Rolling Down The River

Recently, I had the opportunity to take part in a charity event here in Hartford, CT. Each year the Ray of Hope Foundation puts on a charity basketball event that features an actual game, a dinner, a cruise and an assortment of smaller events. The Ray of Hope Foundation is a charity created by ex-UCONN basketball star Ray Allen, now a professional ball player for the Milwaukee Bucks. It is my good fortune, as a purveyor of sports cards, to get a number of free tickets to the ball game and this year I also received tickets to the cocktail party river cruise. Ahh the tickets. That is where the story starts.

I received the bundle of goodies and immediately started to give away the game tickets. The game itself was to feature a variety of current basketball players like Ray Allen and Vin Baker as well as former basketball superstar Ervin "Magic" Johnson. I asked my wife, Deb, if she would be interested in going on the cruise. Recently she has become a basketball fan so I thought she might enjoy it. She agreed, and I started looking forward to taking leisurely cruise up the Connecticut River. The next day, the Grapevine was active and soon I learned the tickets normally go for a $100 per. My first thought now was this event was more formal than I had thought. So I called the number on the ticket to find out what kind of attire was required.

This was my first indication that perhaps, the cruise was not as well organized as I thought. However, lost in my excitement, I ignored the signs and plowed onward. You see, the phone number on the ticket was wrong. The person at the other end had no idea what I was talking about. Indeed, they do run a boat service but were not involved with Camelot Cruises or the Ray of Hope Foundation in any way. The woman was friendly and gave me the number for Camelot Cruises. She was also concerned that her number was on the ticket and it also explained why she had been deluged with Camelot Cruise calls all morning. I told her that I would pass the information along and perhaps someone would contact her to clarify the situation.

On to Camelot Cruises. The woman there seemed to know next to nothing and deflected my questions with the skill of a presidential press secretary. The long and the short of it was that she acknowledged that Camelot Cruises did own boats and often charted them out for private affairs, but details were in the hands of the renters. She would, however, be happy to send me a flyer so I could consider using Camelot Cruises for my wedding. She was not at all concerned that an incorrect phone number was printed on the ticket. I asked if she had a phone number for the Ray of Hope Foundation and was courteously told that I should use the number on the ticket. If that proved unsatisfactory, perhaps the phone book would prove more useful. Sighing, I hung up the phone. My anger and frustration were growing but hey, these were free tickets. Plus after I contacted the Foundation directly, I would have my answers and they would thank me for bringing the ticket phone number / Camelot Cruise fiasco to their attention. Ahhhh. Self delusion is truly a virtue!

AT&T information found the number for me and it was time to contact the Ray of Hope Foundation. The woman who answered the phone was very pleasant. I explained my situation and asked whether or not she knew if this was a formal affair. Remember? That was the very simple question I had been trying to get an answer to. She suggested that I call Camelot Cruises for that information. I then relayed the sordid tale up to that point. My answer was the empty hiss of a telephone line. After the pause, in a perfectly Rosie Perez tone, she told me that she was unsure about what I thought she was supposed to do about the situation. My response was to suggest that perhaps she might possibly direct my phone call to someone who would know the answer to my question. She said that she would connect me to someone but they were all very busy. "We are putting on a charity event this weekend sir!". Sigh. First contact was made and I successfully communicated the message, "Take me to your Leader!"

A pleasant sounding gentleman picked up the phone. He was courteous, friendly and helpful. Not a bad combination for a person. He promptly told me that the cruise was semi-formal, cocktail food would be served and that flash photography was allowed. He also thanked me for bringing the phone number SNAFU to his attention and apologized for my difficulty to this point. I was so pleased to have finally made contact with an intelligent life form that I hung up the phone satisfied and once again looking forward to the cruise. But that is the skill of a good confidence man: make your victims feel comfortable.

Cruise Night. Over the few days between my telephone odyssey and the cruise, I had found out that Denzel Washington and Magic Johnson were to be aboard the boat as well as a number of other "dignitaries". My business partner is a big Denzel fan so I was instructed to get an autograph. I also hoped to wrangle a few basketball player autographs as well. I was excited. Deb was excited. We dressed in our finery and headed for the boat which was to leave promptly at 8pm and would return at midnight. There was a party at the Crowne Plaza after the cruise and it was important to make sure that Ray, and his pals, were back on time.

We boarded the vessel at 7:35pm and staked out a place between the bar and the exit within close proximity to the cheese table and the little stage. We sat and waited while the boat filled with people. I saw a few players I recognized and coach K.C. Jones from the Celtics. The tables were filled quickly. From the chatter I gathered that most of the people on the boat had received free tickets. I remember a stray thought that fluttered through my head at that point, "If all of these people are here for free, how is the Foundation making any money?" It was a thought that, in retrospect, I should have given closer attention. 8:00pm came and went. The boat was still at the dock and was PACKED with people. They opened the bar which my heightened sense to all things alcohol immediately picked up and I made my way through the throng.

