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Table of Contents

 


It's 5 O'clock Somewhere

 


The Sydney Opera House

 


The Mystery of the Land Down Under

 


A Valuable Lesson

 


Original Information about this trip
 

 


NEW ZEALAND AUSTRALIA 2019


  
2019 New Zealand Australia Itinerary
 
   March 08: Day 0   Friday Sydney, Australia
   March 09: Day 02    Saturday cruising to New Zealand
   March 10: Day 03    Sunday cruising to New Zealand
   March 11: Day 04   Monday New Zealand:  Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Dusky Sound
   March 12: Day 05   Tuesday Dunedin, New Zealand
   March 13: Day 06   Wednesday cruising
   March 14: Day 07    Thursday Wellington, New Zealand
   March 15: Day 08     Friday Napier, New Zealand
   March 16: Day 09    Saturday Tauranga, New Zealand
   March 17: Day 10     Sunday Auckland, New Zealand
   March 18: Day 11   Monday Bay of Islands, New Zealand
   March 19: Day 12   Tuesday cruising back to Sydney
   March 20: Day 13   Wednesday cruising back to Sydney
   March 21: Day 14   Thursday disembark Sydney, Australia
 
 
 
xxx

 
 

Rick Archer's Note:  

As most people know, the phrase 'It's Five O'clock Somewhere' refers to a popular song by Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett.  I doubt you need me to explain it, but the idea is that if you've been waiting till Happy Hour to have a drink and you're losing patience, hey, it's Five O'clock Somewhere, so why wait?

If you are under 50 and you are reading this, you might not understand, but you will soon enough.  Once you reach a certain age, its time to step out of the rat race and chill. 

Hey, Alan, what time zone am I in?  What country am I in?

It doesn't matter, it's got to be five o'clock somewhere.  By the way, Jimmy, I thought it was always 5 pm in Margaritaville.

Yes, Alan, I've heard people say that.  May have said it myself. 

Rumor has it you've gotten wasted there a couple times
.

Yes sir, that I have.

 

5 O'clock Somewhere is an attitude, a state of mind.

I've been there, I've done that, I've paid my dues, I've raised my kids, I've made my fortune.  Now it's time to relax and have fun. 

And if a Margarita or a glass of wine will help me reach that peaceful easy feeling a little faster, then, what the heck, it's bound to be Five O'clock Somewhere. 

So kick back, pour yourself a glass of wine, and join us on a pictorial review of our cruise trip to Sydney and New Zealand. 

 
 

Whoever named this spectacular mountain range the 'Misty Fjords' definitely got that right.  What a stunning place to visit.

 
 

Say hi to Tony.  Tony was new to the group, but he felt right at home from Day One.  One point of this story is to remind everyone that what makes our trips special is the opportunity to share these experiences with friends.  Over the years, Marla has created the framework for individuals to feel part of a family or go off on their own for a while no questions asked.  The important thing is the companionship is there whenever you are ready for it.

 
 

Elaine and Yvette are busy celebrating 5 O'clock.  I wish to thank Kyle Guidry, Yvette's husband, for sharing his wonderful pictures with us.

The second reflects the fun of hanging with a group of friends.  One morning in Sydney I went for an early walk and discovered a marvelous park nearby.  Over breakfast at the hotel, I told everyone how great the park was.  Next thing you know, the whole gang wanted to go see the place.  Everyone contributed a different skill.  For example, Marla organized the trip, Jim was our Trivia leader, Kyle and Marla posted the photos, and I wrote stories to immortalize the memories.

Incidentally, as long as it is posted, you are more than welcome to take a look at Kyle's wonderful photo collection: Kyle's Photos.

 
 

The train ride from Dunedin into the New Zealand interior was pleasant enough.  There was a lot of beautiful scenery, but it was impossible to photograph due to windows and train movement.  So I photographed friends instead.  Joan and Diane 1 on left, Diane 2 and Maggie on right.  A very special thank you to Maggie.  I developed an abscessed tooth in the middle of the trip that would later require a root canal.  With my tooth throbbing like crazy, I thought I was in serious trouble because the pain showed no sign of letting up.  How was I ever going to get through the rest of the trip with this kind of constant agony??  Maggie, a nurse, handed me a magic pill.  This dulled the pain enough to allow me to sleep.  Thank goodness, in the morning the pain was gone.  By chewing on one side of my mouth and sticking to soft food, I made it through the rest of the trip without a repeat of that scary night. 

Much gratitude to Maggie for taking care of me that night.  She basically saved my trip.  In so doing, Maggie's concern and assistance reminded me yet again how we always seem to operate as a family.  When we go on trips, we all look out for each other. 

 
 

To my surprise, the train stopped to allow a few pictures of the rugged New Zealand scenery.  Marla and Ann Wasp at the turnaround spot. 

To our delight, on the way back, the train offered as much wine as the heart desired.  New Zealand gets it... 5 O'clock is very important. 

 
 

We were all young once.  The older we get, the more we start acting like kids again.  Here we have a picture of six silly people stuffing a phone booth to take a selfie.  A phone booth?  What's that?  Stuffing a phone booth?  Why would anyone stuff a phone booth?  You have to be really old to even know what I am talking about.  And if you don't know, it's better that you don't.

 

 

One of our favorite adventures was visiting a sheep farm.  It was so marvelous watching the dogs respond to special whistles and commands from Tommy, their trainer.  One thing I learned is there are two kinds of dogs used in herding sheep.  Although the border collies are excellent at rounding up the sheep, they are not quite so good at motivating them to move faster.  So they also use another kind of dog who likes to bark.  Tommy used the term 'motivator'.  The sheep are terrified of the barking dog, so Tommy used one set of commands to tell the barking dog to motivate the sheep to move and another set of commands for the collie to keep them moving in the right direction.

It was special to see the rapport  between man and dog.  And then of course at the end of this wonderful exhibition we celebrated 5 O'clock Somewhere on the farm with local beer and wine.  Like I said, New Zealand understands.

 
 
 

Our visit to Te Mata Peak was another highlight of the trip.  Te Mata Peak offers an unobstructed panoramic view in every direction.  We were literally at the top of the world.  Witness Tony and his grandson Zach being King of the Mountain.   Zach was the only under-50 member of our group.  Zach said he wasn't quite sure why we kept looking at our watches, so one night we decided to explain it to him.

Zach caught on fast.

 

New Zealand had one spectacular harbor after another. 
And not a billboard in sight.  What a wonderful concept.

Tom, Elaine, Tony/ Cindy, Yvette/
Jim, Marla, Kyle/ Rick, Joe, Sandy, Zach.

 

 

Here we have pictures of Diane, Lynn, and Cindy admiring the various Hobbit Homes.  The Lord of the Rings movies were filmed in New Zealand.  After the series was completed, the owner of the farm where the sets were created decided to turn the area into a tourist attraction.  Judging from the over-populated trails, it was a brilliant move.

Sorry to say, but in my opinion our trip to Hobbit Town, or Hobbiton as they call it, was a bit over-hyped.  Rather than feel the much-promised 'Magic', mostly I felt a massive ho-hum.  On the other hand, maybe I should hire their publicist.  You would not believe how crowded this place was!!  I am telling you, Hobbiton was more crowded than Disneyland and not one ride in sight. 

 
 

I had expected all kinds of different sets, but the only thing I saw was the set from the opening scene of the first movie.  We spent an hour or so wandering around looking at the Hobbit village.  We saw a dozen or so hobbit homes complete with grass roofs and round doors.  Although each home was excessively cute, after the third or fourth one, they all started to look alike.  It's a good thing they painted the doors a different color because the variety in architecture was definitely lacking.  The only saving grace, of course, was that Hobbiton featured a kick ass 5 O'clock Somewhere at the Green Dragon Pub.  The bus ride back to the ship was very pleasant indeed.

 
   
 

Oh, this was a very sad story.  Yvette and Elaine accidentally went into one of the Hobbit homes and were turned into dwarfs by some sort of Hobbit Curse.  The good news is they intend to audition for the next Hobbit movie.  Elaine has a crush on Frodo.

 
 

Cindy Harvey, Marla, Sandra Schneider,
Cindy Hudson

Tom Holthe, Jim Hudson, Cindy Harvey

Sandy Upchurch, Lynn Burch,
Sandy and Joe Brenner

 
 

Hal is hidden behind Rick, Patti Maryan,
Greg and Wanda Biasetti, Donna Sears

Joan Korpal and Diane Gonzales

Donna, Rick, Lynn Popkowski, Hal, Patti,
Greg, Wanda

 


Rick Archer's Note: 
These pictures were taken at our Cocktail Party on board the ship.  If I had one regret, it was not circulating with the entire group as much as I have in the past.  I was outgoing for the first part of the trip, but once my abscessed tooth kicked in, I was in low-level pain for the rest of the trip.  Consequently I kept as low a profile as humanly possible.  I am great debt to Patricia Davenport for contributing the pictures of our Cocktail Party.
 

 
 

Barbara Law,  Lydia and Greg Jackson,
Samui Nanta

Ann Wasp, Shan Oliver, Dianne Youngblood

 Maggie Dodds, Susan Arevalo

 
 
 

 

The stunning Blue Mountains are Australia's answer to the Grand Canyon.  They are located about 30 miles northwest of Sydney.  As one can see, this is a very beautiful area.  As for my wife, Marla hit the 5 O'clock Somewhere Grand Jackpot.  As a reward for organizing such a large group, Marla was given unlimited access to as much beer as she could consume.  Clearly Marla could not restrain herself. 

By the way, the gang had fun contributing extra beer cans to exaggerate things a bit.

 
 
 

Without a doubt, one of our highlights during our stay in Sydney was the visit to Taronga Zoo.  We took a water taxi across to the other side of the harbor.  Koalas, kangaroos, emus, snakes, wallabees, cassowaries and parrots were among the attractions.

