Milt Abel is a stand-up comedian traveling the world, and places closer.


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Turnaround on the Island Princess 4-21-08

By Milt Abel | April 30, 2008

| April 30, 2008

The ship is docked in Los Angeles, San Pedro specifically, and we are getting rid of seasoned passengers and bringing on almost 2,000 new ones. I joined the Island Princess for the last five days of its fifteen-day cruise from Ft Lauderdale to L.A. and now I’m continuing on for a week more of this new cruise down to the Panama Canal and back, nineteen days, but I’ll be leaving in Puntarenas, Costa Rica on April 28 before the ship makes it to ‘the ditch’ as the canal has been called by those of us who’ve seen it enough to make jokes about it.

It’s also a joke among passengers on cruise ships that once you’ve gotten to know the layout of the ship it’s probably time to leave. Fifteen days gave the last group plenty of time to begin nonchalantly tossing off terms like ‘amidships’ and ‘poopdeck’ and ‘keelhaul’. That didn’t keep the captain, in his daily noon announcements, from referring to the front of the ship as ‘the pointy end.’ A nineteen-day cruise means that these new passengers, by the end of their voyage, will be seasoned enough to sail by the stars and order stores.

If you study passenger movements on a ship during turnaround day, comparing between those disembarking and those embarking, you can see a noticeable difference. Those leaving are organized, determined, and efficient, those joining wander about, returning invariably to were they started just twenty-minutes prior, or give up and just stand, usually in a thoroughfare, so others are forced to find new ways to end up right where they started. Purposefulness versus mayhem, it’s not unlike kicking over an anthill, except the ants can’t run off to a buffet.

I spent the afternoon doing what I usually do when I’m at a U.S. port; I make phone calls and find a wireless connection to go online. In the San Pedro area it means catching a restored, antique trolley that runs from the entrance gate of the pier facilities for about a mile along the parking and container enclosure, stopping a couple blocks away from a modest (to the point of being introverted) retail and dining district.

The trolley is worth riding if you can walk the couple hundred yards to its boarding platform right outside the pier parking lot. It’s painted fire-engine red, and the interior wood trim, which there is a lot of, is dark and rich and heavily lacquered. There is also lots of polished brass, and iron coal-black painted leavers, brake handles, and supports for the wooden benches. I sat across a small brass plaque that informed the trolley had been built in 1906 and sitting next to me was a man who looked like he could have been there opening day.

I’ve ridden the trolley a couple times and every instance the two conductors, dressed in period conductor costumes, have been friendly and eager to answer any questions about their functioning museum piece. This trip they had let a crewmember pull on the cord to sound the horn when I was a few feet away from boarding. It was startlingly loud and had I been tattooing anyone at the time I’m sure I would have made a permanent mistake.

As I stepped inside one of the conductors caught me eyeing the pull for the trolley’s air horn; a wooden knob that’s suspended mid rope front and center of all car’s oversized leavers and controls.
I was looking at it thinking to myself, ‘don’t pull that. It’ll cause an annoying, loud sound.’

He misread my worried expression, interpreting it as one of longing. “Go ahead. Give it a pull.” He said.

I didn’t want to give it a pull. I had just gotten my feathers to lie back down, but he was so proud to offer the chance to sound the horn: he was beaming a broad smile and practically rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, if he could have gotten away with it, I’m sure he would have burrowed an index finger into his dimple. I couldn’t say ‘no.’ I managed to pull it lightly enough to not fully engage all that it could do, and a throaty, quieter blare seeped out. We were both satisfied. But before I turned away and took my seat the conductor cleared his throat; like it was he, and not the trolley that didn’t fully speak.

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