Too much happened during our cruise all the way around Cuba as if it didn’t exist. Even after explaining everything and realizing there was too much, my attempt to sum it up began to grow exponentially. Here then are the highlights and favorite memories from the actual cruise portion of the trip.
The opening bar night at the Crow’s nest as we pulled away to sea. In addition to trying some wonderful fruity rum drinks (something I normally shy away from) it was my first exposure to the Seamonkeys, as the attendees of the cruise were called. Every single one of them was practically aglow with excitement, I became proud to call myself one of them. And I got my pencil sharpened. That is not a euphemism. David Rees, Artisan Pencil Sharpener, sharpened my JoCoCruiseCrazy pencil. It was his first sharpening at sea, and I later used my 001 JoCoCruiseCrazy pencil to autograph one of my books for him.
I also got to meet Wil Wheaton’s sons Nolan and Ryan. I had met his wonderful wife Anne before at w00tstocks and various PAX events, but getting to meet their sons was a real treat. Wil might not think of them this way because he probably can’t yet, but they were men, particularly, of all geek seasons. Both of age, they acted like many a young adult, which is as it should be. But in conversation and bearing, even in their sometimes exasperated reactions to their parents, Ryan and Nolan were full on adults that I really enjoyed the company of. In addition to Wil’s family we got to meet the spouses and families of Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy, Paul and Storm, Peter Sagal, and everyone else. That was a wonderful thing, not just being on board with a lot of performers that I look up to, but also meeting their families and children and being completely charmed by them.
Our first day on shore ended up being one of my favorite days ever. Our plan was to wake up a little late, having hung out with everyone the night before, then go horseback riding in the sea, followed by snorkeling. The snorkeling was great for my first time. But the horseback riding? I’M ON A HORSE:
Rochelle was also on a horse and her picture turned out better:
You can’t easily tell, but when we were in the water the horses were running in the water at full gallop. Both our pictures were taken at the end when we had to rein them in to come out. All we had was a small pad to sit on, the reins, and a loop to hold onto for balance. Once they started running it was probably the most exciting and exhilarating thing I have done. The ocean was shockingly cold, and you gripped the horse with your knees and swung your feet back to the back hip point and held on for dear life. Two seconds into it I was whooping and leaning into the run and thinking to myself that if this is how this cruise starts, I understand why no one ever wants to leave.
I came out of the water and my horse was a little skittish. Two other horses positioned themselves in front of him and he couldn’t get clear of their back legs. He began to jerk his head and make noise like he was going to buck. Out of nowhere Mike Phirman arrived and touched his neck while whispering to him and calming him down. The horse trainers came running but Mike waved them off, pulling a couple of sugar cubes from his pocket and speaking softly.
“I learned horse whispering at a ranch in Montana during the sixties,” he explained to me, “Duke’s ok now, you can ride him up the beach.”
“How did you know his name?” I asked. Mike winked and smiled, “He told me.”
The first night’s concert was Paul and Storm together with Wil Wheaton. The theater was actually gorgeous, with two levels and a couple of really amazing balconies that looked just like Senate pods from the Star Wars prequels. It sat around 900 people and the attendees were about half that, so everyone pretty much always got a great seat to see the show. Being in the performance group I got in for sound check.
I don’t care how many times I see it, I love watching Paul and Storm perform. I know their cadence and laugh lines well, but it was a special bonus to see Wil’s set with them. Having performed at enough w00tstocks I know Paul and Storm have been serving as a musical bonus to Wil reading from his books. But this was the first time I actually got to see all of the readings they have done with him, and…well. This simple 30 second clip probably sums it up better than anything.
It was so much fun watching that first show But I confess my favorite part wasn’t actually the concert. Instead, one of my favorite moments from that first concert was this. It was hysterical because the light and sound guys had never seen a show like ours, they were used to the show the boat itself put on. So every night when we opened with Cee-Low’s “Fuck You” or “On a Boat” they put on a great light show for us. But I still belted out as loud as I could “Purple Princess, welcome home again my dear” during Frogger: The Frogger Musical, and tried my best to help prolong The Captain’s Wife’s Lament.
