OUR ONGOING PROBLEM WITH OUTSIDERS
the 2009 Conquest Cruise, two women who were not part of our group shadowed our
group at the nightly dance
events in the Atrium. I
learned they knew several members of our group from
different dance venues back in Houston.
In six out of the past seven years, we have had incidents where
outsiders avoid signing up for the trip through Marla, then try to
attach themselves in varying degrees to our group.
These events have taught me the hard lesson that there are people out there willing to exploit my
wife's hard work.
I firmly believe that if I don't take a stand against the
problem, it will just keep getting worse. After all,
it doesn't look like the Piggyback Problem is going away.
This year it became clear to me the problem with the outsiders
is being abetted by members of our own group who invite them in.
This year, three
different men approached me to ask permission to include the two
ladies in our activities.
After the trip, yet a fourth man
wrote to say he didn't see a problem welcoming these women into the
Therefore, the problem is not just with the Piggyback Club,
it seems to include members of our own group.
A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON ON PIGGYBACKING
Marla and I have a rule. The Sign Up
Rule says "Sign up through
Marla or please leave us alone."
Rule or no rule, every year someone tries try to bypass
Marla and still hang with the group.
At this point, I consider this to be a documented fact. I have been tracking
the problem since 2003. You can read the details of each incident on our
Policies Page with the exception of an incident
There have been eight documented incidents in six years.
There were three incidents in 2003.
There was a serious incident in 2004. There was a
incident in 2005. There was a very serious incident in
2006. There was a minor incident on the Hawaii Trip in 2007
that I chose not to document (3 people - one couple and one
man from the studio booked the same cruise through someone
else; since they honored my request to leave us
alone, I didn't make an issue of it). The
Incident of 2008 marked the
most flagrant violation of our sign up policy to date. And yes, now we have
incident in 2009.
I have identified three levels of the problem.
"Tagalongs" are the uncanny number of people I keep running
into from the studio on these trips who are not a member of
our group. Their presence is a curious coincidence. However, since they keep their distance from the
group voluntarily, I have no reason to object. They have just as much right to be on the
ship as I do.
"Piggybacks" are people who sign up for the cruise
through someone else, then make frequent appearances in the
same public venues as our group. They appear
interested in joining the group. They respect the invisible
line in the sand, but just barely.
I put the two women who joined us in the Atrium each night
in 2009 into the Piggyback category. I believe they were
there because we were there.
Then of course there are the
"Party Crashers", i.e. people who sign up for the cruise through
someone else and aggressively attempt to infiltrate the group. These
people literally cross the line and invade our privacy. This has happened three times.
Party crashing and
Piggybacking are recurring
business problems that require vigilance on every trip. We have a business to protect. Cruise trips may be a
vacation for everyone else, but these cruise trips are
for Marla. She puts an incredible amount of time into
organizing these trips and deserves
her commission for her efforts.
If people can bypass Marla and still be allowed the benefits
of joining our group, that sabotages her hard work.
I have discovered that simply barring the door is not enough,
especially when people in my own group try to let the outsiders into
the party through the back door.
Before we take this article further, let me start by saying
that Marla Archer is the best travel agent you will ever
have. Without Marla, all this amazing cruise energy that she has
created will quickly go up in smoke. Thanks to her remarkable
organization skills and excellent reputation, Marla is the engine
that makes these trips work.
makes money off these trips, but when you compare the
work she does and the benefit she provides to
our group, I would hope you agree she doesn't deserve
to have people take advantage of her in the process.
Before I continue
my story about our ongoing problem with outsiders, I am
going to take a slight detour.
In 2009, Marla did something remarkable.
sacrificed $4,000 in commissions in order to reduce the
price of the two trips for her passengers.
In so doing,
Marla saved her passengers $25,000.
2009: THE COMMISSION
prices go up on cabins the closer you get to sailing.
Since the "supply" of remaining
cabins is small, the cruise lines assume anyone who
wants to go this late in the game is willing to
cough up a little more dough.
However, thanks to the strange 2009 economy, on both cruises
that Marla organized for 2009, the original prices DROPPED.
Not only did the prices drop, they dropped quite a
bit. This had never happened before in the eight years Marla
has been organizing trips.
Marla paled when she realized
the people who had already signed up
for her two trips were suddenly obligated to pay $100 to $200 more
than the current going rate for their cabin.
Her group discount price was much
higher than the daily rate. This was weird!
Thanks to the threat of the worst
depression since the Great Depression of Thirties,
people held on to every possible disposable penny
they had and held their breath to see what would
happen next. As they worried about the economy
tanking, taking a cruise was pretty far down on
their list of priorities.
Carnival and RCCL soon
realized that no one was signing up for the list prices.
It is important that
a cruise line be
able to sell every trip out -
the cruise lines make much of their money from the people on
board the ship (tips, drinks, gambling, excursions,
spa use, tux rentals, room service, art and
clothing purchases, etc).
empty cabin doesn't make them a cent, they begin to offer
discounts the moment they see their cabins aren't selling.
So what if they sell the cabin for half of what they got the
previous year... half-price is better than nothing at all.
The important thing is to fill the room. They know the people in the discounted cabins are still going to
spend spend spend once they get on board.
Put another way, there are no cost savings whatsoever if the ship is
half full versus 100% full. The gas will still cost the same. The
salaries will still be the same. Sure they would like to sell every
cabin for top dollar, but the most important
thing of all is to get the ship filled to capacity.
Selling the cabins at reduced prices is better business
than not selling them at all.
Thanks to the economic upheaval at the
start of 2009, Carnival and RCCL had to do something to fill
their sailings. So both cruise lines
significantly dropped their cabin prices for our trips.
Marla typically gets marvelous discounts
thanks to the large groups she generates, but for the first
time in Marla's eight years, the prevailing rate
being offered to the general public was less than Marla's
original group rate. This was not
Marla was faced with a quandary. She had
about 60 people (30 people on both
trips) obligated to pay a higher price than the
prevailing rate. Marla was not required to sell the trips at
the new lower price. However,
as she gave it some thought, she decided it was the right thing
to do. I remember vividly the day
Marla got on the phone with both cruise lines
renegotiate. She was able to lower
her group rates on both trips
to reflect the changes. Thanks
to her efforts, someone who had already signed up expecting
to pay $800 for a room now only had to pay $600. She
created these savings for every one of her 60 passengers
already signed up.
process of doing this, Marla had to sacrifice $4,000 in commissions.
But guess what? By renegotiating her two
cruises at the new lower rates, she saved her passengers
$25,000 in the process.
That's right, Marla gave
up $4,000 so her passengers could save $25,000.
To me, Marla's sacrifice is the travel agent equivalent of
"taking a hit for the team".
$4,000 is a
lot of money, especially with a law suit
hanging over you.
And so is $25,000 in savings. Marla put the interests of her customers
ahead of herself.
is the consummate professional. I watch her in
action every day, so I am in a position to know this
for a fact.
As the commission story above
proves, Marla will always watch your back. That is just
one part of the reason why she is worthy of your trust.
Marla is exactly the person you want to organize a cruise
trip. Marla is scrupulously honest. You can hand her cash
and not blink an eye. You can give her a credit card number
and not lose sleep. She is responsible.
You can count on her
to do whatever she promises to do. She
doesn't make errors and she doesn't do stupid
Best of all, you can always
get a straight answer from her.
There are all sorts of confusing offers on the
Internet. That's no surprise; they are trying
to confuse you so you might think their price is
lower than someone else. Marla
will not try to confuse you.
Thanks to her experience, Marla
sees the big picture and can explain any questions
you might have. No matter how mixed up you are
about about discounts, port fees, and hidden
charges, Marla will not take advantage of you.
It is not in her nature. Believe it or not, if
Marla knows you can get the cruise cheaper
somewhere else, she will tell
Marla does not lie. Nor does
or fib in any way at all to make a sale. That's
my wife; that's the way she is.
