and rainy. I got dropped at the airport at 8:30a.m. for a 2p.m. flight. Thus began 11 hours of airports and airplanes. I had a one-and-a-half hour layover in Atlanta, and was was finally home at 7:30p.m. I had a magnificent time. The crew of Holland America was wonderful, I had a great tan, and I was ready to see my dog Maddie.
Special thanks to Maxine and Mike, and their golden retriever Gracie, for taking such good care of Maddie. And BTW, she didn’t seem to miss me all that much!
* Links to their radio shows can be found at progressivevoices.com