My wife and I were talking the other night about frugality - which one of us pinches pennies til they scream. I suggested that I live in a world that I don't fully understand, influenced at once by my mother's very pragmatic budgeting sense and my father's need to spend money to release tension. Such was the case many years ago when our yearly family trip expanded from the usual station wagon train through the desert southwest and became a full-blown whirlwind extravaganza.
We flew to Mexico, where we savored the culture as fully as any middle class white family could - with only the translating skills of my older brother and a sporadically used Spanish phrase book to guide us. The sun, the sand, the sunburns, and a lingering sense that this was a trip of a lifetime.
But wait, there's more - in true Bob Barker Showcase tradition, when we were finished in Acapulco, we boarded the Princess Italia to sail a leisurely path up the coast to our final port of call: Los Angeles. Our cabin was dark and small for a family of five, but it mattered little to the three boys who were about to have the run of the ship.
Every deck had its surprises - often we would push a button on the elevator without looking, just to see if we could get lost. There were many special hiding places and secrets, but the place I found myself returning over and over again was the bottom deck - The Cinema Deck. I saw "Darling Lily," "Wait Until Dark," "Catlow" and fell in love with "Little Big Man" down in steerage. Was I old enough to be watching these films? Probably not - but with all the shuffleboard and other silliness going on up in the sunshine, who was going to check IDs down in the dark?
Then there was dinner. Every night we went to first seating - I think they hoped that it would keep us from lingering and interfering with the upper crust. Our waiter's name was Mario Bodino - an especially charming fellow who understood the importance of roast beef and chocolate ice cream for growing boys. We named his apparently mute assistant "Ichabod" after the character in Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." He kept the plates moving and the forks clean. When we finished dinner, we stopped on our way out to grab a handful of after dinner butter mints. Returning to our rooms and finding that all our mints had been consumed, we left our parents to relax in their cabin while we returned - this time holding our shirt tails out to scoop as many mints as we could carry back to our beds where we worked ourselves into a minty fresh frenzy before returning to the elevator races.
Happily, they did not set us adrift before we landed in California. The last night we skipped the chocolate ice cream for the more impressive Baked Alaska. We left a few mints in the bowl that night. My memory is of weeks at sea, but I know that it was only a few days. When we landed, we headed for Disneyland.
This was how my father saw the world. If that money had been saved, it might have become a downpayment for a house for each of us, or a nest egg for my parents to relax on in their golden years. Instead, it was a game show prize - a four door blowout that I remember fondly thirty years later. The Princess Italia is gone now - it was cut in half and refurbished to set sail again as TV's Love Boat. I didn't get to play shuffleboard on the Lido Deck with Julie, or party with Doc and Isaac, but I had the time of my young life then.