Monday, April 30, 2007

What the Heck Kind of People Cross the Atlantic by Ship Nowadays?

In the 17th century, a trip across the Atlantic Ocean meant a hazardous and, at best, unpleasant voyage of at least six weeks on a small wooden ship.
Our crossing on the lovely Norwegian Jewel from Miami to the Mediterranean takes us 15 days.

So, the kinds of people onboard are the kind of people who can get away from their land-life for 15 days straight.

There are only about 20 folks on board under the age of 18, and most of them are home schooled. A lot of them have parents who are a bit older (i.e. the youngest child on the ship, who is 2, has a mother of 46 and a father of 61) and who are planning on staying in Europe after the cruise ends to travel and sightsee.

The working-aged folks usually come from careers that are high paying and pretty autonomous, like information technology. Most of the couples don’t have children. And, there is a pretty sizeable gay population on board as well.

So that accounts for about 56 of the 2,000 passengers. Which means that the vast majority of folks who can afford to leave home for 15 days straight are retired. And the vast majority of folks who are retired are over the age of 65.

Old people rule this ship.

In fact, the couple pictured here won Sunday night’s round robin basketball championship.

Gone are the Spring Breakers, with their backwards baseball caps and unsolicited, “Wooooooooo!” screams. Gone are the families with screaming kids who had to pull so many strings to even afford 5 days away from their jobs. And gone are the days in the library where you could sit and read without 4 to 5 people farting every hour.

Yup, these old folks fart. Loudly, often, and without apologizing. In fact, people on this cruise fart everywhere, in the elevators, by the pool, at dinner, and the majority of them don’t even know they did it, or have reached the age where they just don’t care.

Nonetheless, Steve and I have both said that these are our kind of people. Everyone reads. No one is hammered and screaming the lyrics to Jimmy Buffett songs. And, you can always blame it on the retiree sitting next to you.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday, April 22nd

The day has come!

Today, we set sail for Europe!

We spent our last afternoon in South Beach with Beth (you remember Beth, right? Our boss?) and Piero, our other friend from Chicago.
Both had been on the Norwegian Pearl, Beth overseeing things and Piero directing the new cast. We met at our usual spot, the News Café, and caught up and laughed and enjoyed the company of our friends from home.

When we returned to the ship (the last time we have to deal with the Fascists at the Port of Miami!) it was time to make phone calls. Everyone is canceling their cell phone service, so it is phone cards and email from here on out. It was really hard, talking to my parents. I’ve never been away from home for this long, let alone on a ship across the ocean. I was teary and homesick, and Steve and Cody noticed.

So, like the good boys they are, they decided to make me laugh. We were one of the last ships to leave the port, so as the other ships, mostly filled with already-drunk twenty-somethings slowly passed us by, the boys lifted up their shirts and waved good-bye to the Carnival ships off to the Caribbean. I couldn’t help but feel better.

When it was time for sail away, the cast (and Charles Bach, the magician, who is back!) all went up to the top deck

and watched as Miami faded away.

It was a sight that provided a lot of mixed emotions. It was exciting, of course, to think about the journey ahead of us. But I got pretty sad, too. And nervous. And overwhelmed. And thrilled. And weirded-out.

But, mostly excited. I mean, who gets to do this kind of thing?

The weather was decent, but it was quite windy. It was drizzling a bit here and there, which led to a lot of rainbows, and a lot of sunbeams breaking through the clouds, shining down on the good ol’ U. S. of A.

We watched the land until it was long gone, finding solace in the notion that while so much was ahead of us, there was a tremendous amount waiting for us when we got back.

Godspeed, friends!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Saturday, April 21st (evening)

There is a transient nature to ship life, natch. Contracts end, people decide not to re-sign, folks get transferred to a different ship, etc. In what has been such a fantastic surprise, we have grown quite attached to some of the crewmembers beyond just our little Second City family. In what has been a not-so fantastic inevitable, a lot of them left right before we began the crossing. All of these lovely girls (except the blonde, amanda, on my left) are gone. They are youth coordinators, and we love them, especially Junkyard (on my right) who colored me a t-shirt.

