After the Reign – A Tribute to Prince Rogers Nelson

Posted in Blog, Music with tags , , , , , , on Saturday, 22 April 2017, by Stan

Prince1999

I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray

Ruffled shirts. Big hair. Linn drums. Handclaps. Make-up. High-heeled boots. That is how I remember Prince. That is the image fashioned during the 80’s when Prince was generating hit after hit, when MTV had his videos in heavy rotation (when Music Television still played music).

Life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last

Like everyone, I was in disbelief when I heard. A colleague fired off an email with just two words: “Prince died!!!” At first I thought it was one of those hoaxes that fly around the Internet like the ones about Sinbad or Queen Elizabeth you hear about every so often. So I turned on the news to see if it was true. Horribly, it was. By then, HLN, VH1, MTV, Centric, and BET had all preempted their daily programming and ran wall-to-wall coverage of all things Prince; either news, interviews, or videos.

I was introduced to Prince and his music when “Soft and Wet” came out. That song was on his album, For You. Prince wrote, composed, produced, arranged, and played all of the instruments on all of the songs on the album. (The only exception was “Soft and Wet”, which was co-written by producer Chris Moon.) That firmly implanted his status as a serious musician in my mind. His legacy as a genius would grow from that point on, especially after appreciating how much Prince’s influences were integrated into his music and performances. From Little Richard and James Brown, to The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, and even Miles Davis, each of the artists who inspired him could easily be identified, though the music was unmistakably Prince’s. And Prince paid those influences forward. The list of artists for whom he wrote and/or collaborated with is equally as impressive as it is eclectic. The fame of each of those artists skyrocketed as a result of Prince’s contribution.

When “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” dropped, those songs cemented his standing as more than a one-hit wonder. Both recordings got massive airplay on the radio. The cover photos on For You, and Prince stirred persistent questions about his race, sexuality, and spirituality. Prince addressed each of those questions in his next album, Controversy… but artfully answered none of them.

In high school, our leadership class had an exchange with Garfield High (if I remember correctly). Members from the class at our school got to shadow members of the leadership class at Garfield. We were encouraged to participate in the classroom learning and activities.

During what was then called Nutrition, the quad was the gathering place. Popular music was playing over the loudspeaker. And then “Sexy Dancer” came on. Our leadership class just started dancing like we didn’t care. It seemed like the whole school came out to the quad to see what the commotion was about. We tried to get some of the students to join in. Most were hesitant but a few did. I will never forget that day. We made some friends and kept in touch for a while afterward. It was such a memorable event because we didn’t have music playing during our break periods and they didn’t do much dancing. The purpose of the exchange was to bring schools together to learn about each other. Boy, did it succeed that day! And anchoring that day was the music of Prince.

I’m not a party animal by any stretch of the imagination. I’d go to a handful of parties but ended up holding up the walls most of the time. So it was a huge deal for me when I was invited by a very good friend to go to a local party. It was one of those parties where someone would rent out a ballroom at a hotel and throw the party there. Usually food and drink were available. This one was very large and a couple hundred people showed up.

The DJ was spinning records – literally, ‘cause everything was on vinyl then – but no one was dancing. Song after song played with the same result…nothing. Then he played “1999”. I grabbed another friend who had come along and we headed for the dance floor. I didn’t care if no one else joined us, “1999” was playing and I was going to get my groove on. But they did join us. A steady stream of people crowded the floor. And they stayed out there dancing the entire night. For a wallflower to get a huge party started, that was a priceless memory.

Not long afterwards, “Purple Rain” hit the theaters. I remember seeing it in Westwood with my running buddy at that time. We would say lines from the movie to each other. It wasn’t so much the movie itself that holds a special place in my heart. I think it was “Purple Rain’s” soundtrack and it being associated with all the places she and I went.

When the Purple Rain tour came to town (I think it was at the Forum), I HAD to go. This was pre-Internet so if you wanted to get tickets to a show, you either had to go down to the venue itself or go to a ticket outlet like Ticketmaster. News that Prince was coming to L.A. spread fast. It was going to be one of the hottest shows in town. I remember the line that formed outside the May Company department store (remember them?) in my neighborhood. They had a Ticketmaster inside. The poor guard on duty to open the doors that day must have dreaded what was coming. At the appointed time, he opened the doors and you can probably imagine what happened. Ticketmaster was on the second floor. Fortunately no one got trampled. I was near the front of the herd line and got to the window in good time. I plunked down my money and came away with my prize of decent seats to a Prince concert.

As you would expect, there were quite a few Prince impersonators and impostors. At the old Beverly Theater in Beverly Hills, a guy once came in during one of the concerts dressed like Prince, with a girl on one side of him and a guy on the other. Ostensibly, they were dressed like Wendy Melvoin and Andre Cymone. His height and stature were similar to Prince’s. His mannerisms were just like Prince’s, even down to talking in basically a whisper to his ‘sidekicks’. So good were they at their charade that they even managed to talk themselves backstage. They fooled everyone at the venue…except one person. At that time, Prince’s bodyguard was Charles ‘Big Chick’ Huntsberry. Word got to the sound engineer that ‘Prince’ was in the building. He didn’t buy it.

“Is there a big, white dude with him?” he asked.

“No,” came the reply.

“Then that ain’t Prince.”

The charlatans were ‘asked’ to leave.