However, it was the Komodo dragon that stole the show.

 
 

A Komodo dragon is the world's largest lizard.  It lives on remote islands in Indonesia.  Mesmerized by this scary-looking creature, I noticed a young zookeeper named Burt enter the pit and nonchalantly pet the thing on the head.  Aware that these creatures are said to be poisonous, I asked Burt about the reported venomous bite.  Burt said the dragon could kill him if it wanted to, but they had a rapport of sorts and he felt no fear.  We all sort of looked at each other like 'did he really say that?

Burt said the Komodo dragon does indeed have a venomous bite, but if one stays on the dragon's good side, the danger is minimal.  Our wives were over looking at a giant snake at the time, so someone felt safe enough to point out Burt's quip reminded him of his wife.  Apparently one of the wives overheard that remark, so now the ladies came over to investigate which particular husband was the smart aleck.  Thank goodness the male code of silence kicked in or someone could have been thrown to the dragon.

Meanwhile Burt was just warming up.  Pointing out the dragon has never shown the slightest bit of affection towards him, Burt said he is absolutely fascinated with the creature and studies it every chance he gets.  Burt said the dragon only eats once a month, but all it ever thinks about is food.  Catching food is a serious issue with Komodo dragons since they aren't very good at it.

Since the Komodo dragon is slower than molasses, its hunting strategy is based solely on stealth.  It can spend hours in one spot along a game trail waiting for a deer and other sizable prey to cross its path.  Rarely does the dragon bring down a large prey on the first try, but it doesn't need to.  One bite is enough.  If the Komodo is able to even nip its prey, the animal is doomed.  Due to the bacteria and powerful venom in it the dragon's saliva, the prey will surely die within a few days.  Meanwhile the Komodo is slowing trailing behind the spore.  Using its powerful sense of smell, the dragon will eventually locate the dead animal at its final resting place.  

As Burt told us this story, the dragon occasionally walked right past him.  Worried that the dragon might be hungry, I felt very uneasy. After all, Burt said one bite is all it takes.  Hopefully the zoo had an antidote on hand.

 

I asked Burt if it was possible for the dragon to have a buddy or a girlfriend here in the pit for company.  You should have seen Burt's eyes light up! 

Burt shook his head.  "No, out of the question.  If there were two males in this confined area, they would try to kill each other to establish dominance.  If there was a female in the pit, watch out.  The Komodo mating ritual is not for the squeamish to watch.  In the wild, after battling other Komodos for mating rights, the winning komodo dragon will select his desired female, then use his the tongue to assess her receptivity."  We all raised an eyebrow at that one.

Meanwhile, Burt continued.  "Initially, the female will strongly resist.  No point wasting her time with some weakling.  It becomes the male's responsibility to jump on the female's back and wrestle her into submission.  The male is forced to approach very aggressively, using both teeth and claws.  If he is too weak, the female will toss him off and permanently reject him.  For this reason, the male must forcefully subdue and restrain the female like a bucking bronco during the mating act to avoid getting injured himself.  And get this... because the males have no choice but to be savage, sometimes they accidentally break the female's neck in the act.

Having shocked us, Burt smiled.  "Nor does it stop there.  If the female gets hungry after the eggs hatch, she occasionally eats one of her children.  Here's the problem.  Tthe babies are so helpless, the mother does not dare leave their side for several months.  Because finding food is such a chore, she has no choice but to eat a few kids. Burt paused to smile. "And this explains why baby Komodos are so well behaved!"

I think he was pulling our legs with that last one.  Let's just say that Burt's ideas made a strong impression on the husbands.  That night the men made sure to discuss Komodo mating strategies during 5 O'clock Somewhere.  I'm not sure why, but our wives all had worried looks on their faces.

 

 
 

Rick's Note:  Look at this, Jim found a friend.  Not only was Jim smiling, we were all smiling.  Throughout the trip, love and friendship abounded.  Give credit to Marla.  Not only did she organize an amazing, flawless trip, she found the perfect hotel in Sydney.  Located in a central place, it was effortless for our friends to coordinate activities.   

For example, on the day before our cruise trip left for New Zealand, the group took a morning walk to nearby Barangaroo Park.  For our next adventure, we walked from one side of the Harbor Bridge to the other and back.  The sights of the Harbor from high up on the bridge were spectacular. 

After lunch, some members of the group walked to Hyde Park and Chinatown.  Marla and I walked to the Opera House and returned to the hotel through the adjacent Botanical Gardens. 

Seriously, our hotel was so close to the cruise ship, I could have hit it with a rock from our hotel. All we had to do to board the ship was roll our luggage down the sidewalk.  Five minutes tops.

Have you ever heard of WALKING to your cruise ship?  I have never experienced a more convenient boarding set-up in all my years of cruising.  And what a view of the harbor!  Once I got to my room, the Opera House was right next to us. 


As these pictures make clear, everything was within easy walking distance of our hotel including our cruise ship.

 
 

Sydney Harbor is absolutely amazing.  In addition to its considerable beauty, everything fits together perfectly.  To begin with, the two major icons of the Sydney Harbor - the Opera House and the magnificent Harbor Bridge - are side by side.  Better yet, the terminal for the cruise ship is situated right between the Bridge and the Opera House.

From the hotel, it is five minutes to the cruise ship, ten minutes to the bridge, and fifteen minute walks to the Opera House.  And if that isn't convenient enough, you can cross the fabulous Botanical Gardens on the way to the Opera House. 

For that matter, Harbor Bridge, Barangaroo Park, Downtown Sydney, Chinatown, and Sydney's very own Hyde Park are all within easy walking distance.  And how do I know this?  Because Marla and I walked to every single location listed. 

 
 

Here is my point.  Thanks to Marla's expertise, I have seen much of the world.  In my opinion, Sydney is the most tourist-friendly city I have ever visited.  Rome, Paris, London and Barcelona were my previous choices for convenience, but none of these cities come even close to matching Sydney.  I have never seen so many important sites all within such easy walking distance.

Taxi?  If you can walk, who needs one?  Subway?  Who needs it?  Visit the Zoo?  The harbor ferry is within easy walking distance of the hotel.   Visit Manly Beach?  The harbor ferry is within easy walking distance of the hotel. 

And if there is some other place you want to see, I hear the subway is very easy and inexpensive to use.  Yes, the subway entrance is easy to reach from the hotel. 

Sydney is beyond amazing.  The combination of exquisite beauty and easily-reached places of interest is unparalleled. 

 

 

In many ways, this was the best cruise trip I have ever been on.  There were many interesting places to visit and much beauty to behold.  In addition, I hope our marvelous group spirit could be detected in my pictorial summary of the trip.  No matter where we were or where we went, we derived great pleasure from the companionship of our friends and loved ones throughout the trip.  The joy, the laughter, and the fun were present at all times. 

Our next great adventure will be The Road to Moscow in June, 2020.  Marla already has 34 people signed up.  Our river cruise will originate in Moscow, take us on the celebrated Volga River and terminate in St. Petersburg.  Yes, it will be difficult to top our trip to Sydney, but I am certain in its own way this trip will be just as exciting.  Not only do look forward to sampling the Russian Vodka, I already know what our slogan will be.  

Это где-то 5 часов!!   (It's 5 O'clock Somewhere!)

 
 

Back to Table of Contents
 


THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

Written by Rick Archer
April 2019

 

   

Rick Archer's Note: Considering the Sydney Opera House has become one of the world's most famous buildings, it might come as a surprise to discover it was born under a dark cloud of controversy. 

One reason for the antagonism was a serious miscalculation of the cost.  Referred to by the designer as the 'Malice in Blunderland', right from the start construction of the Opera House was plagued with problems. 

Estimated to cost $7 million, the final price tag came in at $100 million (a billion dollars in today's money).  As cost overruns go, that was a doozy.  It did not help that support for the building was said to be limited to "the only six people in Sydney who actually care about opera."

The majority of citizens considered it the height of folly to spend so much money on something so utterly impractical.  "What we really need is another bridge over the harbor to alleviate traffic!"

Another reason for discontent was the ridiculous amount of time it took to finish the project.  Estimated to be completed in 6 years at most, the building did not open till 16 years after the design was approved.

On the day the Opera House was scheduled to open, one paper had the nerve to print a very unflattering headline... Ten years late and 1,457% over budget!   Ouch.  The joke was that Rome wasn't built in a day, but it was built a heck of a lot faster than the Sydney Opera House. 

Another reason for the controversy was the presumed failure of the venture.  Considering that most people today consider the Opera House to be a breath-taking beauty, it might be difficult to believe the amount of criticism the structure received while it was being built.  However, the structure was not always beautiful.  For 16 years, the neighbors were forced to stare at endless construction.  The locals living nearby were depressed because their property values stagnated while they were forced to sit next to this monstrosity with its eyesore cranes and noisy bulldozers. 

It is hard to imagine one of the world's most beautiful buildings receiving such scorn, but this seems to be the case.  When the building finally took shape, now the most common complaint was that it was weird-looking.  Someone with an overactive imagination compared it to some sort of Norse troll preparing to gobble up passing boats in the harbor.  But why stop there? A famous Symphony Orchestra conductor Edo de Waart described the sound as “barren”, “cold”, “not alive”.  He threatened to boycott the “ugly” venue.

“Good lord, it's like playing Beethoven in a giant barn.  Add a few hoot owls and I wouldn't know the difference.”

Brian Thomson, a scenic designer for Opera Australia, recommended that the whole building be gutted.  Even Dame Joan Sutherland, ordinarily very gracious, likened the interior of the building to an airport terminal.

"Furthermore I wouldn't be surprised if the opera house is secretly a disguised warship capable of setting forth in case of attack." 

She smiled, so one can assume she was joking.  But maybe not. 