On Saturday night, we went to dinner with Kyla (pictured here between Jennine and what looks like a Katie who is overdosing on cough medicine) who is one of the principle dancers/singers. She will be going back to her home Vegas. Accompanying her
will be Nick (pictured here with my uvula) as he will be trying to see what Vegas is all about while living in Kyla’s spare bedroom. Martini also left (blog trivia: what item of Katie’s does Martini always steal when drunk? Answer at the end of the entry!) to go back to New York, where he was the dance captain for the musical “Hairspray.”

After dinner, we went to see the mainstage show in the Stardust. We mostly went to support our friend Nate, who is also one of the dancers, and who would also be leaving the next day.

Nate is a gymnast who does very impressive and ridiculous aerial feats, as you can see here. During this show, he accompanied his “How Can a Human Being Do That?” tricks with a bit of a more traditional theatrical performance. He told a story about how he always loved gymnastics, but like most people, went on to college and did something completely different – business school. He got a great job and became one of those insurance suits whom you call when a loved one dies. Nate’s job was to take all of the deceased's assets and literally determine the value of his or her life.

Well, Nate feared someone else determining the value of his life, so he quit, went back to what he loved to do, and never looked back.

And that is what I’m going to miss most about these people - they are doing what they love to do, making sure their lives are worth the most to them and no one else.

Ship goodbyes are weird because I feel like you didn’t really know these people for very long, but it was an accelerated pace at which you got to know them. You saw them everyday, whether you wanted to or not, and they became a part of your landscape.
It didn’t really set in until we went and saw the new dancers perform their first show. They were great, of course, but it wasn’t the same. It looked off, like when, unbeknownst to your little child mind, one of your uncles or teachers would dress up as Santa for Christmas and it just seemed weird. Like, okay, that’s Santa but it also isn’t and I can’t really pinpoint why. I missed my new /old friends.

(Trivia answer: Her bra. Which he would happily wear over his clothing)

Saturday, April 21st

Our last day in the Caribbean. Yipes. We are already halfway done with our contract.

The day was spent on Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian’s private island. We got all beached out, and boarded the tender boats, which threw us around in the pretty rough sea. When we got to the island, we had bar-b-que, and sort of did our own thing. Cody hiked the island, Jennine and Dave laid by the beach and Steve and I found a hammock and quickly learned the art of reading and napping somewhat simultaneously.

I wish that were the whole story.

Not only was it our last day in the Caribbean it was our last full day in America. So, in a very American display of stupidity and hubris, Steve and I decided to go parasailing.

In our defense, we were given a hefty crew discount (half-off!) and I had never done it before, and you only live once. We signed the contracts sober, and relaxed in the hammock until it was time for our adventure.

It was terrifying. And it wasn’t even the parasailing part that was all that bad (although Steve and I were yelling some pretty obscene things when we realized that the Jamaican men who were operating the whole deal didn’t listen when we feebly told them we didn’t really want to go very high). It was the boat ride. Remember when I said it was a rough sea? Well the boat we were in (along with 12 other people) was very, very tiny and very, very influenced by the mighty ocean. I’m pretty sure it was very similar to one of Dante’s circles of Hell. We were whipped around, drenched to the bone, thrown against each other – all to the delight of the Jamaican pros in charge.

But I didn’t yarf. And neither did Steve. And, even though I shook so hard that people kept giving me towels because they thought I was freezing when really I was terrified, I did it.

I’ve always believed that one of the cornerstones of an anxiety disorder is a fear of losing control. And, one of my goals with this trip was to prove to myself that I had really gotten to a healthy place with my little problem. Well, floating 500 feet above the Atlantic Ocean with only a battered rope tethering you to the Earth and the wind dictating your every move sounds a lot like giving up control to me.

Anyway, we did it. And we never, ever, ever need to do it again.

P.S. I know there are no pictures of us actually parasailing, but that was because our camera was nearly ruined by the 70 foot waves that pummeled our little boat.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Friday, April 20th

About once a week the Second City teaches a workshop for folks aged 13 – 17 in the Teen Club. The Teen Club is a hilariously decorated place, with “things” on the wall that “teens” would think are “cool.”