Not long after that incident, the real Prince did show up at a concert at the Beverly Theater. James Brown and B. B. King were on the bill. Michael Jackson was in the audience. During The Godfather’s set, he heard that Jackson was in the house and called him up on stage. While MJ was on stage, he whispered something to Brown and told him Prince was also on hand. Prince was then called up on stage. Actually, Jackson “insisted” that Brown call him up on stage. Think about this for a sec: B.B. King (who performed earlier and later came back to close the show with Brown), James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Four legends. Each and all of whom revolutionized music and the music world. Even while they were all performing I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime gathering; it would probably never happen again. That revelation proved true. None of them are with us anymore.

(There aren’t any good quality videos of the entire performance that night or of the segment with Prince. The clip below is probably the ‘best’ one showing Michael Jackson and Prince both being called on stage.)

(This one is the ‘full’ video of B.B. King and James Brown, but for some reason Prince’s cameo was removed.)

In 1989, Prince got the chance to do a soundtrack for a movie other than one of his own. He was asked by director Tim Burton to record a few songs for Batman. Prince came back with a full album. The accompanying video for “Batdance” featured Prince dressed as split personalities: Batman and Joker (Jokey?). I don’t recall ever seeing Jack Nicholson dance in a movie. He did in Batman – several times – to Prince’s music.

When he changed his name to “The Artist Formally Known as Prince” or simply, “The Artist”, or an unpronounceable symbol (which became known as The Love Symbol), I began to lose interest. At first I thought the name change was a publicity stunt. (Remember, this was before the Internet. It was much more difficult to get to the real story back then.) I soon found out the name was something ascribed to him by the media, and that Prince had stopped using his own name in protest of the way he was being treated by his then record company, Warner Brothers. When I finally heard the truth, I applauded Prince for sticking to his guns, for standing up for what he believed in. I also learned that Prince gave a LOT of money to charitable causes that he believed in.

It was also during this time that I got married, moved out of Los Angeles, and with it gained a long daily commute. This had the unintended consequence of removing me from most of the music scene. I continued to hear about Prince every so often but didn’t hear any of his music for many years.

Occasionally I would hear about Prince performing impromptu concerts. Sometimes he’d play two shows, then host an after-party/jam session lasting well into the wee hours of the morning. Reminded me of stories of the Jazz artists from way back in the day. I longed to see one of those shows. I longed to be there for one of those jam sessions. One of my regrets was sleeping on the chance to see Prince when he did his 30-day run in Los Angeles.

In the ensuing hours after Prince’s death was announced, SiriusXM Channel 50 The Groove turned into The Prince Tribute Channel, playing nothing but music performed and/or written by Prince. It ran 24/7 for about 3 weeks solid. I will be forever grateful to SiriusXM for doing that as it allowed me to reminisce, and, best of all, to hear a great amount of Prince’s music that I had never heard before. Madhouse is a perfect example. I was surprised to learn that Prince had some Jazz chops. On reflection, that should not have been a surprise at all given the talent he was blessed with.

Everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day. But before I let that happen, I’ll dance my life away

You have to remember, that line was written toward the end of the Cold War and we in the United States had a president whom many considered to be trigger-happy. I liked what Prince said here. None of us knows which day will be our last. Prince didn’t just sit there and wait for it to happen. He danced. He sang. He played. He supported. He gave. He loved. He changed the music industry almost single-handedly. Prince did Prince. And was unashamed to do so.

Prince was all about music. We have nearly 40 years’ worth of it to enjoy. Not many artists can produce music over four decades and still stay relevant. Prince did.

In this age of instant scandals proliferated over social media and the news, it is remarkable that Prince avoided all of that. You don’t see his name dragged through the mud because there is no dirt on him to dig up. Quite a testament to how he lived his life. How many people can say that after being in the public eye for more than thirty years?

Rest in peace, Prince. Thank you for the music you created and inspiration you provided while you were with us.

If I Wrote John Heald’s Blog – Chapter 3, Part II

Posted in Blog, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on Saturday, 23 July 2016, by Stan

Glory_MahoganyBay

 

We went to the Punchliner comedy club (¡Hola, Pablo!) just about every night it was open. Mark Hawkins and Just June were our favorites. We enjoyed both of them so much that we saw several of their shows, both the PG and adult versions. For some of the comedians, I think a 30-minute set is too short. How about giving them 45-minutes?

My wife and I were blown away by the Playlist production “Motor City”. I always enjoy hearing songs from Motown’s heyday. The set was unbelievable and the way the cast interacted with the set was amazing. If I tried to describe it here, I’m not sure I could do it justice. If you are on a ship that features this show and you like Motown or even just great set design, you absolutely have to see this production.

And it didn’t stop there. As the “Motor City” finale drew to a close, the after party seamlessly began out in the Colors lobby with the band Resting Beach Face picking up where the show left off. Our ever-present CD Eric hosted and even got in on the action. Have you ever seen anyone use a passenger elevator as part of the show? Eric did. “Shout” will never be the same.

It took a few cruises but I finally got to sail on a ship that has a Guy’s Burger Joint. Over the course of the cruise I think I ate at Guy’s at least four times. The burgers were delicious! For me, it was the combination of the beef used and the grilled buns that made it so good. Plus you get to add your own condiments. Unfortunately, the realization set in mid-cruise that I could not continue to eat there every day. Consequently, because I spent so much time at Guys’, I didn’t get to try BlueIguana Cantina. Guess that will have to wait until next cruise. Anyone else want Carnival to extend BlueIguana’s hours?