It might come as a surprise to learn people said similar things about the Eiffel Tower.  With an art critic on every corner claiming they could have done better, several of the most influential members of the Paris art establishment banded together in a group called 'The Committee of Three Hundred'.  United in their disgruntlement, they claimed it was their sacred duty to defend “the untouched beauty of Paris”.   They released a scathing manifesto:

“Imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of Les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe.  All of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream.”

They insisted this “metal asparagus” was a useless monstrosity that would overshadow beloved monuments such as Notre Dame, the Louvre, and Arc de Triomphe.  To them, it was an ugly and overblown work of engineering.

Along these same lines, there is a great anecdote attributed to writer Guy de Maupassant.  De Maupassant was one of the most virulent critics of the project.  Protesting every chance he got, de Maupassant said he would never accept the tower and its presence.  His anger only seemed to increase upon completion.  Annoyed by its immense popularity, de Maupassant couldn’t stand the sight of his “iron arch nemesis”.  Nor could he tolerate the gushing enthusiasm of “the ignorant, tasteless middle class”.  Wow!  Tough words!

The writer openly fumed because there was no place in Paris where he could take a stroll and not be haunted by the tower's dominating presence.  No place to run, no place to hide.  But then a mystery developed.  Given his well-known opposition to the project, his friends were confused by reports that de Maupassent was being seen dining frequently at the Eiffel Tower.  Had the Eiffel Tower's greatest critic made peace with his enemy?  

When confronted over this apparent hypocrisy, de Maupassant replied, "My friends, rest assured I am still thoroughly repulsed by this hideous hunk of scrap metal.  I dine here simply because it is the only spot in the city where I don't have to look at it!"

Fortunately, over time, criticism of both structures abated.  The new consensus focused on how unique the Eiffel Tower and Opera House were and credited the designers for their arresting, unconventional vision.

These days, the overwhelming sense of pride Paris and Sydney feel towards their world-famous structures is obvious.  The Roman Colosseum, the Athenian Parthenon and the Egyptian Pyramids may be the enduring icons of ancient architectural greatness, but now we have the new kids on the block.  The Opera House and the Eiffel Tower can take their place alongside the Statue of Liberty as the three most recognized international icons of our modern era.  Let's give credit where credit is due.  A Star is Born!

 

Widely Acknowledged as a Genius - Architect Jørn Utzon

 
 

 

In 1955, an international competition was launched in search of a creative design for the new Sydney opera house.  The criteria specified two structures.  One would be a large hall seating 3,000 and the other a smaller hall for 1,200 people.  They were meant to be used in different ways including full-scale operas, orchestral and choral concerts, mass meetings, lectures, ballet performances, and other presentations. 

 


The judges received 233 entries from leading architects in 32 different countries.  The winner was announced in 1957.  His name was Jørn Utzon, an relatively unknown Danish architect.  Due to a non-existent reputation, his design was very nearly overlooked.  Legend has it that Utzon's design was rescued by noted Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen from a final cut of 30 "rejects".

There can be little doubt the judges chose well.  Once they took a closer look, the final vote was unanimous.  Utzon's genius was to decorate the opera house with replicas of giant sails to pay homage to the thousands of sailboats that dot Sydney's magnificent harbor on a daily basis. 

The stalwarts of architecture agreed this was brilliant.  In 2003, Jørn Utzon received the Pritzker Architecture Prize, architecture's highest honor, an honor equivalent to a Nobel prize. The citation read:

"There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is a masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent."

Unfortunately, there was a dark cloud hovering over this magnificent award.  As it turned out, Utzon was forced out of the project long before its completion.  Furious at his treatment, Jørn Utzon left Sydney in a huff.  He would never return.

 

When the Opera House was finally completed in 1973, Jørn Utzon was not invited to the opening ceremony.  For that matter, Utzon’s name was not even mentioned.  Adding insult to injury, Utzon was banned from the Danish Architects Association.  His peers insisted that the client is always right.

As I reviewed the details of Jørn Utzon's demise, I was struck by the similarity of his story to a famous work of fiction known as The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. 

This was an extremely controversial book.  The novel's protagonist, Howard Roark, is a young architect who designs modernistic buildings.  In so doing, he refuses to compromise with an architectural establishment unwilling to accept innovation, i.e. new ways to build and new looks.  Roark is opposed to those who reflexively value conformity over independence and integrity.  He resists those who automatically object to any design that is radically different from the 'accepted styles of the day'. 

Roark is asked to help Peter Keating, a mediocre former classmate, with a difficult project that is badly failing.  Despite his struggles, Keating begs Roark to remain anonymous so he can keep the credit.  Roark agrees to participate in exchange for Keating's promise that the building will be built exactly as he designed it.  Roark's solution is bold, creative, and starkly different from existing ideas.  There is much to admire about Roark's brilliant creation, but the critics disagree.  They say certain things should be changed so the new building will look more like the other buildings around it.

After a long vacation, Roark returns to find that Keating was not able to prevent major changes from being made behind Roark's back.  Keating pleads that he had no choice; he was forced to follow orders from the financial backers.  In their opinion, Roark's design violated existing popular standards.

Roark was not the type to compromise.  Furious, Roark dynamites the project.  After turning it to rubble to prevent the subversion of his vision, he is subsequently arrested.  At his trial, Roark makes an impassioned speech about the value of integrity.  Since this is a work of fiction, Roark is subsequently acquitted of his crime.  Don't you love fairy tale endings?

Howard Roark symbolizes an individual who follows his own original ideas while Peter Keating is a conformist who bases his choices on what others want.  While Roark blazes his own path, Keating believes success lies in doing what others expect rather than follow his personal beliefs.

 

I see an obvious parallel between Howard Roark and Jørn Utzon.  Utzon was a visionary, a genius.  But he was also inflexible and offended important people who prodded him to make changes that were incompatible with his vision. 

Sad to say, history is lined with stories about visionaries whose performance did not match their imagination.  One of my favorite examples is Bugsy Siegel, a mid-level mobster sent to Hollywood to expand gambling activities in California in the 1930's.

Las Vegas began the 20th century as a railroad water station in the middle of nowhere.  At best, Vegas was a brief stopover for drivers who traveled through on the way to California.  Its fortunes changed thanks to three lucky breaks.  The first break came in the Thirties when the federal government built Hoover Dam nearby.  The second break came soon after when the state of Nevada legalized gambling.

The teeming thousands of men who built Hoover Dam had to live somewhere.  Since Las Vegas was situated next to the railroad, this became the spot where cheap housing was erected.  The men needed a way to blow off steam and spend their cash, so beer joints soon followed.  The men wanted company, so scarlet ladies joined the parade. 

Then came legalized gambling.  Bingo!  The world would never be the same.  Having been rescued from obscurity by Hoover Dam, Las Vegas soon had its first casinos.  However, these forerunners gave no clue as to the dazzling future of Vegas.  With sawdust floors, these barren shacks featured cheap liquor, low stakes, and not a hint of glamour. 

The third lucky break involved the coming of the Automobile Age in the early 1940s.  Highway 91 was a dusty two-lane road known for its arduous car trip between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.  As one can guess, the road passed through Vegas, a  midpoint which had grown large enough to act as a rest stop.  Taking advantage of the increased traffic, two modest casinos with Western motifs opened on the once-empty Los Angeles highway.  Visitors at the airport were picked up in horse-drawn stagecoaches. 

That's when Bugsy Siegel showed up.  On a random trip to Nevada to visit a gambling joint, Bugsy was flattened by a vision of opportunity.  Where most men would see nothing but dirt and barren desert, Siegel had a feeling he was on to something.    Fully committed to the idea for a hotel and casino in the desert, Siegel obtained $1 million in funding from lifelong friend Meyer Lansky and other New York mobsters.  Siegel used a key selling point: In Nevada, gambling is legal.  Money in hand, Siegel wasted no time muscling out an entrepreneur named William Wilkerson for control of a half-finished project known as the Flamingo Hotel.  "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse."

That more or less is the background story to the town that Crime built.  Where Siegel gets credit was his idea to create a highway-based resort, the Flamingo, that would exceed anyone's wildest imagination.  Siegel envisioned a classy palm-tree lined refuge for the rich and famous in the absolute middle of nowhere.  Conceived as a man-made oasis in the desert, Siegel turned the Flamingo into a pleasure palace featuring high-end gambling, entertainment, swimming pools, recreation and sex. 

This was a novel idea indeed, but very risky.  What made Siegel think customers wanted to drive out into the hot desert?   The Flamingo was definitely ornate and original, but they had trouble luring customers into the middle of the desert.  Where were Elvis and Sinatra when you need them?  In addition, it was poorly managed.  The Flamingo’s mob backers were unhappy over losing money by the bucketful.  Convinced they had wasted money on a pipedream, fed up with Siegel's braggadocio, and angry over rumors of skimming, Siegel was assassinated a mere six months after the hotel made its debut.

The lesson was clear.  Sometimes it isn't enough to be a genius.  Imagination is a wonderful gift, but you still have to keep your backers happy.

 

 

The Downfall of Jørn Utzon

 
 

Jørn Utzon was undeniably brilliant.  For example, no one could figure out how to recreate the complicated concrete shells to adorn the roof of the Opera House.  It was one thing to draw them on paper, but difficult to engineer the precise curves.  Utzon solved the problem by envisioning 'Spheres', an idea considered one of the most clever solutions in architectural history. 

Unfortunately Utzon was very young at the time with virtually no previous experience at bringing a project to fruition.  Nor was this an ordinary project.  As he discovered the hard way, management did not come easily to an artist like himself. 

As shown by his brilliant spherical solution, Utzon had an extraordinary ability to rise to the occasion when it came to handling technical and design problems.  However, his ability to rise to the occasion could save Utzon from drowning in the complexity that would arise around him in the early years of the project.  He grew frustrated at being forced to explain difficult concepts to people who could not understand the problem.

