“And you may find yourself, in another part of the world. And you may ask yourself, well, How did I get here?” David Byrne How did I get here? How does anyone get from their home to Alaska? My journey began in the same way I imagine all journeys to Alaska began, from the Paleoindians, the European explorers during the Age of Discovery, to the prospectors of the Great Alaskan Gold Rush, from The Gateway to the Arctic...Atlanta. Looking down from the sky, you realize just how close knit the East Coast of the United States is. The landscape is buttoned with cities and towns, and tied together with ribbons of highway and cloverleaf bows. It’s like we all live in the same town. I fell right asleep and when I awoke, we were flying over what looked like the surface of an alien planet. It was brown and barren, with dried channels carved by ancient rivers. I later found out this was not an alien planet, but in fact was Wyoming. We arrived in Seattle, where I joined my shipmates and we boarded the Norwegian Jewel. Even after crossing a continent, you still have hundreds of nautical miles through the inner passage of the Pacific ocean before making landfall in Ketchikan, Alaska. In the future, I will go into detail about the Pacific Northwest, but for now let me tell you, it is worth every mile! What have I been doing? Well, by night I am a principal musician. I play my little guitar and sing my little song and then tomorrow night, I do it again. During the day guess what I do. Go on, guess! That’s right SAFETY MEETINGS! And when you run out of safety meetings? Go look at the safety meeting notice board because you have not run out of safety meetings. I enjoy safety as much as the next person, and we all have seen what happens when things go wrong aboard a ship, but I can’t help but think the real reason for all the meetings is to keep people occupied. Idle hands are the Devil’s playthings. Who am I with? The crew of the Jewel represent over 60 nationalities, and while they are majority Filipino, that only complicates things as the Philippines is a nation of 7100 islands and 170 languages. You may as well say the crew is made up of Earthlings. US citizens are few and far between. How few? If you were to form basketball teams based on nationality, the US squad would have to draft a Canadian. That’s not to say there aren’t any Americans, there are. They just happen to be Central an South Americans. The musicians are from far away places like Poland, Ukraine, India, Colombia, the Philippines, Australia, and Montana. I will tell you more about the crew later, but for now I’ll just say they are every bit as colorful and interesting as you can imagine. Where are we going? Well, for the past fortnight , that’s right, fortnight, we have been cruising the Inner Passage. Next week we begin what is called a repositioning cruise, where we leave Alaska for New Orleans. On the way we hop along down the west coast, past Washington, Oregon, California, México, Costa Rica, through the Panama Canal, on to Colombia, México again, then to New Orleans for winter. That bit is called “The Crossing” and I sure I will have plenty to say about it. From New Orleans we cruise the western Caribbean, visiting places like Belize, Honduras, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica. That’s right, Jamaica Mon! If I disappear on this journey, look for me in Colombia or Jamaica. When do I come home? I will be home for the holidays, starting in November. Till then, I have a lot of adventuring to do and I can’t wait to tell you all about. From what I have seen so far, the places will be incredibly exotic, the people wonderfully strange, and the safety meetings terribly, terribly BORING! Till next time... Take it Easy! Ben
Well, here it is. My final dispatch from my time at sea. When I left home, I thought the adventure would be the vast, blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, the exotic ports of call with strange names, and the massive ship that would house and transport me. I was wrong. These turned out to be only the settings of the story. The real adventure happened while sitting on a stool, six nights a week, with my guitar and a glass of lemon water, playing four to five hour shows, covering songs from every project I have ever been in, for complete strangers. Every week I played hundreds of songs, scores of requests, and learned many new tunes. I spoke with music lovers from all over the world.
I made a bunch of mistakes and even got a few things right. The more music I made, the more I wanted to make music. It was humbling, inspiring, and fulfilling all at once. It was everything I wanted and nothing I expected. It was the best music of my life. And while all this wonderful music was happening, something even more important was going on. Something very fundamental and personal. It happens when you meet someone who, at the beginning, seems very different from you. Maybe they have outrageous tattoos, and piercings in places that you didn't know were eligible for piercing. Maybe they have a mo-hawk, but instead of being vertical, it sits 45 degrees off axis and is dyed...what color is that? Sometimes it's the way they talk that's strange, or the things they like, or they way the act. And so you place them in a box labeled "different" and move on. Only, on a ship at sea, everyone is moving on together, so eventually you are forced to get to know them better. And then you realize that there is a mind beneath that mo-hawk, and a heart underneath the tattoos, that the piercings pass through flesh and blood, and that life is influencing what they think and feel just like it's doing to you. And now your convenient "different" label doesn't stick anymore. That's when you start to feel something in your way. And you also feel it behind you, and to your left and right. And then it hits you, "Oh Snap! I'm in a box." And you crawl out, and you are just a little bit bigger than before, and it feels great!
