NEW ZEALAND AUSTRALIA 2019
New Zealand Australia Itinerary
March 08: Day
March 09: Day
to New Zealand
March 10: Day
to New Zealand
March 11: Day
Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Dusky Sound
March 12: Day
March 13: Day
March 14: Day
Wellington, New Zealand
March 15: Day
March 16: Day
March 17: Day
March 18: Day
Islands, New Zealand
March 19: Day
back to Sydney
March 20: Day
back to Sydney
March 21: Day
As most people
know, the phrase 'It's Five O'clock Somewhere'
refers to a popular song by Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett.
I doubt you need me to explain it, but the idea is that if
you've been waiting till Happy Hour to have a drink and
you're losing patience, hey, it's Five O'clock Somewhere, so
If you are under
50 and you are reading this, you might not understand, but
you will soon enough. Once you reach a certain age,
its time to step out of the rat race and chill.
Hey, Alan, what time
zone am I in? What country am I in?
It doesn't matter, it's
got to be five o'clock somewhere. By the way,
I thought it was always 5 pm in
Yes, Alan, I've heard people say that.
May have said it myself.
Rumor has it you've gotten wasted there a couple
Yes sir, that I have.
Somewhere is an attitude, a state of mind.
been there, I've done that, I've paid my dues, I've raised
my kids, I've made my fortune. Now it's time to
relax and have fun.
And if a Margarita or a glass of
wine will help me reach that peaceful easy feeling a little
then, what the heck, it's bound to be Five O'clock Somewhere.
So kick back,
pour yourself a glass of wine, and join us on a pictorial
review of our cruise trip to Sydney and New Zealand.
this spectacular mountain range the 'Misty Fjords'
definitely got that right. What a stunning place to visit.
Say hi to Tony.
Tony was new to the group, but he felt right at home from
Day One. One point of
this story is to remind everyone that what
makes our trips special is the opportunity to share these
experiences with friends. Over the years, Marla has
created the framework for individuals to feel part of a
family or go off on their own for a while no questions asked. The important thing is
the companionship is there whenever you are ready for it.
Yvette are busy celebrating 5 O'clock. I wish to thank
Kyle Guidry, Yvette's husband, for sharing his wonderful
pictures with us.
reflects the fun of hanging with a group of friends.
One morning in Sydney I went for an early walk and
discovered a marvelous park nearby. Over breakfast at
the hotel, I told everyone how great the park was.
Next thing you know, the whole gang wanted to go see the
Everyone contributed a different skill. For example,
Marla organized the trip, Jim was our Trivia leader,
Kyle and Marla posted the photos, and I wrote stories to
immortalize the memories.
long as it is posted, you are more
than welcome to take a look at Kyle's wonderful photo
The train ride from
Dunedin into the New Zealand interior was pleasant enough.
There was a lot of beautiful scenery, but it was impossible to
photograph due to windows and train movement. So I
photographed friends instead. Joan and Diane 1 on left, Diane
2 and Maggie on right. A very special thank you to Maggie.
I developed an abscessed tooth in the middle of the trip that would
later require a root canal. With my tooth throbbing like
crazy, I thought I was in serious trouble because the pain showed no
sign of letting up. How was I ever going to get through the
rest of the trip with this kind of constant agony?? Maggie, a nurse,
handed me a magic pill. This dulled the pain enough to allow me to
sleep. Thank goodness, in the morning the pain was
gone. By chewing on one side of my mouth and sticking to soft
food, I made it through the rest of the trip without a repeat of
that scary night.
Much gratitude to Maggie for
taking care of me that night. She basically saved my trip.
In so doing, Maggie's concern and assistance reminded me yet again
how we always seem to operate as a family. When we go on
trips, we all look out for each other.
To my surprise, the
train stopped to allow a few pictures of the rugged New Zealand
scenery. Marla and Ann Wasp at the turnaround spot.
To our delight, on the
way back, the train offered as much wine as the heart desired.
New Zealand gets it... 5 O'clock is very important.
We were all
young once. The older we get, the more we
start acting like kids again. Here we have a
picture of six silly people stuffing a phone booth to take a
selfie. A phone booth? What's that?
Stuffing a phone booth? Why would anyone stuff a phone
booth? You have to be really old to even know what I am talking
about. And if you don't know, it's better that you
One of our favorite
adventures was visiting a sheep farm. It was so marvelous
watching the dogs respond to special whistles and commands from
Tommy, their trainer.
One thing I learned is there are two kinds of dogs used in herding
sheep. Although the
border collies are excellent at rounding up the sheep, they are not quite
so good at motivating them to move faster. So they also use another
kind of dog who likes to bark. Tommy used the term 'motivator'. The sheep are terrified of the
barking dog, so Tommy used one set of commands to tell the barking dog to
motivate the sheep to
move and another set of commands for the collie to keep them moving in the right direction.
It was special to see
the rapport between man and dog. And then of course at the end of this wonderful
exhibition we celebrated 5 O'clock Somewhere on the farm with local
beer and wine. Like I said, New Zealand understands.
Our visit to Te Mata
Peak was another highlight of the trip. Te Mata Peak offers an
panoramic view in every direction. We were literally at the
top of the world. Witness Tony and his grandson
Zach being King of the Mountain. Zach was the only
under-50 member of our group. Zach said he wasn't quite sure
why we kept looking at our watches, so one night we decided to
explain it to him.
Zach caught on fast.
New Zealand had one
spectacular harbor after another.
And not a billboard in sight. What a wonderful concept.
Tom, Elaine, Tony/
Jim, Marla, Kyle/ Rick, Joe, Sandy, Zach.
Here we have pictures of
Diane, Lynn, and Cindy admiring the various Hobbit Homes. The
Lord of the Rings movies were filmed in New Zealand.
After the series was completed, the owner of the farm where the sets
were created decided to turn the area into a tourist attraction.
Judging from the over-populated trails, it was a brilliant move.
Sorry to say, but in my
opinion our trip to Hobbit Town, or Hobbiton
as they call it, was a bit over-hyped. Rather than feel the
much-promised 'Magic', mostly I felt a massive ho-hum. On the
other hand, maybe I should hire their publicist. You would not
believe how crowded this place was!! I am telling you,
more crowded than Disneyland and not one ride in sight.
I had expected all kinds of
different sets, but the only thing I saw was the set from the
opening scene of the first movie. We spent an hour or so
wandering around looking at the Hobbit village. We saw a dozen
or so hobbit homes complete with grass roofs and round doors.
Although each home was excessively cute, after the third
or fourth one, they all started to look alike. It's a good
thing they painted the doors a different color because the variety in
architecture was definitely lacking. The only saving
grace, of course, was that Hobbiton featured a kick ass 5 O'clock
Somewhere at the Green Dragon Pub. The bus ride
back to the ship was very pleasant indeed.
this was a very sad story. Yvette and
Elaine accidentally went into one of the Hobbit
homes and were turned into dwarfs by some sort
of Hobbit Curse.
The good news is they intend to audition for the
next Hobbit movie. Elaine has a crush on
Harvey, Marla, Sandra Schneider,
Tom Holthe, Jim Hudson, Cindy Harvey
Upchurch, Lynn Burch,
Sandy and Joe Brenner
is hidden behind Rick,
Greg and Wanda Biasetti, Donna Sears
Korpal and Diane Gonzales
Donna, Rick, Lynn Popkowski, Hal, Patti,
Rick Archer's Note: These pictures were
taken at our Cocktail Party on board the ship. If I
had one regret, it was not circulating with the entire group
as much as I have in the past. I was outgoing for the
first part of the trip, but once my abscessed tooth
kicked in, I was in low-level pain for the rest of the trip.
Consequently I kept as low a profile as humanly possible.
I am great debt to Patricia Davenport for contributing the
pictures of our Cocktail Party.
Barbara Law, Lydia and Greg Jackson,
Wasp, Shan Oliver, Dianne Youngblood
Blue Mountains are Australia's answer to the Grand Canyon.
They are located about 30 miles northwest of
Sydney. As one can see, this is a very beautiful area.
As for my wife, Marla hit the 5 O'clock Somewhere Grand Jackpot.
As a reward for organizing such a large group, Marla was given
unlimited access to as much beer as she could consume.
Clearly Marla could not restrain herself.
By the way, the
gang had fun contributing extra beer cans to exaggerate
things a bit.
Without a doubt,
one of our highlights during our stay in Sydney was the
visit to Taronga Zoo. We took a water taxi across to
the other side of the harbor. Koalas, kangaroos, emus, snakes, wallabees,
cassowaries and parrots were among the attractions.
However, it was
the Komodo dragon that stole the show.
A Komodo dragon
is the world's largest lizard. It lives on remote
islands in Indonesia. Mesmerized by this scary-looking
creature, I noticed a young zookeeper named Burt enter the
pit and nonchalantly pet the thing on the head. Aware
that these creatures are said to be poisonous, I asked Burt about the reported venomous bite.
Burt said the dragon could kill him if it wanted to, but
they had a rapport of sorts and he felt no fear. We
all sort of looked at each other like 'did he really say
Burt said the
Komodo dragon does indeed have a venomous bite, but if one
stays on the dragon's good side, the danger is minimal.