The downfall began with enormous cost overruns.  In retrospect, Utzon was doomed from the start.  Long after the building was finished, it was learned that those in power had deliberately underestimated costs in order to get the project started.  The eventual price tag would be ten times the estimate.

The man with the plan was Premier Joseph Cahill.  He advocated so tenaciously for the Opera House that it became known as the 'Taj Cahill'.  In order to force the project through a reluctant Cabinet, Cahill vastly understated its likely cost.  (Sounds like the empty promises that led to the Brexit vote, doesn't it?).

Unfortunately, a few years into the project, Cahill died suddenly.  Without his chief political backer to stick up for him when the costs soared, Utzon was in trouble.  A neophyte when it came to politics, Utzon had no way to fight back.  Thus he took the majority of the blame.  In the 1965 elections, the costs and delays of Utzon’s project became a major campaign issue. 

By claiming the project had gotten out of hand, the conservative Liberal Party came to power.  Utzon found himself reporting to Davis Hughes, a rural politician who was unsympathetic to this extravagant urban edifice.  Chomping at the bit to shut the prima donna down, Davis Hughes was a pencil-pushing bean counter who thought Utzon was way too big for his britches.  Hughes made it his main goal in life to shove Utzon out the door.

The showdown came soon enough.  Utzon wanted to give a major contract to a trusted company that was expensive but extremely reliable.  Hughes told him to get bids and Utzon refused.

Determined to force Utzon to comply, Hughes withheld the fees from which the architect paid his staff. Now Utzon faced a cash crisis.  No one was getting paid.  Utzon told Hughes that if the money wasn't paid he would have no choice but to close his office and leave the project.  Given the complexity and advanced stage of construction, Utzon was confident that Hughes would not call his bluff.  Wrong.  Hughes was thrilled.  Interpreting this demand as a resignation letter, Hughes wasted no time telling the press.

Despite an immense outcry to restore Utzon to the project, Hughes stuck to his guns.  Angry, depressed, broken-hearted, Utzon left Sydney never to return.  As it turned out, Hughes had cut off his nose to spite his face.  The project came to an entire halt while a replacement architect was located.  Only one problem... there were no notes left behind to follow the bread crumbs and there was no one of Utzon's ability to replace him.

The loss of Jørn Utzon was disastrous.  It took seven years to complete what Utzon probably could have finished in a year or two.  The costs overruns had been bad under Utzon, but now they became preposterous. 

One could say that Jørn Utzon had the last laugh, but more likely he was busy crying.  A taciturn Dane by nature, Utzon refused to publicly share his thoughts.  However, in a conversation with a friend, Utzon let slip that not a day passed when he didn't think about the Sydney Opera House.  Nevertheless, he refused to return despite many pleas.  After his death, his wife Lis recalled the many long years she had sat next to her husband on a lonely Majorcan cliff while he stared out to sea.  Lis said her husband battled depression for years and never let go of his bitterness.

The Opera House was finally completed in 1973.  It was opened by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia.  Jørn Utzon was not invited to the ceremony, nor was his name even mentioned during any of the speeches.  It was an atrocious slight. 

Fortunately, time does heal some wounds.  In 2003, the world of architecture righted some of the wrongs by awarding Utzon the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in his profession.

Frank Gehry, one of the Pritzker Prize judges, commented:

"Jørn Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinarily malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country.

Perhaps Gehry's kind words brought Sydney to its senses.  Shortly after receiving the Pritzker award, members of the Opera House decided to try to make amends.  They asked Utzon to design some much-needed updates to the interior of the opera house. 

Although he was willing to contribute his ideas, Utzon still refused to visit his creation.  Instead Utzon left it to his son Kim to implement them.  The Utzon Room in the Opera House was officially dedicated in October 2004.  Utzon did not attend, but he did offer a statement to be read at the ceremony.

"The fact that I'm mentioned in such a marvelous way, it gives me the greatest pleasure and satisfaction.  I don't think you can give me more joy as the architect.  The recognition supersedes any medal I could possibly get."

The Sydney Opera House was declared a World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007.  This honor meant that Jørn Utzon became only the second person in history to receive such high recognition during his lifetime, Oscar Niemeyer being the first.

Jørn Utzon died one year later in December 2008 at the age of 90.  It is a good thing that he passed away knowing he had finally achieved the recognition he so richly deserved.  But there can be little doubt that Utzon carried a broken heart to his grave. 

 
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The Mystery of the Land Down Under

Written by Rick Archer
April 2019

 

 

Rick Archer's Note:  Our trip to New Zealand and Australia was quite an adventure!!  What a treat to spend two and a half weeks exploring two of the most attractive regions of the world.  Even better, it was great to see the world with our friends. 

To my surprise, there were absolutely no major headaches worth mentioning.  A trip without drama is actually a bit unusual.  Historically at least one crazy thing happens on every trip.  For example, my friend Phyllis Beyer got locked in a mall restroom during our 2018 river cruise to Romania.   Our entire group was shocked to discover the Romanian workmen had no tools.   Consequently it took an entire hour to figure out how to set poor Phyllis free.  There was such a fuss that the story made the NATIONAL NEWS. 

That said, alas, not everything was perfect on this trip either.  I know it sounds petty, but as a group we were deeply disappointed over our poor team showing at Trivial Pursuits.  When it came to Trivia, we were so frustrated! 

Yes, I know, I know, it's hard to feel sympathy for Privileged Passengers in Paradise.  Even though you may not be able to totally feel our pain when measured against the backdrop of actual terrible events, hopefully the Reader can relate to our suffering on some level.  Without a doubt, our team had some extremely bright people on it.  Yet time and again our guesses went awry.  On questions where we narrowed it down to two possibilities, you know, 50-50, our success rate hovered somewhere around 20%.  It was ridiculous how many wrong guesses we made. 

Here are some examples.  One question was what color is most commonly seen on national flags.  We guessed red.  Then at the last moment we changed it to white.  The answer was red.  Another question was what nation uses the 'sol' as currency.  Everyone drew a blank.  Then I remembered this clue had been used on a previous cruise trip.  Recalling it was a South American country bordering the Pacific, I narrowed it down to two possibilities... Chile or Peru.  I went with Chile.  It was Peru.  Darn it!  

Another time we had to identify the voice of a celebrity.  We were convinced it was Mel Gibson.  This made sense because many clues had 'Australian'-themed answers to them.  On the other hand, Marla has a real gift for recognizing voices.  She is uncanny with this ability.  At the last minute she came up with Dustin Hoffman.  We all looked at each other in confusion.  'Mel Gibson' stayed.  The answer was Dustin Hoffman. 

So that is how it went the entire trip.  We were the gang that couldn't shoot straight.  Our team must have lost by one or two questions a dozen times.  Every day I was reminded that I am getting stupider as I age.  It got so aggravating that I lost my enthusiasm.  It isn't fun feeling washed up.  However, to my surprise, someone else took it even harder than me.  They say every picture tells a story.  By looking at the following pictures, try to guess the identity of the person who suffered the most. 

 
 
 
Rick's Note:  So, how did you do?  Were you able to discern which person isn't having fun yet? 

Maybe you need a hint.  Which person in these pictures most reminds you of Eeyore??

I don't know, maybe I have made this task too difficult. 

Let me offer a couple more pictures just in case you are still struggling with this.  These next pictures should help narrow it down. 

 
 


Okay, time's up.  Did you guess Kyle?  Oops.  Try again.

Did you guess Rick?  Oops.  Try again. 

What about Jim?  I know it was difficult, but did you guess him?

If so, good work!!  This shows how perceptive you are.

Now the funny thing is that Jim told me this was a great trip.  But now that I see the pictures, I can tell that Jim was a little off his game.  I think he was much too preoccupied with his Trivia defeats and let his concerns affect his smiling ability. 

Ordinarily Jim smiles all the time. 

One of the reasons Jim smiles is because he has a beautiful wife.  Another reason he smiles is because his beautiful wife dresses him in colorful, exotic costumes. 

A quick glance at the pictures below will reveal Jim's smile. 

 
 


Adding to the mystery, Jim was absolutely beaming on the first day of our trip!  Check out the pictures below.

 

Rick's Note:  So what went wrong?  Jim was ecstatic on Day One, but then doesn't smile for another picture.  What could possibly be the reason?  This is a man who has it all.  Jim is a smart, good-looking guy, great children, very successful in his career.  His dogs love him, he has a great wife and he is universally admired by many wonderful friends.  And yet he is sad. 

I decided to carefully analyze the situation.  However, before I could write about Jim, first I had to ask permission. 
 

From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, April 04, 2019 1:17 PM
To: Jim Hudson
Subject: regarding a thoughtful story I am writing about you

Incidentally, Jim, I am writing a sensitive story about you on our NZ trip.  Did you want to pay the blackmail fee or just take your chances??
 

From: Jim Hudson
Sent: Thursday, April 4, 2019 1:29 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: regarding a thoughtful story I am writing about you

No, it will be good for me.  Everyone thinks I am boring.  Go ahead and write, it can only help.
 

Well, there you have it.  Jim understands very clearly that I am doing him a terrific favor by writing about his inner trauma. 

So, without any further ado, let's analyze what was bothering Jim on the New Zealand trip.  It did not take long to get to the root of the problem.

The answer was: Disappointment.  Vast disappointment.

 

 


The Origin of Jim's Disappointment

 

When I spoke earlier of Disappointment, I have to agree my friend Jim had it pretty rough.  As I previously pointed out, with the exception of the first night, Jim refused to smile for another picture the entire trip.  Why is that?  Why would an ordinarily happy guy stop smiling?

