I've been unhorsed, at least for a week, probably more. It is an odd feeling, the result of conceding to Mary Anne's request that we try a "non-driving vacation."
Mary Anne is my wife. I thought she was joking. We have never taken a "non-driving vacation" in 35 years of marriage. I didn't know what a "non-driving vacation" was. We've always driven everywhere -- from Virginia to Texas, Texas to Louisiana, Louisiana to Georgia.
We've driven across the country more times than either of us can remember, often with extended family in tow. We once drove a huge van from our home in Northern Virginia to Mary Anne's old home in Marshall, Tex. We picked up family in Marshall and drove west toward Dallas, where we collected more kin. Then, we drove from Dallas to see Mickey Mouse and the gang in Anaheim, Calif. Having done the Disneyland thing, we got back into the van and drove to Seattle, picked up another relative, then drove to Vancouver, B.C.
For us, that was MORT -- the Mother of Road Trips -- the last of our super-duper, extended family highway runs. But we, at least as a couple, had always taken shorter road trips after that.
But this year, I think it was in January, the word "cruise" entered Mary Anne's vacation vocabulary, as in, "I've always wanted to go on a cruise" and "I really don't want to spend our vacation in a car or a motor home. I really like the idea of a cruise. Don't you?"
I chose passive resistance, frequently muttering something like "Yeah, sure" or "Hmmm, good idea," but not meaning any of it. I figured that this "cruise" thing would go away. I don't like ships and boats. Large bodies of water frighten me. Oceans don't appear to have clearly marked lanes. There are no curves, no twists or turns.
Heck, you don't even drive a boat. You pilot it. What the heck does "pilot" mean, anyway? It's bad enough to drive on a rain-slick highway. It's worse, in my opinion, to drive or "pilot" a vessel on a highway that is all water, very deep water, replete with waves and wind.
Besides, well, I'm a control freak, which is why I absolutely love cars and trucks. You control them. They respond to your steering input, to the way you touch the accelerator pedal, work the clutch and change the gears. Oh, e.e. cummings, my poetic patron saint! Oh, "she, being brand new . . ." Where did she get this crazy, heretical idea about a "non-driving vacation"? How did she come up with this nutty notion of a "cruise"? What am I supposed to do while we are cruising? Sit back and enjoy the float?
"You'll get used to it, Dad," said Binta, our oldest daughter, from whom I suspect this cruising idea came. "It'll be relaxing. You'll see. I've arranged everything."
Aha! It was indeed a conspiracy -- hatched by the women in the family who thought, at 56, that I was getting too old to, quoting Binta, "spend all of that time behind the wheel on what is supposed to be a vacation."
They were wrong, of course. But, it mattered not. The deed was done. Binta had "arranged everything" with Holland America cruise lines to take us -- Mary Anne, Binta and my 50-year-plus, car-softened body -- from Vancouver, B.C., to Seaward, Alaska, with several stops along the way, including this tiny port town.
The only driving I did was from our home in Northern Virginia to New York City to pick up Binta and board a flight to Vancouver. I thought that would be the best part of the trip. But so far, with a week remaining of floating through Alaska's Inside Passage before moving farther north through the state by train, I've been wrong.
I'm still no big fan of ships or boats. Nor am I fond of leaning against deck railings and peering into the watery deep in search of whales that would much prefer being left alone. But I am beginning to like this cruise business.
There is something to be said about finishing the end of a travel day without being worn out by eight to 10 hours of coping with highway traffic. There most certainly is something good about not worrying if you will get to your hotel on time, or if the hotel you preselected will be worth the money, easy to find, or if the hotel room will be ruined by the smell of cigarette smoke that drives Mary Anne and nearly all of the other women in my family crazy.
The cruise ship thing, by comparison, is substantially easier and discernibly more enjoyable from a creature-comfort perspective. A terrific crew caters to your every need. The ports of call are fun, educational and pretty darned interesting. You can take time to explore them without worrying about where you will park your car, or if it will be where you left it when you return. I mean, hey, you can see the big boats sitting in the harbor from miles away. And you can stay up at night as long as you like without worrying about being too tired to drive to where you want to go the next day.
Still, I really miss being in control of the wheel, and deeply miss the response of machinery to my input. As I sit on the navigation deck of Holland America's ms Statendam writing this, I am marveling over the human ability to conceive, design and build these wondrous floating leviathans. But more, I am awed by and more than a little envious of the human ability to make them move with such precision.
I think I'll chat up our ship's captain tonight to see if he will, at least, allow me to take a peek at the control room.