Our wives were over looking at a giant snake at the time, so
someone felt safe enough to point out Burt's quip reminded him of his wife. Apparently one of the wives
overheard that remark, so now the ladies came over to investigate which particular husband was the smart aleck. Thank
goodness the male code of silence kicked in or someone could
have been thrown to the dragon.
was just warming up. Pointing out the dragon has never
shown the slightest bit of affection towards him, Burt said
he is absolutely fascinated with the creature and studies it
every chance he gets. Burt said the dragon only eats once
a month, but all it ever thinks about is food.
Catching food is a serious issue with Komodo dragons since
they aren't very good at it.
the Komodo dragon is slower than molasses, its hunting
strategy is based solely on stealth. It can spend hours in
one spot along a game trail waiting for a deer and other
sizable prey to cross its path. Rarely does the dragon bring down
a large prey on the first try, but it doesn't need to.
One bite is enough. If the Komodo is able to even nip its prey, the
animal is doomed. Due to the bacteria and powerful venom in it
saliva, the prey will surely die within a few days.
Meanwhile the Komodo is slowing trailing behind the spore.
Using its powerful sense of smell, the dragon will
eventually locate the dead animal at its final resting
As Burt told us
this story, the dragon occasionally walked right past him.
Worried that the dragon might be hungry, I felt very uneasy.
After all, Burt said one bite is all it takes.
Hopefully the zoo had an antidote on hand.
I asked Burt if
it was possible for the dragon to have a buddy or a
girlfriend here in the pit for company. You should have seen Burt's eyes
Burt shook his head.
"No, out of the question. If there were two males in
confined area, they would try to kill each other to establish
dominance. If there was a female in the pit, watch out.
The Komodo mating ritual is not for the squeamish to watch. In
the wild, after battling other Komodos for mating rights, the
winning komodo dragon will select his desired female, then use his
the tongue to assess her receptivity." We all raised an
eyebrow at that one.
continued. "Initially, the female
will strongly resist. No point wasting her time with some
weakling. It becomes the male's responsibility to jump on the
female's back and wrestle her into submission. The male
is forced to approach very aggressively, using both teeth and claws. If
he is too weak, the female will toss him off and permanently
reject him. For this reason, the male must forcefully subdue and
restrain the female like a bucking bronco during the mating act to
avoid getting injured himself. And get this... because the males have
no choice but to be savage, sometimes they accidentally break the
female's neck in the act."
Having shocked us, Burt
does it stop there. If the female gets hungry after the eggs
hatch, she occasionally eats one of her children. Here's the
problem. Tthe babies are so helpless, the mother does not dare
leave their side for several months. Because finding food is
such a chore, she has no choice but to eat a few kids."
Burt paused to smile.
explains why baby Komodos are so well behaved!"
think he was pulling our legs with that last one. Let's just say
that Burt's ideas made a strong impression on the husbands.
That night the men made sure to discuss Komodo mating strategies
during 5 O'clock Somewhere. I'm not sure why, but our wives
all had worried looks on their faces.
Note: Look at this, Jim found a friend.
Not only was Jim smiling, we
were all smiling. Throughout the trip, love and
friendship abounded. Give credit to Marla. Not
only did she organize an amazing, flawless trip, she found
the perfect hotel in Sydney. Located in a central
place, it was effortless for our friends to coordinate
For example, on
the day before our cruise trip left for New Zealand, the
group took a morning walk to nearby Barangaroo Park.
For our next adventure, we walked from one side of the
Harbor Bridge to the other and back. The sights of the
Harbor from high up on the bridge were spectacular.
some members of the group walked to Hyde Park and Chinatown.
Marla and I walked to the Opera House and returned to the
hotel through the adjacent Botanical Gardens.
hotel was so close to the cruise ship, I could have hit it
with a rock from our hotel. All we had to do to board the ship was roll our
luggage down the sidewalk. Five minutes tops.
Have you ever
heard of WALKING to your cruise ship? I have never
experienced a more convenient boarding set-up in all my
years of cruising. And what a view of the harbor!
Once I got to my room, the Opera House was right next to us.
As these pictures make clear, everything was within easy
walking distance of our hotel including our cruise ship.
Sydney Harbor is
absolutely amazing. In addition to its considerable
beauty, everything fits together perfectly. To begin with, the two
major icons of the Sydney Harbor - the Opera House and the
magnificent Harbor Bridge - are side by side. Better
yet, the terminal for the cruise ship is situated right
between the Bridge and the Opera House.
From the hotel,
it is five minutes to the cruise ship, ten minutes to the
bridge, and fifteen
minute walks to the Opera House.
And if that isn't convenient enough, you can cross the fabulous Botanical
Gardens on the way to the Opera House.
For that matter,
Harbor Bridge, Barangaroo Park, Downtown Sydney,
Chinatown, and Sydney's very own Hyde Park are all within easy
walking distance. And how do I know this?
Because Marla and I walked to every single location listed.
Here is my point.
Thanks to Marla's expertise, I have seen much of the world. In my opinion, Sydney
is the most tourist-friendly city I have ever visited. Rome,
Paris, London and Barcelona were my previous choices for
convenience, but none of these cities come even close to matching
Sydney. I have never seen so many important sites all within such easy walking distance.
Taxi? If you can
walk, who needs
one? Subway? Who needs it? Visit the Zoo?
The harbor ferry is within easy walking distance of the hotel. Visit Manly Beach?
The harbor ferry is within easy walking distance of the hotel.
And if there is some
other place you want to see, I hear the subway is very easy and
use. Yes, the subway entrance is easy to reach from the hotel.
Sydney is beyond
amazing. The combination of exquisite beauty and
places of interest is unparalleled.
In many ways, this was the best
cruise trip I have ever been on. There were many
interesting places to visit and much beauty to behold.
In addition, I hope our marvelous group spirit could be
detected in my pictorial summary of the trip. No
matter where we were or where we went, we derived great
pleasure from the companionship of our friends and loved
ones throughout the trip. The joy, the laughter, and
the fun were present at all times.
Our next great
adventure will be The Road to Moscow in June,
2020. Marla already has 34 people signed up. Our
river cruise will originate in Moscow, take us on the
celebrated Volga River and terminate in St. Petersburg.
Yes, it will be difficult to top our trip to Sydney, but I
am certain in its own way this trip will be just as exciting.
Not only do look forward to sampling the Russian Vodka, I already know what our slogan will be.
где-то 5 часов!!
(It's 5 O'clock Somewhere!)
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
Written by Rick
Archer's Note: Considering the Sydney Opera House
has become one of the world's most famous buildings, it
might come as a surprise to discover it was born under a
dark cloud of controversy.
One reason for
the antagonism was a serious miscalculation of the cost.
Referred to by the designer as the 'Malice in Blunderland',
right from the start construction of the Opera House was
plagued with problems.
cost $7 million, the final price tag came in at $100 million
(a billion dollars in today's money). As cost overruns
go, that was a doozy. It did not help that support for
the building was said to be limited to "the only six people
in Sydney who actually care about opera."
The majority of
citizens considered it the height of folly to spend so much
money on something so utterly impractical. "What we
really need is another bridge over the harbor to alleviate
for discontent was the ridiculous amount of time it took to
finish the project. Estimated to be completed in 6
years at most, the building did not open till 16 years after
the design was approved.
On the day the
Opera House was scheduled to open, one paper had the nerve
to print a very unflattering headline...
Ten years late and 1,457% over budget!
The joke was that Rome wasn't built in a day, but it was
built a heck of a lot faster than the Sydney Opera House.
for the controversy was the presumed failure of the venture.
Considering that most people today consider the Opera House
to be a breath-taking beauty, it might be difficult to
believe the amount of criticism the structure received while
it was being built. However, the structure was not
always beautiful. For 16 years, the neighbors were
forced to stare at endless construction. The locals
living nearby were depressed because their property values
stagnated while they were forced to sit next to this
monstrosity with its eyesore cranes and noisy bulldozers.
It is hard to
imagine one of the world's most beautiful buildings
receiving such scorn, but this seems to be the case.
When the building finally took shape, now the most common
complaint was that it was weird-looking. Someone with
an overactive imagination compared it to some sort of Norse
troll preparing to gobble up passing boats in the harbor.
But why stop there? A famous Symphony Orchestra conductor
Edo de Waart described the sound as “barren”, “cold”, “not
alive”. He threatened to boycott the “ugly” venue.
it's like playing Beethoven in a giant barn. Add a
few hoot owls and I wouldn't know the difference.”
Brian Thomson, a
scenic designer for Opera Australia, recommended that the
whole building be gutted. Even Dame Joan Sutherland,
ordinarily very gracious, likened the interior of the
building to an airport terminal.
I wouldn't be surprised if the opera house is secretly a
disguised warship capable of setting forth in case of
She smiled, so
one can assume she was joking. But maybe not.
It might come as
a surprise to learn people said similar things about the
Eiffel Tower. With an art critic on every corner
claiming they could have done better, several of the most
influential members of the Paris art establishment banded
together in a group called 'The Committee of Three
Hundred'. United in their disgruntlement, they
claimed it was their sacred duty to defend “the untouched
beauty of Paris”. They released a scathing
for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris
like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its
barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the
Louvre, the Dome of Les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe.
All of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this
this “metal asparagus” was a useless monstrosity that
would overshadow beloved monuments such as Notre Dame, the
Louvre, and Arc de Triomphe. To them, it was an ugly
and overblown work of engineering.
