by Frank Kaiser
The kids are gone, now burdened with mortgages andserves 'em rightcoping with rugrats of their own.
The dog is dead. The house paid for.
Now, provided you have the good sense not to live too long, there's money to travel to those exotic places you've seen only on TV. Places where people speak strange languages, wear funny clothing, and are reputed to have odd sexual rituals.
Hardest is deciding where to go. And just how toget there. These days there's a plane or train, donkey cart or camel to practically every place on earth.
Wherever my buddy and world traveler, J.C. Spitznagel, goes he prefers cruise ships, those floating cities where he's never far from a modern toilet, American French fries and bingo. J.C. likes the fact that ships these days have onboard rock climbs, roller blading, personal weight trainers and supervised jogging "just in case I suffer a lapse of sanity along the way."
What J.C. and thousands of other cruise hounds really go for is the food. Delicious cakes of every sort, all topped with real whipped cream, are served without guilt 24/7.
Rich, sweet foods you'd never dream of eating anywhere elsewe all watch our weight and cholesterol, you knowshipboard it's a matter of getting our money's worth.
We heed the chocolate siren's song. We're so easy.
Suddenly Trivia: Where is Timbuktu? a) Mali, b) Saudi Arabia, c) Jordan
But beware. About three days into the cruise, your clothes steadily shrink as does your cabin. You and your mate constantly collide, which is nearly as annoying as continually bumping into those other people in your tour group. After three days, you know all about their kids and grandkids and pets and accomplishments and travels. And surgeries.
At least one couple will have been EVERYWHERE and approve of NOTHING. They'll tell you that the Turks are always trying to sell you carpets, the Russians won't wait on you, the Italians leer, the Burmese look suspicious, and the Orientals are rude, despite all that bowing and scraping.
J.C., being single, always seems to find a maiden lady aboard who is a retired professor of anthropology or a nursing home nutritionist. She travels with a video camera stuck to her eye documenting everything: Getting on the ship, getting off the ship, all meals, every tourist trap and barefooted urchin. Good thing J.C. loves to get his picture taken. He's in every shot.
A word of caution: Try to remember those gorgeous brochure photos of historical sights you're to see on the tour. Because in reality, you'll spend about two minutes at the place you laid down $4,750 to see, before your guide rushes you to a market where you have four hours to spend money to your heart's content, the guide getting a dime of every dollar you blow. To make matters worse, the couple who just got married again at 60 and cannot shut up about how love is lovelier the third time around, proudly inform you that they got that same rug you bought at a fraction of what you just paid.
Worst of all, it's against some arcane maritime law even to consider relaxing, lying on your bunk with a cold cloth over your eyes awaiting the next snack or meal or midnight buffet. While the ship is steaming to the Next Place, there's Fitness with Fred on the Fantail, Jazzercise with Jennifer in J Lounge, and Basketry with Bart. There's Fung Shui featuring some oriental looking person of questionable gender, plus flower arranging, bingo, dance lessons, skeetshooting, and at least a hundred other activities to keep you up and busy.
Predictably, you get home desperately needing to sleep for a week and begin a water-only diet.
But, come next season, you'll find yourself looking at those otherworldly beautiful brochures and saying, "You know, we keep talking about Timbuktu. Look, here's a cruise ship and camel caravan that goes there." Or somewhere. Anywhere. And next year you'll be ahead of the game, already knowing all you'll ever need to know about Fung Shui.
© 2000Frank Kaiser
Suddenly Trivia Answer: a) Mali, in West Africa