Saturday, April 28, 2012

A post that started as a general recap of the cruise so far, but quickly devolved into a rant about bingo and poker.

Old people are annoying. They seem to think that it is perfectly okay to walk four abreast very slowly in a narrow hallway and just stop wherever they are to argue over whether to go right or left. In the buffet they'll clog a traffic lane to debate where to  sit. And because I'm polite and respectful to my elders, I try to avoid telling them to get the fuck out of my way. But, I am losing patience. Never in my life have I felt such an overwhelming urge to beat an old man with his own damn cane.

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I am beginning to feel hopeful concerning my Google problem. I spent a few minutes on high speed wifi and Blogger worked. Hopefully I can use it to put up a post with a bunch of photos. We'll see what happens when I have a bunch of time and ample wifi. Until then I'm stuck with text. I hope you can read.

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I met a girl. She is very cute, black with dark skin, braids highlighted with purple and a smile that can melt the hearts of men. I was smitten. I was sitting at the bar in the so–called disco, and she sat next to me and ordered a virgin drink. We got a talking and a couple hours later she let me know they sure neither drank our smoked. She's a church going girl and she stayed away from sin. I told her that I am an atheist.

She said, "But, you're so nice."

I didn't bother to explain her bigotry. I'm on vacation; I haven't the time or inclination to explain to bigots that atheists are people. I just bade her farewell and wandered off. We didn't end up in bed.

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At the moment, I am sitting in a lounge expecting a not good enough for a New York club but good enough for a cruise ship lounge band, but instead I'm sitting in the middle of a bingo game. Intriguing.

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I have gotten used to the rocking of the ship, but that's not very interesting. It's normal now.

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Every night we have a show. They are no where near Broadway quality, but not as bad as most off–off Broadway shows. They best comparison is with an off strip Vegas casino. Good, but not worth paying a lot of money for.

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I just asked one of the bingo girls how much the house takes from the prize pool, but she didn't know. She asked a co–worker, but she didn't know either. I'm curious to find out if the bingo players are getting fucked as much as the poker players are. They promised to find out.

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Speaking of gambling, I checked the video poker games. Forgive the numbers, but bear with me. A Jacks or Better machine in Vegas is generally 9/6, and machines in Atlantic City are usually 8/5. The first number is the payout per credit for a full house, and the second number is the payout per credit for a flush. If you are ever in a casino and what to check how greedy the house is, check the payouts for the full house and flush on a Jacks or Better machine. If you see 9/6, you've found a decent machine. If you see 8/5, you got an okay machine. If you see 10/7, sit down and play, cause that is one of the most generous situations a casino will ever give you.

The machines on this damn boat pay a paltry 6/5. That's just plain greedy.

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No word yet from the bingo girls.

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I am finding cruising slightly boring. We putt–putted across the Atlantic for a week and then started going for port calls. All port calls are daytime only with curfew around 5:30. That's no where near enough time to see a town. I'd rather spend at least few nights in a place before moving on. In the evening we have a show and play bingo.

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So far, Europe is interesting. They do not seem to have the fear of life that Americans have. So far I have visited four cities in two countries (posts with photos coming once I figure out my Google problem), and no one has yet to ask to see my passport. Security is very lax compared to New York standards, and Europe has traditionally know much more terrorism than America.

Today I sat in a cafe on the edge of a marina, and there was no railing along the water. Any drunken idiot could have fallen in and drowned. Any American marina would have had a chain link fence to protect the idiots from themselves.

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I have just discovered that an old lady who wins bingo becomes positively giddy. I hope that I have such excitement in my old age.

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Last night I met a bartender from Romania by the name of George (not his real name). He told me of his youth before communism fell. He had built his own radio receiver so he could listen to the BBC. He told no one out of fear of prison. He said he was twelve at time. I cannot image such a childhood. Now, he keeps one of the bar's TVs tuned to the BBC.

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Bingo has ended, and now we have the mediocre lounge band I was expecting. The singer needs to learn basic mic technique. Proper use of a microphone is a requirement for any professional singer.

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One of the bingo girls got back to me. She told me that she checked and that she was not allowed to tell me how much of the prize pool the house kept. I got pissed and went to Guest  Relations. After checking, they told me the same thing. I demanded to have a supervisor contact me.