Another thing discussed on Facebook quite a bit is live music. I had just finished relaxing on the lounge chairs on probably the hottest day of the cruise and was walking back to the room when I heard the Caribbean duo playing. A live band playing with a real, live, steel drum! YES! This is how I remember my earlier cruises with Carnival. Great music, deep blue sea, no land or other ships in sight, puffy white clouds, a packed Lido deck, people dancing, swimming, smiling, eating, and just having one huge party! Simply iconic. And now this image will join the others in my memory. Thanks, beards, (and John), for bringing back live Caribbean music!

As far as shore excursions go, we took an excursion in every port. On Grand Cayman we took a bike excursion on our own because Carnival did not offer any. Still waiting to hear back from the beards regarding my shameless plug modest request to test out any cycling excursions Carnival adds to their itineraries. Our excursion gave us the opportunity to get away from the resorts and see some parts of the island most visitors don’t get to see. And we had a delicious lunch, too! Sure would be nice if Grand Cayman used some of fees from all that money they hold to build a pier. Well, it looks like they’re going to do just that. But along with the new pier will come admitted “significant and irreversible environmental damage”.

Our next destination was Mahogany Bay, Roatan. I can see why Mahogany Bay is a favorite port with cruisers. Here again we booked a tour with a different company. One of John’s policies here on the blog is honesty. In that spirit, here is my honest assessment. After reading the reviews of what activities/stops one of the excursions actually made, I’m glad we opted for the non-Carnival tour on Roatan. Why? The Carnival tour we considered is called Top 10 Best of Roatan. Time in port is only 8 hours but you have to allow time to get off the ship and to get back on board an hour before sail time. So figure 6, maybe 7 hours on the island. And in that 6-7 hours, we are scheduled to see 10 of the best things Roatan has to offer, and that is including time to relax on the beach. In my opinion, that’s not enough time to enjoy each of the scheduled activities.

In Belize, we took the Jaguar Cave Zipline and Tubing Combo excursion with Carnival. Skies were very dark grey and rain did fall while on the tender. Our tour ran into problems just 5 minutes out of port when the bus broke down. Since this was a Carnival excursion, the company Carnival contracted with was able to dispatch another bus fairly quick and we were able to continue on. By this time it was pouring rain on the way to the site but at least we were safe inside the bus.

We enjoyed the zip lining and the tubing. Our group seemed to get along quite well on the tour. Some even conquered their fear of heights…and zip lines. As we saw each other on the ship later in the cruise, we would stop and talk. Surprise of the tour? Cashew wine. I’ll let you ‘digest’ that for a minute. We were given a sample during lunch and promptly bought a bottle.

At the last port on the itinerary, Cozumel, we booked the Amazing Secret River tour. We almost took a different Carnival tour but I’m glad we chose this one. This excursion is aptly named. It was simply amazing! Apparently while we were exploring the underground river, we missed a heavy rain shower. But another cell dumped on us later, this time while on the ferry from the mainland back to Cozumel, and continued while waiting in line to re-board the ship. We had a little over an hour between the end of the excursion and the last ferry back to Cozumel. We spent the time walking around Quinita Avenida in Playa del Carmen. Too much to see and not enough time to see it all. I would like to come back and visit more of Cozumel and Playa del Carmen.

Writing John’s blog is fun. In 2012, my five-year horizon did not include any cruises. Then our PVP contacted us. That led to booking a Baltic cruise in 2013 on Carnival Legend and my first attempt at writing the blog. Since then, we have taken four more cruises. Coincidence?

I just got a message that because of my work on John’s blog, I am being given a personal escort by Security, per John’s specific orders, to the front of the line for debarkation, with a special gangplank reserved just for me. They want me to be ready in 15 minutes. Wow! John really does take care of his guests! Wait a minute. Today is a sea day…

 

If I Wrote John Heald’s Blog – Chapter 3, Part I

Posted in Blog, Travel with tags , , , , , , on Saturday, 23 July 2016, by Stan

Glory_MahoganyBay

Hello, my name is Stan. I am sitting here, fully clothed, writing John Heald’s blog today from our inside cabin aboard Carnival Glory. John is back in ex-EU England and will be joining the Carnival Splendor again in late July. I’ve sailed aboard Carnival Splendor twice with fond memories of both cruises. Thanks to Carnival Splendor, we found a new getaway destination: Cabo San Lucas.

How did I get to write John’s blog, you ask? Well, I figured Jacinta might want to help me now that she has settled into her new job. Anything to make life easier for her boss, right? Jacinta started on Carnival Glory as a bar waitress and her life changed on this ship. Glory is her favorite ship, so I asked one of the bar staff there to call her.

My intent was to turn on the charm. I started by greeting her in her native Romanian language. “Bună,” I said. Over the phone, I could tell that she was smiling. She returned the greeting but was not much impressed. She’s much smarter than to be taken in by flattery. I then texted her a photo of yak patties and ground yak to show to John. She chuckled but still wouldn’t crack.

Next I offered to buy John’s hemorrhoid cream. That stopped her in her tracks. Something in her voice let me know I now had her full attention but would need to do better. I sweetened the pot: “Ok, a one month’s supply.”

“You are getting warmer,” she replied, “but it will take a bit more than that.”

“Oh, alright. A year’s supply, then.”

“Done!”

She quickly gave me short but explicit instructions on how to post the blog, then, um, ‘suggested’ that the preceding conversation never took place. Mulţumesc, Jacinta!