But the lesson doesn't end there, and neither does the story. As I spoke more with these people, who are no longer strangers but are still pretty strange, eventually the conversation turns to what brought them here. And it becomes clear that there are many people who aren't able to be themselves wherever it was they came from. Or they can't do what they love there. And when they leave the ship on vacation, they don't return there but instead travel or even go on a cruise on another ship. And they don't visit family because their family is spread out all over the place, or even worse, they don't have any family to visit. And sometimes it's just as simple as they hate where ever it is they are from. And that brings me to the best part of my adventure at sea. Realizing how fortunate I am to have a place to go back to. Where there is a microphone and a stage waiting for me, with a sound man and band-mates. And I can pay a visit, unannounced, to my parents and uncles and aunts, and siblings and cousins, and my old friends and new friends whenever I want. To have a loved one and a place where I truly belong. And even more than I was looking forward to coming out here, I am now looking forward to going back there, and that will be the end of the story. And so, in the words of the great English philosopher and Prince of Darkness, John Michael Osbourne..."Mama, I'm coming Home"
Aloha Ya'll! Ben
Hey everybody! (Hi Mr Ben!) For the third week of my adventure, I am going to tell you all about the interesting people I have been meeting. Hawaii is a global tourist destination and people come here from every corner of the Earth, even as far away as Franklin County (represent!). There are two basic types, passengers and employees. Let's start with the passengers. The Australians. The Aussies like imbibing spirits and singing songs; generally,but not exclusively, country songs. They are like the southerners of the southern hemisphere. Looking for a good time! Put Australians and Texans together, add booze, and top it off with one long haired country boy from Virginia with a guitar. The parts you can remember you'll never forget. There are many North Americans from the upper Midwest and Canada. When winter begins in October, by February they are ready to get as far away from it as possible. They love Bob Dylan and The Band, so needless to say we get along just fine. Then there are the Europeans, mostly English and German. A trip to Hawaii is expensive, I suspect they are some of the few who can afford it. I don't buy into stereotypes, but when I suggested to an elderly couple that they should shout out any requests they might have, the husband politely replied "We're English. We don't shout out anything". The Germans visit in large groups, sit right up front, and, through an interpreter, request classic rock songs. I am happy to oblige. I don't speak german. They don't speak english. We all speak the universal language of ROCK!
A large number of passengers are asians, both southern and eastern, but mainly Japanese. The only Japanese I know I learned from Mr Roboto, Mr Miyagi, and sushi restaurants. Not quite enough to even begin to understand what they are thinking. They are all very well mannered though, and that speaks volumes. One thing all of these peoples have in common is this. They all seem to love Johnny Cash. When I play my Cash tribute on Friday, it looks like the UN general assembly, only more packed. I mean standing room only. I had to start doing a second show so everyone who wanted to could come. They like it all too, even the deep cuts. Its the highlight of my week every week.
Then there is the Crew. Again, I don't buy into stereotypes, but these people are sailors. Not the adorable kind that love spinach but the drink like a, fight like a, love like a, curse like a kind. I suppose when you work 60 to 70 hours a week, triple shifts, and sleep 3 to a cabin you have to find some way to blow off steam. They are a colorful lot, and by that I mean tattooed (anchors are popular). The relatively few Americans mainly come from California (see The Beach Boys California Girls) and the west coast, the Midwest (join the navy see the world), and Florida. Saying you come from Florida can mean anything. One guy from there has an accent that is completely unidentifiable. He reminds me of Serg the art dealer from Beverly Hills Cop. Much of the crew comes from the South and Southeast asia, and South America and the Caribbean. Once again, I don't subscribe to stereotypes, but the South Americans seem to prefer speedos to swim trunks. Which brings me to one guy from Pennsylvania and one guy from Virginia. Mike Gordon joined the crew a over a month before me and I have benefited greatly from his knowledge. He is a salty sea dog and his sense of humor and similar perspective are invaluable. I am sure one day he will be captain of the vessel. Then there is me. I am generally worthless as a crew member until you put a guitar in my hand. The safety manager showed us a video about a sinking cruise ship that was abandoned by its officers and the guitarist led the rescue of the passengers. Let's all hope it doesn't come to that. Well, thats all for this week. Check out my photo album of my punishing hike through the Na pali coast. I hope you will find my suffering amusing. Till next time. Aloha Ya'll! Ben
Hey everbody! Just finished my second week in Hawaii and I actually can tell you a little about the islands I have visited. First, a correction from my last post. The ship in the picture was not my ship but the Pride of Aloha. Here is a link to actual ship.
