The Babe
(Back when I was 24, I pitched up at Time-Life Inc. in its 48-story box headquarters on Sixth Avenue & 50th Street, one more desperate job applicant, and was directed to Sports Illustrated where a kindly woman named Honor Fitzpatrick looked at my writing samples and gently discouraged me. “Your talent is for fiction,” she said. “The only opening I have is for a fact-checker. I don’t think you’d be happy doing that.” Discouraging at the time, but in retrospect one is grateful. Profoundly grateful. A job in that box might’ve sent me down a path that turns into a deep trench, only to awaken at age 48, divorced, in a junk-ridden studio apartment on West 23rd where I sit night after night beating up on a clunky novel about the Midwest. Twenty years later, an editor at S.I. asked me to write something for them and of course I said yes — I took it as corporate capitulation — and wrote a piece of fiction.)

OUR LAKE WOBEGON TEAMS DID not do well last year, the Whippets with no pitching finishing dead last, the Leonards pitiful and helpless in the fall even with a 230-pounder to center the offensive line, and now it’s basketball season again and already the boys are getting accustomed to defeat. When they ran out on the floor for the opener versus Bowlus (who won 58-21), they looked pale and cold in their blue and gold silks, and Buddy had the custodian turn up the heat, but it was too late. These boys looked like they were on death row, they trembled as their names were announced.

It’s not defeat per se that hurts so much, we’re used to that; it’s the sense of doom and submission to fate that is awful. When the 230-pounder centered the ball and it stuck between his tremendous thighs and he toppled forward to be plundered by the Bisons, it was, I’m sure, with a terrible knowledge in his heart that he had this debacle coming to him and it was useless to resist. Two of the basketball players are sons of players on the fabled 1958 squad that was supposed to win the state championship and put our town on the map, but while we looked forward to that glorious weekend our team was eliminated in the first round by St. Klaus. None of us ever recovered from that disappointment. But do our children have to suffer from it, too?

As Harry (Can O’Corn) Knudsen wrote: “In the game of life we’re playing, people now are saying that the aim of it is friendship and trust. I wish that it were true but it seems, for me and you that someone always loses and it’s us.”

Can O’s inspiration came from playing eleven years for the Whippets, a humbling experience for anyone. The team is getting trounced, pummeled, whipped, and Dutch says, “Come on, guys, you’re too tense out there, it’s a game, go out there and have fun,” and you think, This is fun? If this is fun, then sic your dogs on me, let them chew me for a while, that’d be pure pleasure. But out you trot to right field feeling heavyhearted and not even sure you’re trotting correctly so you adjust the trot and your left foot grabs your right, you trip on your own feet, and down you go like a sack of potatoes and the fans in the stands are doubled up gasping and choking, and you have dirt in your mouth that you’ll taste for years—is this experience good for a person?

Some fans have been led to wonder if maybe our Lake Wobegon athletes are suffering from a Christian upbringing that stresses the unworthiness angle and is light on the aspect of grace. How else would boys of sixteen and seventeen get the feeling that they were born to lose, if not in Bible class? And the uneasiness our boys have felt about winning—a fan can recall dozens of nights when the locals had a good first half, opened a nice lead, began to feel the opponents’ pain, and sympathized and lightened up and wound up giving away their lunch. Does this come from misreading the Gospels?

Little Jimmy Wahlberg used to sit in the dugout and preach to the Whippets between innings, using the score of the ball game to quote Scripture; e.g., John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” or Matthew 4:4: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” That was fine except when he was pitching. God had never granted Little Jimmy’s prayer request for a good curveball, so this fine Christian boy got shelled like a peanut whenever he took the mound, and one day Ronnie Decker came back to the bench after an eternal inning in centerfield and said, “First Revelations 13:0: Keep the ball down and throw at their heads.”

Ronnie is Catholic, and they have more taste for blood, it seems. (Was there ever a Methodist bullfighter?) In St. Klaus, the ladies chant, “Make ’em sing and make ’em dance / Kick ’em in the nuts and step on their hands.” The boys are ugly brutes with raw sores on their arms and legs and with little ball-bearing eyes who will try to hurt you. A gang of men stands by the backstop, drinking beer and talking to the umpire, a clean-cut Lutheran boy named Fred. Fred knows that, the week before, Carlson called a third strike on a Klausie, dashed to his car, the men rocked it and let the air out of the tires but couldn’t pry the hood open and disconnect the spark plugs before he started up and rode away on the rims. Fred hopes to keep the fans happy.

For a Golden Age of Lake Wobegon Sports, you’d have to go back to the forties. The town ball club was the Lake Wobegon Schroeders, so named because the starting nine were brothers, sons of E. J. Schroeder. Nine big strapping boys with identical mops of black hair, big beaks, little chins, and so shy they couldn’t look you in the eye, and E.J. was the manager, though the boys were such fine ballplayers, he only sat in the shade on a white kitchen chair and grumbled at them, they didn’t require management.

E.J. was ticked off if a boy hit a bad pitch. He’d spit and curse and rail at him, and then R.J.’d go up and pound one out of the park (making the score 11-zip) and circle the bases and the old man’d say, “Boy, he put the old apple right down the middle, didn’t he? Blind man coulda hit that one. Your gramma coulda put the wood on that one. If a guy couldn’t hit that one out, there’d be something wrong with him, I’d say. Wind practically took that one out of here, didn’t even need to hit it much”—and lean over and spit. When the Schroeders were winning every game, E.J. bitched about how they won.

“Why’dja throw to first for, ya dummy?”

“But it’s the third out, Dad. We won the game.”

“I know that. You don’t have to point that out to me. Why’ntcha get the guy at third?”

“It was easier to go to first.”

“Easier! Easier??!!”

The tenth son, Paul, had a gimpy right leg but still tried to please his dad and sat in the dugout and kept statistics (1.29, for example, and .452 and .992), but E.J. never looked at them. “That’s history,” he said, spitting, “I am interested in the here and now.”

So his sons could never please him, and if they did, he forgot about it. Once, against Freeport, his oldest boy, Edwin Jim, Jr., turned and ran to the centerfe1d fence for a long long long fly ball and threw his glove forty feet in the air to snag the ball and caught the ball and glove and turned toward the dugout to see if his dad had seen it, and E.J. was on his feet clapping, but when he saw the boy look to him, he immediately pretended he was swatting mosquitoes. The batter was called out, the third out. Jim ran back to the bench and stood by his dad. E.J. sat chewing in silence and fnally he said, “I saw a man in Superior, Wisconsin, do that a long time ago but he did it at night and the ball was hit a lot harder.”

What made this old man so mean? Some said it happened in 1924, when he played for the town team that went to Fort Snelling for the state championship and in the ninth inning, in the deepening dusk on Campbell’s Bluff, Lake Wobegon down by one run, bases loaded and himself the tying run on third, when the Minneapolis pitcher suddenly collapsed and writhed around on the mound with his eyes bulging and face purple and vomiting and foaming and clawing and screeching, everyone ran to help him, including E.J., and he jumped up and tagged them all out. A triple play, unassisted. What a rotten trick, but there they stood, a bunch of rubes, and all the slickers howling and whooping their heads off, so he became mean, is one theory.

And he was mean. He could hit foul balls with deadly accuracy at an opponent or a fan who’d been riding him, or a member of the fan’s immediate family, and once he fouled twenty-eight consecutive pitches off the home-plate umpire, for which he was thrown out of the Old Sod Shanty League.

“Go! Hence!” cried the ump.

“For foul balls?”

The umpire and the sinner were face to face. “Forever!” cried the ump. “Never again, so long as ball is thrown, shall thy face be seen in this park.”

“Foul balls ain’t against any rule that I know of!”

The umpire said, “Thou hast displeased me.” And he pointed outerward and E.J. slouched away.

So he coached his boys. He never said a kind word to them, and they worked like dogs in hopes of hearing one, and thus they became great, mowing down the opposition for a hundred miles around. In 1946 they reached their peak. That was the year they disposed easily of fifteen crack teams in the Father Powers Charity Tournament, some by massacre, and at the closing ceremony, surrounded by sad little crippled children sitting dazed in the hot sun and holding pitiful flags they had made themselves, when E.J. was supposed to hand back the winner’s check for $100 to Father Powers to help with the work among the poor, E.J. said, “Fat chance!” and shoved away the kindly priest’s outstretched hand. That was also the year Babe Ruth came to town with the Sorbasol All-Star barnstorming team.

The Babe had retired in 1935 and was dying of cancer, but even a dying man has bills to pay, and so he took to the road for Sorbasol, and Lake Wobegon was the twenty-fourth stop on the trip, a day game on November 12. The All-Star train of two sleepers and a private car for the Babe backed up the sixteen-mile spur into Lake Wobegon, arriving at 10:00 A.M. with a blast of whistle and a burst of steam, but hundreds already were on hand to watch it arrive.

The Babe was a legend then, much like God is today. He didn’t give interviews, in other words. He rode around on his train and appeared only when necessary. It was said that he drank Canadian rye whiskey, ate hot dogs, won thousands at poker, and kept beautiful women in his private car, Excelsior, but that was only talk.

The sleepers were ordinary deluxe Pullmans; the Excelsior was royal green with gold-and-silver trim and crimson velvet curtains tied shut—not that anyone tried to look in; these were proud country people, not a bunch of gawkers. Men stood by the train, their backs to it, talking purposefully about various things, looking out across the lake, and when other men straggled across the feld in twos and threes, stared at the train, and asked, “Is he really in there?” the firstcomers said, “Who? Oh! You mean the Babe? Oh, yes, I reckon he’s here all right—this is his train, you know. I doubt that his train would go running around without the Babe in it, now, would it?” and resumed their job of standing by the train, gazing out across the lake. A proud moment for them.

At noon the Babe came out in white linen knickers. He looked lost. A tiny black man held his left arm. Babe tried to smile at the people and the look on his face made them glance away. He stumbled on a loose plank on the platform and men reached to steady him and noticed he was hot to the touch. He signed an autograph. It was illegible. A young woman was carried to him who’d been mysteriously ill for months, and he laid his big hand on her forehead and she said she felt something. (Next day she was a little better. Not recovered but improved.)

However, the Babe looked shaky, like a man who ate a bushel of peaches whole and now was worried about the pits. He’s drunk, some said, and a man did dump a basket of empty beer bottles off the train, and boys dove in to get one for a souvenir—but others who came close to his breath said no, he wasn’t drunk, only dying. So it was that an immense crowd turned out at the Wally (Old Hard Hands) Bunsen Memorial Ballpark: twenty cents per seat, two bits to stand along the foul line, and a dollar to be behind a rope by the dugout, where the Babe would shake hands with each person in that section.

