Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea Buttons

Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea

Day 0 Saturday December 15, 2012
Home - Fort Lauderdale

Next PageTrip Menu
Home Page
Left-click on a picture to open a larger version in a new window.

The actual digital photos have much better resolution than the enlarged photos.
To tell the truth, I did not expect to create a journal for this trip. After all, we were just planning on taking a week-long cruise in which we expected to spend most of our time playing bridge. I did not think that there would be much to write about or to photograph.[1] Was I ever wrong.

I have never understood why people waste money on professional photographers. My friend Tom Corcoran took our official wedding photos, and they came out great.

In October of 2012 Sue Comparetto and I made a few important decisions. We decided to get married before the end of the year and to use some of the money that we would be saving on income taxes to go on Larry Cohen’s bridge cruise. The first event took place on December 8, and the cruise was scheduled to leave from Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, December 16, and return a week later. The ship was Royal Carribbean’s Allure of the Seas, the largest passenger ship in the world. We had enjoyed ourselves immensely on cruises several times in the past. Once you locate the ship, the staff takes care of everything. What could go wrong?

Sue made reservations for us with Alice Travel, the agency that managed the logistics for the bridge players. One of the big attractions of this for both of us was the fact that the games played on the ship would constitute an official regional tournament paying red and gold masterpoints. I probably cared a little more about this than Sue since I was embroiled in a close race for the Mini-McKenney award in the state of Connecticut.[2] My lead at the end of November was less than four points, and there were not very many opportunities to earn points in the month of December.

When Sue and I realized that the ship would be docked in Cozumel, Mexico, on Friday, December 21, 2012, the last day of the Mayan calendar, we quickly concluded that we should sign up for an excursion to one of the Mayan cities, Tulum or Chichén-Itzá. I found the web page on Royal Carribbean’s site used to make reservations for excursions. I was astounded to learn that there were eighty different excursions for the stop in Cozumel. Then I remembered that the ship could contain up to 5,400 passengers. If everyone on the ship signed up for an excursion, there would be more than sixty-seven people per excursion.

The bridge tournament to be held on the cruise featured a website that allowed prospective players to hook up with potential partners and/or teammates before the cruise started. Both Sue and I registered to seek out partners.[3] You could either call the people on the phone or designate on the web page that you were interested in playing with a particular person. The latter triggered a computer-generated e-mail indicating the details of the request. Both Sue and I tried the latter method. I attempted to contact the other two people who were in my point range as well as the only person in a higher category. It puzzled me that none of them responded. Did they dig up some dirt on me?[4]

Sue, on the other hand, only tried to contact one person, and she received an e-mail from Geraldine (Geri) Landes, who said that she would be happy to play with Sue.

On the Monday before the cruise I did receive a phone call at work from Barbara Forrest, who had just slightly fewer points than I did. I was delighted to have someone to play with and agreed to play her convention card, a copy of which she e-mailed to me. I replied with a warning that I was a stickler for details and a list of questions. On Wednesday she responded to some of them, which prompted me to fire off another e-mail with a new set of queries. That was enough for Barbara, who decided to find a different partner. I did not blame her; not everyone is as obsessive about bidding and defensive agreements as I am. However, I did not feel good about committing to play a week’s worth of bridge without knowing whom I would be playing with.

Since we would be in Florida just before Christmas, Sue and I decided to extend the vacation a few days so that we could spend some time with the Chris and Sandy Tsiartas, Sue’s friends from her dancing days who had moved to Port St. Lucie, and with her Dad, who lived in Clearwater.

Sue made the cruise, airline, and hotel arrangements with Alice Travel. I reserved a rental car with Avis for the period after the cruise. The plan was to fly to Fort Lauderdale from Bradley Field in Windsor Locks and fly back from Tampa the day after Christmas. Both flights were on Southwest, and both were direct. Despite the fact that the cruise ship weighed anchor late on Sunday afternoon Sue decided that we should fly down a day earlier in case there was a problem with the weather. She also purchased travel insurance.

On the morning of our departure I woke up at five o'clock as I always did. I washed a load of white clothes to make sure that I had enough for almost two weeks and packed the green suitcase that I had inherited from my father’s estate.

Sue, who is definitely a night owl, always did her packing during the night before a trip. She was awake when I got up but she went back to sleep shortly thereafter.

I signed on to the Southwest website so that we could check in. I was disappointed that we were assigned positions 40 and 41 in the B group. I should have checked in the previous night, but I had played bridge that evening at the Hartford Bridge Club, and I completely forgot about it.

While waiting for the washer and dryer to finish I watched the Italy Cup on Vugraph on the Bridgebase web site. The Lavazza team, Norberto Bocchi and Agustin Madala, was getting clobbered. Bocchi had stayed on the same floor as we did in the NABC tournament in Philadelphia the previous summer. We saw him in the hallways a few times.

Sue woke up and informed me that she needed another suitcase. She opted for using the big red one with the defective zipper on an outside pocket. She said that it was currently stored somewhere in TSI’s old office,[5] which Sue had been using for some mysterious purpose. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10:55, and it bothered me that an additional stop had been added to our itinerary. However, we left the house around 9:15, and it did not require an inordinate amount of time to transfer her stuff to the suitcase.

Sue’s sister Karen had agreed to stop in at our house every few days while we were gone to make sure that our large black cat, Giacomo,[6] had plenty of food and water. We left the key to the house with Karen. When we realized that we had forgotten to turn down the thermostat, Sue called Karen from the car and asked her to take care of it.

