HUMOR: Book Your Cruise Today

Kelly had never left New York City, and hoped she never would. Not after answering cruise ship inquiries from all over the world. Every email that came in to Holiday Cruise International brought another place she never wanted to visit.

But for Kelly and the rest of the staff the launch of the Mississippi Monarch, with its phony paddle wheel and belching smokestack, established a whole new level of despair. The majority of rooms were booked not by Japanese or Lithuanians, but by Midwesterners. People who already lived there. What did they expect to see?

Well, one of the stops was Keokuk, Illinois. Keokuk? Really?

“Dear Holiday Cruise,” Kelly read, biting a pencil. “This is Patrick from Des Moines. Just one question.” Fire away, Patrick from Des Moines.

“Can I fish from the ship?”

Lord have mercy. NO, she wrote back.

She clicked ahead. “Dear Holiday Cruise. I signed up for the Lower Mississippi History Tour, which runs through Greenville, where I grew up. Question: Can I stay overnight and visit my mother, then take her car to Natchez and get back on the boat?”

And how would mom get her car back? Guess he hadn’t thought that far ahead.

She clicked on. “Dear Holiday Cruise. I got in a fight with my neighbor, and now he won’t take the dog. I know the Mississippi Monarch forbids pets. But what if my wife doesn’t go? The fare is double occupancy, so I’m paid up, right? Signed, Leonard from St. Louis.”

Kelly wrote back. “Only if you marry the dog.” She hit send. That might have been a mistake.

Another guest wanted to bring an oversized cooler with beer. “It’s big. And I can sit while I drink.”

Sir, beer is provided. And we have chairs.

It went on and on. One writer asked if there were diving boards. Another planned to exchange families at the half-way point, splitting the cost. “We’ll use the same names.” A retiree wanted to tie his bass boat to the stern for the duration of the trip. “I’m storing it in Dubuque.”

Finally a family of evangelicals offered to host a church service and sing-along in the mall. Kelly reflexively prepared the generic denial, then paused. There was something different about this writer.

“We got us eight children and they all play instruments, or at least the harmonica. These are stressful times in the world. We don’t want to bother nobody but it just seems with all the trouble people might be able to use a song and a word of encouragement. I mean between the eating and the shopping and spending like crazy. Old people can just sit and relax, and kids don’t have to be hauled off every ten minutes to a zip line or laser show. We got us what you call a mixed family, all colors if you know what I mean, and if we could bring everyone together in song, with a little prayer, well I just think it might make a difference to all those that are struggling. Like thinking only money will solve their problems, when faith and love, and belief in ourselves and each other and all backgrounds and races and religions is the better answer, maybe. I don’t know. Don’t do anything special on account of me. We’re just one family. Signed, Molly Karberhoven, Minneapolis, MN.”

Kelly stopped reading.

Maybe she had been too hard on these people. They could have seen the fjords of Norway. Or visited the sun-splashed islands of the Caribbean. Instead they chose to ply the waters of their own country on that great American river, the Mississippi, eating hot dogs, corn cakes and flap jacks, served by wait-people wearing striped shirts and bow ties. They only hoped for the best, these middle-Americans, with their chubby children and used cars, their bad haircuts and dirty fingernails. They were the ones who really built the country, not some jerk at Argyle Superfund in Manhattan.

Kelly in Customer Service could certainly do something for these humble people. Wasn’t that her job? She returned to Molly Karberhoven’s email.

“PS,” it said. “Is bait included?”

Kelly turned off the computer. That might be enough for today.

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Richard Donnelly

Richard Donnelly lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Classic flyover land. Which makes us feel just a little... superior. Mr. Donnelly's first book is 'The Melancholy MBA,' published by Brick Road Poetry Press in Columbus, Georgia.