For example, the walls are covered in tagging – words like “Bodacious” and “Keeping it Real” don the walls in the same style as “Latin Kings” would don the overpass of a highway. I’m sure they paid an artist thousands of dollars to do what a 12-year old kid does for free everyday.

Thinking I was doing a nice service, during our improv set the night before the workshop I happily wore my Kid’s Club shirt (colored for me by the lovely Youth Counselor, Junkyard) during my intro and plugged the workshop, saying it was open to 10 – 17 year olds. Oops!

We decided to just go with the flow and do the workshop with the big age gap between some of the participants.

Guess what? It ruled. It was awesome to see these kids/young adults play so well together. And the greatest thing about kids is that they aren’t self-conscious enough to worry about being funny. In essence, kiddies are the best improvisers because their responses are pure reactions to what has just been said. They aren’t really into being clever or impressive. Yet. It was evident what puberty and a few years of high school will do to your ability to not care what other people think.

The funniest workshop participant by far was this adorable, tow-headed 10 year old, pictured here doing a game called, “Conducted Story.” I was the conductor and the rules are when I point to you, you must speak, and the group works together to tell a story.

This kid did this Dr. Phil/Oprah thing that was so funny that he looked shocked at how much we all were laughing. Because he didn’t think it was funny. He was just responding to what the previous person had said and logically followed it up. It killed.

I hope he never grows up. Improv-wise.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tuesday, April 17th

There are a few “must-dos” when traveling. You kiss the Blarney Stone. You drop a coin in the Trevi Fountain. And, when in the Caribbean, you drink $18 beer-by-the-yard at a place like Senor Frog’s.

Tuesday was our last day in Puerto Rico, and we decided to go to Senor Frog’s, which, if you are lucky enough not to know already, is a chain establishment that is synonymous with Girls Gone Wild videos, binge drinking frat boys, and the very forced promise of, “The Most fun You’ll Have in the Caribbean!”
So, after a last visit to our favorite café (the servers bought us a round!) we made the trek to the place where they had recently shot an episode of Spring Break: MTV. As you can see, Cody got there first, and, with his backpack and high self-esteem, didn’t feel terribly comfortable there.

The only girls going wild in the joint are in their early to late 40s and everyone (not just the toddlers, of which there were a few of in the bar, horrifyingly enough) is wearing a balloon hat. The clientele’s apparel is pretty homogenous – ill-fitting denim shorts and souvenir t-shirts from other Caribbean locals. You quickly learn which Hard Rock Cafes many have been to. There are a lot of early to late 40s men (presumably the companions of the aforementioned “girls” gone wild) who are urged to chug a yard of beer in one gulp. Yes, a yard, as in almost three feet. And many do it. Their shirts are also emblazoned with such quips as, “I’m not as think as you drunk I am,” “Drink until she’s cute,” or the overwhelming favorite, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere!”

We ordered our drinks, which gave new meaning to the words, “I’ll have it in a tall glass.” You can see by our toast that I opted for the traditional bottle of Coors Light, which gave the bartender a bit of trouble, as he tried to locate a beer of such Lilliputian size.

But then the strangest thing happened. We…started having fun. And it wasn’t the drinks, because we’d have gone broke if we’d had more than one. Jennine started taking part in the silly contests they had there – here, in a singing contest, she proclaims herself, “Katie Rich, from Chicago, Illinois.” We cheered her on, and she won with her rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee.” Steve started treating his balloon hat as one of the gang, feeding it beer and such. And I even won a couple of rounds of name that tune

And that’s what pissed me off the most about Senor Frog’s – that I had a lot of fun. Like Bill O’Reilly dancing and laughing at a gay rights BBQ hosted by Rosie O’Donnell, I had to admit that I enjoyed myself in place that I, for the most part, disagree with strongly.

I think one of the reasons we had such a good time was because we had had so much time to really take Puerto Rico in. This wasn’t our only day there. I think it is a shame that folks with only one day in San Juan spend it in a cheesy, chain bar. You can get drunk on over-priced cocktails at home. San Juan is beautiful and charming and inspiring, and I hope some of those “Hard Rock Café – Cabo” people got to experience that.

