Cruisin’…

by wombatony

“Love isn’t compromise, love is surrender. That’s why they call it a French Kiss.”

“Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all of the week.”

Actually, that zinger wasn’t mine. It, and many others, came from a tour guide on Catalina Island, driving his 1950s-style bus around hairpin turns on a dirt road like he’s Doctor Teeth in The Muppet Movie.

Here are a few others.

“The bumpy drive isn’t my fault. It isn’t the bus’s fault. It’s the asphalt.”

“Why don’t they play poker in the jungle? Too many cheetahs. If he says he’s not a cheetah, he’s probably a lion.”

“A crow has five wing feathers, called pinions. A raven only has four pinions. So the difference between a crow and a raven is all a matter of a pinion.”

Whoo!  I’ll give you a second to catch your breath.

After a year of weddings and campings and vasectomies (oh, my!), I decided to spend my Spring Break with Ye Olde Booze Cruise. You know the type. Less-than-exotic destinations amongst the not-quite-splendor of a floating quasi-resort amongst nearly-tangential American territorial waters. On the East coast, there are a few different destinations for these short benders. But on the left coast, there is only one such Inebriation Itinerary: Ensenada.

Ensenada: the Poor Man’s Cabo! Ensenada: Fewer Donkey Shows than Tijuana!

(Ensenada people, I’m available for advertising and am waiting by the phone for your call.)

I was far from the only teacher on board. I know the stereotype is that Spring Break is full of  college students, but it turns out educators have the same time off as those college students. We also have the benefit of (a little) more money in our pockets, and twelve-dollar pina coladas might be the great equalizer. On this particular Booze Cruise, I couldn’t swing a passed-out frat boy without hitting a teacher, counselor, or principal.

And, my goodness, teachers are annoying.

But instead of devolving into my distaste for most others in my profession, I would instead like to highlight three people I actually enjoyed on the trip. All three were in some sort of official capacity. Because I don’t go out of my way to talk to too many other teachers.

In Ensenada, we decided to avoid “La Bufadora,” aka The Blowhole, aka a place where the ocean waves break against a rock. Most of the people in my group had done this Booze Cruise before, and pretty much every first timer gets roped into La Bufadora. You pay $70 to sit on a bus for an hour, then be amazed by waves for about 15 minutes, then spend two hours as a captive audience with a bunch of booths selling shitty wares before the bus takes you back to the ship, loaded down with ten-cent sunglasses, 50-cent ponchos, and a year-supply of Chiclets.

Ninety percent of Ensenda shore excursions go to the blowhole. It’s “Bufadora plus downtown shopping” or “Downtown shopping plus Bufadora” (Yay, variety!). You can also do “Bufadora plus winery” or “Bufadora with kayaking” or “donkey show with a blowhole.”  Although I don’t think the last one includes La Bufadora.

“Hey, a jeep excursion. This is different.” I remember reading to my wife as we shopped for excursions. “Let’s see, it says ‘Ride in jeeps along the beautiful coast to La Bufa…’ oh, for fuck’s sake!”

We wanted to try something different, and fortunately found a cheese cellar tour. Instead of going south along the coast, it actually (Gasp!) went inland, up into the hills to a dairy farm. We sampled cheeses at various stages of aging, which was very interesting, tasted some of the same wine we would have tasted on the winery tour, and had an excellent lunch featuring, naturally, quesadillas.

Our tour guide was new, because the tour was new. What was even more impressive was the fact that he hadn’t known any English prior to being hired. For speaking the language less than a year, he was impressive. Hell, I had six of German between high school and college and I still can’t even understand the lyrics of 99 Luftballons.

The tour guide said he had grown up thinking Americans are uptight. Not sure how, given he lived in a city’s whose main economy is drunk Americans at Papas y Beers. But regardless, he said he had always heard we were uptight and had learned over the past year, as he had met more of inebriated Yanks, that Americans aren’t always uptight. We don’t all build border fences. Some of us do body shots.

