February 15, 2019

Nieuw Amsterdam Casino

Dateline: Somewhere East of the Bahamas –

Today is another sea day.  I slept in, rolled over, looked at the dreary skies and rain outside the stateroom windows, and decided to sleep in some more.  I did get up eventually, having missed breakfast and took a constitutional and did some reading.  I then had lunch with Rich Campbell, who owns and runs both Atlantis Events and RSVP Vacations, two of the major gay travel companies.  Rich and I go back more than twenty years at this point as Steve and I first started to travel with Atlantis before they even had cruises.  Rich and I have kept tabs on each other, but hadn’t actually seen each other for pushing fifteen years so it was nice to catch up on things over Indian food.

I then retired back to the stateroom and did some writing.  Sue Millinocket will be happy to know there’s another MNM column finished and one beyond that should be done by the end of the day tomorrow.  There wasn’t a whole lot happening on shipboard in general so it was the perfect day for it.  Eventually there was another nap, a nice dinner, and some time in the piano bar.  I was tempted to return to the slot machines, but I was good and have remained $100 ahead for the cruise.  It won’t pay for the vacation, but it should take a big bite out of the bar bill.

There’s another dance party tonight late on the deck.  I shall wander up to look at the outfits.  The theme is ‘Royalty’ and on my way back to the cabin I was nearly run over by a guy in a gorilla suit and crown with a name tag reading King Kong so it sounds like there might be some interesting looks up there.  And I did bring my chainmail shirt…

Chainmail – it’s heavy and it’s cold

After last night’s very long post and story, I think I’m out of gas tonight.  I’ll try to think of something interesting to write up tomorrow night, which is our last night on board.  Cruise time is very different from land time.  In some ways, it feels like living in a Las Vegas Casino.  There is no day; there is no night; everything just is in the moment.  My college roommate Craig Mollerstuen is working for Holland America on the Alaska run this summer.  I’ll have to call him and find out exactly what he’s doing.  He was working as a tour guide for the shore excursions last summer.   It seems to be his semi-retirement calling.  I once looked into working for a cruise line as a ship’s doctor.  Looking at the contract and expectations was enough to disabuse me of ever wanting to do that.

One more travelogue update tomorrow night, a wrap up the night after, and then back to intermittent long posts depending on life and emotional state.  I have no major traveling planned from now until late June but I may have the occasional weekend away or make a jaunt to Seattle to check up on the family.  I’ll figure it out as time goes on.  In the meantime, I go into rehearsal for two shows as soon as I get back to Birmingham so that should keep me out of trouble.

February 14, 2019

Cruise Port – Sint Maarten

Dateline: Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten –

I’d forgotten how conducive cruise ships are to decent sleep patterns.  The gentle rocking of the boat, plus after dinner cocktails usually leads to a good eight hours or so.  That was certainly true last night.  I dropped off sometime just after midnight and didn’t stir until about nine o’clock this morning.  The ship was docked in St. Maarten (the Dutch side – St. Martin, the French side is a few miles away – both countries seem to have been cohabiting one rather small island for centuries without much issue).  I have very specific memories of St. Martin from a prior trip (which I will go into detail with later in this post) which has made it something of a touchy subject in my life.  I therefore did not feel a particular need to go ashore other than for a brief walk through the cruise port where I contributed my twenty dollars to the local economy by buying a T shirt.  Instead, I used the day to read, to do some writing, to continue to get the new blog site in order (it’s more or less complete up through the first half of the Thailand trip), and to avail myself of the ship’s spa without having to battle with a dozen muscle queens for space in the hydro pool.

There were three other ships in port besides us, all bigger than we are which means something over 10,000 cruise passengers were descending on a town whose permanent resident population is somewhat smaller than that.  I figured that was also a good reason to stay close to the ship.  We pulled out about three in the afternoon with a Valentine’s themed tea dance happening on the pool deck.  You could see the passengers and crew of the other ships gathered at the rails to watch us depart and it wasn’t too hard to pick out the look of longing on some of the faces.  We know we’re fabulous and much more fun- come join the party.