He and the All-Stars changed into their red Sorbasol uniforms in the dugout, there being no place else, and people looked away as they did it (nowadays people would look, but then they didn’t), and the Babe and his teammates tossed the ball around, then sat down, and out came the Schroeders. They ran around and warmed up and you could see by their nonchalance how nervous they were. E.J. batted grounders to them and hit one grounder zinging into the visitors’ dugout, missing the Babe by six inches. He was too sick to move. The All-Stars ran out and griped to the ump but the Babe sat like he didn’t know where he was. The ump was scared. The Babe hobbled out to home plate for the ceremonial handshakes and photographs, and E.J. put his arm around him as the crowd stood cheering and grinned and whispered, “We’re going to kill ya, ya big mutt. First pitch goes in your ear. This is your last game. Bye, Babe.” And the game got under way.

It was a good game, it’s been said, though nobody remembers much about it specifically, such as the score, for example. The All-Stars were nobodies, only the Babe mattered to the crowd, and the big question was Would he play? He looked too shaky to take the field, so some said, “Suspend the rules! Why not let him just go up and bat! He can bat for the pitcher! Why not? It wouldn’t hurt anything!” And nowadays they might do it, but back then you didn’t pick up the bat unless you picked up your glove and played a position, and others said that maybe it wouldn’t hurt anything but once you start changing the rules of the game for convenience, then what happens to our principles? Or do we change those, too?

So the game went along, a good game except that the Babe sat sprawled in the dugout, the little black man dipping cloths in a bucket of ice and laying them on the great man’s head—a cool fall day but he was hot—and between innings he climbed out and waved to the fans and they stood and cheered and wondered would he come to bat. E.J. said to Bernie, “He’ll bat all right, and when he comes, remember the first pitch: hard and high and inside.”

“He looks too weak to get the bat off his shoulder, Dad. He looks like a breeze would blow him over. I can’t throw at Babe Ruth.”

“He’s not sick, he’s pretending so he don’t have to play like the rest of us. Look at him: big fat rich New York son of a bitch, I bet he’s getting five hundred dollars just to sit there and have a pickaninny put ice on him. Boy, I’d put some ice on him you-know-where, boy, he’d get up quick then, he’d be ready to play then. He comes up, I want you to give him something to think about so he knows we’re not all a bunch of dumb hicks out here happy just to have him show up. I want him to know that some of us mean it. You do what I say. I’m serious.”

It was a good game and people enjoyed it, the day cool and bright, delicious, smelling of apples and leather and woodsmoke and horses, blazed with majestic colors as if in a country where kings and queens ride through the cornfields into the triumphant reds and oranges of the woods, and men in November playing the last game of summer, waiting for the Babe, everyone waiting for the Babe as runs scored, hours passed, the sky turned red and hazy. It was about time to quit and go home, and then he marched out, bat in hand, and three thousand people threw back their heads and yelled as loud as they could. They yelled for one solid minute and then it was still.

The Babe stood looking toward the woods until everything was silent, then stepped to the plate and waved the bat, and Bernie looked at him. It was so quiet you could hear coughing in the crowd. Way to the rear a man said, “Merle, you get your hands off her and shut up now,” and hundreds turned and shushed him. Then Bernie wound up. He bent way down and reached way back and kicked up high and the world turned and the ball flew and the umpire said, “BALL ONE!” and the catcher turned and said, “Be quiet, this doesn’t concern you,” and the umpire blushed. He knew immediately that he was in the wrong. Babe Ruth was not going to walk, he would sooner strike out and would do it himself, with no help from an umpire. So the umpire turned and walked away.

The Babe turned and spat and picked up a little dirt and rubbed his hands with it (people thought, Look, that’s our dirt and he’s putting it on his hands, as if the Babe might bring his own) and then stood in and waved the bat and Bernie bent way down and reached way back and kicked high and the world turned and the ball flew and the Babe swung and missed; he said huhhhnnnn and staggered. And the next pitch. He swung and cried in pain and the big slow curve slapped into the catcher’s mitt.

It was so still, they heard the Babe clear his throat, like a board sliding across dirt. They heard Bernie breathing hard through his nose.

The people were quiet, wanting to see, hear, and smell everything and remember it forever: the wet fall dirt, the pale-white bat, the pink cotton candy and the gentlemen’s hats, the smell of wool and the glimmer of a star in the twilight, the touch of your dad’s big hand and your little hand in it. Even E.J. was quiet, chewing, watching his son. The sun had set beyond right field, darkness was settling, you had to look close to see—Bernie took three steps toward home and pointed at the high outside corner of the plate, calling his pitch, and the Babe threw back his head and laughed four laughs. (People were glad to hear he was feeling better, but it was scary to hear a man laugh at home plate; everyone knew it was bad luck.) He touched the corner with his bat. Bernie climbed back on the mound, he paused, he bent down low and reached way back and kicked real high and the world turned and the ball flew and the Babe swung and it cracked and the ball became a tiny white star in the sky. It hung there as the Babe went around the bases in his famous Babe Ruth stride, the big graceful man trotting on slim little feet, his head down until the roar of the crowd rose like an ocean wave on the prairie and he looked up as he turned at third, he smiled, lifted his cap, strode soundlessly across home plate looking like the greatest ballplayer in the history of the world. The star was still in the sky, straight out due northwest of the centerfield fence, where he hit it. The ball was never found, though they searched for it for years.

“Did you see that?” your dad says, taking your hand.

You say, “Yes, I did.”

Even E.J. saw it and stood with the rest and he was changed after that, as were the others. A true hero has some power to make us a gift of a larger life. The Schroeders broke up, the boys went their own ways, and once they were out of earshot, E.J. sat in the Sidetrack Tap and bragged them up, the winners he produced and how they had shown Babe Ruth a pretty good game. He was tolerated but Babe Ruth was revered. He did something on that one day in our town that made us feel we were on the map of the universe, connected somehow to the stars, part of the mind of God. The full effect of his mighty blow diminished over time, of course, and now our teams languish, our coaches despair. Defeat comes to seem the natural course of things. Lake Wobegon dresses for a game, they put on their jock-straps, pull on the socks, get into the colors, they start to lose heart and turn pale—fear shrivels them.

Boys, this game may be your only chance to be good, he might tell them. You might screw up everything else in your life and poison the ones who love you, create misery, create such pain and devastation it will be repeated by generations of descendants. Boys, there’s plenty of room for tragedy in life, so if you go bad, don’t have it be said that you never did anything right. Win this game.

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Life is so interesting, it's hard to stop

It’s a privilege to have a doctor of medicine in the family and my family has two, one American, one Swedish. We dreamers and ideologues need to come into contact with science now and then. The Swedish doctor told us yesterday she is skeptical of the American practice of routine colonoscopies, that the profit margin on the procedure is very high and the rationale is modest at best. I’d never heard skepticism about colonoscopies before; it was like someone bad-mouthing mouthwash. I’ve been pro-colonoscopy because it feels good to get cleaned out and the muscle relaxant is so luxurious and pleasurable, and health insurance paid the freight so I didn’t give it a thought. Interesting.

The American one is retired and so available for consultation at all hours. I got him on the phone the other evening and ticked off my pulse and he told me not to worry, it was regular. I thought it was but I’m an English major; it’s good to get a second opinion from someone who passed biology.

I am blessed with faith in medicine, which saves a great deal of time looking into alternatives such as naturopathy, homeopathy, antipathy, and sympathy. If a man with horn-rimmed glasses, a stethoscope around his neck, a white smock, and a framed certificate on the wall handed me two red M&M’s, I would feel much better very soon after. I walk into a clinic and the smell of the antiseptic floor cleaner is reassuring to me.

This faith saves a person from morbidity in old age.

Back in my college years, I wrote dismal incoherent poems about death, and then I grew up, I read Tolstoy, I sat in a car with my arm around a girl who didn’t seem to mind, visited New York City, found a good job, got some experience in the world, and morbidity faded away. I’m 76 and I own a cemetery plot and I think about death less than I think about the Gadsden Purchase.

It is grievous though to read the recent report about the gradual extinction of species and ocean warming and ice cap melting and what our country may look like in another fifty years. Vast empty office parks, tribes of lawless drifters, mountains of wrecked cars. The prophet Jeremiah was a dark guy, nobody you’d invite to a party, who wrote: “Hear, O earth! Behold, I will certainly bring calamity on this people — I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings. I will kindle a fire in the forest, and it shall devour all things around it.” Bad enough but when scientists issue a jeremiad, it commands us to pay attention.

But three years ago, a choice was made. The electorate turned away the favorite, a woman who read scientific studies, finding her unlikable. She had serious Methodist virtues but it wasn’t what the middle of the country wanted that year. I saw her clearly once, working a rope line for more than an hour, a Secret Service man holding her firmly by the hips as she leaned over the rope and reached into the mass of arms and hands reaching out to her. She was encountering the crowd and making it look personal, with the sort of discipline your mother instills in you: those people waited three hours to see you so treat them right and make them feel special and forget that your back hurts and you need a toilet. She didn’t do bombast, didn’t do playground insults, and she paid a price for it.

No wonder so many millennials are in a fury. You graduate with a truckload of debt for a liberal arts education designed not to upset you and the only job you can find is waiting on tables, which is hard because you attended a progressive school where rote learning was forbidden and so you’re unable to add numbers except using your iPhone and meanwhile there are newspaper stories about human extinction and an angry narcissist is running the government. What to do?

Do as I do. Take it one day at a time. Lighten up. Count your blessings: GPS, YouTube, Google, a vast assortment of craft beers and salad bars in supermarkets. Figure out who your true friends are. Hold off on long-term planning until November, 2020, when we’ll have a clearer idea of the future. In the meantime, dance when you get the chance.

What I learned from window replacement

I am drinking coffee this morning from a cup that says “Verum Bonum Pulchrum” — truth, goodness, beauty — an impossible ideal, but it’s my sister-in-law’s cup, not mine. Our apartment is undergoing window replacement so my love and I are being harbored by relatives. She sleeps in a handsome mahogany bed that belonged to her grandmother Hilda and I sleep on a hard single bed in the basement. Separation is good for a happy marriage like ours. We say good night and I trudge downstairs and lie in the dark on a skinny bed that is like the one I slept in when I was 17. So I close my eyes and it’s 1959 and I’m considering my prospects in life.