Along these same
lines, there is a great anecdote attributed to writer Guy de
Maupassant. De Maupassant was one of the most virulent
critics of the project. Protesting every chance he
got, de Maupassant said he would never accept the tower and
its presence. His anger only seemed to increase upon
completion. Annoyed by its immense popularity, de
Maupassant couldn’t stand the sight of his “iron arch
nemesis”. Nor could he tolerate the gushing
enthusiasm of “the ignorant, tasteless middle class”.
Wow! Tough words!
openly fumed because there was no place in Paris where he
could take a stroll and not be haunted by the tower's
dominating presence. No place to run, no place to
hide. But then a mystery developed. Given his
well-known opposition to the project, his friends were
confused by reports that de Maupassent was being seen dining
frequently at the Eiffel Tower. Had the Eiffel Tower's
greatest critic made peace with his enemy?
over this apparent hypocrisy, de Maupassant replied, "My
friends, rest assured I am still thoroughly repulsed by this
hideous hunk of scrap metal. I dine here simply
because it is the only spot in the city where I don't have
to look at it!"
over time, criticism of both structures abated. The
new consensus focused on how unique the Eiffel Tower and
Opera House were and credited the designers for their
arresting, unconventional vision.
These days, the
overwhelming sense of pride Paris and Sydney feel towards
their world-famous structures is obvious. The Roman
Colosseum, the Athenian Parthenon and the Egyptian Pyramids
may be the enduring icons of ancient architectural
greatness, but now we have the new kids on the block.
The Opera House and the Eiffel Tower can take their place
alongside the Statue of Liberty as the three most recognized
international icons of our modern era. Let's give
credit where credit is due. A Star is Born!
Widely Acknowledged as a Genius -
Architect Jørn Utzon
In 1955, an
international competition was launched in search of a
creative design for the new Sydney opera house. The
criteria specified two structures. One would be a
large hall seating 3,000 and the other a smaller hall for
1,200 people. They were meant to be used in different
ways including full-scale operas, orchestral and choral
concerts, mass meetings, lectures, ballet performances, and
The judges received 233 entries from leading architects in
32 different countries. The winner was announced in
1957. His name was Jørn Utzon, an relatively unknown
Danish architect. Due to a non-existent reputation,
his design was very nearly overlooked. Legend has it
that Utzon's design was rescued by noted Finnish-American
architect Eero Saarinen from a final cut of 30 "rejects".
There can be
little doubt the judges chose well. Once they took a
closer look, the final vote was unanimous. Utzon's
genius was to decorate the opera house with replicas of
giant sails to pay homage to the thousands of sailboats that
dot Sydney's magnificent harbor on a daily basis.
The stalwarts of
architecture agreed this was brilliant. In 2003,
received the Pritzker Architecture Prize, architecture's
highest honor, an honor equivalent to a Nobel prize. The
no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is a masterpiece.
It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th
century, an image of great beauty that has become known
throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city, but
a whole country and continent."
there was a dark cloud hovering over this magnificent award.
As it turned out, Utzon was forced out of the project long
before its completion. Furious at his treatment,
left Sydney in a huff. He would never return.
When the Opera
House was finally completed in 1973,
Utzon was not
invited to the opening ceremony. For that matter,
Utzon’s name was not even mentioned. Adding insult to
injury, Utzon was banned from the Danish Architects
Association. His peers insisted that the client is
As I reviewed
the details of
Utzon's demise, I was struck by the
similarity of his story to a famous work of fiction known as
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.
This was an
extremely controversial book. The novel's protagonist,
Howard Roark, is a young architect who designs modernistic
buildings. In so doing, he refuses to compromise with
an architectural establishment unwilling to accept
innovation, i.e. new ways to build and new looks.
Roark is opposed to those who reflexively value conformity
over independence and integrity. He resists those who
automatically object to any design that is radically
different from the 'accepted styles of the day'.
Roark is asked
to help Peter Keating, a mediocre former classmate, with a
difficult project that is badly failing. Despite his
struggles, Keating begs Roark to remain anonymous so he can
keep the credit. Roark agrees to participate in
exchange for Keating's promise that the building will be
exactly as he
designed it. Roark's solution is bold, creative, and
starkly different from existing ideas. There is much
to admire about Roark's brilliant creation, but the critics
disagree. They say certain things should be changed so
the new building will look more like the other buildings
After a long
vacation, Roark returns to find that Keating was not able to
prevent major changes from being made behind Roark's back.
Keating pleads that he had no choice; he was forced to
follow orders from the financial backers. In their
opinion, Roark's design violated existing popular standards.
Roark was not
the type to compromise. Furious, Roark dynamites the
project. After turning it to rubble to prevent the
subversion of his vision, he is subsequently arrested.
At his trial, Roark makes an impassioned speech about the
value of integrity. Since this is a work of fiction,
Roark is subsequently acquitted of his crime. Don't
you love fairy tale endings?
symbolizes an individual who follows his own original ideas
while Peter Keating is a conformist who bases his choices on
what others want. While Roark blazes his own path,
Keating believes success lies in doing what others expect
rather than follow his personal beliefs.
I see an obvious
parallel between Howard Roark and
was a visionary, a genius. But he was also inflexible
and offended important people who prodded him to make
changes that were incompatible with his vision.
Sad to say,
history is lined with stories about visionaries whose
performance did not match their imagination. One of my
favorite examples is Bugsy Siegel, a mid-level mobster sent
to Hollywood to expand gambling activities in California in
Las Vegas began
the 20th century as a railroad water station in the middle
of nowhere. At best, Vegas was a brief stopover for
drivers who traveled through on the way to California.
Its fortunes changed thanks to three lucky breaks. The
first break came in the Thirties when the federal government
built Hoover Dam nearby. The second break came soon
after when the state of Nevada legalized gambling.
thousands of men who built Hoover Dam had to live somewhere.
Since Las Vegas was situated next to the railroad, this
became the spot where cheap housing was erected. The
men needed a way to blow off steam and spend their cash, so
beer joints soon followed. The men wanted company, so
scarlet ladies joined the parade.
legalized gambling. Bingo! The world would never
be the same. Having been rescued from obscurity by
Hoover Dam, Las Vegas soon had its first casinos.
However, these forerunners gave no clue as to the dazzling
future of Vegas. With sawdust floors, these barren
shacks featured cheap liquor, low stakes, and not a hint of
The third lucky
break involved the coming of the Automobile Age in the early
1940s. Highway 91 was a dusty two-lane road known for
its arduous car trip between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
As one can guess, the road passed through Vegas, a
midpoint which had grown large enough to act as a rest stop.
Taking advantage of the increased traffic, two modest
casinos with Western motifs opened on the once-empty Los
Angeles highway. Visitors at the airport were picked
up in horse-drawn stagecoaches.
Bugsy Siegel showed up. On a random trip to Nevada to
visit a gambling joint, Bugsy was flattened by a vision of
opportunity. Where most men would see nothing but dirt
and barren desert, Siegel had a feeling he was on to
something. Fully committed to the idea for
a hotel and casino in the desert, Siegel obtained $1 million
in funding from lifelong friend Meyer Lansky and other New
York mobsters. Siegel used a key selling point: In
Nevada, gambling is legal. Money in hand, Siegel
wasted no time muscling out an entrepreneur named William
Wilkerson for control of a half-finished project known as
the Flamingo Hotel. "I'll make him an offer he
That more or less is the background story to the town that
Crime built. Where Siegel gets credit was his idea to
create a highway-based resort, the Flamingo, that would
exceed anyone's wildest imagination. Siegel envisioned
a classy palm-tree lined refuge for the rich and famous in
the absolute middle of nowhere. Conceived as a
man-made oasis in the desert, Siegel turned the Flamingo
into a pleasure palace featuring high-end gambling,
entertainment, swimming pools, recreation and sex.
This was a novel
idea indeed, but very risky. What made Siegel think
customers wanted to drive out into the hot desert?
The Flamingo was definitely ornate and original, but they
had trouble luring customers into the middle of the desert.
Where were Elvis and Sinatra when you need them? In
addition, it was poorly managed. The Flamingo’s mob
backers were unhappy over losing money by the bucketful.
Convinced they had wasted money on a pipedream, fed up with
Siegel's braggadocio, and angry over rumors of skimming,
Siegel was assassinated a mere six months after the hotel
made its debut.
The lesson was
clear. Sometimes it isn't enough to be a genius.
Imagination is a wonderful gift, but you still have to keep
your backers happy.
Utzon was undeniably brilliant.
For example, no one could figure out how to recreate the
complicated concrete shells to adorn the roof of the Opera
House. It was one thing to draw them on paper, but
difficult to engineer the precise curves. Utzon solved
the problem by envisioning 'Spheres', an idea
considered one of the most clever solutions in architectural
Utzon was very young at the time with virtually no previous
experience at bringing a project to fruition. Nor was
this an ordinary project. As he discovered the hard
way, management did not come easily to an artist like
As shown by his
brilliant spherical solution, Utzon had an extraordinary
ability to rise to the occasion when it came to handling
technical and design problems. However, his ability to
rise to the occasion could save Utzon from drowning in the
complexity that would arise around him in the early years of
the project. He grew frustrated at being forced to
explain difficult concepts to people who could not
understand the problem.
began with enormous cost overruns. In retrospect,
Utzon was doomed from the start. Long after the
building was finished, it was learned that those in power
had deliberately underestimated costs in order to get the
project started. The eventual price tag would be ten
times the estimate.