In my first attempt at writing John’s blog I forgot to give a huge shout-out to our servers in the MDR on Carnival Liberty. This was back in 2013. Our head waiter’s name was Ben, from Grenada, I think. We had another team member from the Philippines, and one from Croatia. I have since forgotten their names. But we had so much fun with them. They worked together well and took very good care of us. One night, some of the waiters dressed in costumes for a dance. I was wearing a polo shirt from Jamaica. Our Croatian waiter came out with a dreadlocks hat on. Needless to say, that sparked a lively conversation between us. Since that night, whenever I tell friends about that cruise, I mention my Croatian brother from another mother. I also tell them that talking with him is the main reason why I now want to visit Croatia.

Speaking of visiting (and this has nothing to do with cruising but since I am writing John’s blog, I’ll bring it up anyway), I wonder if John has any connection to the town of Healdsburg in Northern California. Was the town founded by his early relatives? Has he ever been to Healdsburg? Does he know that Healdsburg produces several award-winning wines?

I miss John’s Q&A that used to appear here in about this part of the blog. Since we have no Q&A this time, let’s get right to our cruise.

Carnival Glory is on a Western Caribbean itinerary, sailing from Miami, Florida. Embarkation in Miami was our first experience with the assigned check-in. My understanding was that the check-in time was the time you would be allowed to check in AND board. I, and most of the other guests in line learned that the assigned time was for check-in only. Actual boarding would take place later by assigned groups and was a separate process. I wish I had known that. Well, now I know. I guess the intent was to smooth out the flow so there was not a small group of people checking in at noon, followed by an ever-growing crush of guests arriving last minute at the 3:00 pm cut-off time. Not sure how much more Carnival can do to get 3,000 people checked in and boarded in a rather short amount of time. There are already crewmembers roaming the line making sure guests queue up when and where they are supposed to.

When we did get on board, our first stop was our cabin, oops, stateroom. We hung out in our room until time for the safety briefing. Following the briefing, we made a beeline for Pizza Pirate. Seems like a lot of other guests had the same idea but since we were among the first in line, it didn’t matter how long the line was behind us. Eating our pizza on Lido deck as we sailed out of the Port of Miami was a treat. Why? Because that gave us the opportunity to watch a behemoth like Carnival Glory perform a pirouette in a relatively small space in the port as she moved away from the dock and navigated along the canal and out into the open ocean.

Having pizza also allowed us to pass the time while waiting for our luggage to be delivered to our room. But when we eventually did go back down to the room, our luggage still hadn’t arrived. That’s when we met Michael, our stateroom steward. We let him know the situation and that we had reservations for the Emerald Room Steakhouse in a few minutes. Michael sprang into action. Five minutes later he arrived back at our door, breathless, but with our luggage in tow. I told Michael’s supervisor how he went above and beyond what was expected but also want to thank him here. Salamat, Michael!

Glory is a very long ship. I know this because our cab, stateroom is the very first one on our deck, right up by the bow. The Platinum dining room, where we are seated for dinner, is aft. Way aft. There were a couple of times where I stood outside our stateroom door and looked down the corridor. It seemed to go on forever. You think Glory looks big from the outside?

Some of the many benefits of reading John’s blog and his Facebook page are the helpful tips from readers. A couple of months ago, someone shared on Facebook how they solved the perpetual luggage tag problem. We took their advice and ordered a set of these tags. They worked perfectly! Would these be useful to you? Even the porter commented that our luggage was nicely labeled. And I’m sure those tags made it a little easier for Michael to find our bags.

Elevator crowding happened most often on embarkation day. People did rush onto the elevator regardless of whether it was headed up or down. My guess is that with several of the elevators being used by the crew to deliver our luggage, everyone was anxious to get their cruise on, get to their cabin, or to Lido to eat, and had to do so using the few remaining elevators. Elevator crowding didn’t seem to be a problem the rest of the cruise.

On the last few cruises, I’ve been paying more attention to the artwork on the ship. I noticed that the pictures in the stateroom coordinated with the artwork in the stairwells. The nautical theme in the dining areas on Lido deck also stood out. Miniature sails and riggings remind you that you are indeed on a ship, even when you could not see the ocean.

Since this is John’s blog, you know this subject had to come up. Me, personally, I enjoy dressing up for the steakhouse and Elegant Night. But another reason why more and more people are no longer dressing up has occurred to me: suits and dresses take up a lot of space in luggage. And with the weight restrictions and fees imposed by airlines on checked luggage, people are choosing to pack as light as possible to avoid those fees. Extra articles of clothing are among the first items to be left behind at home. So while I’d prefer to wear a suit, this time a nice shirt and tie will have to do. Tuxedos? It’s been more than a decade since I wore one on board, mainly because I see so few other men wearing them.

Slider In the Emerald Room Steakhouse we were very well taken care of by Artem, Goran, Anna Maria, Julia, and Myroslava, all from Russia and Belarus. This time we took John’s advice and spoke with the chef before dinner to see if we could come up with a vegetarian meal for my wife. Chef Rajendra came through with flying colors. He made an exceptionally delicious dish of grilled vegetables. It was so good that I could’ve skipped the steak myself and eaten just the vegetables he prepared. Also, compliments of the chef, was a microscopic slider. Tiny, but very tasty. For my meal I had the tuna tartare, Caesar salad, and spiced rubbed 18 oz. rib-eye. All were excellent, especially the rib-eye! I did notice that in the steakhouse, not one man was wearing a tie.