And, of course, I was with some of the most kind and hilarious people I have ever met. Anything we do is fun, because we do it in our own twisted way. When I was admonished by the DJ for not standing on my chair like everyone else in the bar, I told him I couldn’t stand on a chair due to my prosthetic knees. So I had to cheer and sing from the safety of my folding chair. We all laughed, despite making the DJ pretty uncomfortable. It just goes to show that it’s not where you are but who you’re with that really matters.

Bring on the McDonald’s in Rome!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Call You From Egypt

Hi Loved Ones!

Today is our last day in North America!

We will be updating as much as possible during the crossing.

Hope all is well!

Katie and Steve

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Crew DVD Store

All of us Second City cast members volunteer one day a week in the crew DVD store. Steve and I work on Mondays. The rentals are completely free, and there are a ton of movies, concerts, TV shows and the like. This is purely for the crew’s entertainment, as each crew cabin is equipped with a DVD player.
Originally, I wanted to work in the store as a way to give back to the hardworking crew members (who work about 80 hours a week while we work about 15), and to get to know some of the crew that I wouldn’t normally spend time with, and make some new friends.

The DVD store does not carry “adult” movies. This is a sore subject with a lot of the crew members, as they are predominately male and predominately very far away from their home and their loved ones.

As a result, our most popular rentals are, “Into the Blue” with Jessica Alba, “National Lampoon’s Dorm Daze: Unrated,” and any gory horror movie like, “Saw,” which, statistically speaking, will probably show boobs at least once or twice.

Fine. This doesn’t bother me. In fact, rewind and fast forward the Shannon Elizabeth scene in “American Pie” all you want if it makes cleaning up after fat, whiny cruise passengers a little bit easier.
But then a portly gentleman from the Food and Beverage Staff returned a couple of movies. One was, not surprisingly, “National Lampoon’s: Pledge This” starring Paris Hilton who is sort of like a walking adult film.

The other DVD was, “Pilates for Beginners.”

This gentleman was defiantly not using this DVD as an introduction to the fitness regime of Pilates as he looked like he has swallowed a small horse. Okay, fine. Benefit of the doubt, probably a one-time deal, saw ladies in spandex on the cover, figured he’d give it a shot. So Steve and I had a laugh, Steve re-shelved it, and we moved on.

Five minutes later, another portly crew member handed me a DVD he wanted to rent – “Pilates for Beginners.”

It is hard to make lasting connections with these crew members when they cannot even look you in the eye because they know that when Denise Austin demonstrates how to do “Scissor Kicks,” they aren’t exactly into the educational aspect of the routine.

But, a few minutes later, I look up and see Manuel. Manuel rents the Star Wars movies over and over. Manuel has the childlike quality of someone who probably pops in the Star Wars movies at night to help him fall asleep, as they are as comforting as a favorite blanket – a little reminder of home.

As I’m filling out his slip for “Return of the Jedi,” instead of writing, “Manuel” I write, “Luke Skywalker.” We both laugh, and now are surely friends.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Few Thoughts From Steve

Steve: "Recognition of status is hard-wired into us thanks to evolution. When our species was evolving, it was important for us to recognize leaders in our tribes, to put them on a proverbial pedestal, to care about what they did. They needed to inspire some feeling in us, even when they were just walking around, so that when it came time for the hunt, we would be inspired to follow their lead and to protect them. This is probably why, even after tribal life is mostly left behind, humanity has been able to so easily idolize kings, dictators, and- more recently- celebrity chefs, reality TV stars, and socialites all
out of proportion.

We get to experience a little small-scale celebrity sometimes on the ship. People see our shows and then see us walking around and sometimes they get excited. On this ship in the ocean, away from the rest of the world, we are the comedians of the tribe. We're given some importance. Maybe it's just that we stand on a stage in front of hundreds of people at once and speak that makes some reptilian brain part think we are the leader, giving instructions for the hunt.

But that brain is being fooled.

In the event of a hunt, or something really important, like a charge to the life-boats, Katie and I are the last people you want to follow. And we know it.

That's why we've placed our idolatry right where is belongs. In the lap of Tommy Stensrud of Norway, the Captain of our vessel. It became clear shortly after boarding that Katie had developed a non-sexual crush on Captain Tommy (she believes his anatomy is probably like that of Ken, Barbie's woefully unendowed partner).