I was a mediocre student and so I decided to skip college and join a Trappist monastery in Dubuque, Iowa. I was brought up evangelical Protestant but their rule of silence was attractive to me and if you’re silent, who’s to know you’re Protestant? (Or know you’re not that bright?)  So I wrote to them, asking admission, and got a gentle rejection. And that was my last attempt at sanctity. As Robert Frost almost wrote but did not:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And I chose the one that led to Bonum
And was refused, so I took the path
To Amo, Amas, Amat, and that was easier.

Celibacy wasn’t going to work for me. I craved the comedy of marriage: two people physically attracted to each other but otherwise independent and free to express it, sometimes sharply — a comic plotline. Being married, I needed to earn money and I went into radio because it was easy. My dad was a carpenter and he worked so hard, he’d come home and fall asleep reading the paper and have to be awakened to come eat supper. I resolved to never work that hard and I haven’t. That’s why I don’t need a shoulder replacement and sometimes I still feel 17.

Radio was monastic at first, sitting alone in a studio at 6 a.m. And then I started a variety show, with musicians and actors, and that’s where I got my education. The monk Thomas Merton wrote: “We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have — for their usefulness.” And I think of the big stars who came on my show and found they enjoyed being there without needing to carry the freight. Martin Sheen, the TV president, enjoyed playing grifters and palookas. Willie Nelson sang a couple parodies of his songs. Allen Ginsberg came and read Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and was magnificent. He’d been the King of Beat long enough and loved venturing into the 19th century. Don and Phil liked coming out and doing the Everly Brothers for a few songs, but they were happy to mingle backstage and be themselves. Meryl Streep loved to sing duets, old elegiac songs she’d never do anywhere else.

Chet Atkins was a household name who was a sideman at heart. He could come out on stage and blow the audience away, but what he loved was sitting backstage with Johnny Gimble, Peter Ostroushko, Pat Donohue, Bill Hinkley, whichever musicians were in the mood, and playing an endless seamless medley of swing tunes, gospel, “Seeing Nellie Home,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” whatever came to his mind. That was when Chet disappeared into his true self.

This happened to me a few weeks ago, doing a solo show, a benefit for an arts organization in upstate New York, unrehearsed since it was just me. Two old friends came backstage before the show and provided distraction right up to eight o’clock when the stage lights dimmed and I walked out to the microphone with nothing in mind except to sing Irving Berlin’s “All Alone” and then recite Shakespeare’s “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state.” There was no script. I flew blind for an hour and a half through the overcast of memory, the False Knight Upon The Road, Frost, Blake, “Annabel Lee,” Frankie and Johnny, no pause, no applause, and finally at 76 I felt anonymous and free, with Dickinson, Yeats, the babes in the woods, Casey at the bat, the audience singing “America,” and I was a Trappist at last, not doing but being.

Just looking out a window, thinking

That was the week when Uncle Joe referred to Individual #1 as a clown. It was at a campaign stop in South Carolina and it was just a little fundraiser, not a big show in an arena with thousands in their blue MAIA caps (Make America Intelligent Again), and Uncle Joe was careful to say he didn’t intend to get into a mud wrestling match, but nonetheless there it was — Clown — and it opened up a window.

So let’s look through that window.

I’ve been to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and there are people there who, like me, weren’t good at math. I hit the wall in math in 10th grade. According to educators at the time, this meant I’d become a fry cook or a bus driver, but no, I discovered that English is the main deal and math is the road to obsolescence. The problems get harder, new math comes along, younger people take your place, and now I see my math-whiz classmates taking tickets at parking ramps.

Never in the past fifty years have I said to myself, “I wish I had worked harder in math.” A person can go for months without ever needing to work equations, but the English language is a big deal.

That is how Individual #1 came to prominence. He introduced to the highest level of government the language of the barroom and the back alley. Running for the Republican nomination, #1 called Lindsey Graham a stiff. “A total lightweight. In the private sector, he couldn’t get a job. Believe me. Couldn't get a job.”

This was thrilling to many people who felt bad about their own lack of math skills. Nobody running for president ever talked like a gangster before and called for his opponent to be locked up. He didn’t bother with the policy crap; he was an innovator. It was like your pastor uses cuss words in the homily. It was like your brain surgeon walks into the OR with a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam in hand, smoking a cheroot, in a Carhartt jacket and a camouflage cap. All your other doctors were such elitists and this one has a degree in welding and a diagram of the brain and he is good to go. This guy talks your language.

So America is watching Uncle Joe as he looks out that window. Maybe it’s a new ballgame and a 76-year-old has to learn the rules. He already ditched the suit jacket and tie. Why not call the guy with the red tie Dumbo. Look him in the eye and say, “I promise one thing and that is that by November 2021, you are going to be in Guantanamo in a cellblock all by your lonesome self.”

Maybe that’s what wins northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan and western Pennsylvania. In Madison and Ann Arbor and Philadelphia, you talk about global warming. Outstate, you praise the local football team, grab a brewski, and talk about putting people in jail.

But Joe will need to warm up in the primaries. Take on Comrade Bernie, Aimless Amy, Faded Beto, Defeated Pete, Embarrassing Harris, Foreign Warren, Chicken Soup Hickenlooper. Make up stuff. Keep changing the subject. Make illegal immigration from the north your wedge issue. Canadians speak English and easily pass for Americans and the border in North Dakota is a single strand of barbed wire. But the promise to lock him up is your trump card. No presidential candidate did that before 2016, not even Lincoln in 1860 when he ran against an out-and-out traitor.

“Send the ruler to the cooler.” Get your crowd chanting that and it’s all anybody will talk about for the next year. The nose-rubbing, the Hill hearings, the Obama years, all of that disappears.

But Uncle Joe closes that window. He’d rather run a campaign he’d be proud of and go down in defeat than go down in the history books as a mud wrestler. That’s what he’s thinking now in early May 2019.

Meanwhile, I have taken the precaution of securing a copyright on MAIA (Make America Intelligent Again) and “Send the ruler to the cooler” and some of the other ideas in this column. If Joe decides to wrestle, I’ve got truckloads of mud for sale. I went to White Castle for a bag of sliders the other day and the old guy at the counter was the smartest kid in my graduating class. He got a Ph.D. in history and wrote his thesis on the origin of the phrase “balance of powers,” and now here he is, selling fries and burgers. I put a couple bucks in his tip glass and he thanked me profusely. There is a lesson to be learned here, Joe.


Aboard the ms Veendam
March 18–25, 2020

Letter from Garrison





Note: Some of you may have heard rumors that U.S. citizens will no longer be able to visit Cuba by the time the ms Veendam sets sail. Please know that at this moment, we are fully planning to keep Cuba on the itinerary, but that we have backup options as well. In the event that the itinerary changes, reservations will not be canceled or refunded.


Dear Prairie Home Cruisers,

It was a long hard winter in Minnesota, and I am in a mood for warmth and pleasure next winter and that will be The 12th Prairie Home Cruise, a one-week jaunt from Florida with stops at Havana, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands, sailing March 18, 2020.

All a person needs to get through the blizzards and darkness is a bright light on the horizon — a candle in the window — and so, next winter, I will dream of March 18, the flight to Fort Lauderdale, the surprise at seeing sunshine, green plants, people in shorts and T-shirts.

And then the cruise!!!

Rob Fisher and his 10-piece Coffee Club Orchestra will perform for your dancing pleasure. The amazing jazz singer Nellie McKay is coming, a powerful pianist and ukulelist. Gospel will be represented by Jearlyn Steele. Pat Donohue will join us, as will Dakota Dave Hull, a veteran of early PHC days who is in all-time top form. Robin and Linda Williams are on board. Heather Masse is coming, and Christine DiGiallonardo so Brooklyn will be represented. Maria Jette and Vern Sutton will sing from the piano bench tropical hits such as “Bésame Mucho” and “Perfidia.” Of course our acting company of Sue Scott, Tim Russell, and Fred Newman will be there, and thanks to them, Dusty and Lefty will ride the plains and Guy Noir will scour the back alleys and Mom and Duane and Ruth Harrison, Reference Librarian. Rich Dworsky and the Guys All-Star Shoe Band will support all of this and I will be there, as well. Talking about Lake Wobegon, coffee, rhubarb pie, reminiscing about early radio days. Doing poetry. Emceeing the story hours. Writing limericks for guests who win the limerick lottery. And singing with Heather and Christine, Robin and Linda.

If this cruise is as much fun as I expect it to be, maybe we’ll do another. As Emily Dickinson wrote:

Wild nights — Wild nights! Were I with thee
Wild nights at sea! With PHC!
Off to Havana! Freely we go!
Peel that banana! Let’s do a show.
Winter, goodbye!
Minnesota, New York!
Hello, Miss McKay
And the Coffee Club Orch.

Keep in touch,

See EMI’s website for cabin pricing

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See EMI’s website for cabin pricing

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As on previous cruises, guests will have the opportunity to enjoy music performances, lectures, and nature viewing in multiple locations. We’ll gather at the Mainstage for live A Prairie Home Companion shows followed by dancing with the Coffee Club Orchestra, the Crow’s Nest for early morning singing and late-night dancing, and the Wajang Theater for lectures. Guests can catch live music sets in intimate settings such as the Ocean Bar and bring acoustic instruments to picking sessions at the Explorer’s Lounge. Of course, bird-watching will take place ­­on the decks!

Dan Chouinard

Dan Chouinard is a St. Paul-based honky-tonk pianist, concert soloist and accompanist, street accordionist, sing-along enabler, Italian and French teacher, and bicycling vagabond. He’s been commissioned to write and host a number of live programs blending history, memoir, and music for broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television. He played on a dozen live broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion and served as rehearsal pianist for Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Lindsay Lohan during the making of the 2006 Robert Altman film of the same name.

The Coffee Club Orchestra

The Coffee Club Orchestra sprang into existence in the fall of 1989 when Garrison Keillor asked musical director Rob Fisher to put together a group for his radio show. Chosen for their breadth of experience and their versatility, the Coffee Club musicians delighted public radio listeners with their rambunctious renditions. Rob Fisher and the Coffee Club Orchestra have since appeared on many of New York’s stages, from the plaza at Lincoln Center to City Center’s Encores! series. Their album of Depression-era popular music, Shaking the Blues Away, was released on EMI/Angel in 1992. They can also be heard on Kristin Chenoweth’s debut album, Let Yourself Go.