Surprisingly, I got up and out on the jogging track twice during the cruise. I really needed to run after that fantastic meal in the Emerald Room Steakhouse. It was nice to see arrows painted on the track so joggers/walkers knew in which direction to run. Another nice thing was not having people stop in the middle of the track.

In the Main Dining Room, we were seated at a table for four. We only saw our tablemates once. And then only once after that somewhere else the ship. In effect, we had a table for two for the five nights we dined there. Which was just fine for us. One thing I want to know, though, is what happened to the bitter and blanc? It was not on the menu. Is it only served on certain ships?

Our wait staff was friendly and individually served us well. But for some reason, they didn’t seem to work together as a team. On previous cruises, there was much more interaction between our servers. That aside, our waiters do deserve a big thank you and a special mention to their supervisors. We were celebrating a special occasion one night. Apparently, unbeknownst to us, a special dessert had been prepared but we left a few minutes after the table was cleared and before they brought it out. They plated it and had it sent to our cabin, er, stateroom later in the evening. What a surprise to return to our room and find it waiting for us.

At the buffets on Lido deck, I saw again just how many people leave a LOT of food on their plates. I saw one plate – left out in the corridor outside of someone’s cabin – that had about 7 slices of different desserts from Lido – all untouched. I think a lot of it stems from people believing that it’s ok to leave food uneaten because they have already paid for it. My thought on that is their cruise would cost a lot less if so much food didn’t go to waste. Another reason might just be that their eyes are bigger than their stomachs.

Something John mentioned on Facebook not long ago was how he likes to walk down Promenade on Elegant Night and watch the guests having their pictures taken in the portrait studios. I didn’t think too much of it until I intentionally paid attention to it on the last Elegant Night. I have to admit; it was fun seeing everyone all dressed up. And everyone that we saw looked like they were truly enjoying themselves, smiling, posing away, creating one more memory of their cruise.

 

If I Wrote John Heald’s Blog…Again

Posted in Blog, Travel with tags , , , on Monday, 2 November 2015, by Stan
Heald2_Insp

Carnival Imagination at Ensenada, Baja California Norte

Hello, my name is Stan. I’ll be writing John’s blog today, fully clothed, this time from the Carnival Imagination.

Last time I wrote John’s blog, things did not quite go as planned. I’ll have a greater challenge writing the blog this time. That is because John is way over in the Caribbean aboard Carnival Dream right now, somewhere between St. Kitts and St. Maarten. I’m here in the Pacific in Ensenada, Mexico. So I can’t bribe, er, talk to Ketut. Jacinta is still learning her new assignment so I don’t want to involve her…yet. I know…I’ll ask Mrs. Heald!

Now, Heidi is even farther away than John is so how can I pull this off? And since we have never met, I would have to tread lightly to enlist her as a co-conspirator, I mean, ask for her assistance. My olive branch to Heidi was a gift, a prototype of something called the No Bloke Remote*. Five minutes after I got the delivery confirmation that Heidi received the gift, I received an e-mail from her containing everything I needed to know to post John’s blog.

What is a No Bloke Remote*, you ask? Let me explain by offering the following scenario: John is sent to the Fincantieri shipyards in Trieste, Italy, to give us an update on how our new Carnival Vista is coming along. During the week, he gets to go home and spend some time with Heidi and Kye. When he arrives home, he hugs Heidi and Kye, reads Kye a bedtime story, takes Breeze for a walk, does battle with the dishwasher, and plops down in his favorite chair to finally relax and watch a spot of television. Heidi, with a sly smile, hands him the No Bloke Remote*. It looks just like an ordinary television remote control, except it has a special feature. Heidi enters a short code into the remote, a code that husbands will never remember, like an anniversary, and the functions of the remote become scrambled. Entering a channel number increases the volume. Pressing the lower volume button turns the television off. There is no way to figure out what any button will do because the result is completely random. Thoroughly frustrated, John gives up, utters his trademark “Oh, ___” (you know the rest), and hands the remote back to Heidi. Heidi then enters the code again, and, of course, the remote works perfectly.

On that note, let’s get to the Q & A, shall we?

Oh, I guess we can’t do the Q&A. I am not at John’s computer. Moving on…

I hadn’t planned on cruising for at least another couple of years. But then we got a call from Carnival with an offer for past guests that I just couldn’t pass up. A short weekend getaway would be just what the doctor ordered. So here we are with Carnival Cruise Line once again. Our previous Carnival cruise became a reality in much the same way; a call from our PVP (thanks, Valerie!) – actually it was a postcard – promoting the Baltic cruises at a great rate. That Baltic cruise was the trip of a lifetime. I will never forget it.

This cruise has a few significant milestones attached to it: Carnival Imagination will follow the very same itinerary as the very first cruise I took 31 years ago. 20 years ago around this time we took our first cruise with Carnival aboard the Festivale. I will be celebrating a very special anniversary with my wife on this sailing.

Our CD on Carnival Imagination is Goose. Goose, as it turns out, has been the CD for almost half of my Carnival cruises.

Our onboard plans are that we have no plans. The only things I have on my onboard agenda are food-related: try the Mocha Chocolate Getaway (John, why did you have to post that photo on your blog?), and have Eggs Benedict in the Main Dining Room for breakfast Saturday morning. Usually we have breakfast on Lido deck, even on sea days. I can’t remember the last time we both had breakfast in the Main Dining Room. Since Saturday is a sea day and we both need to relax, I think we’ll head for the Main Dining Room and let Carnival continue to spoil us.

