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What the streetcar fiasco really says about D.C.

District politicians, officials should be humbled by city performance

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D.C. streetcar, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The District government first purchased bus-on-rails vehicles in 2004. Seven years ago the tracks were laid. Last Saturday the city finally transported passengers on the short streetcar span along H Street and Benning Road in Northeast D.C.

But the only-six-day-a-week “mobility” novelty shut down on Sunday, when service is not offered. The weekly disruption is partly due to those initial streetcar units having been left outdoors to rot in the elements after eventually being shipped from the Czech Republic five years after purchase. One was so badly damaged it awaits replacement parts to give agency officials adequate trolleys to rotate into running.

Longer than a decade and more than $200 million later, the long-delayed and much-maligned two-mile single streetcar stretch is now operational. Riding it will be free for at least six months, both to encourage so-far-sparse ridership and to allow the city long enough to figure out how to set up a fare payment system.

Spanning four mayoral administrations, the inauguration of streetcar operation in the District prompted more jokes than joy among residents. Local wags were prone to suggest it wouldn’t be real until the first car door was severed from a curb-parked vehicle. A streetcar sidelined on the first day due to a side panel dislocated from rubbing up against a rider platform failed to satiate common expectations of vehicular mayhem.

The real punch line, though, is that the streetcars move so slowly along the route from nowhere to nothing that the entire distance can be walked in the time it takes to ride the rail-bus. Standard buses carrying 16,000 passengers on an average day whiz by the lumbering streetcars by comparison.

Whether this nascent system will ever be expanded, or make an unlikely extension west across downtown to Georgetown, remains to be seen. Most residents are skeptical and many are now opposed to spending any more on the project, with the possible exception of elongating it east to spur access and development across the river in Anacostia.

Destined to essentially remain a disconnected stand-alone anomaly, the thing may become a moving monument to a massive mistake.

Coupled with the near-daily service meltdowns on the subway system and plummeting rail and bus ridership as a result, the potential humiliation heightens.

Maybe that is the lesson to be learned.

If government historically enjoyed a reputation for doing anything well, it was primarily physical infrastructure projects. Sure, such development tasks often utilized business entities to do much of the work, but are government-managed undertakings at their core. Now it seems like even that exceeds the capability of bureaucrats.

Has government devolved to the point that its proficiencies no longer allow even the essential ability to build brutish things?

What expectations should the citizenry retain regarding governmental capacity to scheme, formulate, plan and execute more complex objectives?

Should we anymore anticipate government as capable of substantially or effectively contributing to solving societal problems such as alleviating poverty or providing the unskilled and unemployed with appropriate and beneficial job training? The reality is that D.C. government performance on both of those, for example, makes this trolley folly look like a successful interplanetary mission sending humans to Mars.

If our local government can’t manage a tiny transportation project like a single strip of streetcar service, can we realistically expect them to successfully attempt doing much more?

Given the reality of inherent brokedownness, what confidence should we have as city officials continue shifting attention from actual and essential responsibilities toward private sector matters? What credibility conveys to a government unable to handle core functions whilst encroaching into micromanaging things that work better?

This D.C. streetcar fiasco instructs us regarding both the competency of officialdom and the advisability of a broadening of ministerial tentacles into enterprise through outsized regulatory control and over-reaching operational mandates.

A government unable to accomplish much on its own would be smart to leave business alone and to work.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at [email protected].

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Brian's Ions

    March 5, 2016 at 5:34 am

    **What expectations should the citizenry retain regarding governmental capacity to scheme, formulate, plan and execute more complex objectives?**
    ———————-
    That’s easy, Mark. How about Mendacious Mendo’s and Sneaky McD’s Council setting up a new protection racket for 200 of DC’s violent criminals?

    They even expect Mayor Bowser to take the blame and public outrage for all the additional violence their crime encouragement scam will inevitably create.

    Council now wants to reward violent shooters, slashers and Metro muggers $9,000 each– AND– treat them for their ‘public health problem’ to boot.

    But how many younger teenagers who have never committed violent crimes will want DC’s $9,000 reward, too? And what happens when the $9,000 gets spent?