The first thing about Hawaii is getting here. My trip involved a quick hop from Roanoke to DC, no problem. Then a dash to Denver, just long enough for a short nap. From there it's over the Rockies to the coast, passing over Monterey Bay and that's when the journey truly begins. The Pacific Ocean is vast and Hawaii is in the remote middle. We watched two movies on this flight and still had time to kill. After 5 to 6 hours of deep blue ocean and thin white clouds, out of nowhere comes this beautiful green and black island of pinapple fields and rugged volcanic mountains. My jaw dropped when I saw it. Maui looks like the island from the land that time forgot, with Haleakela crater rising over 10,000 ft up from sea level and who knows how far down to the floor of the ocean. It made quite an impression.
Next I visited the big island of Hawaii. When I left Virginia, it was cold and snowing. I know it has snowed since and that they are expecting snow again this week. Well it snowed on the big island last week! I could see it on the top of Mauna Kea, 13,796 ft up, from the Walmart parking lot. The locals love it but they don't have to shovel it. I have seen a lot of craziness from the stage over the years. Fights, public displays of affection, nudity, you name it. While performing during our visit to the big island, I saw red hot lava erupting into the sea, from the stage. The volcanoes here send out magma through tubes to the sea and not from the top. Hawaii, and therefore the US, is actually getting bigger everyday and has been since 1985. The Hawaiians regard the volcano as a deity, The Dread goddess Pele. She is firey and furious and if you remove anything from her mountain you will face her wrath! I am certain Pele has nothing on the Dread goddess Didi.
Then it was off to Kauai, the northwestern most of the large island in the chain. Kauai is a feast for the senses. The sushi is delicious, the sunshine is warm, the water is sapphire blue, and the beach is quiet with only the sound of the waves crashing and the wind in the palm trees, carrying the smell of exotic cooking and pakalolo. It is rural and rugged, and when we leave we tour the coast from sea. Think of the beginning of Jurrasic Park, it was filmed here.
The cruises begin and end in Oahu. I was off the ship for 5 minutes in Honolulu and I had a security guard yell at me, was surround by tall buildings and mad traffic, and heard the wail of sirens from emergency vehicles. It was love at first sight. Honolulu is a capital city, port city, military base, college and beach town all rolled into one. Waikiki beach and Diamond Head are every bit as impressive in person as any picture you have seen. But by far the most beautiful place here, and probably in the entire islands, is the Honolulu Hooters. I have been to many Hooters all over the country, and this is hands down the finest. Imagine having a near death experience, and you can see white light, and angels and the pearly gates of heaven, and you hear choirs and harps, and then "CLEAR" Bam! an EMT hits you with electric shock and brings you back to the real world and you are pissed. That's what a visit to that place is like. I can't even talk about it...
Any way, that's Hawaii so far. I still have 3 weeks and a lot more to do and see, but so far I have to say Hawaii is better than advertised, and in this day and age, that's saying a lot. Till next time, Aloha Ya'll! Ben
Well, it's the end of my first week in Hawaii and I am ready to tell you all about it. Unfortunately, since I arrived on Sunday, I have only set foot on land once, and then Just to walk about 100 yards to a music store to buy strings. The rest of my time has all been spent aboard the ship and since I know almost nothing about Hawaii yet, I will tell you about it. Called The Pride of America, it is massive. 80439 tons, 921 feet long, over 2000 guests and nearly 1000 crew. Since leaving Honolulu it has traveled to Maui, Hawaii (the big island, Kauai, and back to Oahu, a distance of 820 nautical miles. I have no idea what a nautical mile is. The whole thing is very Star Trek, with beings from all over the known universe, in uniforms, visiting places with unusual names. There are a couple differences. First, instead of a holodeck there are 14 restaurants, 9 bars and lounges, 3 pools, and a theatre and auditorium. Second, no Lt. Worf. I spend my days in safety meetings, and not the fun kind. At night I perform 4 or more hours and then I pass out thoroughly exhausted. I do this six days a week. Anyone wishing to work aboard a cruise ship must know two things. #1. Your name. I signed mine 18 times on one document. No exageration. #2. Today's date. Well, that's it for now. Next week I'll be learning how to fight fires and pilot the ship so stay tuned for that. Till then, Aloha ya'll!