Wednesday, February 28, 2018

2018 Cruise Post #3 — Adventures on the Ship

This freaking cruise ship, Anthem of the Seas, is a floating city. Not Boston or San Francisco or Seattle, but more like Las Vegas, New Orleans, or Key West. Other than eating and drinking, here are a few other things we enjoyed.
Kim did a little rock climbing. 

Kim also tried out the skydiving simulator. We couldn’t get a picture of her, but she took this short video of another person. (If you are reading this in an email click here to go to the original post where you can see the video.)

The Anthem has an attraction called the North Star. It is a capsule that rises 300 feet above sea level and allows 14 or so individuals to take in the sights. The Northstar has one spot for a wheelchair user, although the user is required to transfer to Royal Caribbean’s wheelchair, for some unknown reason. Early in the week, when we were standing in line to get Kim a ticket for the attraction (I had no interest in transferring to their wheelchair) we bumped into an employee who works on that attraction.
“We have people transfer to our chair because we need to attach tiedown straps. Since your wheelchair can accept the straps, I don’t see why you couldn’t stay in yours.”
Kim and I decided to give it a try, knowing that if this employee wasn’t present, I might get denied.
On Wednesday, we arrived at the attraction as scheduled. “Okay,” the attendant said, “I can help you transfer to this wheelchair.” He pointed to an uncomfortable-looking manual chair.
“No thank you. I’ll stay in my chair.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to transfer to this chair. It’s a requirement. I’ll help.”
“I already spoke to the people loading the attraction. They said I would be okay. Go ask them.” He disappeared for a few moments. Unfortunately, my friendly attendant was not working at the time.
“I’m sorry,” he continued. “They said you have to switch over to the other chair.”
I choose my battles. Getting on this ride was not important to me. I just thought I would give it a try, and I appeared to have exhausted my options. A couple of men in line behind me offered their assistance.
“Thank you very much, but it’s difficult for me in the best circumstances, so I’ll take a pass,” I replied.
Kim continued up onto the ride and took these pictures.

Look on the jogging track and you’ll see me in my iBOT.
Kim wanted to try out the bumper cars, but the line was too long.
And we gambled. Kim plays video poker, and I like blackjack. Both of my wheelchairs elevate, but neither of them allows me to get close enough to the blackjack table so that I can place my own bets, so that I can move around my own chips. The dealers and my fellow gamblers were more than willing to help me out, and I made some friends along the way. Long story short, Kim and I lost our asses all week until a spectacular final day on the ship when we won almost all of it back in a few hours. Here is a picture Kim took of three potential Royal straight flushes, which would have paid handsomely. This photo was supposed to be the “before,” but alas there was no triumphant “after” photo, as she ended up only with a single flush, and not of the Royal variety. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

2018 Cruise Post #2 — Dining and Drinking

Average cruisers gain about one pound per day. I’m an average cruiser. Kim isn’t. She takes the stairs whenever possible and chases me around in my wheelchair all week such that she hardly gains any weight. Not fair.
The food is so good on a cruise. Meals at the main dining room are included in the cruise fare. It’s like a 4-star restaurant. For a modest upcharge, however, you can dine in any of several 5-star restaurants. We split it down the middle — four meals in the main dining room and four meals at upscale restaurants.
We began at the main dining room, where we were randomly seated with two other couples. Lovely people. I brought my OBI dining assistant with me and asked the waiter to cut up my food into sizes between a pea and grape, as is required by OBI. This caused some confusion, and the need to bring in the boss for clarification, but in the end, it worked out well.
On the second night, we ate in a most unusual restaurant. It is called Wonderland, based on the Alice in Wonderland theme. “You must have an open mind,” I was told, “because you will see food that you have never seen before.” There was no menu, per se. They just kept bringing the food, and we ate what we wanted, which was almost everything. I’m not adventurous when it comes to exotic foods, but I took a chance, and I was so glad that I did. This is the most unusual and perhaps the finest dining experience I’ve ever had. Here are a few pictures.

And here are a couple of short videos, where photos just won't suffice (if you're reading this in an email, to see these videos you must go to the original post here).