It is simple. A gambler has the right to know how much of a percentage the house is taking. Failure to answer is inexcusable. I'll follow up until I have an answer. I have nothing else to do. This cruise is kind of boring. I need excitement.

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Well damn, it is an hour later, and I am angry. I am a paying customer (well, David is), and I'm not getting answers. After speaking to Guest Relations, I went down to the casino and told a floor person that I wanted to speak to a manager. He said that he was the manager and I told him about my problems with the video poker and poker table (I didn't bother with bingo because that is handled by a different department). After hemming and hawing for ten minutes, he found another manager for me to speak to.

She fetched a slot technician to explain video poker to me. She then claimed that the  slots were based on Nevada standards. I explained how the video poker is not up to Vegas standards, and asked how much the slot machines payed put. The technician said that he was not allowed to tell me.

So, the lady manager found another manager for me to complain to. He tried to claim that poker was a service offered to the players and that the boat had to charge so much to make up for their costs. I handily made mincemeat out of his claims. The table is a cheap price of equipment, and dealer costs are minimal.

He baldly told me that he could not give me a satisfactory answer and that no one could. I demanded that someone above him get back to me, and he said he would.

I then asked him if any governmental regulatory agency had any authority over the casino's games. After attempting to evade the question three times, he finally answered with a simple no. Royal Caribbean can do whatever they want in the casino with no regulation whatsoever. I knew that beforehand, but it was fun getting the third manager to finally admit to it.

In case you don't know much about Vegas, let me explain that it is filled with billion dollar resorts paid for by fair games. Fair games are profitable, and it  annoys me that Royal Caribbean is so greedy that they run such expensive games.

And as a side note, this situation is a great example of the fallacy of the free market. Those ultra–conservatives who believe that government regulation is bad, and that the free market will solve all problems are proven wrong. The free market is not self–regulatory. If it was, Royal Caribbean would have fair games in their casinos. But, they are not bound by any regulations, so they charge whatever they think they can get away with. And, then they have the audacity to evade customer questions.

So, I went back to Guest Relations and complained about the lack of answers and general runaround that the many casino managers gave me. I requested that somebody with the power to give me answers contact me. They asked for my room number and told me that someone would call.

I told him that two of us share the room, and that it would be nice if they asked my name.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Google sucks, but at least I have the BBC now.

Before this trip, I bought a tablet thingy. I knew that I would want to blog while wandering about Europe, but I didn't want to carry heavy laptop around. I wanted a portable device that I could use for blogging, Skype, Facebook, browsing, and I wanted the GPS capability of tablets. So, I bought a Toshiba Thrive, which I thought was the most versatile with full size HDMI and USB ports, as well as a SD card reader. But, it crashed whenever I tried to use Skype. So, I returned it and got a Samsung Galaxy Tab. It doesn't crash,  but the only port it has is Samsung's proprietary port, which I hate. Every device should have the basic universal ports so people can buy new cables anywhere.  But, whatever, at least it doesn't crash.

But, a problem. The browser can't handle the Blogger website. It just says "loading" and doesn't go beyond that. So, I installed the Blogger app, but it only has the most basic functions.  Most annoying, it only allows the uploading of one photo per post. And only at the top of the post. I want to be able to post as many goddamn photos as I want. I find this especially galling because my tablet runs on Android, an operating system owned by Google. Blogger is a blogging platform owned by Google. I would think that Google should be able to get Google products to work on Google operating systems. Seems like common fucking sense to me. But what do I know about computer shit? I'm just a slightly intoxicated bloke sitting in a cruise ship lounge listening to a mediocre lounge singer.

My point, besides whining about my first world problems? I have photos to post, and I can't post them. I've tried a couple other apps, but no luck so far. I'm hoping that once I find faster internet onshore, or a real computer, that I'll have better luck. You'll have to wait until then to see photos. Sorry. Blame Google.

But, on a happier note, I have better TV. I was sick the last few days with a bit of a sinus infection. So, I spent a couple of days in my stateroom, reading and watching TV. The TV is severely lacking. All of the news channels are Fox, which is more propaganda than news. And, both of the ESPN channels are the same one that plays nothing but soccer. Soccer isn't bad necessarily, but I don't care about Real Madrid. I care about the Red Sox. I want to know how the season has been going. I want to know if David Ortiz is slumping or killing. I want to know if Bobby Valentine has said something stupid yet.