Based on my own
experience, I have a suggestion for anyone who has a cruise
Learn to trust Marla.
If Marla tells you something, you can just take her word for
Marla has organized 14
trips. She has so much experience at this, I have
learned to accept her advice at face value. Why not?
Sure Marla made a couple learning mistakes in the beginning. We all do. Marla
makes mistakes once. And then she doesn't make the same
At this point, she knows all the angles.
You can save yourself a lot of time if you learn to accept what she says.
Don't even bother arguing; it just
wears both of you out. Marla knows her stuff.
Furthermore, as the
Commission story above proves, Marla
always has her customer's best interests at heart.
This is something you can take for
granted. The word
'integrity' describes Marla's
approach to her job perfectly.
In my humble opinion, Marla is
the best travel agent I know. I have been on all of
her trips and can testify that, thanks to her, each trip is handled to perfection.
I have total confidence in my wife. Marla deserves your
Marla expects two things in return for her work - 'Respect'
is one thing. That doesn't seem to be a problem. Marla got a
standing ovation on the last night of this year's
Conquest trip. It
made her very happy, by the way. I was very touched.
I thought Marla deserved it.
The other thing Marla deserves is to receive her commission. This is a
form of respect as well. It is the passenger's way of
saying Marla deserves to be paid for the work she does.
By the way, we aren't
talking big bucks here. Marla's commission for an Inside Cabin on this
year's 2009 Conquest Cruise was about $30 a person.
Hang on to that number.
2009: THE SEVEN TAGALONGS
During the 2009
Trip, I identified seven people in the Tagalong Category.
The question is: Are they there because we are there or is
their presence a coincidence? I have no way to know
for sure, but I have a growing suspicion that a lot of people
notice what week we are taking our annual cruise.
During the trip, I recognized
who were not part of our
group, but have taken classes at SSQQ.
There were two couples. However, neither couple made any attempt to join our activities. I guess their
presence was just a coincidence.
The fifth person was a former student that I
had not seen her in years. Her presence was not an accident.
She told Jeff and Danny she signed up
specifically for this trip because she knew the SSQQ group would
be along. However, other than being
snippy with me for not
remembering her name, this lady made no attempt to join our
Side Note: One of the couples I
mentioned above read what I wrote in the Newsletter and
Sent: Thursday, September 10, 2009 4:35 PM
Subject: RE: September 2009 SSQQ Newletter 1 - what
happened on the cruise?
Hi, Rick. You are right about one of the couples who
said "Hi" to you on the cruise being on the same cruise
coincidentally. I have not taken any lessons in a couple
I guess I wasn't paying attention to your notices
about the summer cruise date and did not sign up with
Marla. I only registered the date as being the same when
I saw the notice about the cancellation for one lady. I
had signed up last minute on those dates because it fit
nicely between two pre-season games of the Texans, and
our 49th anniversary happened to fall that week. Jerry
and I would have loved to join the group, but knowing
and certainly understanding "the rules", we just did our
own thing and left you guys alone.
Maybe next year! GF
Then there was an out-of-town couple who told us they were deliberately
tagging along with our group.
One night in the
Atrium, two people got out and danced very well. I initially thought they were the ship's dance
instructors because they clearly knew a lot about Ballroom
dancing. One of our men asked the lady to dance.
That is how he discovered this couple
specifically came on this cruise because
they saw us on last year's cruise
and liked our style.
matter, at Midnight this same out of town
couple followed us into Alfred's Lounge. I didn't
mind… all they wanted to do was dance and they didn't affect
our boy-girl ratio. I tell this story as proof that I am not
a fanatic on the issue of outsiders, but rather just cautious.
As for the seven people, I am well aware
they have the right to sign up
for any cruise they want. It's a free
All I ask is to show the
courtesy not to crash the party
if they are not a member of our group. Of
the seven people I have just written about, only the out of
town couple tried to participate in our group. It happened
once. I didn't feel taken advantage of, so I didn't
Let me add that dozens of outsiders wandered into our dance
classes to watch during the week. Since they were
there only to watch, I didn't mind.
The point I am making is this - the SSQQ cruise group attracts a
lot of interest. Thanks to our dancing, our group
becomes a main attraction at night. Our presence seems to make the trip
more attractive to some people. If people want to come
on the trip because we are there, as long as they stay
on the periphery, that's okay by me.
However, there were two women on the trip who came very
close to crossing the line. That is our next story.
PIGGYBACK - INCIDENT ONE
On the first night of the trip, after
dinner we headed over to the Atrium for dancing to Magic and
Music. I noticed two
attractive redheaded ladies.
In fact, I recognized one of
them from a recent Saturday night Crash Course at the
studio. I was immediately on guard.
Judging by the behavior of the men in our group, they
noticed these two attractive women as well. They began
to make a steady beeline to ask these ladies to dance.
About 20 minutes later as I sat on the couch, SSQQ Man #1 came up to me and asked if the redheads
could be included in our group activities
for the week. I blinked as
a déjà vu feeling came over me. I hate that feeling!
I breathed deeply to relax, and
then I said no. I said the Sign-Up
Rule is that you have to
sign up with Marla to be included in our group.
Our group's late night dancing in
Alfred's Lounge began at midnight. As our group
trundled over, I noticed the two women seemed to be tagging
along with SSQQ Man #1. My mouth dropped open in surprise.
Did that man fail to get the message? What part of
'no' did he not understand?
proceeded to hang right outside the door to Alfred's
Lounge for thirty minutes. They were five
feet from the door that had the "private party" sign in
I watched as they flirted with two SSQQ men in the hallway.
I honestly believe the
would have dared to come in had I not been in there watching them
like a hawk. Finally they gave up and left.
PIGGYBACK - INCIDENT
During Dinner on Day Two, SSQQ Man #2 - a different man -
came to my table to ask if both women could be included in our activities.
SSQQ Man #2 said the two women had
told him they had tried to join our group, but Marla never
got back to them. They said they had called Marla and
emailed Marla. They claimed Marla had not returned their
email or phone call.
I blinked. Sure enough, that same déjà vu feeling came over
me again. I have heard this before. What is this, Groundhog Day? Why does
this keep happening?
For the record,
180 people on this year's cruises who know that Marla
doesn't play games. She answers her emails as promptly as
possible. But why limit our sample
to 2009? Over the past six years Marla has booked
1,400 passengers on her different cruises. I
bet every one of them would back me up
when I say that Marla doesn't play games.
I see Marla spend an average of
four hours a day answering email or searching the Internet
for answers to people's questions. Trust me when I say
I am not exaggerating.
I told SSQQ Man #2 the same thing as I told SSQQ Man #1 -
The Sign-Up Rule says you have to sign up with Marla to be included in our group.
Otherwise, please leave us alone.
Then I asked him a question. Did these two
women ask him to ask me if they could join? He blushed and
more or less evaded answering the question.
After dinner the same night, our group went downstairs for a
late evening of Ballroom Dancing to the singing duo "Magic
and Music" in the Atrium. Both women were already there. I would guess they were waiting for
The Atrium is open to everyone. This was neutral
territory and both women had every right to be there. In
addition, both women had every right to dance with any man
they wanted to in this situation - and they did.
they never left the floor. Both women were attractive and
both women were friendly. They were also fun to dance with.
Consequently, neither lady sat very much.
PIGGYBACK - INCIDENT
It was now our
of the trip. As had become our
habit, the group met down at the Atrium
I was sitting on the couch by myself. During a
rare song when someone
from our group had not asked her to dance,
the lady who I had seen taking a
crash course at the studio came over to speak to me. It was very noisy and she talked
too fast for me to understand her.
Perhaps she talked too fast because I made her nervous.
It seemed like she was trying to clear the air about them
joining the group. Whatever
she was saying, I couldn't follow
it. The only
thing that I understood was when she said she meant no harm.
Okay. I also remember that she seemed friendly.
