About three weeks ago, I returned to America from Mexico and can hardly wait to share my news. Because I have frittered away a good portion of my retirement funds hanging out in espresso shops, I now need a little extra cash just to get by.
While sailing the Pacific Ocean during the Booze & Blues Cruise, I lined up 2 part-time jobs. My first money-making scheme involves my serving as a Shore Excursion Guide for Holland America Cruise Line’s ship, the Eurodam. I get an hourly wage, tips, room and board, plus I enjoy traveling the world. The most exciting part is when I am not on duty, I can play shuffleboard, allowing me to win shuffleboard bet money from the easy-target guests as I enjoy free drinks from the Crow’s Nest.
The downside to shore excursions is I get paid with the currency used in the country where I serve as Excursion Guide. I thought I was going to make $280 the day I lead 25 cruisers through Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It turns out my pay was not $280 US dollars; it was 280 Mexican pesos or about $14 for the day. I traded my pesos for 3 Cappuccinos up at my favorite ship hangout, The Crow’s Nest.
My second simultaneous income stream comes from my ball-cap hat advertising promotion scam for actor Morgan Freeman’s Blues juke joint called Ground Zero, located in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Aaah, you are thinking I am joking. I am not kidding, and my proof is pictured below. Check out my hat and my official Shore Excursion Leader paddle.
Now that I am working again, I just love being able to, once more, pay income tax, Social Security tax, and L & I tax. It makes me feel like a good American.
Every job has its downside. In my case, Holland America has asked me to lead a shore excursion to North Korea, where I can take passengers on a tour of the USS Pueblo.
History books remind us that on January 23, 1968, the North Koreans attacked a US Banner-class environmental research ship capturing the ship and the crew. They treated the vessel, and the crew like it was a spy ship.
Commander Bucher and his crew were eventually released after almost a year in captivity.
What most Americans do not realize is how the US was able to gain the crew’s freedom. The Top Secret file on the USS Pueblo is now declassified so I can tell you all about it.
You see, there was a little known, low profile, highly trained and courageous tight band of war heroes made up of mostly Pierce County locals including Bert Johnson, Joe Piscatella, Jim Boyd, Ron Remme, Rod Bernstein, Mel Hibbard, and Joe Boyle. The freedom fighters made up a crack US Air Force unit known as “The Fighting 86th Aerial Port Squadron – Trained MAC Killers”.
War hero Larry King, whose lazy eye prevented him from joining the Air Force, used his position with the US Coast Guard to act as our backup.
Jimmy Howe wanted to be a war hero like the rest of us, but he was too young and busy fighting his expulsion from the Boy Scouts for allegedly sneaking his girlfriend into the Boy Scout camp.
Military generals in all branches recognized The Top Secret 86th as being mission ready.
After the USS Pueblo was captured, the Pentagon activated and deployed the Fighting 86th to McChord AFB. Pentagon Covert Operations tactically arranged what appeared to be a top-secret insider leak. North Korean spies were fed the threat that the Fighting 86th was making ready to surreptitiously deploy the entire unit onto North Korean soil to free the USS Pueblo crew. War hero Larry King was going to sneak us two at a time into North Korea transporting us by using a Coast Guard skiff. The Pentagon’s cleverly leaked threat motivated North Korea to release the crew of the USS Pueblo with not a single shot fired.
There are recordings stored in the Pentagon evidence vault where North Korean militarists are heard screaming with fear and trepidation, “No, not the Fighting 86th!”
To this day, North Korea refuses to return our ship. It is possible Kim Jong-un’s deep cover spy operating in Lakewood will read this Westside Story. If so, my article gives fair warning to Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of North Korea. After 5 or 6 beers at our last Fighting 86th reunion lunch held at the Cloverleaf, we designed tactical plans to bring our original Fighting 86th team out of retirement to get our ship back. All I can say is, Kim Jong-un, don’t make us come over there!
While all of us old war heroes are graying at the temple and have grown a bit more decrepit, we can still get into our old uniforms. With some refresher training and a few beers we will prove that we still have some fight left. We are sick and tired of North Korea not giving us our stuff back.
In the meantime, the Holland America shore excursion will include free admission to the Pyongyang Victorious War Museum, where the USS Pueblo is moored. I may use the shore excursion as a recon mission, so I can report back to The Fighting 86th at our next Tactical Planning Session.
I see a couple of potential problems with the cruise ship shore excursion.
