Wanted: Media connivance

Wanted: Media connivance

In these fascist times, I propose that the media collude with one another to attack a single issue on a unified front. Let’s see a White House press briefing wherein every member of the press pool asks Sean Spicer the same question, or some variation thereof. The issue of the President’s tax returns would be a good start, but the issue du jour is really not as relevant as the pressure of accountability. If the President of the United States breaches decorum for the highest office in the land, is the media not allowed to follow suit? Is an aggressive, perhaps even caustic, counter force to White House spin considered an attack on the President…or is it a patriotic tribute to the Presidency?

At 57 I’m no Spring chicken, no grandpa either. But I’ve been around long enough to not recall a more petulant President of these United States. Yes, Nixon was paranoid…but he didn’t wear that paranoia on his sleeve. Yes, Ronnie was asleep (or debilitated) for most of his tenure…but he never revealed that until the waning years of his second term. Conversely, with Trump we have a man who’s readily displayed a lack of maturity since Day 1. The only thing more astonishing than his wanton petulance is his brazen bluster. For many, many Americans, Trump’s ability to mask his low self-esteem, shallow vocabulary and elementary cognition with bombastic rhetoric is “just what this country needs.” And therein lies the rub.

I don’t know from whence came this nation’s divide, but it’s palpable…and it seems it’s here to stay. Personally, I think the internet is to blame. It put the kibosh on congressional handshakes, as backroom deals became instant fodder for political rivals….essentially killing compromise and solidifying the partition down the aisle. Regardless of how or why our political system became so polarizing, it has manifest itself into a dangerous game of “fervor trumps facts.” Dangerous? Yes. Whenever both sides of an issue are obscured by emotion, rational thought takes a back seat. And when rational thought becomes subordinate to amplification, people forego pragmatism. That’s dangerous.

Case in point: Election 2016. Let’s be honest, no one likes Hillary. She may be a brilliant and tireless worker for the people, but she’s got a ton of baggage; people don’t trust her…she’s a “Clinton” and she’s flat-out unlikeable. Let’s be honest again, Trump’s an idiot. He may be a successful developer, but he’s not very intelligent; he acts like a child…and he makes Larry Flint look classy. (For all of its greatness, America sure does keep its leadership inventory to a minimum.) We know how Hillary got here; the DNC propped her up at Bernie’s expense. How Trump got here is the question that has baffled us for over a year now. He’s offended every sect of society, sans the white nationalists….and he was the human punchline of the entire democratic process. Did I say, Trump? Make that Donald J. Trump, President of these United States of America…or as I like to call it: Amplification. This is the result of political shouting matches. This is what happens when rational thought yields to inflammatory rhetoric. America’s political process was deemed to be broken and a glorified carnival barker convinced a large portion of voters that a disgusting change was better than no change.

If, ladies and gentlemen, the penance for our voter booth indifference is submitting to a half-cocked POTUS, a tragically comical White House cabinet, a runaway congress, and a Supreme Court that will make our grandchildren rightfully resent us…so be it. If we are powerless for a minimum of 2 years…so be it. The people have revved their trucks, waved their flags and screamed over our pleas for societal evolution and global enlightenment. They’ll have none of it. We read; therefore they resent us.

And so we, the elite “comprehensionists” turn to you, the media. Will you stand up to buffoonery in the highest office? Or will you dutifully respect the protocol set before you? Will you tacitly affirm deflection and proceed to your follow-up question…segue onto your next segment and leave accountability dangling in the void? Will you confront a false narrative emanating from the podium, or will you address it more comfortably at day’s end? Are you willing to skirt the law in pursuit of those that skirt the law? Will you offer the highest bounty for verifiable information? Are you willing to coalesce with your brethren in order to quell the rise of fascism…or will you continue to rival one another in the quest for ratings superiority?

We’re waiting.

Hit the road, Roy.

Hit the road, Roy.

A message to Mr. Roy Cooper, recently elected Governor of North Carolina.

Congratulations, sir. You’re a capable replacement for Art Pope’s step-son and the citizens of this State look forward to some semblance of sanity under your executive order. That said, you are powerless. The North Carolina legislature has sealed your fate. Your attempts to put forth a progressive agenda are futile. Your attempts to untether us from the shameful acts of gerrymandering, voter suppression, Medicaid refusal, HB2 enactment and national embarrassment are also futile. The Federal courts may enter the fray, but your office will wield no influence upon the issue. 

This is neither a hyperbolic assessment of our State’s disrepair nor a lack of confidence in your ability to rectify the missteps of the previous administration. Nope, these are simply the facts.

Yes, it’s nice to bask in the warm & fuzzy acknowledgment of former Governor McCrory’s (temporary) political banishment; but make no mistake, he has won. With a veto-resistant house and senate, the NC GOP’s legacy will endure. And if you didn’t know this would happen, you should have. You’ve traveled the state; you know who we are. You know that the “great state of North Carolina” is a far cry from great. You know that NC consists of mere pockets of metropolitan progressives, dwarfed by deep-seated religious roots and rural multitudes of the indignantly unenlightened. You know that the only thing great about this state is its pig-headed longing for a bygone era. You know that, at best, we might chip away at the undereducated but that the devoutly religious will remain impervious to reason, succumbing only to time itself.

That leaves us with the political equivalent of a Facebook skirmish… we Liberals preach to the choir and lecture the deaf: yielding zero.  Granted, this is a mighty broad brush with which to paint an entire State, but the facts (you VERY barely won) support the strokes.

So now that we know what we’re up against…and we’ve established the fact that you’ll be flying solo for the next 4 years; let’s talk about your flight plan. 

  1. Take a break. Enjoy the holidays. Drink some wine. Hug your kids and get plenty of rest.
  2. Roll up your sleeves and start crafting a 4-year campaign for change. (I know you’re sick of campaigning, but you should also be used to it by now.) Your new campaign isn’t for any specific candidate or party…it’s for change. Educate the citizens on the perils of indifference. Connect with the citizens with regard to social issues. (Stating the fact that everyone has a gay relative is a good start.) Project that broad smile of yours at every obligatory ribbon-cutting ceremony you can forage. You needn’t condemn the current Legislature; simply align its antiquated ideals with those of the 1960s and juxtapose them with that of the populous of our colleges and universities. You draw the picture and let the picture tell the story.
  3. Hit every campus of higher learning …then hit the tech/trade schools. (Avoid Church assemblies. See above.)
  4. Make your message “Vote = Change” not “Vote for change.” 

 

Granted, “Get the vote out.” is a tired refrain, but it’s the only arrow in your political quiver.  Rallying the voters MUST be the crux of your tenure as the Old North State’s 75th Governor. The words commemorating your time in office should read: “Governor Roy Cooper worked from Day-1 to unlock the GOP’s choke-hold on North Carolina’s future. He didn’t successfully free the electorate with derisive political attacks or superfluous puffery, rather he did it the only way he could: by empowering the electorate, by increasing participation in the political process, by planting the seeds of knowledge and by fighting tomorrow’s battles today.”

It’s been said that the single most terrifying notion for law enforcement officials is the prospect of their own improbable incarceration. So what do you suppose terrifies the NC GOP most…other than high voter turnout? Absolutely nothing. It’s their kryptonite. It’s the only thing that keeps them awake nights….and they’ll do whatever they can to assure themselves a good night’s rest. (See gerrymandering)

I’m not going to drop the mic nor sheepishly proclaim “That’s all I got.” But I will say: “That’s all you’ve got.” because, as stated above, the last guy left you powerless. You’re out of options. The only remedy for the vicious cycle of antiquated social conservatism is to stuff the ballot boxes. You’ve got to get the vote out…not the women’s vote or the hip vote or the black vote or the Hispanic vote…THE vote. 