We tried out a Chops Steakhouse and twice dined at a nice Italian restaurant. My goodness, I ate a lot. We also gobbled down breakfast and lunch, but sometimes because we slept late we merged the two. I think what got me, what put me over the top, were the desserts. I enjoyed one nearly every meal and sometimes in between. Bad Mitch. Very bad Mitch.
I enjoyed a few cocktails throughout the week, but I’m not much of a drinker anymore. Check out the bionic bartenders, who did make me some kind of fruity concoction (if you are reading this on email click here.)

Kim ended up feeding me much of my food. Some folks might feel conspicuous receiving their food that way, but I don’t. It seems obvious what’s going on when I sit there in such an elaborate wheelchair. And, if anyone makes feeding a 54-year-old man look casual and natural, it’s Kim.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

2018 Cruise Post #1 — What's the Word for "Planning and Execution?"

Logistics — the planning and execution of complex operations.
Yes, that's it.
I remember the first time I heard of someone being called a “Manager of Logistics.” I laughed out loud. I considered it a made-up name, along the lines of “Special Projects.” No more. For both professional and personal reasons, I have a profound appreciation for the sound practice of logistics.
For Kim and me, going on a vacation requires planning and execution of complex operations, to say the least.
Lately, we are targeting cruises that depart from ports within driving distance of Portland, Maine. Flying remains an option, but the logistics become more complicated. Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas docks in Bayonne, New Jersey, across the river from Manhattan. The GPS predicted it would take us a little over five hours to get here. But arriving in New York at five o’clock on a Friday added about two hours of lost time in traffic. When we made it to the hotel, we grabbed a late dinner and turned in.
This is our fourth cruise, but it is our first time on the mega-ship Anthem of the Seas. We are two of approximately 4800 vacationers aboard, not to mention 1600 or so crewmembers. Don't get me going on the logistics of operating one of these cruise ships.
I’ve taken to sleeping in my Permobil wheelchair when we go on vacation. It's so comfortable that I have to ask myself why Kim and I, when we are not on vacation, go through the elaborate process of taking me out of it each evening, putting me in bed, and then returning me to the wheelchair the next morning. Seems like nothing more than an unnecessary effort to sleep like normal people
We arrived at the cruise ship terminal well in advance of the 11 o’clock boarding time. It’s situations like this where being a wheelchair user has its advantages. At every turn, workers directed us to secret openings in the queue, wormholes in the space-time continuum. Finally, we were grouped together with all the other disabled people at the front of the line. In fact, I was literally the first guest to board the ship when the big door opened. Take that, you healthy, high and mighty walking types.
The next consideration is always the room, and we’ve never been dissatisfied on a cruise ship. Most cabins, other than the high-priced ones, are unbelievably small. The comedian who entertained us on the first night of the cruise joked, “I was taking a shower when I slipped and fell, but luckily the bed was right there to catch me.” The wheelchair accessible cabins, however, resemble a typical hotel room, and at no extra cost. Our cabin on Anthem of The Seas did not disappoint.
Much of what we will do on this cruise is unscripted, unplanned, logistics free. But a few items required signing up and scheduling. And with 4800 competitors for a limited number of slots, Kim and I concentrated on making reservations first. We spent the better part of two hours waiting in lines. I was given no special dispensation in these cases, and I guess I didn’t deserve it. But, soon enough we were signed up for activities, shows, and dinners for the rest of the week.
We enjoyed a 5-star meal in the main dining room on Sunday, the first night, and then we participated in typical evening activities: going to a show, sipping cocktails while watching musicians, and gambling at the casino. Each evening follows this most enjoyable template. 
Watch this space for more updates.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Cure for the Winter Doldrums