Truthfully, I had no
animosity towards her. The lady had
not crossed any lines, although I was getting a little tired
of dealing with her emissaries. In truth, I was more
irritated at the men who kept trying to get these women
included in the group.
Now that the two redheads were on my mind
again, I watched them on and off for nearly an hour.
The entire time these two women were out on the floor
dancing with men from our group. I noticed that
several of our SSQQ men
seemed to completely ignore
the SSQQ women who were forced to
watch on the couches.
I sat there wondering how these
women felt as they watched as
their 'SSQQ Brothers' avidly pursue the outsiders who were trying
to become 'insiders'.
I couldn't help but wonder how the men would react if the
shoe were ever switched to other foot so to speak. At
the studio, the men are nowhere near as patient when there
aren't enough women to dance with. I recently had a
guy demand a refund because there were only 5 women to every
6 men... that wasn't good enough for him!
Interestingly, not one woman in our group complained to me. These
ladies accepted their fate with the
same grace they did when the same problem occurred last year. Of course my enduring memory
from last year is watching an outsider hold
court at the Cocktail Party with men swarming around her
while the women who paid for the trip were left sitting on the
On the cosmic scale of things, there is
suffering in every part of the globe. As Bogie would
say, these problems don't amount to a hill of beans. On
the other hand, that makes 2 years in a row now that I
have watched several SSQQ men act like puppy dogs over outside women
while ignoring SSQQ women in
Someone suggested to me I was being rude and unfriendly at
not permitting these women to join our group. After all, what could it
hurt to add two more?
It boils down to respect. Respect for my wife, respect for
the single women on my trip.
By refusing to
let these two women into our group, I
wasn't just showing respect for my wife, I was
respect for the women in our group who played by the rules.
Imagine how our women would feel if they believed I would
even dream of giving these outside women permission to join?
That would be an insult to them.
For the record, I was not rude to the two
women; I was impersonal. There is a big difference.
I avoided interaction with both women for a reason - they
had no right to be part of our group. I preferred to
spend time with the people in our group. That is where
my friends were.
PIGGYBACK - INCIDENT
Before the trip was over, there was a
fourth and final
incident involving one of the two redheaded women.
I had promised to organize a long beach walk on Seven Mile
Beach in Cayman (this walk went very well by the way - I
will be writing about this event in a future article).
The night before the walk, SSQQ Man #3 - yes, yet a third
man - approached Marla with a request. He had met a woman.
She wasn't with the group. Would Marla mind if he brought
her along on the long beach walk tomorrow?
He smiled and
added, 'What could be more romantic than a long walk on the
His charm was pretty effective. Marla's first instinct was
to say 'yes'. Why not? Maybe
the woman was from Louisiana or
another Texas city. This would be a pretty neat way to get
to know her. It promised to be a fun trip for both people.
Besides, it was a really wide beach. Plenty of room for
everyone. Best of all, it wasn't going to force some SSQQ
girl to sit on the couch twiddling her thumbs.
Just as Marla was about to give permission, something
occurred to her. Marla asked SSQQ Man #3 if this woman was
one of our two redheads.
Why, funny you should ask, yes.
Marla frowned. Her hunch was
That changed things. Marla said she didn't think
this was a very good idea. SSQQ Man #3 said he understood.
He chose not to join us for the Beach Walk.
As I said, my enduring memory from the 2008
Cocktail Party was watching an outsider hold court.
The moment the attractive woman made her first appearance, a dozen
men lined up for a chance to dance with her. What I resented was
watching every woman in our group disappear into the background in the heated rush to check out the new babe.
Granted, at that point our men had no idea she
wasn't with our group so they can't be faulted for their
This year's group of men didn't have that excuse. They
knew full well these two ladies were on the outside knocking on
the door to come in. Even after I had made it clear the two redheaded women
were not welcome to be with our group, I watched for six nights in a row
as several of our men hovered around them like bees flitting
around fresh flowers.
For both of cruises, 2008 and 2009, there were more women
than men (this year the ratio was better than 2008). My heart went out to the women
in our group who were shunted aside both years as the men
made a mad dash to get in line for a dance with the
What I could not figure out last year
(2008) and what I could not
figure out this year (2009) is why some of the men in our group
disregarded the women in our group by giving these
outside women the time of day. Where
was the loyalty?
Personally, I wouldn't dream
of being caught dancing with an outside girl when there
are plenty of SSQQ girls
eager to dance. But not everyone
shares my point of view. We may be a 'community', but to
some of our guys, it is a community only when it is
majority of our men are great guys, but this issue seems to
be a blind spot for some of them.
ONE MAN SPEAKS UP
Oddly enough, shortly after the cruise was over, I asked a
couple people from the trip to comment on
this issue. One
of the men from the cruise spoke candidly to me. He said he
preferred to chase outside women because if he got lucky,
there would be no ties after the trip was over. He said to
chase one of our girls might doom him for eternity at SSQQ
if it didn't work out. The girl would
always be mooning over him or talking about him behind his
back with other women. Besides, chasing an
SSQQ girl would be like dating your
step-sister. The women in our group
were attractive, but they were more "buddies" at this
point than fair game. It would make life easier to maintain
a hands off policy with our SSQQ women and look for a
stranger to fool around with.
As I listened to him, I was surprised at
candor of this magnitude. To be
honest, I had never heard this argument before. In his mind,
our girls were his friends. They were off
limits to chase for
a brief fling. Since the cruise ship
seemed to be teeming with
unattached women, he preferred to chase an outside girl for
his fling because there would be no entanglements.
his explanation for a while, then I remembered the two
redheads were also from Houston. In fact,
one of them had
taken a class at SSQQ within the past year. So I pointed
this out. He thought about it, then replied, "Yeah, but
she's not at the studio enough to worry about it." In other
words, if he fooled around and left her at the dock, he
wouldn't risk losing his good standing at the studio.
Interesting train of thought.
said that if our guys didn't want to pursue anything
romantic, that was okay by her, but
why would the men prefer dancing with these outside
girls over women they had taken classes with?
After all, these women
might be good dancers, but so was she. Didn't she
deserve the inside track on their dancing attention?
So this woman decided to ask
a certain man in
our group why he left her sitting all the time
to go dance with the redheads. She
reminded him they danced all the time in
class at the studio, at practice night,
and at outside dance events such as Wild West. She was just as pretty and just as good a dancer as
the redheads. Why was she being pushed to the background?
His answer, "Well, gee, I can dance with you
any time back at the studio!"
From what I gather, that answer was not particularly
satisfying to the lady in question.
I can see why
women lose patience with men.
That makes two years in a row now where some of our guys have
made our gals feel like second class citizens with their
choice of dance partners.
I hope on the next trip our men pay a little bit
more attention to our women on all the dance floors, not just the
STRAY CAT STRUT
It is true that
SSQQ is founded on the principle of openness and friendship.
We are known for our absence of cliques and our willingness
to welcome new members into the group. This spirit of
friendship is something I take great pride in.
So now I am going to walk a tight rope and attempt to
explain when it is appropriate to draw a line and exclude
I don't know how
to say this without sounding hostile, but
outsiders like the 2009 redheaded
ladies ultimately does very little to
benefit our group.
As an example, you own three cats. You find yourself
constantly wishing you had three arms because you can only
stroke two at a time. When you are busy with work, you
feel guilty because you don't have the time to give the
attention the cats are used to.
One day you come home and there is a stray cat in your yard.
Do you feed the cat? Do you give it milk?
Everybody knows that once you begin to feed the cat, chances
are it will stick around.
Soon enough, the stray cat
will try to come inside the house. Cats have a way of
doing that, especially when you have already shown kindness. Do you really want to assume
responsibility for another cat? You know that you are
stretched thin to begin with. Is it fair to your three cats
to divide your attention even more?
Every time one
of our men trots over to pay attention to one of the outsiders, he is
sending an indirect signal to the women in our group. Argue with me if you wish, but
the man's actions are sending this message: I
see an outside woman who is
than the women I came with.