My place in line started near the cheese table and I looked it over with the idea of sampling a morsel or two. Sadly, the Cracker Barrel Cheddar was the only thing on the boat sweating more than me and I elected to pass on the cheesy offering. I soon reached the bar. One bourbon and coke with lime for me, one Absolut and tonic for the wife. Joy! Seven ounce cups! And then the news: $12 for the freaking drinks!!!!! I plowed my way back to the table and told my wife to enjoy the cocktail because we were not having many! I am not a cheapskate. In fact I am known as a bit of spendthrift, but twelve dollars for 14 ounces of cocktail served in plastic cups is a bit much. The Ray of Hope Foundation was unfolding before me one nickel and one dime at a time.

Sitting there sipping my liquid gold, I saw no sign of Magic Johnson or Denzel Washington (Denzel never showed). Near us, but closer to the exit was a woman with her mentally retarded son. Every time a large black man came through the door, he asked his mother, "Is that Magic Johnson?". The mother patiently told him "no" every time. The boy was excited; his exuberance tempered my mood a little and I relaxed some. Then, it happened. It is hard to describe the extremely negative and visceral reaction I had when the next celebrity arrived. Johnny Cochran. He is smaller in person but makes up for it by his entourage. Arrogance steams off his body like stench off of road kill. My reaction was not unique. Several people out of the throng that was pressing against me seemed to feel similarly as the lawyer and his cronies steam rolled through the masses.

Moments later, Magic finally arrived. The boy near the door recognized him immediately once he saw him and squealed with joy. He asked the basketball player for his autograph and received instead the O.J. Simpson Heisman side step. The ex-basketball player moved on and went downstairs following in the wake of Mr. Cochran. The retarded boy’s hopes were crushed, and his mom was irate. It seems that she was one of the only people on the boat who actually paid for a ticket. At this point the engines rumbled to life and the cruise was finally going to begin... at 8:40pm.

Coinciding with the boat’s departure was the arrival of platters of hors d'oeuvres. However, before I delve into a review of the gastronomical delicacies offered, I would like to say a few words about how the word "semi-formal" has different meanings for different people. For some it meant Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirts, sandals and black socks. To others, stained and torn corduroy pants and tank tops. And to still others, nice formal clothing, two sizes too small. This group was particularly noisome. All that time and money spent on beautiful dresses two sizes too small because the buyers are delusional. Women shaped like a "Z" should NOT wear skin tight dresses. Every fold of fat: every corpulant, quivering roll is seen. And "shakin’ your groove thang" in a dress like that, can (and will) hurt somebody!.

Now back to the stuff they called food. Chicken Wings, Stuffed Mushrooms, Pizza Squares, Swedish Meatballs and meat on a stick. Only the meat on a stick was not supplied by Stouffer’s frozen Pantry collection. Although technically edible, the salt content in these prefab foods required a trip back to the bar. A twelve dollar trip. The meat on a stick was provided by the Bazooka Chewing Gum Company but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t make a bubble. In between the arrivals of new trays of food, someone came by and gave us two free drink tickets! Wooo Hooo! One note though: the serving people were VERY good. Always polite and efficient. Given the sheer number of people on the boat, they did an exemplary job.

As the food was going around, the bands started. There were two decks on the boat and a band for each deck. On the main deck, where Deb and I sat, was the 70’s retro band. They were technically sound and the music was okay. I don’t mind that music given in small quantities. Unfortunately, it was not in small quantities. By the end of the second hour I had about enough. Seeing as we couldn’t just leave without getting real wet, we decided to explore. That is when it happened. As we were heading towards the stairs, a woman was coming up. She was in one of those dresses I noted earlier. SPLOING!! Her left breast popped out as the strapless number, propelled by undulating rolls of flesh slid down. At this point the escaped mammary was stuffed back into the dress and I looked at the woman’s face. And who was it? She sure looked like Gayle King a local newscaster and Oprah Winfrey devotee. I made room at the top of the stairs so she could pass and down we went, chuckling.

The lower deck was even more crowded and should the boat start sinking, fully half of them would die. I forgot to mention that at no time did the crew go over any emergency procedures. In fact, the glass door dividing the main deck from the dining room was locked! The band was playing VERY loud R&B, Gangsta Rap and current pop chart songs. We did not stay long. Moving through the throng we passed the tables where Magic and Johnny Cochran were holding court. There was also a table where people were giving away free basketball game software. They were out when I got there. In moments we were back upstairs and sitting at our table.

By this point it was getting late. The combination of water travel, appetizers and cheap booze had made Deb a little woozy and we were just doing time waiting for the boat to dock. At 12:30am we started pulling in and a large number of people massed near the exit so they could leave quickly. No sooner had the boat bumped the dock then Mr. Cochran and his entourage plowed their way though the crowd again. One of the horde members was yelling, "Make way for Mr. Cochran, he has to leave the boat." Despite the crowd’s best efforts, when the door opened, he was the first out. We left quickly after that, and drove home in near silence.

Needless to say, after this grand charity event, I was not feeling at all charitable.