Gathering for the Valentine’s dance

After that, gala dinner in the dining room (Asiatic duck and shrimp cocktail) and then I went to the casino where I managed to turn $50 into $200 on the slots and wisely stopped playing before I could lose it all again and went and sat in the piano bar instead and sang along to show tunes.  The dance party tonight is classic disco which is much more my music than most of the current techno so I’m going to head for that for a bit before bed.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk all day and it has to do with the combination of Valentine’s Day and St. Martin.  Often times when I get moody, I’m not really sure what’s causing it.  This one hits me right between the eyes.  What’s the connection you may ask?  It’s Steve.

Steve and I met sometime in mid February of 1989.  Neither of us could remember the exact date so we always used Valentine’s day as our anniversary.  Those of you with basic math skills have by now figured out that, had he lived, today would have been our 30th anniversary.  He’s been gone more than 17 years now so I only get little pangs when I think of him and our special moments, but I always feel him when conversation hearts hit the stores.  (I was actually able to find a bag this year, despite the national shortage.  This made me happy.)

In 1999, when we had been together for ten years, we booked ourselves on an Atlantis Events trip to a resort on St. Martin.  It was in late October and in celebration of having survived our first year in Birmingham together. Our first year in Birmingham had not been especially happy.  There was a lot of culture shock for two gay boys from California.  I was still reeling psychologically from the wanton destruction of my career at UC Davis by forces far beyond my control.  Steve had been unable to find a job other than temp work.  He was so miserable, he kept threatening to move back to California and leave me there.  And then the summer hit.  Neither of us had ever lived in a climate with humidity and we learned to hate it quite rapidly.

Steve had been a smoker earlier in his life and had had some mild asthmatic/chronic lung issues for a few years but that first summer, when we met the Southern climate head on, his breathing got worse.  We assumed it was due to the weather and it would get better in the fall after the heat broke and we were dealing with saner temperatures again.  Neither of us was especially worried about it. By October, things were cooling down slightly, we were both more or less resigned to life in Birmingham and we had a week of fun in the sun to look forward to with a number of friends.

We were due to fly out of Birmingham Friday night to Miami, spend the night in an airport hotel so we could catch the Atlantis charter flight to St. Martin on Saturday.  I came home from work at noon on Friday to get us ready to go only to find out that Miami was under siege from Hurricane Irene, the airport was closed and the flight was canceled.  They were willing to rebook us that night through Houston but with no guarantee on when they could get us to Miami.  I said no thank you, we looked at each other and then we drove to Atlanta and spent the night at an airport hotel there.  Miami was open again the next morning and, with all the disruptions, we had no problems finding a morning flight there and we arrived hours before the charter was due to leave.

The one, the only Miss Richfield 1981, aka Russ King

Atlantis now had the unenviable task of trying to track down guys all over the country booked on their charter whose travel plans had been upended.  The charter would be delayed.  Steve and I settled down on a not particularly comfortable piece of floor of the charter terminal as guys trickled in.  We were joined by Russ King (better known as Miss Richfield 1981) who was joining the gang for the first time and we first got to know him during the endless hours of waiting.  Eventually, eight or so hours late, the charter took off and we arrived in St. Martin and were bussed to the hotel arriving sometime around 3 AM.

The next couple of days were lovely.  The resort was nice with a great beach, we toured the island, we did some shopping.  All the usuals and it looked like it was going to be a restful and reenergizing week.  Now, unbeknownst to us, a couple of things were happening outside the confines of the resort.  First, this was in the early days of large scale gay travel and the locals were deeply suspicious.  Word had gotten out, egged on by some local conservative preachers, that we were there to recruit children and have mass gay weddings on the beach.  This led to a number of the resort staff to call in sick so they wouldn’t have to wait on us and a certain amount of hostility in town.  There was nothing overt, just a lot of dirty looks.  Second, another hurricane system, Hurricane Jose had formed and was speeding directly towards St. Martin.  This was pre smart phone and everyone was pretty unplugged from news that week so we didn’t know about it (although we should have gotten a clue when we saw everyone boarding up their windows while out and about on tour). 

The afternoon before the hurricane was due to hit, Steve started to complain of being more short of breath than usual.  We were walking up the hill from the pool to the building where our room was and I could hear him panting behind me.  When I turned around to look at him, he was cyanotic.  And there wasn’t a whole lot I was going to be able to do about it on a tropical island preparing for a direct hit from a hurricane.  I put him to bed that night and told him to take it easy.  He felt better the next day but decided mainly to nap.  The winds had picked up, the staff was pretty much gone, and we were all left to fend for ourselves.  We had been told no alcohol which of course meant that we all drank every drop in the place at the mother of all hurricane parties on the beach. 

