So it’s our 34th anniversary this month (July) and my wife has always wanted to do the Potomac River Dinner/Dance Cruise that leaves Alexandria at 6:30 and noodles around on flat water for a few hours of bipartisan mischief and then docks at 10:30 p.m. A full moon, an unseasonably cool night, and who knows what could erupt? As cruises go industry wide, it has not been a good couple of years. Loss of power, fires, infectious outbreaks, capsizings, mutinies, whale spearings, and penguin hit and runs, just to name a few stories ripped from the headlines. In the previous years we just had the pedestrian mystery murders and rapes, with underage drinking on the high seas suspected as a contributing factor. Hmmm, do you think? If a ship consumes more alcohol than food and diesel fuel in a trip, it may be an alcoholic.
I think in the name of full disclosure we should know who is steering the boat and if he is a person of stainless steel integrity, unlike the weasel who abandoned the Costa Concordia when it was sinking and that one off the coast of South Africa where the entire crew abandoned ship. I am not xenophobic, but I’d like the crew to have some culpability in the eyes of the law. It’s just a river cruise with dinner and dance music; still, this boat had better not be registered in Liberia or Panama. If I have to swim through the detritus of our nation’s capital, I will sue. And failing that, I will drown my server or the pianist. Justice will be meted out.
Suspiciously easy drive to Alexandria, home of my birth. It was Friday and we were going against the exodus out of D.C. Fortunately the G.W. Parkway can’t change, so the way was as familiar as it was 34+ years ago, which is a good thing. I am pro-change but not when it is so great that I feel I’m in the Twilight Zone. Once, on a trip to visit my brother in Dale City, Davis Ford Road just did not go where it had the previous time we visited. I was buffaloed and felt like schizophrenics must often feel. I stopped at the gas station to inquire if the road had been moved. Sure enough, it had. Thank God! My family thought I was hallucinating and I was beginning to think they were hallucinating that I was hallucinating. “Somebody stole the road.” I got back in the car feeling smug in my sanity but still lost geographically. Such is life in the D.C. suburbs. “You can’t get there from here anymore”, said the guy at the Sunoco.
Okay, so we arrived and parked two hours early, intentionally mind you. My wife’s idea, you see, to wander about Old Town Alexandria and build our appetites while window shopping. Again I walked through cha-cha-cha-changes on the last few blocks of King Street. New shops in the old buildings, a well heeled and vibrantly diverse crowd thronged the brick sidewalks. I recalled a couple of bars we frequented when I was in college. They were still in business. Amazing, Bloggoidtzs!! But the anchor restaurant, The Seaport Inn, had been turned into a Starbucks and about ten other shops. Horrors!!! In the deepest recesses of my memory I could recall standing on the large rocks at water’s edge skippiing smooth stones across the surface of the stinky river while my mother shopped on a Saturday at the J.C.Penney store on Washington Street. My father smoked Camel cigarettes and watched his four sons climb and clamor and compete with rock skipping near huge piles of sulfur and gravel. Memories shifted like the breeze across the river’s surface, rippled, and then nothing.
My first job was working at various parking lots punching tickets for shoppers in Old Town back when I was 15. I remember walking to and from my job some days, something on the order of 7 miles each way. Those parking lots were all built upon as land values soared, which was what pushed the braless hippies and hopeless druggies out of the area. Not law and order or better economic opportunities. Just increased land values and opportunism. But I am digressing behind my story.
At 6:30 we boarded the flat bottomed boat. Not elegant but nice. My wife looked spectacular in her little black dress and the black hematite “pearls” I bought for her almost twenty years ago. We were seated next to a window on either the port or starboard side. Not a lot of passengers, I noticed. Mostly middle agers like us. We ordered a carafe of wine. Fruit and salad and bread arrived in that order and then the captain came on the loudspeaker with a bit of stress in his voice. “We are experiencing technical difficulties and will be delayed for a while. These things happen. We are waiting for the engineer to join us.” He sounded like he was talking to his ex-wife over late child support payments. The engines stopped. Well, what will happen next? We were still safely tethered to the dock so we took our wine glasses to the upper deck and admired the view paniclessly.
About the time we went for a refill of our glasses, the captain was back on the speaker with a different tone in this voice, jaunty this time. “Sorry for the delay. We will be launching momentarily and taking the engineer with us.” The engines hummed again. My bride smiled and all was right with the world, with the exception of the blind pianist who played the theme song to Titanic at that time. Mental note: stay away from the grand piano if we go down. Don’t shoot the piano player; drown him.
Away we went, backwards at first to clear the dock and low water, and then full power up the river. It was a bit odd at first. I don’t get motion sickness, but it took the first couple of moments for my seated brain to adjust to all the motion. Soon our entrees arrived and we were pleased with the quality despite the delayed launch. Mmmm, mmmy delicious and just the right portions. Cheers. We toasted a time or two and felt quite fortunate to be floating along while the bloody peach sun set through the trees and buildings on the Virginia shore. There were glimpses where it felt like we were starring in a movie full of dynamic camera play.
We walked up to the open top deck again, this time while the boat motored forward. We had just a moment of jelly feet with our first unaided steps on the upper deck. Marvelous, though… planes from Reagan National climbed above us just a minute apart. The river was alive with sailboats and yachts and lots of boats in between, and unlike highway traffic, these folks were all partying and relaxed, waving, smiling, and leaving their heavy lives on shore.
As we passed under bridges we could feel the heat of the day radiating down onto our bobbling heads. Pedestrians greeted us and waved. Again, it felt like we were minor celebrities from a canceled television show in the 70’s, just a thin thread of glamor remained in place. And then Maryland gave way to D.C. and the marvelous monuments came into view, the Jefferson’s Dome, the scaffolded Washington Monument, the incomparable Lincoln Memorial, then the Kennedy Center. All lit up for folks on land to admire, but we had the royal view with Rod Stewart crooning out the American songbook on our water stereo. Oh it was glorious to sit with the one I love and glide along as Washington transformed into Paris and every light doubled and drizzled onto the squiggly water of the river. Even lights that were burning out and turning dirty orange seemed put in place by an artist for the contrast. Yellow, green blue, red ribbons of light swayed for our pleasure like fireworks that would not burn out but lingered on.
The boat turned around just past the Key Bridge into Georgetown and sailed back for a second chance at photo opportunities. Nice, so nice when you get a chance to try again or just look at the same things from a different angle. And that maybe is how my soul sensed the cruise– seventeen years against the current and now seventeen with the flow. The air was actually too cool so we retired below for dessert and coffee. By that time the pianist had finished, so it was only recorded music. “Unchained Melody” came on and we danced slowly. Several other couples joined us on the dance floor. Finally we had been riverdancing on many rivers– the river of life, of memory, and of love.