Well, for one thing, Jim took our plummeting Trivia fortunes really hard, much harder than the rest of us.  And who can blame him?  I mean, even though I failed repeatedly, it didn't bother me because I don't have much talent to begin with.  People don't expect much from me.

But Jim is another story.  Jim was our leader, our go-to guy, our Casey at the Bat.  I speak from the heart when I say Jim is the best Trivia player I have ever seen.  For example, on the first cruise trip we shared in 2013, I walked by and saw Jim playing Trivia by himself... and winning! 

After I complimented him on being a one-man team, Jim said so far he was undefeated on the entire cruise trip.  Based on what I saw that day, I did not doubt him for a moment.  However, Jim was flat-footed on this trip.  He suffered under the same 'wrong guess' curse as the rest of us.  Sad to say, I think Jim took our losses personally.  It isn't easy being the Slugger on a losing team.  While the rest of us went off in search of a cocktail to laugh it off, Jim brooded. 

You know, I hate to admit this, but I may have contributed to his despondency.  One thing that always cheers Jim up is his pool table supremacy.  Jim has a pool table at his house.  He and I play at least three times a month here in Houston.  Ultra-competitive, we keep track of who is ahead.  Just as we got on the plane, Jim reminded me he is the current billiards champion of the Northern Hemisphere.  Knowing he had the lead in our head to head combat put Jim in a good mood.  Since the pool table was back in Houston, Jim assumed he was entitled to retain billiards supremacy for the duration of the cruise trip.  Jim intended to rub in his superiority on a daily basis.  Wrong.  To his surprise and demise, the cruise ship had a pool table!!  Uh oh. 

Playing almost every day, Jim was crushed to see me gain the upper hand during our frequent matches.  It turned out I had an uncanny ability to overcome the constant roll of the ship due to the choppy Tasman Sea.  Sometimes this motion made the balls roll around unexpectedly, forcing us to occasionally shoot at moving targets.  Jim was amazed at my mastery of pool shooting despite balls rolling all over the table.   For example, I had the strange good fortune to see two of my eight-ball shots mysteriously 'curve' directly into the winning pocket thanks to the ocean movement.  Or at least that's what Jim thinks. 

I have never told him the truth, but in reality I have telekinetic powers.  I keep my talent hidden on regular pool tables for fear of having my fingers broken, but the odd sea conditions were perfectly suited to mask my supernatural ability.   Poor Jim.  Have you ever heard the expression 'straight shooter'?  Winning shots in pool are supposed to travel in straight lines.  But not me.  I was curling in putts from the other end of the table.  Who can blame him?  I would be depressed too if I lost to someone as mediocre as me. 

 
Or maybe it goes deeper than that.  I mean, one time Jim barely missed sinking the 8-Ball at the wrong time.  That's a big No-No in pool.  When you sink the Eight Ball at the wrong time, you lose.  There it was, the 8-Ball hanging on the lip of the cup.  But it had stopped just short of falling in.  Jim thought he was in the clear.  Wrong.  All I had to do was wiggle my nose a bit and watch the 8-Ball drop in.  It was evil, but I couldn't help myself. 

Jim turned white.  Tough break!  Jim loses AGAIN!!  Finally Jim threw up his hands.  "Okay, Rick, I give up.  You are the official champion of the Southern Hemisphere."

It wasn't easy for him to say that.  You don't suppose Jim thought I was cheating?  After all, every single break went my way.  No wonder things got under his skin.  He didn't say it out loud, but I know what he was thinking.  Something's rotten in Denmark.   

Jim has this thing about him.  He hates cheaters!  Despises them.  The angriest I have ever seen Jim was on our 2016 cruise trip to Greece.  One night our team got a near-perfect Trivia score only to be beaten by a team with a perfect score. 

One of the questions was "What country was the first to ratify Women's Suffrage?  And for a bonus point, what year was it?"

Okay, off the top of your head, how many of you know the answer?  Raise your hand.  It turns out the answer is 'New Zealand, 1897'.  Only one team in the room got that answer.  Absolutely convinced someone was checking their cell phone for the answer, Jim was irate.  Full of suspicion, he went off on an angry tirade about people who cheat at Trivia.   

 


Erica from America

 

To be honest, I agreed with Jim.  In fact, it bothered me almost as much as it bothered him.  Who on earth knows the answer to an obscure question like that?  Try as I might, no explanation made more sense than someone had used a cell phone search to win.

But then something happened on this trip to change my mind.  As our guesses went awry and our series of one-run losses mounted, I tried to analyze what was wrong.  There had to be an explanation.  Forgive my lack of modesty, but the 'Krewe of Katy' was a veritable Dream Team of Trivia players.  With a line-up of sharks from top to bottom, we had dominated our three previous cruise trips.  So imagine our surprise when we failed to replicate our past success right from the start.  What is wrong with us?

My first clue came the morning when Carlos from Mexico, our Trivia Quiz Guy, asked the exact same women's suffrage question we had heard back in Greece.  Aha!  A big smile crossed our faces.  What goes around comes around.  Jim's eyes grew big and he salivated at the return of our nemesis from the past.  This time we knocked Women's Suffrage out of the ballpark.  We felt very smug when the team next to us complimented us.  They were grading our paper and couldn't believe someone actually knew the answer without cheating. 

I had a funny feeling I was on to something at the time, but let it ride as a coincidence.  However, when the same question popped up AGAIN a couple days later, this time I gave it serious thought.  On a hunch, I stayed behind to speak to Erica from America, our Quiz Lady.  After discovering we were both born in Philadelphia, I decided we had enough rapport that Erica might explain some things to me.

"Hey, Erica, how do you pick your trivia questions?  Does someone just hand you a quiz or do you make them up yourself?"

"For the most part I make up my own quizzes, but I don't make up my own questions.  I draw my questions from the same source as the other staff members.  If you come to enough trivia contests, you may hear the same questions asked by different people.  That's because we all have the same Royal Caribbean library of questions to draw from.  I go to the computer and pick from the list.  They like us to build each quiz from different categories, you know, one sports question, one geography question, flags of countries, a science question, history, food, music.  Over the years I have developed some of my own favorite questions."

"Tell me one of your favorites."

"Here is an easy one, but no one ever gets it.  I like it because it makes people groan when they learn the answer.  What is Red, White, Yellow, Black and wet all over?"

"I don't know.  What is it?"

"Red Sea, White Sea, Yellow Sea, Black Sea."

"Ha ha ha, aren't you clever.  Give me another one."

"Mary's father has 5 daughters.  The first four are Nana, Nene, Nini, and Nono.  What is the fifth daughter's name?"

"Nunu."

"Nope, it's Mary.  You need to pay better attention, Rick."

"I hate trick questions.  Give me another one."

"Okay, here is one that baffles people.  You remember those old 45 records from the Sixties?"

"Yeah, what about them?"

"How many grooves did each record typically have?"

I drew a complete blank.  "I give up, how many?"

"Two."

"Huh?  I don't get it."

"There is one continuous groove for the needle."

"So why two?  Why not one long groove?"

"Side A and Side B!  Gee, what's wrong with you?  Everyone knows that!  Here's another one.  I call it the modern Riddle of the Sphinx question and answer."

"I know the original Riddle of the Sphinx.  What is the modern one?"

"You sleep on it at night, you stand on it in the morning, and you sit on it by day.  What is it?"

I shook my head.  "I don't have a clue, Erica."

"Tsk tsk, that's the easiest one of all.  You sleep on a bed, you stand on a scale, and you sit on a chair.  Everyone knows that." 

This particular question seemed underhanded.  Now I was starting to dislike Erica.  She was having way too much fun with this.  However, glutton for punishment that I am, I gamely asked to try again.  "Okay, ask me another one."

"I love this one because it aggravates people even more than my Riddle of the Sphinx.  What world-famous sport has four letters in its name and starts with a T?"

This one did not seem difficult.  Considering I have extensive knowledge for sports trivia, I wracked my brain.  No luck.  I came up empty.  "Beats me, what is the answer?"

"Golf, silly!  You should know that one.  Think about it.  Every Golf game starts with a Tee."

"Good grief.  I hate outside the box questions!  Does anyone ever get it?"

"Oh sure, there's always a few people who have heard it before on a previous trip.  A trick question only works once and a lot of these clues have been around a while.  For example, someone actually got the answer to my Riddle of the Sphinx.  After we were through, I asked them how they knew.  They said they heard it on a different cruise trip."

When Erica said that, something clicked inside.  Figuring I had suffered enough to get in her good graces, it was time to probe a little.

"Erica, are you implying that some passengers have heard some of these questions before?"

"Of course.  The cruise staff on this ship and the ones on the other Royal Caribbean ships all draw from the same data base.  Good grief, for some people, Trivia is a cruise trip addiction.  For the college-educated crowd, this is the most popular thing we do besides feeding people.  Feed the belly, feed the brain.  We offer at least two Trivia contests a day, sometimes four on sea days.  If you cruise often enough and pay attention, sooner or later you are going to hear some of the same questions."

"Do you ever change your questions or do you use the same quizzes every trip?"

"We aren't given a lot of free time on these trips, so I tend to use the same ones over and over again.  I might change a few questions if I get bored."

"What about that women's suffrage question you asked today?  I heard that question once before on a previous trip."

"Oh yeah, I like that question.  I especially like to use the women's suffrage question on this trip because a lot of people from Australia like to hear questions about New Zealand and their own country.  I make sure to always include at least one rugby question and one Olivia Newton-John question.  Someone usually knows the answer and that helps the Aussies feel superior to the Mates from the States."

"Where's your loyalty?  You call yourself Erica from America."

"I used to be from America, but now I'm a woman of the world.  I've learned to suck up to whoever my local passengers are.  Makes life easier."

And that's how my conversation with Erica ended.  My curiosity was on overdrive now.

