The Wonderful, Wonderful Voyage
So there we were, the couple hundred of us, off on our CruiseCon. Every day we would stop at a different staggeringly beautiful island. Some of us might go ashore. Most stayed on the ship, because that was where the fun was, especially at lunch.
We quickly sorted ourselves into tables, of which the best, at least if measured by the amount of laughter emanating from it, was Isaac Asimov’s . Isaac spent mornings and afternoons in his cabin, writing. Whenever you passed by his door you would hear the ceaseless clack of thoughts being transmuted into pages for a future book on his portable typewriter. The work Isaac was writing that week was Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor, and it was his practice to test-hop the jokes at the lunch table before typing them into his text.
I wasn’t allowed to join Isaac’s table because at the time I still incorrigibly smoked and no one else at that table did. It was not a severe punishment. There were plenty of other interesting people to lunch with, though it was true that one or two of the celebrities made themselves scarce. Norman Mailer, as far as I know, never left his cabin, presumably having his meals sent in. We didn’t see a lot of Katherine Anne Porter, either, but that, I supposed, was simply that at her advanced age — she was eighty-two — she would naturally spend most of her days in bed,. (It is astonishing how the passage of time alters one’s assumptions.)
In fact, there were so few occupied tables in the ship’s vast dining room that conversations were often carried on with participants from several tables at once. There was plenty of time for conversation since, with only one sitting, there was no pressure on servers or diners to clear the room for the next shift.
Then, the meal over, we wandered off. A few went to the pool or the gym, some to the casino, some to their cabins, or indeed to any convenient flat surface for a nap. Since we had all agreed to give talks for our tickets we did make ourselves available, one or two at a time, in the ship’s public function rooms. For the writers among us, that mostly involved telling whoever showed up what we were currently working on, and answering questions. The scientists and media people generally drew larger crowds and more interesting discussions. Then dinner, more or less like lunch, and then there were the room parties.
Everybody’s stateroom was about the same size and none of them were large. A room party of more than half a dozen people inevitably spilled into the hallways (or, properly, the passages, since we were after all on a ship.) Heinlein’s party always spilled over. Carl Sagan’s, though involving just about as many people, didn’t, because Carl insisted on keeping the door closed.
Most of the room parties included a certain relatively minor amount of drinking, usually in the form of BYOB bottled beer from the ship’s bar. A few room parties, however, had a different theme and advertised to any one in the world who owned a nose that they were offering a different kind of intoxicant. For those of you too young to remember, this was the tail end of the liberating 1960s, when much that had been immoral became permissible. I saw no signs of any harder drugs than marijuana, though, and there were very few party-goers who allowed themselves to get significantly sloshed..
The ship’s closest approach to serious drinking was in the bar on the top deck. That offered a good deal more room, permitting larger parties, or indeed several discrete parties going on at once. Greatly expanded choices of preferred beverage were available, and occasionally we got the company of a ship’s officer, coming off duty at the nearby bridge and happy to chat with us.
The officers were frequently of Dutch descent, and they introduced us to what most of us had hardly ever heard of, the pleasures of Dutch gin, or genever. Nearly all of us were encouraged to try this new tipple, from makers with names like Damrak and Boomsma, and its fruity flavor, and we did it so enthusiastically that, two islands into the cruise, we had drunk the ship’s storerooms dry of genever.
Well, enough of telling you about experiences you can’t have. Simply imagine that you’re at the best con you’ve ever attended, only it’s with fewer people than usual and it runs twice as long. And it takes place not in a hotel in some strange city but on board of some twenty thousand tons of steel that is chugging through blue waters under balmy skies. Put them together with a host of entertaining companions available on what is almost a twenty-four hour schedule, and you’ve got the picture.
Too bad that Jack, Joe and Jim had to miss it.
To be continued.