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

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By Milt Abel | March 9, 2012

What a Wondeful World

 

Having grown up seeing my fair share of television medical dramas, it’s unnerving to walk through Tokyo’s Narita airport with so many people wearing surgical masks. You get the feeling an ad-hoc surgery, like a flash mob, is just a few seconds away.  Already jet-lagged and hopping between flights, I worried if I feel asleep across the bench-like seats near my gate I’d wake up noticing I was not only missing my flight, but a kidney as well.

 

I passed through Tokyo’s airport on my way back from Australia and Indonesia. I had just finished ten days aboard the Crystal Serenity where we sailed from Perth, up and through Indonesia, and finally Singapore, which was used as a turnaround port of sorts. Unlike my usual gig of a seven day cruise, this was a 17 day segment of a 78 day world cruise, where a good fraction of the passengers boarded in Sidney and disembarked in Singapore; vacating their cabins for new passengers to sail the next segment; Singapore to Hong Kong.

 

There were 274 people doing the complete 78 day cruise that left Los Angeles, sailed around Australia, up through Southeast Asia, Japan and Russia, then across to Alaska and back down to L.A. Pricey? On this very high-end line? You betcha. Once, when it was just myself and another male passenger riding in an elevator, I tossed off some inconsequential trifle about the cruise. He commented back, in a bored and bothered tone, “We’re doing the entire cruise. One hundred thousand dollars. But if it makes my wife happy…” And then he stepped out before the doors closed behind him. My wife and I argue about money, mostly about keeping track of it, and just a few dollars, properly accounted for, gets her in a good mood.

 

We stopped in Bali, and I had intended to go to the local high school so I could get a picture of Bali High -nothing wrong with a visual pun to share on Facebook or over coffee with friends as we pass our smartphones back and forth looking at photos. But it was so hot, we were near the equator in the summer, and the locals were such a pestering lot for taxi rides and tours, that I barely got a quarter mile and turned back for the comfort of the ship. To prove I’d been to Bali, I did stop and take a picture with someone who just happened to be nearby. Looking at the photo I think I chose him because his belly was slightly larger than mine; I appear in better shape by default.

When we pulled away I heard the ship’s public address system blare out Louie Armstrong’s recording of ‘What a Wonderful world.’ I had heard it as we left Perth as well, and it became obvious by the time we left our second stop in Indonesia, Semerang, that it was the ship’s signature of sailing off to the next port of call.

Semerang reminded me of Vietnam. Another guest entertainer and myself took a taxi into town so he could buy some asthma medicine at about a fifth of the price it would cost him in the States. Of course there was a little nagging doubt about the medicine’s purity and effectiveness, but the price alone allowed him to breath easier. We rode for a good ten miles through the city and neighboring urban sprawl and accompanying us every inch of the way was a swarming horde of motorcycles. A father had his three girls siting behind him on one, but it didn’t stop him and all the other motorbikes from flowing around our cab like we were a stone in a river.

The mall were we bought the asthma medicine was an unforgettable warren of shops, and levels, and side alleys, and kiosks, and storefronts all under one roof. We were escorted, by one of the few locals that spoke English, from the pharmacy to a moneychanger hundreds of stores away inside this mall. It became comical, then absurd, then frighteningly disorienting because of so many turns and escalators and clusters of stores we needed to pass. Without that guide we might have never made it back and forth to the pharmacy, maybe ever out of the mall altogether. It’s worth noting, even though we were weaving through a second to third world economy marketplace, every third shop consisted solely of cell phone accessories.

Watching how the locals lived and worked during our taxi ride back to the ship reminded me how lucky I was to live in the affluence of United States. I think it was very telling that this luxury ship played ‘What a Wonderful World’ as we pulled away and left these ports behind, rather than as we pulled in.

Topics: comedy, cruise ship, humor, travel | please add Comments »

Safe and Sound and Upside Down

By Milt Abel | February 20, 2012

Safe and Sound and Upside Down

The forest fire was hundreds of miles away but it didn’t stop Perth from being smoked over. It was a testament to the size of Australia, the fire had to be huge, but barely worth mentioning by the news and locals. As our driver transported myself and another act from the airport to the ship, I asked if it was always this smoggy in Perth. She replied casually there was ‘some forest fire’ three hundred miles away, like it was some neighbor burning a pile of leaves. I think we consider Australia to be a mere island, not a continent, and look on it like one of those scaled-persepective maps, so popular in touristy places, where geographic size of other locales are comically rendered in proportion to their importance. Australia was filed away in my mind as something larger and just beyond Catalina; until it took me five hours (just like the U.S.) to fly across it, then it got re-filed.

Especially after the fifteen hour flight from L.A. to Sidney. I was already loopy from that flight before starting yet another long flight across the continent. I joked with the audience on the Crystal Serenity that I was in that airplane seat so long I started getting mail. Before I left for this trip on the Serenity, February 16 through February 26, I was also telling friends that my flying to the ‘far’ side of Australia sounded redundant. It’s not so redundant when you actually do it. Monotonous would be more accurate. In fact, say monotonous for about 20 hours and you’ll get a hint of what it’s like to fly to Perth. The smoke-covered sky was just a bonus texturing.

Crossing the International Dateline was another bit of disorientation. All of us on that Virgin Australia flight from L.A. to Sidney didn’t have a chance to observe February 15th. It was never entered into the books of our lives. One second it was February 14th and a second later it was February 16th. Poof. Gone. Like a forced amnesia. Had there been some incident that called for us all to be grilled by the police on our whereabouts on February 15, we’d all draw a blank and cause the investigators to think something was hinky. “They can’t all have forgotten!”

I’ll cross back on February 26, but you don’t feel like a day is given back. I’ve done it before, flying back, and you feel like the day is too long, but not a return of something taken. I did wonder, in the monotonous hours of flying westward, if I had a five-o’clock shadow as a crossed back, that I would suddenly not need to shave for a whole nother day.

Crystal Cruise Lines has a reputation of being at the very top in experiencing elegance and luxury aboard a ship. It’s quite nice, I’m not going to argue that, but the unlimited free alcohol I’ve enjoyed on some other premiums lines, is conspicuously missing. It wears off after a while, having a beer or two at lunch and cocktails in the evening, you get kind of mildly sick drinking so frequently, but I’d prefer to have the opportunity.

I made a point of packing nicer clothes and getting a haircut before the trip. However I did pack my older suit, the one that has a stitched repair in the right shoulder, for my shows. Onstage you can’t see it, but offstage, at a Captain’s cocktail party, where casual conversation with strangers will look for any thread to hang an exchange on, well then it becomes an issue. I don’t have a tuxedo, so, in an effort to honor the cruise director’s request I attend the formal party, the dark stage suit was my only choice. Seeing the stitching would unquestionably undercut the goal of looking nicely appointed and that I belonged among the monied and nicely dressed. I made a point to keep my right shoulder close to the wall as I circulated around the room. I didn’t stay long, just one quick lap, like a minute-hand running backwards; like maybe I could go back in time and live that lost February 15th; albeit tattered.

Topics: comedy, cruise ship, humor, travel | please add Comments »


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