As evening approached, the winds continued to increase.  The deep sea birds, albatrosses and the like, came in and hovered over the sand, turned out to sea… waiting…   The rains started shortly after dark.  Steve and I had economized on a ‘garden view’ rather than a ‘sea view’ room so our room was on the ground floor and at the back of the resort, well away from the beach and the winds that came howling in off the ocean.  Even still, the windows kept buckling slightly and water kept pouring under the door.  Steve, who was already having respiratory problems, descended into full out hyperanxiety and panic attacks.  I had two things with which to treat him.  A decent bedside manner and a brown paper bag.  As  the wee hours of the morning wore on, the winds finally died away but the rains continued to come down in torrents (and did so for the next three days). 

The resort was a bit of a mess when viewed next morning.  Some of the roofs had come off, a lot of windows were broken.  Power was back on thanks to a generator and the manager and his family, the only staff on site, somehow managed to produce a hot breakfast for several hundred bedraggled queens.  Those who had splurged on sea view rooms had had to spend most of the previous night in their bathtubs for protection.  No one was seriously injured and everyone made the best of it over the next few days until the buses came to get us and take us back to the airport.  There we found we were the lucky ones.  We were on the French side and had more or less been free to do as we pleased.  On the Dutch side, everyone was in a lock down curfew in their hotel rooms and had been miserable for days.

One final memory of bumping down the semi-washed out road from the resort on the way back to town was turning for one last look and seeing a column of smoke rising from one of the buildings.  The hotel was on fire: a perfect metaphor for the week.

Steve’s breathing had not really improved, but with the storm over, he was no longer having panic attacks.  I do not advise anyone to spend time with someone having such things during a category 2 hurricane.  It’s highly unpleasant.  We got back to the mainland, spent a night in a hotel in Miami and eventually, somewhat the worse for wear, made our way back to Birmingham.  The first thing I did when we got back was drag him down to my clinic and get him a chest X-ray.  When I saw the film, I didn’t know what was wrong but I knew he was going to die.  It looked that bad.  This was the week that the pulmonary fibrosis that was to kill him two years later made itself known.

Those of us who survived that Atlantis trip have never forgotten it.  Wayne Moore, Bruce McDonald, Rich Campbell – you were all there.  I’ve always thought we should have had special pins made ‘I survived Atlantis Events St. Martin 1999’.  It’s not too late.

It should be pretty clear now why I wasn’t terribly keen to get off the boat.  How ironic that I would spend our 30th anniversary in the one place on the planet that has the worst connotations for the two of us.  It wasn’t planned.  It’s just the way it worked out and I didn’t even realize it until this week.  Steve’s either completely pissed at me or laughing his head off.  I don’t know which.  Maybe I’ll figure it out the next few days.

February 13, 2019

Tourists in Old San Juan

Dateline: San Juan, Puerto Rico –

Stop number two on this particular cruise.  There were apparently strong headwinds last night so we were an hour late getting in.  That suited me just fine as we have set the clocks forward an hour from Eastern to Atlantic time and I wanted to sleep in anyway.  So, after a leisurely breakfast, I watched San Juan harbor come into view and the ship make a smooth sail into its mooring berth.  It’s rather amazing how well these huge boxy ships maneuver in tight quarters.  I once had a tour of the bridge on one of the big Norwegian Cruise Liners.  (It pays to know people).  The technology they use to keep everything just right is quite remarkable. 

Old San Juan Fort

I’ve been to San Juan several times in the past.  I was racking my brain how many times and with whom and decided it was in 1999 with Steve and in 2002 during the period when I was single between husbands.  Tommy and I were also here together in 2005 on our last cruise together before life and finances took us in other directions.  Old San Juan hasn’t changed in the last twenty years.  It probably hasn’t changed that much in the last two hundred other than the addition of electricity and modern sanitation.  Lee and I took a long walk through town, did some shopping and toured the old Spanish fort that protected the harbor.  My pedometer was very happy at all the walking.  The fort is the major tourist attraction and a world heritage site.  Parts of it date back to the early 16th century and it’s still possible to conjure up the ghosts of generations of Spanish soldiers patrolling the battlements, keeping their cannon at the ready.