Katie swoons when Tommy's voice is heard on the loud-speaker. She becomes nervous when Captain Tommy is nearby. She wants to see him, but is afraid of him. What if she doesn't know what to say? On Saturday, we found out that Captain Tommy was departing our vessel for a month or so to attend a conference and enjoy some vacation time. We
sprang into action. Katie made a painted sign, and we ran up to the bridge viewing area in the hopes of meeting Captain Tommy before he left and maybe getting an autograph. Captain Tommy graciously came out and autographed his sign and took some pictures. He confessed that he had not been able to see our show, but that he would be sure to catch it (!!!!) when he came back on board. He was awesome. I thought Katie was going to die."

Note from Katie: "Tommy said he'd be back by the time it was my birthday (SQUUUUEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!)"

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Thursday, April 12th

After Jennine and I ransacked the duty-free make-up shops in downtown St. Thomas (Gold eye shadow tax-free? Yes, please) the cast met up at a place called Paradise Point. As the name implies, Paradise Point is very high up above St. Thomas and one must ride in a suspended cable car to reach it. The ski lift-esque mode of transport reminded Steve of many happy memories on wintry ski slopes in Vermont. It reminded me of the fact that it only takes one frayed cable to become a statistic.

But we survived and enjoyed an amazing view of the ocean and the islands and even our floating home, which looked like a tiny toy boat. We also enjoyed a fantastic lunch at what is deemed “The Home of the Bushwhacker.” A Bushwhacker is a drink made with Bailey’s, Kahlua, vodka, light rum, Meyer’s Rum, and whipped cream. It was like eating a liquid cake. A cake gets you drunk. Luckily, we had our show that night, so we all enjoyed only 1 of the treats each, although Steve finished most of mine along with his and began saying things like, “I’m gonna walk down the hill you guys, I don’t need the tram,” and, “You guys…I love you guys,” and, “I could fight a tiger if I trained pretty hard, right you guys?”

Oh, and Cody fell in love with a mermaid. She said she couldn’t give him her number because she was made of stone. That’s the second time a lady has turned Cody down using that excuse.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tuesday, April 10th

Okay. Enough free Internet and Bacardi Rum. Today, Steve and I actually explored the walled city of Old San Juan. Fun “Manifest Destiny”-type fact: When we won Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898 (USA! USA!), Old San Juan became the oldest city under the American flag as it was founded in 1521. In the good old days when things like sugar cane, New World spices, and gold were considered luxury items, Spain stored much of its booty in San Juan before shipping it home. Hence, Old San Juan is a very guarded place that tried to keep riff-raff out, like Caribbean pirates and British people. The walls around Old San Juan are actually comprised of two different forts – El Morro, built in 1539, protected the city against attacks by sea, and San Cristobal, finished in 1740, fought off attacks by land.

We started at San Cristobal, and found much happiness in hiding in the Garita del Diablo, or the Devil’s Sentry Box, which, as you can see, is no longer as ominous as its name implies. Although it did smell a little like pee. The view from these nooks is amazing, as you can see nothing but the ocean crashing below and around you, and the expanse of the fort along side of you.

Between the two forts is the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen, and I’ve done some Harold and Maude-type exploring in my days. The Cementerio de San Juan features a beautiful domed chapel. Almost all of the graves are above ground. It is the final resting place of many important Puerto Ricans who I guess were important enough to be spared the whole six feet under thing.

Walking past the cemetery and towards El Morro, we found nothing but beautiful, green hills and a bunch of people flying kites and having picnics. The domed chapel of San Cristobal peaked out above the grass, as folks chatted and snoozed and thought about things they did and were going to do. You know, life.

And I think that’s why I love Old San Juan so much. Unlike the other ports we’ve been to, Old San Juan doesn’t feel at all like it was created for tourists to enjoy. It really felt like we were exploring a place that was happy to have us there, but sure didn’t need us to survive. We got to see life and history. We got to sit and daydream about what it was like when those fortresses were used not for beautiful backgrounds in photographs, but to defend a city with priceless treasure in its center.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

In deciding to take this journey, I consulted a vast number of people. My parents, my aunt, my sister, my friends, people who had done the boats in the past, my bosses, and I even had a chat with the cat that lives in my house.