Yes, I admit that I am starting to sound like a chaperon at
a junior high dance. This sounds a bit like "dance
etiquette" lecture to a bunch of eighth grade boys. I realize I am writing to an
audience of grown men and women. So forgive me if I
offend. However, please stay with my argument and see
where I am going with it.
As the co-organizer of these cruise trips, I feel a
responsibility to the community. As far as these cruise trips
are concerned, we all have a good thing going here.
The spirit of friendship among a wide circle of people seems
to grow deeper and deeper every trip we take. I want to
protect this spirit.
I believe that leaving the group to pay undue attention to
outsiders hurts this spirit.
I see two immediate threats to this 'spirit of friendship'.
The first threat
is the danger of having Marla become discouraged over these
cruise trips. I am sorry to report that this is a real
In the Fall of 2009, Marla was pretty discouraged
thanks to the problems associated with the 2008 trip.
Before the 2008 trip even started, Marla was already running on
empty. Registering people for the 2008 trip had been a nightmare.
The rudeness of some people leading up to the 2008 trip had
huge toll on her.
It turns out that the rough treatment before the trip was a
legitimate predictor of things to come... people who are
rude on land remain rude at sea.
Marla and I were both deeply upset over the
behavior of some of our guests on the 2008 cruise trip.
The inconsiderate behavior of a few people took
all the fun out of it. Marla was literally ashamed of
the way certain people behaved. She felt their
negative actions reflected back on her. Marla
organizes these trips from her heart, not from her
pocketbook. If people could not act with decency on
her trips, then maybe she should stop organizing them.
After the trip was over, Marla was very down-hearted.
One day she looked at me and said, "I don't even know why I
The thing I want you to know about both Marla and myself is
that neither of us organize the cruise trips for the money.
The commission money is appreciated,
but it isn't the reason we try so hard to organize good
trips. If the money was so important, then why do I sing
the praises of the 2009 trip with 90 passengers and decry
the record-setting 2008 trip with 144 passengers? If
the money was so important, then why would Marla sacrifice
$4,000 in commissions?
We organize these trips for one main reason - like everyone
else, Marla and I like to travel with our friends. We
do this for the same reason I spend hours putting up the
Haunted House Maze at Halloween... we both enjoy the
satisfaction of throwing a good party.
But when it stops being fun, at this point in our lives,
both of us are willing to bring down the curtain.
Seeing how badly my wife felt about her 2008 trip, I felt
like I had to speak up about what had bothered us so much. I had to address the behavior problems on last year's
trip and make it clear that this kind of
behavior would not be tolerated.
So I wrote the Destructo story. I think writing both stories
did a lot of good. Each and every
person from the ill-fated 2008 trip who caused trouble
either disappeared or were shown the door.
What a difference a year makes. This year in 2009
there was not one incident of irresponsible behavior.
Marla was thrilled to see that her guests had marvelous fun
on this year's trip. Her faith in organizing these trips was
MISSING THE BIG PICTURE
The other threat to our 'spirit of friendship' is the
age-old human tendency to care more about what is good for
the individual than what is good for the group.
There is an old saying at sea, "Every man for himself".
In this regard, the 2009 incidents involving
the two redheaded ladies hit a nerve. Whenever our
group visited the Atrium after dinner, we had at least four
different men who regularly cut loose from the group to
court these two outsiders.
While I certainly understand why any single, unattached man
would desire to ask these attractive women to dance, it was
the "again and again and again" that made me uncomfortable.
Seeing the two "outsider" women dance more frequently with
our men than women from our own group didn't feel right.
Their obvious preference for dancing with two women who were
not part of group made me feel protective of the women in
As far as I am concerned, when we go to sea and it comes to
DANCING, we should stick
together as a group. I said so last year and now I am
saying it again.
Our cruise program is our own
Anyone who wishes to join the group
is welcome, but let them come in the front door, not the
In the future, we need for the members of our own group to stop inviting
outsiders to join in.
Next year, if two more women hang around on the fringe of our
dance activities, it would help if our men would stop
treating them like Greek Goddesses. There is no reason why
our men have to wear out the rug beating to path to ask the
redheads to dance while we are out at sea. Every time one of
our men dances with an outsider, he gives them reason to hang
Next year there will
two more who will try the same thing and two more the year
after that. Our SSQQ women have been patient for two years
in a row, but if they feel like this neglect is likely to
continue, you guys may just end up with more women than men
on next year's trip. Then the shoe will be on the
I don't care how cute next year's stray kitty
is. Don't feed it.
AN INTERESTING QUESTION -
WHAT DOES IT HURT TO DANCE WITH AN OUTSIDER?
One man pointed out these women are his friends and
dance partners at Wild West.
Why shouldn't he be friendly to
them on his cruise trip?
That is a good point, one
that is sure to come up again on future trips.
Here is what is
harmful about that attitude.
First, these women chose to avoid putting $60 in my wife's
pocket, but wanted to keep the privilege of dancing of with
our men. That is exactly the same thing as stiffing a
waitress and leaving no tip.
Each time one
of our men danced with one of the women, he was sending
them the message that next year they can skip paying
Marla again and
expect to dance with our men.
Mind you, Marla
is not greedy. Any woman who would voluntarily give up
$4,000 in commissions does not deserve this label. It is not
about the money, it is about "Respect". Marla has the
same feelings as the next person. She wishes to be
compensated fairly for her work. If someone wants to
hook up with her trip, Marla wants to be paid what she
deserves. This Tagalong stuff needs to stop.
Second, every time our men danced with the
outsiders, two of our women were forced to
sit on the bench. Come on, guys, put
yourself in their place. Our women
played by the rules and paid the dance
cruise. They took dance lessons
for months to improve their skills so they
would be ready to dance with you. They
went on diets, they bought new clothes, and
looked forward to this event for a long
time. These ladies came aboard
expecting to be rewarded for their hard work
only to discover they were second string to
a couple of outsiders. What a slap in
the face. They thought you guys were
their friends. Did it dawn on you guys
that they want to dance just as much as the
outside women do? Why should the
outsiders be given preference?
The more time you spend with someone
outside the group, the less time you spend with the group of friends
you came with.
When you go to Wild West, you go by yourself. When you go on a
cruise, you are part of a Group. There is a big difference.
When we are out at sea, there should be a sense of looking out for
each other. A major function of the Group at Sea is making
everyone feel included.
Each time one of our men goes off on one of his 'Lone Wolf'
tangents, he basically tells the Group he doesn't need them... but
expects them to still be there for him if he returns empty-handed.
Now he's a "Lonesome Wolf". He wants the Group to be his
friends again. That's what I mean when I say "We
may be a 'community', but to some of our guys, it is a community
only when it is convenient".
I'm sorry if I offend anyone, but I just don't see how that behavior
benefits the group.
I will never tell anyone who they can and can't dance with. I certainly am
not going to make a rule. It's a vacation.
Everyone has the right to dance with whomever they please.
No one has to answer to me. Nor will I say anything.
But from now on, the Lone Wolves will know what I am thinking.
If my logic has made any sense, "Group Etiquette"
suggests you show preference to the women in the
Is there any reason why
a man can't keep his interaction with an Outsider to a discrete minimum?
If the outsider is a friend from home, no
one expects you to be rude to them. If you must, dance
with the outsider once a night. After the song is
over, remind the lady that soon you will be free to be together to
your heart's delight. However, right now your conscience is
calling you to return to your group of friends. If the
"outside woman" seems miffed, all you have to do is explain
to them where you are coming from. Treat it like a
character test. If they stomp their feet and make you
feel bad, you are learning something about them. If
they smile and say they understand, you have met a winner.
Of course be cordial to the outsiders, but
as they say, dance with the ones who brung you. It's the same thing as the
basketball court -
yes, you can have friends on the other team, but during the
game remember who your teammates are. The dance floor
is our basketball court. Right now, the outsiders are
playing for their own team. Tell your friends you will
see them after the
game is over.