A sight for sore eyes.

We drove to Executive Valet Parking. I planned to use the points that I had accumulated from previous trips to pay for leaving my car there. We took Executive’s shuttle bus to the airport, and somehow neither Sue nor I noticed that we had left her small red suitcase in my car until we arrived at Bradley. The driver informed the office at Executive, and they assured us that it would be brought to us on the next bus. This made me more than a little tense; we did not have a great deal of time to spare. Nevertheless, the bag arrived after only a few minutes, and we made it to our flight without much difficulty.

While we were waiting for the missing bag we saw Stan Kerry and Sandy Sobel in line to check in at Southwest. They were the people who ran the games at the West Hartford Bridge Club. I wondered whether they might be going on the same cruise that we were.

Airport security was surprisingly easy for us; in fact, the line was the shortest that I had ever seen. However, I noticed that Stan, who went through a different line, seemed to be having some difficulty.

The airport McDonald’s was out of breakfast sandwiches, so I did not get to purchase my customary sausage biscuit with egg. When we arrived at gate 6 the people with reservations in the A section had already boarded. When we finally boarded the plane all of the adjacent seats were occupied. We were, however, able to find two seats across the aisle from one another. I shared a row with a couple and their small child. They slept through most of the trip. When dealing with the flight attendants, the husband spoke for the three of them.

For a few minutes I read from the book The Contested Auction by Roy Hughes. He had some very interesting ideas about the two well-known shortcomings of the Michaels cue bid and the Unusual No-trump overcall: (1) there is no way to discriminate between a strong hand and a purely preemptive one, and (2) sometimes one cannot identify both suits.[7] He presented some principles and details for a system that addressed both issues. Unfortunately, I doubted that I would ever be able to persuade one of my current partners to play a convention that required a different set of overcalls for each pair of suits.

Hughes’s book was hard sledding, and I found it difficult to concentrate. So, I attempted one of the “hard” Sudokus in the Spirit magazine in the seatback compartment. I was still working on it when we landed, but I was very happy when I completed it just before we had to disembark. I have always hated loose ends.

We located our luggage without any difficult, and Sue tried to call the Crowne Plaza Hotel to learn how the shuttle system worked. She was put on hold for the better part of an hour! During the wait we met up with Stan and Sandy, who were indeed going on the cruise and were even staying in the same hotel.

We had to walk quite a distance to the area designated for the shuttles to hotels. The one that went to the Crowne Plaza made two more stops before departing the vicinity of the airport. During the short drive to the hotel we could see the towering cruise ships to our right. We also learned there that Stan had lost his watch and cell phone at the security point at the airport and that he and Sandy were scheduled to meet some friends for dinner that evening.

The Crowne Plaza.

We had to stand in line for another ten minutes to check in to the hotel. My experience is that this is standard procedure for Crowne Plaza hotels. I have never understood why the service seemed so much better at less expensive hotels. The desk clerk assigned us room #623 at the price of $189 per night. They also gave me a card that was good for a free drink at the restaurant.

While I was still in line the bellman showed Stan and Sandy to their room and departed with the luggage cart that contained both their bags and ours. This really annoyed me. I just hate giving tips to someone employed to do something that I would rather do myself, but I was not about to stiff the poor guy.

I have been a big fan of college football ever since my years at the University of Michigan in the sixties and seventies. When we got to the room I soon realized that the very first bowl game of the year, the New Mexico Bowl, was on ESPN. Arizona, Rich Rodriguez’s new team, beat Nevada in the last minute of the New Mexico Bowl after a successful on-side kick. Later, Utah State dominated Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potatoes bowl. I watched only a few minutes of that game.

A bit of the bubbly.

The bellman brought us a bottle opener.

Sue went down to the gym on the fifth floor and rode on the bike there for one mile. She also purchased from the hotel’s store a bag of popcorn and a small bottle of champagne. We toasted one another and enjoyed a small glass.

We ate supper at Kiki’s restaurant, which was on the fifth floor. I thought that it was just awful. The place had absolutely no atmosphere, and my half rack of ribs was cold. Sue liked her steak, however, and both her Margarita and my Corona were free.

A little later Sue got sick, more than once, in fact. By the morning she was fine, but she was not in a good mood. She immediately attributed the problem to the steak, but her system might have been reacting to the combination of alcohol and her medications.

When I went to bed a loud beat was audible from fifth floor. It was a good thing that I had remembered to bring my earplugs. If I had not had them, I might never have found my way to dreamland.

[1]  I brought my trusty Canon, but I had no intention of documenting every step the way that I have on trips to Europe.

[2]  I lost by a point or two.

[3]  If you are wondering why Sue and I did not just play as partners, you have not heard the story about the first time that we played together forty years earlier. Sue had a bad habit of not drawing trump. I exhibited great patience in dealing with this failing, however. It wasn't until the second hand that I lost my temper and broke the card table.

[4]  I had been assured that my felony convictions had all been expunged when I entered the Witness Protection Program a few years earler.

[5]  Sue founded TSI in 1978 in Detroit. We moved to Connecticut in 1979. Sue’s dad built the office for his company and ours in 1988. TSI’s office has been located in East Windsor since 1999.

[6]  Giacomo had his own door. He had never given us a key to it.

[7]  For example, after an opening bid of one of a minor, 2NT shows hearts and the other minor. The cue bid shows hearts and spades. No bid is available to show spades and the other minor.