Saturday, April 9, 2011

I'm on a boat, Part 11: I am tired of being on a boat.

There would be one more sleep before our boat would return to its home base.  All but the staunchest sun-addicts had given up on hanging around the pools.  After lunch, the ship's crew entertained with a hilarious (and talented) talent show in the theatre.  Most of the performers were Filipino; most of the crew, by a long shot, were Filipino.

The woman who maintained our room (and sixteen others) was Filipino.  Every evening she created a different towel totem.

This one, frankly, freaked us out.

There were more than a thousand crew on the boat, and almost three thousand passengers.  I wondered about the crew.  How come they were never in the elevators?  Did they have to walk up and down fourteen flights of stairs all day long?  They were awake before we were, and stayed up longer than we did.  When and where did they sleep?  What were their quarters like?  I did the lifeboat math.  There were twenty, holding eighty people each.  Where was the space for the workers?

They become your friends.  Apart from those you are travelling with, your housekeeper and waiters are the only people you interact with on a daily basis, who learn your names. They speak to and bond with your children, many no doubt missing their own, far away.  And then after your particular voyage is done, they immediately go through the bizarre seven-day peregrination again.  And again and again...

I attended a question and answer session with the captain and several other senior crew members.  Many other passengers had similar questions about the staff.  Do they get time off?  Yes, they may only work a set number of hours a week.  Do they get a vacation?  No.  They sign three-, four-, or nine-month contracts.  Do they have health care?  Yes.  Dental?  Yes.  They sleep in two- or four-person rooms, mostly on Decks 2 through 4. They have TVs, lounges.....Our guilt was assuaged, somewhat.

Can we tip our housekeeper?  Tips are factored into what you have already paid for the trip, but you can tip individual staff if you want.  It is up to them if they want to share with others.

Oh, right.  The linen supply guys.  The cooks.  The busboys.  The lady with the hand-spray bottle.

The last night the weather turned rough, and the ship was pitching a fair bit.  Walking down the long hallways was fun, because you would be going downhill for a while, then on level ground, and then uphill, and then downhill again---fast, medium, slow, medium, fast....  I needed to return a plastic beer bucket to any of the many bars for the five-dollar deposit. I went to the bar on Deck 12, near the largest pool.  It was closed. The bartender was cleaning up.  He told me to take my bucket to the beer garden on Deck 14, which meant walking up through tiers of deck chairs.  This was the tanning zone, now dark and deserted.  Deck 12 was soaking wet, and sported yellow caution pylons.  Swaying back and forth, lurching from one hand rail to the next, I fought my way up to the beer garden, where a single smoking man sat in the wind, nursing a drink.  He nodded to me.  I nodded back, and returned the bucket.  I wobbled back down to Deck 12 and stood beside the pool, which was surging back and forth.  A wave crashed over the end, sending water onto the deck.  A man with a mop was fighting back the chlorinated water.

"This is really something," I said to him as another wave crashed over the opposite end of the pool.

He smiled and said, "No Sir, this is really nothing."

"It can get worse?"

"Much, much worse," he laughed.

"Well good night," I said.

"Good night, Sir."

The next day we would leave the boat for good, and no one has called me "Sir" since, or if they did, I didn't notice.


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