Title after the DFW essay of the same name, of his experiences on a cruise ship.
After several hours of tense negotiations / yelling with my parents, I agreed to attend a cruise with them. This was a mistake because the only topic of conversation when I’m with my parents is my personal failures and shortcomings as a person. Necessity therefore dictates they are on a strict know-nothing policy about my personal life so I constantly lie to them, even about the smallest things. Like what I had for dinner, when I worked that day, telling small lies is practicing for telling the big lie.
Cruise ships are alright and fulfill a desire for a mass-market experience that is both cheap and efficient. It’s a triumph of capitalism manifested in $300 million ships used solely for the purposes of recreation. Cruises are extremely cheap. They’re like $100 a night and act as hotel, food, transportation, and entertainment all in one. The food is decent.
Problems. You’re on a boat so you’re always swaying a little bit – made worse when the boat maneuvers out of harbor. You’re invariably surrounded by other people. The internet is horrendously expensive, so you just sit around reading books. Old people who look unpleasant are all around. People go as couples or families, so me sitting alone for most of the time was a really alienating experience. Being miserable while surrounded by happy people just makes it worse.
My parents enjoyed it immensely because they are cheap and lazy, and they got to continuously engage in their favorite pastime of denigrating me to my face. We had three loud public arguments. My parents are so deluded that they think I enjoyed the cruise, even though I repeatedly tell them I did not. They have this ongoing bizarre narrative in their minds that they weren’t bad parents and have engaged in lengthy revisionism of my upbringing. It won’t work because I have a long memory.
We went to Santa Catalina and Ensenada, Mexico. Santa Catalina is a shitty little tourist trap with nothing on it but a theater and some bars. You can see LA on the horizon. Ensenada is a medium-sized town. The few blocks immediately adjoining the harbor look like anywhere in the US because of all the tourist money. Farther out, it’s a third world country like the rest of Mexico, and even farther out it’s sad little shantytowns and poor infrastructure. Like some places don’t have running water or electricity. Everyone had smartphones though. The more middle class Mexicans seemed to speak English at a reasonable level, the poor short ones didn’t speak English at all. Everyone I saw was just around to make a quick buck from all the tourists.
Also on the boat none of the workers are Americans and the boat isn’t registered in the US, and mostly doesn’t operate in the US, so they don’t have to pay minimum wage. They have a lot of different kinds of people working on the boat – the officers seemed to be Greek by the Captain’s accent, but you’d notice a racial hierarchy. The servers in the restaurant were Eastern European, the cooks were Southeast Asian, the cleaners were Pilipino. Apparently they work really hard all the time and make shit money. Barring the officers, the crew have their own little crew deck below the water level (no windows / loud engines) and their own dining room where they get drunk. Nobody working on the cruise ship seemed happy except the Cruise Director who attempted to generate hype like a morning zoo radio host.
The only good part of the cruise is that it’s efficient relative to money and time spent per “experience”. Like, they have cruises where you visit a bunch of different Mediterranean or Caribbean or Nordic countries. And at the harbor they’ll have a microcosm of their little region ready for tourists to take pictures. So even if your visit is just transient you still get to post photos of your vacation and technically you’re “well-travelled” having been to so many different places. And they had all the alcohol you could drink for $60, which is very cheap compared to a bar where you could spend that in one night on moderately fancy drinks. Another triumph of capitalism.