One person I consulted I did so without his knowing. Or, maybe he knew. I wouldn't be surprised.

The advice he gave me I carried with me until it was time to leave for the cruise. I literally carried it with me:

"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."

Thank you, Mr. Kurt Vonnegut. I hope everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sunday, April 8th

It's good to be back.

Blood is Thicker Than Cookie Dough Blasts

So, it was pretty fun to get to go to Vegas and film a commercial and eat so many Sonic Cookie Dough Blasts that I yarfed and stay in a sweet hotel. But you know what the best part of it was?
That my Dad

and my Mom (who is going to kill me for using this picture because she is so much prettier than this)

came to Las Vegas to see me. I didn't think I was going to get to see them until July, but what do you know?

It was so great to see them and catch up. Because I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. In all senses of the term. Their support is absolutely priceless.

I love you, Mommy and Daddy.

Thursday, April 5th

So, the reason I got to travel to Las Vegas was to film my second commercial for Sonic, the drive-in fast food company that has absolutely no locations where I live. In fact, the first time I had ever been to a Sonic was to film the first commercial.

You've seen these ads - two people in a car, waxing poetically about tater tots and coney dogs. This is the monitor that is in the car that is hard not to look at, so they eventually took it out.

This is Pat Piper, the man who conceived the ads, which started out as him and his buddies driving to rival fast food drive thrus and asking for things that you can only get at Sonic.
He is a big, Irish sweetheart and I love working with him.

The ads are mostly improvised, and I was lucky enough to film this one with my friend Sayjal, who is a star at the ol' i.O. and ComedySportz in Chicago. We had such a great time together. We shot the commercial in the evening, and the Sonic was still open. One of the servers there, who was wearing roller skates as Sonic servers tend to do, had never been on skates before or was extremely sensitive to gravity because she was falling. It was hilarious.

After the shoot, Kim (make-up/waredrobe, wearing the blue shirt) and Denise (producer, wearing white)
and Sayjal and I went and got some libations and had a low-key evening in the "production" suite. We popped popcorn and talked about our feelings. Just kidding. There was popcorn, though. It was such a blast.

Until J.R. (producer) started wearing my clothes. What can I say? This was day 5 for them and they were exhausted. I'm sure the libations had nothing to do with it, either.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Wednesday, April 4th

So I flew my behind off today. Antigua to Atlanta and then onto Vegas. On the way to Atlanta I sat right behind the first class section. I know I sound like the last person to do it in a pervy teenage comedy like American Pie, but I have never sat in first class. EVERYONE I know has sat in first class, even people who I am surprised they let on a plane in the first place.

But, if I can't get all the champagne and hot towels I want, I can at least see what it is like to take a first class pit-stop. Right?


All the lavatories were full for us huddled masses in coach, so I went to use the bathroom that was 15 feet away from my seat, and I was stopped by the first class stewardess who very curtly put up her hand and waved it towards me like I was a leper and barked, "Back! Back! Back!"

I checked my skin to see if I was covered in sores or if I had a wild dog following me but I didn't. So I gave her a look that very kindly said, "If you think you can treat me like that you do not know my ability to write a strongly worded letter to your superiors. And nice face lift. You're not fooling anyone, Joan Rivers."

She must have gotten my subtext, because when I returned from the groundlings bathroom (which was outside the plane) she asked me if I needed anything. And I sucked down that Diet Coke she brought me like it was my job.

Anyway, my bruised ego was salvaged from the aviation caste system when I got to my hotel in Vegas. It was the Signature, attached to the MGM Grand, and it was nicer than any hotel I have ever stayed in. I had a bathroom that was bigger than my apartment. And a full-on kitchen! With a toaster! I haven't seen a toaster in months! I even had a sitting room. I bet that stupid stewardess doesn't have a sitting room at her hotel.

Anyway, the sweet hotel room was enough pay back for me to decide not to call Delta and complain about the service. However, if I did call and complain it would have looked like this: But, here is what you can't see in the picture - I'm calling from my BATHROOM! Take that!