Essentially, Mr. Cooper, the job…your job of governing this state has been deftly hijacked by your political opponents. Use that to your advantage. Your agenda is clear to spread the word. Do more to free up the democratic process than the GOP does to stymie it. Then do a little more….because you and your Liberal ilk have a lot of catching up to do. Make no apologies for your agenda; the GOP made you campaigner in chief, not the DEMs.  Besides, you’re not selling a viewpoint or an ideology; you’re just illuminating the dark corners of our political system and empowering the people to vote as they wish. If it turns out that the participating electorate is exponentially broadened by your efforts and yet it still prefers to go kicking and screaming into the 21 century, hey…that’s just who we are. And let’s be honest; the chances are good that neither you, nor I will live long enough to see the fruits of your labor, but maybe…just maybe… our kids will.

This isn’t what you have to do; it’s the only thing you can do. Now hit the road… our future impatiently awaits.

Who are we?

Who are we?

As my wife and I were lamenting the impending Trump Presidency, it occurred to us that aside from ourselves and our wee brood, the remainder of our extended family (20+ all told) was politically conservative. Of course, we’ve known this for years but in the past we had always reveled in our progressive charge…now, not so much. Now it is we who are the hunted.

The first time in my adult life that I recall feeling patriotic was in 1980. I was 21 and finally eligible to vote. I remember how somber the nation was during the Carter era. Inflation was through the roof, Iran was holding us hostage and mocking us in the streets as we failed miserably at a brazen rescue attempt. And then along comes Ronald Reagan. Within hours of his inauguration, the hostages are freed. Yes! The USA isn’t cowering to you towel-heads any longer. Fuck with us and Reagan will level your sand castles quicker than you can say “Alibaba.” (It would be decades before I discovered that Reagan had zero to do with Iran freeing the hostages.) A year later, the space shuttle Columbia zipped around the Earth about 40 times and landed in the desert. Afterward, we lashed that Shuttle atop a 747 and flew it back to Florida. Hello? We just flew a jet into space and back…strapped it to a 747 and flew it home to its launchpad. Who on this planet wants to compare notes with the USA? 3 years later, I swelled again with pride as I read Ken Follet’s best selling account of Ross Perot’s mission in “On Wings of Eagles.” Wow! Are we bad-asses, or what. Only we weren’t the bad guys…we were the good guys. So there you have it…A vote for Reagan, the Space shuttle program and Ross Perot. The 3 apexes of my U.S.A. patriotism. It would be 25 years before I felt that way again.

The 9/11 attacks didn’t piss me off. Well, of course they did, but more so they intrigued me. I was as shocked as anyone, but I wasn’t roiling with vengeance. I distinctly recall thinking: “Wow, somebody really hates us…I wonder why?” It took awhile for the answer to surface, but the Cliff Notes summary was this: Not everyone appreciates our arrogance. Unfathomable dollars and a few thousand bodybags later, in walks Barack Hussein Obama II. Seriously? Less than a decade after the September bombings, and you think America is going to elect a man, a black man no less, whose very name riles the hatred we feel toward the Middle East? And this, this Hussein fellow is going to defeat a decorated war hero and assume the office of Chief and Commander of the most powerful nation on Earth? Good luck with that.

On November 4, 2008 I was 49 years old and moved to tears. It marked only the 4th time in almost 30 years of my adult life that I had swelled with American pride. I wasn’t alone. As the news spread of Obama’s landslide victory; the world literally danced in the streets. I can think of only 4 other times (during my lifetime) in which the majority of the world rejoiced in unison: (1) The Apollo moon landing. (2) The end of the Viet Nam war. (3) The fall of the Berlin wall. (4) The freeing of Nelson Mandela. And now…make it five. I was so goddamn happy for these United States of America, I was giddy. The world wasn’t cheering for Obama – the world was cheering for us! They were proud of us for having the wisdom and strength to honestly address our penchant for war and elect a pragmatist. They were proud of us for reconciling a horrid history of social injustice and giving hope to millions of people of color. They were happy for our enlightenment….happy that we had tamed our ego, if only for a moment, and allowed rational benevolence to take its place. It was a special time in our nation’s history.

My how the mighty have fallen. In the aftermath of this 2016 Presidential election, a barrage of excuses and explanations have boiled over.

  • Clinton was distrusted and disliked.
  • Trump represented change…manly change.
  • The pundits misinformed the electorate.
  • The Right resented the Left’s political correctness.
  • The disenfranchised were tired of being denied a voice.
  • The middle class wanted change…at any cost.
  • The emails doomed Hillary from the start.
  • The pollsters screwed up.
  • Weiner and Comey killed Hillary’s gallop down the home stretch.
  • She should’ve concentrated on blue collar workers.
  • Trump supporters were woefully underestimated.
  • Black and Latino voter turnout was low.
  • Women didn’t support Hillary.
  • Hispanics didn’t turn away from Trump.
  • The 3rd Party skewed the results.
  • The electoral college is to blame.

I left a couple blank in case you wanted to add your own.

Gospel: It’s not about how Hillary lost or how Trump won. It’s about who we are as a nation. This might leave a mark, but we are a nation of racists, homophobes, xenophobes, sexists and religious hypocrites….goes without saying (which is why I have to say it) that we’re also an unintelligent lot. For those of you that don’t particularly care for how that sounds, you may seek refuge in the 18-25 demographic. That group of youngsters was shown to have known better than to vote for a glorified carnival barker. That’s a promising ray of light at the end of a long, long tunnel…but it remains to be seen how that demographic politically morphs with age. So, back to what a disgusting nation we are. Too broad a brush? Okay, disgusting ½ nation. For those of you, my wife included, who contend that people other than racists voted for Trump…I say: Bullshit. Turning a blind eye is tacit acceptance. When you accept, you condone and when you condone, you enable.

Here’s another nugget: Just because you’re kind to your darker fellow man doesn’t mean you’re not a racist. It’s not enough to say; “I don’t litter.” You must also pick up the trash of those that do. Employing, or working with, or living beside, or your children playing with people of different ethnicities and races…doesn’t exempt you from racism. You must also empathize. You must not only walk in another’s shoes, you must look closely at your own path. Yes, I know… you’ve grown weary of the “race” card. No one helped you get to where you’ve gotten in life. You didn’t come from a rich daddy. You worked your ass off for everything you’ve achieved and you’d appreciate it if those bitching about their plight would do the same. You think ALL lives matter. You take offense to the term “white privilege” because you don’t feel privileged in the least. I get it….I really do. But there are a few other things that you don’t feel: Acute racial scrutiny, for one. Shameful social rumblings, biased marketing in every shape and form, a daily struggle for acceptance as a man and not a color, the shallow kindness offered by those pacifying their feeble consciences, the pockets of tribal community shared with the disenfranchised, the seldom number of times you are mistaken for the “help,” the ease with which you hail a taxi, secure a loan or book a hotel room. Wait. I get it… I really do. You’re not responsible for those things… or slavery either, for that matter. That shit was before your time and we have got to move on.

Agreed…we must move on. The thing is, democracy’s latest goat-fuck has unequivocally proven that we are ill-equipped to do so. Not only do we lack the capacity to “move on,” we lack the will. In fact, we willfully refuse to budge. This inability, lack of will and embolden pig-headedness of the electorate isn’t a result of anything on the aforementioned list of Hillary/Trump excuses. And it’s not the embarrassing underbelly of an otherwise advanced nation. It is who we are. Look around. Routinely discriminating and offending on the sole basis of skin color isn’t happenstance; it’s in our DNA.