The man with the
plan was Premier Joseph Cahill. He advocated so
tenaciously for the Opera House that it became known as the
'Taj Cahill'. In order to force the project
through a reluctant Cabinet, Cahill vastly understated its
likely cost. (Sounds like the empty promises that led
to the Brexit vote, doesn't it?).
few years into the project, Cahill died suddenly.
Without his chief political backer to stick up for him when
the costs soared, Utzon was in trouble. A neophyte
when it came to politics, Utzon had no way to fight back.
Thus he took the majority of the blame. In the 1965
elections, the costs and delays of Utzon’s project became a
major campaign issue.
By claiming the
project had gotten out of hand, the conservative Liberal
Party came to power. Utzon found himself reporting to
Davis Hughes, a rural politician who was unsympathetic to
this extravagant urban edifice. Chomping at the bit to
shut the prima donna down, Davis Hughes was a pencil-pushing
bean counter who thought Utzon was way too big for his
britches. Hughes made it his main goal in life to
shove Utzon out the door.
came soon enough. Utzon wanted to give a major
contract to a trusted company that was expensive but
extremely reliable. Hughes told him to get bids and
force Utzon to comply, Hughes withheld the fees from which
the architect paid his staff. Now Utzon faced a cash crisis.
No one was getting paid. Utzon told Hughes that if the
money wasn't paid he would have no choice but to close his
office and leave the project. Given the complexity and
advanced stage of construction, Utzon was confident that
Hughes would not call his bluff. Wrong. Hughes
was thrilled. Interpreting this demand as a
resignation letter, Hughes wasted no time telling the press.
immense outcry to restore Utzon to the project, Hughes stuck
to his guns. Angry, depressed, broken-hearted, Utzon
left Sydney never to return. As it turned out, Hughes
had cut off his nose to spite his face. The project
came to an entire halt while a replacement architect was
located. Only one problem... there were no notes left
behind to follow the bread crumbs and there was no one of
Utzon's ability to replace him.
The loss of
disastrous. It took seven years to complete what Utzon
probably could have finished in a year or two. The
costs overruns had been bad under Utzon, but now they became
One could say
Utzon had the last
laugh, but more likely he was busy crying. A taciturn
Dane by nature, Utzon refused to publicly share his
thoughts. However, in a conversation with a friend,
Utzon let slip that not a day passed when he didn't think
about the Sydney Opera House. Nevertheless, he refused
to return despite many pleas. After his death, his
wife Lis recalled the many long years she had sat next to
her husband on a lonely Majorcan cliff while he stared out
to sea. Lis said her husband battled depression for
years and never let go of his bitterness.
The Opera House
was finally completed in 1973. It was opened by
Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia.
Utzon was not
invited to the ceremony, nor was his name even mentioned
during any of the speeches. It was an atrocious
time does heal some wounds. In 2003, the world of
architecture righted some of the wrongs by awarding Utzon
the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in his profession.
Frank Gehry, one
of the Pritzker Prize judges, commented:
Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead
of available technology, and he persevered through
extraordinarily malicious publicity and negative
criticism to build a building that changed the image of
an entire country.
kind words brought Sydney to its senses. Shortly after
receiving the Pritzker award, members of the Opera House
decided to try to make amends. They asked Utzon to
design some much-needed updates to the interior of the opera
Although he was
willing to contribute his ideas, Utzon still refused to
visit his creation. Instead Utzon left it to his son
Kim to implement them. The Utzon Room in the Opera
House was officially dedicated in October 2004. Utzon
did not attend, but he did offer a statement to be read at
that I'm mentioned in such a marvelous way, it gives me
the greatest pleasure and satisfaction. I don't
think you can give me more joy as the architect.
The recognition supersedes any medal I could possibly
The Sydney Opera
House was declared a World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007.
This honor meant that
Utzon became only the second person in history to receive
such high recognition during his lifetime, Oscar Niemeyer
being the first.
Utzon died one year later in December 2008 at the age of 90.
It is a good thing that he passed away knowing he had
finally achieved the recognition he so richly deserved.
But there can be little doubt that Utzon carried a broken
heart to his grave.
Mystery of the Land Down Under
Written by Rick
Archer's Note: Our trip to New Zealand and
Australia was quite an adventure!! What a treat to
spend two and a half weeks exploring two of the most
attractive regions of the world. Even better, it was
great to see the world with our friends.
To my surprise,
there were absolutely no major headaches worth mentioning.
A trip without drama is actually a bit unusual.
Historically at least one crazy thing happens on every trip.
For example, my friend Phyllis Beyer got locked in a mall
restroom during our 2018 river cruise to Romania.
Our entire group was shocked to discover the Romanian
workmen had no tools. Consequently it took an
entire hour to figure out how to set poor Phyllis free.
There was such a fuss that the story made the NATIONAL NEWS.
That said, alas,
not everything was perfect on this trip either. I know
it sounds petty, but as a group we were deeply disappointed
over our poor team showing at Trivial Pursuits.
When it came to Trivia, we were so frustrated!
Yes, I know, I
know, it's hard to feel sympathy for Privileged Passengers
in Paradise. Even though you may not be able to
totally feel our pain when measured against the backdrop of
actual terrible events, hopefully the Reader can relate to
our suffering on some level. Without a doubt, our team
had some extremely bright people on it. Yet time and
again our guesses went awry. On questions where we
narrowed it down to two possibilities, you know, 50-50, our
success rate hovered somewhere around 20%. It was
ridiculous how many wrong guesses we made.
Here are some
examples. One question was what color is most commonly
seen on national flags. We guessed red. Then at
the last moment we changed it to white. The answer was
red. Another question was what nation uses the 'sol'
as currency. Everyone drew a blank. Then I
remembered this clue had been used on a previous cruise
trip. Recalling it was a South American country
bordering the Pacific, I narrowed it down to two
possibilities... Chile or Peru. I went with Chile.
It was Peru. Darn it!
Another time we
had to identify the voice of a celebrity. We were
convinced it was Mel Gibson. This made sense because
many clues had 'Australian'-themed answers to them.
On the other hand, Marla has a real gift for recognizing
voices. She is uncanny with this ability. At the
last minute she came up with Dustin Hoffman. We all
looked at each other in confusion. 'Mel Gibson'
stayed. The answer was Dustin Hoffman.
So that is how
it went the entire trip. We were the gang that
couldn't shoot straight. Our team must have lost by
one or two questions a dozen times. Every day I was
reminded that I am getting stupider as I age. It got
so aggravating that I lost my enthusiasm. It isn't fun
feeling washed up. However, to my surprise, someone
else took it even harder than me. They say every
picture tells a story. By looking at the following
pictures, try to guess the identity of the person who
suffered the most.
So, how did you do? Were you able to discern
which person isn't having fun yet?
Maybe you need a
hint. Which person in these pictures most reminds you
I don't know,
maybe I have made this task too difficult.
Let me offer a
couple more pictures just in case you are still struggling
with this. These next pictures should help narrow it
Okay, time's up. Did you guess Kyle? Oops.
Did you guess
Rick? Oops. Try again.
What about Jim?
I know it was difficult, but did you guess him?
If so, good
work!! This shows how perceptive you are.
Now the funny
thing is that Jim told me this was a great trip. But
now that I see the pictures, I can tell that Jim was a
little off his game. I think he was much too
preoccupied with his Trivia defeats and let his concerns
affect his smiling ability.
smiles all the time.
One of the
reasons Jim smiles is because he has a beautiful wife.
Another reason he smiles is because his beautiful wife
dresses him in colorful, exotic costumes.
A quick glance
at the pictures below will reveal Jim's smile.
Adding to the mystery, Jim was absolutely
beaming on the first day of our trip! Check out the
So what went wrong? Jim was ecstatic on Day One, but
then doesn't smile for another picture. What could
possibly be the reason? This is a man who has it all.
Jim is a smart, good-looking guy, great children, very
successful in his career. His dogs love him, he has a
great wife and he is universally admired by many wonderful
friends. And yet he is sad.
I decided to
carefully analyze the situation. However, before I
could write about Jim, first I had to ask permission.
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, April 04, 2019 1:17 PM
To: Jim Hudson
Subject: regarding a thoughtful story I am writing about
Jim, I am writing a sensitive story about you on our
NZ trip. Did you want to pay the blackmail fee
or just take your chances??
From: Jim Hudson
Sent: Thursday, April 4, 2019 1:29 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: regarding a thoughtful story I am writing about
No, it will be
good for me. Everyone thinks I am boring.
Go ahead and write, it can only help.
Well, there you
have it. Jim understands very clearly that I am doing
him a terrific favor by writing about his inner trauma.
So, without any
further ado, let's analyze what was bothering Jim on the New
Zealand trip. It did not take long to get to the root
of the problem.
The answer was:
Disappointment. Vast disappointment.
The Origin of Jim's
When I spoke
earlier of Disappointment, I have to agree my friend Jim had
it pretty rough. As I previously pointed out, with the
exception of the first night, Jim refused to smile for
another picture the entire trip. Why is that?
Why would an ordinarily happy guy stop smiling?
Well, for one
thing, Jim took our plummeting Trivia fortunes really hard,
much harder than the rest of us. And who can blame
him? I mean, even though I failed repeatedly, it
didn't bother me because I don't have much talent to begin
with. People don't expect much from me.
