Thursday, September 16, 2010
long beach memoirs
A friend of mine who travels a great deal recommended treating ourselves to an upgrade here and there to gild our experience. And what better town to spend a few extra dollars for a convertible than Los Angeles, birthplace of preening shallowness. We actually flew into Long Beach and had to disembark the place via a shaky ramp directly onto the jetway. It made us feel like the Beatles in 1964 despite the absence of screaming teenage girls. Actually, there was about a dozen screaming girls getting off the plane with us a high school volleyball team that we later had to sidestep in the parking lot as they were doing a "ninja poses" photo session. It was a very small airport, the kind you expect in a small city, with a single building that seemed mostly open-air. We got a Chrysler Sebring convertible (the same car Michael Scott drives on "The Office"!), put the top down, despite the darkness, and hit the road.
The first thing we noticed was the stench. Long Beach may be named after a stretch of sandy, sun-kissed shoreline, but their waterfront is densely industrial. After all they're not unloading shipping containers near Malibu. We regretted putting the top down almost immediately but persevered for the remaining miles to our destination: The Queen Mary. While researching for a place to stay we happened upon the famous boat now welded to a pier in Long Beach Harbor and the chance to sleep on a 83-year-old haunted luxury liner was too intriguing to pass up. For more information on the Queen Mary; visit you local library and use one of their free computers to google "The Queen Mary."
After checking in, We took a free shuttle bus over to a busy shopping and dining area that apparently closed at 9pm. We found the one place that stayed open late and ordered a couple burgers. It was a local bar called The Three Brothers, and had a house band trio that played classic rock covers. My favorite was their arrangement of "Desperado" that featured both a mandolin and a tenor saxophone. If I sound like I'm being sarcastic--I'm am not, they were really very good and they chatted with us afterward about their unorthodox use of horns and strings.
We returned to the boat which felt utterly deserted now that all the other guests had retired for the night. It was like a floating Overlook Hotel: serpentine, dimly lit hallways, paintings of long dead dignitaries, Art Deco accoutrements, and a palpable history around every corner. The fact that it's renowned for being haunted by the ghost of a little girl who leaves watery footprints, only added to the massive ship's ability to provoke goosebumps. There are signs around the ship that tell the stories of the ghosts that have been sighted there, and there a quite a lot of signs. I want to see a ghost in the same way that I'd like to see a UFO, so I can see it for my own eyes and know for certain the truth of their existence. That does not mean, however, that I didn't turn some corners with trepidation, expecting to see pale, twin girls or Jack Nicholson.
The ship itself is a masterpiece of engineering and design. Much of the old Art Deco stylings have remained untouched and they've kept the modern upgrades to a minimum to preserve the historical integrity of the ship's storied history. Some of the rooms have had a modern redesign but we requested one with the original Art Deco and it did not disappoint: reminders of the past are all over the place: the original toilet flusher, the knobs for hot or cold, salt or fresh water and the original socketed exhaust tubes for air-conditioning and heat. We returned to our room about 1am and that's when the knocking started. First two knocks came on one side of the narrow room and both Deb and I got chills, then two more knocks at the door. When I looked through the peephole there was no one there. Then a fifth and sixth knock on the opposite wall and by then we were both feeling creeped out. Deb made me call the front desk to find out if there were people staying in the adjacent rooms. The clerk said there were and we hoped that we were talking too loudly for our neighbors and they were trying to send us a message. I was too tired to be afraid of no ghosts, but the ordeal rattled Deb a bit more and she had some trouble sleeping that night.