ADVICE TO MEN - THE RIGHT WAY
TO CHASE OUTSIDERS
Back in 2001, I met a woman on the cruise trip who took my breath away.
From that point on,
nothing else on that entire ship mattered.
Other than the ship capsizing or hitting an
iceberg, I was locked in. Only a hurricane or tidal wave would have
broken my concentration.
So, yes, I do understand the need to pursue someone you meet
who could become special.
it is true that Marla was a card-carrying member of our group. But I
will also admit I met her at a midnight "singles dance" sponsored by
the ship. In other words, I was single and I felt no obligation to
limit my search within the group. Furthermore, since this wasn't a
group activity, I felt no disloyalty to the group. It is also true I was looking to
misbehave. That said, my objectives changed in a hurry when I met
As for my "stick to the group" advice, if Marla had been
an outsider, it would not have mattered. Considering
the feelings I had for her, to heck with the group. Some things are
more important than the group. I fell in love practically from the
moment we met.
With that in mind, I don't criticize the man in our group who
hooked up with the outsider on last year's 2008 trip. He met
a woman he was seriously drawn to. Even though she was an
outsider, that's okay in my book. I am glad he met someone he
cared about. If someone is unavoidably drawn to an outsider, by all
means, go for it!
When romance knocks on the door, don't let
anything stand in its way.
On the other hand, if all you want to do is fool around, I don't have a problem with that either.
simply prefer that you don't make the other people in the Group feel
awkward. There is a right way and a wrong way.
We are a Dance GROUP on a Dance CRUISE. Therefore,
Dance Floor on a Cruise Ship - be it private or public -
that belongs to our GROUP.
The Group can actually help you meet Outsiders. While you are dancing with
someone from within the Group, don't be surprised if
you notice that outsider women are drawn to you. It happens
all the time on these cruises. The only problem I had with the two
redheads who dominated our men's attention is that our men didn't
keep it to a discrete minimum. Our men should have taken it
elsewhere if they were that interested, but we will get to that in a
A good dancer is attractive wherever there is a dance floor.
The dance floor is where you shine. People who are watching see you
confident and energetic. They see you entertaining a lady and making
her smile. So they become intrigued.
That explains why whenever you dance with someone inside our group,
you stand a good chance of being approached or smiled at from female
guests outside our group.
If you exchange glances, you have every right to pursue your
own objectives. In other words, go ask her to dance. One
dance won't hurt. If your dance provides no further sparks,
then leave it alone and get back to the Group. No harm done.
It is only when you overdo it that we mind.
It is watching you hustle right in front of us that creates
awkwardness. Therefore, if your situation has promise, have the
take it somewhere else. It's a really big ship. There is always some
obscure dance floor where you can avoid prying eyes. If the
girl digs you, she will leave. I promise. Not only will you avoid the gossip, whatever you have going will
immediately move to the next level by getting her alone to
yourself. It could be the start of something big.
You have just made a good move. Where the Group is concerned, your absence will avoid any
hurt feelings from members of the group who aren't getting to dance
very much. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.
Discretion is always the better part of valor.
And if she doesn't leave with you, you just
saved yourself a lot of time. Now ask one of our ladies to
dance. She will really appreciate the gesture.
You can pursue anyone you wish. It's a free country. Just
learn to do the right way.
MISSED A FREE COCKTAIL PARTY
Who knows why the two women didn't sign up through Marla?
I am sure they had their reasons. Maybe one of them is a
The real question is this:
What message did we send them this year about
joining our group next year?
These two women got benefits from our
me say it again. Every time a person in the group
dances with an outsider, they are sending a message to the
outsider that he or she doesn't have to buy a ticket to gain
admission to this year's party or to next year's party.
If anyone can just show up on the cruise
and say, "Hey guys, here I am, come dance with me!", then
what difference does it make to them who they sign up with?
Let me ask you a question. Would the two ladies have
taken this cruise if our group hadn't been on this trip to
begin with? I don't know the real answer, but I am
guessing 'probably not'. They were there because we
were there. They were tagging along because they knew a
cruise sounded like fun and they knew there would be a bunch
of men who are good dancers.
our Group got NO BENEFIT from them. Nor did Marla.
Ironically, if these women had joined our Group,
they would have given us a Cocktail Party.
sold 49 cabins. If Marla had sold 50 cabins, we would have
had a free Cocktail Party complete with
unlimited drinks and
a wide choice of
hors d'oeuvres. Our party would have been
so posh and elegant.
Never has the message been more
single person makes the
MARLA NEEDS ALL OF YOU TO GO TO BAT FOR HER
We have not heard the end of this
Outsider issue. People will continue to try to bypass
Marla in search of price discounts, then turn around and
look for a way to piggyback the group. There is too
much temptation to assume the problem will go away.
These cruise lines are so desperate for passengers that they
throw discounts at their customers right and left. They make
every attempt to encourage passengers to sign up through
them directly. Remember this - the cruise lines make so much
money off the people once they are on board that they will
do practically anything to lure customers aboard, and that
includes UNDERSELLING the same travel agents who help keep
them in business.
There are cruise discounts all over the Internet. Plus air
miles, credit card rebates, credit union
points, you name it. Some people
free or discounted cruises as business perks
and prizes. Remember, the
cruise lines want to fill their cabins. They will
strike a deal with practically any organization in the form
of discounts that will help lure more customers onto their
ships. So you fly a lot of miles for your business?
One day Continental or Southwest might say you have just
qualified for a half-price cruise.
The temptation is everywhere. The problem
for Marla is that these discounts generally shove the travel
agent to the side. The discounts tempt former SSQQ
passengers to bypass Marla in the desire to take advantage
of the offer. For example, on this
year's trip, one man told me he won a free cruise. He
asked me if he could apply it to next year's cruise.
This situation is a perfect example of
what Marla is up against. Fortunately, the man showed
loyalty to Marla. However, other people with less
loyalty might just go ahead and bypass Marla, then look for
the back door entry into our group.
Is it legal? Of course it is. Is it fair? I
suppose so, especially if you enjoy
American capitalism in its "only the strong survive" form.
Marla is up against some pretty serious competition. This cruise practice
of undercutting the travel agent seems ruthless in the same way that
John D Rockefeller drove all the small oil companies out of
business to create Standard Oil.
POWER OF THE GROUP
Personally, I think the cruise lines are shooting themselves
in the foot with their behavior. People like Marla bring
them a lot of business. We have people at the studio who
wouldn't dream of taking a cruise by themselves, but if it
is a "Delbert McClinton Blues Cruise" or a "Saint Anthony's
Brewery Cruise", these same people line up to join the
The impersonal email promotions
from the cruise lines will never catch
people's interest the same way. I
get a dozen a week from three different cruise lines.
Who wants to travel
alone when you can join a group like ours?
The preference for the
Group experience is Marla's
against these discounts. Most people at
the studio express a strong preference for traveling with a
group of their friends.
When they sit down for dinner, they want
to chat with eight friends at the table, not eight
strangers. It really is that simple.
And since Marla is the leader of a large group of friends,
she has a powerful ace in the hole - her control over
membership to the group.
SSQQ cruise guests sign up through Marla through loyalty
and trust. They know they can trust Marla
and they know they will have more fun hanging with
the group than they would have out on their own.
They also know from experience they are not losing any money.
Thanks to the success of her previous trips, Marla is able
to obtain prices that are competitive even when you compare
her price against the discount temptations.
But Marla's bargaining tool is useless
if you don't help her
Marla's bargaining power ultimately rests upon the shoulders
of you, her passengers. If you allow the Outsiders to enter
the Group through the back door, you are undermining Marla's control
over admission to the Group.
TO GO ONE STEP FURTHER
The truth is that people who have taken
one of our previous cruises are marvelous salesman for the
future cruises. We appreciate your help very much.