Figuring out what to do while in port posed a bit of an issue. I have been to Ensenada a few times before now and wanted to do something different while here this time. I wonder, dear reader of John Heald’s blog, what do you do when you are at a port you have visited many times? Do you visit the same restaurant or bar or beach each time? Do you take the same excursion? Or do you try something new?

We ended up planning a fish taco tasting tour. Legend has it that the fish taco was born right here in Ensenada. What better place, then, to do such a tour?

Starting off the tour was a visit to La Bufadora via the La Bufadora Adventure shore excursion. I first was introduced to the market at La Bufadora in 2009. Back then, a storm brewing in the Pacific forced an itinerary change on our Mexican Riviera cruise and we ended up in Ensenada instead of Puerto Vallarta. It was on the Bufadora Kayak shore excursion that our guide stopped at the open air market on the way back to the ship and told us to try the fish tacos next to the parking area. So we wanted to try the tacos again and put them to the test. The place is called Lidia’s.

Vendors were offering samples of churros hot off the fryer as we walked down the market. Of the half dozen or so samples we tried along the way, we found the best churros at the last vendor on the right, at the bottom of Restaurant Blanquita, right before you reach the blow hole itself. They were even better than the ones we tried in 2009, which until today we thought were the best we had ever had.

At the end of the tour, we elected to be dropped off downtown where we went in search of a place called La Guerrerense. La Guerrerense popped up on an Internet search for fish tacos in Ensenada. It is near the dock so I decided to include it as part of the tour. When we found it, we were disappointed to learn that they only make tostadas and ceviche. No fish tacos. So off we went a couple of blocks up and decided to try a restaurant called Mariscos Playa Azul.

Our final stop on our fish taco tasting tour was a small stand simply called Fish Tacos Ensenada, or Tacos de Pescado de Ensenada. Fish Tacos Ensenada was listed by the Street Gourmet LA blog as the number one fish taco in Ensenada. We’ll soon see if we agree with that claim.

How did each taste? Which place makes the best fish tacos? You’ll have to wait until I can write the review.

From Fish Tacos Ensenada, it was a casual stroll past the shops and stores back to the ship. But we couldn’t leave Ensenada without a stop at Hussong’s for nostalgia…and a taste of their margaritas. Supposedly the margarita was invented at Hussong’s. I wanted to go straight to the source and try the original.

Each of my cruises to Ensenada has provided fond memories. The very first one may not count: we had to anchor off the coast because high winds damaged the only tug boat they had in port – this was before modern ship thrusters were invented – so we couldn’t get off the ship. I learned firsthand that even cruise ships aren’t immune to Mother Nature, thus don’t always make it to their intended destinations. On the second trip I visited Hussong’s and Papas & Beer. As a young twenty-something, I thought I had found the world’s greatest party. My fourth visit found me off the beaten tourist path at Haliotis, a restaurant highly recommended by locals. A friend that cruised with me then showed me the best place in Ensenada to buy leather goods. Also on that fourth visit, I got to spend a few minutes talking about my beloved Jamaica with one of the ship’s crewmembers during his break. I enjoyed seeing how his face lit up when we started talking about his homeland.

Onboard again, we attended comedy shows on 2 of the 3 nights, (we were too exhausted the first night,) and the Playlist Production show “Divas”. I have to admit that some of the dancing in that show may have been too much for a PG rating.

Now it’s time for some of those frequently discussed topics from John’s blog.

In the Main Dining Room for dinner, our staff treated us very well, always smiling and happy to interact with us. Some guests frequently complain on John’s blog and on his Facebook page about the waiters dancing. I must say I completely disagree. Guests really enjoy the dancing on all of the cruises I’ve been on, many times joining in with the waiters. And the waiters themselves looked happy. A few of them were really getting into it, which made the guests get into it. At the end of the performance, the entire dining room burst into applause.

And here’s another hot topic here on John’s blog. Yes, that would be the dress code in the MDR, especially on Elegant Night. On our Elegant Night, I saw several men in T-shirts, one in shorts, and a kid in flip-flops. That was just in our corner of the MDR. It didn’t affect my dining experience, but I wonder why people do not dress for the occasion. I know that some men do not even own collared shirts, dress shoes, slacks, or even a tie. Should they not be allowed in the MDR for elegant night? Others may just not want to dress up. One thing that does bother me, and has for the past several years, is when a guy goes out with his date/girlfriend/wife, the lady is always dressed up while the guy looks like a slob. I saw this a lot onboard this cruise. (Kudos, women, for looking nice when dining out). But that’s not just on the ships; it’s on land, too.

Cabin door slamming is indeed a problem. On the second night of the cruise, I was sleeping extremely well…until around 2:30 am. That’s when some of the younger party animals returned to their cabins. You could hear them from way down the corridor. And then the door slamming started. Maybe the CDs should consider making an announcement to remind people to be quiet when returning to their cabin. It may not completely eliminate the loud talking or slammed doors but it will reduce it.

Ship-specific pins. In three words: Bring them back! Or at least let guests order them online through the Carnival store. It would be nice to have them sent directly to the ship for guests to find in their cabins on embarkation day, but if that is not feasible, mailing them would be good, too. Besides, I need to add to my collection.