But Jim is
another story. Jim was our leader, our go-to guy, our
Casey at the Bat. I speak from the heart when I say
Jim is the best Trivia player I have ever seen. For
example, on the first cruise trip we shared in 2013, I
walked by and saw Jim playing Trivia by himself... and
complimented him on being a one-man team, Jim said so far he
was undefeated on the entire cruise trip. Based on
what I saw that day, I did not doubt him for a moment.
However, Jim was flat-footed on this trip. He suffered
under the same 'wrong guess' curse as the rest of us.
Sad to say, I think Jim took our losses personally. It
isn't easy being the Slugger on a losing team. While
the rest of us went off in search of a cocktail to laugh it
off, Jim brooded.
You know, I hate
to admit this, but I may have contributed to his
despondency. One thing that always cheers Jim up is
his pool table supremacy. Jim has a pool table at his
house. He and I play at least three times a month here
in Houston. Ultra-competitive, we keep track of who is
ahead. Just as we got on the plane, Jim reminded me he
is the current billiards champion of the Northern
Hemisphere. Knowing he had the lead in our head to
head combat put Jim in a good mood. Since the pool
table was back in Houston, Jim assumed he was entitled to
retain billiards supremacy for the duration of the cruise
trip. Jim intended to rub in his superiority on a
daily basis. Wrong. To his surprise and demise,
the cruise ship had a pool table!! Uh oh.
every day, Jim was crushed to see me gain the upper hand
during our frequent matches. It turned out I had an
uncanny ability to overcome the constant roll of the ship
due to the choppy Tasman Sea. Sometimes this motion
made the balls roll around unexpectedly, forcing us to
occasionally shoot at moving targets. Jim was amazed
at my mastery of pool shooting despite balls rolling all
over the table. For example, I had the strange
good fortune to see two of my eight-ball shots mysteriously
'curve' directly into the winning pocket thanks to
the ocean movement. Or at least that's what Jim
I have never
told him the truth, but in reality I have telekinetic
powers. I keep my talent hidden on regular pool tables
for fear of having my fingers broken, but the odd sea
conditions were perfectly suited to mask my supernatural
ability. Poor Jim. Have you ever heard the
expression 'straight shooter'? Winning shots in
pool are supposed to travel in straight lines. But not
me. I was curling in putts from the other end of the
table. Who can blame him? I would be depressed
too if I lost to someone as mediocre as me.
Or maybe it goes
deeper than that. I mean, one time Jim barely missed
sinking the 8-Ball at the wrong time. That's a big
No-No in pool. When you sink the Eight Ball at the
wrong time, you lose. There it was, the 8-Ball hanging
on the lip of the cup. But it had stopped just short
of falling in. Jim thought he was in the clear.
Wrong. All I had to do was wiggle my nose a bit and
watch the 8-Ball drop in. It was evil, but I couldn't
Jim turned white. Tough break!
Jim loses AGAIN!! Finally Jim threw up his hands.
"Okay, Rick, I give up. You are the official champion
of the Southern Hemisphere."
It wasn't easy for him to say that.
You don't suppose Jim thought I was cheating? After
all, every single break went my way. No wonder things
got under his skin. He didn't say it out loud, but I
know what he was thinking. Something's rotten in
Jim has this
thing about him. He hates cheaters!
Despises them. The angriest I have ever seen Jim was
on our 2016 cruise trip to Greece. One night our team
got a near-perfect Trivia score only to be beaten by a team
with a perfect score.
One of the
questions was "What country was the first to ratify
Women's Suffrage? And for a bonus point, what year was
Okay, off the
top of your head, how many of you know the answer?
Raise your hand. It turns out the answer is 'New
Zealand, 1897'. Only one team in the room got that
answer. Absolutely convinced someone was checking
their cell phone for the answer, Jim was irate. Full
of suspicion, he went off on an angry tirade about people
who cheat at Trivia.
To be honest, I
agreed with Jim. In fact, it bothered me almost as
much as it bothered him. Who on earth knows the answer
to an obscure question like that? Try as I might, no
explanation made more sense than someone had used a cell
phone search to win.
something happened on this trip to change my mind. As
our guesses went awry and our series of one-run losses
mounted, I tried to analyze what was wrong. There had
to be an explanation. Forgive my lack of modesty, but
the 'Krewe of Katy' was a veritable Dream Team of
Trivia players. With a line-up of sharks from top to
bottom, we had dominated our three previous cruise trips.
So imagine our surprise when we failed to replicate our past
success right from the start. What is wrong with us?
My first clue
came the morning when Carlos from Mexico, our Trivia Quiz
Guy, asked the exact same women's suffrage question we had
heard back in Greece. Aha! A big smile crossed
our faces. What goes around comes around. Jim's
eyes grew big and he salivated at the return of our nemesis
from the past. This time we knocked Women's Suffrage
out of the ballpark. We felt very smug when the team
next to us complimented us. They were grading our
paper and couldn't believe someone actually knew the answer
I had a funny
feeling I was on to something at the time, but let it ride
as a coincidence. However, when the same question
popped up AGAIN a couple days later, this time I gave it
serious thought. On a hunch, I stayed behind to speak
to Erica from America, our Quiz Lady. After
discovering we were both born in Philadelphia, I decided we
had enough rapport that Erica might explain some things to
"Hey, Erica, how
do you pick your trivia questions? Does someone just
hand you a quiz or do you make them up yourself?"
most part I make up my own quizzes, but I don't make up
my own questions. I draw my questions from the
same source as the other staff members. If you
come to enough trivia contests, you may hear the same
questions asked by different people. That's
because we all have the same Royal Caribbean library of
questions to draw from. I go to the computer and
pick from the list. They like us to build each
quiz from different categories, you know, one sports
question, one geography question, flags of countries, a
science question, history, food, music. Over the
years I have developed some of my own favorite
"Tell me one of
"Here is an
easy one, but no one ever gets it. I like it
because it makes people groan when they learn the
answer. What is Red, White, Yellow, Black and wet
"I don't know.
What is it?"
White Sea, Yellow Sea, Black Sea."
"Ha ha ha,
aren't you clever. Give me another one."
father has 5 daughters. The first four are Nana,
Nene, Nini, and Nono. What is the fifth daughter's
Mary. You need to pay better attention, Rick."
"I hate trick
questions. Give me another one."
is one that baffles people. You remember those old
45 records from the Sixties?"
grooves did each record typically have?"
I drew a
complete blank. "I give up, how many?"
don't get it."
one continuous groove for the needle."
"So why two?
Why not one long groove?"
"Side A and
Side B! Gee, what's wrong with you? Everyone
knows that! Here's another one. I call it
the modern Riddle of the Sphinx question and answer."
"I know the
original Riddle of the Sphinx. What is the modern
on it at night, you stand on it in the morning, and you
sit on it by day. What is it?"
I shook my head.
"I don't have a clue, Erica."
that's the easiest one of all. You sleep on a bed,
you stand on a scale, and you sit on a chair.
Everyone knows that."
question seemed underhanded. Now I was starting to
dislike Erica. She was having way too much fun with
this. However, glutton for punishment that I am, I
gamely asked to try again. "Okay, ask me another one."
"I love this
one because it aggravates people even more than my
Riddle of the Sphinx. What world-famous sport has
four letters in its name and starts with a T?"
This one did not
seem difficult. Considering I have extensive knowledge
for sports trivia, I wracked my brain. No luck.
I came up empty. "Beats me, what is the answer?"
silly! You should know that one. Think about
it. Every Golf game starts with a Tee."
I hate outside the box questions! Does anyone ever get
there's always a few people who have heard it before on
a previous trip. A trick question only works once
and a lot of these clues have been around a while.
For example, someone actually got the answer to my
Riddle of the Sphinx. After we were through, I
asked them how they knew. They said they heard it
on a different cruise trip."
When Erica said
that, something clicked inside. Figuring I had
suffered enough to get in her good graces, it was time to
probe a little.
"Erica, are you
implying that some passengers have heard some of these
The cruise staff on this ship and the ones on the other
Royal Caribbean ships all draw from the same data base.
Good grief, for some people, Trivia is a cruise trip
addiction. For the college-educated crowd, this is
the most popular thing we do besides feeding people.
Feed the belly, feed the brain. We offer at least
two Trivia contests a day, sometimes four on sea days.
If you cruise often enough and pay attention, sooner or
later you are going to hear some of the same questions."
"Do you ever
change your questions or do you use the same quizzes every
given a lot of free time on these trips, so I tend to
use the same ones over and over again. I might
change a few questions if I get bored."
"What about that
women's suffrage question you asked today? I heard
that question once before on a previous trip."
yeah, I like that question. I especially
like to use the women's suffrage question on
this trip because a lot of people from Australia
like to hear questions about New Zealand and
their own country. I make sure to always
include at least one rugby question and one
Olivia Newton-John question. Someone
usually knows the answer and that helps the
Aussies feel superior to the Mates from the
your loyalty? You call yourself Erica from
used to be from America, but now I'm a woman of
the world. I've learned to suck up to
whoever my local passengers are. Makes
that's how my conversation with Erica ended.
My curiosity was on overdrive now.
Beverly from the Land
named Beverly offered me my next piece of the
puzzle. I tracked Beverly for a special
reason. On the first day of our cruise,
Beverly walked past my dance class and then stopped
to watch. At the time, Beverly was here early
to take part in Trivia immediately after.
was wearing a giant 'Ovation of the Seas'
pullover. Draped like a tent, the pullover was
so large I could have easily worn it myself.