That said, I would appreciate it if you would
go one step further in the future.
When you speak to your
friends about coming on a cruise, please make sure they
understand they MUST SIGN UP THROUGH MARLA. Encourage
them to join the Group no matter what crazy discount they
think is more important. I understand that a $30
discount or whatever has their attention is hot stuff, but
ultimately they will have more fun if they join the group.
That is Step One.
There are obviously outsiders who don't realize it
is in their best interests to sign up directly through
Marla. On practically every summer trip, we have had
incidents where people try to gain entry
to our group through the back
door. This is not a problem that is going away. I think I
have documented this problem enough times now to make people
Step Two means that I need to guard the
door. I can't force the entire world to read our
policies or to respect them for that matter.
I believe the
only way to discourage people from crashing the party is
for someone to guard the door on the ship for every single one of our
private activities. That is what I
did this year and it seemed to work.
However, in 2010 we need to take one more
Step Three is to understand the growing need to
stick together on the public dance floors as well, not just the
private ones. We must learn to keep the Outside on the
outside looking in. When we appear on the dance floor, we should
do so as the SSQQ Dance Group, not the SSQQ Dance Group plus
whoever decides to tag along.
This idea would be voluntary;
no one can force anyone to cooperate. Nor would I ever
say a word to anyone who refused to cooperate.
That said, united we conquer.
AN INVITATION TO JOIN US NEXT YEAR!
As I draw this article to a conclusion,
let me remind everyone that these two women I have
referenced did nothing wrong.
They paid for the cruise just like everyone else.
They were friendly to everyone they came in contact with.
They had every right to be on the same public dance floors
as our dancers did.
Furthermore, unlike the woman from last year, not once did
they cross the 'private party' threshold at any time that I
am aware of.
Their situation reminds me of pickup basketball in the gym.
There are players you really wish were on your team,
but thanks to the luck of the draw, some days they end up playing against you for that particular
So, now matter how much you wish your buddy was playing with
you, while the game is in progress, you keep it in
mind that he (or she) is temporarily on the other team.
You play to win and then you shake hands when the game is
over. Now it is okay to be buddies again.
I wish these two women had been members of our group this
year. That is the absolute truth. Even though I
rolled my eyes at the guys who wore themselves out chasing
these two ladies around the floor, I never felt the slightest
animosity towards either woman. They had every right to want
For that matter, these two women certainly would have been welcome
additions to our group. If they ever wish to join us
in the future, I would love to have them with us. They
struck me as very nice ladies.
Let me add I have no hard feelings towards the guys in the
group who approached me about inviting these two ladies to
join us. I completely understand why our men would
have trouble seeing why two attractive, friendly women like
these ladies would not be welcome. It is hard to see
the Big Picture when two pretty girls are smiling at you.
In the future, I hope this article helps everyone see why an
"open arms policy" is ultimately detrimental to Marla and to
the group as a whole. From now on, when it comes to
any dance floor on a cruise, I would prefer we close ranks
and give priority to the people who are playing for your
team. When you return to Houston, the game will be
over. Now you can chase anyone you met to your heart's content.
Isn't that a
great picture of
and David Vining? Did you know I have at least three
dozen more pictures that are just equally wonderful in their
I haven't previously said anything about Lia or David, but I
dined with them on two occasions and learned they are both
very fascinating people. Did you know Lia is from
Greece? Did you know David has a daughter at the
University of Texas in the same dorm as my daughter?
They are both Freshman. Small world, isn't it?
that matter I haven't said much about a lot of people.
One of the problems I have is deciding which pictures and
stories make the yearbook and which ones don't. I will
be posting more pictures in the days to come. I have
many lovely formal pictures I wish to share. I have a story
about this year's walk on the Seven Mile Beach in Grand
Cayman as well.
The truth of the matter is that I could go on and on and on.
Oops, I just noticed I typed to the end David and Lia's
picture. One simple way to continue any story is to add a
picture. No problem - I already said I had 36 other
wonderful pictures to choose from (actually I have hundreds
Isn't that a great picture of Sharon Allen and Gordon Grant?
I haven't said much about either of these 'Usual Suspects'
either. Trust me when I say they both misbehaved a lot
on this trip and had a great time in the process!
I suppose I can break silence and share one nugget.
Gordon in particular left me absolutely convulsed with
laughter one afternoon. Mind you, Gordon is quite a
character to begin with. I was busy teaching the
Virginia Reel. We needed an extra guy. Gordon
had just shown up, so we dragged him out on the floor. There
is one point in the dance where a couple locks arms and
"Reel" their way down a gauntlet of temporary partners. The
maneuver can be very tricky at first. To simplify
matters, I always say to save your right arm for your "one
true partner" and save your left arm for your new partners.
Yeah, I know this description makes no sense, but it's the
best I can do.
Anyway, to make a long story short, Gordon wasn't really
concentrating all that hard. As he kept saying, "I'm
on vacation. I shouldn't have to think." When Gordon
started his "Reel", he was in trouble from the start.
He didn't have a clue what he was doing! Gordon was
circling around in total confusion and literally sticking
his arm out for every person in sight. Suddenly he
accidentally locked arms with two men simultaneously.
For a brief moment, Gordon was arm in arm swinging around
the floor with two other men. What a sight! They had
so much momentum that they did a full 360 before Gordon
could slow down long enough to escape. The look of
sheer mortification on his face was so intense that I
completely lost it. I was laughing so hard I had to
sit down on the floor because I was too weak to stand up.
Gordon, meanwhile, said he would have to quit! I mean
After that incident,
Gordon literally sat down and
refused to participate any more. Gordon
said he was too scared to dance with anyone. What if he
stuck the wrong arm out again? I
think he was kidding, but who knows for sure?
Fortunately, Gordon got his mojo back in Cozumel. I heard some interesting
stories about some pole dancing complete with video that may or
may not appear on youtube (he is negotiating hush money as I
type). Oops, now I am out of space.
Time for another picture!
Isn't that a
great picture of Caitlin Prescott and Edward Sanchez?
Steve took this picture one night at the Atrium.
haven't said much about Caitlin or Edward, but from the
looks of the picture they were having a lot of fun here.
Do you see the ghost in the background? That is Magic, the
lovely singer who entertained us all week. This trip
marked the third year in a row this pretty lady has been on
the ship to sing for us. I have never spoken to her, but I
saw her watching us all week long. If I were to guess,
I think the lady is very curious about our group.
After three years, she surely has seen everything under the
sun. I think she likes us. By the way, did you know
that Karl Rorabacher asked her to dance one night? It
was her off night and she was hanging out with her husband
watching another band that was performing. So Karl
asked her to dance! He said she did not know how to
Swing dance, but she picked it up pretty fast. It
helped of course that she had Karl leading her. Or so
he said. Anyway, I was proud of Karl for crossing the
barrier. Oops, out of space. Time for another picture.
I haven't said much about the lovely Webb sisters, now have
I? Mary, the taller one, was on last year's cruise
trip for the first time. So on day two of the trip she
got sick some awful virus. Mary was quarantined to her
room. For the next couple days we didn't see Mary at
all. Finally Mary began to feel better, but she was
too weak to misbehave. Not that she had much time
left; her cruise was almost over.
I guess Mary must have liked what she saw until she got sick
because this year she talked her lovely sister Frances into
joining her. I had met Frances a couple times before
at the studio when she would come by to say hi to Mary or
perhaps to give her a ride. Frances always seemed kind
of aloof. It probably didn't help that she didn't know
how to dance, but kept finding herself out on the floor
anyway. However, on this trip, I didn't get that
impression at all. Every time I spoke to Frances, she
was outgoing and very warm. I can only assume she does
much better at sea.
Time for another picture. I do not know a single thing
about Rachel Barzilau or her boyfriend Thomas Mrazek. Zero.