    THE FISCAL TIMES
    **The New Protection Racket: Paying Criminals Not to Commit Crimes**
    **…the moral impact of such programs reward the threat of implied violence by paying cash to hold them temporarily in abeyance. Rather than incentivizing felons to demonstrate rehabilitation, we’re essentially paying them to be dangerous.**

    http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2016/02/04/New-Protection-Racket-Paying-Criminals-Not-Commit-Crimes

    Of course if Mayor Bowser signs this crime-encouragement bill into law, it is SHE who will get the blame for the inevitable bloody crimes and killings Council’s wholly unproven extortion racket will produce.

    Mayor wannabe, Sneaky McD, knows full well that the mayor will be blamed more than Council for the additional bloodshed his racket will produce.

    Indeed, that’s what should result for any city executive who recklessly endangers the lives and public safety of the residents and businesses it is his or her job to protect.

    The mayor ought to honor her duty to save lives and prevent more terrorizing of DC crime victims. She ought to veto this dangerous bill– and without equivocation. Most throughout the city will applaud her for doing so.

    —-
    More on Sneaky McD keeping his secretive *protection racket* from public scrutiny…
    **”McDuffie Tries to Keep Reports on Anti-Crime Program Secret”**

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/looselips/2016/03/01/mcduffie-tries-to-keep-reports-on-anti-crime-program-secret/
    .

  2. Kyle

    March 5, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    If government functions so poorly maybe it’s because 50 years of right-wing propaganda has driven talented, caring people away from the public sector. Mark Lee’s ilk created this situation and if he actually cared, he would find ways to make the public sector work instead of constantly deriding it.

    • Brian's Ions

      March 5, 2016 at 5:13 pm

      I’m not a “right-winger,” Kyle. I’ve been a Democrat all my adult life.

      But yours is a lame excuse for lazy, sloppy, and now, homophobic, urban governance in DC by COUNCIL hypocrites like Mendelson and McDuffie who call themselves “Democrats.”

      http://www.washingtonblade.com/2016/03/02/bowser-resubmits-nomination-of-gay-businessman/

      There are lots of Democratic-run cities that work very well, don’t have transportation boondoggles like the one Mark has highlighted here.

      And none of those cities — but one, whose protection racket scam has provably failed — encourage 14 to 17 yo kids, who have never committed a violent crime– to go out and do so, for a cash reward of $9,000.

      Riders on a slower-than-walking streetcar will make easy targets for those Council-recruited violent teenagers, too.
      ———-
      **
      If government functions so poorly maybe it’s because 50 years of right-wing propaganda has driven talented, caring people away from the public sector.**

  3. Watcher

    March 5, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    I’m sorry, I seemed to have missed the gay angle in the article. Why is the The Blade publishing this?

    • Brian's Ions

      March 6, 2016 at 1:59 pm

      1) It is an opinion piece.
      2) A number of DC gay taxpayers who are Blade readers don’t appreciate having their taxes squandered any more than straight DC taxpayers do.
      3) A number of lesbian, bisexual and transgender readers may feel likewise.

    • BruceMajors4DC

      March 7, 2016 at 4:26 am

      Yea gay people are just their genitals. We aren’t 10%!of DC voters and we don’t pay taxes. We aren’t bashed so issues of gun control or police for example are irrelevant to us.

  4. bob

    March 5, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    I rode the line a couple times last week and although on one occasion an X2 did pass while I was waiting I did not see any pass the streetcar while I was on it.
    the “guide” on the car said it was intentionally running fairly slow in the beginning to let folks get used to it being there and to check before opening car doors etc. they did say it was getting faster as folks got used to it. one of the problems folks hadn’t yet learned to push the button for the doors to open from the outside. and everyone was trying to get on the front door like a bus. there is a learning curve.

    one thing for sure. there sure is a lot of construction on H strreet..

  5. Ray Milefsky

    March 6, 2016 at 8:35 am

    I drove to H Street yesterday since the hike from subway to trolley at Union Station is a bit much for my old sick body, and rode the trolley to the end of the line and back to 3rd Street, NE. The cars moved slower than molasses. There are no disabled seats and unlike New York, no one among the busy young urbans seemed willing to give up their seat for the short ride. A policewoman — dispatched to issue tickets to cars, presumably — rides each trolley, and a DMV tow truck accompanied us. It made me think of the flagmen who rode their horses in front of early railway locomotives All that practice has made the operators know the spatial limits of their behemoths — we rode less than 2 cm from the sideview mirror of a parked Yukon. Seven years to come this far is outrageous.