Beverly said, "You're teaching Waltz, right?"
nodded. "Can I join? I know a lot about
sorry, but we already have extra ladies. Plus
we're almost finished and there's no way for me to
catch you up."
don't worry. Waltz isn't that tough.
Besides, I can lead if that will make things
quite out of the ordinary, but her confidence led me
to offer permission. As I guessed, Beverly
wasn't just good, she was very good. After
class, I asked her about it. Beverly said she
was a professional dance teacher in Sydney.
However, she had gotten pregnant and decided to take
some time off. Currently she was on a
month-long holiday aboard the Ovation. Beverly
explained this was her second trip on a 'back to
that same night, I could not help but notice Beverly
since she showed up for Trivia wearing that same
Ovation pullover. I also noticed her team won
she was on my radar, I winced when Beverly's team
won again the following night. This time it
really stung. Her team got a perfect score on
music trivia. This was maddening because we
were certain we had won. After all, we got 23
out of 25. But Beverly's team got 25 out of
25. I was starting to catch on. I had a
strong hunch that Beverly had heard these exact same
songs on her previous cruise.
carefully, I saw Beverly's team dominate on a
regular basis during the trip. Her team always
seemed to win or tie for first. However, I
don't think Beverly was cheating. She didn't
seem the type. Judging by her palsy-walsy
familiarity with Carlos from Mexico, Beth from
England, and Erica from America, they knew her and
she knew them from the previous trip. I
concluded Beverly had paid attention on her previous
cruise and kept track of the missed answers.
words, this was 'Groundhog Cruise' for
epiphany created a seismic shift in my attitude.
I suppose some people do cheat, but more likely the
reason people get these perfect scores is from
frequent cruising. There always seem to be
people who have heard some of the hard questions on
previous trips. I also suspect Royal Caribbean
could care less about inventing new clues.
After a while, people start to catch on just like we
did with 'Women's Suffrage'.
reminded me of an observation I made a year earlier.
About this time a year ago, the 'Krewe of Katy'
took a cruise trip to Tahiti. We did much
better in the Trivia contests on that trip.
Along the way I met a rather odd woman named Marie
who seemed to pop up alone at one event after
another. One day Marie asked if she could join
our team. Sure, have a seat. Curious
about her, I asked where she was from.
Belgium. Then Marie volunteered that she was a
widow and lived in a cabin by herself. Marie
added she had been on the ship for the past six
months. That explained why the staff seemed so
deferential to her. Marie was leading the
cruise ship lifestyle and this was her home.
the contest I watched Marie write things down on her
are you doing, Marie?"
like to keep track of all the answers to the
clues in case I hear them again on the next
suspected that Beverly was more or less doing the
same thing on this trip. Marie, Beverly... I
had the feeling we were going up against a lot of
frequent cruisers who have the brains to remember
obscure question and answers from previous trips.
I won't go so far as to say the Trivia contests are
rigged, but I was starting to see why the odds were
stacked against us.
One night I
received my final corroboration in a most curious way.
Marla and I had sat in on a lecture regarding the secret
agenda of nursery rhymes. Rene, our lecturer,
explained why the nursery rhyme 'Ring Around the
Rosie' is now believed to carry a dark hidden
20th century, this medieval nursery rhyme has taken on
new meaning. Modern scholars associate the rhyme
with the Great Plague of England in 1665 and with
earlier outbreaks of Bubonic Plague and Black Death.
The interpretation correlates the rosie rings with the
red circular rashes that were frightening symptoms of
full of posies were an herbal treatment to deter the
terrible ailment. The flowers were also used to
ward off the stench of disease.
coughing was a fatal symptom, and 'all fall down'
was what happened next. It doesn't take much
to guess what 'ashes to ashes' might imply.
All in all, a very depressing twist on a beloved nursery
At any rate,
one night I noticed Rene, the woman who delivered the
lecture, was in attendance at Trivia. Who could
miss her with her bright purple red hair? By
chance, there was a three-way tie for first. Rene
was sent up to handle the difficult sudden death
commented that made sense because Rene had a PhD and was
an author many times over.
I replied, "but that lady also lives on this ship.
She stays here from one trip to the next because she is
their current guest lecturer on board. My guess is
Rene is signed up for an entire season in which case I
imagine she has heard some of these questions before."
Rene won the overtime match.
point, I figured I had seen enough. With each new
insight, it became obvious to me why our Dream Team
fared so poorly during our two week stay aboard the
poor Jim took every loss on the chin. Every day
Jim would show up morning, afternoon and night hoping to
snap his losing streak. It wasn't like our team
was terrible, but neither Jim nor the rest of us could
seem to recapture the glory of previous cruises.
Towards the end of the trip, the mere mention of 'Trivia'
brought out Jim's long face. I was beginning to
wonder if he would ever smile again.
My final piece
of the puzzle came on the last Trivia Contest of the trip.
The cruise director asked what country uses the 'Sol'
for currency. It took a moment for me to realize I had
once heard this question on a previous trip. Although
I was frustrated over my inability to remember the right
answer, at least I had another piece of evidence to confirm
my theory. So I took Jim aside and explained the facts
of life to him.
these people are not cheating after all?"
"No, Jim, they
are frequent cruisers with good memories. In fact,
several passengers on this trip were on this same ship last
week and are facing the exact same quizzes. That's why
they keep getting these near-perfect scores. Besides
that, another reason we keep losing is our Quiz Masters gear
their questions towards making their Australian passengers
"You mean we
aren't so stupid after all?"
These people have a significant home field advantage.
Put these same people in Texas waters and watch them
flounder. See how they do on an Alamo question or Davy
Crockett. You need to stop taking your slump so
It took a moment
to sink in, but I could tell my words were having an effect.
Life isn't easy for people like Jim who take Trivia a bit
too seriously. However, the knowledge that the cards
were stacked against him made it easier to accept his Fate.
by the way, I can't wait to play you back on my own pool
And with that,
Jim finally began to smile.
Written by Rick Archer
Archer's Note: One would think at my age I
would know not to judge a book by its cover.
Obviously the Universe decided I needed a reminder because I
ended up badly misjudging a young Filipino lady.
Afterwards I felt ashamed.
I was not in a
very good mood at our first dinner aboard the ship.
Let's face it, the human body is not meant for a lengthy
17-hour plane flight. Still exhausted from the long trip, I
was cranky and impatient at dinner time. I was also
hungry when our large group of fellow travelers
appeared in the dining room for our first dinner aboard the
Ovation of the Seas. I was
pleased to note how attractive our seating area was.
Marla had seated our group of 40 in the far corner of the
lovely dining room where we had complete privacy. We
were such a large group, we filled the entire area by
Dark to begin
with, my mood
turned even darker at the snail's pace slow service. Our head waitress was
a young lady who was clearly in way over her head.
Her name tag said named 'Mhay', pronounced 'May'. Mhay stuttered as she introduced herself and
then went over the
menu highlights of the evening. That didn't bother me,
but her service was abysmal.
table was the last table in the dining room to be served.
I mean the
entire dining room. The other two tables in our group
were finishing their desert when we were finally served our main
course. As one might guess, the food was cold.
Considering how tired I was, I suppose I wasn't very
forgiving. I said nothing, but I definitely frowned.
I wrote the young woman off as a complete lightweight and
left in disgust. Another night like this and
Windjammer here I come.
One of my pet
peeves about cruising is the systematic downgrade of the
evening meal as the 'Main Event'.
conjures up the elegance of the dining scene in the movie
Titanic. Beautiful gowns, luxurious
setting, witty conversation, fine wine, exquisite meals.
Those days, my
friends, are over for the most part. If you want to
recreate this experience, now you have to pay for it.
The modern trend
in cruising is to promote the Specialty Restaurants.
The secret here is that one has to pay extra for a service
that originally was an inherent part of the cruise
experience. These Specialty Dining Areas are
expensive, running anywhere from $50-$100 per person for a
thanks to Marla, anyone who books a balcony through her is
able to get an evening at a Specialty Restaurant at no extra
charge. So, yes, that is nice, but the obvious
contrast serves as a reminder that the 'Elegance'
once reserved for the Main Dining Room has left the
Dining areas have created several unpleasant changes.
To begin with, some of these areas used to be dance floors.
The dance floors were sacrificed in order to create
separate areas reserved for expensive dining rooms.
the cruise lines would rather not discuss is the transfer of
their most talented chefs from the Main Dining Room to the
specialty restaurants. In other words, these days, in
order to get the 'A Team', you have to pay extra.
The net result
is that the quality of the food in the Main Dining Room has
been diminished. There are nights when the difference
between the Main Dining Room and Food-Jammer, my pet name
for the buffet area, is alarmingly thin.
I suppose this
is one reason why I prefer River Cruising. In the
Viking dining area, I get a delightful re-creation of the
Dining Experience of yore I yearn for. The food
is delicious, the service is top-notch, and the wine is
plentiful. Even better, it is part of the meal.
No constant interruptions to pay for another glass of wine
on the 'Drink Package'.
Best of the all,
the camaraderie is special. The people at each table
soon become family. Most of the time, the table is
filled with laughter and joy, but not always.
Sometimes we even cry. The picture below captures the
dramatic moment when Emily finally received blessings from
her grandmother to marry the young man she was in love with.
This is not to
say the overall dining experience aboard the Ovation of the Seas was
terrible. In truth, it was very pleasant. All I
am saying is that in the back of my mind, I knew that it
would never match the quality of the Viking dining room or
the pre-Specialty Dining Era of Royal Caribbean.