Zilch. Nada. Out of curiosity, I looked to see if they
have taken any dance classes from us. Nope. I have no idea
how they heard about our trip or why they joined us. I
don't know where they live or what they do for a living. I
don't know if they enjoyed our trip. All I know is
that Rachel was knockout good-looking and Thomas was Tom
Selleck handsome. They were gorgeous together. I
also know they disappeared in the middle of the trip.
I didn't see them for two days.
I can at least say they seemed friendly. Thomas shook
my hand a couple times and Rachel waved to me in Jamaica.
And that's it. Now you know just as much as I do about
our mystery couple.
As you can see, I can go on and on and on. I haven't said
anything about Elizabeth Northcutt, one of my favorite West
Coast Swing dance students who signed up for this trip. Nor
have I said anything about Louie Cottrell, one of the
studio's best Whip dancers. Elizabeth and Louie have
two things in common - they both like Whip dancing and they
are both very quiet.
As always, the troublemakers get the lion's share of the
publicity. I guess that's the way it is in life.
The ones who behave - Deborah Jenkins, Jo Ann McKracken,
Susan Blome, Linda Fleischer, Carol Batson, Wendy Weston,
Joyce Isiminger - they seem to fly under the radar.
For that matter, Anne Wells doesn't behave at all. I
heard she did some wicked terrible things with her pole
dancing in Cozumel. But when I looked at Steve's
collection, no pictures appeared to prove it. There
was just this one tepid shot that made me yawn. I have
to be honest; I think Anne paid Steve some hush money.
Based on what I heard compared to what I saw, there is no
Another guy who never behaves is Danny Hurdy-Gurdy Man. But
you know what? I didn't hear one bad thing about him
the entire trip. From past experience, I know Danny is
always trying to get into trouble. But Danny has
learned the secret - stay away from the camera, stay away
from the gossips, and don't talk to Rick. As a result,
he got through this trip scott free.
The only person who knows what Danny is up to is Jeff
Plaster. But Jeff ain't talking! I cannot
penetrate the veil of silence. For that matter, I didn't
hear anything about Jeff either! Oh well, time for
Now this picture is interesting to say the least.
What's going on here? Bet you don't know, do you!?
That handsome fellow is Tim Francis. Tim and his
beautiful wife Anita accompanied Jerry Francis, Tim's
brother, and Jerry's fiancée Amy Adams on last year's cruise. In
addition, Tim and Jerry's parents, Don and Linda Francis,
were on the trip as well. On this trip, Tim entered
every sort of contest there was - trivia, sudoku. Tim won seven
trophies and two medallions for his prowess. Is that
impressive or what? Yes, that is VERY IMPRESSIVE!
Let me add that Tim dominated our Pente competitions and
Trivial Pursuits contests. The guy is completely
brilliant. It runs in the family - Anita won some
Sudoku contests as well.
But did you know about it? No. This is the first
time you have heard about it. There is a reason, of
course. When last year's trip ended, I was in such a
bad mood that I was unable to write a word for several
I was angry about the woman who trespassed on our
activities, I was angry about the two women who put dents in
the ceiling during the Champagne Party, I was angry at the
lecher who tried to molest one of my friends in the hot tub,
I was angry at the woman who screamed at the waiters to
hurry up and give her more free booze, and I was angry at
the man who ran to a table so he could get the last seat
before a blind girl could get there.
In a nutshell, I was so damn angry at these people that I couldn't sit down at a
typewriter without trembling as the memories came flooding
back in. Then Hurricane Ike hit and I stopped thinking
about the 2008 cruise. Then I was sued and I sank into the deepest abyss of my
adult life. So much for any cheerful stories about
last year's cruise!
By the way, I just thought of another wonderful story from
last year that was omitted. I can't believe I failed to tell
the story of how my wonderful friend Gerald McEathron turned
80 on our trip.
That is Gerald McEathron grinning
underneath all those Hawaiian leis. So what exactly is
going on here? I knew Gerald's
birthday was coming, so I planned a little surprise for him.
I smuggled a box of plastic leis we use at our Beach Ball
parties onto the ship. Towards the end of dinner, I
organized every lady on the trip to come up one at a time
and give Gerald a big smooch, then decorate him with her
very own lei. I will spare you any mention of the
recurring jokes that accompanied such activity. The
ladies had an absolute ball. Some hussies not only
smooched him twice, they also got back in line to smooch him
again and lei him again. The nice thing about being 80
is that each girl got several smooching opportunities. I
think I got a smooch in too.
Pretty soon there were so many leis on Gerald that I started to worry he
might suffocate! Fortunately, Gerald sensed the threat
to his safety about the same time as I did, so he
transferred many of the leis to his arms. You don't
make it all the way to Eighty by falling asleep at the
Gerald and his lovely wife Virginia are much beloved members
of our cruise group. Did you know that to this day
Gerald remains the one man in the history of the studio who
proposed to his wife at the studio? Gerald
popped the question to Virginia in the middle of
a Rumba class back in 1997. I believe the teacher was Jill
Banta. Thank goodness Virginia said yes!
Virginia and Gerald have enjoyed a marvelous marriage. Did
you know that Gerald and Virginia were on our very first
SSQQ dance cruise in 1998? Virginia constantly reminds me that
Gerald is the finest man she has ever met in her life and
that she loves him dearly. Let me add that Gerald is just as
Gerald is a hero to many of us in the group. We all
secretly hope that when we make it to Eighty, we are just as
light on our feet and as quick in our mind as Gerald is.
Gerald hasn't lost a step on the dance floor. I marvel
at his ability to dance to the fastest of songs without
apparently tiring out. I should be so lucky!
In addition, I am deeply grateful to Gareld for introducing
his lovely daughter Deborah (pictured) to the studio.
Deborah is just as intelligent as her father and she is also
her father's equal as a wonderful human being. They
are both amazing humanitarians. I thank my lucky stars
these wonderful people have chosen to share a large part of
their lives with me and the studio.
I often wish I was a stronger person. I know that I
allow myself to lose heart when things go wrong on my dance
cruises. I take it all much too personally. The
fact is, even though I felt like the 2008 Dance Cruise was a
complete disaster, the guests told me they had a perfectly
I was just so lost in my own problems due to the poor
behavior of a select few that I completely failed to see the
2008 trip was a marvelous success. Let me add I
believe I owe the 2009 group a word of thanks. It was
through their healing power that I was able to put last
year's problems behind me.
The 2009 group truly restored my faith in the Circle of
Friendship that permeates every one of these trips. One
feature of a group cruise trip is that "differences" between
people don't seem to matter. For example, within our
group, age doesn't seem to matter. People of all ages can
enjoy the trip. Gerald and Virginia are proof of that
- everyone adores them.
Furthermore, it doesn't matter whether you are single or a
couple. Experience has shown that the couples enjoy the
company and the shenanigans of the singles. The singles
enjoy the stability and warmth of the couples.
The couples enjoy the chance to interact with friends. They
also enjoy the chance to occasionally go off by themselves
and be alone with each other for a while. The singles
enjoy the wide range of other singles to chase around the
ship. And when they tire of the chase, they all plop
down in the hot tub and simmer for a while. Refreshed, they
jump out and begin the chase again.
Best of all, when it comes to dancing, the couples and the
singles all enjoy switching partners. It is fun to
dance with lots of different friends.
On each cruise trip we take, there is a growing feel that it
is a "family reunion". A cruise ship is ultimately a huge
floating hotel perfect for family reunions. There is
something for everyone to do. Marla's Cruise Trips have
allowed people to create bonds of friendship much deeper
than at any time I can ever remember at our studio before
the Cruise Era began.
The connections formed on these trips really are a thing of
beauty to watch. Entire groups of people who connect on the
sea keep that friendship going once they reach land.
And what do you suppose they like to talk about when they
get together? You guessed it - last year's cruise and next
Tim Francis and his Michael Phelps-like
A LETTER FROM VELMA,
LEADER OF THE WHAT THE HELL CLUB
Sent: Saturday, September 12, 2009 11:59 AM
Subject: Note from Velma
As you know, I started dancing at SSQQ as the beginning
of a recovery process after the death of my husband.
