Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Two-Track Mind

Hey gang... I think I should probably offer up an apology for my constant football-blogging as of late. I know that it alienates a good chunk of readers, probably even more than politics-blogging would. But I can't help it--it's on my mind and it's one of my favorite things to read/surf/blog/talk about. But I'll try and scale it back a bit.

Also, since Sherry and Cyndi got back from their respective cruises this past weekend, the phone lines and email circuits between Casa de Mikey and the rest of the family have been burning up talking about our next cruise. So now I've got cruising on my mind, too.

My siblings and I have planned our next vacation, and five out of six have already said 'Hell yeah!', and the first two emails were from Cyndi and Amy wondering if we were all going to pile into one cabin again, just like the old days.

But Reverend Dave got to me first, saying that he's going solo--his wife and kids prefer other vacation activities--so he suggested that we get our own cabin, assuring that we both have access to a bathroom for more than 20 minutes per day. Cyndi's husband can't get away for ten days at a stretch, so she and Amy can share, while Nancy and Sherry will bring their significant others.

So it looks like it'll be the eight of us, that is, if we can get Sherry to commit. She said that she'll have to think about it since it coincides with her grandson's second birthday. But since his first birthday is being celebrated at a bowling alley, I'm thinking she'll eventually come around.

I mentioned earlier that it was a ten-day cruise, and this time we're hitting spots we've never been--Bonaire, Dominica, Aruba, and even Grenada. So I've been spending my free time surfing the net getting preliminary info on shopping spots and sailing charters. The one big downer of cruises is the selection of shore excursions. Most of them are complete ripoffs, and most of the money charged in the inflated cost actually goes back to the cruise line, while a much smaller percentage of it goes in the pocket of the local vendor who actually provides the service. So a lot of times we book activities in advance directly with the local businesses, or just skip excursions altogether and just go exploring once we reach a particular island.

On our very first cruise back in 2000, one of our stops was in San Juan Puerto Rico. Nothing on the shore excursion itinerary looked good to us, so exploring was on the agenda. Actually, Amy and I wanted to get new tattoos, and Cyndi said she wanted to get her first one.

So instead of joining the crowds heading to the Bacardi distillery tour or the walking tour of Old San Juan, we got off the ship and found a taxi. We told the cabbie of our plan for the day, and in his broken English told us that he knew of the perfect spot.

We spent a few minutes driving around on the old-world streets of the city before being dropped off in front of a very shady looking storefront that seemed to specialize in bootleg CD's and DVD's. It was the kind of spot that if it were located in New Jersey, you'd expect it to be mobbed up. But we went inside, expecting a old shore-side tattoo parlor, hoping it was the kind of place that had catered to sailors and vagabonds for decades. But no, it was a dusty record store, with shelves stocked with obscure groups normally found in the 99-cent bin and Spanish-language music playing overhead.

We asked the proprietor, a weathered old woman who was very glad to see us, if there was a tattoo shop nearby. She smiled and gestured for us to follow her to the back of the store, where she parted a threadbare curtain, revealing what looked to us like a dentist office one would find behind the Iron Curtain. It was more storage closet than serious ink-shop, with an old dentist's chair in the middle of the floor, boxes stacked all around the walls, with a sink and counter along one side of the room, while the entire place was illuminated by a single lightbulb hanging from a fixtureless wire.

She introduced us to her son, the only artist on staff. He was a young kid with more than his fair share of tattoos and piercings, who didn't speak a lick of English. Yeah, we might've been a bit apprehensive, but we were committed. We spent several minutes browsing his notebooks full of stock art before deciding on which designs we'd go with.

Of course, I chose something nautical, and went with a very cool shark design that takes a second look before one can figure out exactly what it is. Amy found a nice Celtic knot for her lower belly, and Cyndi went back to her white-trash roots and got a heart with her husband's name on her shoulder.

I went first, figuring I'd throw myself on the figurative grenade for my sisters, in case the experience went badly. But we needn't have worried--it was all sterile and he broke open the seals on the needle packs in front of us. And not only did this kid have talent--he was extremely fast. I only had to spend about a half hour in the chair, and I had the largest and most intricate design of the three.

Since I survived the ordeal--I won't say it was painless--and my tattoo turned out excellent, the girls were more than willing to get theirs done too. While they took their turns in the chair, I did a little bit of exploring in the neighborhood, stopping to browse at a few different shops and dropping a few bucks into the local economy.

After all the ink was done, the three of us found a great little locals diner down the street for lunch, opting for the special of the day--plantain, rice, black beans, and smoked pork. And a local beer. Or two.

I remember that after lunch the mission at hand, besides just wandering around and exploring, was to find a bottle of conditioner for Amy and her wild hair. But that's a story for another time...

We eventually found some, but regardless, it was a great day that you'll never find in any cruise brochure. And we had much more fun than those poor unfortunate souls that paid about sixty bucks a pop to be herded around all day on and off of buses as part of tour groups.

The silliness didn't end there, however. Earlier in the week, I'd met a gal at the pool, who had several interesting tattoos, and we'd struck up a conversation, and I told her that I was planning on getting a new one while there in San Juan.

Well, later that evening after we left Puerto Rico in our wake, I was doing my nightly wandering of the ship waiting to meet up with my sisters in the dining room, and I ran into the lady from the pool. We were both dressed up for dinner, but she wanted to see my new skin art. Unfortunately, it was on my upper calf and my slacks wouldn't roll up that far because of the bandage.

That led to me just saying The hell with it and dropping trou right there in the lounge for my new friend. It wouldn't have been so bad, but then every other chick who was present wanted to come over and see it, too. I don't know which was the bigger hit, my new tattoo or my Homer Simpson boxer shorts, but I earned a couple of free drinks for being such a good sport.

Good times! I still laugh about it, even six years later.

As much as I love the sea days while enjoying a cruise vacation, the shore days are fun, too. And even if we don't find any suitable shore excursions for this next cruise, I'm sure we can find some sort of adventure to make our various island visits a memorable experience.


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