Christine DiGiallonardo

DiGiallonardo photo

New York-based vocalist Christine DiGiallonardo is at home singing in early-music chamber ensembles as well as jazz and rock bands. She has performed in New York City Center’s Encores! productions of High Button Shoes, Me And My Girl, Brigadoon, The New Yorkers,Annie Get Your Gun, Lady, Be Good!, On Your Toes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Fiorello! She also performs solo and with her sisters, Daniela and Nadia, as The DiGiallonardo Sisters, and her voice can be heard on commercial jingles for Aquafresh, Mr. Clean, Playtex, and Febreze. 

Pat Donohue

Donohue photo

Grammy-winning fingerpicker and songwriter Pat Donohue has a devotion to acoustic guitar that has made him an American standard, as he echoes the tones of Robert Johnson, Blind Blake, Charlie Parker, Muddy Waters, and Chet Atkins. A versatile guitarist’s guitarist, he wows fans with intricate fingerpicking, easy wit, and nimble interpretations of old blues, swing, R&B, and original tunes. For over 20 years, Pat was lead guitar and songwriter for A Prairie Home Companion’s Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band. He now tours the U.S., playing performance halls, clubs and coffeehouses, conducts workshops, and teaches at prestigious guitar camps.

Richard Dworsky

Dworsky photo

For 23 years, Richard Dworsky served as pianist and music director for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, providing original theatrical underscoring, leading the house band, and performing as a featured soloist. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native also accompanied many of the show’s guests, including James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Yo-Yo Ma, Sheryl Crow, Chet Atkins, Renée Fleming, and Kristin Chenoweth. Rich’s original compositions for piano (and piano with ensemble or vocal) can be heard on his CDs All In Due TimeSo Near and Dear to Me, and The Path to You

Rob Fisher

Fisher photo

For four seasons, Rob Fisher served as APHC’s music director and led the Coffee Club Orchestra. An internationally recognized music director, conductor, and pianist, and a leading figure in musical theater, he has been a guest of every major orchestra in the country as conductor or pianist. With the New York Philharmonic, Fisher conducted the acclaimed concert versions of Carousel (Emmy nomination for Best Music Director) and My Fair Lady, as well as Mr. Keillor at 70. For his work on the Tony Award-winning Encores! series at New York’s City Center, he was presented the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Special Achievement.

Dakota Dave Hull

Hull photo

Fargo native Dakota Dave Hull calls what he does “classic American guitar.” Hailed by everyone from Dave Van Ronk to Doc Watson, from the Washington Post to DownBeat magazine, his style spans a wide musical geography to create an infectious, uniquely personal blend of jazz, ragtime, folk, blues, Western swing, and vintage pop. He is a restlessly curious, adventurous traveler along the broad highway of America’s music. Most of all, his music is great fun. As Douglas Green (Ranger Doug of Riders in the Sky) puts it, “There is an imp within Dave Hull that always expresses itself on the fretboard.” His recent albums include his Sacred and Profane set, Heavenly Hope and This Earthly Life (Arabica Records).

Maria Jette

Jette photo

Versatile soprano Maria Jette was a frequent performer on A Prairie Home Companion. She can sing dozens of operatic roles; she also performs pop songs, chamber music, oratorio, and show tunes. Maria spent a decade singing with the Twin Cities Baroque opera company Ex Machina, and has appeared with orchestras nationwide, including the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Minnesota Orchestra.Among her recordings is The Siren’s Song: Wodehouse and Kern on Broadway, her second volume of P.G. Wodehouse songs, both with pianist Dan Chouinard.

Larry Kohut

Kohut photo

Bassist for Prairie Home Companion’s house band, Larry Kohut is equally fluent on both upright and electric bass. He’s a first-call studio musician as well as a favorite with jazz musicians, playing with artists such as Kenny Werner, Ramsey Lewis, Bruce Barth, Benny Golson, Michael Brecker, George Coleman, George Garzone, Phil Woods, Chris Potter, Kurt Elling, Karrin Allyson, Patricia Barber — and the list goes on. His discography includes more than 100 albums, as well as several major movie soundtracks and hundreds of commercial jingles.

Richard Kriehn

Kriehn photo

When Richard Kriehn turned 10, his mom bought him a mandolin; at 19, he’d won the Buck White International Mandolin Contest. He went on to play with the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble and bluegrass group 1946. On the classical side, he has performed with numerous orchestras and was principal second violin for the Washington/Idaho Symphony. He first appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in 2006, when the show broadcast from Washington State University, where Richard had just completed a master’s degree in violin performance and conducting. A few years later, he was a fully established member of the APHC house band.

Heather Masse

Masse photo

Trained at the New England Conservatory of Music as a jazz singer, Heather Masse is equally versed in a variety of American song traditions — folk, pop, and bluegrass. A member of Billboard-charting folk group The Wailin’ Jennys, she has performed at hundreds of venues across the world. She was a frequent guest on A Prairie Home Companion, both with The Jennys and as a solo performer, and collaborated with artists such as Elvis Costello, Wynton Marsalis, Sheryl Crow, Renée Fleming, and Emmylou Harris. Her recordings include August Love Song — on which she joins forces with trombone great Roswell Rudd.

Nelly McKay

McKay photo

Nellie McKay has released a stack of acclaimed albums, among them: Sister Orchid, My Weekly Reader, and Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day. She won a Theatre World Award for her portrayal of Polly Peachum on Broadway in The Threepenny Opera and performed onscreen in the films P.S. I Love You and Downtown Express.She co-created and starred in the award-winning off-Broadway hit Old Hats and has written several musical biographies, including A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton, and The Big Molinsky: Considering Joan Rivers.

Joe Newberry

Newberry photo

Known worldwide for his exquisite clawhammer banjo playing, Joe Newberry is also a powerful guitarist, singer, and songwriter. The Missouri native was raised in a family full of singers and dancers. He took up guitar and banjo as a teenager and learned fiddle tunes from great Missouri fiddlers. After moving to North Carolina, he quickly became an anchor of the incredible music scene there. The Gibson Brothers’ version of Joe’s song “Singing As We Rise,” featuring guest vocalist Ricky Skaggs, won the 2012 IBMA Gospel Recorded Performance Award. With Eric Gibson, he shared the 2013 IBMA Song of the Year Award for “They Called It Music.”

Fred Newman

Newman photo

Fred Newman is an actor, writer, musician, and sound designer for stage and screen, cartoon and concert hall. For nearly two decades, he added myriad sounds to A Prairie Home Companion. Originally from small-town Georgia, he worked with Jim Henson and created sounds, voices, and music for the Nickelodeon cartoon series DOUG, PBS’s Between the Lions, and films like Gremlins, Cocoon, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He even created the sound of Old Faithful for Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Visitor Center — all with his mouth. Author of MouthSounds, he’s now at work on a new book and series: From the Sound Up (The New Anthropology of Sound).

Tim Russell

Russell photo

Tim Russell worked on-air for WCCO Radio in the Twin Cities for some 33 years. In 1994, he became an actor on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion until the fall of 2018. The CD Tim Russell: Man of a Thousand Voices (HighBridge Audio) is a collection of his work on APHC. Tim is still a man of many voices and a proud SAG-AFTRA Voiceover Artist. He appeared in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion, in the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, and opposite Christopher Lloyd in I Am Not a Serial Killer. Tim is also a film critic on his blog,

Sue Scott

Scott photo

After enjoying 24 years as the female cast member on A Prairie Home Companion, Sue Scott has rejoined the vibrant Twin Cities theater community. She recently appeared in Barbecue at Mixed Blood Theatre, Little Wars with Prime Productions, and in the sold-out run of Sisters of Peace at the History Theatre in St. Paul. A veteran voice-over talent, Sue has also been cast in some interesting roles in film and television: ABC’s In An Instant and the Netflix series Lady Dynamite. In addition, she is immersed in creating and producing her new podcast, Island of Discarded Women. 

Chris Siebold

Siebold photo

Chicago-based guitarist, singer-songwriter, composer, and arranger Chris Siebold leads his own bands — Lennon’s Tuba and Psycles — and collaborates often with Grammy-winning harmonica player Howard Levy. House guitarist for the last two seasons of A Prairie Home Companion, Chris joined Garrison Keillor and company for the “America the Beautiful” and “Love and Comedy” tours. This is his fourth appearance on an APHC Cruise. Chris lives in Batavia, Illinois, with his four-year-old son, Julian.

Billy Steele

Steele, Billy photo

Youngest of the Steele siblings, Billy Steele, performs, writes, produces, and serves as assistant director for the Grammy-winning Sounds of Blackness. He writes and produces for various other artists as well, including the Steeles, and his voice has been heard on soundtracks with the likes of Rod Stewart and Luther Vandross. Recently, he collaborated on the Disney soundtrack Legends, The John Henry Story, narrated by James Earl Jones. Billy is the musical director for Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Jearlyn Steele

Steele Jearlyn photo

Growing up in Indiana, Jearlyn Steele sang with her siblings as The Steele Children. One by one, they moved to Minnesota and started singing together again. Now music is the family business. She has performed with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, at Carnegie Hall and at the 2018 Super Bowl LIVE Verizon stage. In addition, Jearlyn is a public speaker (the singing speaker, she calls herself), an entertainment reporter for public television, voice-over talent, and host of Steele Talkin’, a Sunday-night radio show that originates on WCCO in Minneapolis. Among her solo CDs is Jearlyn Steele Sings Songs from A Prairie Home Companion.

Vern Sutton

Sutton photo

Vern Sutton has collaborated with major musical organizations as a singer, actor, director, and educator. He was a founding member of the Center Opera Company, which became the Minnesota Opera, and composers Dominick Argento, Robert Ward, Conrad Susa, Stephen Paulus, David Thomas, Libby Larsen, and others have written for his voice. For 36 years, he taught at the University of Minnesota School of Music, and for four summers he was artistic director of Opera in the Ozarks. Vern was a guest on the first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion and on innumerable shows after that.

April Verch

Verch photo

Growing up surrounded by living, breathing roots music, April Verch thought every little girl learned to stepdance at the age of three and fiddle at the age of six. She decided early on that she’d be a professional musician, and for decades she has been captivating audiences across the globe. From her native Canada to Europe, Australia, China, the United Arab Emirates, and beyond, she has spread a signature sound that blends regional Canadian, American old-time, bluegrass, country, and Americana. In 2019, April released her 12th recording, Once A Day (Slab Town Records), a heartfelt homage to 1950s and ’60s classic country.  

