010720 Jamcruise I

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By the time 2019 rolled around Jamcruise had been going on for seventeen years and it had been on my radar for about half that time.  Of course a cruise stacked with solid live music playing virtually around the clock was right up my alley, but it seemed like every year the dates conflicted with my regular gig at the National Arts Centre, so I always had to give it a pass.  But early in the year I had noticed that the dates for Jamcruise 18 meshed perfectly with my calendar.  It was expensive and a long way off, but m’lady and I decided not to waste this window of opportunity and we booked it.

Then six months later we finally found a house in Newfoundland that we wanted and we bought it, then we got married and moved east.  So by the time the cruise was upon us a lot had changed.  It was now set to be our Honeymoon and we had a longer way than expected to travel to get there.

Being quite unfamiliar with winter travel to/from Newfoundland we decided to book our flight to Miami a day early.  We wanted to play it safe because if you’re late for the boat it sails without you, and there would be no refunds in such a case.  Our flight was scheduled to leave St. John’s on Monday at 6am and arriving in Miami later that same afternoon, so with the boat booked to sail at 5pm the next day we figured we’d be good. 

So it was quite distressing when we got emails on Sunday afternoon telling us that our flights had been cancelled due to a blizzard that was coming our way.  I immediately got on the phone to Air Canada and spent more than two hours on hold.  Meanwhile it had started to snow outside, and quite heavily at that.  Finally I got through only to be told that any changes to our schedule had to be made in person at the airport.  Things were made more difficult because m’lady and I had booked our flights individually, plus my ticket had been booked on points.  We scoured the internet for flight options and found that there was a very good chance that even if we did make it to Miami in time it would likely be very, very close to our ship’s departure time.  I posted about our panic on a Jamcruise-dedicated facebook message board and suggestions and messages of sympathy quickly started to roll in.  Some people suggested that we bail on our checked luggage in case things got really tight at the airport so we quickly reconfigured our luggage down to a pair of carry-ons in case we’d have to run.  An hour later we looked ruefully towards the storming sky, loaded up the car, dropped off the cat, and drove through the blizzard to St. John’s, completing the hour-long journey in just under three hours.

We went straight to the airport and of course we found the Air Canada desks completely devoid of even a hint of staff.  We went to a home-stay b&b near the airport for the night and set the alarm for 5am.  We wanted to be first in line when the first Air Canada employee arrived at work the next morning, and we were.

While we were sleeping Air Canada sent us our new flight schedule, which would have us in Miami on Wednesday, a day too late.  That had to change.  We told all of this to the lady at the checkin counter and she told us that any changes had to be made via telephone (which was the opposite of what we were told on the telephone), she handed us a different phone number and we hit the payphones.

Of course, neither m’lady nor I have cellphones.  It’s not like we forgot ‘em at home, we just don’t have any.

We explained our dilemma to the lady on the other end of the line and she somehow miracled us onto a 4pm flight to Toronto that was already overbooked.  She also switched our Miami flights to the next morning, which would have us arrive with plenty of time to make the boat.  Man, you never saw two people so happy to hunker down for a ten-hour wait!

Checking the internet I was shocked to see over a hundred responses to my Jamcruise facebook post.  These Jamcruisers were genuinely rooting for us and it really helped to buoy our spirits as the day lingered on.  I posted our good news and the internet started jumping up and down in joy for us.

We watched the departures board and were pleased to see flights starting to leave the heavily snowed-in St. John’s airport around 1pm, though our plane was conspicuously late leaving Toronto due to a mechanical issue.  We started to worry some more but our fears subsided when we saw that our plane had finally left Toronto.  We were going to be late getting out of St. John’s but that didn’t matter.  We had an airport hotel booked in Toronto for the night and we would be fine just as long as we could get off of our island.