He started to get past his preconceptions when he started to learn English. He felt that a lot of the differences, the misunderstandings, between our two nations might come down to just that – misunderstanding. Literally, we can’t understand each other. If the average American and the average Mexican were better able to communicate with each other, both countries might be better off.  I nodded along, knowing that this guy was right, I should be more conversant in Spanish.

I resolve to get Rosetta Stone when I get home.

Then somebody asked him if it was always this hot in Ensenada.  He responded that the temperature was usually around 25.

What? You’ve learned English, met a bunch of Americans, and don’t know the proper way to tell temperature is Fahrenheit? I mean, what point is there in learning each other’s language if you’re going to use that heathen Celsius? You almost had me, dude. A minute ago, I was marveling at the potential future between our glorious civilizations as we strode toward the future together. Now I’m signing up to build the wall. And the dimensions of Trump’s “door” better be measured in goddamned feet and inches!

The second person who caught my attention worked in the piano bar on the ship. Actually, I shouldn’t say he worked in the piano bar, he was the piano bar. Some of those fancy-schmancy boats have dueling pianos, but when the entire cruise costs less than a week of daycare, you take what you get.

He did the usual fare of Billy Joel and Elton John with a smattering of Jimmy Buffett, what with us being on a boat and all. Fewer sing-alongs than a usual piano bar, but again, you probably need a second musician or, I don’t know, a cocktail server to work the crowd into sing-along mode. And when the poor guy needed to rest his vocal chords or take a leak, the bar emptied out and he had to start from scratch.

At one point he busted out an original song. In a piano bar? When I go to Denny’s, I expect the waitress to bring me my Grand Slam Breakfast, not recite her Hamlet soliloquy for next week’s audition. And, Mr. Piano Man, in a piano bar, I expect you to perform “Piano Man.”

The kicker is that in this original song, which he swore he had recorded the day before getting on the boat, he wanted us to sing along. Except that we weren’t privy to the iPhone he had taken into Sam Goody to record on. Nor the radio station, K-RAZY, broadcasting it in his head.

But he assured us we could sing along. He taught us a bunch of “la-la-la” notes and told us to sing when he played those notes on the piano. This meant we were constantly late, but we eventually figured it out, because half the song was nothing but “la-la-la.”

I guess Elton John doesn’t write any lyrics, either.

I’m not being harsh on the guy, he was actually pretty nice. After one of his breaks emptied the room, he chatted with us between songs. Jokes about the Sam Smith/Tom Petty lawsuit led to a general discussion about the legalities of the music profession. Turns out you can’t copyright a chord progression, hence songs like “La Bamba” and “Twist and Shout” being indistinguishable on rhythm guitar. Note progressions can be protected, but they are notoriously hard to prove. How many notes in a row constitutes copying?

Piano Man mentioned one of the few successful lawsuits, prior to Sam Smith, was between Huey Lewis and Ray Parker, Jr. At this point, he played the bass line from “I Want a New Drug,” and although I had never noticed it before, sure enough, when he got to the end, I wanted to shout, “Ghostbusters!”

But Huey Lewis’s song had been playing on the radio a lot when Ray Parker, Jr. wrote his song, so the copying was pretty obvious. It becomes a little more difficult for some random Italian dude to prove that Michael Jackson had ever even heard his song, much less copied it.

“For instance, my new song,” Piano Man segued. “Were you in here earlier when I played it?”

We assured him we had been, but it was no use, he started playing it again anyway.

“This melody, for instance?” he continued. “It just came to me one day. Can I swear I’ve never heard it before? No. I’m pretty sure I made it up, but it’s very catchy, so maybe I’m not the first person to string it together. It would be hard to prove.”

Uh huh, buddy. Just like my book about a haunted hotel in Colo… I mean, Wyoming, and its caretaker, um, Zack Borrance.

But the Mexican diplomat and the singing copyright lawyer paled in comparison to the star of the trip, someone who I will write about next time.

You’ll have to return next week. The Blog experts call that a teaser.

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