Posted by: Ali Davis | April 14, 2008

Tuesday, April 1

We spent the day in Antigua, which was like hanging out with an old friend. We went to Antigua every cruise in my last contract, and I grew fond of it.

There was a lot I’d forgotten, like the fact that the normal seagulls are supplemented by bad-ass seagulls here, bigger, with black backs and split tails. They don’t seem to frighten the regular seagulls, but they do get first dibs.

There’s also a pelican that works the docks, patiently and apparently profitably. I used to enjoy coming back before the passenger all-aboard and watching him (her?) swoop down easily for fish while I sweated away on the elliptical machine. I haven’t seen as much of the pelican this time because other ships have been pulled up at the adjacent dock, blocking my view. I can’t help but resent them for this. I hope they’re at least stirring up some fish.

While I’m on the topic of the pelican, I’ll mention that cruising has taught me that a lot of the things I thought were cool when I was small are, in fact, really cool. Pelicans are definitely high on that list, but tugboats are right on the top. They look really cool and sort of bouncy in Richard Scarry books, and I always admired the fact that they were small, tough, and useful. And I was definitely interested by the fact that the huge boats they nudged out to sea would be helpless without them.

I am here to tell you as an adult that every last one of those things is true. We should all be as good as tugboats.

I took the cast to Jolly Harbor, where my previous cast used to go more than a year ago. I like it because the beach is beautiful and the sand is white, which makes the water a crazy, milky blue, and because it’s mostly empty. I can’t figure out that last part because there’s a resort right next to the beach where we go and people sit on the resort beach all cramjammed together under rented umbrellas as though they can’t figure out that there would be more space on that empty part if they were simply willing to walk fifteen yards.

But, hell, I’m not going to point it out to them. It works great for me.

To get to Jolly Harbor, you could, I suppose, take a taxi. But we are brimming with moxie, so we took the bus.

Caribbean buses are not like buses in the States. They are vans, with flip-down jump seats so the bus can get absolutely every last spot full of people before taking off. And, believe me, that driver is not taking off until that is the case. And should a space open up when someone gets off, your driver will not be shy about pulling over to try to pick up anybody he sees on foot.

This practice can make you crazy when you’re used to buses that take off when the big hand gets to the four regardless of how full they are, and doubly so when it’s Caribbean ass-sweat hot out and you really need to get back to the ship for all-aboard and sweet JESUS, where could you POSSIBLY fit another person in here?

But you can fit that person, it turns out, and if you’re like me at least a chunk of your ride will be spent meditating on how much gas we waste in the States. Not that I am in any position to judge anyone: My ship, when going at full speed, uses a gallon of fuel every second. No, I don’t mean every minute. A gallon a second. We might as well just tow a sign that says “Up yours, Mother Earth!” They announce this fact once a cruise or so, but then they feed people daiquiris to keep them from thinking about it.

I like the bus ride because you get the hell away from the port and you get to see a lot of Antigua. We go riding through small towns and around a mountain, past the “Cutz in the Hood” barber shop, numerous snack shops that seem to be run out of the back of people’s houses, and lots and lots of goats. My Australian friend Jayne had an elaborate tail-based explanation of why at least some of the Antiguan goats I’ve seen are actually sheared sheep, but I’ve forgotten it, and dammit, they look like goats.

I wonder how many of the people who come to Antigua for vacations end up seeing these parts. The Jolly Harbor resort is definitely designed to keep people from the inconvenience of actually dealing with Antigua itself. I’m not sure why that struck me today – that’s true of a lot of the places we visit, and to a large extent of the ship itself.

And that’s what a lot of the passengers want, so I guess it’s inevitable. On the last Grand Cayman stop, Mike and I walked to Hell, a cannily named “town” that does have some interesting hellish volcanic rock formations, but mostly exists for the two gift shops and the postmark. (Which is not to say I didn’t send a couple of postcards from Hell, because I totally did. We also bought the Gowlands a certificate indicating that their marriage had been forged and sanctified in Hell, which was worth every penny.)

Mike and I, thinking we were flagging down a bus to get back to the port, accidentally hailed a taxi because those are also vans with jump seats and we haven’t learned the rules yet. The driver cheerfully let us back out and explained where to get the bus (but not how to tell a bus from a taxi) and then, to our horror, began to reassure us about waiting for it.