  • We look away when Mississippi has the white-sheeted balls to proclaim its flag is about southern heritage. Blacks are incarcerated at 6 times the rate of whites. The Ku Klux Klan just endorsed the 45th President of the United States… and he let them! The mayor of Clay, WV referred to Michelle Obama as an “ape in heels.” But hey, free speech, right?
  • We (which includes women) are unable to affirm a woman’s right to choose. Texas, the poster state for birth control, just shuttered half of its abortion clinics. Last year, full-time female workers made only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. Barely 2 generations removed from women’s suffrage and only a few decades removed from credit card approval, 40% of women consciously vote against the party that represents their interests. It doesn’t take a theologian to know from whence that obedience derives?
  • Unauthorized immigration has been declining for almost a decade, but today a majority of Americans favor a wall across our Mexico/US border with 75% favoring deportation of illegal immigrants. We are a whisker away from the “extreme vetting” of an entire ethnicity….but first, we’ve got some sacred Native American lands to desecrate and a water supply to contaminate.
  • We’re 2 steps away from bakers refusing to bake wedding cakes, clerks refusing to sign marriage licenses and a narrow Supreme Court decision to allow gay marriage…and some old white guys in the North Carolina legislature are sacrificing jobs, revenue, corporate opinion and national ridicule in order to keep transgender men and women from using the same bathroom they’ve been using for years. “We don’t care how you yankees do things up north, boy.”
  • Christians account for 3/4 of the political party that just elected a draft-dodging, thrice-divorced, corporate shyster and alleged sexual predator. We no longer even attempt to mask our hypocrisy.
  • Roughly the same number of people (60%) favor the manufacture, sale and possession of assault rifles as do the number of people who oppose Obamacare. Just makes you want to chant “USA! USA! USA!,” doesn’t it?

Look at us. This isn’t my dark view. This isn’t a bunch of pissed-off rednecks demanding a slice of our government. This is who we are…all of us. This is America. Of course we do some fantastic things for the world, but let’s stay real here. We are not a transformative nation on the brink of progressive societal evolution. Hell, we’re not even accepting of our own,  just when do you think we’ll be accepting of others? And as long as we’re laying the cards on the table: Our exterior ain’t that shiny either. Not just fat, we’re morbidly obese. Not just a few of us either…over a third of us. We’re also loud. We’re arrogant and belligerently defensive of our loud, fat and exceptional asses. How arrogant? Shit you not, there is a World War II movie in theatres now. That’s a 70-year-long self-patronizing glory-ride that only serves to stroke our militaristic egos and discourage diplomacy. Thanks Hollywood. How arrogant? Arrogant enough to think that even the dimmest of us could spot a snake-oil salesman when we saw one. Inside and out, this is who we are. If we were a candy bar we’d be an unenlightened chewy nougat of intolerance covered in creamy milk-chocolate grandiosity.

Does this sound like low-brow cynicism? Because that’s not the intent. The intent is to open your minds to the notion that “we ain’t all that.” For every moon landing there’s a baseless war. For every Shuttle launch there’s a Sandy Hook. For every Obama there’s a 2016 election. The point being: Trump isn’t some political fluke. He won bigly because you and I live in a country where the few are charged with the hopeless task of dragging the majority into the 21st century. That task is both a noble objective and a disgusting assignment. This shouldn’t be a chore. We shouldn’t have to calmly (so as not to demean them) convince half of the electorate that just because our political toilet is clogged it doesn’t mean it’s okay to shit in the sink. It’s like telling a drunk he’s drunk. That argument only makes sense to the sober. But here we are…trying to push that fat, wobbly red-neck out the back door only to have it revive itself long enough to yell “yippee ki yay motherfucker!” and fall back into our arms and puke. This is who we are…a half-drunken mess. It will take decades for this country to dry out and sober up, and as soon as it does it will make a beeline for the liquor cabinet. “Hi, my name is Uncle Sam and I’m an alcoholic.” Hi Sam!

Fuck Sam. In one fell swoop this country went from being my homeland to merely my birthplace. Does that sound petty? It’s not; it’s real. Think of it as family. Which do you prefer: the company of friends or relatives? And if this sounds like some selfishly indignant tirade spurred by my disgruntlement over a single election….you (like this country) are half right. I’ve lived a good life and I’m about 15 minutes away from taking a dirt nap, so really… personally…what do I care? And to clarify, I’m not pissed; I’m disgusted. I want to kick drunk old Sam in the nuts because I was supposed to be part of a generation that could proudly hand over the reigns to my kids. Now this shit. Fuck Sam. And fuck me for not recognizing my own arrogance in the notion of a rational electorate. Only I’m not that naive – I expected setbacks and resistance from a proud white nation. And I knew this country had a repugnant history… I just never thought we’d revert to it. What do I tell my kids? How do I explain this cultural disaster? How do I spin the fact that the fight for universal healthcare, that push for gun control, those marches for equality, that Iran nuke deal, that concern for planet and that black family in the White House…those weren’t embedded stones along the road to an enlightened America. Those were just sidewalk chalk murals …easily erased by the torrents of bigotry. Seriously, what’s the lesson here? Treat the ignorant with respect? Heed their cries for an antiquated voice in the shaping of our nation’s future…or else risk the political equivalent of a sink full of shit?  Nice.

We sit here. We wait, powerless. We survey this circus, or we look away. We fume with disdain and absolute shock at the enormity of our inaneness, or we contemplate our own failures as we plot a new course. And when the pendulum returns we will assess the damage. We’ll make grand plans and once again they will be met with fervent reproach. And so it goes. There will be no winner because there is no end-game. This is who we are. We are indelibly flawed by our ignorance and eternally shackled by our history… the two things we cannot change. We may be brought together by a common enemy, but only until we can return to our respective safe zones and likeminded ilk. We may make incremental societal advances, but they will be fragile, at best. There is no lofty goal for us to aspire to and this isn’t our great nation’s journey; this is merely our nation’s process. This is how the sausage is made. This is who we are.

America(n) Rules

America(n) Rules

Rule #1: Don’t be a fucking idiot. Idiots don’t think rationally, they just spew emotionally. Yeah, social media is a terrific vessel, but don’t make it a toilet.

Rule #2: We ain’t going back. Ever. Roe v. Wade ain’t coming back up for a vote, religion ain’t entering our schools, bakers aren’t going to discriminate and there will never be a wall on our southern border. That ship has sailed. Find something new to be pissed about.

Rule #3: No one’s coming for your guns. They should and I wish they would, but that’ll never happen. So there, Ted Nugent …you win.

Rule #4: We suck at war. Yes, we were raised on Clint Eastwood versions of ass-kick’n Americans, bravery and grit…but the fact is, it’s a nasty business and we have a history of failing miserably. Also, know this: We don’t have brave men and women of the armed forces…we have kids in uniforms. So cease with the glorious reruns; the world has changed and it’s high-time our view of it followed suit.

Rule #5: The chances of Congress enacting “term limits” is on par with their impending pay cut. Ain’t gonna happen…ever. So stop bitching about what a sorry lot they are. That’s how it works; you get elected to stay elected and you stay elected to represent yourself.

Rule #6: It’s only a matter of time before we adopt a single-payer healthcare system. We determine how long that takes, so don’t write your congressman…write your local newspaper. Let the media do the heavy lifting on this issue.

Rule #7: Fuck off with your techno-bashing. A nation full of people walking around with their noses glued to their phones is a good thing. It signals information gathering, entertainment, interpersonal relationships and up to the minute enlightenment.