Another topic that has come up a couple of times on John’s blog is the jogging track. Since I am writing the blog today, I thought I would add my thoughts. On every Carnival cruise I have been on, I have seen people walking around the track in the wrong direction against the flow of traffic, people stopping on the track itself stretching, taking selfies, talking, which causes a backup (and inflamed tempers), and people walking two or three abreast, making it difficult for joggers to get around them. I had to dodge a few myself. I would suggest that there be certain hours that the track can be used: 6:00am to 8:00am for joggers only. After that, open it to walkers and joggers. Post a couple of signs indicating the flow of traffic around the track. There’s currently only one sign up there now. I would suggest at least 4 big red arrows on the wall surrounding the radar dome: forward, aft, port, and starboard. Also post signs that there is absolutely no stopping on the track between the hours of 6:00am and 6:00pm. After 6:00pm, stop, talk, roll around, photograph the sunset, whatever you want to do.

Have any of you had experience with the wake-up call system? We arrived (quietly) back in our cabin after midnight on the final night of the cruise. We wanted to set up a wake-up call for 6:00am to be ready in time for debarkation. The automated system confirmed a wake-up call for “tomorrow at 6:00 am”. I wanted the call for this morning, not tomorrow morning. Wonder if the next guest in that cabin was awakened by that phone call. I suggest clearing the system at debarkation. And maybe switching to a new system that will allow you to set a same-day wake-up call.

Last, but not least, pizza. To be honest, I didn’t expect much. How good could pizza made on a ship be? But when we tried it, we found we actually liked it! We ended up stopping by the pizza station each day of the cruise. And we weren’t the only ones. Every time we went there, there was a line.

I could get used to writing John’s blog. If I could just convince the beards to sign me to a two-year contract – one ship a month for each of Carnival’s 24 ships. Hmmm. Works out nicely, don’t you think?

I need to send a huge Thank You to Heidi for her assistance with this blog. May the No Bloke Remote* forever be in her control. And a massive Thank You to Carnival Imagination for making breakfast available before we disembark.  Wow, an entire blog with no mention of underpants…or yaks. I’m off now to find out the meaning of the text message I just received that says my Sail and Sign card

* = There is no such gadget as the No Bloke Remote. I just made it up for the blog.

Good Night, Lucille (A Tribute to B.B. King)

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , on Sunday, 17 May 2015, by Stan

What can be said when the man who has arguably defined and popularized an entire musical genre for eight decades passes on? How will Blues past be remembered now that its King has gone on to join those that have gone before him – names like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Lightnin’ Hopkins? What will the future hold for the Blues? Yes, I know Blues is in good hands, especially when you see and hear groups like The Homemade Jamz Blues Band. But it feels as though Blues has lost its leader.

Riley B. King left us on Thursday night. I heard it on the news the next morning. Although I knew he had to cancel some shows last year due to health issues, I figured he and Lucille would be back on the stage after a couple of months.

During his life, countless awards and honors have deservedly been bestowed upon King. B.B. was also a spokesman in the fight against diabetes, which he had been battling for the last two decades or so. But that didn’t stop him from performing. In fact, his love of performing is what kept him going for so long. He was still giving concerts right up until last year.

King was able to incorporate Rock and Roll, Jazz, traditional Blues, Swing, and Pop into his unique style. While doing so, he influenced innumerable artists from across the musical landscape. Artists from the world of Jazz, Country, R&B, Rock and Roll, Blues, Rock, Pop, and more have all drawn on King’s stylings and recordings for their own projects.

Over the course of a career that has spanned nearly 75 years, King has recorded almost 60 albums. It was a song he cut with The Crusaders called “Better Not Look Down” that lead to a long resurgence in his career. After hearing it, I gained even more respect for this man whose music was now spanning several generations.

I’ve heard B.B.’s recording of  “Lucille” several times on SirusXM radio channel 70. Fittingly, the station is called BB King’s Bluesville. This song is a perfect example of why Blues is one of the best mediums for storytelling. Just listen to the lyrics. Bet it answers a lot of questions you’ve had about B.B.’s life. Then play it again. This time listen to Lucille embellish the story. Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

I would guess that Lucille will either go on to a museum or be buried with King. It just would not seem right for anyone else to play that guitar.

Lucille

 

My first introduction to the music of B.B. King was via a song he released in 1962 called “Mashing the Popeye”. My parents had – and still have – a recording of this on a 45rpm. Remember those? My parents played this song quite often in our house. Not only did this song stay in my mind since I first heard it as a toddler, something about it stuck in my subconscious as well: the sound of a baritone saxophone. At that young age I had no idea what a baritone sax was. It wasn’t until junior high school that I actually got to play the instrument that made those sounds I was hearing on that record.

 

Mashing the Popeye

 

While looking up the links for “Lucille” and “Mashing the Popeye”, this next clip unexpectedly popped up on the YouTube player. It is concert footage I was surprised and extremely pleased to find. Why? Because I was at the Beverly Theatre during that concert. That was the night I got to meet Mr. King in person. As if meeting Mr. King in person was not enough, several other celebrities were in the audience and a few were called up on stage. (You’ll have to see the clip; no spoilers here).

 

James Brown and B.B. King – One Special Night – Legends in Concert

 

After 89 years, Riley King’s life has reached the coda. Rest in peace, Mr. King. And thank you for your musical and personal legacy. Thank you for the countless people whose lives you have made an impression upon.

Ode to the Motorola V710

Posted in Blog with tags , , on Tuesday, 5 May 2015, by Stan

Motorola V710

My flip phone, the venerable Motorola V710, finally took its last breath this weekend. It faithfully rode shotgun with me for 10 years. Obviously, as demonstrated by that fact that I am penning an elegy to a phone, I really liked my Motorola V710 and am going to miss it a lot. (Cue “Taps”).