“It’s OK,” she soothed, “It’s safe here. You won’t get mugged – no one will hurt you.” We fell over ourselves trying to explain that we weren’t worried about that, but it was pretty clear that she’d had to reassure plenty of frightened tourists. She waved and drove away, leaving us once again to stew in our embarrassment over, well, being white Americans.

On a higher note, we capped our day by going to see Country Gold, one of the three shows that the JARs do on these 9-day cruises. The JARs are the Jean Anne Ryan Dance Company, and we love them. Second City and the dancers are friends by longstanding tradition – the JARs welcomed us when we signed on as a new cast, and when JARmageddon comes, we will welcome their new cast. But, oh, we will miss these dancers. They’re terrifically friendly, and steal moments to wave and wink at us during their amazing Vegas-on-ecstasy shows.

Roman, the male half of the Ballroom couple, lives on my hall and he is hilarious. His sense of humor is dry as the Sahara with a little bit of silly thrown in. It’s sometimes impossible to tell if he’s kidding until you’re two or three sentences in, and he taught Mike and I how to say a terrifically filthy word in Russian. He won’t translate it, but it made Diana the restaurant hostess say “Don’t EVER say that!” So we’re pretty happy with it. We asked Roman about St. Petersburg – he’s actually from Belarus, but we accept his authority on all things Russian – and he described it as “Beautiful! Like Paris without all the dog shit.” We love Roman. He’s signing off soon to be around when his daughter is born and we will miss him terribly.

Also on my hall are two of the JAR singers, one of the acrobats, the adage couple, and the Chocolate Goddess of Love and her husband. The adage couple, Alesia and Massimo, are amazing. Adage, which I didn’t know until I became steeped in JAR terminology, is sort of dancing, but it mostly involves the woman being very very bendy while the man lifts her high up in the air and carries her around, sometimes by extremely personal areas. (The first time Robyn, the Administrative Host, saw a JAR show, she asked, “Are they married?” and when we said yes, she said “Yeah. They’d have to be.”) Alesia was an Olympic gymnast and Massimo… I have no idea. Something circusy? Our director Craig described him best: “He doesn’t even look like a person. He looks like a centaur.” Yes.

The JARs do three shows: Band on the Run and Cirque Bijou are on every cruise, and then for the 9-day cruises they add Country Gold. Band on the Run is nuts – very fun, and maybe the gayest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s gayer than the gay porn boxes at my old video store. Cirque Bijou is a genuinely good show (in spite of or perhaps because of the insane jewel-and-circus related monologues John the singer has to say) with lots of acrobatics and jaw-dropping adage. But Country Gold… Well, none of the singers or dancers in the show are particular fans of country music, so every time we asked them about it, they’d either roll their eyes or say, “Don’t get your expectations too high.”  We began telling them we were looking forward to the show just to see their reactions. And that’s when we knew we had to liven things up.

We spent a few fruitless days looking for cowboy hats in the Caribbean, which is a tough order unless you want to pay through the nose for Resort Pretend Cowboy Sunhat. Finally, I shyly called the wardrobe mistress, and hadn’t even finished my sentence before she said “ABsoLUTEly! Can you come up to the dressing rooms right now?” Not only did she give us hats, she gave us sparkly shirts, jackets, and plenty of fringe.

We got to the front row early so we could stow our hats under our seats and stayed tucked into jackets until the last second. Candy the singer started shaking with quiet laughter before the lights even went up, but it was John-Paul’s “Aw, HELL, no!” that let us know we’d done a good thing.

We watched quietly for the first half, respectfully removing our hats for the tribute to dead country stars and enjoying their reactions until they got used to us.

And that’s when we deployed the mustaches on sticks.

Mike had spent most of the afternoon making them, and they were pretty great. Peter had a Chaplin moustache, Erica had a Tom Sellecky one, Ryan had a Fu Manchu, and Mike went with a twirly barbershop quartet number. I nicknamed mine The Soup Strainer. Erica gave us signals to raise or lower them as the number demanded, with firm instructions to stay stonefaced when our moustaches were raised.

We were vaguely worried that they might think we were jerks, but in fact they spent most of the time backstage laughing their butts off. And thus the Second City-JAR friendship was cemented for another cast.

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