  6. Popeye

    March 6, 2016 at 10:51 am

    “A government unable to accomplish much on its own would be smart to leave business alone and to work.”

    Yeah, because “business” never screws up and always meets the needs of the society (can’t possibly roll my eyes enough).

    • BruceMajors4DC

      March 7, 2016 at 4:24 am

      Most business screw ups are actually because government prevents competition in order to protect its cronies in business.

  7. Popeye

    March 7, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Kindly provide a source for your assertion that DC’s growing population is mostly due to federal government hiring. A link to a credible news site will do.

  8. bikedude

    March 8, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Thank the powers that be that Arlington voters sniffed this mess out before its County Board spent $300 million on a streetcar for Columbia Pike. The only way streetcars would work these days is if they had dedicated lanes just for them. As the DC debacle demonstrates, streetcars are inefficient and slow. You can walk faster than it moves. Arlington voters were ready to throw out the entire county board over their stubborn insistence on spending a half-billion dollars so well-off people did not have to lower themselves to actually ride a bus. What possible benefit does a 2 mile track give to DC? It looks pretty and maybe is fun to ride once in a while. But as part of a comprehensive transportation plan, it is a boondoggle – a waste of money and effort.

  9. THEBEARCUB

    March 9, 2016 at 2:53 am

    YAWN!

  10. THEBEARCUB

    March 9, 2016 at 2:54 am

    Regardless of what. DC was here before you came and DC will be here when you leave!

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What do the gays do about Facebook?

We are hopelessly hooked on dangerous social media

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Let me just put all my cards on the table — I enjoy Facebook. I get a lot out of it. Instagram, not so much. But I think that’s more of a generational thing. But after recent events, I just feel a little icky about it all. I mean, don’t you? 

After the damning and didn’t-we-know-all-along Senate testimony by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, being on Facebook just seems, well, a little gross. Yes, I know the irony that I am criticizing Facebook via a column that will ultimately be shared on Facebook, so don’t bother pointing that out. 

The long and short of it — evidence shows that Facebook is lying to us all about making any real progress against hate speech, violence, and the spread of misinformation. And aren’t those all red flags for the queer community? Essentially, Facebook isn’t just harmful to the self, but to whole groups and even societies. The parallels between this and the queer community are obvious ones. Again, aren’t our physical safety and overall wellbeing fairly paramount issues for the queer community? 

Take this one point for example: the evidence of harm to ourselves by ourselves. According to the documents Haugen supplied, Facebook’s sister company Instagram essentially makes 13.5% of teen girls have thoughts of suicide. Have there been any thoughts on how social media might be impacting LGBT teens? According to the Trevor Project’s 2020 study, 15% of LGBT teens attempted suicide in the past year. Forty percent had thoughts about it. Both numbers are staggeringly high on their own and also staggeringly higher than for their straight counterparts. I would like to know what role social media plays in this. But, like Haugen’s Senate testimony, I think we all know the answer to that already. What with bullying and the spread of hate speech, it simply can’t be good. 

And that’s just the issue of self-harm. What about the other issues of hate speech and misinformation? Yes, the queer community has enjoyed greater social acceptance in America. But that is by no means universal. Take the plight of trans teens, last year one of the far right’s go-to punching bags and boogey men — this time for the non-issue of high school sports. Talk about the spread of misinformation. I could enlighten us all by doing a deep dive on the right’s social presence, spreading their general talking points on the trans community, but such an exercise would be both stomach churning and time consuming. 

As for queer adults, I’m not sure if things can be much better. You sometimes hear that life is just high school with money. To that I would add: then gay men can be at times that mean group of eighth grade girls. Yes, it’s true. We can be pretty damn ugly to one another. Facebook and Instagram clearly aren’t helping any of this. But can we let it go? Aren’t we all hooked? Sometimes you’ll hear when someone snaps a picture of a group event or party, post it on Facebook ‘or it didn’t happen.’ Granted you don’t hear this much anymore as so many folks, especially younger gays, have drifted off to other platforms, but honestly is there much of a difference? And to post it or it didn’t happen? Who is that for but those who weren’t there?