But, things are looking up TV-wise. Yesterday we were in Tenerife, which is awfully damn close to Africa, but our tour guide claimed is part of Europe (full post, with photos, coming as soon as I figure out my Google problem). Since leaving, we have had better TV. We are now reduced to just one ESPN station that plays nothing but soccer, but we have the BBC World News. Woo hoo! Real news! Of course, now that I'm healthier, I'm not watching TV. I'm too busy getting slightly intoxicated and listening to mediocre lounge singers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A mistake was made.

And I shall take full advantage.

But first, I must note that Royal Caribbean is rather cheap in some areas.

Food is ridiculously plentiful. I can eat twenty-four hours a day at no extra cost. That is good, and not cheap of the cruise company . Drinks are reasonably priced, around Manhattan levels, and that is good. But, passengers (also known as paying customers) are forbidden to bring their own alcohol on board. We must buy the company's. One of my table-mates attempted to bring eight bottles of assorted booze on board, but it was all confiscated. Supposedly he'll get it back once he gets to Rome, but in the meantime he must buy Royal booze. Some folks, like myself, cannot afford to buy drinks nightly. Bringing a bottle or two or twelve along for the cruise would have been useful. As a side note, I've learned that they cannot catch box wine. Apparently they use X-ray to spot the bottles, so box wine slips through the machines . I wonder if one can smuggle plastic bottles on board. Something to consider.

They are also pretty cheap in the casino. I used to deal poker in Vegas, and I've played in Atlantic City. Poker is a little different from table games. In table games, it is player vs the house, and the house always has an edge. In poker, it is player vs player, and the house makes its money buy charging a rake, a fixed percentage of the pot. In Vegas, the typical rake for a small stakes game is 5% to a $2.50 max. So, with a $10 pot, we would take 50¢. A $40 pot would have a $2 rake. Because of the cap, a $150 pot would have a rake of only $2.50. Poker is more expensive in Atlantic City, with a 10% rake capped at $4.00. So, a $10 pot would cost $1, and a $40 pot would cost $4. And because of the cap, a $150 pot would cost $4. But this damned boat charges a 10% rake with a whopping $15 cap. So, with a $150 pot, the house takes a full $15. With an ass fucking like that, they should hand out free lube to the players.

Blackjack and roulette seem to be games with normal rules and normal percentages for the house, but I do not play those games. I wondered what kind of average payouts the slot machines have, but it is not posted. On asking a floor person, I was told 90%. That is around Atlantic City percentages, but less than Vegas which pays out around 95-97%. For some reason the poker players get fucked, but the other gamers do not. Doesn't strike me as fair.

With all that said, let me get to that mistake that was made, and how I shall take advantage.

When I first got on the boat, my keycard did not work. It would not open my door. Neal, our stateroom attendant tried it, and he told me that I needed to go to guest relations and have it replaced. So I did. For some reason, the guy behind the desk gave me a gold colored card instead of a silver one like I had originally. I didn't think much of it until one of the bartenders asked me if I appreciated the free drinks at the Concierge Club.

Free drinks? What's this, I ask.

He explained that because of my gold card, I am entitled to free drinks every evening because I am staying in a suite. I've since checked, and I have no such privileges. David and I are staying in a junior suite. Big difference there. He only has a silver card, and he paid for the damned room.

But, I checked out the club tonight, and sure enough, I got free drinks. I just showed the guy at the door my card, and he waved me through. With a smile even.

I've been trying to ration my drinking since I got on board. My money will only stretch so far (and thanks to all those who kindly donated to my Drug and Prostitution Fund.), but now I can drink free of charge nightly.

Stealing? Maybe. Do I feel guilty? Not at all. They shouldn't have tried to fuck me at the poker table.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The cruise

It's a senior cruise. It wasn't advertised as such, but the vast majority of the passengers are retirees. I've seem maybe a dozen kids so far. At 39, I am the youngest diner at my table of eight. The disco had at most ten people on the dancefloor at once. By 1:30, the club was empty save myself and the bartender. I feel somewhat out of place amongst so many old folk. And, my hopes for a ship board fling are dashed. I doubt I'll need the condoms I brought along.


