Day 7: Cruising the Pacific
Here's a tip for you: If you should find yourself in Los Angeles and you have to get on a ship bound for Asia, try and be extra sure to go to the right pier. For instance, if your ship is departing from the San Pedro Pier, don't go to the Long Beach Pier. Then, when one of the friendly baggage attendants at the Long Beach pier tells you that the San Pedro pier is about a mile away, do not listen to him. Like every journey in Los Angeles, it requires a 20-minute stint on the freeway. And the LA freeways have a tendency to clog with traffic, even at 3:30 in the afternoon, which, when you're trying to get to the San Pedro Pier to make a ship that's due to disembark in less than two hours, can induce a state of animated panic.
Home for the next two weeks
Broadly speaking, when it comes to finding a ship that crosses the Pacific Ocean, you have two choices. You can take a cruise, or you can take a container ship. On one, you spend your mornings at the spa, your afternoons trying to figure out what restaurant you're going to eat dinner at, and your evenings being attended to by the hundreds of on-board staff. On the other, you may as well be staff.
I chose the cruise, though not because I have any aversion to container ships-- it's always been a fantasy of mine to cross an ocean in a ship with a name like The Tokyo Pearl carrying some bizarre cargo, say 28 tons of buckwheat or elastic bands. The problem with container ships is that they can't book passage with anything even close to certainty, and they can't guarantee what day they'll leave port, or what day they'll arrive at their destination.
I actually tried to book passage on a container ship. I found a website that claimed to have great expertise in such things, phoned the number and talked to an elderly man who sounded Greek. I told him when and where I was traveling, and he informed me that it simply wasn't possible to say if there would be any ship that could take me. When I asked how much it might cost, he suspected that I was comparison-shopping, and over the course of the next minute the telephone conversation devolved into a shouting match. It was one of only two telephone shouting matches I have ever been a party to, and the only one which involved a total stranger.
I opted for the cruise and luckily managed to make it to the San Pedro Pier.
My fellow road warriors: Greta and mummy
I would put the average age on board at 71. It would be 72 if not for the presence of a certain special someone: my daughter. Greta is just shy of 5 months old, and she and mummy (aka Laura) have come to help daddy cross the world's largest ocean on a luxury liner.
We weren't on board more than 40 minutes when the emergency alarm went off. Everyone squeezed his or her head through a bright orange keyhole lifejackets and congregated on deck beneath their assigned lifeboats. For some reason, I can't seem to take part in group exercises such as this without feeling humiliated. Roll call was taken, then the captain voice crackled over the PA to go over emergency procedures. If anyone should happen to see a guest or crew member go over the side of the ship, he instructed, they were to immediately point and shout "Man overboard! Man overboard!" without losing visual contact. The captain came back to this refrain again and again, saying the words "Man overboard!" with such excitement that it almost sounded like he was hoping it would happen.
The line for the buffet begins here
As we were walking back to our rooms, Laura heard the following exchange between an elderly female passenger with dyed brown hair and her cabin steward.
"I like to start every morning with a Dr. Pepper."
"I'll see what I can do."
And then, movement. As though propelled by magic, the boat glided forward and the Port of Los Angles began to pass by. There wasn't a rumble, noise or vibration to be felt. The ship's motion seemed as effortless as gravity. We breezed past ships from China loaded down with containers, inched our way down the shipping channel, and then nosed into the open sea.
Right now, we're somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, cruising west. There is a decent tail wind and the boat is confidently lurching over the swell, gently pitching forward and back as it consumes the waves. If you walk down the ship's narrow corridors, you feel somewhat tipsy when the floor rises and then sinks. I plan to counteract this by getting somewhat tipsy at dinner.
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