Who knows what will happen? I mean, what with octogenarian superstars Sens. Chuck Grassley and Diane Feinstein on this, I’m sure meaningful reform and oversight are just over the horizon. Maybe it’s time we start policing ourselves? Demanding better from our community on social media first? I’m wondering what that might look like. Until then, I guess we’ll just keep scrolling, like we have been doing. Over and over and over. 

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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McAuliffe YES, Trump NO, for governor of Va.

Youngkin is a stand-in for disgraced former president

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Terry McAuliffe, Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Vote Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia because he will be a great governor. Reality is the alternative is Donald Trump who may be calling himself Glenn Youngkin in Virginia, but don’t be fooled, Youngkin is only a stand-in for Trump.

Virginians know and respect McAuliffe. He was a successful governor in his first term and is a decent and honorable man. Had Virginia law allowed him to run for a second consecutive term he would have won easily. He has a stellar record of moving the state forward on equal justice and equal opportunity, civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. 

The first executive order McAuliffe issued upon taking office in 2014 banned anti-LGBTQ discrimination against state employees. He vetoed religious freedom bills, created Virginia’s LGBTQ tourism board, and became the first Virginia governor to declare June as Pride month. He was the first governor of a southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding.

He recently said, “As governor, I will fight my heart out to make Virginia the most open, welcoming and inclusive state in the nation, and break down the disparities that LGBTQ communities, and particularly communities of color, face in education, health care, the economy and more. Together, we’ll move Virginia forward into a better, brighter future for all.”

When it comes to women’s rights McAuliffe staved off attacks by extreme Republicans who controlled the Virginia Legislature during his tenure. He fought for women’s health care rights and fought to keep open every women’s health clinic in the state. He vetoed legislation that would have harmed women, including a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood in Virginia. 

On civil rights he said one of his proudest accomplishments was being able to reverse a racist Jim Crow law disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Virginians. McAuliffe restored the right to vote to more than 200,000 Virginians with felony convictions allowing them to fully participate in democracy after serving their time.

He was good for business and during his term as governor had a record of bringing more than 200,000 good paying jobs to the state and oversaw a lowered unemployment rate and an increase in personal income of over 13 percent. McAuliffe understands early investments in the state’s infrastructure helps the state to be a national leader in clean energy. 

These and so many other positive reasons are why Virginians should vote for Terry McAuliffe. 

But there are also many reasons to vote against Trump stand-in, Glenn ‘Trump’ Youngkin. The first is Trump saying, “he has my complete and total endorsement!” 

Youngkin continues to spread the Trump lie by still fighting the 2020 election and calling for an audit of Virginia election machines. He regularly speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He got caught on tape behind closed doors telling donors he won’t “go squishy” on banning abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood. He added, “As a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get.” Then he is still casting doubts on the COVID vaccine. He claims he is telling people to get vaccinated against COVID and then is recorded telling others it is their choice. He is against mandating vaccines for teachers and healthcare workers. His ads feature a teacher, who is a Trumper, endorsing his education program (a disaster) but who is opposed to mandating vaccines for teachers. They feature healthcare workers endorsing him who are against a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.  Youngkin is trying to buy the Virginia election saying he would raise $75 million but most from his own vast fortune, actually trying to buy it for Trump. 

Virginia Democrats and right-thinking independents and Republicans must come out in large numbers to repudiate Donald Trump once-and-for-all by casting their votes for Terry McAuliffe. 

Let’s hope Trump voters in Virginia stay home this year. But McAuliffe can’t count on that to win. It will take Democrats in huge numbers to give McAuliffe the same big win Joe Biden had over Trump in Virginia in 2020. If that happens Democrats will also keep the House of Delegates and win the other statewide races. 

Remember, when you vote for McAuliffe you vote for the man named “Public Official of the Year” by Governing magazine in his last term. Virginians should give him a well-deserved second term.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Blogging my first overseas vacation since COVID

Chronicling life aboard Celebrity APEX

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I will be blogging a number of times during my two-week transatlantic cruise and sharing my thoughts and experiences. 

