Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Airport Code for Bora Bora is BOB

The weather last weekend reminded me of a situation I was in several years ago. I had been working for a few years as a cruise ship musician, and I was done. I had played the Phantom of the Opera medley about 100 times too many. I had played Too Fat Polka for the last time. I was tired of being the only one in the show band who would agree to be the juggler's "spontaneous" assistant, letting him juggle apples over my head, feeding me the green one to the delight of 1,500 retired folks from Ft. Lauderdale. I was tired of wearing a blue blazer, white pants and white shoes five nights a week, and a tux the other two. I was tired of living in a 4 x 10 cabin with a pissed-off, fat, farting, snoring trumpet player with an addiction to garlic sleeping in a bunk a foot above my head. It was time to commit to staying in Nashville, to get job playing state fairs and tractor pulls with some dickhead in a Stetson singing songs about his fabulous redneck way of life.

It was January. It was 10 in the morning. It was snowing. I had $19 in my checking account. I was in a 400-square-foot attic apartment in East Nashville. I had the yellow pages open to temporary services. I was going to get a job moving boxes or digging ditches or something, anything. I was staying, dammit. I was going to gut it out in Music City.

The phone rang. It was my agent. These were her exact words: "We have a big problem. Can you fly to Tahiti, today?"

Fuck a bunch of Country music auditions -- South Pacific here I come. I got my affairs quickly in order and left that afternoon. I landed in L.A. about dinner time. I got to my connecting gate and the bastards wouldn't let me on the plane. I had a one-way ticket. In desirable destinatons like Tahiti, if you don't have a return ticket and you're not a citizen, they don't let you in for fear that you'll never leave, sort of like in-laws. So I got a cab, some beer and a hotel room. When I got to the room, I called my best friend from college, a bass player, who lived out there. I left him a message, "Dude, I'm in town for a night, come get me if you're not working!" When he got the message he called back. Turns out he was working. He was playing with Lou Diamond Phillips. (Did you even know he had a band?) In Nashville. Is that ironic or coincidental? I always confuse those two.

So the next morning, after much wrangling between Princess Cruise Lines and Qantas Air Lines, I was booked on a flight to Bora Bora. My original destination was Papeete, but I was now a day late, and the ship had moved on. On the flight, I found myself chatting up the fetching young Australian stewardess. We arrived at Papetee, the capital of Tahiti, at two in the morning, local time. She was getting off there for a couple of days. I had a layover until 8 a.m. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I could charm my way into spending the layover in the lovely flight attendant's hotel room instead of the airport, but quickly decided that was way to Penthouse Forum-ish. (Had I pulled it off, it would have made for a much better story. Cue the wah-wah guitars.) So I spent the layover in a tiny deserted Tahitian airport, watching the big crabs scurry across the tile floor and trying to remember enough college French to use the right bathroom.

So I finally arrive in Bora Bora, and I'm completely exhausted. I'd been awake and traveling for at least 30 hours. Bora Bora is one of the most beautiful places on earth (it is Bali Hai from the movie South Pacific) but all I wanted to do was sleep. It was about 10 in the morning, and I slept like a baby until showtime that night. I ended up staying on that ship for a couple of months and went places like Fiji, Pago Pago, New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea, Bali, Java, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Viet Nam, China and Japan, but I never really saw any of Tahiti. Please don't shed a tear for me. I'm OK now.

So, you may have forgotten by now that this was a cruise ship musician emergency. What could possibly constitute a "cruise ship musician emergency," you ask? Well, it seems the guy I replaced went completely 'round the bend. Bonkers. Loopy. Batshit crazy. I was told he slowly began saying odd things, like claiming he was Jesus, and it escalated from there. He refused to participate in the stupid ceremony they do when they cross the international date line because he thought it was Satanic. The night before they called me, he stood up in the middle of the show and walked off stage in Jesus fashion, so they put him in the infirmary. He asked to go outside to smoke a cigarette, and walked away. This prompted the ship's security staff and the Tahitian Police to spend several hours looking for him throughout the Tahitian capial.

They eventually got him home. We got word weeks later that he was on medication and didn't tell anyone and ran out on the ship. He was back on it and just fine. However, the cruise line had to pay for a one-way ticket for me from Nashville to Bora Bora and a ticket for him from Papeete to New Hampshire. Plus round-trip tickets for a Tahitian doctor and nurse to accompany him from Tahiti to Hawaii, where they had to pay for round trip tickets for an American doctor and nurse to accompany him from Hawaii to New Hampshire. All bought at the last minute. It cost the cruise line over $20,000. I bet you never factored that kind of expense in when you last looked up the price of a three-day cruise to the Bahamas. But, the show must go on.

Bora Bora


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