 


Beverly from the Land Down Under

 

A woman named Beverly offered me my next piece of the puzzle.  I tracked Beverly for a special reason.   On the first day of our cruise, Beverly walked past my dance class and then stopped to watch.  At the time, Beverly was here early to take part in Trivia immediately after. 

Beverly was wearing a giant 'Ovation of the Seas' pullover.  Draped like a tent, the pullover was so large I could have easily worn it myself.  Beverly said, "You're teaching Waltz, right?"

"Yes."

Beverly nodded.  "Can I join?  I know a lot about dancing."

"I'm sorry, but we already have extra ladies.  Plus we're almost finished and there's no way for me to catch you up."

"Oh, don't worry.  Waltz isn't that tough.  Besides, I can lead if that will make things easier."

This was quite out of the ordinary, but her confidence led me to offer permission.  As I guessed, Beverly wasn't just good, she was very good.  After class, I asked her about it.  Beverly said she was a professional dance teacher in Sydney.  However, she had gotten pregnant and decided to take some time off.  Currently she was on a month-long holiday aboard the Ovation.  Beverly explained this was her second trip on a 'back to back'.  

Later that same night, I could not help but notice Beverly since she showed up for Trivia wearing that same Ovation pullover.  I also noticed her team won handily. 

Now that she was on my radar, I winced when Beverly's team won again the following night.  This time it really stung.  Her team got a perfect score on music trivia.  This was maddening because we were certain we had won.  After all, we got 23 out of 25.  But Beverly's team got 25 out of 25.  I was starting to catch on.  I had a strong hunch that Beverly had heard these exact same songs on her previous cruise. 

Watching carefully, I saw Beverly's team dominate on a regular basis during the trip.  Her team always seemed to win or tie for first.  However, I don't think Beverly was cheating.  She didn't seem the type.  Judging by her palsy-walsy familiarity with Carlos from Mexico, Beth from England, and Erica from America, they knew her and she knew them from the previous trip.  I concluded Beverly had paid attention on her previous cruise and kept track of the missed answers. 

In other words, this was 'Groundhog Cruise' for Beverly. 

 

This epiphany created a seismic shift in my attitude.  I suppose some people do cheat, but more likely the reason people get these perfect scores is from frequent cruising.  There always seem to be people who have heard some of the hard questions on previous trips.  I also suspect Royal Caribbean could care less about inventing new clues.  After a while, people start to catch on just like we did with 'Women's Suffrage'.

Beverly reminded me of an observation I made a year earlier.  About this time a year ago, the 'Krewe of Katy' took a cruise trip to Tahiti.  We did much better in the Trivia contests on that trip.  Along the way I met a rather odd woman named Marie who seemed to pop up alone at one event after another.  One day Marie asked if she could join our team.  Sure, have a seat.  Curious about her, I asked where she was from.  Belgium.  Then Marie volunteered that she was a widow and lived in a cabin by herself.  Marie added she had been on the ship for the past six months.  That explained why the staff seemed so deferential to her.  Marie was leading the cruise ship lifestyle and this was her home. 

During the contest I watched Marie write things down on her notepad.

"What are you doing, Marie?"

"I like to keep track of all the answers to the clues in case I hear them again on the next trip."

Now I suspected that Beverly was more or less doing the same thing on this trip.  Marie, Beverly... I had the feeling we were going up against a lot of frequent cruisers who have the brains to remember obscure question and answers from previous trips.  I won't go so far as to say the Trivia contests are rigged, but I was starting to see why the odds were stacked against us. 

 


Ring Around the Rosie

 

One night I received my final corroboration in a most curious way. 

Previously Marla and I had sat in on a lecture regarding the secret agenda of nursery rhymes.  Rene, our lecturer, explained why the nursery rhyme 'Ring Around the Rosie' is now believed to carry a dark hidden meaning. 

Since the 20th century, this medieval nursery rhyme has taken on new meaning.  Modern scholars associate the rhyme with the Great Plague of England in 1665 and with earlier outbreaks of Bubonic Plague and Black Death.  The interpretation correlates the rosie rings with the red circular rashes that were frightening symptoms of the plague. 

The pockets full of posies were an herbal treatment to deter the terrible ailment.  The flowers were also used to ward off the stench of disease.

Sneezing or coughing was a fatal symptom, and 'all fall down' was what happened next.   It doesn't take much to guess what 'ashes to ashes' might imply.  All in all, a very depressing twist on a beloved nursery rhyme.

 

At any rate, one night I noticed Rene, the woman who delivered the lecture, was in attendance at Trivia.  Who could miss her with her bright purple red hair?  By chance, there was a three-way tie for first.  Rene was sent up to handle the difficult sudden death question. 

Marla commented that made sense because Rene had a PhD and was an author many times over.

"Maybe so," I replied, "but that lady also lives on this ship.  She stays here from one trip to the next because she is their current guest lecturer on board.  My guess is Rene is signed up for an entire season in which case I imagine she has heard some of these questions before."

Sure enough, Rene won the overtime match. 

At this point, I figured I had seen enough.  With each new insight, it became obvious to me why our Dream Team fared so poorly during our two week stay aboard the Ovation. 

Meanwhile, poor Jim took every loss on the chin.  Every day Jim would show up morning, afternoon and night hoping to snap his losing streak.  It wasn't like our team was terrible, but neither Jim nor the rest of us could seem to recapture the glory of previous cruises.  Towards the end of the trip, the mere mention of 'Trivia' brought out Jim's long face.  I was beginning to wonder if he would ever smile again. 

 

My final piece of the puzzle came on the last Trivia Contest of the trip.  The cruise director asked what country uses the 'Sol' for currency.  It took a moment for me to realize I had once heard this question on a previous trip.  Although I was frustrated over my inability to remember the right answer, at least I had another piece of evidence to confirm my theory.  So I took Jim aside and explained the facts of life to him.

"You mean these people are not cheating after all?"

"No, Jim, they are frequent cruisers with good memories.  In fact, several passengers on this trip were on this same ship last week and are facing the exact same quizzes.  That's why they keep getting these near-perfect scores.  Besides that, another reason we keep losing is our Quiz Masters gear their questions towards making their Australian passengers feel smart."

"You mean we aren't so stupid after all?"

"No, Jim.  These people have a significant home field advantage.  Put these same people in Texas waters and watch them flounder.  See how they do on an Alamo question or Davy Crockett.  You need to stop taking your slump so seriously."

It took a moment to sink in, but I could tell my words were having an effect.  Life isn't easy for people like Jim who take Trivia a bit too seriously.  However, the knowledge that the cards were stacked against him made it easier to accept his Fate. 

"Hey, Rick, by the way, I can't wait to play you back on my own pool table!"  

And with that, Jim finally began to smile. 

 
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A Valuable Lesson

Written by Rick Archer
April 2019

 

Rick Archer's Note:  One would think at my age I would know not to judge a book by its cover.  Obviously the Universe decided I needed a reminder because I ended up badly misjudging a young Filipino lady.  Afterwards I felt ashamed. 

I was not in a very good mood at our first dinner aboard the ship.  Let's face it, the human body is not meant for a lengthy 17-hour plane flight.  Still exhausted from the long trip, I was cranky and impatient at dinner time.  I was also hungry when our large group of fellow travelers appeared in the dining room for our first dinner aboard the Ovation of the Seas.  I was pleased to note how attractive our seating area was.  Marla had seated our group of 40 in the far corner of the lovely dining room where we had complete privacy.  We were such a large group, we filled the entire area by ourselves.

Dark to begin with, my mood turned even darker at the snail's pace slow service.  Our head waitress was a young lady who was clearly in way over her head.  Her name tag said named 'Mhay', pronounced 'May'.  Mhay stuttered as she introduced herself and then went over the menu highlights of the evening.  That didn't bother me, but her service was abysmal.

My particular table was the last table in the dining room to be served.  I mean the entire dining room.  The other two tables in our group were finishing their desert when we were finally served our main course.  As one might guess, the food was cold.  Considering how tired I was, I suppose I wasn't very forgiving.  I said nothing, but I definitely frowned.  I wrote the young woman off as a complete lightweight and left in disgust.  Another night like this and Windjammer here I come.

 

One of my pet peeves about cruising is the systematic downgrade of the evening meal as the 'Main Event'.

My imagination conjures up the elegance of the dining scene in the movie Titanic.  Beautiful gowns, luxurious setting, witty conversation, fine wine, exquisite meals. 

Those days, my friends, are over for the most part.  If you want to recreate this experience, now you have to pay for it.

The modern trend in cruising is to promote the Specialty Restaurants.  The secret here is that one has to pay extra for a service that originally was an inherent part of the cruise experience.  These Specialty Dining Areas are expensive, running anywhere from $50-$100 per person for a meal. 

Fortunately, thanks to Marla, anyone who books a balcony through her is able to get an evening at a Specialty Restaurant at no extra charge.  So, yes, that is nice, but the obvious contrast serves as a reminder that the 'Elegance' once reserved for the Main Dining Room has left the building.

The Specialty Dining areas have created several unpleasant changes.  To begin with, some of these areas used to be dance floors.  The dance floors were sacrificed in order to create separate areas reserved for expensive dining rooms. 

 

Another change the cruise lines would rather not discuss is the transfer of their most talented chefs from the Main Dining Room to the specialty restaurants.  In other words, these days, in order to get the 'A Team', you have to pay extra.

The net result is that the quality of the food in the Main Dining Room has been diminished.  There are nights when the difference between the Main Dining Room and Food-Jammer, my pet name for the buffet area, is alarmingly thin.   

I suppose this is one reason why I prefer River Cruising.  In the Viking dining area, I get a delightful re-creation of the Dining Experience of yore I yearn for.  The food is delicious, the service is top-notch, and the wine is plentiful.  Even better, it is part of the meal.  No constant interruptions to pay for another glass of wine on the 'Drink Package'.

