On our recent cruise through Polynesia, I was fascinated by observing close-up an alien culture, totally foreign to my own. Not the Polynesians, whose life I could understand, but by what I call the “Cruisers,” those people who perpetually go from one cruise to another. Many I met had over 50 cruises under their belt and were amazed we were on our first, like we were Amish on their first ride in a car. There are even rumors of rich women who have no permanent home, but simply roam from one cruise to the next, like the Kingston Trio’s “poor old Charlie,” who forever rode the MTA “neath the streets of Boston” (and his fate is still unknown, see posting of Dec. 6, 2011).
I suppose this actually could happen to someone who lost their passport on the ship, which is why ships collect and hold all passenger passports. They don’t want to get stuck with a permanent freeloader.
I sat next to one Cruiser for dinner, a man only a little older than me, who went on about how much he enjoyed meeting people from all over the world and the wisdom this gave him. When I saw him the next day, I was tempted to introduce him to my wife and ask him to tell her all that he learned about me. Of course, the answer would be zero. He talked a lot, but never asked anything about me, not even my name, where I was from, or about my wife’s Asian background.
Soon after the cruise started, I found I was becoming attached to the staff, who were mostly from the Philippines, Chile (surprisingly), and Eastern Europe. I know they were trained to be friendly and likeable, but there was no tipping, even at the end of the cruise, and I was sure their friendliness was genuine. On shore, they would call out to me as a fellow traveler when they could have passed by unnoticed. How could I not become attached to them? At the end of the cruise, it was wrenching to leave them. If the cruise line goes under (which I expect in the new world economy) what will happen to them? Almost all are the breadwinners for their families back home. They, of course, are used to these fleeting attachments and would soon forget me as the new passengers arrived. That was part of their job, but the Cruiser’s life of such temporary bonds seems bizarre, and beyond my understanding.
Many people reach our age with no family, none at all, mostly couples who have had no children and have outlived their aunts, uncles, parents, and siblings. But still, have they no old friends, no connections to their community? I suspect not. These same people have often moved around the country for their job and have never put down roots anywhere. No place for them is home, and they crave a nomadic lifestyle. I am not criticizing them, nor am I claiming the moral high ground. I pity them just as they pity me.