The first thing I found is boarding during a pandemic is a little different. People were given specific boarding times yet most arrived at the port when it was convenient for them as many had early check-out times from their hotel or Airbnb in Barcelona. Celebrity didn’t turn anyone away. There was no Wi-fi at the entrance to the terminal so things got a little complicated as many had the information needed on their iPhone Celebrity app. It worked out and when you got inside to the counter they shared a Wi-fi connection. 

I knew in advance from a Facebook connection, some childhood friends whom I hadn’t seen in 21 years were going to be onboard. We ended up arriving at the terminal at the same time and caught up for the next hour and a half as we progressed through the boarding process. We all had to take a Covid test and only those with negative results could board. Of the approximately 1,300 people boarding, less than half the possible number for a full ship, I didn’t hear of anyone getting a positive result. 

When my negative result came back I was allowed to board and went to find my stateroom on deck 11. The key was at the door with all my information on it. Celebrity was doing everything to limit crew-to-passenger contact. We were asked to keep masks on in all indoor spaces except when eating or drinking, which on a cruise is often, and the crew are all wearing masks. Luggage was delivered to the door. 

Shortly after entering my beautiful stateroom there was a knock at the door and my stateroom attendant, Lenie, had come to introduce herself. She didn’t come in but explained how I could reach her anytime and for safety she would only come into the room when I was out. We chatted for a few minutes and I found out she was from the Philippines, had three children, and had worked for Celebrity for 20 years. She was both charming and efficient. 

I then took a walk around the ship and was duly impressed. It is beautiful. I walked through the huge buffet where people were happily eating lunch and saw instead of serving yourself there were servers behind each station filling people’s plates. All passengers had on their masks when getting food, as did the crew serving them. It made for a very safe feeling. 

Instead of a group muster each passenger was asked to go to their assigned muster station where you were met by staff who explained emergency procedures. You also had to look at a video on the Celebrity app and were then logged in and confirmed you had done so. All efficiently and safely done. 

Then I headed to the sail-away party my travel agent, and friends, Scott Moster and his husband Dustin, were hosting in the Iconic suite. The suite has everything from a peloton cycle to a hot tub for eight. It is incredible. I had the chance to catch up with old friends I had sailed with before the pandemic. Then it was a quick tour of the spa and gym open twenty-four hours a day. A way to assuage guilt over all the food and drink. Then back to the stateroom to finish unpacking and change for dinner with good friends in one of the specialty restaurants, EDEN. That meant long pants and a shirt with a collar. That’s as formal as required on this cruise. 

The food was superb and we got to meet the chef, Nicholas. An interesting guy who I will interview during the cruise. The menu was a combination of fresh fish, lobster, to filet mignon, all interestingly prepared. 

After dinner it was a stop at the Martini bar where a large group of LGBTQ friends had gathered along with some who would become friends. I was surprised when a guy came over and gave me a hug. I didn’t recognize him with his mask on but turned out he was another friend from my past I hadn’t seen in years. It is clearly a small world and the gay world seems even smaller. 

Finally headed to my stateroom around midnight, where turndown service had been done, to get some sleep and prepare for day two, and our first stop, Alicante.  

Day two and three on the Celebrity APEX

Time flies when on a cruise; maybe it’s the endless food and drink. All passengers received a letter in their room telling us we would need to report for a Covid test on day 5 the first at-sea day before we get to the Canary Islands. I pre-scheduled mine just before what I planned as my first hour at the gym. I expect to go to the gym on all sea days and there will be eight of those.

Each morning I have had coffee, a bagel and orange juice delivered to the stateroom.  I always miss that knock on the door each morning when I am home but then I would miss my daily coffee at Java House so I guess it’s OK. 

On day two we stopped at our first port, Alicante, on Spain’s Costa Blanca. I was truly surprised at how beautiful the city is. I joined friends for what turned out to be a three and a half hour walk as we were allowed off the ship on our own without booking a tour. We visited churches and the main market in town. We strolled along the beach and the harbor with great walking and bicycle paths. Alicante is a wonderful mix of old-world charm and modern amenities. One friend ventured up to the castle, Castillo de Santa Barbara, but since the elevator (the easy way up) wasn’t working and it’s a very long, steep climb up the mountain I passed. We arrived back at the ship around 1 p.m. and headed to the Mast bar on deck 14 for burgers and fries. Then some time back in the stateroom before heading to the martini bar for a drink and then to the beautiful APEX theater to see the Shamrock Tenors, four Irish performers who are not only talented but cute to boot. 

