Home Port

The Sapphire Prince was docked in its home Port of Los Angeles and on shore power and other utilities well before Leigh was ready to get out of bed. {I’m living my life all wrong, not feeling refreshed like this nearly every morning of every day} she thought as she drew the dark drapes, leaving the sheer white curtains closed to let in the sunny morning’s light as well as give her a passable gauzy view outside without putting her on full, clear display to the many early morning walkers traversing the Upper Promenade deck.

Contrary to the way many other cruise lines handled their ships’ times in their home ports, Royal Prince Cruise Lines flipped tradition on its head, having home port stopovers of shorter duration than at many destination ports along the route. Shore leave, boarding, and deboarding at the home port on this voyage were limited to the hours of 0800 to 1100, barely allowing time to see much of anything not immediately adjacent to the Port’s location sandwiched between the City of Los Angeles district of San Pedro to the west and Terminal Island to the east. Royal Prince Cruise Lines’ logic was that there was so much to experience in the greater metropolitan Los Angeles region that even a 3 day layover could easily prove insufficient, thus keep it short for those who live there and/or are disinterested in seeing L.A., and have those with local touring interest pick up another cruise once they’ve had their fill—or even the next loop of the Sapphire Prince, if they’d be touring locally for weeks.

Currently, Sapphire Prince’s loop had the ship meandering up the coast from Los Angeles to Monterey, a longer layover in compact, walkable San Francisco, on to Eureka, then Portland Oregon, and finally Seattle Washington for the northbound leg. The faster southbound leg of the loop voyage returns from Seattle to Eureka California, then San Francisco as much for the many who prefer to board or exit in that city as touring, then Santa Catalina Island for variety and fun, then San Diego, then ending with the again-northbound San Diego to Los Angeles overnight. This bus-style routing made it possible for passengers to embark and eventually disembark at any port along the way, if they were interested in and able to take the 16 day voyage for the whole loop.

Having grown up in the Los Angeles area-adjacent Inland Empire, Leigh had seen enough of the western part of the metropolis to have no interest in getting off the ship—especially with her first-of-voyage brunch beckoning! For now, the leisurely, slow, restful early-ish morning in her plush, cozy stateroom suited her well. The light hazy mixed morning clouds and sunshine put the very nearby Vincent Thomas Bridge through a series of different lighting effects, providing her light entertainment as she gradually went through her morning routine and selected her start-of-day wardrobe.

{Dressing down on the start of my first full day on the cruise because my nicer things are already edge of too snug is decidedly suboptimal} Leigh mused on her way to brunch. {Better plan on some gym time after brunch, especially since I’m basically dressed for it already.}

This passing thought drifted to the back of her mind as the siren aromas emanating from Bunch’s Bistro captivated her senses. A self-serve buffet-style dining facility available to all on the base fares (and of course above), Bunch’s was doing brisk business this latter half of the 9 AM hour, no doubt in part from the acceptably pleasant weather and its outdoor Sun Deck location.

Once Leigh was in sight of the long row of chafing dishes and related serving platforms, captivating visuals united with the existing olfactory joys, making the wide range of offerings that much more compelling.

{Mmmm… some of theeese, a little of this… oh yes I will do a green tortilla mini breakfast burrito! Ya know what? Since I’m going to the gym soon after brunch and this is brunch and not breakfast plus lunch for me today, I’ll do two of these very special mini burritos. Wonder if the green is more avocado-based, or pesto, or what?}

Once through the line, Leigh made her way with her heavily-loaded dinner-size plate towards open seating. She nearly spat out the cannolo held in her mouth (due to the lack of free space on her plate) upon seeing someone she knew making a beeline straight towards her, eyes tractor-beam locked on her. Formerly hoping to find an unoccupied table, she now sought one with no readily-available space for this fast-approaching interloper.

Unfortunately soon as she sat down, the others around the table got up and left, having concluded their meal and ready for their next adventure. The only good news about this was that the unwanted arrival remained standing rather than taking a seat.

“Nice look” was his near-smirky greeting, with his eyes focused on the cannolo still in her mouth.

With no readily-available good place to set it down, she took a big bite then held the remainder in her hand. The failure of her glare to drive him away eventually (once she’d chewed and swallowed) led her to reply, “Anything you might possibly say will get you nowhere, Clark.”

All smirk vanished, his demeanor instantly turning serious and apologetic, “I’m truly sorry for what happened at MatCon!”

{He seems serious, for once.}

“That is the real reason I came directly over here soon as I saw you.” His sigh hinted of letting go of a burden. “You know I got whupped with the nerd stick in childhood enough times to struggle with social interactions like this. Hence my apparently tone-deaf greeting just now. I won’t belabor things because even I can sense that you want me to go away. I’ve never been perfect, nor ever shall be, yet I do strive to learn from my errors. Hence my having undertaken a fair whack of personal work in the aftermath of MatCon, and apologizing to you now. Here’s hoping you have a great cruise, Leigh. I’m very much looking forward to it… to mine.”

Clark’s tall frame with long legs had already moved the entirety of him including his ears out of earshot well before Leigh could get another word out beyond her singular sentence. He might already be fading towards the deck’s visual horizon, though his emotional wake continued to rock her emotional boat enough that she was almost taking on water.

It wasn’t that she disliked Clark Barr. Far from it: she felt all wobbly wiggly when he was near, including just now. Irrational as it was to her, something about this engineer who worked at a company who used her company’s composite materials as key elements of their products floated her boat higher than a dinghy riding a wave at high tide. Nerdy though he might be in terms of behavior, the nerd stick apparently missed or glanced off him when it came to appearance: he was closer to stage and screen handsome than geek-nerd gangly—at least to her.

She’d always gone for the nerdy smart ones the few times in her life she’d bothered with love, identifying as a member of a broader form of this archetype herself. Many if not most engineers couldn’t communicate clearly to lay people to save their lives—hence her solid career as a tech writer, bridging the sometimes-cavernous gap between the engineers and those who had to understand, market, and use their products.

As a writing professional, Clark’s solid command of spoken and written English further woggled her toggle—and bedeviled her. At times he was breathtakingly eloquent. Other times—sometimes mere minutes later, maddeningly obtuse. She was convinced some neuroscientist would have a field day researching what it was about Clark’s mind that had him moving between these realms with seamless chameleon-like ease, subtlety, and rapidity.

Fun to be with when things were going well, he’d several times over the years they’d occasionally crossed paths charmed the pants off her—literally, after-hours at the most recent MatCon (Materials Convention) trade show they’d both attended, over a year back now. What seemed like a great idea in the moment quickly went pear-shaped for her when she felt he flipped to suddenly emotionally abusing her, pretending to go after her actual mild pear shape, faux-pervily amplifying it beyond all reason in some fictional parallel universe in his head where having chair-overfilling hips and buns was a good thing. How a seemingly otherwise nice man could be so mean and insensitive regarding a woman’s unwanted soft, wobbly weight mystified her—especially how quickly he shifted into that mode. {There’s that chameleon thing again} she mused, tapping her fork tines against the lovely green shell of one of her two mini burritos.

Feeling and thinking about all this sapped a good bit of her appetite. Halfheartedly and armed with a refreshed again-hot mug of nice Kona coffee, she nibbled her way through about half of her over-generous brunch plate before calling it a meal.

{Fuck, he’s going to be on this whole cruise!} she suddenly clearly realized as she packed away the many leftovers for later hopefully-enjoyment in the privacy of her stateroom. {At least this is a damn huge ship, so maybe I won’t see that much of him.}