In my opinion,
another reason was the lack of service... or at least
this was my initial opinion. Although one might not
readily notice, the best of the wait staff has been
transferred to the Specialty Dining areas. I have to
assume the 'Left
Behinds' are the one who become our Dining Room waiters.
As I stared at
my barely warm food on our first night in the
Ovation dining room, I
could not help but think we were being served by the B-Team. Unfortunately,
my opinion was reinforced by a similar poor performance at
breakfast the next morning and the
following night. Did I say anything? Of course
not. Like anyone else, I get tired of the incessant
complaining, so I did my best to keep my mouth shut.
But I continued to frown mightily.
My opinion began
to change on the morning of Day Three. Over the years, Marla
and I have been on so many cruises that we have acquired a
privileged status. For this blessing, we are in great debt to
the many guests who have sailed with us on cruise trips
organized by Marla. So, yes, without further ado, let
me say a very sincere 'thank you' from both of us!
One of our privileges includes a private dining
area for breakfast. True to form, our service was
unbelievably slow on the first two mornings. My
B-Team concept was yet further reinforced.
different took place the third morning. By chance,
Marla and I were seated at Mhay's table for the first time. To begin
with, her service was dramatically superior to the service
we had received on the previous two mornings from other
waiters. What really caught my eye was Mhay's unfailing graciousness.
Noting her ubiquitous smile, it crossed my mind that not
once had I smiled back. Here was a young lady who
exuded unfailing warmth and courtesy despite absolutely no
reciprocal kindness on my part.
Now that I had
observed evidence that contradicted my initial opinion of
Mhay, I watched her carefully out the corner of my eye. I noticed a woman at
another table rebuke her in a strong voice for forgetting an
order of toast. I was impressed when Mhay never stopped
smiling. She quickly apologized and sent her assistant
in search of the missing toast. From the look on the
young man's face, I think he was the one who forgot the
toast. I was impressed by Mhay's poise. Knowing
how poorly I myself handle criticism at times, I nodded in quiet
admiration at her patience.
To be honest, I
was also a little ashamed of myself. Where were my manners?
On the spot, I made a quiet vow to show more respect.
It might help to
know that another of my pet peeves is watching
cruise passengers abuse the wait staff. Over my many
years of cruising, I have observed on occasion some pretty
ugly incidents. I have witnessed public
tongue-lashings that make me cringe.
incident took place in 2008.
I discovered a woman from our group
had a serious drinking problem. One
night at the Captain's Reception there were free drinks.
The waiters roamed the room
serving drinks to anyone and everyone. This
woman, still in her 20s, was so desperate, she
crowded up right up to the bar area where the waiters came
to pick up their next trays full of drinks.
woman pluck two drinks
at a time as the waiters came by, I was darkly fascinated.
The girl was in a hurry.
down one drink
after another. Chug chug
chugalug. And then it
happened. The woman was so determined to get as
many drinks as possible that she actually blocked access for
the waiters! She stood in the
walkway to force the next waiter to stop and serve her.
The problem was other waiters were coming from behind her to
drop off the empty glasses and to refill their trays. When one of the
waiters politely asked her to please move just a little bit
so he could get through, the woman became
hell do you think you are to tell me to move??
Listen, mister, you are here to serve me, do you get
that? I will damn well stand wherever I want to!!"
The venom and filth that spewed
from her mouth played like the scene from the Exorcist
where the devil speaks through the kid. Hmm.
Now that I think of it,
maybe this woman was possessed too. That would explain a
lot. Watching her make a scene in open-mouthed
horror. I nearly died of
shame at the thought this nasty woman was part of our
From that point on, one by one,
the poor waiters were terrified to
walk near her.
I noticed they went ten feet out
of their way to find another opening to pick up their
drink trays. To their dismay, it
did them no good. The woman simply shifted and moved
over to the new delivery spot, barking at them for
inconveniencing her. I cringed anew as
she berated the
ship's wait staff knowing full
well these people could not retaliate for fear of losing
Many of the
staff people come from very poor countries; they have family
who depend on their salaries for survival.
Just because they
aren't wealthy like the American cruisers
they serve doesn't mean they don't
have feelings. They are human beings
too, right? It can't be
easy for these people to take this
kind of abuse and still try to be friendly.
How do they do it?
Beats me. I know I
am not capable
of holding my temper. In
fact, I almost interceded.
No one enjoys seeing people abused who can't fight
back. I don't hit women, but I admit I was so mad I felt like slapping her. Thank
goodness the bar manager came over to deal with her.
at my thoughts of
violence, I left the party early. Of course I wasn't
going to hit the horrid woman, but
how did I ever sink so low to have the fantasy?
This was certainly the worst incident, but it
was not the last. I could not take my eyes off
this seagoing Cruella de Ville for
fear of what she might do next. Behaving like a royal
brat, her rudeness was unacceptable.
From that point on, I
was ashamed to be associated with her.
I kept my distance lest I lose control and tell her what I
thought of her behavior.
retrospect, maybe that's exactly what I should have done. The incident
ruined the trip for me.
I felt like a high school principal
who discovers one of his kids has
senselessly vandalized another school's mascot. My
guilt at bringing this
black hole of misery on board the ship
troubled me deeply.
I believe that
insulting a member of the wait staff who is totally unable
to speak up in their own defense is tantamount to kicking a
helpless dog. I
suppose my guilt over this incident explains why I have always had a
heightened respect for the people who serve me.
Truly my heart
goes out to anyone who is forced to bite their tongue while
being subjected to harsh criticism. Whether the
criticism is warranted or not, these people still deserve to
be treated with respect.
final test of a gentleman is the
respect he shows to those who
can be of no possible service to him.
William Lyon Phelps
spoke of the importance of showing courtesy to our 'inferiors'.
I get what he is saying, but I am very uncomfortable with
his wording. What makes
a person inferior or superior to another?
I suppose my
preoccupation with this issue comes from being the poorest
kid at a rich kid's school for 9 years (I attended on a
scholarship). I can attest to the embarrassment of
feeling 'outclassed' by a few of my wealthy classmates
due to their airs of social superiority. There was never any
overt incident, but I was aware of snide whispers and
behind my back.
Yes, it is true
that I occupy a loftier station in life compared to Mhay, the
young Filipino lady who served me Eggs Benedict in the morning and
Norwegian Salmon at night. But does that make me 'superior'
the concept of 'inferior', I recalled an incident in college.
Occasionally I was hired to serve drinks to wealthy alumni at swanky
on-campus get-togethers. My mother was
so poor, she was unable to contribute to my college
education. Considering my father had disowned me long ago,
thank goodness I received a scholarship to attend college.
However I still had to pay for my own room and board.
Consequently I signed up for every work-study job I could
find. If that meant pouring wine or mixing drinks on a
Saturday evening for these wealthy men, so be it.
Did this mean I was 'inferior' to these people?
Not in my mind. I was simply holding down a necessary
job during my slow climb up the career ladder. Still,
I do recall feeling a little snubbed by the fact that I
was basically invisible.
favorite moment came when one of the men actually spoke to me as I
mixed several drinks not just for him, but for a couple
buddies sitting back at his table. He began the
conversation by saying he needed four hands to carry all the
back. I smiled and said he was welcome to borrow my
two hands if that would help. He smiled and said he
would appreciate that.
"Are you a
student here, young man?"
"Yes, sir, I'm a
sophomore at Hopkins."
He nodded and
smiled. While I prepared the drinks, he
began to reminisce about his college days. The man,
somewhere in his 60s, commented that he had performed
similar duties back when he was at college at Johns
Hopkins. With the Depression Era paralleling his
college years, he had to work his way through college just
like me. He
said all he could think about was the need to study as hard.
His biggest fear was being as poor as everyone else back
Noting his fine clothes and air of prosperity, he must have
worked very hard indeed. I liked listening to him.
I figured if he could do it, then I could too.
It was that
memory that dominated my thoughts as I watched Mhay fulfill
her duties at my table and other tables as well.
The roles had been flipped and the shoe was on the other
foot. I was the old guy
accompanied by experiences of yesteryear. I watched carefully as Mhay displayed perfect manners and
carried herself with dignity. It suddenly occurred to
me that there might be a lot more to this young lady than
meets the eye. Curious, I asked her a question.
you been to college?"
"Yes, I majored in hotel hospitality in Manila."
Giggling a bit, she added, "I also have a minor in dance.
You would be surprised. I am a very good dancer.
Too bad I'm so short."
I looked at
Marla and she looked back at me. We were both kind of surprised.
This girl's appearance was so youthful, she could have
passed for a 15 year old high school student. Instead
she was a college graduate. As my perceptions
underwent a rapid change, I began to smile. This
young lady was no different than me at an earlier stage of
my life. I thought about that for the rest of the day.
another poignant memory crossed my mind.
I recalled a cruise to the Virgin Islands back in 2011.
This was our 13th cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean. Now
that we had become 'Diamond' members, this was the
first cruise where the drinks became free at Happy Hour.
Due to our elevated status as frequent Royal
Caribbean passengers, I was told I could visit a
special lounge reserved for Diamond members. Marla was
usually busy getting dressed for dinner, shower, makeup, etc, so I went alone
with the understanding that I would return with a drink for
her. Don't ask me why, but for some reason, I was the
only person who took advantage of the opportunity. I
would bring a magazine along and sit down by myself. I would read
for about 30-40 minutes as a lady named Martina, 28, kept
me well supplied with glasses of wine. Since I was her only customer,
frequently. Even though we were the only two people in
the room, we maintained our Passenger-Waiter roles for
several days. During this time, I was
struck by Martina's poise. There was a real confidence about
the woman that belied her station as a wine server.
