February 10, 2019

The Nieuw Amsterdam

Dateline: Somewhere off the coast of Florida –

And it’s time to pick up the travelogue again.  Off on another jaunt, this one a cruise from Florida through the Caribbean and back again.  I boarded the boat this morning, we took sail around 5 PM and as I write this, we are somewhere in the Florida Straits heading for Turks and Caicos islands, the first stop of the week.  I’ll return with more details later in this missive as I have a number of other things to cover.  It’s been a busy couple of days.

Friday, I had my usual work day in the morning.  In the afternoon, I was invited to speak to the UAB Honors College by Diane Tucker, who is one of their faculty advisers.  I gave them my somewhat infamous lecture on Medicare that I’ve been giving at least once a month somewhere for well over a decade now.  I know it so well, I can do it in my sleep.  I approach Medicare from a historical perspective so that people can understand what it is, how it works, and what its failings are.  It was devised by very smart people to solve the problems of a very different era.  Unfortunately, the legislation is static while the needs of the system have significantly changed.  I’ve written up various versions of it but I’m not really happy with any of them.  I may eventually come up with one that works and publish it.

Climax of Atlanta Opera’s Dead Man Walking

Once I finished yakking and answering questions, I raced back to my car, jumped in and hot footed it to Atlanta, arriving just in time to catch Atlanta Opera’s production of Dead Man Walking, the relatively new opera by Jake Heggie.  I’d heard about other productions for years but had never had a chance to see it staged.  It was a favorite of Tommy’s musically and we had had many conversations about when someone might produce it at a time and place where we could catch it.  He was thrilled when it was announced for this season in Atlanta as he would finally get to see it.  Alas, it was not to be.  I like to think in an afterlife, he has a chance to attend anything he so chooses, and he was at least there in spirit with me.  The lead roles were performed by Jamie Barton as Sister Helen Prejean and Michael Mayes as Joseph DeRocher.  I knew who Jamie was but had never had a chance to hear her sing live.  I’ve know Michael for years.  He was Valentin in the Faust I was in the chorus for years ago.  He’s made an international career out of his interpretation of DeRocher (the Sean Penn role for those familiar with the film) and his rural East Texas roots make him a natural in the part. 

I wasn’t sure I was going to like the opera.  I was prepared to admire it for technique and artistry and musicianship but I wasn’t expecting to be engulfed musically and emotionally.  I found the music much more melodic than most twentieth and twenty first century repertoire and the dynamic performances from the entire cast had me and the rest of the audience at the Cobb Energy Center rapt and absolutely silent at the end.  It was one of those productions where everyone needed to draw a collective breath before they could even think of applauding.  I’d love to see Opera Birmingham do it, but it’s a huge show so it will probably require a few more years of development before it’s ready to present something quite so complex.   I did not attempt to drive back to Birmingham that night.  There was a handy Embassy Suites across the street from the opera.  I stayed there.

Relaxed auctioneer

I came back to Birmingham on Saturday, did the usual weekend chores around the house, wrote my clinic notes for the week, and was in general productive until the evening when I headed off to the fundraising auction for my church.  In a moment of weakness earlier, I had promised to be the auctioneer.  I’ve done this for charity auctions before (and people seem to think I’m good at it so I’ll probably do a few more in my time) and I kind of have the patter down.  I don’t know what I do.  I just think of all the movies I’ve ever seen featuring auction things, turn myself off and just let it flow.  Good thing I’ve been taking those Spolin Improv Classes from Jeanmarie Collins.  Usually I have between 10 and 15 lots in a live auction.  This one had well over 50 so I was pretty much out of voice by the time we finished it up.  I haven’t heard the total take yet but with luck it will hit its fundraising goal.  I purchased a few of the lots that weren’t selling.  I am now the proud owner of a snowboard.  I am not planning on taking it up at my advanced age as I prefer my hips intact, so if any of my younger friends who are local to Birmingham have always wanted to own one, drop me a line and I can make that wish come true.

The alarm went off at a ridiculous hour this morning so I could get to the airport and catch a plane to Florida to get on the boat.  The travel day was completely uneventful, other than a traffic jam trying to get into Port Everglades as most of the security staff seemed not to have shown up for work.  Seven cruise ships were leaving today so figure fifteen to twenty thousand passengers trying to get through a security checkpoint with only two people working.  My friends Lee Fowler, Jeff DeGarmo, and West LeDuke had made plans earlier in the year to head off on a Caribbean cruise and they needed a fourth to even out the cabins and asked me if I would be interested.  Having traveled with them before, I had no problem saying yes.

Jeff DeGarmo and West LeDuke

RSVP is a gay cruise company that caters more to men of a certain age.  This is my first time with them.  They are actually owned by the same people who own Atlantis Events (with whom I have traveled many times in the past) but I’ve kind of aged out of the Atlantis demographic and into the RSVP demographic over the last couple of decades.  What’s a gay cruise like?  It’s kind of like summer camp for adults.  But, instead of arts and crafts you have shopping, instead of horseback riding you have tea dances, and instead of campfire sing-alongs, you have piano bars.  Some couples spend months creating perfect matching outfits for all of the dances and parties, some decorate the doors of their state rooms with photos and collages, some wear far fewer clothes than they should.  It’s a time and place for the tribe to get together outside the confines of the straight world, let their collective hair down, and be who they are without judgment.  Steve and I started traveling with Atlantis Events more than twenty years ago, before they even did cruises and Rich Campbell remains eternal as the guy with the vision to make everything work.  It’s a little unnerving to think that there may be men on this cruise who weren’t even born when I took my first Atlantis trip.

And off we go…

Today was pretty much unpack and get settled, have a nice dinner, attend a show full of somewhat outrageous, but very funny gay and camp humor, and have two or five cocktails.  We’re at sea all day tomorrow so I should have some time to write more about the peculiarities of several thousand gay men on a boat together.  In the meantime, it’s been a long couple of days so I’m going to sign off.  I should be able to think of some good Atlantis stories over the course of the week and I’ll try to get those written up as I check in.

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