Su Lum: The underbelly
Once I got my bearings on the cruise ship enough to efficiently find my own room, I started wondering about the other rooms.
Trotting down the narrow halls, I peered into rooms that were being cleaned, noting the small balconies in the side rooms, and the no-windows-at-all in the center rooms, some of which had two beds, shared by the room stewards.
On a down elevator, a British woman pressed 1 and said her room was “down where the dead men lie,” adding that there were even more decks below hers. On Deck 1, I found sizable rooms with rectangular picture windows, and knew that under that was Deck A, where we were herded on and off the ship at our stops. Deck A has round portholes. I guessed that there was a Deck B under the water.
By then I had noticed that the “white coats” (officers) were mainly men and as white as their uniforms, that the men and women working at the casino, jewelry, clothing and liquor stores and those running the games and nightly shows were all white, and that the rest of the crew of 800 were Indonesians.
The lifeboats hold 150 people and the white canisters the size of a pickle barrel hold 30 ” they were marked “crew.”
At dinner, we asked our waiter if he got a day off during the seven-day trip and were disturbed by his reply: they all had to sign up for a YEAR, and they worked every day, seven days a week for 52 weeks nonstop and then got three months off.
We began asking crew members when their year was up, if they had left family behind. My room steward has been doing this for 11 years, has a wife and kids who don’t recognize him when he comes home. His year wouldn’t be up until May, he groaned. One (big grin) had only three weeks to go. A cocktail waitress had two kids living with her mother and wouldn’t see them until April.
My son-in-law Bruce met the ship’s doctor on a sting ray side trip. He had a practice in Ohio and only had to sign on for three weeks ” brought his wife and lived on Deck A.
The entertainment crew signs up for four months.
The man who ran the computer room was the happiest camper we met on the boat. He was an art history professor turned corporate executive, who said that corporate America has gone insane.
He signs up for five months, takes a few weeks off and signs up again for whatever tour he wants to take. He has an executive room on Deck A. He works seven-day weeks, but puts in a lot fewer hours than he did in the corporate world, and pays extra to eat in the Lido Restaurant ” implying that the food for the crew was little better than swill. On a galley tour, the list of average weekly food consumption included: Rice for crew ” 3,500 lbs.
I took the stairs down to Deck A and ran into an Australian who asked if I were lost. I said I wanted to see Deck B, and he said it wasn’t allowed.
I mentioned the rice, and he laughed and said, “That’s about it!” “It’s that bad?” “YES!” he said. Then he looked right and left over his shoulder, pointed ahead and said, “There’s the stairway ” take your chances!”
I flew down the stairs ” didn’t see much except long, unadorned corridors, but I’d confirmed the existence of the deck for which there is no elevator button.
On this cruise I started at the top and went down. Next time, I think I should start at the bottom.
[Su Lum is a longtime local who, speaking of the top, wishes you happy horror days. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Time]
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