When it came out late in 2004, it was top of the line. The flip action was as functional as it was cool to operate. (Think Star Trek). It was Verizon’s first Bluetooth phone. It had a large 2.2-inch display screen. And it had a ton of other features.

At the time I purchased the phone, the representative suggested I get the extended life battery if I was going to pair the phone to a Bluetooth headset, which I was. That extended life battery was good enough to provide me a week’s worth of power even with me making/receiving calls and sending/receiving texts throughout the day. I usually I shut the phone down at night to conserve power.

It was one of the first CDMA-capable phones to use Bluetooth technology. It had voice recognition, a feature that I eagerly (and frequently) showed off to my coworkers when I first got the phone. When it first came out, it boasted a 1.2 megapixel camera, placing at the forefront for phones with cameras. An expansion slot for a memory card made it possible to store extra photos and…custom ringtones!

Sound quality was superb, with clarity approaching that of a land line. When I first got the phone, many people could not tell I was talking to them from a cell phone. This was back when almost all cell phones had that tell-tale digitized distortion that prompted the person on the other end to ask, “Are you on a cell phone?” Not with this baby! And it dropped calls far less often than other phones.

My V710 featured an analog band in addition to GSM and CDMA bands, a combo commonly called tri-band. This allowed my V710 to work in places where the digital phones could not. Like remote areas. Like areas where if you were stranded, you’d be thankful your phone got a signal. With this phone I was able to place and receive calls and/or texts in places like highway 285 leading to Roswell, New Mexico, areas of Central California, and lesser-known locations in Nevada. I was able to use it in Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico City, and Ensenada, Mexico,  Rostock, Germany, and all over Jamaica – all without a SIM card or an international calling plan. Speaking of Jamaica, when our flight got cancelled one year and our group had to stay overnight in Montego Bay, it was my V710 the group used to notify people stateside of our status. No one else’s phone worked.

There were many opportunities to replace it, but little things that other newer phones couldn’t do kept convincing me to keep my V710 in service. Then, of course, there was the cost of replacing it. Even the grief I was starting to get more frequently from friends and family alike couldn’t persuade me to part with my trusty phone.

Honestly, I had known this day was coming for a few years now. My first inkling was when it came time to replace the battery again and the Verizon store no longer stocked them. Then, when the belt clip finally broke after several years of daily use, I had to get a new case from Amazon. By then they were being sold at giveaway prices. Signs of the impending end started becoming more frequent: Verizon discontinued their Pix Place so I no longer had a way to easily store my photos and download them to my computer. The last two extended life batteries I ordered were already a couple of years old by the time I got them. That let me know the battery was no longer being manufactured, and eventually I wouldn’t be able to get one. Not too long ago, Verizon dropped my V710 and other non-smart phones from eligibility for an upgrade allowance.

Over the last six or so months, it became harder and harder to charge the phone. The contacts on the phone had worn down so much that making a solid connection with the charger became increasingly difficult. Last Friday night, I could no longer get the phone to charge at all. “That’s it, then,” I thought, as reality sunk in. Now I’m forced to get a new phone.

Once the battery indicator started beeping, I realized I needed to get the photos I wanted to keep off the phone and stored somewhere else. My V710 sent about four photos with lots of sentimental value before it gave up the ghost. Unfortunately, gone is a video of my first grandson’s first steps. Gone are some beautiful photos from my commute. Gone are a couple of pictures of close family friends. Gone are photos of strange but true incidents. Its last act of service was texting a photo of my son to another phone so I could store it later on a hard drive somewhere. It died seconds after completing that transmission.

Joe Sample – Gone Back Home

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , on Saturday, 4 October 2014, by Stan

It was when he played with The Jazz Crusaders that I first heard of Joe Sample. My cousin, who is way ahead of his time in his musical appreciation, often talked about The Crusaders (they had dropped the “Jazz” from their name by then). I have many memories of my father playing their music. Hearing them on what was then radio station KBCA (I’m dating myself with that reference) was always a pleasure.

The mid-80’s were a magical period in my life. It was during that time that I got to meet Joe and a couple of members of his family – actually I met his family members before I met Joe. I would later see him play several times live in concert, one of my favorites being at the Playboy Jazz Festival (the 1995 edition, I think) when he brought his trio featuring Doc Powell on percussion. It was amazing how much music came from that small group. Just another testament to how Joe can interpret and reinterpret his own music. In the ‘aughts’ I met a couple of musicians who had performed with Joe and got to hear some stories about what it was like performing with him.

Sample’s music was more than just good music to me. Quite a few of his compositions still evoke emotions, visualizations, and contemplations, and, of course, indelible memories associated with each song.

Over Sample’s lifetime, he recorded nearly two dozen solo albums, recorded 40-plus albums with The Jazz Crusaders/The Crusaders, and compiled almost 2,000 other composing, arranging and/or performance credits. The list of artists he has performed with is as varied as it is lengthy.

Since your browser would choke if I tried to post clips of each of Joe’s songs that I would like to post, here a just a few of my favorites:

With The Crusaders – “So Far Away

 

With The Crusaders– “Mellow Out” (from the Chain Reaction album/Mother, Jugs, and Speed soundtrack)

 

Carmel

 

Burnin’ Up the Carnival” featuring Pauline Wilson and Flora Purim

 

All God’s Children

 

The world has lost another great musician. Rest in peace, Mr. Sample. And thank you for the legacy you have left behind.