Cher Longoria had suggested that I take lessons for some
The lessons, dancing and people at SSQQ have been a
great addition to my life. You are a wonderful teacher
in more ways than dance. And your choice of Marla as a
mate lets me know that you are also a wise man.
I wanted to thank you for all your work planning,
organizing and managing the Conquest Cruise. Since I had
never been on a cruise I was apprehensive about the
trip. However, it could not have been better.
Your selection of the people who sat with me at dinner
was perfect. Not only did we enjoy the cruise, we have
become friends. Everyone likes everyone.
Last night we all had a reunion dinner together
two weeks after the cruise.
If you need a second career
you can become a matchmaker.
I loved watching you and Rick dancing together. It is
obvious you are still in love. You are both very special
Thank you for your very kind letter, Velma.
I agree I showed a lot of wisdom in my choice of a mate!
Marla and I are definitely in love. I respect her on so
many levels and for so many reasons.
As for helping you recover from the death of your
husband, I know exactly what you mean. The studio has
helped many people heal their wounds in a similar
fashion. I am one of them.
You know, dancing doesn't come easily to you. You
stumble, you fall, you roll your eyes and grimace with
exasperation. But I have to hand it to you - you get
back on the horse, you persist and pretty soon you get
closer. The thing that matters to me, though, is not how
well you dance, but the attitude you bring to it. You
seem to understand that the dancing is simply a
marvelous excuse for a bunch of great people to hang out
together. Of course, let me add it helps that dancing
turns out to be a lot of fun.
In a way, you are just like another friend of Cher's -
Joel Konkel. He showed up here at SSQQ beaten down from
his own disappointments. He didn't seem to have a lot of
confidence. Making matters worse, when he first got
here, Joel quickly discovered he couldn't dance a lick
to save his soul. Learning to dance was a real struggle
for him. But he stuck with it!
Now through the same
determination as you have shown
and plenty of practice, Joel is really
smoothing out on the dance floor. Good for him! But the
important thing to me again is not Joel's dance ability, but
his 'heart'. Joel makes everyone around him happy. That
is his true gift to this studio.
You seem to have a very similar gift, Velma.
I think you are better now. It has been fun watching you
come back to life! Now that you are strong again, you
have turned into the same sort of 'giver' that Joel is.
Marla and I loved watching you in action on the trip.
You were definitely the leader of the pack, i.e.
your what the hell club. What a hoot!
It is true that I got this show started. Then Marla came
along to take it to the next level with her cruise
I am pleased to say the future of the studio is bright.
Most people don't have a clue who this 'Daryl' guy is,
but let me assure you, he is cut out of the exact same
cloth as me. Daryl has talent upon talent with people
skills that I believe exceed my own. You have no idea
how grateful I am that someone of his caliber is willing
to take over the reins. And I mean every word. I can't
predict the future, but I know that Daryl has some
amazing energy about him. I feel very good about his
prospects for taking this circus way beyond where it is
now. He has the leadership ability and he has people
like you and Joel to help him take it there.
all, it wouldn't bother me in the slightest to see him
excel. I have the "George Washington" satisfaction of
getting it all started and that is all I need to be
On a very sad note, we lost two fine men on September 12
last year. Gary Schweinle in particular was one of our
main 'lieutenants', a real shining light. He was an
amazing guy. I knew when we lost him, we lost a huge
leader. And yet this year on the first anniversary of
the tragedy, this year's
Kool Kat Swing Party turned out to be
one of the most amazing dance parties imaginable.
my point of view, what was remarkable about the party
was how successful it was in comparison to how little I
did. I barely lifted a finger, but the party exploded
anyway. Why? Because the lieutenants took over and asked
other people to help. So many people deserve credit
for last night's success!
In addition to Joel
helping, there is this guy named Charley who
helped organize last night's party. He is a modest guy
who would never dream of tooting his own horn. And let
me add that Charley had his own experience seeing how
the studio could help him recover from a great sadness.
Charley and Joel are just two of the obvious suspects,
but I suspect many others. I loved it when I discovered
that Marsha and Mona were doing steady business at the
margarita factory. And all that food! Wow! I could tell
there were a lot of people who put some real backbone
into making last night's party work.
And the people responded - there was a huge crowd.
They were laughing, they were
eating, they were dancing. It
sight to behold.
Consequently, last night was a real triumph for me. One
year later after Gary and Michael's death, it is good to
see that the studio has healed itself. A year ago, the
studio was in deep depression thanks to
the destruction throughout the city, the loss of power, and
of course the twin tragedies of
Gary and Michael.
Now look at
all the happiness. The dance studio is a pretty amazing
These days the studio is blossoming again. I give much
of the credit to our wide range of 'lieutenants', that
is, people like you who help get the
party started and keep the action going.
As for me, I enjoy watching it all go by. It is
comforting to see that I don't have to do the heavy
lifting any more. Thanks to
people with tons of energy like you and Charley and Joel and everyone else, this is a very satisfying thought indeed.
Let me add one more thing - this trip
healed me too. For a long time, I have carried so much bitterness
around with me from last year's trip. The 2008
Conquest Trip was a true nightmare for me. One
night at the Captain's Reception, I was standing at the very
back of the room talking to Kurt Wind. Marla was out
on the floor dancing. I noticed a woman who was drunk
out of her mind. She wanted to get even more drunk.
So she parked herself right in the path where the waiters go
to pick up new drinks and carry them to the guests.
Like a troll guarding a bridge, she was about to snatch two,
even three drinks from every tray, guzzle them down, and
prepare to attack the next waiter. Finally one waiter
had the temerity to suggest she move just a few feet so they
could get by without spilling their trays. This woman
screamed at them, calling them a bunch of Filipino fill in
the blanks and much worse. I cringed at her words.
I have never seen a more horrible public treatment of people
who could not possibly retaliate. I nearly interceded
myself! Fortunately a ship officer took over.
I was so sickened by her behavior that I was seething with
anger at her treatment of these defenseless men. Then
came the final blow. Marla came back and I pointed the woman
out. Marla said that woman was with our group. I
was incredulous. I had never seen her before. The
realization that I was responsible for bringing this
creature on board to torture these men was more than I could
bear. A depression came over me that was so dark I literally
had to go my room. I was not fit to be around another
incident set me up, the Destructo incident put me on the edge, and now this Cruella
de Ville monster pushed me into the abyss. On the
spot, I froze up. I had to go to my room. That
was the end of the Trip for me; I had shut down. I was
barely civil for the remainder of the trip. One night
I didn't even come to dinner. Marla had to go without
me. I stayed out of sight as much as I possibly
could. The depression I sunk into on that trip marked
one of the lowest points of my career.
Consequently I approached this year's trip with the attitude
that I was just going to do my job and get it over with.
Then to my surprise, I found myself smiling from the moment
our first party. That smile never went away. It
carried through all the way to the very end of the trip.
It was smooth sailing from start to finish. Even the stuff
that used to bother me didn't bother me that much.
This year's group was so wonderful that all the bad memories
of last year's trip just seemed to fade away. I felt a
healing that was pretty amazing.
I might add this trip was so good to me that I couldn't wait
to write about it. Unlike last year when I had to force
myself to say even a word about that trip, this year I
couldn't stop writing. What a pleasure it has been to
tell the tale of the 2009 Conquest Trip.
It is nice to remind people
that the studio actually heals people. This is a good
message indeed. The studio has
healed you. The studio has healed me. And we are
not alone. There are a lot of people who been healed
by the studio's warmth.
I still miss
my friends Gary and Michael, but
watching the studio heal itself and spring back to life is a
joy to behold as well. You have no idea how happy
people were at that Kool Kat Party. I
can't help but compare this special moment to how miserable
we were exactly one year earlier.
Life is indeed a circle.
SSQQ Dance Studio
September 13, 2009