Because getting to go on half a Magic Cruise is way, way better than none at all…
The Alaskan Dream
From the time I was old enough to understand the sentence "I want to go to Alaska," I’d known that one of my mother’s lifelong dreams was to travel there. For decades the dream did not come true. She had a career, a family, and the countless tiny interruptions that can get in the way. When my father had his last illness and I spent two weeks of daylight in an Indianapolis hospital waiting room holding my mother’s hand and getting sick of Game Show Network, I nursed plans for the two of them once he was better. Alaska was at the top of the list; a foggy idea at first but clearer as time went on. They’d been on a Bahamas cruise, and they’d loved it. Why not a cruise to Alaska?
My father seemed to be recovering well, and I flew back to Texas. A few days later he died. My mother took over the family business, and her travel dwindled to the occasional weekend. Alaska seemed farther away than ever.
In mystery novel parlance, I had the motive to get my mother to Alaska but not the opportunity. When the Magic Cruise for 2012 zeroed in on Alaska, I had my chance. I called my mother.
"Hey, Mama. Remember how you always wanted to go to Alaska but never got there?"
"Well, no more excuses. You’re going."
Just Get Me There
It wasn’t until the Virgin America crew de-boarded the plane with the malfunctioning backup hydraulic system that I realized I was…meh, the pun’s too easy. That I realized I was in trouble.
I latched on to one of the nearby payphones and dialed the travel-emergency number for Royal Caribbean. I’d booked my flight through their Choice Air program, so they were responsible for getting me to my ship on time…or if that failed, sending me on to meet the ship at its first port of call. I listened to the on-hold advertisements enough times to learn them by heart, but I also found a smart and helpful customer service agent, Rebecca, who did everything she could to help me. Once the Virgin America flight was cancelled, though, I was out of luck. I wouldn’t make it to Seattle in time to get on the Rhapsody of the Seas.
I tried to keep a smile in my voice as I jotted down the codes that would get me into a hotel room in Seattle and on a flight to Juneau the next day, but my interior monologue was a splatter of panic and profanity. After begging Rebecca to get a message to my mother that she should not wait for me in Seattle but get on the cruise ship, I then took to Twitter and spread the word there.
I also bought a taxi ride to my apartment and back to pick up my passport book; due to an obscure 1920 regulation called the Jones Act, I would have to get off the ship and fly out of Victoria, British Columbia because I wasn’t making a round trip from Seattle and couldn’t travel point-to-point (Juneau to Seattle) within the United States. I was carrying a passport card, which would’ve been enough had my first flight to Seattle gone normally, but I’d out-thought myself.
The round-trip cab ride cost more than the passport fee, but I was glad to pay it. Once in the air, I was also glad to be flying on a plane with a functioning backup hydraulic system. The little things do matter…
Parallel Trip: Misses and Fortune
About the time the Magic Cruise meet-and-greet was breaking up, my flight into Seattle was touching down.
About the time my Magic Cruise dining room companions got up from a table with an empty seat, I was eating clam chowder in a Marriott hotel bar.
About the time the Magic Cruise’s Planechase event was starting up, I was resting in my room watching the Heat and Celtics play basketball.
About the time the Magic Cruise’s championship tournament got underway with Avacyn Restored Sealed, I was taking off from Seattle on a flight to Juneau.
About the time the Avacyn Restored Sealed portion of the championship was concluding, my luggage was in a room at the Baranof Hotel and I was at the top of the Mount Roberts Tramway, taking advantage of my extra day in Alaska.
About the time the restaurant workers on the Rhapsody of the Seas were laying out the milk and cold cereal for continental breakfast in the Windjammer Cafe, I was walking downtown Juneau, snapping pictures of the onion-domed Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church with no other tourists in sight.
About the time the ship was sailing up the Alaskan Inside Passage, I was taking in the early service at Juneau’s Church of the Holy Trinity and getting my first real peace since my travel plans were disrupted.
About the time the Rhapsody of the Seas arrived in port, I was freaking out again.
Reunited and It Feels So Good…
The wait was driving me crazy. I was sitting on a bench outside the ship’s secure zone, waiting for the flow of passengers from the ship to slow so I could check in, board, and stow my luggage. As I sat there, I watched faces go by, hoping to recognize someone or at least see a piece of Magic apparel. After half an hour, I knew what the Magic Cruise shirt looked like and had a possible Patrick Chapin sighting, but none of that helped.
With time running out, I received unexpected assistance from a Magic Cruiser walking by named Wendy, who (quite sanely) told me that sitting on the bench wasn’t doing me any good and I needed to talk to security again. With her as the Beatrice to my Dante, I made it through check-in and on to my cabin. Later I learned more about Wendy: she’s a law student and Ken Nagle’s fiancee. Right person, right time! I did my best to thank her on the ship. It wasn’t enough.
I was just in time to meet my mother at our cabin before we had to dash off to make the day’s tour, the Mendenhall Glacier/whale-watching/salmon-bake combo pack. The best minute of the whole trip came soon after I got off the bus at the glacier. At the back-end of the minute, Patrick Chapin walked up to me from the trail to the glacier with a smile and a "glad you made it." At the front-end, my mother got off the bus, looked at the glacier, and said, "I can die happy now."