Robin and Linda Williams

Williams photo

For decades, Robin and Linda Williams have made it their mission to perform the music they love: “a robust blend of bluegrass, folk, old-time, and acoustic country that combines wryly observant lyrics with a wide-ranging melodicism.” Today some might call it “Americana,” but these music masters were living and breathing this elixir 20 years before that label became a radio format. The two first appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in 1975, the same year they recorded their first album. In 2013, they released Back 40 — marking 40 years on the road and 40 years of marriage.

Jed Wilson

Wilson photo

A versatile pianist equally at home as an improviser and as an accompanist, Jed Wilson earned a degree in jazz performance from the New England Conservatory of Music and has worked extensively in the worlds of jazz and folk music. In addition to maintaining a long-term collaboration with singer Heather Masse, he has performed or recorded with Aoife O’Donovan, Dominique Eade, and Rushad Eggleston. His most recent recording is a solo piano EP titled Nocturnes.


Aly Busse

Busse photo

Aly Busse is the Vice President for Education at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, a nonprofit research laboratory. She comes from a diverse background in informal science education, including aquariums, museums, and community outreach programs. Before joining Mote Marine Laboratory, Aly was Education Director at UnderWater World, Guam, and Youth and Family Programs Coordinator at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. She also held dual roles at Rutgers University as the Senior Program Coordinator for a science outreach program and Associate Director of the Rutgers Geology Museum. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina–Wilmington, a Master of Science in Science Education from Old Dominion University, and is a PhD candidate at the University of South Florida.

Kiley Gray

Gray photo

Originally from Florida, Kiley Gray has always known that marine biology was her passion. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of West Florida, Kiley worked as a fisheries biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. She is currently the Coordinator for Public Programs at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, an independent, nonprofit research laboratory with a public aquarium. In this position, she is responsible for bringing marine science and research to the public through a variety of programs for audiences of all ages and is an instructor for the Florida Master Naturalist program.

Lytton John Musselman

Musselman photo

Lytton John Musselmanearned a Ph.D. in botany from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and was chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where he holds the Mary Payne Hogan Distinguished Professorship of Botany. He established the Blackwater Ecologic Preserve in 1984 and is the Manager of that property. In addition, he has been a consultant for new Qur’anic gardens in Albania, Qatar, and Brunei Darussalam. Lytton is co-author of The Quick Guide to Edible Plants (Johns Hopkins University Press). His other books include 2019’s Parasitic Plants in African Agriculture. Described as a “passionate botanist” by Garrison Keillor, Lytton received the Meritorious Teaching Award from the Association of Southeastern Biologists in 2019.

See EMI’s website for cabin pricing

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Havana (La Habana), Cuba

Havana! Located on the island’s north coast, this is Cuba’s national capital and largest city, with a rich history dating back more than five centuries. Here, you’ll discover historic sites, cultural attractions, remarkable art and architecture, a diverse and lively music scene, and sun-drenched beaches, plus those dazzling vintage American cars. And dining? Oh yes. From casual open-air cafés to paladares (in private homes) to upscale eateries with Caribbean vistas, something is sure to appeal. There are plenty of places to buy keepsakes and souvenirs for loved ones back home.

Cienfuegos, Cuba

Cienfuegos is tucked into a bay on Cuba’s southern coast. It has been a pivotal shipping point for tobacco, sugar, and other goods since its founding in 1819, and it remains a bustling port. The historic center of the city was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2005. Indeed, history looms large. Stroll in and around the Parque José Martí (a statue of Cuba’s national hero standing at the center of the park) and you’ll find extraordinary buildings: the Palacio Ferrer (Ferrer Palace), the Catedral de la Purísima Concepción, the Teatro Tomás Terry, the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace), and more. You’ll see why Cienfuegos is nicknamed La Perla del Sur (the Pearl of the South).

Ocho Rios, Jamaica 

A lot of history is packed into Ocho Rios, Jamaica — or Ochi, as the locals call it. Christopher Columbus was marooned near this site for more than a year, until a rescue ship finally arrived and the explorer returned to Europe. It was his final voyage. Playwright Noël Coward lived in the vicinity. So did swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn and author Ian Fleming. (Parts of Dr. No, the first James Bond movie, were filmed nearby.) And reggae pioneer Bob Marley was born in this same parish: St. Ann.

The area is a bonanza for nature lovers, featuring scenic hikes, spectacular waterfalls, and sandy beaches. And the area’s cross-cultural cuisine runs the gamut from spicy jerk chicken to the leafy greens of callaloo to ackee with saltfish (the country’s national dish).

George Town, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands, is located on the western shore of Grand Cayman. Here, you’ll settle into just the right tempo for you: prestissimo (very quick) or larghissimo (did someone say sloth?). Enjoy swimming, snorkeling, diving, moseying through lush gardens, hiking through nature, bird-watching, sauntering along the fabled Seven Mile Beach (one of the best in the Caribbean), shopping, or taking in historic sites and the National Museum. Or just plunking down in the sand and daydreaming.

Then let the grazing begin! A melting pot of cuisines and a magnet for top chefs, Grand Cayman has culinary offerings to suit any palate.

See EMI’s website for cabin pricing

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Here you will find answers to the more common questions we have been asked about our cruises. We also address some important issues specific to this cruise.

Before sailing with us, you must read and sign EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions, which spell out important and contractually binding guidelines for our cruise.

We recommend that you visit the Holland America website. You will find extensive and detailed information about sailing on their ships. They have been in the cruise business much longer than we have — please make use of their expertise.

EXECUTIVE MEETINGS and INCENTIVES, INC. (EMI) is your partner in travel. They are your first stop for any help you may need with travel arrangements or any question you may have. See EMI’s website for more information.

YOU MUST HAVE A CURRENT PASSPORT TO SAIL ON THIS CRUISE. Even though this cruise originates and returns to the same domestic port, you must have a passport to sail this cruise. U.S. citizens under the age of 16 may present an alternate government-issued proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Please refer to Holland America’s website for Passport Guidelines.


All guests are required to obtain a visa in order to enter Cuba, regardless of citizenship or residency. The type of visa that a guest will need will depend on certain factors, including the reason for travel to Cuba. Most guests will be able to enter Cuba utilizing a “Tarjeta Turística” (or “tourist card”) visa. Guests will purchase the “Tarjeta Turística” from Holland America at a cost of $75 per person. This fee will be added to your onboard account. Holland America will distribute this visa during embarkation and guests will be responsible for providing their visa to the Cuban authorities upon arrival in Cuba. If a guest loses their visa, they will be able to purchase a new visa onboard at an additional cost of $75.


The majority of our guests will need to select the P2P option at the top of the affidavit. Please refer to Holland America Cuba Visa Information for more information.


You must also provide details as to how you plan to transfer to and from the cruise terminal in Fort Lauderdale. This is a Holland America requirement and can be provided during the OLCI (Online Check-In).


We are scheduled for two (2) stops in Cuba — Havana and Cienfuegos, as well as Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and George Town, Cayman Islands. Holland America uses this language in their agreements with passengers: “WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO DEVIATE FROM SCHEDULED ROUTE, CHANGE PORT OF EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION, SUBSTITUTE TRANSPORTATION, CANCEL CRUISE AND ACTIVITIES, AND CHANGE OR OMIT PORTS OF CALL; SUBSTITUTION.” If such a change is necessary and the cruise sails as scheduled March 18–25, 2020, there will be no refunds. Please refer to EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions for more detail.


PRAIRIE HOME CRUISES (PHC) is an independent company that was formed under the umbrella of PRAIRIE GRAND, LLC, for the purpose of chartering cruise vacations. PRAIRIE HOME PRODUCTIONS is the sister company that produces “A Prairie Home Companion” and “The Writer’s Almanac.” PHC is responsible for all changes and additions made to the regularly scheduled HAL cruise. We will provide the APHC performers, entertainers, and lecturers sailing with you.

HOLLAND AMERICA LINES (HAL) operates and manages the Veendam; provides for passenger safety and comfort; and is responsible for your cabin accommodations, food, beverages, recreation, and shopping while on board. Go to Holland America website for more information about life aboard the ship.

EXECUTIVE MEETINGS and INCENTIVES (EMI) is our agent in charge of selling our cruise and booking your accommodations. They will provide you with the highest levels of professional travel-related services. They will book your passage on the ship. EMI will help you with transfers to and from the cruise, cabin selection, and dinner table seating, and will provide guidance for other onboard needs.

For other questions, email us or call EMI’s Prairie Home Cruise number at 908-458-3591.

I. Booking

How much does the cruise cost?
For pricing information, visit EMI’s pricing page. We have cabins in a wide range of prices. You will find that we are offering favorable rates compared to our other cruises, especially when you look at how much we are charging per day.

What types of cabins are on the ship? Where are they located?
There are a wide variety of cabins throughout all levels of the ship. You will always be close to the action on the Veendam. If you are interested in a Verandah cabin, we suggest that you book early, since there are relatively few of these available. See HAL’s Deck Plan for pictures, descriptions, and deck plans.

Is this a different ship than we have sailed before?
For those of you who have traveled with us before, we will be sailing on the original class of ship with the Veendam. We sailed the same ship for a seven-day trip to Alaska in 2006. This ship will feel familiar, since the layout is similar to previous charters we have sailed. You will come aboard and immediately feel at home. Check out the Veendam Deck Plan.

How do I book a cabin? What types are currently available?
For booking information, visit EMI’s pricing page. You will see a list of the currently available cabins. Just click on the one you are interested in.

May I sail only part of this cruise?
Deviations need to be requested in advance of the sailing via EMI. We do need to ensure that you are aware of a few stipulations. As with any travel, cruise guests must comply with all customs and immigration specifics that are applicable to the port in which they embark/debark the vessel, including any additional costs that may be involved at the pier/port to embark/debark the guests. Additionally, while we endeavor to follow our published itinerary, please understand that unplanned circumstances may require that we change or cancel our scheduled call to this port, or otherwise prohibit our ability to honor the deviation request. Should this occur, you as the guest assume all responsibility for any additional costs incurred.

Unfortunately, we are unable to adjust the cruise fare or make a change to individual invoices to manually reflect the shorter cruise segment. Please be advised that because this is not a standard embark/debark port with porters on staff, guests will be responsible for carrying their own luggage off the ship. We regret any inconvenience and appreciate your understanding.

