We are in the Crow’s Nest during happy hour when we are joined by The Charmer.

The Charmer — a name bestowed on this fellow by other passengers — is lean and elderly. He is an expert in everything. He is satisfied with nothing. At every possible turn, he steers the conversation toward the negative.

“Are you enjoying the cruise?” I ask.

“Who could?” The Charmer replies. “The wine is overpriced. The food here is terrible. I’ve cruised all over the world, and I can tell you, no one with any sense would like it. But I guess you’re happy with it?”

“We’re having a great time,” I say. “It’s our twenty-second anniversary.”

“Beginners,” he sneers. “Twinks. I was with my Harold for thirty-eight years.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“My loss?” He narrows his eyes. “It wasn’t a loss. It was the end of the world! He was wonderful, and hot, and everyone loved him. And then he died six years ago and the whole world ended!”

Unable to say the right thing, I simply nod.

“I see I’m boring you,” The Charmer says. He stalks away.


We are in Lisbon. The ship docked early, and the unexpected evening in the city has us wandering without a plan.

Every Lisbonite is glued to a television, watching a football game. We cannot see the game, but we can hear it, because every play is punctuated with cheers and loud complaints. Around us, the entire city roars.

We wander the narrow, twisty, cobblestone paths of the Alfama, getting a little lost in the process. There are a few magic moments — stumbling onto a broad patio where we watch the full moon rise over the river — but most attractions and cafés are closed, and we spend a great deal of time exhausting ourselves by climbing hills that go nowhere.

And while this is not a textbook adventure by any means — in fact, I’m a little provoked, because I think I’ve wasted time and effort — it occurs to me that it is an adventure I get to have with Clyde by my side.

Even wrong turns, taken with someone you love, can go to good places.


Back on board the ship, I think about The Charmer, who is traveling the world alone.

I wonder if, as Clyde does so often for me, it was Harold who softened The Charmer’s rough edges and steered him back toward happiness and balance. My heart goes out to him, because I see in him a little bit of me, or, at least, the me I might become if I ever lost my Clyde.

When we see The Charmer again — sitting now with a table full of people who clearly can’t wait to escape — my heart goes out to him. I walk up, fully intending to invite him to join us, and perhaps ask him to tell us about happier days with Harold.

As we walk up, The Charmer is already in full swing. Everyone at his table is drinking the ship’s wine, and he is saying — loudly — “Anyone who pays for the wine on this boat is clearly an idiot. It’s swill. But fools and their money are soon parted.”

“Did you get out tonight?” a woman asks him, trying to change the subject.

“Why would I? There’s nothing to see! They dock miles from anything you’d want to do, just to try to force you to spend more money. And besides, I’ve been to Lisbon. There’s not enough in a port like this to keep you busy for one visit, much less on a return trip.”

The negativity is just too much for me. I slink away, my good intentions shattered.

On the way back to our cabin, I stay very close to Clyde — more thankful than ever that he is healthy and happy and here in this moment with me.

About the author

Mark McElroy

I’ve racked up more than a million Delta SkyMiles exclusively through pleasure travel — earning me the nickname “Million Mile Mark.” Because family and friends planning their own vacations ask for recommendations all the time, I came up with the idea of sharing my suggestions online. For more about me and my mission, please see "Who is MillionMileMark?" on the main menu of this site.

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