Rule #8: The curtain’s been pulled back on Christianity. We are the first generation to say what our parents were thinking all along: If what you’re selling was true, you wouldn’t need to sell it.

Rule #9: Grow a pair. If you see or hear bullying, racism, misogyny or xenephobia …speak up. You’ll never need to apologize for standing on the right side of history and the chances are good that someone will have your back.

Rule #10: Cease with the exceptionalism. We ain’t the greatest nation on Earth; we’re one of the many wonderful countries that stake a claim in this world. We each have treasures and warts…and this ain’t a competition.

Pro football, this Bud’s for you!

Pro football, this Bud’s for you!

Of the myriad of foreign, domestic and micro-brewed ambers, ales, lagers, porters, stouts, IPAs and fruity variations of such…a can of Budweiser is inarguably one of the worst beers you could possibly imbibe. Unless you’re donning a “wife-beater” or have the discerning palate of a college freshman, you’ll likely not be seen in public holding a can of Budweiser. And yet, look how well it sells. Bud Light is #1. Think that’s impressive, look at its brand value: Budweiser is #25 in the world. Seriously, the entire world.

So how does one explain this juxtaposition of brand and bleah!? The same way the NFL sells its mind-numbing charade of a sport. It’s all in the marketing.

Budweiser didn’t gain it’s fame by producing a superior product. It gained its fame by reproducing a mediocre product. There were many breweries back in the day, but Adolphus Busch was the first to use pasteurization and refrigeration to ship his product so that you could find a “Bud,” not just locally, but in many towns across America. That said, the product has probably always sucked. Adolph preferred wine over his own brew and the local St. Louis drinkers didn’t care for it either. But none of that mattered because the Busch family bought licenses and paid rent to bar owners in exchange for serving their brand. Post WWII, the Bud brand really made strides when it started sponsoring stars like Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra…then sponsoring sporting events and eventually branding stadiums. By the 1980s, the Budweiser brand was firmly planted in American culture and its reputation (fabled or true) soon preceded it.

Similarly, it was in the 1890s that professional football was developing in Pennsylvania. As local athletic clubs engaged in increasingly intense competition (hiring ringers and placing bets on games) the underbelly of the sport surfaced to eventually become modern day professional football. Only, unlike one of the worst beers in the world, the modern era of football was popularized by its original content, not by its brand. An offshoot of rugby, it caught on as a new and exciting sport that challenged the braun and speed of men…a challenge not availed by baseball or basketball. A few players became the “town’s men” and soon the brawn and speed of one town’s men would rival that of another…and so on.

Skip ahead a hundred years or so. Not much has changed…at all. Budweiser, the anti-Christ of ale, hasn’t markedly improved its formula. But my-oh-my how it has wrapped itself with a purdy bow. Crowning itself the “King of Beers” and confidently asserting: “This Bud’s for you!” then parading the Clydesdales (horses known more for show than go) followed by the Budweiser frogs, ”Whasssup??” and the “Lost Dog” episode… just one of many Super Bowl Ads (to the tune of $300 millon) over the last 10 years. And we’re now subject to this summer’s campaign to replace its name: Budweiser…with “America.” That’s right. The #25 brand on the planet decided to rename its beer “America” (even though the Busch family sold Budweiser to a Belgian company about a decade ago). That, my friends, is the extent to which one must be willing to go in order to keep “Toto” from pulling back the curtain. Point being: Budweiser is much ado about nothing and the only thing keeping that red & white can of trailer-park piddle in the realm of the best selling beers in the world…is a whole lotta hype.

                                                Welcome to the N.F.L.

Who’s to say if the game of football has ever been a good product? How does one set out to determine that? Well, because we haven’t expounded on the virtues of actually brewing beer or the fellowship of imbibing or the marriage between song, romance, dejection and alcohol…let’s not expound on the merits of actually playing the game of football either. No talk of character building, camaraderie or team work or skill positions or strategery or fanaticism or the betting lines, or the fantasy leagues, or the smell of hotdogs, popcorn and tubs of draft beer. Nope, none of that. We’re just going to to examine the game and its brand. 

                                           Observations

  • There is no defined allegiance to personnel…or ownership, for that matter.

  • There is an entire industry dedicated to prospects, contracts and what-ifs.

  • The combines are carried live.

  • The draft is carried live.

  • Pre and postseason media coverage is interminable.

  • There is an HBO series that documents training camp.

  • Exhibition games are aired in prime-time.

  • Regular season pregame coverage begins 6.75 days prior to kickoff.

  • Game day coverage begins 15 hours prior to kickoff.

  • It takes 3 ½ hours to watch a professional football game.

  • 1 hour is devoted to commercial advertising.

  • 1 hour is nothing but shots of players standing around.

  • 35 minutes are shots of the crowd, coaches and cheerleaders

  • ½ an hour entails the “halftime” show and network/NFL self-promotion

  • 15 minutes are “replays”

  • 11 minutes of each game consists of actual “play.”

  • There is a time-out before each kick-off.

  • Without the use of “filler,” the game grinds to a monotonous halt between plays. This filler, known as “Instant Replay” is used at least once (often thrice) on 90% of all non-punting plays. This is tantamount to watching the game 3 times in one viewing.

  • 24+ cameras are used to dissect the finest minutia of every waning moment.

  • On average, 15 -20 penalties (game stoppages) are incurred each game.

  • Throughout the 3 ½ hour broadcast there are incessant ad graphics superimposed on the screen. This pseudo entertainment presents itself in the form of swooshes, animated helmets that clash into an exploding burst of sparks, a prancing robot named “Cleatus” and innumerable unabashed sponsorships for everything from the Verizon call of the day, to the Snickers huddle cam, to the Bridgestone scoreboard to the Allstate field goal net.

  • Shanked punts, fumbles and forward momentum are calculated by human guesstimate.

  • The participants are indiscernible from one another. If both teams switch uniforms at half-time no one would be the wiser, providing dreadlocks were tucked and helmets weren’t removed.

  • The average running play yields about 4 yards.

  • Over a 1/3rd of all passes are not caught.

  • The offense is allotted 4 attempts to amass 10 yards…they use 3 of them.

  • This “game of inches” uses 2 sticks and a chain to measure ball advancement (pun intended).

                            The Verdict

When we strip away the trappings of the NFL experience and we focus solely on the product, we find pretty much the same thing we find with Budweiser beer: a whole lotta hype and very little substance. You could say this slant is short-sighted and that it could be applied to all of sport, but I’m not that cynical and all of sport doesn’t portray itself as America’s King of Sport. I’m not saying that the game of football has no appeal; of course it does. I’m also not saying that football loses its appeal when it crosses over from collegiate to professional, but there’s no denying that it loses its soul. And to be clear, I’m not disparaging the Budweiser empire nor the mighty N.F.L., both are undeniable beacons of their respective realms. It’s just that their products suck. Seriously. Ask yourself (or anyone) how you’d feel if someone handed you a can of crappy swill and forced you to endure a listless game for hours on end. I think we all know the answer to that one. But add the winter doldrums, throw in some snappy frogs and cute puppy commercials, the word “AMERICA!,” a country music intro, a jacked up robot and some exploding helmets….and, well sir, you’ve got yourself an IQ sapping piece of Americana.

Cheers!