Hamilton in San Juan harbor

Old San Juan has recovered from hurricane Maria.  There’s not much in the way of visible damage but I’m sure if one was to venture out from that highly visible part of town, it would become clear how devastating the storm had been.   There was still a monument to Lin-Manuel Miranda floating in the harbor celebrating his recent run in Hamilton there as a fund raiser for Puerto Rican relief.  It’s rather sad when a private citizen does more than the federal government in terms of visibility and reminder of what the island continues to deal with.

More pool time this afternoon, followed by dinner (Wiener Schnitzel) and then a show by Christina Bianco, one of the female vocal impressionists who do such things as Forbidden Broadway.  She was quite funny and I won’t soon forget Julie Andrews singing Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’.  Tonight’s late night dance party has the theme of Taboo.  That’s a dangerous one on a gay cruise.  I put on suitable clothes (which I will neither describe nor post a picture of – let us just say I won’t be wearing the outfit to work in the near future) and danced on deck until some sudden rain squalls chased everyone indoors.  I used that as an excuse to come down to bed early where I am writing this.  I also updated the blog site all the way up to my Thailand trip.  Only about twenty more entries to move over.

I’m trying to think of something interesting that may have happened on one of my other San Juan trips that would make a good story.  Nothing much is coming to mind.  I remember next to nothing about the visit with Steve.  The time I was on my own, I bought a very nice kite with a tiger motif.  It hung in the stairwell of the old house for years.  When there was no proper place for it in the new house after the move, we took it to Tommy’s music classroom where it still hangs from the ceiling.  The visit with Tommy, I remember vaguely walking through town with him and with someone else.  I can’t for the life remember who that was.  It might have been Shann Carr or Wayne Moore but I could be completely misremembering.  Either way, I don’t recall anything very interesting happening.

February 12, 2019

Welcome to the sand bar

Dateline: Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos –

Actually, that’s not quite true.  We left Grand Turk about four o’clock this afternoon after a lovely day of sunshine and sand and the Nieuw Amsterdam is bound for Puerto Rico and somewhere with the Atlantic off her port bow and the Gulf of Mexico off her starboard.  This morning, after a leisurely breakfast, I headed off the ship and onto Grand Turk island, the chief seat of population of the small island nation of Turks and Caicos (another country down on the life list…).  Grand Turk is pretty much a sandbar about six or seven miles long with a couple of small towns and some lovely beaches.  It also has a lot of visible hurricane damage from the storms of a few years ago.  The other ship in port was from the AIDA cruise line which is a German company and was full of companionable Mittel Europeans who weren’t in the least bit phased by hordes of gay men in the T-shirt stores looking for the perfect refrigerator magnet.

Gemini Splash Down monument – Grand Turk

As I wasn’t terribly interested in a scuba trip or a jeep ride around the island, there wasn’t a whole lot to do so I settled for a nice walk on the beach, some splashing in the ocean, and a return to the ship for lunch, some pool time and some sunbathing.  I then entered the trivia contest, losing by one point.  (How was I to know that the oldest unchanged national flag belongs to Denmark?), had a nap, duck breast for dinner, and then proceeded to win $25 on the slots, only to lose it again.

The entertainment choices for the night were rather eclectic.  I enjoyed singer/songwriter Matt Alber (who is working his way into becoming the Mel Torme of a new generation).  I left the show of someone named Ada Vox after two numbers and headed for the piano bar.  At least the people that work there know how to sing a song.  The entertainers for gay cruises are often somewhat hit and miss.  The usual cruise ship folk, working an audience under eighty for once, tend to give it their all and be their personal best.  The LGBT entertainers hired by RSVP/Atlantis are sometimes quite good, and sometimes hired on the basis of their reputation on the bar circuit and can be surprisingly good or surprisingly bad.  Having taken these trips for a generation now, it’s been interesting to watch the evolution.  Decades ago, a gay cruise company could not book decent talent, even if they were LGBT as the acts were often afraid of being pigeon holed.  As society as changed, that’s really no longer an issue and even straight acts compete to get the slots as they know if they’re successful, there will be good word of mouth and future bookings.