One day Martina
looked at what I was reading. She commented on a
cruise-related article I
was reading about the Danube River.
where I am from. The Danube forms our northern
I smiled and
said the article had pointed that out. Martina nodded.
I think she was a little homesick being stuck here in the Eastern
Caribbean. She said, "Many battles dating back to the
Roman Empire have been fought along this important river."
That broke the
ice. Pleased at the
mention of the Roman Empire, one of my favorite subjects, I
asked why Romania is named after Rome and not Serbia.
From there, I cautiously asked about Serbia's role in the Balkan Wars and
wondered why it is considered the Bad Boy of Europe.
Fortunately, Martina was not offended. She answered my
questions candidly. I was
not only impressed by
Martina's grasp of history, but her ability to express herself
in a language that was clearly not her own. Curious, I
asked, "How languages do you speak, Martina?"
Taken aback, I asked her another question. "Martina, listening to
you, I get the feeling you are a college graduate."
"Yes, I am.
Thank you for asking.
Not only that, I have a Master's degree in Engineering."
My mind went
racing. This woman is an engineer? My father was
an engineer. He once told me he had a choice of four
jobs straight out of college. So what is she doing
serving me wine? Alarmed at the dissonance, I said, "With so much education, Martina,
why on earth are you working on a cruise ship?"
With that, the
floodgates opened. I had accidentally hit on a very
in Europe, jobs are hard to come by, especially in my
field. In the part of the world where I come from,
women are not respected as engineers.
Or maybe they just aren't respected period. Here's
an example. Mileva Maric was the first wife of
Albert Einstein. She was born in my town back in
1875, so I know a lot about her. There are rumors
that Mileva Maric was just as brilliant a physicist as her
husband. It is said that she helped him formulate
his theories, but you would never know that.
History has completely forgotten Mileva Maric.
That's the sort of attitude I come up against repeatedly."
I was taken
aback by the bitterness in her voice.
In as gentle a voice as I could summon, I replied, "It is
obvious that you have a very sharp mind. So, given your
extensive training, what made you decide to work on a cruise
turned down for one job too many and ran out of
patience. Feeling a kind of hopelessness set in, I
decided to step back and accept this temporary job
for a year. It gave me the chance to see the world,
stop being so angry, and think about my future.
My time will be up soon and I will return home and try
again. Hopefully I will finally catch a break."
I nodded in
appreciation, then decided to probe a little
"Forgive me, Martina, for being so nosy.
Incidentally, there's something bothering me."
"I feel humbled to discover you
have more education and know more languages. Therefore
I feel very
uncomfortable expecting you to serve me glass after
glass of wine when it is clear you deserve a much higher
station in life. We should at least be equals.
Or if there was more justice in the world, maybe I should
serve you the wine."
"Please don't feel that way. In all the time I have
worked here, you are the only guest who has taken the time to
inquire about me. To everyone else, I am simply the
poor, backwards Slavic slave girl forced to do peasant work
because that is all they believe I am qualified to do. I have enjoyed
sharing my secret with you. And I don't mind bringing
you wine. Your respect means more to me than you will
Still feeling very
awkward, I nodded in acknowledgement.
"I appreciate what you have said. Hey, Martina, will you do me a favor?"
"My first name is
Rick. Would you be willing to call me by my first name for the rest
She grinned and
held out her hand. "Yes, of course. I am glad
we have had this talk, Rick."
Still out of
made sure to get Marla's drink to take back to the room,
then left shortly after. I was upset over misjudging
this woman so badly. It cannot be easy to be treated
like a menial. I've had enough experience with that
know the feeling. Respect means everything in this
back to my Ovation of the Seas New Zealand trip. By
coincidence, I had an odd encounter with someone else.
Taking renewed advantage of my Diamond status, I made sure
to arrive promptly at the Diamond Lounge every afternoon for
my 5 pm dose of Chardonnay. There was a waiter
named Benedict who had been unusually attentive. The
drinks are free and of course service without the
expectation of tips is part of the package. Although I
am aware the waiters are paid to take care of me, I prefer
to tip any waiter who goes beyond the call of duty. I
usually wait till the end of the trip. This is how I
judge the sincerity of their efforts. However, in
Benedict's case, I broke my rule. Since this was a
long 13-day cruise, I decided to hand him half my usual tip
response caught me totally off guard.
very much, but what is really important is your
recommendation on your passenger evaluation form."
The money was an
afterthought to him. Making direct eye contact, it was
the urgency in his voice that caught my attention. My
money was nothing compared to a positive recommendation.
What was it about this cruise ship job that made it
important to solicit my approval in so bold a manner?
Obviously Benedict understood my positive words were a major
form of job security and perhaps promotion.
With thoughts of
what Benedict had said fresh in my mind, I decided to
re-evaluate my opinion of Mhay. The next morning, I told the hostess
to please sit Marla and me
at Mhay's table for the fourth day in a row. Having
discovered Mhay was a college graduate, I wasted no
time resuming our conversation.
"So, Mhay, how
old are you?"
"I am 27."
"Really? I'll be
darned. I would not have guessed that. I thought
you were younger. How long have
you worked on this ship?"
"I would not have guessed that either. Was this your
first job out of college?"
In fact, I just got my first big promotion."
What was your promotion?"
five years, I was recently
promoted to Head Waiter. The first night of your
cruise was also my first night being in charge of my own
I blinked in
surprise. Does it really take FIVE YEARS for a college
graduate to become a head waiter? The implications
were unsettling. For one thing, it suggested a very
low turnover rate. If so, then these must be highly
coveted jobs. Yuck! The thought of making a
career out of serving people food or drinks on cruise ships
made me shudder. How do they do it day in and day out?
Are jobs really that difficult to find in other parts of the
In addition, I had just been given the explanation for
why Mhay had done so poorly at the start of the trip. Obviously Mhay had the
first night jitters. Nor did she have the expanded routine down quite yet.
I assumed she was so slow taking our orders that the other
waiters forced to go to the back of the line.
you are new to this position.
How has it gone so far?"
two nights were pretty rough, but I think I am
"Yes, Mhay, you
are definitely improving. I had no idea you were a
rookie, but you are clearly catching on fast. I have
seen a big difference between the first two nights and the
last four. You
should be very proud of yourself."
Marla nodded in
agreement. She knew my compliment was sincere because
both noted a marked improvement. As I chatted with
more, I could not help but chew myself out for
underestimating this young lady. I had the same exact feeling
of embarrassment as I did eight years earlier with Martina. After
Mhay had badly bumbled her way through the first two
meals, my original opinion was that Mhay was in way over her
head. I dismissed her as lucking into the job
because she was excessively cute and left it at that.
Now I knew better. Mhay had earned her
way up through the ranks. This young lady with the
world-class mile had so much more talent than I ever
From that point
on, I always made a point to speak with Mhay when the
opportunity arose. Not only did she enjoy the
attention, I think people noticed. One
morning, the hostess, obviously a friend of Mhay's, greeted me at
breakfast by saying my daughter was waiting for me.
Considering the vaguely impertinent tone, my wife had quite
a bit of fun
over that one.
On the final night of the trip, one of the
waiters sang a Sinatra song over the dining room sound system. On
a hunch, I got up and asked Mhay to dance. I knew she
would say yes. After all, no girl can resist Sinatra.
Mhay had told me
she was a dance major, so let's see what she can do.
recovered from the unexpected shock of finding herself
partner dancing in front of the whole room, she followed my Swing
dance leads like a shadow. Not only that, she turned
out to be a
born show-off. Like many Asian
women, Mhay is exceedingly modest. However, I suppose Mhay
understands she is easy on the eyes and marvelously
adorable. Given the chance to shine, she dropped her
modesty act and put on quite a show.
Smiling and giggling with delight, I could tell she appreciated her star turn.
Turning her this way and that, whenever Mhay had a free hand, she made sure to wave to the people at our table.
They in turn rose and clapped for her. As for me,
it was fun bringing her some much-deserved
I doubt the waiters on this ship get much
attention. To most people, they are just nameless
servants from some poor country in some remote part of the
world. But I have to
come to realize the people who wait on privileged people
like myself are no different. They have ambition, they
have dreams. The only difference between them and me
is that I have been given many opportunities, many lucky breaks.
But does that make me superior? Of course not.
It simply makes
me exceedingly fortunate to have been born a white male in the United
States, land of prosperity and opportunity. There is a question I ask
myself. Were we to trade places, would I be able to smile like Mhay day
in, day out despite a total absence of recognition?
Would I be able to hold my tongue and not lash out as I have
been known to do? Throughout the trip, Mhay displayed constant warmth despite only occasional encouragement.
I respect Mhay so much for that.
When we parted,
my final words
to Mhay were to keep working hard. I explained her spirit and warmth were impressive and I
expected her to go far in this world.
I also thanked
her for reminding me to stay humble. Because people
were waiting, I had to be brief. Therefore I doubt that
she knew what I meant, but it did not matter. I
appreciated that Mhay had delivered a
valuable message. She reminded me who I wanted to be:
a person who treats others with dignity no matter what their
station in life.