Look at you, America

Look at you, America

It should never have come to this, but it’s not Donald Trump’s fault. Quite the contrary, I say more power to him for catching a wave and shredding it. This is America, after all. I don’t really care that he’s a bigot or that he yuks it up “locker room” style. It doesn’t bother me that he’s not terribly intelligent or that he’s the last to realize what a tasteless buffoon he really is. The world is full of assholes. Hell, I’m one of them…but here’s the thing. I don’t nurture assholeism. I don’t spur the manifestation of the least desirable human characteristics in people. I don’t broadcast seeds of resentment and bitter indignation. More importantly, I know the difference between patriotism and nationalism. No America, Donald’s not the fucktard in this equation; you are.

You’re the first to wax patriotic over a 2nd string quarterback kneeling during our national fight song. You’re quick to (for fuck’s sake) attempt to rename a side item, “Freedom Fries” and to proudly proclaim the asinine axiom “Freedom isn’t Free” … and now you want to make America great again with Chinese ballcaps? You. Yes you, you obese American patriot —you are the problem. You, the guy who thinks we’re undisputedly the most exceptional country on the planet because we defeated the Germans 50 years ago. You, the red, white and blue-neck who thinks the 2nd Amendment was written with assault rifles in mind. You, the self-righteous baker, who doesn’t want to serve “different” people. You, the holier-than-thou deist, who thinks the absence of prayer in schools has ripped the moral fiber of our nation. You, the war mongering GI-John Wayne, who thinks our foreign diplomacy eventually boils down to bombing our way out of any global quagmire. You, the sanctimonious right-to-lifer, who thinks the answer to a multifaceted issue is “just say no.” You, the faith-filled skeptic, who believes in an invisible God but mocks the evidence of climate change. You, Truthers, Birthers and Sandy Hook hoaxers — you are the problem with this country. Your inability to reason is directly responsible for P. T. Barnum incarnate getting a whiff of the world’s most powerful office.

Truth be told: Donald knows bullshit when he hears it; you don’t. You hear Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson and think, “Yes, someone’s finally telling it like it is.” Donald hears those clowns and thinks, “Nice work fellows, but you can’t con a con.” You watch FOX News and shit your pants over everything from a PTSD marine stuck in a Mexican prison to Ebola to the Syrians supposedly strolling their baby bombers through your neighborhood. FOX isn’t to blame for that propaganda; you are. You watch Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews and surmise W Bush is a dolt, Cheney orchestrated the IRAQ war and Reid and Pelosi are just trying to help the poor. Are you starting to connect the dots here? Here’s another clue: Jesus ain’t the problem with Christianity….“Christians” are.

Yes, we have a divided nation, but it’s not a political divide. It’s not an educational, housing, wealth, health or opportunity divide. Disparity will always have a home in those sectors of society. No, the reason we suffer as a divided nation is because half of us are idiots. Don’t take offense; we’re not talking education here. We’re talking about non-rational thinkers…and here’s what you need to know about them: They know no geographical or socioeconomic bounds. The fact that these dregs of puzzlement cross all zones of our society is quite the phenomenon, but just as remarkable is the ease with which they assimilate into our personal folds. You may hold the fondest, life-long admiration and respect for someone, only to witness a cringe-worthy projection of ignorance tumble from their pie hole. That time-stamped moment of fractured logic is also the exact moment your psyche jolts your perception. It’s not “game over” for your interpersonal relationships, but it’s damn sure “game changer.” This is how families, friends, lovers and virtual ilk…split. And it’s a good thing they do, as we can’t have everyone tacitly burying their heads in the sand in an effort to keep the peace. This is not to say we shouldn’t be accepting of others and mindful of diversity. This is to say, don’t be a schmuck and perpetuate the idiocy. If you hear bullshit, call it.

 

As a born-again atheist, you’d think that I’d be topping the skepticism charts — and you’d be wrong. There are those among us who will readily put aside a lifetime of experiences in lieu of a fantastic alternative. Just so you know, I’m not singling out the Area 51/UFO theorists, the faked moonshot folks or Pat Roberts. (That’s a different category altogether — not so much idiocy as tinfoilishness.) No, what I’m referring to are the modern era conspiracy peeps and partisan blowhards who readily suck up FOX News, Ted Nugent, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Alex Jones, Breitbart, Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter…and… Huffington Post, Michael Moore, Ed Shultz, Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, Al Sharpton, Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow. Those partisan hacks are easy to identify; and like Donald Trump, they are not the problem — their believers are.

Granted, women will mindlessly vote against their own well-being. And the poor will remain malnourished by the lip service they receive from the left. The evangelicals will vote as blindly as their faith. Old white men will beat their imperialistic chests despite the risk of body-bagging their sons and daughters. The 1% will, for the most part, remain indifferent. Xenophobes and racists will scratch and claw to keep things the way they “used to be”…never once considering how horrific things “used to be.” But here’s the thing you need to grasp: Diversity of thought refers to opposing or differing opinions on a spectrum of issues. It does not refer to rational perspectives vs. emotional cluelessness. It’s not a shouting match or a battle of ad hominems and tasteless memes. If you’re really that adamant, or that adamantly repulsed, about an issue, don’t you owe it to yourself to take a peek at the other side of the equation? Otherwise we’re just orchestrating an unwinnable pissing contest. The fact is, we don’t move forward without some honest introspection, and the certainty with which this country is struggling to rise above the political fray is emblematic of its inferiority.

 

This may sting a little, but take a look in the mirror, America. You were once the world’s star — and now look at you. Your shining countenance is now a bitchy resting face. Racial and homophobic blemishes you once vanquished with a smidge of concealer are now age spots that require laser surgery. Your supple skin tones are now leathered, war-torn drapes of flesh. Your agile prance into the future is now a seditious plod. While you were cataloging your photo albums of glory, time crept up beside you. Take a look in the mirror now, America. You are molting. In a few short decades you will barely resemble your former self. The transformation is inevitable, and yet, like the aging movie star and the tattered old war veteran, you are saddened to leave the fame behind. Well, that’s your dumbass — but fear not, America of old. We will always love, respect and appreciate you, but it is indeed time for you to go. Please don’t sully your accomplishments with a tantrum-laced curtain call. Please don’t risk the embarrassment of our having to escort you out of the 20th century. Go with your dignity intact. No, the new America won’t look or act anything like you did during your prime. Nor should it. The new America will be stronger than you, not through brute strength, bravery and human sacrifice but through wisdom, pragmatism and respect for others. The new America will be friendlier than you, more inclusive, more tolerant, more talented, more capable, more exciting, more innovative, more diverse, more intelligent and more peaceful than you. And just like you, the new America will have a plethora of domestic and foreign problems to reconcile. The new America will succeed, stumble and fail…and renew again. So really, this is just a process. We are a dynamic entity. We cannot, nor will we ever, find a sweet spot in our growth and cling to it as if we’ve accomplished our goal as a nation. The only constant state along our journey is the state of transition. So go ahead and love your old-school mores. Sit back and smile with pride as you recollect your history. And absolutely question the direction we are now headed, but don’t obstinately attempt to hold back time. We are evolving. Your hair is thinning and you’re in the back seat now. Please don’t indiscriminately bark driving instructions — the rest of us will just smirk at your comb over and seriously contemplate leaving you behind at the next stop.

Ron Hesmer

POST ELECTION UPDATE: Forget what I said about leaving the 20th century…we’re gonna be here awhile.

November 6, 2016

To the B.V.I. and beyond….

To the B.V.I. and beyond….