Lee Fowler on the beach at Grand Turk

The beach this morning had a number of rather broken down horses for rent.  I did not ride one but it did remind me of childhood.  I was actually quite a good rider as a child (and have the ribbons somewhere to prove it).  A talent I inherited from my mother who was a show rider as a teen.  I haven’t been on a horse for some time now.  The last time was with Steve on a beach in Mexico on one of our Atlantis trips there in the late 90s.  Steve didn’t have a lot of experience riding and, after we had headed down the beach and through the woods, we turned around and were riding through the surf back to the resort.  Steve’s horse, seeing we were headed home, decided to have a little fun with him and took off in a gentle canter, eager to get back to stable and hay.  Steve, who hadn’t ever experienced that gait, began to shriek like a banshee and hung on for dear life.  I caught up with him, trying to explain that horses can lope but he was having none of it and continued to yell until the horse arrived back at the pen.  He never wanted to go riding again.  I’ll probably find a reason to get back on horseback at some time to see if I have any residual skills left.

February 11, 2019

Main Dining Room – The Nieuw Amsterdam

Dateline:  Somewhere off the Antilles on the way to Turks and Caicos Islands –

Today was a sea day on the Nieuw Amsterdam.  For those that have not cruised before, it means a day of relative leisure.  There are activities of various sorts happening throughout the days, but I spent most of the day eating and sleeping.  My metabolism must be in de-stress mode as I’ve been ravenous all day and sat down and ate five meals by the time it was all over.  I usually only eat two and feel well sated.  The food on Holland America isn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it is edible and there’s plenty of it.  I also had several lovely naps – in the cabin, on a deck chair, and in the Crow’s Nest library. 

Dancing on the fan tail

I did attend the tea dance this afternoon.  A thousand or more queens on the fantail in the sunset bopping along to Whitney Houston and Diana Ross.  The crowd on this cruise isn’t going to go for many divas much younger than Madonna.  Taylor Swift who?  There’s another dance party tonight with a sports theme.  I don’t have a lot of sports paraphernalia in my wardrobe so, if I go, I’m going to need to wear my Comfort Care Hospice Night at the Ballpark T shirt and a baseball hat.  On my way back to the cabin, I saw a number of guys in full shoulder pads, eye black and football pants so some of these guys go all out.

I’m spending my late evening with my feet up in the cabin watching Bohemian Rhapsody together with Lee Fowler on the streaming movie system.  I’ve seen it, he hasn’t, and it seems like an appropriate film for a gay cruise sea day.  Not much else to really report travelogue wise other than the Key Lime pie, one of my two desserts with dinner, was exceptionally good.  Yes, I do have some pictures but I have had issues connecting the phone to the internet while at sea so you’ll have to wait a day or two for me to post them.

Tommy and Andy in Key West 2003

I’ve been wracking my brain for a good story to tell about cruising or gay cruises but I’ve told most of my better ones in previous entries.  I don’t think I’ve told this one yet though, or I may have in some tangential way, but not this piece of it.  The first vacation Tommy and I took together was an Atlantis gay cruise out of New York in the summer of 2003.  The first stop was Miami where we went out to dinner with my old friend, Marc Fajer, who is a professor at the University of Miami Law School.  We were relatively new in the dating process and just beginning to get serious so I was still having old friends vet him to make sure they agreed with me that he was a good match.  Marc approved which was a good thing, so we headed off to stop number two, Key West.  In Key West, we made the usual rounds such as the Hemingway House and the Southernmost Point of the US marker.  That afternoon, we hit Duvall Street and the gay bars.  My friend, Russ King, better known to most of the world as Miss Richfield 1981, was doing some afternoon appearances at one of them so Tommy and I settled in around the pool watching her antics and the go go boys.  We lost track of the number of cocktails and we were both slightly sloshed by five o’clock when we headed back to the ship.  In our mildly inebriated state, we wandered into the leather shop down by the pier and together, we purchased a chain mail shirt that we thought was an absolute necessity for our wardrobe.  It was real steel links, weighed a ton and, the next morning, when we saw it hanging in our stateroom, we couldn’t remember what we were thinking.

I still have it.  I actually brought it with me as a gay cruise is one of the few places one can wear a chainmail shirt without anybody thinking anything of it.

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.

January 11, 2019

My local Mexican joint

I didn’t write a lot during January. It was the month of viral illness so it was either work, rehearsal of lying in bed. I think this was my only long post of the month.

