Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea Buttons

Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea

Day 1 Sunday December 16, 2012
Fort Lauderdale

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I awoke with only one earplug in my ear. I searched for the other one pretty thoroughly, but I could not locate it. Just before we left the room for good I found it between the sheets.

I put in an hour walking on the hotel’s really nice treadmill at 3½ miles per hour on a 1 percent grade. I had trouble with my iPod, which did not seem to want to play the tracks in the correct order. This is a fairly big shortcoming when one is trying to listen to an opera.

The shower was pretty good. In many respects, however, this hotel was, IMHO, at best second-rate. In addition to the poor service at check-in and the miserable experience at the restaurant, we encountered the following annoying problems:

When I dug my razor out of my shaving kit I noticed that I had not brought any spare razor blades. By the end of the trip this could be a problem.

There did not seem to be any restaurants within walking distance, and we were not about to give Kiki’s a second chance. So, I elected to microwave the popcorn that Sue had purchased on Saturday. The “popcorn” setting on the microwave in the room did not work, but I managed to produce a reasonable result by keying in the time setting myself.

We checked out of the hotel and took the 11:45 shuttle to Port Everglades. Stan and Sandy rode on the same shuttle. We learned from them that when he had arrived in his room on Saturday Stan had discovered that he had not lost his watch and cell phone after all. At the security checkpoint at Bradley his watch had been stuffed into one shoe and his cell phone into the other. He then put those shoes on his feet. Stan explained: “I just thought that my feet hurt.”

The Allure was the second stop at Port Everglades. We exited from the shuttle, checked our luggage with a porter, and entered the gigantic terminal. We ambled[1] over to the line designated for deck 3, which is where our cabin, our dining room, and the Conference Center that would be home to the bridge tournament was located.

This is similar to the form that we had to fill out. The wording of the critical questions is identical.

The all-powerful Seapass Card.

With our passports in hand we stood in line for about ten minutes. Then the clerk gave us forms to fill out. Sue made the mistake of asking whether she should indicate on the form that she had had diarrhea within the last two days. The agent assured her that she would not be prohibited from boarding unless she was contagious.

She gave me my “Seapass Card,” which Royal Caribbean used as a passport, credit card, and room key on the cruise. It got swiped almost every time that you did anything of note. A very short lady took Sue’s card and then led us to a set of chairs in a separate area set aside for all of the rejects. It reminded me of the Group W bench in “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.”

This is the view of the terminal that you do not want to experience.

The ship’s doctor eventually came out to the rejects area, asked Sue a few innocuous questions, and then disappeared. We sat idly for another half hour or so. Across from us was a lady who had stupidly left her passport in her luggage, which was now on the ship or at least on its way. Eventually Sue got up to find out from the Royal Caribbean people what was going on. After another long wait she returned with tears in her eyes and reported that they were not going to let her board.

Another half hour or so transpired before a female Royal Caribbean employee with very curly blonde hair and a Canadian accent told us that Sue could not board the ship on Sunday, but she could fly to Jamaica and board there on Wednesday if she was still free of symptoms. Since Sue was quite certain that she was not sick, she was confident that they would allow her to board. The only other alternative was for us to cancel the vacation altogether and fly home.

Only the rejects ever saw this sign.

We reluctantly decided that half a cruise was better than none. Moreover, we had plans after the cruise, too, and we did not want to forgo the prospect of spending Christmas with our friends in Port St. Lucie and Sue’s father in Clearwater. So, Royal Caribbean arranged to have our three suitcases, which we had checked a few hours earlier, removed from the ship. The plan was for me to take my suitcase back on the ship and for Sue to join me in Jamaica on Wednesday.

We waited and waited for the luggage. My stomach, accustomed to at least two meals by that time of day, began to growl. Someone had told Sue that there were vending machines on the second floor. I took the escalator up, but I could not find them. I had to ask a security guard where they were. I tried to buy some potato chips, but the bag got stuck in the machine. Two female security people tried to help me get my chips, but they were unable to jar the bag loose. The worst part was that I dared not purchase a replacement bag because it would almost certainly land on the one that was stuck. I ended up purchasing a granola bar for Sue and some Doritos for me. I could not get the drink machine to dispense anything at all. So, we consumed this meager breakfast dry.

I never learned why we needed an armed escort from the dock.

By 3:30 there was still no luggage. We decided that I should go on the ship, register for the bridge tournament, and wait for the luggage. I gave Sue $300 in cash before I left. Sue meanwhile contacted the representative of Alice Travel on her cell phone as well as someone who had some vague relationship with the trip insurance company. It was difficult to get anything accomplished on a Sunday.

His Majesty and the other Odie.

I boarded the ship, wolfed down a couple of free slices of pizza at Sorrento’s, and then made my way to room #190 in the port side forward portion of deck #3 without much difficulty. No luggage was to be seen. The cabin attendant, Odeon Hutasoit,[2] introduced himself and told me that I could call him Odie. I rejected the temptation to make a reference to King Leonardo and Bongo Congo. Instead I informed him that Sue would not be able to join us until Wednesday.

I took these photos through the porthole of the stateroom.

I ventured around the corner toward the Conference Center and obtained my name badge for the bridge tournament. I met Marilyn Kay at the partnership desk. She had played at the Hartford Bridge Club a few years ago, and she pumped me for gossip about some of the old-timers. I could not think of anything too juicy, so I made up a few stories about people whom I did not like.