Are wheelchair-accessible rooms available onboard? What about other special needs?
Holland America, PHC, and EMI do not discriminate against persons on the basis of disability. We seek, to the fullest extent feasible, to accommodate guests with special needs. Holland America offers a limited number of staterooms designed to be wheelchair and scooter accessible. Most public areas of the ship are wheelchair accessible; some areas such as the topmost outdoor observation area are not. To learn more about HAL’s options for guests with special needs, see the Shipboard Life section of Holland America Frequently Asked Questions. You can explore the deck plan (Veendam Deck Plan) to see where the wheelchair-accessible rooms are located. Please contact EMI directly at 908-458-3591 to discuss any special needs you may have.

II. Payment/Finances

Is travel insurance necessary?
We strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance. You will be booking this cruise many months before we sail; circumstances can easily change. Insurance is your only recourse for reimbursement in the event of change, delay, or crisis. For more information, see EMI’s pricing page.

Will the Cuban Government require health insurance to be purchased to cover local medical services required while I am in Cuba?
Yes, the Cuban Government requires all guests to pay a Cuba Health Insurance fee. This fee is included in the price of the cruise.

What is included in the payment and what will cost extra?
Please refer to EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions page. While on board, you can spend a minimal amount or incur significant charges by the end of the cruise. You will certainly be able to have an enjoyable time no matter how little or how much you spend. Alcoholic beverages, soda, spa services, the casino, and other onboard services are not included in your fare. We do not include airfare, ground transportation, shore excursions, or other off-ship expenses in our fares.

I’m a Holland America stockholder. Can I get a discount on my cruise?
No. This cruise is private and chartered.

I’ve booked my cabin. What’s next?
EMI will confirm your reservation with you electronically and provide an EMI confirmation number they will use to track your reservation. Closer to the cruise, EMI will provide your Holland America booking number and cabin number, which you will use to prepare for your trip to Book Shore Excursions.

How do I check in?
Check-in and preparation for your cruise is an online process that HAL calls Express Docs. All passengers are required to check in using this system in advance of the cruise. You will need your HAL booking number to do this. You will be prompted to accept Holland America Terms and Conditions online. Once this is clicked, the contract is accepted.  All documents necessary for your cruise will be provided online through Express Docs, including your cruise contract and your boarding pass. You will need to print out the boarding pass portion of these documents for each person in your party and have the boarding passes available at check-in. See EMI’s website for step-by-step instructions on how to use Express Docs.

It is essential that you review all documents thoroughly and that you bring everything with you. This process is similar to checking in for an airline flight, just more extensive. It is required.

May I cancel my reservation?
You may cancel, but we have a strict refund policy. Within TEN (10) DAYS of your registration, your deposit becomes nonrefundable. On or after November 20, 2019, your full cruise fare will be collected and is not refundable. Please see EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions page.

How do I pay for extras while on board?
While on board, HAL maintains a “cashless society.” All additional purchases made will be charged to passengers’ onboard accounts. These accounts must be settled before disembarking.

If you have not done so already online, you will need to register your credit or debit card in order to use your onboard account for shipboard purchases. On the day of sailing, your card will be pre-authorized for U.S. $60 per person for each day, or $420 per person. Your account will then be activated, and you may make purchases by simply showing your guest identification card and signing a receipt. At the end of your cruise, you will receive a final statement, and your card will be charged only for the actual amount of your purchases. Please inform your credit or debit card issuer in advance that your card will be used on a Holland America Line ship. This will help prevent delays in obtaining pre-authorization on board. Some banks may keep the pre-authorization in place for up to 30 days. If you do not want to use a credit or debit card, the ship will collect a cash deposit from you at time of boarding in the same pre-authorization amount. Any excess deposit will be refunded to you at the end of the cruise. Traveler’s checks may be cashed at the front office to make your deposit. Personal checks are not accepted on board.

What about tipping? To whom and how much?
A prepaid gratuity is included in your cruise fare. The gratuity currently is $14.50 (cabin) — $16.00 (suite) per person per day, or $101.50 (cabin) — $112.00 (suite) per person for the cruise. This will be shared among the Veendam’s entire staff. In addition, an automatic 15 percent gratuity is added to all bar and beverage service. Any tipping above this is entirely up to you. It is common, but not required, to tip for personal service in your cabin. Spa services include a 15 percent automatic gratuity. Additional tipping for bar service, dining room service, or the ship’s transportation services is not expected. For more info regarding these charges see Gratuities and Service charges.

In terminals, airports, ports of call, on-shore excursions, and at hotels, we suggest that you extend gratuities consistent with customary practices.

Are guests from outside the U.S. able to purchase online?
Yes. International guests will be able to book their cabins online. All credit card charges will take place in USD and be converted to your local currency the day of the transaction.

III. Travel To/From the Cruise

Regardless of who books your air travel, you must send EMI a copy of your flight itinerary. If you book your own travel, you must still provide EMI with your flight itinerary. EMI must provide HAL with travel itineraries for all passengers. This is a legal requirement: you will be denied boarding if you do not provide your travel itinerary in advance. You must provide a cell or other phone number that can be used to communicate with you in the event of travel delays.

We recommend that you purchase airline tickets early. We hope you can find a good deal for travel to Fort Lauderdale. EMI can help you book your flights; see EMI’s website for more information.

When do we leave? When do we come home?

Please note: This cruise departs and returns on a WEDNESDAY.

Boarding will begin in Fort Lauderdale at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 18, 2020; please do not arrive at the terminal before 11:00 a.m. You must be on board no later than 3:00 p.m. We sail at 4:00 p.m. local time and cannot wait for delayed passengers.

Fort Lauderdale is a major cruise port and there are many options for same-day travel from the airport to the cruise terminal. The two are quite close to each other. Please be sure to allow ample time for travel complications, understanding that you should arrive to the cruise terminal no later than 2:00 p.m. For those that choose to fly into Miami International Airport, driving time between the Miami airport and the port is approximately 40 minutes. Leave ample time to transfer as you would in any major city.

Upon our return to Fort Lauderdale, disembarkation may begin as early as 7:30 a.m. and will end by 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Passengers should easily be able to depart from Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, if you wish. We suggest a departure time no earlier than 1:00 p.m.

What if my luggage gets lost by the airline?
In the event your bags are delayed, Holland America will make every effort to work with local operators to help your bags catch up with the ship. Guests will need to submit a claim at the airport before joining the vessel, once onboard the Veendam, guests must submit their claim along with any other details to the Guest Service desk. Please note that some major discount air carriers require that lost or delayed luggage be signed for personally by the owner at the airport. Please check their policies carefully before booking your air travel.

Where can I stay in Fort Lauderdale?
EMI has blocked out rooms in a nearby hotel, before and after the cruise. See EMI’s website if you are interested. Fort Lauderdale hotel rooms are not included in your cruise fare. EMI will not book a hotel room for you unless you ask them to do so.

What are the arrangements for travel from airport to ship?
We recommend that you purchase a transfer package from EMI when you purchase your cruise — they are available for both Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport

They will offer a number of options; see EMI’s website for details. These transfers will include luggage handling. EMI will not book any of these options for you unless you request them. Costs for these transfers are in addition to your cruise fare. Here are the basic options:

– Airport to hotel on March 17th, hotel that night, and transfer to the ship on the 18th

– Airport to ship on March 18th.

– Ship to airport on March 25th.

– Ship to hotel March 25th, hotel that night, and transfer to the airport on the 26th.

How about getting to Fort Lauderdale on my own?
This may be a good option for many of our passengers. There are parking facilities available at or near the terminal, including a garage adjacent to the terminal.

How do I get my luggage onto the ship?
They do it for you! Once at the port terminal, you will leave your bags at the designated drop bag area for transfer to the ship—much the way you would check bags for a plane flight. There is no cost for this service. Your bags will be delivered directly to your cabin. A similar procedure will happen in reverse when we return to Fort Lauderdale.

When you first get on and last get off the boat, there will be a lengthy period of time when you will not have access to your baggage or to your cabin. Please be prepared with a small carry-on bag to hold the items you need, including all of your travel documents, medications, and any valuables you may have with you.

Whenever your bags are being transferred for you, please be sure to respect deadlines for having your bag ready, properly tag your bags, and reclaim them promptly. In particular, remember that just as at an airport, you will always need to claim your luggage in the cruise terminal. It will not automatically be transferred to your hotel.

Is there security screening?
Before embarking the ship, your luggage will be screened before being loaded onto the vessel. If electrical devices or illegal substances are detected, you will be called to security to verify your items.

Will I need a passport?
All passengers 16 years of age and over need passports. There are exceptions for infants and minors under the age of 16. Passports must be good for six months beyond the duration of the cruise. These regulations are strictly enforced. Please refer to Holland America’s website for Passport Guidelines.

May visitors come onboard?
Holland America does allow for guests to have onboard visitors. If guests are interested in having a guest on board, they can visit the front office to find out the terms and conditions.

What about after the cruise, in Fort Lauderdale?
We arrive early in Fort Lauderdale, allowing a great opportunity to explore all the area offers. EMI has blocked out hotel rooms in Fort Lauderdale for the night following the cruise, if you’d like to stay overnight.

EMI will offer you the option of booking a transfer directly to the airport if you are flying immediately following the cruise.

You will require a minimum of two (2) hours to transfer off and get from the ship to the airport, plus time to navigate the airport itself. We suggest booking flights out of Fort Lauderdale that leave after 1:00 p.m.

IV. Traveling Abroad

Will I need a passport?
Yes, all passengers must carry a passport that expires a minimum of six (6) months following the cruise. For this domestic origination cruise, infants and minors under the age of 16 may prove citizenship with a government-issued birth certificate, and copies are acceptable. Please refer to Holland America’s Passport Guidelines.

Will I need other documentation for any of these ports?
In Cuba, you will need a Tourist Visa, which will be issued by Holland America upon your check-in at the Port in Fort Lauderdale. See EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions for more details. Please see Holland America Cuba Visa Information for more details, including the Travel Affidavit that must be completed and presented at embarkation.

Do I need shots?
We are not aware of any special vaccinations or immunizations required for the areas to which we are traveling but please refer to Immunization Recommendations for additional information. Please refer to Travel Advisories for current details regarding all advisories.

What languages will be spoken at our ports of call?
English is the official language in Ocho Rios and George Town. In Cuba, the official language is Spanish, though many citizens speak English.

What about currency?


There are two types of currencies in Cuba — CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) and CUP (Cuban Peso). The CUC is the currency used by tourists while the CUP is used by locals. Guests can exchange money to convertible pesos (CUCs) at the terminals in Havana and Cienfuegos as well as in hotels, banks, and exchange offices. Guests are highly encouraged to carry enough cash for the day when disembarking the ship.