The plane arrived and sat there at the end of the ramp.  Announcements were made regarding another mechanical issue and our brows furrowed.  When I saw the pilots and stewards disembark I got spooked and went straight to the payphone.  While I was on hold waiting for an agent the announcement came over the PA that our flight had indeed been cancelled, and the only other flight to Toronto that day was very, very overbooked (due to all the cancellations).  And just as the announcement finished the lady picked up on the other end of the phone.  I explained our situation, telling her that if we didn’t somehow get on that overbooked flight our Honeymoon cruise would be over before it started.  Oh yes, I was heavily playing the Honeymoon card, and I promised myself that I would continue to do so without shame until we got our butts to Miami.

And somehow the lady on the phone told me that she could do it – she could get us on that final flight!  – if I could just hold for a moment?  I was busy jumping up and down when she came back on the line and explained that she was somehow being blocked from changing our tickets.  She told me to go find a checkin person and get them on the line.  I did.

My heart kept sinking as I heard my checkin lady say things into the phone like, “But we can’t…” and “No, never…”  As I waited I updated the crowd on the internet, who collectively cried out for more positive vibes on our behalf.  Finally the checkin lady handed me the phone.  

The voice on the line explained that there were indeed two extra seats but she would have to lobby a higher power to get them transferred to us.  “Do you mind holding for a while longer sir?” she asked.  

“I will stay on the phone until the wheels come off,” I replied, “Just please get us on that flight!”

After almost forever she finally came back on the line.  “It’s all set sir,” she said in a sing-song voice.  “Just go to gate nine and pick up your boarding passes.”

“Really?!?!?” I exclaimed, shocked to the core.  “If you were here I’d hug you!” I told her.  I hung up and m’lady and I raced to gate nine where we were told that no, there were no seats for us.

“But the lady on the phone…” I started to say.

“Yes, I know,” the man said to us, tapping furiously on his keyboard.  And then eying me suspiciously he asked, “Who was it you were talking to anyway, and what did you say to her?”  I told him everything in one long 200mph breath and when I was finished it was clear that he had no clue as to how or why we were being given such preferential treatment.  “There are no seats sir, but if two seats come up they will be yours.  

“Please wait over there.”

We did.  And with every passing minute our victories seemed moot, our hopes appeared to be dashed.  And then it happened: the PA squawked, “Mr. Snelgrove to gate nine…”

“I don’t know how you did it,” the guy said, shaking his head.  “The seats aren’t together and you’ll have to check your connection in Toronto, but here you go.”  And just like that we had our boarding passes!  The flight was two hours late departing but we didn’t care.  When we finally boarded the lady scanning my pass looked me in the eye and said very sincerely, almost solemnly, “This is your lucky day.”  I put my hand on her shoulder and replied just as sincerely, just as solemn: “I know.”

I have no idea how I resisted ordering myself a victory drink when the cart came by, but I did.  Ten rows up somehow m’lady was treated to a free drink and snack.  “It’s included with your seat,” she was told.

We got to Toronto around 10:30pm and waited in line for an hour to speak to customer service.  We wanted to absolutely 100% confirm that we were still booked on the 7:30am direct flight to Miami and it turned out that we were.  The customer service rep even gave us each a pair of meal vouchers.

After watching our hotel shuttle drive right by without stopping we dropped $20 on a taxi and got ourselves to the (very nearby) hotel well after midnight, where we managed to get about four hours of sleep.  In the morning the shuttle was a half-hour late, a delay that was followed by an impossibly long customs line.  In the end we had to run hard and fast to make our flight (even though it was 45 minutes late) and we were among the last to board.  I can’t express to you how good it felt to lift off.  We used our vouchers on the plane for breakfast and morning whiskeys, which tasted precisely like myrrh and honeydew, respectively.  It was the first time I had eaten since noon the day before.