I don’t think winning two Pro Tours in a row could give me the joy I felt right then.
We took pictures of the glacier, watched humpback whales feed (when the whale watching crew members pull out their cameras, you know it’s good), and ate salmon. I didn’t touch a Magic card that day. I did watch Patrick Chapin draft after dinner, though. It was like a miniature Magic master class.
Putting the Magic in the Magic Cruise
An unfortunate side effect of missing the Magic Cruise’s Seattle departure is that I didn’t feel like I jelled with the rest of the group; it’s hard enough to fit in when you’ve been an empty chair for a day and a half, and between my naturally introverted personality and the sheer stressed-out exhaustion of the previous few days, I wasn’t that outgoing. Everyone else tried, though.
I don’t remember if I played Magic on the fourth day of the cruise (Skagway, bear cubs wrestling in the middle of the highway, a brief visit to Yukon, and other good times), but I was ready to jump into the Cruise Championship with Standard on the fifth day. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was mathematically eliminated from the Top 8 with my null result from the Sealed portion; my half-joking pleas for "pity byes" went unfulfilled. Hey, I had to try!
After beating up on a young man playing a borrowed Grixis deck (go me?), my W/B Signal Pest Tokens deck and I faceplanted against two Wizards of the Coast employees, Monty Ashley of Magic Arcana fame and the aforementioned Ken Nagle. Ken’s perhaps the hardest opponent I’ve ever tried to read. Also during the Standard portion, Dr. Richard Garfield passed through the tournament venue and immediately drew autograph seekers, myself included; he was gracious enough to sign one of each basic land for me, including an "Alaska 2012" notation on the Forest.
After my 1-2 performance in Standard, I played a spellslinging game against Patrick Chapin and his Raka (W/U/R) Miracles deck and joined a couple of games of Werewolf (a version of Mafia). In the first, I rode beginner’s luck, a far superior partner, and a dash of game theory to a werewolf victory, while in the second, I proved Lee Sharpe thesis that new players always mess up the "vigilante" role. Go…me?
Redemption, If I Needed It
Modern went significantly better than Standard. Here’s the list I used to go 3-0:
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Ornithopter
- 3 Master of Etherium
- 3 Steel Overseer
- 4 Memnite
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Vault Skirge
In practice, the Disciple and Charm should be Ancient Grudges, but an A-B-C-D-E-F-G sideboard seemed like an appropriate spot of whimsy for the Magic Cruise. I knocked off a "Magic 2012 special" (I only had three match points and so was playing against those in the bottom of the standings), followed by Turbo Fog and Jund. I scored a rare poison kill against Turbo Fog, which was sweet, though my boarded-in Disciple didn’t appear in time to matter.
There were other Magic events: Two-Headed Giant (which I enjoyed) and Commander (which I did not, despite Ken Nagle letting me borrow his excellent and fun Jhoira deck). There was also sightseeing, including a sailing up the Tracy Arm Fjord to see the Sawyer Glaciers and a stop in Victoria, British Columbia, for whale watching. Well, it was a stop for my mother, anyway. I had to check out and leave the ship there, complete with the inevitably awkward interview with Canadian customs (though this one was less awkward than most).
Fortunately for me, Royal Caribbean and the whale watching tour company in Victoria were able to work things out so I could go on my expedition and still fly out of the country in a timely fashion. The Pacific was pretty rough for the second whale watching tourâ€”not enjoyable for the passengers who got seasick or the employees who found themselves chasing the tipped-over coffeepots, but plenty fun for someone like me who’d grown up partly on a houseboat.
I spent the last few minutes of the whale watching tour telling my mother goodbye; I wouldn’t have time on the dock. The whale watching company called a cab to take me to the airport. The ride munched up virtually all of the Canadian currency I’d exchanged, and I was left with just enough for my pre-flight snack (a Tim Horton’s doughnut with maple frosting, just because…you know, Canada). A puddle-jumper plane took me on my third-ever international flight, a 40-minute hop from Victoria to Seattle. I barely had enough time to fill out my customs form.
Looking Back on Half a Magic Cruise
On my flight from Seattle to Dallas, though, I had plenty of time to think.
I thought about my mother and how she was getting along without me. I knew in the back of my head that she’d managed two days and two nights without me, but I still worried.
I thought about the view from the Juneau Public Library and the used books I’d bought as souvenirs, four for a dollar.
I thought about the Episcopal church, grabbing things off the high shelves for the woman laying out post-service snacks, and the congregation saying goodbye at the rector’s last early service.
I thought about speaking with Dr. Garfield and being able to thank him for creating the game that had given me so much joy for a decade and will continue to do so.
Above all, though, I thought about my mother seeing the Mendenhall Glacier and saying she could die happy, and what I was thinking right after:
Not yet, Mom. You’ve only visited 49 states. I still have to get you to Hawaii. Now I want to go to Hawaii for Magic Cruise 5…and this time, I want to experience everything.
As always, thanks for reading.
@jdbeety on Twitter