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David has already booked a second cruise. A lady at our dinner table mentioned that she was taking the same boat on its next cruise, a tour of the eastern Mediterranean with stops at  Sicily, Turkey, Athens, Crete, and back to Rome. David was immediately intrigued. So, he thought about it overnight and booked today. I told David that I wouldn't be surprised if he decided to spend the rest of his life living on a cruise ship. He actually started considering it, figuring the math. He thinks that if he lived in an interior room, he could afford it. His biggest concern is that Amazon doesn't deliver. He likes Amazon.


Being only a seven day cruise, hopefully the average age will drop below fifty. Maybe I can have a fling then. I might need the condoms then. Well see.


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He booked a Junior Suite for this trip. It has a bathtub, a balcony, a small sitting area, and a walk-in closet. It's a small walk-in closet, but you can walk into the damn thing. We had a touch of worry when we arrived and saw that the room had a double bed. I like David, but I'd sleep in the walk-in closet before I shared a bed with him. But the beds are designed to separate into twin beds if required. Neal, the cabin attendant, took care of it for us. He also brought me an ashtray for the balcony. It's designed to not blow away. It weighs about five pounds. Sitting on the balcony with a cup of coffee and a cigarette and enjoying the ocean and breeze is a joy. I'm waiting for room service to show up now, so I can have lunch out there.


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Ooh, what timing. Room service came. It was okay. Food is included in the price, booze and specialty dining cost extra, as does late night room service. Dinner is at the main dining room. The tables seat eight. Our table is two married couples, a pair of sisters, both school teachers, David and myself. One of the teachers is a cruise virgin like myself. One of the married couples have been doing one or two cruises a year for the last thirty years. Old hands, them.


Dinner is a three course meal with about a half dozen choices for each course. I had the steak. It was tasty but dry. I've had better. I skipped the dessert so I could watch the boat leave.


The other main dining option is a large buffet on the eleventh deck. It has a large selection and great  views.


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Fort Lauderdale has a row of long barrier  islands. There be the beaches. Behind the islands is a shipping channel, used by the cruise ships, container ships, pleasure boaters, and what-not. It makes for a good set up. Fort Lauderdale essentially has two waterfronts, the beaches and the docks.


The ship was pointed the wrong way, so we had to back up a ways and turn to leave. A Broward County Sheriff's boat provided an escort, mostly keeping pleasure boats at bay. Those riding upon the pleasure boats like to wave and holler. I waved back. I didn't holler.


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The rocking of the boat is odd. I haven't been seasick, but it us a weird, discombulating feeling. It doesn't bother me; I just find it a touch strange. It's day four now, and I still haven't gotten used to it.


But, I haven't gotten used to this whole experience. Yesterday I read a bit, had a lovely three course meal, watched a show, and went to the club. Every now and then the boat would rock noticeably, reminding me that I'm doing all this on a boat, traveling to Europe. This is all outside my range of normal.


But, I'm loving it.


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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Florida

As I write, I am sitting in a Greyhound bus, traveling from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale to meet David. I came to Florida a week early to visit family before I head off on my European Adventure.

Florida is dry, hot, and flat. The ground is very sandy and dusty. I was kind of surprised at how dry, but I was in Northern Florida. I haven't seen the Everglades.

I was warned to watch my step; poisonous snakes are deadly, and those that don't kill you, can make one severely ill. I avoided the snakes (only saw one, and from a car), but I did manage to get attacked by fire ants. Those bastards sting. I haven't seen an alligator yet, but I hope to.

...

Most of my family in these parts are religious folk, going to church weekly and saying grace at every meal. So they invited me to attend service with them. I was happy to go. Manyatheists wouldn't consider such a thing out of some kind false sense of principal, but I'm talking about family.

Now, don't misunderstand, I'm not a closeted atheist. My family is well aware of my lack of belief. They respect me enough to not evangelize, and I treat them with the same respect. They invited me out of general courtesy, and I went out of general courtesy. Besides, I wanted to see my two year old cousin go Easter egg hunting.

The sermon was actually kind of interesting. It was about the resurrection, and how a couple of the apostles didn't believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and they wouldn't until they saw it for themselves. The pastor segued into how so many in our "post-modern society" need to see something first-hand before they can believe it. Some people lack faith. They need evidence. That part he got right.