Best of the all, the camaraderie is special.  The people at each table soon become family.  Most of the time, the table is filled with laughter and joy, but not always.  Sometimes we even cry.  The picture below captures the dramatic moment when Emily finally received blessings from her grandmother to marry the young man she was in love with.

 

This is not to say the overall dining experience aboard the Ovation of the Seas was terrible.  In truth, it was very pleasant.  All I am saying is that in the back of my mind, I knew that it would never match the quality of the Viking dining room or the pre-Specialty Dining Era of Royal Caribbean. 

In my opinion, another reason was the lack of service... or at least this was my initial opinion.  Although one might not readily notice, the best of the wait staff has been transferred to the Specialty Dining areas.  I have to assume the 'Left Behinds' are the one who become our Dining Room waiters. 

 

As I stared at my barely warm food on our first night in the Ovation dining room, I could not help but think we were being served by the B-Team.  Unfortunately, my opinion was reinforced by a similar poor performance at breakfast the next morning and the following night.  Did I say anything?  Of course not.  Like anyone else, I get tired of the incessant complaining, so I did my best to keep my mouth shut.  But I continued to frown mightily. 

My opinion began to change on the morning of Day Three.  Over the years, Marla and I have been on so many cruises that we have acquired a privileged status.  For this blessing, we are in great debt to the many guests who have sailed with us on cruise trips organized by Marla.  So, yes, without further ado, let me say a very sincere 'thank you' from both of us! 

One of our privileges includes a private dining area for breakfast.  True to form, our service was unbelievably slow on the first two mornings.  My B-Team concept was yet further reinforced.  

Something different took place the third morning.  By chance, Marla and I were seated at Mhay's table for the first time.  To begin with, her service was dramatically superior to the service we had received on the previous two mornings from other waiters.  What really caught my eye was Mhay's unfailing graciousness.  Noting her ubiquitous smile, it crossed my mind that not once had I smiled back.  Here was a young lady who exuded unfailing warmth and courtesy despite absolutely no reciprocal kindness on my part.

Now that I had observed evidence that contradicted my initial opinion of Mhay, I watched her carefully out the corner of my eye.  I noticed a woman at another table rebuke her in a strong voice for forgetting an order of toast.  I was impressed when Mhay never stopped smiling.  She quickly apologized and sent her assistant in search of the missing toast.  From the look on the young man's face, I think he was the one who forgot the toast.  I was impressed by Mhay's poise.  Knowing how poorly I myself handle criticism at times, I nodded in quiet admiration at her patience. 

To be honest, I was also a little ashamed of myself.  Where were my manners?  On the spot, I made a quiet vow to show more respect. 

 

It might help to know that another of my pet peeves is watching cruise passengers abuse the wait staff.  Over my many years of cruising, I have observed on occasion some pretty ugly incidents.  I have witnessed public tongue-lashings that make me cringe. 

The worst incident took place in 2008.  I discovered a woman from our group had a serious drinking problem.  One night at the Captain's Reception there were free drinks.  The waiters roamed the room serving drinks to anyone and everyone.  This woman, still in her 20s, was so desperate, she crowded up right up to the bar area where the waiters came to pick up their next trays full of drinks. Watching the woman pluck two drinks at a time as the waiters came by, I was darkly fascinated.  

 


The girl was in a hurry.  She guzzled down one drink after another.  Chug chug chugalug.  And then it happened.  The woman was so determined to get as many drinks as possible that she actually blocked access for the waiters!  She stood in the walkway to force the next waiter to stop and serve her.  The problem was other waiters were coming from behind her to drop off the empty glasses and to refill their trays.  When one of the waiters politely asked her to please move just a little bit so he could get through, the woman became unbelievably abusive!

"Who the hell do you think you are to tell me to move??  Listen, mister, you are here to serve me, do you get that?  I will damn well stand wherever I want to!!"

The venom and filth that spewed from her mouth played like the scene from the Exorcist where the devil speaks through the kid.  Hmm.  Now that I think of it, maybe this woman was possessed too.  That would explain a lot.  Watching her make a scene in open-mouthed horror.  I nearly died of shame at the thought this nasty woman was part of our group. 

From that point on, one by one, the poor waiters were terrified to walk near her.  I noticed they went ten feet out of their way to find another opening to pick up their drink trays.  To their dismay, it did them no good.  The woman simply shifted and moved over to the new delivery spot, barking at them for inconveniencing her.  I cringed anew as she berated the ship's wait staff knowing full well these people could not retaliate for fear of losing their jobs.

Many of the staff people come from very poor countries; they have family who depend on their salaries for survival.    Just because they aren't wealthy like the American cruisers they serve doesn't mean they don't have feelings.  They are human beings too, right?  It can't be easy for these people to take this kind of abuse and still try to be friendly.  How do they do it?  Beats me.  I know I am not capable of holding my temper.  In fact, I almost interceded.  No one enjoys seeing people abused who can't fight back.  I don't hit women, but I admit I was so mad I felt like slapping her.  Thank goodness the bar manager came over to deal with her

Mortified at my thoughts of violence, I left the party early.  Of course I wasn't going to hit the horrid woman, but how did I ever sink so low to have the fantasy?  This was certainly the worst incident, but it was not the last.  I could not take my eyes off this seagoing Cruella de Ville for fear of what she might do next.  Behaving like a royal brat, her rudeness was unacceptable. 

From that point on, I was ashamed to be associated with her.  I kept my distance lest I lose control and tell her what I thought of her behavior.  In retrospect, maybe that's exactly what I should have done.  The incident ruined the trip for me.  I felt like a high school principal who discovers one of his kids has senselessly vandalized another school's mascot.  My guilt at bringing this filth-spewing black hole of misery on board the ship troubled me deeply. 

 

I believe that insulting a member of the wait staff who is totally unable to speak up in their own defense is tantamount to kicking a helpless dog.  I suppose my guilt over this incident explains why I have always had a heightened respect for the people who serve me. Truly my heart goes out to anyone who is forced to bite their tongue while being subjected to harsh criticism.  Whether the criticism is warranted or not, these people still deserve to be treated with respect. 

The final test of a gentleman is the respect he shows to those who can be of no possible service to him.  
          
   
~~ William Lyon Phelps

 

Charlie Chaplin spoke of the importance of showing courtesy to our 'inferiors'.  I get what he is saying, but I am very uncomfortable with his wording.  What makes a person inferior or superior to another? 

I suppose my preoccupation with this issue comes from being the poorest kid at a rich kid's school for 9 years (I attended on a scholarship).  I can attest to the embarrassment of feeling 'outclassed' by a few of my wealthy classmates due to their airs of social superiority.  There was never any overt incident, but I was aware of snide whispers and snickers behind my back. 

Yes, it is true that I occupy a loftier station in life compared to Mhay, the young Filipino lady who served me Eggs Benedict in the morning and Norwegian Salmon at night.  But does that make me 'superior' to her?  

 

Wrestling with the concept of 'inferior', I recalled an incident in college.  Occasionally I was hired to serve drinks to wealthy alumni at swanky on-campus get-togethers.  My mother was so poor, she was unable to contribute to my college education.  Considering my father had disowned me long ago, thank goodness I received a scholarship to attend college.  However I still had to pay for my own room and board.  Consequently I signed up for every work-study job I could find.  If that meant pouring wine or mixing drinks on a Saturday evening for these wealthy men, so be it.  Did this mean I was 'inferior' to these people?   Not in my mind.  I was simply holding down a necessary job during my slow climb up the career ladder.  Still, I do recall feeling a little snubbed by the fact that I was basically invisible. 

My favorite moment came when one of the men actually spoke to me as I mixed several drinks not just for him, but for a couple buddies sitting back at his table.  He began the conversation by saying he needed four hands to carry all the drinks back.  I smiled and said he was welcome to borrow my two hands if that would help.  He smiled and said he would appreciate that. 

"Are you a student here, young man?"

"Yes, sir, I'm a sophomore at Hopkins."

He nodded and smiled.  While I prepared the drinks, he began to reminisce about his college days.  The man, somewhere in his 60s, commented that he had performed similar duties back when he was at college at Johns Hopkins.  With the Depression Era paralleling his college years, he had to work his way through college just like me.  He said all he could think about was the need to study as hard.  His biggest fear was being as poor as everyone else back at home.  Noting his fine clothes and air of prosperity, he must have worked very hard indeed.  I liked listening to him.  I figured if he could do it, then I could too. 

It was that memory that dominated my thoughts as I watched Mhay fulfill her duties at my table and other tables as well.  The roles had been flipped and the shoe was on the other foot.  I was the old guy accompanied by experiences of yesteryear.  I watched carefully as Mhay displayed perfect manners and carried herself with dignity.  It suddenly occurred to me that there might be a lot more to this young lady than meets the eye.  Curious, I asked her a question.

"Mhay, have you been to college?"

"Yes, I majored in hotel hospitality in Manila."  Giggling a bit, she added, "I also have a minor in dance.  You would be surprised.  I am a very good dancer.  Too bad I'm so short."

I looked at Marla and she looked back at me.  We were both kind of surprised.  This girl's appearance was so youthful, she could have passed for a 15 year old high school student.  Instead she was a college graduate.  As my perceptions underwent a rapid change, I began to smile.  This young lady was no different than me at an earlier stage of my life.  I thought about that for the rest of the day. 

Now another poignant memory crossed my mind.  I recalled a cruise to the Virgin Islands back in 2011.  This was our 13th cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean.  Now that we had become 'Diamond' members, this was the first cruise where the drinks became free at Happy Hour.  Due to our elevated status as frequent Royal Caribbean passengers, I was told I could visit a special lounge reserved for Diamond members.  Marla was usually busy getting dressed for dinner, shower, makeup, etc, so I went alone with the understanding that I would return with a drink for her.  Don't ask me why, but for some reason, I was the only person who took advantage of the opportunity.  I would bring a magazine along and sit down by myself.  I would read for about 30-40 minutes as a lady named Martina, 28, kept me well supplied with glasses of wine.  Since I was her only customer, Martina visited frequently.  Even though we were the only two people in the room, we maintained our Passenger-Waiter roles for several days.  During this time, I was struck by Martina's poise.  There was a real confidence about the woman that belied her station as a wine server.  

