Let me outta here!

People sometimes ask how I manage four months on a cruise ship and ask, “Don’t you get tired of it?”  I explain that it is a little different for crew, cast and staff because you tend to make friends with each other and become a little (or big!) onboard family.  But near the end of a contract . . . most people start counting the days about a month out.  And the last few days are tedious at best as you are dreaming of home.

By the time you are home for a few months you start missing the shipboard comradery, room stewards, ship’s laundry (even when it messes up your white shirt by putting it in the same load with the engineers’ greasy coveralls), and three meals a day with a complete menu of choices . . . to say nothing of being rocked to sleep at night with a new, exciting port of call every few days.

And funny thing . . . before you leave home and go back to see you start counting the days as well.  Somehow, inevitably for me, the pressure builds, and everything needs fixed and I can’t wait to walk away and leave all the problems to my wife!

So, right now, “Let me outta here!”

  • Monkey, our chickaholic dog, got loose last night.  Sitting at my desk working on a lecture about Captain Cook I heard the death cry of a chicken and went running out yelling for Monkey.  The two Dalmatians raced back and moments later Monkey, our Rottie, appeared . . . looking all nice and innocent . . . completely oblivious to the ring of chicken feathers in her mouth!
  • This morning when we opened the freezer it looked like Niagara Falls frozen over or Wisconsin in January!  The ice machine was a solid block of ice and ice sickles were trimming all of the shelves.  Who knows?  Just another day in Paradise.
  • Yesterday the water went out.  This despite the fact that in addition to town water we have a well and two 1,850 gallon storage tanks.  Apparently the guys working on a cement pad had cut the town water pipe and just capped it over without reconnecting it.  Plastic tubing snakes willy-nilly all over the property, so there is no way to tell the really important pipes from the unimportant runs to hose bibbs scattered around the farm.  So I guess they are forgiven.  The power to the well pump and pressure pump appears not to be working . . . who knows why.  Fortunately I can flip a few valves and pull directly off the town supply, but . . . give me a break!  I’m trying to pack and put finishing touches on my lectures.
  • But the electrician is here today.  I had called him to finish up a few things that I would do, if I had time.  Problem is he is making these “few things” the equivalent of wiring the Burj Kahlifa!  Hopefully he can fix whatever is wrong with the pumps before the Kahlifa is completely wired.
  • The Boquete Coffee & Flower Fair starts this week . . . a BIG deal in Boquete and a pretty big deal in Panama.  My wife in a moment of either brilliance or weakness invited our Embera Indian friends to set up a table at the fair and sell their crafts, even fronting the deposit for the effort.  And she volunteered to host them for the 12 days of the fair . . . just at the time I’m a whirling dervish getting ready to leave for four months.   I think she invited the entire village, although I hope it has been redefined as more or less 7 people, plus a Peace Corps worker, plus children . . . Since she knows that I am completely unstable and ready to blow this close to sailing date, we are putting them up in our empty home in Valle Escondido.  But since we just finished putting on a new roof, it needs to be cleaned and readied . . .

Yes, I am screaming!  What happened to my “vacation”?  Four months home: four months of slavery.  I can’t wait to get to work to get a rest!

One of the interesting aspects of shipboard life that quests never see and probably don’t consider is that crew are always coming and going.  You just don’t switch an entire ship’s crew all at once.  In every major port there are crew change overs going on, and particularly before a major world cruise.  What folks don’t realize is that you “hit the deck running” on a ship.  No matter that you’ve been awake and flying around the world 48 hours.  When you get on board you hop into your uniform, suitcases unpacked, and start work.  That’s true for the lowest paid worker right up to the Captain.  The Captain walks on at 11 AM, has a handover conference for about an hour with the departing Captain, and bingo, he is Captain and in charge and the ship sails at 5pm.

My first contract on a ship, as opposed to being a guest lecturer, was as Travel Guide on the ZUIDERDAM.  It was a new position, not just for me, but for the company and the ship.  I flew from Panama to Fort Lauderdale by way of China (obviously the cruise line wanted the cheapest fare), folded in the back seat of a plane unable to sleep.  I got at the pier at 6AM since the all night flight was cheaper.  The ship had docked from a cruise where it had a major illness problem, so CDC was all over checking passengers and the ship was in the process of being scrubbed inside and out (literally!) from top to bottom.  Everything was getting scrubbed!  Every cabin,every wall, every library book, every piece of a kid’s toy or puzzle.  So the ship was going to be seriously delayed in boarding and sailing.  At about noon I finally got on board.  Of course I couldn’t get in my cabin.  I was greeted by my bosses, the Hotel Manager and Entertainment Manager, and told, “We’re going to be a little delayed.  We probably won’t be able to start boarding until 9pm (instead of 11am) and probably won’t sail until 11pm.  We’ve taken all the embarking guests to the convention center for meals.  Obviously they’re not happy.  We want you and the Cruise Director to take the Rosario Strings and go over and say a few words and entertain them.”

Right!  Talk about Daniel and the fiery furnace!

No cabin. The public bathrooms that hadn’t been sanitized were off limits. The ones that had been sanitized were blocked. I couldn’t very well shave, shower and change in the hall.  So I snuck into an anonymous quest cabin, quickly showered, cleaned up my mess, and pulled on a blue blazer outfit to look the part.  On the way over I discovered that the Cruise Director, a kid with a spiky hair cut, who I thought would pretty much do it all, was actually the DJ who was filling in for the first time as Cruise Director.   We were escorted to a podium while the folks were eating . . . which cruise passengers do better than anything else . . . It was like trying to talk in Yankee Stadium with your voice booming back 5 seconds later, so that didn’t work.  So we walked around, smoozed, did meet and greet, and smiled a lot and promised a great cruise that would be worth the wait . . . and it was.  We must have done OK because we both escaped alive, but talk about “hitting the deck running”!

So I’d like to have a few days to decompress and change gears before boarding the plane for a 3 hour flight to Miami and then . . . World Cruise!  But it probably ain’t going to happen.  And I always feel guilty leaving my wife to pick up all the pieces.

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