We decided to try one of the regular restaurants, those not needing reservations and chose Normandy. The food was good and I had shrimp cocktail, rigatoni, and cherries jubilee for dessert. 

After dinner it was up to the Rooftop Garden for ‘Silent Disco’. That is where you get a set of headphones with a few channels of disco music, and you dance to the music only you can hear. It’s really fun but by 11:30 my knees gave out and it was off to bed. 

Day three dawned nice and sunny and we were docked in Cartagena, located in the autonomous of the region of Murcia. I had an 8:45 excursion and again had breakfast delivered to the room. We were instructed to head to the theater to meet the tour group and sign in for our ‘Journey to Murcia’. Murcia is a city in south-eastern Spain, the capital and most populous city of the Autonomous Community of the Region of Murcia, and the seventh largest city in the country, with a population of 447,182. It is about a forty-minute drive from the port. It is a fascinating city with an incredible history from the Romans to and Moorish influence. There is a beautiful cathedral, isn’t there one in every Spanish city? This being a national holiday in Spain most of the shops were closed saving some on the tour a lot of money. We strolled around the city with our guide giving us a running commentary on its history for about an hour and a half. She was a little hard to understand because not only did she have a heavy accent but she spoke really fast. But it was still fun and we did learn a lot. We made a second stop outside the city at another church where a wedding was being officiated. The bride was beautiful. Then we headed back to the ship for an early departure. Our tour was the last onboard and we sailed not more than thirty minutes after we got there. 

Then it was off to the captain’s reception. I had the chance to chat a few moments with the Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis, who is as charming as are most Greek men. We also met the rest of the senior crew who run the ship. Many said they would be more than happy to sit and get a cup of coffee with me during our at-sea days so I can interview and write about them.

Then it was back to my stateroom again to prepare for another tough night of food and drinking. We went to see Andrew Derbyshire in the theater for the 7:30 show and then to dinner at Cyprus.   After dinner Celebrity hosted the first LGBTQ+ event of the cruise at the EDEN bar. A large crowd showed up, not all gay but they all knew where the fun people would be. The entertainers all showed up there as including the Shamrock Tenors, four talented Irish guys and Andrew Derbyshire, a British actor and singer. We chatted and I will meet him for coffee to do a column on him. 

Then about midnight it was back to the stateroom for what some of my friends on board called an early night. Morning would have us docking in Cadiz and we had a private tour planned for over 20 of the people who had booked the trip with Scott Moster, travel agent extraordinaire, taking us to the city of Seville.  

Days four and five on the Celebrity APEX

Day four dawned warm and partially sunny as we docked in the port of Cadiz. This was the day we had our private tour of Sevilla planned. The itinerary had been set by two of my friends, Rob Robertson and his husband Carlos Taylor. Carlos lived for a time in Sevilla as a child and has a big family still here. Celebrity, by agreement with our travel agent Scott Moster, made the planned itinerary a formally sponsored tour. 

At 8:45 our group of mostly gay and lesbian travelers left the ship for the hour and forty-five-minute bus ride to Sevilla. Our guide described the city and gave us its history as we traveled to our destination. Scott also had the foresight  to bring along a few bottles of champagne and orange juice and we were treated to mimosas along the way. 

Once in Sevilla were met by a second guide and given electronic devices and earphones so we could follow along as we took a two hour walk to see the sights which included the incredible Plaza de España in the Parque de María Luisa. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. It is a landmark example of Regionalism Architecture, mixing elements of the Baroque Revival, Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival styles of Spanish architecture. Plaza de España has been used as a backdrop in a number of films including Starwars. It is very impressive. 

From there we headed to the Royal Palace and its beautiful gardens and then it was off to the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, better known as, Seville Cathedral. It was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a world heritage site along with the adjoining Alcazar complex. It is the fourth largest church in the world as well as the largest Gothic church and is particularly ornate with over forty-five individual chapels and two huge organs. Christopher Columbus and his son Diego are buried in the cathedral. 

