My parents were friendly with the Smiths, who lived on Ridge Avenue with a perfect view of Mt. Ascutney across the Connecticut River. My grandfather always said, “Jane Smith is tops in Claremont.” Mr. Smith’s name was Ernest, but no one ever referred to him by that name. He ran the local bottling plant and was known to all as “Coca Cola Smith.” I was friendly with their son, Bill, who was a year ahead of me at Stevens High School.
The Smith family decided to take a holiday cruise to the Caribbean, and they wanted someone to come along and keep their son company. They asked my parents if I could go, my mother said yes, and so I got lucky. My girlfriend wasn’t thrilled that I was leaving town for the Christmas holidays, but she wasn’t all that upset either, and we made plans to spend New Year’s Eve together. This was to be a seven-day cruise, and we would be back in town on December 31.
We embarked from New York Harbor on the Greek Line’s Olympia. The food on board was wonderful, we sat at the Captain’s Table one night, and they had great entertainers on board. We went ashore in Nassau and drank beer at “Dirty Dick’s.” In Havana, I smoked my first (and last) Cuban cigar. That was before Castro, so there was nothing unusual about Americans visiting what was then a pretty wide-open place. Bill and I wanted to go to the famous Tropicana nightclub, but his parents had some concerns about our impressionable young eyes, and the minimum charge was $5.00 per person, so we didn’t go.
I thought about that trip a few weeks ago when I read about the unhappy Carnival Splendor cruise. Thirty-five hundred passengers, and over a thousand crew members, were stranded at sea, 200 miles south of San Diego. Three days without electricity, flushable toilets, and other conveniences – not even a chlorine pump for the on-board pools.
From what I could tell, the passengers were remarkably good-natured about the experience, although they hadn’t exactly signed up for pop tarts, pickle sandwiches, and warm yoghurt. Maybe some of the older ones remembered the Andrea Doria disaster half a century ago, and no doubt many of them had seen the movie Titanic. Still, the voyage was not as advertised. One eight-year old, apparently an experienced traveler, expressed his disappointment to lose room service. “I always get brownies,” he said. That’s pretty serious, but even worse, according to his mother – no cell phone service!
My teenage cruise also ran into a problem, although nothing comparable to the not-so-splendid Splendor debacle. As we were entering New York Harbor at the end of our trip, the fog rolled in, and the Captain announced that we would be unable to land. Our seven-day cruise turned into eight days – with no shortage of food or electricity. Back then no one worried about cell phones; they hadn’t been invented. I’m not sure if I could have given my girlfriend a call from the ship, probably not.
\We disembarked the next day and made our way back to Claremont. I got to my girlfriend’s house that January 1 evening, twenty-four hours late. She greeted me with those memorable words, “Where were you?”