Finally to cap off the evening we had the Paul F. Tompkins Mustache Formal, to which I have no words to describe, just a picture of me and Dammit Liz dancing and wearing mustaches.
(Photo Courtesy Paul and Storm)
Tuesday was a “Day at Sea”. No stops, just rockin’ and rollin’ on the open sea, with a large island off to the side we weren’t supposed to talk about.
9am started off with a Q&A with Jonathan that turned into a Q&A with all the performers. My proudest moment up on stage with so many amazing people was a quick ad lib I did. During the Q&A John Hodgman had inserted himself, hilariously, into several questions that had nothing to do with him. Wil’s son Ryan injected a *totally anonymous* question to Wil asking him to describe in painful detail how awesome his son Ryan was and I gestured next to me to Jonathan to hand me his mic and said “I think John Hodgman should answer this question.” That got a good laugh and was probably the first moment that I was able to stamp down the voice of doubt that had begun to plague me over my role as a performer. When the Q&A was over I felt ready. For the first time all cruise I calmed down about my actual role and realized it would be what it was.
For Tuesday, Rochelle and I had booked spa treatments at the on-board place on the boat. For her, a full body massage treatment. For me? A straight razor shave and facial massage and treatment.
Now, I am all about the straight razor shave and hot towel treatment. But I had not done the whole “facial massage and treatment” thing that all the chicks dig so much.
It started off with a hot towel wrap. The soothing voice explained the heat was opening up my pores for the shave but I didn’t care. It felt fantastic, heated towels wrapped under my chin, over my face and head. The heat was relaxing, and I was sad to feel them being taken off as a voice said “Just keep your eyes closed.” I could feel the cool texture of the shaving lather as it was spread all over the sides of my face. I had decided to keep the goatee and not get my head shaved, but whatever shaving cream they were using felt amazing. With a few quick swipes the straight razor made short work of my 48 hour old whiskers I had cultivated for the process (you know, just to get my money’s worth). After a relaxing scalp massage I was treated to a new layer of shaving oil and a second shave against the grain with an old fashioned heavy metal triple blade razor. Christ, I thought, whoever designed this knew what they were doing. The ship was at sea, but only barely rolling as sure hands cleaned me up and told me to open my eyes.
Mike Phirman’s smiling face greeted me as he pulled the chair upright. Seeing my look of shock he explained, “I studied for the past two years at the Belmont in Chicago. Relax for a minute, I have to go help the Chef with tonight’s amuse bouche.”
I sat there in an incredibly comfortable chair looking out over the ocean, seeing an island we had to pretend didn’t exist in the distance. I heard my name just over my shoulder and swiveled around to see Wil Wheaton’s awesome wife Anne relaxing in the mani/pedi area. I briefly felt incredibly silly for knowing the abbreviation for manicure/pedicure when she asked, “Stepto are you here for hair extensions?” In that one brief shining moment, anything -including that- seemed possible.
The concert that night was Jonathan and John Hodgman. Once again I took some sound check photos.
While Jonathan put on a great show, including new songs from his upcoming album, I didn’t get to hear Space Doggity. But that was perfectly fine, because he played everything else I wanted to hear, and I was glad he put in some new stuff too because what I have heard is great. I also got to meet the great John Hodgman for the first time, who graciously shook my hand and said “Hello Stepto, nice to meet you.” The idea of the show was that Jonathan would play a bit, then John would hold forth as a judge on the high seas, solving disputes amongst the sea monkeys. Here’s video of one such judgment. As you can see, court at sea is SERIOUS BUSINESS. I don’t have to tell you it was funny. That’s an a priori fact. Then Jonathan finished up the set in fine form. I sat in my seat, a day in Jamaica just a few hours away and thought hard. My show was two days away and already the bar had been set high. But I wasn’t nervous or anxious. As I mentioned during the Q&A, I was relaxed. This was a group I could fail for. While a lot of my material was new that I had written for the cruise, I was struggling between playing it safe doing a reading from my book that I had done before, or doing something completely unrehearsed and just winging it. The next day, Wil and Rochelle would settle it for me.