Saturday, June 23, 2018

Cruising with the Crew - LJ

It's Cruise Ship Saturday and we're talking about the crew today!

I consider the book I'm working on about cruise ship crew to be my most important work ever. Crew members are a quiet bunch when working. They make sure passenger needs are attended to in the most polite fashion. Yes, they are doing their jobs by treating all guests well, but what we have with them is something different. We feel privileged that they’ve placed a trust in us to hold some of their secrets close. And pleased to be able to tell the stories they don’t mind sharing. If I could have one wish for them, it would be for a passenger to treat them a bit more humanely after reading the book.

Here is a rough draft of one of the chapters about a crew member we'll call LJ. (He's still with a ship right now so no real names.)

Carrying barrels of used cooking oil up the stairs to the garbage was requiring LJ to take one step at a time. Take a step. Barrel up, barrel down. Take a step. Barrel up, barrel down. Take a step. Barrel up, barrel down. When another crew member recognized him from his playing days, it didn’t go so well.  As the crew member passed by there was no offer of help, no offer to give a little push. Just a smart aleck comment.

“It’s not the same like with the fútbol there, is it?”

Being a garbage man in the galley is not pretty and not easy and not glamorous. He was a well-known fútbol player back at home and now here he was doing this. Fútbol was what kept him busy and out of trouble as a kid when his father wasn’t around. The oldest of seven kids, LJ was raised by his grandmother and mom. Fútbol was his life, his only connection to some semblance of a male influence. But as he got older he found fútbol money to be sporadic and not enough to provide a life for his new wife. So when a friend at home in poverty-stricken Honduras started buying cars and building a house there was only one question to ask.

“How do I get a job on the ship like you?”

For someone making very little money at home a consistent paycheck job sounded pretty darn good. LJ decided there was only one thing to do. Leave his family to take a job to support his family. The type of job didn’t matter. It was about the money.

But once on the ship, the pay was worse than expected and the job – galley garbage man - wasn’t what was he thought it would be. And it was apparent that the adulation and attention and popularity experienced at home weren’t going to get him far on the ship. It was hard job, working at night, with less pay than what he could have gotten if he had stayed home in Honduras. It was almost enough to resign. 

Why would someone stick with it?  

LJ tells me, “If you choose something you cannot quit like that. So if you desire to do it, do it.”

And did it he did. Although, he didn’t have much choice. After being on the ship for one contract, his fútbol career was done. Too much time had passed from when he left. But his hard work on the ship paid off as he was promoted to a position working with the provisions. In the freezer, counting and recounting stock and cleaning and ensuring deliveries matched the requisitions. It was better pay, but just a bit. It was a cold and tedious job, nothing like life in warm Honduras where his wife was. A head storekeeper position was in his future – uniform and stripes and all – but the raise would still only give him $800 a month and that wasn’t going to cut it to support the family.

Now 13 years into ship life, LJ has spent only one full year at home with his wife. He’s made his way from company to company, position to position, depending on what is best for his family. At one point he even made it to a cabin steward job. A cabin steward is one of the most coveted crew positions on the ship. A base wage along with the cash tips paid by passengers can make for a decent living. LJ had never seen money like that in his life. But these positions are hard to come by and many times controlled by certain nationalities. Ever heard of the Filipino Mafia?

On the ship, skills aren’t necessarily matched to job position. Approaching 40 years old, LJ has held the position of accommodations attendant for the same company for the past five years. Accommodations attendant positions fall within a broad category. One with that title could be responsible for vacuuming at night or picking up dirty towels by the pool. For LJ this position means he is in charge of checking pool temperatures and folding towels and blankets. For his experience – for what he knows and has done so far – he’s come to the realization that he’s at a place where there are no possibilities for promotion in the company. And no possibilities for better wages. If you’re young, work is easier when you have no responsibilities, but when you’re older you have to think differently. On the ship he runs a haircutting business on the side after his regular work hours to give him enough money to pay for internet cards so he can keep in contact with his family. Still, video calling is too expensive so he isn’t able to see his wife and growing daughter’s face. Voice calls and messaging will have to do. 

to be continued next week...