And so it was that we landed in Miami on January 7th, 2020 at 11:15am with plenty of time to make it to the boat before the 5pm cutoff time.  I posted the good news on facebook and the internet broke out into a standing ovation.  I really couldn’t believe it: there were literally 200+ responses, people were saying things like “I woke up this morning so worried for you guys,” and “We all know you’re going to make it!!!”  Clearly we were on our way to hanging out with some very kind people. 

We got a cab to the port and got our Masters Club passes.  This was an extra add-on that we paid for that included daily clinics with an opportunity to jam with the artists (and free daily happy hours), and the package came with expedited boarding privileges, which turned out to be quite a bonus.  

We got all checked in and were corralled into the waiting area.  And in no time people started approaching us.  “Hey, are you the couple that almost didn’t make it?”  (I had posted a picture of m’lady and I posing with Trey Anastasio; everyone knows that you gotta add a picture if you want people to read your facebook posts.)  I was amazed…we literally felt like celebrities.

Around 2pm we boarded the boat and headed straight to the nearest bar for a victory lap around a pair of Moscow mules (for m’lady) and a couple of bourbon & cokes (for me).  We found our berth, dropped our bags and went to our first musical event, which was Robert Walter in the jazz bar.  He was accompanied by the always-stellar Stanton Moore on drums and a wonderful guitarist I had never seen before.  I asked the guy standing next to me and was told his name was Andy Coe and he was a staple on the Seattle Jam scene.  The set was really, really good and afterwards I went straight up to Mr. Coe and told him so.

Next we struggled to find where the Masters Club meet & greet was going on.  We ultimately found our way and enjoyed some free craft beers while I talked string gauges with nice people (like Raphael and Dylan).  And all the while people kept recognizing us and raining high-fives in our direction.  “So glad you guys made it!  Have a great Honeymoon!!!!”

We were giddy with happiness (and sleep deprivation).

Ironically the boat was late in departing so the mainstage acts on the pool deck were all backed up by ninety minutes or so.  That was worrisome as we were concerned about how long we’d be able to stay awake, and there was a lot of great music to see.  When things did get started they got started with Lettuce, which was just standard funk as far as I could tell.

Next up however was the act I had been looking forward to the most of the whole cruise, the Lennon Claypool Delirium, featuring Sean Lennon and Les Claypool (obviously).  I have one of their records and I really like it, and the set was quite great.  At one point I left the upper deck and got close to the stage.  Sean looks and sounds so much like his dad I just wanted to get close enough to see his face so I could pretend that I was seeing John.  I know it’s silly but really, would this not be the closest I would ever get to seeing the greatest Beatle in person?  Unfortunately the stage was only backlit so I couldn’t see his face no matter how close I got.

Next up was Turkuaz, a band I had heard a bit but knew very little about, and I was surprised by how much I liked them.  Eight players up there funking their way though a solid pile of music and it was all total pro and very great.  They did an upbeat version of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy that was just fantastic.  I hope Sean heard it.

Somehow we were both still standing so we opted to go check out some of Steve Kimock’s set in one of the lounges.  We arrived to find George Porter Jr. sitting in on bass but the stentorian room was so unthinkably loud that I had to race to our room to get some earplugs.  By the time I got back George was just finishing up his sit-in.  We stayed for the rest of the set and then headed to a different theatre for something I was really looking forward to: Les Claypool’s Bastard Jazz.

Around 3am we took seats in the back of the room – the first time we had sat down all day (aside from those first two drinks I suppose).  And the music was just amazing.  I mean, it was next-level astounding.  This was one of those shows that makes all the time, trouble, expense, and mediocre shows that accompany this lifestyle all completely and utterly worth it.  Man-alive, it was so good.

Even still, I was done playing before the band was.  My body finally gave out on me and I started falling asleep in my cushy chair, even as some of the greatest musical vibrations imaginable were bouncing off of my spent physical being.  By the time my head sank down a second time m’lady’s elbow suggested we call it a night and I had to agree.  We ambled down to our room on the 11th floor and laid down exhausted in our bunks.  The time was 4:20am.

What a day.

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