Thursday, March 22, 2012
i felt annoyed—an irrational annoyance with people i had never even met before and a legitimate annoyance with myself for feeling this way—as i impatiently finished brushing my hair, picked out a pair of earrings, and speedily applied a dab of lipstick. what would they be like? would we get along? who were the other six people assigned to table 405?
our travel consultant, who gave us all kinds of great tips (including dinner arrangements) about taking a cruise, and offered ideas about the best ship and itinerary for us—she suggested a stateroom upgrade, and even told us the exact stateroom number we should pick—was beyond helpful. if i had gone online myself and started poking around i would have been lost—too many choices for someone who has never been on a cruise before and who was a bit anxious about the whole thing in the first place.
after months of waiting we were finally about to experience our first dinner onboard. we walked down the the long staircase to deck 4 and as we crossed the large formal dining room toward our table, i saw a man and a woman just settling in at a table for eight directly in front of a dramatic two-story wall of windows with a view over the ship's stern, a table which would also turn out to be ours. they were alone; the six other chairs were not yet occupied.
these two smiled and laughed and chatted with the head waiter—all the wait staff were men dressed in crisp black suits with white shirts and black ties—as he pulled out the lady's chair and handed them their napkins. i thought to myself as we got to the table: they look nice—yeah, down-to-earth. they seem happy and comfortable and relaxed. you'll get along just fine with them. but then i quickly amended my first assumption when panic snuck in and i thought: you're crazy. you don't know these people. they're complete strangers. you can't tell anything by merely looking at them. they could be uncommunicative. or pretentious. or obnoxious. or, even worse, what if they haven't read a good (discussable) book or a thought-provoking book or ANY book at all in the last few months?
i was eventually able to let out a big sigh of relief—as it fortunately turned out my first assumption was the correct one, about this couple and our four other table companions.
their names were bob and linda.* linda was a university administrator and bob did something businessy—i can't remember what, though. they were in their early fifties and they were a pleasant couple who engaged easily in conversation. we seemed to have a lot in common. they had three kids and this summer they were going to be grandparents for the first time, just like us. they lived outside st. louis, missouri.
also at our table for eight was one other married couple, danilo and caliso, both medical doctors (she's a pediatrician), originally from the phillipines, who now lived in the suburbs north of detroit, michigan. they were in their early sixties, had three kids and two grandchildren, all born in the states. cali looked to be about forty-five—just like me. (no joke. people say that. go ahead and ask them, plus it's fun to do some number flipping, right ams?) cali was petit and fine-boned and very pretty. she was also rather funny and talked fast like i have a tendency to do when i get into a good discussion, when i'm enjoying myself. to me they were an extremely pleasant couple, interesting and fun to talk to.
the last two people at the table were marge and evina. they were friends from nova scotia whose husbands didn't want to go on the cruise. evina was an anesthesiologist and marge worked in the medical field and they each had one twenty-year-old daughter. evina was originally from scotland and spoke with a delightful scottish accent.
after completing these initial introductions, we launched into some good conversations which extended over the next few nights. we were not obligated to sit with one other at an assigned table, and we could easily have eaten dinner in any of the ship's other four restaurants, but, just like that, we agreed that we were fortunate in having been sorted into our present seating arrangement.
we were eight strangers tossed together on a ship in the middle of the ocean, trading stories and laughing and drinking wine as if we had known each other for years. we were eight strangers who, just like that, were friends for five days—a flash of days, quick as lightning—here and then suddenly gone, as if maybe they had never been real, as if they had never actually happened at all.
*i changed everyone's name for no reason other than just for fun—because i felt like it, because i can—not to protect identities or anything. the names are fiction, the rest is not.