Long post night. Haven’t done one since I came back from Thailand just before New Years so I guess this counts as the first one of 2019. I’ll try to keep up the routine posting if I am traveling and, when I am home in the usual patterns, I’ll check in when I feel like it. Tonight, I am battling a nasty viral head cold which I have treated with Mexican food and a margarita. I don’t know if it will help the virus any, but I’m feeling better. Friday night Mexican was a tradition I started with Steve when we first moved to Birmingham. After I finished work on Friday, we would go to Cuco’s at Eastwood Plaza (both restaurant and shopping center long gone…) for Mexican and I would have a margarita. Steve did not drink so he had to settle for Diet Coke if he felt fat and regular Coke if he didn’t. We kept that up for several years until his health deteriorated to the point where getting out of the house was a chore.

It took me about a week to fully readjust to US time after the trip back from Thailand. I would be falling asleep midafternoon or sitting bolt upright and raring to go in the small hours of the morning for several days there and, New Years Day, I went to bed just after midnight and slept straight through until four in the afternoon. That really confused the internal clock. Now, however, I seem to be back on usual schedule and activity. The last few weeks have been somewhat quiescent. Next week is busy with final rehearsals and performances of Carmina Burana with the Alabama Symphony.

2018, a year that shall live in infamy or an annus horibilis in QEII speak, had one last piece of nastiness in store. My director, my theatrical colleague and my friend Jack Mann died late on New Years Eve from the cancer he had been battling all year. It wasn’t a huge surprise, it still hurt as I was looking forward to going into the theatrical woods with him again this spring with Man of La Mancha. Jack was part of Birmingham theater for sixty years and will be missed by all of us who are involved in this business we call show locally. If a bomb had gone off at his memorial service, there would have been no theater in Birmingham for the next couple of decades. Everyone was there.

I had lunch today with my travel agent. We’re making plans for this summer’s adventure (The Rhine/Danube river cruise) and I’m starting to sketch out some future journeys in my head. I’ve barely dipped in to Tommy’s life insurance funds which are bankrolling the travel so there are lots of possibilities. Any of you who might like to make travel plans, give me a holler. I’m thinking two major trips a year for at least the next five years.

As I haven’t been feeling the best and going home early, I had some time to download all of the long posts of the last year from Facebook and I started a blog site where they can all be archived while I decide what they might be becoming. I’m just beginning the job of editing and shaping so I’m not going to publish the link just yet. All in good time. I’ve named the blog after a phrase popularized by one of the seminal pop cultural figures of the late 70s and early 80s and was quite surprised that no one had yet named a blog that, at least not on Word Press…

I haven’t told a story for a while so here’s one that came to mind this week. I have no idea what brought it up. It’s from the mid 1980s when I was a medical student living in Seattle and actively involved in the Seattle theater scene. 25 year old me finished up all the work necessary to complete my MD degree somewhat early. I turned in the last project in mid-March with graduation slated for mid-June and my move to Sacramento for internship just after that. I had nearly three months of unstructured time. Something I would not see again for who knows how long. I did some traveling (common theme in my life) but was back in town by early April and so I threw myself into the theater world with abandon. I did all the set decorations and props for a big production of My Fair Lady. I directed a cabaret version of the Sondheim revue You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow. I helped out my various theater friends on their projects.

Sue Mitchell, one of my dear friends (girlfriend of my best friend Jan who was later murdered but that’s a story I’ve already told), was working at the time as the box office manager of Intiman Theater. Intiman was a company specializing in productions of classic rep – Shakespeare, Sheridan, Shaw and the like and it had a fairly large subscription base that had to be kept happy. I would go down one or two mornings a week to help Sue with the tickets. She had an assistant, a young drama student from the Cornish Institute – a gawky teenager with a Cro-Magnon forehead, deep set eyes, but great cheekbones who was not the swiftest so she was glad to have me help untangle some of the issues and make sure the mailings went out. Sue and I and young Brendan would sit there, getting the work done, telling the usual hopes and dreams of young theater people. Brendan’s plan was to finish his training and head to Los Angeles and hope to make it big. Sue and I wished him well but told ourselves – he’ll go and be back in six months…

I went off to Sacramento that summer, Brendan went to Los Angeles where he got himself cast in a Pauly Shore movie called Encino Man and turned himself into a movie star. I can say I knew Brendan Fraser when… And I no longer ever prognosticate on who will make it and who won’t. You never know.