As I sit in my luxurious wheelchair, I almost feel guilty. The healthy folks around me must endure less elaborate, less comfortable chairs. Theirs don’t transform into an infinite number of positions at the push of a button. Theirs don’t lie flat for sleeping or elevate to reach things. I suppose that’s why they don’t bring their chairs everywhere, like I do. Seems presumptuous of them, however, to assume that there will be a chair wherever they go.
I sit all day, every day, staring at the computer screen in front of me. Sometimes my gaze wanders to the right where I take in the frozen landscape outside my window. Today, I see the same old red hatchback driven by some lady who works in an office nearby. This morning she must have been late because she ran all the way up the street. A working man’s pickup parked behind the hatchback. With its elaborate storage system in the bed of the truck, and all the equipment stockpiled within, he could survive a mild, perhaps even moderate, apocalypse. The frozen ocean lies beyond the vehicles. Seagulls sit on the ice like so many cue balls scattered on a glistening, chrome felt.
My dog, Phoebe, rests on the couch back, a bundle of nervous energy coiled within her as she polices the neighborhood with her eyes. Her preferred instrument, her nose, is rendered ineffective from this perch. When she sees any nonhuman creature, something snaps inside and she growls and becomes agitated. Her response is hardwired, not contrived. Most of the time, however, she is bored, terribly bored. In the winter, there is not much excitement for her or me. We steal naps throughout the day.
Something startles the seagulls. They are no longer billiard balls; they are kites. A hundred white kites rise above the ocean. As their wings and feathers exploit the air currents, they become cogs in a leaderless, yet purposeful flock.  They exit my field of vision, and the flock disintegrates, its mission accomplished. Individual birds funnel back to the ocean in front of my house and start the process all over again.
The lady returns to her hatchback after a long day at… something. She’s not running. She’s not smiling either. I’ve never seen her smile.
As the sun lowers in the sky, the dog and I await the return of my spouse and Phoebe’s pack leader—Kim. When Kim walks through the door, we awaken from our slumber. I engage Kim in conversation. Phoebe walks up to her, tail wagging, eyes wanting. Kim forgets to greet Phoebe sometimes, and I remind her. During these winter months, after a couple minutes Phoebe returns to the couch, I return to the computer, and Kim retires to her office. Unless today is THE day.
Friday will be THE day. We'll leave behind Phoebe, the seagulls, and the running lady. We'll exchange frozen ocean for tropical beaches. Of course, I’ll bring my chair.  Kim refuses to bring one. I hope the cruise ship has enough of them.
Watch this space for vacation updates.

Note to would-be burglars: we have housesitters, and they are bad ass.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


I’ve been thinking about tribalism a lot lately. Seems to be everywhere. Seems to be a big problem.

With sports fans, tribalism is largely harmless. My Patriots played in the Super Bowl this weekend, again, and I very much wanted them to win. However, when they didn’t, I said to myself, “Well, we can’t win them all,” and I went about my business. Of course, it was a different situation for Eagles fans who had just won their first Super Bowl. I am happy for them. I remember the feeling, although I don’t remember flipping over any cars in celebration.

More Harmful Tribalism
Politics come to mind. In his farewell address, George Washington warned against the evils of political parties. I continue to be amazed by the collective wisdom and foresight of our founding fathers.
One of the ugliest manifestations of tribalism is racism. When we consider our tribe superior and the other tribe inferior, that can lead to prejudice, discrimination, and even violence. Not good.

Chronic Disease Tribalism
Tribalism even occurs with patient groups. When I first started working the MS Walk fundraiser, I approached our local Chapter President for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and asked her, “Why do we have our walk so early in the spring? Don’t you think we would have a better turnout if we waited for warmer weather?”
“We tried that one year,” she explained, “but the March of Dimes and the Cancer Society beat us to the punch, and by the time our walk came around nobody felt like walking, collecting pledges, or making pledges for that matter. The early bird gets the worm.”
I once wrote a blog post about how I was jealous of the Parkinson’s community. They have a famous spokesperson who visibly shakes in their commercials — Michael J Fox. We have no celebrities of his stature in the MS community. As a result, they collect more money than we do to cure their disease. Damn them.

Tribalism is written into our DNA. Those early humanoids who were genetically predisposed to cohabitate with other humanoids were more likely to reproduce and perpetuate their family line. But today, tribalism does as much, if not more, harm than it does good. I try to keep that in mind as I interact with people outside my own tribe. I try to overcome my base urge to demonize “others,” and in doing so, become a better person.

Except if the other tribe is the Yankees, who suck.  Go Red Sox!