The currency of Jamaica is the JAMAICAN DOLLAR. ATM machines will be available to draw funds, but with arrival in Jamaica on a Sunday, banks will be closed.


The currency of the Cayman Islands is the CAYMAN DOLLAR, but the U.S. dollar is readily accepted.

What about credit cards?
While U.S. guests are now technically allowed to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba where they are accepted, most U.S. banks have not yet finalized arrangements for credit card transactions in Cuba and most places do not accept credit cards. Please check with your card provider to determine if they have established access in Cuba. It is recommended that guests bring cash and do not rely on credit cards.

Credits cards are readily accepted in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

V. Entertainment

What will we do on board?
Boredom is not an issue. Never has been, never will be. We will schedule a full slate of musical performances. In the main showroom and in smaller venues throughout the ship, you will have ample opportunity to enjoy your favorite “Prairie Home” performers. There will be sing-alongs and storytelling and gatherings with Garrison. We will add lectures, readings, and other events to HAL’s regular cruise offerings.

The APHC events are in addition to all of the activities you would expect on a cruise ship: dining, swimming, spa services, eating, relaxing, sports, gambling, shopping, eating, entertainment, other special events, and more eating.

When do we attend the evening performances?
Our main attraction on board is the evening performance in the main showroom. These can be similar to APHC broadcast shows, or they can be music concerts, or even shows featuring the various talents of your fellow passengers. Regardless, everyone wants to come see them.

The showroom only holds about half of the ship’s passengers, which is why we repeat the show each night. The problem comes when people try to see both shows. This can deny your fellow passengers the opportunity to see the show, so we use a plan that we hope you think is fair.

You will receive a color-coded Holland America ID card. This will identify which show you may attend each night. We are going to check this identification for each main evening show, just as we would take tickets for a regular performance. We will clear the auditorium after each show, and we will not allow people to reserve seats in advance.

Will you publish a schedule of activities?
We are always adding new things to do, right up to the day of departure. When you arrive on the ship, we will have for you a schedule of activities for the entire cruise. Once aboard, we adjust the schedule daily. HAL and APHC will publish an official daily schedule, which will be delivered to your cabin every morning.

Will I actually SEE Garrison and other performers?
The Prairie Home Company will be guests of Holland America just like you, living in cabins right down the hall or maybe next door. You’ll see them in the elevators, on the Lido Deck, at the buffets and bars, and, of course, on stage. Don’t hesitate to say hi, ask questions, or tell us you loved a particular event, but do understand that we may be running to our next assignment or just need some time on our own.

Should I bring a musical instrument?
Sure! On this cruise we plan to give our passengers opportunities to play together and we will schedule “jam” sessions with a few of our performers. In casual — purely unplugged — settings you’ll have the chance to share your musical talents with your shipmates. Acoustic instruments only — Garrison wouldn’t have it any other way!

Will any of the shows be broadcast?
No, but they will be recorded for possible later use. We may feature some video, photos, and audio segments via within a month or so of our return.

Will there be opportunities for autographs?
While on board, feel free to ask for autographs at your leisure. We will also schedule autograph sessions in coordination with the gift shops on board. Check in with a Prairie Home or EMI staff member on board if you have questions about this.

Will there be APHC merchandise for sale?
Yes. Check out the gift shops on board. We’ll have clothing, books, and lots of music featuring your “Prairie Home” favorites.

VI. Dining

When do we schedule our dining? May we sit together at dinner?
When you register for the cruise, you will request your seating preferences for dining. EMI will do everything possible to honor seating requests. In most every case you will be able to sit near friends and family (assuming you want to!). You may meet new friends at your table as well. Note that your dining time preference determines which performance of the evening Showroom events you will attend.

What is the difference between early seating and late seating?
The Dining Room and the Main Show Lounge each hold half of the ship’s passengers, so we all need to rotate.
—EARLY seating passengers will eat at the first seating of dinner, at 5:30 p.m. Then they go to the second Main Lounge show, at 8:30 p.m.
—LATE seating passengers see the Main Lounge Show first, at 6:00 p.m. They then go to dinner at the second seating, at 7:45 p.m.

While accommodations can often be made, due to the popularity of our evening shows, we will use assigned dinner times: the “As-You-Wish” dining program available on regular HAL cruises will not be used.

If I have food allergies or other dietary needs, will the ship be able to accommodate these?
Yes, but you must inform us in advance. Upon your initial booking via the EMI website, you will be asked about dietary restrictions. You will be asked again when you check in to Holland America to receive your Boarding Documents. Any special needs should be noted at this time (e.g. need for distilled water for CPAP machines, etc.). You can learn more under Shipboard Life at Holland America Frequently Asked Questions.

What is the Dress Code?
Because we are chartering the ship, APHC has the freedom to set our own dress code policies. We are considerably more relaxed than the standard cruise. Sunday-go-to-church clothes is about as fancy as we get. If you like to dress up, please feel free, and many of us may join you.

The only time there will be an actual dress code is in the dining rooms during the evening meal. On most nights, the dress code will be “smart casual.” This means long pants and sports shirt or sweater for men, and skirt or long pants and sweater or blouse for women. We ask that you not wear casual T-shirts, swimsuits, bathrobes, tank tops, shorts, and the like in the dining room. Further, we will designate one or two evenings as “semi-formal.” This generally means sport coat and maybe a tie for men; and a dress, skirt, or pantsuit for women. These nights are an opportunity for you to dress up, and the crew will wear their dress uniforms, but it is not a strict requirement.

May we dine elsewhere?
Holland America offers many other options for dining. You are not obligated to join us in the dining room, although you may want to let your seatmates know you won’t be joining them. Dining options include a private table at the Pinnacle Grill or the Canaletto Restaurant, informal dining on the Lido Deck, and Room Service available 24/7. The Pinnacle and Canaletto options require a modest surcharge — well worth it for the high quality of food, level of service, and atmosphere. Remember that the dining room is a lovely, peaceful, option for breakfast and lunch — and it’s included.

VII. Life Aboard Ship

How do I contact an EMI or APHC staff person? How will they be identified?
We will staff an info table near the front desk. And we’ll all try to wear our ID lanyards.

After boarding the ship, how long before I can get into the cabin?
Boarding for the ship begins several hours before we cast off. You’ll be able to settle in once your stateroom is prepared. HAL has streamlined this process to a great degree but please understand that they have to turn around accommodations for more than 1,200 people in a very short period of time. Plenty of onboard activities will be available while you wait. Make arrangements for your week. And the buffet lines will be open.

An announcement will be made when your staterooms are ready; that’s when you can meet your cabin steward and get unpacked.

What kind of amenities will I find in my cabin?
Cabins on the Veendam are outfitted much like a good hotel room. You will find them to be comfortable, nicely decorated, efficient, and clean.

All linens and bedding will be supplied. Your bathroom comes complete with towels, toiletries, and your very own onboard bathrobe. You will find ample closet and drawer space, a dressing table, cabin-controlled air conditioning, a variety of cabin lighting, and a television with shipboard programming.

All staterooms are equipped with standard 110 AC (U.S.  port) and 220/240 AC (2-prong European port) power outlets. Personal care items and electronics will work just as they do at home. Hair dryers are available in all staterooms. You may wish to bring a travel alarm clock since they are not provided, although your cabin phone accesses an effective wake-up call system.

For safety reasons, the ship respectfully requests that you do not iron clothing in your stateroom. Ironing facilities are available in the self-service laundry rooms for your convenience. Full laundry, dry-cleaning, and valet services are available on the Veendam.

Where can I smoke?
Please note that Holland America has a strict policy of prohibiting smoking in all staterooms. This policy will be strictly enforced. Substantial fees will be charged for cleaning your cabin if you smoke inside. In Verandah cabins, smoking is permitted outside on the balconies only.

In deference to our performers and your fellow passengers, this is a “non-smoking” cruise with even stricter policies than regular cruises. You may smoke only in one designated public area on one outside deck of the ship. Our cruise designates all interior areas (including all lounge and restaurant areas) as non-smoking where smoking might be permitted on other HAL cruises. See the Holland America Smoking Policy.

How can I be reached in case of an emergency?
Holland America has procedures in place for situations that require emergency contact with your loved ones. Please refer to Emergency Phone Numbers for more information.

What if I need medical attention?
Fully trained medical professionals are on board at all times, and a complete medical facility is available. Aspirin and seasickness pills are available at guest services, but you may have to pay for other items or services.

Can I call my friends in their cabin? Can I call home?
Your stateroom comes equipped with telephones that can be used to call your fellow passengers just as in a hotel. They can also be used for ship-to-shore communication, however significant charges apply. Please refer to Ship-to-shore communication for more information.

Passengers may not see our guest roster, and we will not give out cabin numbers.

Will my cell phone work?
Probably not while on board, almost certainly while in port — but be careful. Call your carrier for details for your plan. We suggest purchasing a data roaming package or making sure you deactivate your roaming feature before you leave port. Cellular at sea is very expensive.

Will I have access to the internet?
Yes. You may bring your own computer or use ones provided by HAL. You can buy minutes for surfing the internet at any point throughout the trip. Wi-Fi is available throughout the entire vessel, including your stateroom, and is charged under the same system. Please be aware that the prices are high and can add up quickly. Please refer to Internet Use for more details.

We know that on previous cruises, many of our passengers have not been satisfied with the internet service on board. HAL continues to do what they can to improve service. However, a ship on the open ocean will only be able to access a certain amount of bandwidth and there will definitely be service outages. For your information, the biggest problems on our cruises occur when all of us try to get on the internet between leaving port and having dinner.

We recommend that you do not plan on accessing the internet to stream video, hold conference calls, engage in an activity that requires to you to maintain one consistent connection, or any other activity requiring high-quality internet service. You should expect to be able to check your email and keep up on basic social media but there will be times when service is simply not available. It is also advisable that you LOG OFF when you have finished using the internet.

On this cruise in particular, reliable high-quality internet service will be readily available in all of our ports.

Can I get married on board ship?
No. This is a private, chartered cruise. No weddings. No divorces, either.

Will there be stuff for my kids to do?
Holland America provides a range of activities for kids through their Club Hal program. See HAL Onboard Activities for details. The Club HAL room is regularly available with games electronic and otherwise, and has daily special group activities. The schedule of events is determined by the number of kids who sail with us; we will include APHC programming in their schedule.

How should I dress for the weather?
March is one of the prime months to sail the Caribbean, when the seas are generally calm and weather temperate. Expect good beach weather.