So, he presented five proofs supporting the resurrection, which he got from some book. I don't remember which one; perhaps I should bring a pen next time I go to church so I can take notes. But, I've read similar crap before, as has many an atheist. Many an atheist has also heard the proofs debunked before, so I won't bother here.

...

Religious billboards pepper this damn state. Seems like every road has someone that wants me to know that Jesus Saves. I just have to accept him into my heart. Our something. Though, the first billboard I actually noticed was from the Tallahassee Atheists. It made me smile.



...

One of my cousins took me shooting. I haven't fired a pistol or rifle since junior high, maybe high school, so it was an interesting experience. Two things I learned: one, when firing a nine millimeter, make sure your thumb is well below the action. Otherwise, when it slides back, it will take out a chunk of your thumb. Two, I'm a lousy shot. But I did manage to hit a quarter at a hundred yards with a .17 caliber rifle. It took more than a few attempts.




I am aware that most liberals like myself are strong supporters of gun control, as I am. But, I do not support total gun control. Places such as NYC do, and ought to, have strict laws, and other places, such a rural areas have laxer restrictions. I do not support concealed carry without a permit, and I support licensing and training requirements. But I alsosupport the right of people to own and use guns for hunting and target practice.

...

Okay, I just had to change buses in Orlando, and I was surprised to find that they had a security checkpoint. I've never seen such a thing at a bus station before. That's one of the few advantages buses actually have over flying. The others being cost and free wifi. Of course, if I didn't go outside for a smoke, I would not have had to go through security. One smokes when one can.

...

My grandmother fell ill just before I arrived. Not life threatening thankfully, but she is in need of a bit of physical therapy before she can return home. So, she is in a nursinghome for the next couple of weeks. The staff there seem caring and decent, and the residents appear well cared for. But, it is obviously a poor place for poor people. The rooms donot have TVs or phones and the beds are the old fashioned hand crank kind. Even the call buttons are the old pneumatic style. The whole experience reminds me why we need single payer health care. Programs for poor people tend to become poor programs.

...

One last note. Greyhound's wifi really sucks. They put an ad at the top of the browser page which slows things down and confuses pages that have flash. I am riding their bus,do they really need to show me an ad for themselves?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Off to Europe.

A month or so ago my cabbie friend David made me a proposition. He said that he wanted to travel around Europe for a few months, but he didn't want to travel by himself. So, he asked if he would pay my way, if I would travel with him. I said sure.

We are leaving Florida a week from Saturday on a giant ass cruise ship. Fifteen days and five stops later, we will arrive in Rome. After a week there, we'll start traveling around.

I have been spending the last several months helping my sister and her wife remodel their house, so I haven't a job. No job, and being single, I'm free to take an extended period of time off.

But, not having steady employment for a while had left me a bit short of cash. David is paying my way (he has the money, and he doesn't want to travel alone), but I don't want to rely on him entirely. I have drug habits to support. I smoke cigarettes regularly and joints occasionally. I also enjoy an adult beverage every now and then. So, I'm not in any kind of dire need. If you are broke yourself, keep your money, but if you can spare five bucks, hit the yellow donate button sitting in the sidebar over on the right. I promise to only spend the money on drugs. And maybe prostitutes. I will not waste any donated money on frivolous pursuits such as going to some boring ass art museum.

If any of my European readers want to meet up for coffee or drinks, drop me a line. We don't have a clear itinerary, so I can probably arrange to meet anyone.

David and I both believe that the best way to enjoy travel is to wander the streets and sit at the occasional cafe and people watch. We will hit the assorted touristy areas, such as Caesar's house.


Yeah, the home of Augustus Caesar. Some of the frescoes still exist. Absolutely amazing. Imagine the history of the western world that was decided in this building. I can't wait to see it.

I'm about to start the adventure of my life. Check in regularly. I'll update often. Ciao.

BTW, I was totally kidding (on the square) about hiring prostitutes. As a good, proper, dictionary atheist, I am of course I am a strong feminist. And, any feminist would tell you that a good feminist would never hire a prostitute, cause it's objectification. Or something. Those same feminists would also tell you that they are sex positive and support sex worker's rights. They just don't like the johns.