Because we spent so much time at these sites we were very late for lunch at the restaurant Carlos had chosen; one owned by friends of his family. They welcomed us with charcuterie and cheese plates, wine, beer and sangria. However, the rest of lunch ended up as takeout as we were really late and our ship was scheduled to leave port at 4:45 and we had been told to be on board no later than 4:30. We double-timed it back to our bus and headed for the port. All went well until we hit a traffic jam and sat for about fifteen minutes. It was increasingly clear we wouldn’t be on-time. Our guide was getting nervous and he called the ship and someone erroneously told him they would sail without us. 

Meanwhile our trusty travel agent Scott was on the phone with his Celebrity contact who confirmed as this was an official tour they couldn’t leave without us. Once again we were the last people up the gangway and about five minutes after the last person was onboard the engines started up. The Captain had made an announcement to all the reason they may be leaving late was us. After that excitement it was a great evening with dinner at Cyprus and then a show. The hard life onboard ship continued.

Day five was our first sea-day. No tours and no rushing. For me it was early morning writing and coffee delivered to the room. Then my required covid test and off to the gym. The half hour on the Lifecyle was easy because I was looking out at the sea. The gym isn’t large and because of covid you could only use every other machine. But with only half the number of passengers on board that worked. The gym is open twenty-four hours a day. After my workout I met friends at the buffet for a lite lunch because of course it was crucial to gain back the few calories I may have lost working out. Then it was a lazy day, the kind I love when cruising. I had arranged coffee with Andrew Derbyshire, one of the talented entertainers onboard, to interview him for a column I will write. He is a really nice guy who will be getting off the ship in the Canary Islands; not being an American citizen, he wouldn’t be allowed into the US even though fully vaccinated until November 8th and we dock on October 24th. 

Evening began with a Celebrity scheduled  LGBTQ+ happy hour and then a nice dinner at the Rooftop Garden, another of the specialty restaurants. Then on to The Club, one of the entertainment venues, to hear Andrew sing. He had the whole room up and dancing, even me.  All-in-all another great day onboard Celebrity APEX.

Day Six begins my sea-days on the Celebrity APEX

I woke on day six to a hazy sky and our ship heading to dock in Tenerife. I had been there before and was sad that we were not going to be allowed to head out on our own. There were a number of tours scheduled but I decided to stay on the ship. It was a wonderful lazy day of writing, the gym, and just finding a nice place to sit and read. First though I would have a long lunch with Cheryl and Jeff in the Café, which is the buffet. They are my childhood friends who are onboard. We exchanged old pictures from our iPhones and talked about people we grew up with.  

The EDGE series of Celebrity ships, which includes the EDGE, the APEX which I am on, and the upcoming BEYOND scheduled to make its inaugural sail next April, have what is called the Magic Carpet. It is a lounge that can be moved up and down on the side of the ship. On day six it was on deck 14 and it was the perfect place to sit and read. This would be my life for the next seven days at sea. It is the part of the cruise I like the best.

Scott and Dustin invited us all to a sail-away party in their suite at 4:30 and we watched as our ship sailed out of Tenerife for the seven-day crossing to Ft. Lauderdale. Lazy days and fun nights ahead for all of us. On this day Celebrity had scheduled two LGBTQ+ events, one a meet and greet at 6 pm and a second LGBTQ+ PRIDE event at 10:30. Between the two there was a show in the Theater, UPTOWN, three talented young men dancing and singing to Motown and other music from groups who had sung in the famous New York,  Apollo theater. Then dinner at the Steak House, another specialty restaurant. 

At the evening LGBTQ+ event we met some of the new cast members of the shows replacing those who had to leave the ship in Tenerife.  I ran into another person on the ship I first met years ago in DC, Tareq Salahi, known at the time as part of the couple who crashed a White House dinner. His first wife was on the very short-lived series ‘The Housewives of Washington, DC. 

On day seven I woke up to a hazy day at sea, calm waters which we can only hope will be replicated for our whole Atlantic crossing. I started my day going to a talk given by Melinda Bates, who had written a book on the Clinton Administration where she served eight years in the visitor’s office of the White House. I had met her on a previous cruise and had lunch with her so really went just to say hello.  Then it was going to be what I looked forward to; gym, writing, reading, eating and drinking, and just being lazy in luxurious surroundings with fun people. What more can anyone ask for.