Number 1, I can picture a significant logistical issue when I compare US currency with North Korean money, the won. One US dollar equals 900.07 KPW won. If I wanted to go shopping with say the equivalent of $300 in my wallet, I would have to carry 270,021 won. That would require a wheelbarrow, not a wallet.
Number 2, how can I be sure the shore excursion will not turn out to be a 1-way shore excursion rather than a round-trip? The North Koreans have a penchant for keeping people and ships by calling them spies. That kind of end result is sure to make a deep cut into my tips.
I may just quit my shore excursion caper if it starts to prove to be too risky.
If you spot me and it appears I am unemployed, parched, and trying to get by on a fixed income, invite me to join you for a Cappuccino at Topside Coffee Cabin (TCC).
In return, I promise to share some of my entertaining stories from the ship, like the time I had breakfast with Blues artist Keb Moe.
There is my story about the time actor Morgan Freeman discovered me while I wailed away on my Blues harmonica. He caught my act as I kept the Blues alive on the stage of his Blues Juke Joint, Ground Zero, in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
The fact that Morgan found me on his stage could have been my big break for fame, riches, and stardom. Disappointingly Morgan went on to explain he had not discovered a new star. Morgan had found a harmonica player that needed a lot of work. The only reason Morgan Freeman spoke to me was to tell me to get off his stage.
Then there are all those stories from my war hero days with the Fighting 86th during the Battle of McChord AFB.
Until I make it big on the Blues scene, it looks like I will be compelled to return to my old racket as a Shore Excursion Guide.
Dave "Fighting Leprechaun" Hall says
I had no idea that you were an Air Force veteran, Joe. I’m looking forward to having a cup with you at TCC, so you can tell me what Eddie Rickenbacker was really like!
(Serious about the coffee, anyway…)
Shirlee Dashow says
Sounds fun. Glad you came back!
Jerry Dunlap says
Hmmm, after reading this last “Further Adventures with Joe” account, I’m beginning to think the cruise was a “Booze & Booze” event.
Joe, Thanks for the great story and history. I loved some of the replies, especially about Eddie Rickenbacker. At least Mr. Hall didn’t mention your association with the Wright Brothers. I remember the Pueblo incident like it was yesterday. Unfortunately I can’t remember yesterday. I think I had lunch with my friend Joe yesterday, but that was more than 24 hours ago.
When the Pueblo incident happened, you and I were brave and patriotic salesman at the gas company. You must have felt honored to have been called to active duty as a member of the Fighting 86th. I admired that, but not enough to join you.
As a member of the US Coast Guard Reserves, I was invisible; no one knew who the Coasties were; not even Lyndon Johnson. Even Bill Clinton considered the Coast Guard. You can see the wisdom of my choice of service.
Next, your desire to liberate the USS Pueblo from the North Koreans.Your mission makes me giddy, and I look forward to reading about it in the News Tribune, and in the Suburban Times Obituaries.
Only a few things bother me. You mention Larry King ( Coasties) as a volunteer to row you into North Korea. That is not a good idea. I would get lost rowing you ashore on Lake Steilacoom.
If you do go ashore on North Korea, you should have some questions prepared in case there is a reception committee. Question one: Do you speak English? Question two: Is this Maui? Question three: Do you take VISA?, etc. etc.
Also, I am lazy, but there is nothing wrong with my eyes.
So, maybe Morgan Freeman just doesn’t understand. Can he row a boat?
Mary Hammond says
Joe, this is your best writing (and best story) yet! And I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I was to see that you’re still alive and in good form. This past month or so, I searched daily for the latest Westside Story update. I was worried that you might have run out of ideas, come down with the flu, or been “let go” by Ben. And all that time, you were frolicking aboard a cruise ship, without your lovely wife! Welcome back! What’s next on your bucket list?
Joseph Boyle says
Seeing as how you have historically been my most active languae arts critic, your positive and enthusiastic comments are greatly appreciated. That is not to say I have not appreciated your language arts corrections which have served to improve my writing.
You ask about my next bucket list item. I can tell you the TAT (TransAmerica Trail) looms before me. It is a 5000+ mile off road route between New York or North Carolina and California or Oregon.
If I start and finish the TAT before my 80th birthday, I will plan to “frolic”, as you say, on a BMW F850 GS LOW Adventure motorcycle.
It fits one of my philosophies of life: LIVE A GOOD STORY.
The TransAmerica Trail should be good for quite a few Westside Story editions, if not a book.