It’s a deep winter’s night…You’re enjoying dinner with another couple and it’s going swimmingly. You couldn’t be more compatible. You know each other’s politics, religion, social sensibilities and wit. You’re in the same tax bracket. You have kids the same age. You consume alcohol at the same pace and volume. And as the dinner candles flicker in the joyous white noise of the evening…someone pipes up and says: “Hey, we should do the Caribbean together!” For a millisecond the table goes quiet as you glance at one another to see if this is an “aha!” moment, or if it’s just the wine talking. It’s a little of both. “Yes! A boat…we could get a boat!!” Whoa…hang on. What ‘s a trip like that gonna cost? What kind of boat? Would we need a captain? Where in the Caribbean? How long should we stay? Do we take the kids? And after fawning over the sun-baked possibilities…you stand united: We’re not getting any younger; let’s look into it.

Allow me. I’ll break this down into 4 segments for you: Experience, Agenda, Logistics and Tricks of the Trade. We begin with the obvious…. Do you know anything about boats? Meaning: Does your experience go beyond childhood fishing trips, that sunfish you sailed at camp for 5 minutes or the jet-ski your obese neighbor let’s you take for an obnoxious spin around the lake? It’s okay if the answer is “no”…we just need to establish some parameters.

So let’s say you know next-to-nothing about boats, but you’d really like to experience that post-card perfect Caribbean that you’ve seen splashed on the cover of all those travel mags. Not a problem…but you’re gonna need a captain. Charter boat companies offer these aplenty. Boat captains typically (but not always) come with a chef. More often than not, this will be a husband/wife duo…but marriage doesn’t necessarily bond them. Now before you turn your nose up at the thought of spending time in close quarters with 2 complete strangers, let me assure you that this is not their first rodeo. Through the course of their numerous charters, captains and cooks have encountered every personality trait known to man. They’ve seen and heard it all. Because of this, they are supremely adept at handling ANYthing human nature can throw at them. So if you’re worried that you might get stuck with a dud captain, or your polar opposite …you needn’t worry. I assure you, the captain of your boat will be so charming that by day’s end you’ll feel you’ve found a friend for life. (and you may have) Charter captains are truly invaluable…they keep you and your crew safe, entertained, comfortable and informed. They know when, where and what you’ll like…but here’s the kicker: It’s your cruise. If you have a plan in mind or if you’d prefer to sit in a picturesque harbor and do absolutely nothing for a solid week…so be it. He’s your captain; he works for you. She’s your chef; she cooks for you.

Some charterers may prefer a captain, but no chef….and some (though less common) may prefer a chef and no captain. For the inexperienced boater you’ll want both. The captain commands the ship and the chef commands the galley. Weeks before you board your boat, you will have filled out a provisions request sheet. This allows you to apprise the cook of your favorites, your dislikes, your special needs (allergies) and general preferences for all of your meals, snacks and beverages. Be advised though, it’s the Caribbean…not everything you have at your hometown grocery store is gonna be available, so if you want Grey Goose Vodka, that may be doable… but don’t ask for little Timmy’s favorite Cupcake Confetti Pop-Tarts and expect them to be onboard when you arrive. Rest assured though, you’ll enjoy terrific cuisine and you’ll not go hungry. You’ll also not wash a single dish. Sooo worth it.

                                                                 Bareboating

Now let’s address the experienced and the semi-experienced skipper. Those of you who would prefer to forego a captain & chef in lieu of putting your own seamanship on display for all to marvel (or condemn). Item #1: Every charter company requires that you submit your boating resume’. You don’t have a Captain’s License, but you will need to catalog your experience. Perhaps you’re a boat owner, or you worked on boats or you’ve sold boats…Whatever it may be, put it in writing. Mention things like scuba certifications, life-guard jobs, fishing experience, CPR certifications, etc… The Charter companies have an obligation to make sure you’re up to the task of commandeering one of their boats, but they’re also deeply committed to bringing you into the fold. That said, padding your resume’ is one thing, fudging it is quite another. Charter companies have been at this a long time and they know an under-qualified patron when they see one. So don’t show up thinking you’re gonna fool anyone into just taking your money and handing you the keys…it doesn’t work that way. But remember, every bare-boat charterer was once a first-timer. So if you’re borderline qualified…or you fall well below the threshold for competency, don’t sweat it. Most charter companies will provide you with a skipper for a half-day, full-day…or how many days it takes to get you up to speed on every aspect of the boat…and then you’re on your own. Obviously, there’s a fee for this service but think of the payoff: Yourself and your crew are at ease AND you’re already “in” for your next charter.

 

                                                             Can you handle it?

Since experience is relative, you’ll need to use the charter fleet as your barometer.
The Moorings, the undisputed king of Caribbean charter companies, offers sailboats ranging in size from 38′ monohulls to 58′ catamarans and power-cats ranging from 39′ to 52′. So say the size of your crew dictates that you’ll need to charter a 47′ catamaran… you gotta ask yourself how comfortable you’re gonna be handling a boat that size. Please note: The question isn’t “Are you comfortable driving a boat that size?” Regardless of the proficiency of your crew, as captain, you’ll be responsible for much more than just setting a heading and pushing the throttle. Consider running rigging, navigation, anchoring, mooring, docking, dinghying, provisioning, fueling and securing….almost always with an audience. You (the Captain) are responsible for everything and everyone on the vessel. Sure, there’ll be a division of labor…but there’ll be only one responsible party onboard. Case in point: If you were to go from the BVI to the USVI…only the captain is allowed to disembark and enter the Custom’s Office. After he has tediously registered the boat and each crew member, paid fees and passports have been stamped..then the crew may follow. So while your crew may be diving into the rum, you’ve got to keep your wits about you.

                                                                        Agenda

Okay, so one way or another, you’re qualified. Bareboating, as opposed to “crewed chartering,” means you’re responsible for provisioning your boat. Yes, the charter company can and will have your boat stocked and ready prior to your arrival if you wish…but you’ll pay a premium for this service and you’ll no doubt need to augment their shopping with specialty items and the list of things that you forgot to include.

If you’re planning on bareboating with another family, it’s right about here that I’m going to save your marriage…so read intently. Vacations, as wonderful as they are, can be recipes for disaster. There’s a boatload (pun) of planning, prepping, packing, scheduling and maneuvering that has to happen before you can rush out the door at 5 a.m. , succumb to a TSA cavity search and strap yourself into a repulsively undersized airline seat. Add to this an agitated spouse, a few kids bouncing off the walls with excitement or the couple you’re traveling with seems to be in the silent throws of a full-blown divorce…there’s the Customs & Immigration protocol, semi-oppressive tropical heat, a raging period, a cramped and thoroughly nauseating taxi ride from the airport to the harbor…and that, my friends, is how you anger the Gods of Harmony.

We’ve been bare-boating for over 20 years and it took my travel buddy and I five of those years to figure out how to avoid the angst of multi-family travel. The secret is simple: He and I go down a day ahead of time and take care of everything…(check-in, mandatory boat inspection, mandatory chart-briefing, all provisioning, squaring away of cargo, cooler acquisitions, liquor run, fins/snorkel gear checkout, ice, etc..)…everything. The next day, the only thing the wives and kids have to do is show up…and shove off. It’s a beautiful thing. Initially, he and I thought we were the beneficiaries of their absence …turns out their travel was exponentially less stressful without manly spouses prodding them at every turn. Win / Win! There are a couple of ways to accomplish this marriage saver: #1 Charter companies offer what they call “Sleep Aboards”…wherein you may take possession of your boat but you can’t leave the dock. NOTE: Depending on whether your Charter Company charges by the person or by the daily charter rate, “Sleep Aboards” are not cheap. Which brings me to #2 In some cases you can get a room at a nearby hotel (for a fraction of the Sleep Aboard rate) and get much of the same prep work done. Another benefit of arriving early is that you get to see the condition of your boat as its prepped for charter. You can see if the servicemen are working on the refrigeration or one of the heads or the dinghy motor…all important information to note before heading out. More on Sleep Aboards later….and remember, if you’re chartering a crewed boat, none of this applies to you. Your captain and cook will have taken care of everything for you.