One day Martina looked at what I was reading.  She commented on a cruise-related article I was reading about the Danube River.

"Serbia is where I am from.  The Danube forms our northern border."

I smiled and said the article had pointed that out.  Martina nodded.  I think she was a little homesick being stuck here in the Eastern Caribbean.  She said, "Many battles dating back to the Roman Empire have been fought along this important river."

That broke the ice.  Pleased at the mention of the Roman Empire, one of my favorite subjects, I asked why Romania is named after Rome and not Serbia.  From there, I cautiously asked about Serbia's role in the Balkan Wars and wondered why it is considered the Bad Boy of Europe.  Fortunately, Martina was not offended.  She answered my questions candidly.  I was not only impressed by Martina's grasp of history, but her ability to express herself in a language that was clearly not her own.  Curious, I asked, "How languages do you speak, Martina?"

"Five."

Taken aback, I asked her another question.  "Martina, listening to you, I get the feeling you are a college graduate."

"Yes, I am.  Thank you for asking.  Not only that, I have a Master's degree in Engineering."

My mind went racing.  This woman is an engineer?  My father was an engineer.  He once told me he had a choice of four jobs straight out of college.  So what is she doing serving me wine?  Alarmed at the dissonance, I said, "With so much education, Martina, why on earth are you working on a cruise ship?"

With that, the floodgates opened.  I had accidentally hit on a very raw nerve.

"Right now in Europe, jobs are hard to come by, especially in my field.  In the part of the world where I come from, women are not respected as engineers.  Or maybe they just aren't respected period.  Here's an example.  Mileva Maric was the first wife of Albert Einstein.  She was born in my town back in 1875, so I know a lot about her.  There are rumors that Mileva Maric was just as brilliant a physicist as her husband.  It is said that she helped him formulate his theories, but you would never know that.  History has completely forgotten Mileva Maric.  That's the sort of attitude I come up against repeatedly."

I was taken aback by the bitterness in her voice.  In as gentle a voice as I could summon, I replied, "It is obvious that you have a very sharp mind.  So, given your extensive training, what made you decide to work on a cruise ship?" 

"I got turned down for one job too many and ran out of patience.  Feeling a kind of hopelessness set in, I decided to step back and accept this temporary job for a year.  It gave me the chance to see the world, stop being so angry, and think about my future.  My time will be up soon and I will return home and try again.  Hopefully I will finally catch a break."

I nodded in appreciation, then decided to probe a little further.  "Forgive me, Martina, for being so nosy.  Incidentally, there's something bothering me."

"What is that?"

"I feel humbled to discover you have more education and know more languages.  Therefore I feel very uncomfortable expecting you to serve me glass after glass of wine when it is clear you deserve a much higher station in life.  We should at least be equals.  Or if there was more justice in the world, maybe I should serve you the wine."

Martina smiled.  "Please don't feel that way.  In all the time I have worked here, you are the only guest who has taken the time to inquire about me.  To everyone else, I am simply the poor, backwards Slavic slave girl forced to do peasant work because that is all they believe I am qualified to do.  I have enjoyed sharing my secret with you.  And I don't mind bringing you wine.  Your respect means more to me than you will ever realize."

Still feeling very awkward, I nodded in acknowledgement.  "I appreciate what you have said.  Hey, Martina, will you do me a favor?"

"What is that?"

"My first name is Rick.  Would you be willing to call me by my first name for the rest of trip?"

She grinned and held out her hand.  "Yes, of course.  I am glad we have had this talk, Rick."

Still out of sorts, I made sure to get Marla's drink to take back to the room, then left shortly after.  I was upset over misjudging this woman so badly.  It cannot be easy to be treated like a menial.  I've had enough experience with that situation to know the feeling.  Respect means everything in this world.

Fast forward back to my Ovation of the Seas New Zealand trip.  By coincidence, I had an odd encounter with someone else.  Taking renewed advantage of my Diamond status, I made sure to arrive promptly at the Diamond Lounge every afternoon for my 5 pm dose of  Chardonnay.  There was a waiter named Benedict who had been unusually attentive.  The drinks are free and of course service without the expectation of tips is part of the package.  Although I am aware the waiters are paid to take care of me, I prefer to tip any waiter who goes beyond the call of duty.  I usually wait till the end of the trip.  This is how I judge the sincerity of their efforts.  However, in Benedict's case, I broke my rule.  Since this was a long 13-day cruise, I decided to hand him half my usual tip midstream. 

Benedict's response caught me totally off guard.

"Thank you very much, but what is really important is your recommendation on your passenger evaluation form."

The money was an afterthought to him.  Making direct eye contact, it was the urgency in his voice that caught my attention.  My money was nothing compared to a positive recommendation.  What was it about this cruise ship job that made it important to solicit my approval in so bold a manner?   Obviously Benedict understood my positive words were a major form of job security and perhaps promotion. 

With thoughts of what Benedict had said fresh in my mind, I decided to re-evaluate my opinion of Mhay.  The next morning, I told the hostess to please sit Marla and me at Mhay's table for the fourth day in a row.  Having discovered Mhay was a college graduate, I wasted no time resuming our conversation. 

"So, Mhay, how old are you?"

"I am 27."

"Really?  I'll be darned.  I would not have guessed that.  I thought you were younger.  How long have you worked on this ship?"

"Five years."

"I would not have guessed that either.  Was this your first job out of college?"

"Yes, sir.  In fact, I just got my first big promotion."

"Good for you, Mhay.  What was your promotion?"

"After five years, I was recently promoted to Head Waiter.  The first night of your cruise was also my first night being in charge of my own table."

I blinked in surprise.  Does it really take FIVE YEARS for a college graduate to become a head waiter?  The implications were unsettling.  For one thing, it suggested a very low turnover rate.  If so, then these must be highly coveted jobs.  Yuck!  The thought of making a career out of serving people food or drinks on cruise ships made me shudder.  How do they do it day in and day out?  Are jobs really that difficult to find in other parts of the world?  

In addition, I had just been given the explanation for why Mhay had done so poorly at the start of the trip.  Obviously Mhay had the first night jitters.  Nor did she have the expanded routine down quite yet.  I assumed she was so slow taking our orders that the other waiters forced to go to the back of the line. 

 "So you are new to this position.  How has it gone so far?"

"The first two nights were pretty rough, but I think I am improving."

"Yes, Mhay, you are definitely improving.  I had no idea you were a rookie, but you are clearly catching on fast.  I have seen a big difference between the first two nights and the last four.  You should be very proud of yourself."

Marla nodded in agreement.  She knew my compliment was sincere because we had both noted a marked improvement.  As I chatted with Mhay some more, I could not help but chew myself out for underestimating this young lady.  I had the same exact feeling of embarrassment as I did eight years earlier with Martina.  After Mhay had badly bumbled her way through the first two meals, my original opinion was that Mhay was in way over her head.  I dismissed her as lucking into the job because she was excessively cute and left it at that.  Now I knew better.  Mhay had earned her way up through the ranks.  This young lady with the world-class mile had so much more talent than I ever imagined. 

 

From that point on, I always made a point to speak with Mhay when the opportunity arose.  Not only did she enjoy the attention, I think people noticed.  One morning, the hostess, obviously a friend of Mhay's, greeted me at breakfast by saying my daughter was waiting for me.  Considering the vaguely impertinent tone, my wife had quite a bit of fun teasing me over that one. 

On the final night of the trip, one of the waiters sang a Sinatra song over the dining room sound system.  On a hunch, I got up and asked Mhay to dance.  I knew she would say yes.  After all, no girl can resist Sinatra.  Mhay had told me she was a dance major, so let's see what she can do.

Once Mhay recovered from the unexpected shock of finding herself partner dancing in front of the whole room, she followed my Swing dance leads like a shadow.  Not only that, she turned out to be a born show-off.  Like many Asian women, Mhay is exceedingly modest.  However, I suppose Mhay understands she is easy on the eyes and marvelously adorable.  Given the chance to shine, she dropped her modesty act and put on quite a show.

Smiling and giggling with delight, I could tell she appreciated her star turn.  Turning her this way and that, whenever Mhay had a free hand, she made sure to wave to the people at our table.  They in turn rose and clapped for her.  As for me, it was fun bringing her some much-deserved attention. 

I doubt the waiters on this ship get much attention.  To most people, they are just nameless servants from some poor country in some remote part of the world.  But I have to come to realize the people who wait on privileged people like myself are no different.  They have ambition, they have dreams.  The only difference between them and me is that I have been given many opportunities, many lucky breaks.  But does that make me superior?  Of course not.

It simply makes me exceedingly fortunate to have been born a white male in the United States, land of prosperity and opportunity.  There is a question I ask myself.  Were we to trade places, would I be able to smile like Mhay day in, day out despite a total absence of recognition?  Would I be able to hold my tongue and not lash out as I have been known to do?  Throughout the trip, Mhay displayed constant warmth despite only occasional encouragement.  I respect Mhay so much for that.   

 

When we parted, my final words to Mhay were to keep working hard.  I explained her spirit and warmth were impressive and I expected her to go far in this world. 

I also thanked her for reminding me to stay humble.  Because people were waiting, I had to be brief.  Therefore I doubt that she knew what I meant, but it did not matter.  I appreciated that Mhay had delivered a valuable message.  She reminded me who I wanted to be: a person who treats others with dignity no matter what their station in life.

 
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