Seven Sea-days on Celebrity APEX

The sea-days on Celebrity APEX have been as wonderful as I anticipated. The knock on the door every morning at 7:30 a.m. with my coffee delivered by a smiling, at least his eyes are as he is wearing a mask, room service waiter. Then a couple of hours doing the second edit of the book I am writing. Somehow being at sea has given me the head space I needed to get back to it. Then off to the gym.

Despite the apparent incompetence of the Celebrity PR agency, I did get the chance to meet the Captain on the second day of my cruise and he agreed to sit down for a short interview. He is a charming and totally open guy willing to talk about his life. I will be doing a column on the interview shortly after I am off the ship. 

He even agreed to set up a tour of the bridge for me and friends Rob and Carlos. It was arranged by Icaro, the concierge, a charming Brazilian. We were met outside the bridge by security and wanded down. The bridge is larger than I thought it would be and the very nice 2nd mate Alex, took time to give us a detailed explanation of how they steer this beautiful ship. In some ways it looks like a little more complicated video game. But then those playing video games aren’t responsible for the lives of a crew of 1,250 and nearly 3000 passengers when the ship is full.

The days at sea pass quickly, which is sometimes surprising when you are really doing nothing but being lazy and figuring out what beautiful venue to go to for your next meal or a drink. The Martini Bar or Café Al Bacio are some of the great places to drink and relax on the ship. 

Our ever-attentive travel agent Scott and his husband Dustin hosted another party in their suite, the Iconic Suite, and I met some people I hadn’t yet seen in the past days onboard. Some of them signing up with Scott to go on next year’s October 29th APEX transatlantic cruise out of Rome. I am one of them and have even given a deposit for the October 30th 2023 transatlantic cruise on The BEYOND, Celebrity’s newest ship which will set sail on its first cruise in April of 2022. It is amazing how addictive cruising can be but I guess if you need to have an addiction this isn’t a bad one to have.

The Iconic suite is located in what is called the ‘Retreat’ on the ship. It is the more expensive suites and villas with their own restaurant, sun deck, bar and pool. While I can’t afford to book a stateroom in the Retreat I am lucky some of my friends can. They have invited me to join them there occasionally for a drink and dinner. 

Reality is the rest of the ship is just as beautiful and on this cruise, which sailed with less than 50% capacity, it is especially nice. The five specialty restaurants are fun to go to and the regular dining rooms are great. In all of them you can have filet mignon or lobster, among a wide variety of choices. One  restaurant a little different is The Petit Chef. There you have a show play out on your table and plate from cameras above showing the preparation of each course on your empty plate. Immediately after the show for each course your food is presented looking exactly like the filmed version. It is a fun two-hour dinner with everyone in the restaurant eating the same food at the same time.

The talent in the APEX theater, The CLUB and other venues including EDEN has been incredible and the entertainers are happy to mingle with the guests, which has been fun. We have seen shows with talent like Andrew Derbyshire, The Shamrock Tenors, UPTOWN, Three DIVAS, and the performers in Caravan, among others. I will be writing a column on Andrew Derbyshire after the cruise. All-in-all one couldn’t ask for more. 

On board you often feel you have escaped the world and the daily news cycle. Occasionally it does raise its head as they have BBC, MSNBC and Fox News on shipboard TV. Every once in a while, someone starts talking politics to me as they know I write about it in the Washington Blade. One of our group told me about lying on a lounge in the sun next to two women talking about how they hate Biden who isn’t the real president. So even here you can’t totally get away from stupid. Then we heard every Senate Republican voted against allowing debate on the Voting Rights Act. Depressing to say the least, disgusting in fact. 

But since we can’t do anything about it at the moment it’s back to enjoying yourself; eating and drinking without guilt. I know the people I am traveling with will go home after our two-week respite and continue to fight for equality and our Democracy. I am truly fortunate to be traveling with such a great group of people. 

I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of my time on the ship and I will be doing some additional columns once I am back on dry land which will be in two days. Even great times have to end. I wholeheartedly recommend a cruise on the Celebrity APEX to anyone who enjoys travel.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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