 

You don’t look a day over “Rid hard and hung up wet.”

As previously stated, The Moorings are the gold standard by which all other charter companies are judged. Typically, you will find their fleet to consist of the cleanest and best maintained boats in the industry. Their main hub is located in Road Town on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. This hub underwent a major renovation a few years back and it’s a truly impressive facility. In addition to convenience (dockside grocery, restaurants, showers, hotel, pool), location, aesthetics, and security…The Moorings is enhanced by a professional staff. That said, there are lots of other players in the Charter game…notably, Dream Yachts, MarineMax, Sunsail, Footloose, TMM, Horizon and a host of others. With the exception of Dream Yachts and MarineMax…the thing that separates these charter companies from The Moorings is the size and age of their fleet. Age of the vessel is the single most important factor to consider when bareboat chartering. So let’s go there.

The newer the boat, the higher the charter rate. Charter companies aren’t just going to assign you a boat based on the luck of the draw. The larger charter companies will tier their boats into 3 age groups…often using such terms as “Club” level, “Premier” and “Executive.” The lowest (oldest) tier will consist of boats less than 5 years old…the next being less than 2 years old and the newest being 1 year or brand new. Smaller companies do this too, just on a smaller scale…maybe only 2 tiers (2-4 years and 4+). You should know that many of the boats offered by the smaller companies may be hand- me-downs that have aged out of the larger company’s fleet. Smaller companies can’t afford to inventory new boats, so they take older boats…refit them from stem to stern with service, repairs, updated rigging, paint and more. The end result is a really decent fleet at a substantial savings to the charterer. You can actually do quite well by the lesser known charter companies, and many people feel they offer more personal service. So why all of this talk about the age of a fleet? Because 2 years in a charter program is equivalent to 6 years of private use. As soon as you step off, another giddy vacationer is stepping on…and so it goes for months on end. Boats in the fleet are constantly being serviced for a reason…they need it. I’ve chartered boats that were only 3 years old, but looked and smelled like they’d been alternative housing for a fraternity. Trust me, you’ll want to charter the newest boat you can afford….especially if it’s your first charter. Nothing’s gonna spoil your mood like walking your clan past a pristine sister-ship on the way to boarding your boat…the ugly step-child of the fleet. You’ll hate yourself…and your crew will silently join you.

Does this boat make me look fat?

Age is key…but so is selection. We’re zeroing in on the British Virgin Islands because it’s far and away the most popular charter destination. More on that later, but for right now…know that the further off the beaten Caribbean path you venture, the fewer the charter opportunities…the smaller the fleet (selection) and the older the boats will be.

Obviously, boat preferences are going to vary as widely as personalities….so there’s no hard and fast rule here; but there are a few things worth considering. First and foremost, your crew. Are you high maintenance? Granted, “high maintenance” is a relative term so we’ll address it (honestly) in relation to boating by asking these questions:

  • Is anyone packing a hair-dryer?
  • Is a tropical breeze part of the adventure, or is A.C. an absolute necessity?
  • Are the kids young enough to enjoy the ride, or are they mopey tweens bored to tears by the thought of no wifi for hours on end?
  • Does someone like to cook, or will you be going ashore to dine most nights?
  • Will you be the only one aboard with sailing experience?
  • Is sailing part of the adventure, or would you prefer to just power on to your next island destination?
  • Is a monohull cozy, or will you be longing for some room to spread out after a few days?
  • Can you adjust to a rolly anchorage, or would you prefer the stability of a catamaran?
  • Does everyone need their own bathroom, or can kids and parents share?
  • Isfuelcostaconcern?
  • Are you cheap?

My wife, kids and I have chartered with another family for 10 consecutive years. There are a myriad of reasons why our families should not have made a good travel match. We live 2 hours apart and rarely see one another. Our kids are not the same age. Our parenting styles aren’t in sync. He is a highly educated, highly successful businessman, and I have been jobless for as long as I’ve been employed. Still, we are the foursome that I described earlier…spilling wine by candlelight …talking politics, religion and reveling in all of the psycho-babble that rears its philosophical head after midnight. On our first charter we feared spousal conflict or exposing some embarrassing character flaw…. ten days and nights is a long time to be confined to a boat, after all. Turns out we blended famously. Perhaps much of it can be attributed to each of us making a concerted effort to avoid conflict and going out of the way to be accommodating. Whatever the catalyst, our first charter became the first of many. About half of them have been sailboat charters and half power-boat charters. They’ve all been catamarans, because they’re ideal for 2 couples with kids. One family takes the port side berths and heads and the other takes starboard. Yes, we pack hair-dryers. No, (aside from grilling some meat) we don’t care to cook. Yes, we need AC. No, we’re not concerned with fuel costs. –- Point being, we now know the answers to each of the questions above. And while you can’t be expected to know exactly how your crew will meld over the course of your excursion, just pondering these questions beforehand will save you some angst while underway.

That’s all well and good, but suppose you’re not interested in cruising with another family? Suppose you’d prefer to do your own thing, as a couple…or just your neat little brood? That works too, and there are some palpable advantages to that plan. You won’t need as big a boat. ($$$avings) Your preferred agenda doesn’t yield to a vote (You’ll get your way!). There’ll be no surprises (You know you.). You can tell your Ps&Qs to take a hike and not wash your hair for a day or two. You can walk in your boxers… and fart.

I’ve done the “couple thing” and the single-family thing…both have been great. Personally, I prefer the company of good friends…it just seems to energize the interaction of the entire crew…and as a result, the entire cruise. (But that’s just me.)

 

Logistics

Okay, we’ve got you qualified (or not). You’ve determined your crew (for now). You’ve decided what size/type boat you’d prefer (pretty sure). Now we just have to figure out where you’re going. I’ve based most of this article about The Moorings and the British Virgin Islands for a reason…It’s the mecca for crewed and bareboat chartering. It’s a huge aquatic playground with plenty of room for everyone. It’s line-of-sight navigation… meaning, instead of punching waypoints into a GPS, you can just point and say: “See that island over there…the big one to the left of the two smaller ones that look like rabbit ears? Head for that.” Another really nice thing about the BVI is water depth. You can snuggle into some “skinny” harbors, but your main passages are plenty deep and plenty wide with lots of room for error. Your channels are clearly marked and there are literally hundreds of mooring balls at your disposal on a first come / first served basis. The islands themselves range from touristy to quaint, to ritzy to rustic…but enough about the BVI. You can find a plethora of information about these islands, as well as the USVI, online. The reason I bring them up is to stress the fact that we’ve gone about this bassackwards. Your destination (not your boat or crew) should be the first thing you consider. Deciding on your destination, when you can go and how long you can stay will determine which charter company you use, which boats are available and what the costs will be.

Pick your dates. The usual suspects (Christmas, New Years and Easter/Spring break) will be the most popular (expensive)…so plan ahead. Plug those dates into the charter company’s website to see which boats are available. (Remember to look closely for the age of the boat….they tend to hide this information.) Tentatively reserve the boat that best suits your needs for the dates that best suit your calendar….and then immediately start checking flights. Yeah, good luck with that.

Before you nail down your flights, you’ll need to work backwards again. Only regional jets fly into Tortola, so you’ve either got to fly a major airline to a different island (San Juan, for example) and then hop over to Tortola…or…You can fly directly into St. Thomas and grab a ferry over to Tortola. Problem with the latter being you have to work backwards from the ferry schedule for transport from St Thomas over to Tortola. Having fun yet?

