Monday 19, October 1998. Dry Dock – San Francisco
Dear David- as we stared up at our new home for the next year, Alan whispers…”How the hell do we board a ship out of the water?”
Thom walked past us and said, “The gangway is over there, mid ship on the 6th deck”. Alan and I looked up at the side of the ship and spotted the opening that had a long plank that extended out to the scaffolding unit across from the ship. The scaffolding unit ran the length of the ship. I now noticed what looked like an army of ants working on all levels of the ship dressed in white, royal blue, and orange coveralls with white hard hats.
We walked to the base of the scaffolding unit and our access was closer to resembling a ladder than a staircase. It was the designated way up to the plank that lead to the opening on the side of the ship. I looked at the ladderish staircase, looked at Alan, and then down at my large suitcase, my carry-on bag, and sewing machine comfortably sitting in its travel case.
“Okay Ladies…grab your crap and know that a beautiful dirty martini will be waiting for us on the Lido Deck”, declares Alan with all the zest of marching into Barney’s Department Store at a Black Friday Sale.
30 minutes later we made it up to the correct level only to heave a heavy sigh at the network of cables, piles of boxes, and equipment that rendered the convenient wheels on our suitcase useless. Another 20 minutes later after climbing over said boxes and equipment, we all look like a group of drowned rats in sweat. I reached the plank before the others and noticed that there was a rope on either side of the plank that I’m hoping is there for our safety.
I looked at Alan and I said, “If I fall will Peter Pan be below to catch me?”
Alan crows like a rooster and says,
“Well My Dear…if you fall I’m throwing myself in after you, I don’t want to be stuck on this tub with Grizabella over there.”
One at a time we worked our way across the plank with our suitcases and sewing machines in travel cases to the opening at the side of the ship.
As Alan and I helped Thom get his last suitcase on board, we hear a shout behind us that almost makes up jump out of our skin, “What the hell is this?” Of course, this is what I guessed that this Norwegian giant clad in a royal blue coverall and white hard hat was shouting at us. Before we could say anything the Norwegian giant pulls out his radio and shouts into it.
He points his sausage like finger at us and then points to the deck in a way that reminded me how my dog must have felt when I was pissed at him and I used this gesture to make him stay put. I look over at Alan and I said, “Having a wonderful time Mother?”
We waited 30 minutes before yet another coverall worker showed up carrying a clipboard and talking on his radio in a language I did not recognize at all. He was over six foot and I thought was another Norwegian, but once he got off the radio he switched into English with a heavy British accent.
“Good Day, my name is Barry and I’m the Personnel Manager, what company are you with?”
Alan stepped forward and extended his hand to Barry,
“Hi Barry, I’m Alan the new Production Stage Manager and this is Tony and Thom and we’re with the entertainment department”.
“Oh, yes we’ve been expecting you. Follow me down to my office and we will get you guys sorted”. Barry was a very handsome man of about 25 years old, with a cute slightly crooked smile and very alert blue eyes.
We grabbed our stuff and followed Barry through a door marked Passenger Area. The passenger area was completely covered in plastic. Flooring, railing, staircases, walls, you name it was wrapped in plastic. We walked across the plastic flooring through another door marked Crew Only. This area had stark white fluorescent overhead lighting, white enamel painted walls and greenish vinyl flooring that covered the hard metal deck below it. We followed Barry down hallways, down staircases, and down more hallways. As we were walking Barry told us that the lifts had been switched off for maintenance.
During our journey he received call after call on his radio and each time spoke in a different language.
We finally came to the widest hallway that looked like it ran the length of the ship. There was a buzz of energy from the traffic of workers and pallets of inventory being moved up and down this hallway.
“This is I-95, it’s the main hallway for the crew to get to different parts of the ship without going into passenger hallway”, said Barry as he switched back to English. We followed Barry down the hallway trying to keep up with his pace while still moving our suitcases with us. We passed hundreds of shipyard workers all talking in different languages and rushing through different doors or hallways leading off from I-95. We finally stopped almost at the end of the hallway in front of Barry’s office where he told us we could leave our stuff outside his office.
“Okay guys here is a stack of paperwork that you each need to fill out and it must be completed and returned to me by 9 am tomorrow morning. We are still sorting out your cabin assignments, but in the meantime head up to the mess for dinner and have something to eat you all must be very hungry by now. Go up staircase number 32, down the hallway on the starboard side and you can’t miss it”, said Barry looking at Alan and my blank faces. “Have you guys never been on a ship before?”
Before we could answer Thom piped up and said that he will show us the way to the mess. We followed Thom up the staircase and down the hallway and indeed we walked into a Mess. This large room with rolls of tables covered in red and white checked contact paper with plastic chairs, each chair covered with a clear garbage bag. The sound of dozens of different languages speaking at full volume mixed with what sounded like someone repeatedly dropping cutlery, plates, and glasses add to the chaos, the sound and energy of the mess.
We grabbed our trays, plates, and cutlery and moved down the rail to the first buffet station steaming from the boiling water under the serving tray. The first tray was filled with oxtail and cabbage stew. The next tray contained what could only be described as chopped up chicken parts with bones and all, which parts I couldn’t tell you. As I move my still empty tray to the last buffet station with little hope and before I can look down at the station the shipyard worker in front of me joyfully tells to me that, “The eyeballs are the best part…”
Monday 19, October 1998. Deck 3, Aft – Crew Mess
Dear David- as I looked down at the buffet station tray it was filled with freshly fried fish heads all staring back at me. Well, some of the heads still had their eyes in the right places. I stood for another second as a fish eyeball slowly rotated in the fish broth and stared accusingly at me.
“Oxtail stew, chicken parts, and fish heads Oh My”,
I looked at Alan and he said, “Well Dorothy, at least Toto is not on the menu”….
Don’t miss any Tales Of Cruise Ship Life excerpts from The Floating City of Misfit Toys by Tony Yamashiro:
Continue to Tales Of Cruise Ship Life, Part 5: Lights Out
Return to Tales Of Cruise Ship Life, Part 1: Dream
Also on TheatreArtLife:
Join TheatreArtLife to access unlimited articles, our global career center, discussion forums, and professional development resource guide. Your investment will help us continue to ignite connections across the globe in live entertainment and build this community for industry professionals. Learn more about our subscription plans.
Love to write or have something to say? Become a contributor with TheatreArtLife. Join our community of industry leaders working in artistic, creative, and technical roles across the globe. Visit our CONTRIBUTE page to learn more or submit an article.