Monday, May 3, 2010

Review: The Queen Mary

LONG BEACH, April 29 - I visited the RMS Queen Mary for my birthday. This 81-ton retired ocean liner is best remembered as the ship commandeered by Lucille Bluth at the conclusion of television's "Arrested Development" (it was also an active Cunard Line vessel for three decades and transported sixteen thousand soldiers across the Atlantic during WW2).

The Queen Mary was a last minute substitute for Disneyland, which costs twice as much. This is the only way to make a visit to the Queen Mary seem affordable.

Ten minutes in, it was apparent that this California landmark was going to be less like the Hearst Castle (majestic, exhilarating, impossibly posh) and more like the Winchester Mystery House (spooky, confusing, needlessly massive). We joined one of the ghost tours in a small parlor. Our guide somehow managed to mumble through the PA system, so that all dozen or so of us on the tour had to stand on tiptoes and crane our necks and squint to convey that we couldn't understand what he was saying. A TV showed us "an exclusive CGI animation" of the QM's 1942 collision with the HMS Curacoa, and then we set out into the bowels of the ship.

Over 50 people have died on the Queen Mary over the years - nearly 400 if you count those killed on the Curacoa. The ship is allegedly infested with screaming apparitions. Our first stop on the ghost tour was the balcony overlooking the former first class pool. This two-story, dimly lit cavern is one of the ship's alleged spectral hot spots, and peering into the dark corners was kind of unsettling. But then our muttering milquetoast of a tour guide blasted ominous music on hidden speakers and the pool filled with dry ice smoke and everyone laughed in embarrassment. It reminded me of the time my friend N___ told me he thought his studio space was haunted, and I suggested that he buy a CD of Halloween sound effects and blast that while silkscreening to drown out / mock any real phantoms.

After the tour ended on a most unsatisfactory note, we were left free to roam without supervision. One forlorn room was full of mannequin heads. On a back stairway, I found an unused sanitary napkin.

An MTV crew was filming on the upper decks. Throughout the afternoon, unhappy men wearing dangling studio laminate necklaces dashed about with great self-importance. Later, leaving the boat, we overheard people yelling "don't jump!". I'm assuming this was either part of the filming, or a bunch of ghosts yelling at another ghost who just got fed up.