If you’re chartering a crewed boat, lucky you…you can disregard the following pain in the ass (that’s salty talk) and just join up with your captain whenever you feel like it. For you bare- boaters, no such luck…read on.

It’s extremely difficult to arrive in Tortola early enough to get everything done in time to shove off the same day. In fact, I’m going to go on record as saying it can’t be done. There’s just too much to do before casting off. Which is why the aforementioned “Sleep Aboard” option is made available. It’s also why the “marriage saver” plan is so brilliant…and it gets brillianter! When my buddy and I fly down the night before and take care of all the formalities…the 2 of us can shove off the next morning and shoot for St. Thomas to pick up the rest of our crew….saving them the hassle, time and expense of taking the ferry over to Tortola. They simply take a (10 min.) taxi to the town dock in St. Thomas, hop aboard…and off we go. Otherwise we’re killing another day waiting for them to get to Tortola.

Alas… You’ve qualified. You’ve picked a destination, a company…and a boat. Time for some tricks of the trade:

  • Flying sux…especially when you’re holding a fist full of passports. My wife (the organized one of us) assumes the task of keeping up with everyone’s (2 adults and 3 kids) passports and boarding passes. Thumbing through each one to find the rightful owner in a harried effort to stay in step with the conga line of flying imbeciles can fray your nerves. Do this: Take a silver Sharpie and write the first letter of each family member’s name on the back of their passport.
  • Clearing Customs sux too…especially when you’re the captain and you have to clear in your entire crew before they can disembark. Rest assured the islanders employed there take great pleasure in watching you stare blankly at the procedure. They’ll help you…but only after silently assuring everyone in the room that you’re dumber than a bag of hammers. The paperwork is not that difficult, but it is tedious. Typically there are 8 of us on our bareboat charters. That’s 8 passports I have to riffle through in order to locate and transcribe each individual’s immigration info. Do this: Before leaving home, lay out all of your family’s passports (open to the photo page) and frame them in one shot. If you’re traveling with another family, get them to do the same and have them email the pic to you. Now print both pages (1) Your family photo IDs (2) Additional crew’s photo IDs ….place them back to back and laminate them. (or don’t and wish you had) Now instead of 8 passports you have one water-proof sheet with everyone’s information readily accessible.

 

  • Could you repeat that? During your boat briefing your attendant will be conveying a “boat-load” of information. You’ll be inclined to just nod your head so as to project an air of competence. Trouble is, the generator only shuts down in the middle of the night…and the water-maker only needs attention when you’re 4 rum drinks into your afternoon….and the briefing was 3 days ago. Do this: Use your iPhone to video record the technical points of your boat briefing. You won’t believe how smart you’ll look when it’s time to reset the A.C.

 

  • It’s okay to feed the Pelican. You’ll be gangly stepping off of a rolling boat and into a bobbing inflatable dinghy. You’ll come and go this way at least twice daily…and at least once while inebriated. Do this: Pack a small Pelican® case for phones, wallets and valuables. This case will double as your document box (passports & boat info) when you clear in and out of Customs/Immigration.

 

  • Your boat stinks. Seriously, it’s nasty…smells like someone placed a humidifier in your holding tank. Unless you charter a brand-spanking-new boat, this stench is more the rule than the exception. You’d like to think it will dissipate once you open up all of your hatches and get a good breeze flowing. Yeah….naw. Do this: Pack (or purchase) a small bottle of vanilla extract. Place a few drops on the floor of each berth and each head. Give it 30 minutes and voila!…your boat smells sweet.

 

  • Your boat ain’t rocking. The chances of you boarding a charter boat that has a fully functional stereo is on par with the pending success of your modeling career. Do this: Pack a small Bose boombox.

 

  • Pack Lifesavers. If you’ve got little ones you know how contagious their discomfort can be. (If baby ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.) Do this: Bring a comfy life-preserver. The charter company may (or may not) have the size/style you need…and you don’t want to be caught in the unenviable position of having to purchase one. (a) They’ll be difficult to procure. (B) They’ll be expensive. — In Antigua I had to fork over $140 USD for a kid’s life jacket…and the lady looked at me as if I was an idiot for questioning the expense.

 

  • Don’t pack towels. In fact, don’t pack much of anything. You’ll likely be purchasing Tee-shirts at every stop and on the odd chance you should need a blouse or dress shirt for fine dining…you’ll be able to find both ashore. Do this: Pack some colored safety pins. Boat towels (provided) get dropped, hung and clipped all over the boat. Attach pins and use them to identify their respective owner.

 

  • No one’s watching. Don’t be intimidated by the gabillion dollars in boats crowding the harbor. Your charter company will skipper your boat out of the harbor, then jump off and leave you in command. Same upon your return.
    Do this: Call the dockmaster on your VHF radio and let ’em know that you’re ready to depart. Give ’em 10 minutes notice if you’ve got an antsy crew.

 

  • Hold the mayo. When you’re provisioning your boat with groceries for the week, you’ll be tempted to stock up on sandwich bread, hot-dogs, deli meat, PBJ and the usual suspects in the condiment department. Go easy on this stuff…you’ll just leave it behind at trip’s end. Double up on your snacks and apps instead. Do this: Mid-day is about the time you’ve reached your destination and decided to go ashore to check things out. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone in your crew willing to forego an inviting restaurant (replete with conch fritters and icy rum concoctions)…in lieu of piling back into the dinghy and returning to the boat to fix sandwiches for all aboard. Just hand over your wallet and think of all the money you saved by not buying that extra loaf of bread.

 

  • Leave your bling at home. Theft isn’t really a problem for charterers, but there’s no upside to bringing your fine jewelry.

 

This is getting personal.

FYI: We don’t purchase trip insurance. Our thinking is that having trip insurance opens up a plethora of excuses to bail on the trip: Aunt Sadie could die any day now… the other couple’s son chipped his tooth… our cat’s sick… Aunt Sadie kicked… Timmy can’t miss band practice…things are crazy at the office… our dog’s got strep throat… our baby-sitter (Aunt Sadie) cancelled. Conversely, when you know you’ve got a significant investment at risk: You’re going. End of discussion.

Most people charter for a week. We typically charter for 10 days (Friday – Sunday). Whereas a week would leave us wanting more and 2 weeks would allow room for confrontation….For us, 10 days is the perfect duration.

Regardless of when you go, how long you stay, who you go with, what size boat you charter or if you go bare or crewed…do yourselves a favor and have the safety talk. Don’t be a goober…Nothing lengthy and mundane that’ll bore everyone to tears, just some simple guidelines will do. Like the “3-point” rule, head counts and after-dark protocol. We’ve gone 20 years without incident, except for the one pharmacy search and one Medac trip for a cut foot… so odds are you’re gonna have a terrific (incident free) vacation. But as charter boat captain, the crew (and crew’s safety) is under your command, so earn your stripes and remain vigilant.

Lastly, we’ve bare-boat chartered year after year. We’ve done the the Outer Banks, Whitsundays, Antigua, Les Saints, Bahamas, BVI, USVI, the Grenadines, St. Barts and lots of spots in between. Almost all of these were with another family…dear friends we now consider family. We would not have done these trips had they not been an absolute blast. Our kids were tiny then and now they’re in high school and college. I tell you this so that you’ll more fully grasp the urgency of my plea: Go. Schedule the charter and go. You’ll love it…and it’ll be wonderful channel marker along this voyage we call life.

Captain Ron