I then located Frank Evangelista’s card on the pairing table. I recognized his name from the online pairing program as one of the people whom I had tried to contact. I called his room and left a message in which I (again) offered to play with him. I also left my cabin number.

Almost immediately thereafter came the announcement over the intercom that everyone should assemble for the safety briefing. Our station was in the Comedy Live theater on the fourth deck. Two staff members told us that we were to assemble there if the signal consisting of seven longs and one short was heard over the intercom. They then showed us how to put on the life preservers.

Sue’s suitcases in the stateroom.

After the safety demonstration I returned to the cabin. There was still no luggage. Finally, at a little after five, the scheduled time of departure, all three pieces arrived — one of mine and two of Sue’s. I used my cell phone to call Sue tell her that I had all the luggage. Odeon checked to see if we could get her luggage to her, but it was too late.

Sue had thought that I would return to the rejects area after checking the cabin for the luggage, but I suspected that I might have missed the ship myself if I had done that. She was pretty depressed that she had not had a chance to say good-bye to me. Now she would have no clothes and no CPAP machine for three days. She also had to arrange for passage to Jamaica and figure out how to get our travel insurance to pay as much as possible. The one piece of good news was that Royal Caribbean had found a room for her at the Marriott Courtyard.

I signed us up for unlimited Internet access for the whole week. The contract was expensive, but e-mail would be my only way of maintaining contact with Sue.

Frank returned my call. He told me that the only rule he had for partners was that I could not yell at him. Without hesitation I agreed. We decided to meet after supper.

Supper was served in the Adagio dining room on the aft side of the third floor. After obliging the norovirus nazis[3] by spraying my hands with Purell, I entered the enormous dining room. Our table was 357, which was in the far rear on the left side.[4] They had reserved tables in that area for the bridge players. I passed Stan and Sandy’s table on the way. The waiter at our table and the very last table, which was reserved for the tournament staff, called himself Boney, which was short for Boniface. He informed us that he was from the Philippines. Dave and Pegene (Pogo) Albig sat to my left. To my right were several empty chairs. Also at the table were two ladies, Rita Hochenberg and Rose Harris, an old guy, and a couple. I could not help but notice that Dave, a retired professor of mathematics and statistics at Radford University in Virginia, ordered three appetizers that evening. That Dave had risen to his lofty state in life was remarkable when one considers how handicapped he must have been by his undergraduate matriculation at that agricultural college northwest of Ann Arbor.

A couple of things about the meal were just bizarre. I ordered escargots, but what I got was sea scallops presented as escargot. The choices for the prime rib were medium rare and medium well. For some reason it was not possible to get it plain old medium.

We did not have time to fill out the back of the card before the Sunday session.

I left right after dessert to meet up with Frank Evangelista so that we would have enough time to go over our convention card. He did not arrive on his motorized scooter until five minutes before the round started. I was surprised to discover that he was in fact the “old guy” from table #357. I would have made better use of my time by moving to the other end of the table rather than rushing back to the Conference Center.

Our first hand in the Sunday evening side game was a memorable one. Sitting South, I was dealt the powerhouse that is shown at the right. After two passes I had to choose between opening two clubs and one heart. I chose the latter with the expectation that someone would surely bid spades, and I wanted to preserve as much bidding space as possible. Since I was void in spades, someone must have at least five. Unfortunately it was Frank (who actually had six), and he opted to pass. I ended up making five overtricks.[5]

After that inauspicious start we played pretty well, the opponents cooperated, and we ended up with a 54+ percent game. More importantly, we both had a good time. I truthfully confided to Frank that playing with him had been the high point of one of the worst days of my life. He seemed equally pleased with the partnership.

One thing that surprised me was that we only played eighteen hands in the session. I had never played in an unlimited regional event that featured fewer than twenty-four boards.

Sue’s new friend.

Afterwards I rushed back to the stateroom and fired up my laptop to see if I had received any e-mails from Sue. There was one in which she reported that a nice lady named Alex from Royal Caribbean, whose responsibility was to help stranded travelers like Sue, had gotten her a free hotel room. A second nice lady who was also named Alex, a waitress at a restaurant across from the hotel, had comped Sue for supper that night. Sue also wrote that she had considered renting a car and driving to Port St. Lucie, but the Tsiartases had a lot to do to get ready for Christmas.

Sue also sent me a photo of a rabbit with whom she had made friends after supper. Unfortunately the image was almost indecipherable to me even when I tried to enhance the contrast.

After I responded to the e-mail I probably should have been up all night tossing and turning with worry about how Sue would handle getting to Jamaica on her own. However, I am embarrassed to report that the fantastic bed and the gentle rocking motion of the ship put me to sleep in a matter of seconds.



[1]  Sue walked slowly. She had knee-replacement surgery scheduled for both knees in the spring of 2013.

[2]  I later learned that Odeon was from Indonesia. I think that he was born on Sumatra.

[3]  At least twice someone came on the ship’s intercom to read an official statement that indicated that the cruise line was working closely with the CDC to prevent the outbreaks of this illness. The statement emphasized that the government had specified that the best way was to wash one’s hands with hot water and soap. No effort that I saw was ever made to encourage this activity. Instead, one was forced to use Purell before one entered virtually any public area on the ship. I looked this up when I got home. Purell is alcohol-based, and the norovirus is best treated by chlorine-based disinfectants.

[4]  The table was actually on the starboard side of the ship, but it was to the left as one walked to the rear of the dining room.

[5]  Making all thirteen tricks requires playing three rounds of clubs before drawing trumps, which I was unwilling to risk.