One of the oddest-sort-of-things that occured to us on our recent vacation stemmed out of the fact that we were on a boat that had something of a shadow cruise happening. What’s that? Sounds mysterious. Creepy. Curious.
Last week we went aboard a very awesome and very large large cruise ship in the way that most average, normal people get aboard a cruise ship in these, the early years of the twenty-first century: We did some research on the Internet, we found some destinations we thought would be nice to visit, we scoured through options and prices and itineraries, and around October or November we paid a huge chunk of money that secured our little spot among the throngs of others boarding the mighty Freedom of the Seas.
In late December, sometime between Christmas and the new years, I was commuting to work and listening to podcasts on the train. I often listen to this show called TWIT, hosted by Leo Laporte, which is a kind-of technology talk show where he brings on a rotating slate of interesting guests to discuss technology topics. But over the holidays he had a more casual show and instead brought on, in particular, a guy (who I hadn’t heard of until that moment) named Jonathan Coulton. (Take away some of my geek points on that one, I agree!) Discussion ensued and roughly twenty minutes into the podcast the topic swayed over to this thing called JoCo Cruise Crazy, an on-ship conference hosted by Coulton and his pals in mid-February each year. Long-story-short (and you know exactly where this is going, right) it was about another five minutes of listening — and ultimately confirming at their website — that this was occurring on the exact ship and on the exact trip as we had now-already booked, paid, and negotiated vacation time off for.
In other words, we found ourselves booked on a cruise with a kind of quasi-interesting, sometimes-annoying, cross section of Internet A-listers and about six-hundred of our fellow geeks (who had knowingly and legitimately signed up to attend this event.) This shadow cruise meant that what was supposed to be a quiet family vacation cruise experience, ultimately included (a) a not-exactly standard cruise-ship demographic, (b) a variety of t-shirts that out-geeked even my own collection, (c) hundreds of fez-wearers on formal nights (which I still don’t entirely understand) and (d) random and frequent encounters (if only in a “hey, there’s so-and-so…”) with familiar folks like John Hodgman and Wil Wheaton and this guy who were trapped a boat with the likes of us for seven days. It was a little surreal and I, who is not normally star-struck and tend to take a very-Canadian let-them-be approach towards celebrities, edged a little closer to the gah-gah cliff, if I’m being completely honest.
So, a week went by in the Caribbean and we had fun, and weird and surreal became oddly normal for a few days.
But then we came home. Jonathan Coulton (who I now recognize very well) and his family were sitting beside us on the plane. (In the unlikely event that he ever reads this, I’m the guy on the Delta flight to New York who sat across the aisle from — who I assume was — your wife and son. I was a lot tired and in no mood for anything resembling conversational banter and so I didn’t say anything. I didn’t come to your party, but I hope you had fun. And I hope you had a safe trip home from the airport. Just saying…)
But it was all so… normal…
I mean, at the end of the day everyone — geeks, A-listers, celebrities, and everyone — were just folks on a boat. It’s the kind of thing that makes a guy think, wonder, ponder… you know: what separates a dedicated and talented guy like JoCo from a guy like me? How did he make himself what he is? What would I have to do to get to a point where I’m a guy coming home from a vacation where he was watching a shadow cruise to a guy who was coming home from hosting a shadow cruise. After all, at the end of it we were just two guys on a plane ride home, probably pretty parallel-ish talented (when it all boils out) on the technical side of making websites and being geeky… but then that’s not entirely true is it?
If it was obvious, everyone would do it…
And that’s the curious million dollar, age-old, asked-by-every-could-be, crossing the aisle of the airline, question. How does one engage people to create that difference, that perception, that popularity?
And even if I could, would I even want to?
Either way, you’re all invited to my next cruise — celebrities or otherwise.