When on deck, it can always be windy and cool; be prepared for that. Of course, be prepared for rain. Be sure to bring comfortable shoes for walking on deck or on shore.

Should I bring anything else?
If you are interested in “knowing stuff,” you might want to bring along your binoculars and a field guide or three (birds, marine mammals, wildflowers, and geology are just a few). Previous guests have found benefit from bringing a camera, a journal, an instrument, or their most recent knitting project.

What will sea conditions be like?
We could have calm seas. We could have large waves. The ship may glide placidly along with barely a perceptible movement. The ship may rock back and forth, making even the stout of heart (and stomach) reach for the Dramamine. We will probably see a bit of everything. Holland America schedules cruises for favorable weather, something we’ve certainly experienced over the years. It is unlikely that we will experience severe weather, and HAL does an excellent job of tracking and avoiding storms as necessary.

VIII. Excursions

You’ll find all the information you need at Shore Excursions. You will receive an email notice when they are available for your review and booking.

Booked guests may confirm shore excursion requests in advance of sailing. Once you have your Holland America booking number and cabin number, you may use it to view shore excursion information specific to your itinerary. To complete a booking, please proceed through all screens on the HAL booking page until you receive confirmation from them that your booking is complete.

Before you leave from home, we suggest you make use of a handy feature on the website: you can generate a complete schedule of your cruise that includes your pre-booked activities.

Guests may pre-book shore excursions online until five days prior to sailing. If your departure date is less than five days away, please call Shore Excursions at 1-888-425-9376 to book directly with an agent. All shore excursion requests are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Wait-listed requests for sold-out shore excursions will be processed prior to requests made on board. Children under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or responsible adult over 25.

Excursion cancellations may incur a cancellation fee, and any refund may be issued in the form of credit to your onboard account. Excursions have individual deadlines after which no refund or credit is given. Please refer to Shore Excursions for details.

All excursions are the responsibility of independent tour operators. HAL acts only as an agent to help you book your tours. We have no financial or operational relationship with them. While excursions may be arranged directly with independent operators on shore, you will have limited recourse in the event of an unsatisfactory experience.

All of our ports afford the opportunity to explore on foot at no cost or by local transportation. We will have extra information on all of our ports for you before and during the cruise. Please feel free to set out as you wish.

Wherever and however you explore, be sure to be back on time. Be sure that your watch is set to ship’s time; local time on land can be different. The ship cannot wait past scheduled departure times.


Travel to Cuba for tourist activities is not allowed, but being enrolled in a people-to-people program falls within the permitted category of U.S. guests visiting Cuba.

These programs must be sponsored either by Holland America Line or a third-party U.S. sponsoring organization and include a full-time schedule of activities that will create educational interactions between guests and the Cuban people. Activities can include shore excursions offered by Holland America Line. If you want to step ashore you will need to complete people-to-people programs in both Havana and Cienfuegos. Holland America Line offers shore excursion programs that are designed to fully comply with all the requirements for people-to-people programs. In planning activities ashore, guests should keep in mind that people-to-people activities must be fulfilled before guests can engage in free time. Evening shore excursions offered by Holland America Line do not currently comply with the people-to-people guidelines and cannot be considered to be part of the required full schedule of activities. How much free time is there? After completion of a full-time schedule of people-to-people activities, guests are free to explore as they wish.

See Holland America Cuba guidelines for more information.

IX. Contact Us

Email us or call EMI’s Prairie Home Cruise number at 908-458-3591.

See EMI’s website for cabin pricing

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A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Love & Comedy Tour Old Friends Solo The Gratitude Tour

October 11, 2019


9:00 p.m.

New York, New York

New York, New York

October 11, 2019

Where Brooklyn Meets Minnesota: Stories, Duets, Bickering, and a few Bad Jokes.

October 12, 2019


9:00 p.m.

New York, New York

New York, New York

October 12, 2019

Where Brooklyn Meets Minnesota: Stories, Duets, Bickering, and a few Bad Jokes.


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The Writer’s Almanac for May 22, 2019

It’s the birthday of Arthur Conan Doyle (1859), who wrote 56 short stories and four novels starring his character Sherlock Holmes.

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The Writer’s Almanac for May 21, 2019

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“If paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”
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A Prairie Home Companion: May 25, 2002

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It’s our “Talent from Towns Under [population of] Two Thousand” show! Originally broadcast from New York City.

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The Writer’s Almanac for May 20, 2019

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It was on this day in 1873 that Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received a patent for the pants that came to be known as blue jeans.

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The Writer’s Almanac for May 19, 2019

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It’s the birthday of civil rights leader Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925. His autobiography was almost finished when he was assassinated in 1965.

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The Writer’s Almanac for May 18, 2019

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On this day in 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor of France. Beethoven, who had drafted a symphony in Bonaparte’s honor, changed his mind and tore the score in half.

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The Writer’s Almanac for May 17, 2019

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The Supreme Court ruled that school segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment on this date in 1954, overturning the precedent that had been set with Plessy v. Ferguson.

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The Writer’s Almanac for May 16, 2019

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It’s the birthday of Liberace (1919), who replied to his critics, “Thank you for your very amusing review. After reading it, in fact, my brother George and I laughed all the way to the bank.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for May 15, 2019

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It was on this day in 1886 that poet Emily Dickinson died at the age of 55. She made her sister promise to burn all of her letters when she died, but didn’t say what to do with her notebooks.

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The Writer’s Almanac for May 14, 2019

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It was on this day in 1925 that Virginia Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness novel “Mrs Dalloway” was published.

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Life is so interesting, it’s hard to stop

It’s a privilege to have a doctor of medicine in the family and my family has two, one American, one Swedish. We dreamers and ideologues need to come into contact with science now and then. The Swedish doctor told us yesterday she is skeptical of the American practice of routine colonoscopies, that the profit margin on the procedure is very high and the rationale is modest at best. I’d never heard skepticism about colonoscopies before; it was like someone bad-mouthing mouthwash. I’ve been pro-colonoscopy because it feels good to get cleaned out and the muscle relaxant is so luxurious and pleasurable, and health insurance paid the freight so I didn’t give it a thought. Interesting.

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What I learned from window replacement

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Just looking out a window, thinking

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A few thoughts before heading off to dinner

I’m a man of considerable loyalty. I stick with a pair of shoes for years, and I still use Ipana toothpaste because it sponsored Fred Allen on the radio, though sometimes I buy Colgate in support of higher education. But I’m all done with the friend who invited me to dinner last month. He is off my list for good.

It was one of those wretched dinner parties where you wish you could say, “I’ve got to go home and take the dog out for a walk” but the hosts know you don’t have one so you try to think of something else — a plumbing problem, a plant that needs watering — it was my idea of Hell. Eight perfectly nice strangers around a table trying to manufacture conversation by saying, “I’ve been reading a very interesting book lately about” — prison reform, children with learning disabilities, global warming, income inequality, gender bias, the antibiotic crisis, you name it — a dinner party of book reports and I wish there were just one flaming Republican there to lend some interest, but no, this is a Democratic Hell.

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What happened in church on Sunday, I think

Church was packed on Easter morning, brass players up in the choir loft, ladies with big hats, girls in spring dresses, and when the choir and clergy processed up the aisle, the woman swinging the censer looked like a drum major leading the team to victory, which is what Easter is about, the triumph over death. Resurrection is not something we Christians talk about in the same way we talk about our plans for summer vacation or retirement, but it is proclaimed on Easter and the hymns are quite confident (with added brass) and the rector seemed to believe in it herself and so an old writer sitting halfway back and surrounded by good singers has to think along those lines. It’s right there in the Nicene Creed and in Luke’s Gospel — the women come to the tomb and find the stone rolled away and the mysterious strangers say, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”

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Old man cautions against faith in probability

I flew back to Minneapolis for the mid-April snowstorm, as a true Minnesotan would do. Eight inches of snow instead of palms for Palm Sunday, God speaking to us: not to be missed. What caused it, of course, was over-enthusiasm at a 70-degree day, people setting out petunias, putting away snow shovels.

Do not assume. This was drilled into us as little kiddoes. At Anoka High School in 1958, we had a great basketball team headed for State and in the first round of district tournaments it got beaten by a gaggle of farmboys from tiny St. Francis. Unlikelihood lends disaster a sort of inevitability: thus, as I board a plane, I think, “This is the end of my life. Goodbye, my darlings.” This acceptance of disaster is what keeps the plane aloft.

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So much can happen in an ordinary afternoon

I have been struggling this week, looking deep within myself, questioning my own values, asking myself: should I go public with the incident in 2009 when Michelle Obama put her arm around me at a luncheon in Washington? She was posing for photographs with the attendees and I had been the guest speaker and I was told to stand next to her and I did and she put her left arm around my back and pulled me toward her and squeezed. It was a perceptible squeeze. I didn’t say anything at the time but I remember feeling that this was her idea, not mine, that I probably would’ve preferred to shake her hand, but what are you going to say to the First Lady? “Get your arm off me”?

She didn’t place her forehead against mine or kiss the back of my head, nothing like that, but the squeeze was unmistakable and intimated familiarity.

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The old man manages a Manhattan Lenten meditation

In church on Sunday, we sang a hymn unfamiliar to me in which we asked the Lord to deliver us from “love of pleasure,” which, as I sang it, I realized I have no intention of giving up. None. Okay, it’s Lent but I was raised fundamentalist and it took me a long time to enjoy pleasure, let alone love it. This was on the windy wintry northern plains where, frankly, Lent seems redundant.

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So that’s over, and what’s next?

Finally it’s coming to an end, two years of speculation, more than what’s been written about the future of American higher education, the American novel, and the planet Earth combined, thanks to that long angular face with the sharp Puritan nose and the stone jaw, a man famous for his silence, and why is the name pronounced MULL-er and not MYOO-ler like all the Muellers I know — what’s going on here? Why the secrecy?

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It’s coming and will find you in due course

I landed in San Francisco last Wednesday just as the rainy season ended and so the city was fresh and green, the Presidio blooming and the meadow in Golden Gate Park where the man with green suspenders walked with his wife who tossed grapes to the squirrels and they came to a quiet spot that seemed to have been waiting for them — that’s from a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti — and if it weren’t for the fact that I have other plans, I could’ve talked my wife into settling down there. It was downright paradisaical. Everywhere I looked, I saw righteous souls who’d spent their lives as Lutheran farmers in North Dakota and now, in the next life, were riding bikes around town and going to yoga and drinking excellent coffee. A young man on a skateboard stopped to talk to me and I thought of asking him if I could take it for a spin.

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