Friday, September 21, 2012

God Save The Queen!

    The one ship I had wanted the chance to work with was the Queen Mary 2.  Monday night, November 16th, 2009, I got that chance.  My staff administrator called to tell me that someone called in sick for the Queen Mary 2.  It was an opportunity to work with one of the most beautiful ships in the world.  Did I take the job? Oh, did I!  I was requested to be at the Brooklyn Red Hook Terminal by 7:30 A.M.  My dad and I woke up at 5 A.M. the next morning.  We quickly ate, had our coffee, and we hit the highway.  It took about forty minutes to get there.  The Brooklyn terminal is a really nice looking cruise terminal.  Unfortunately, it isn’t the easiest to get to. We arrived at the terminal with plenty of time to spare.  My dad told me, “Moose, be sure to let us know how you’re doing, ok?”.  I wished my dad a good day at work, and he drove off.  My day with the Queen Mary 2 started.  I walked in, went through security, met up with the pier coordinators, and signed in.  I was assigned to do wheelchairs during disembarkation and boarding.  I could not argue with that.  Many of my colleagues in Bayonne who’ve worked the Queen Mary 2 before told me about the enormous tips they’ve gone home with.  Ok, let’s not get carried away.  The Queen Mary 2 is one of my favorite ships aside from the Explorer of The Seas.  It was time to get my “ship face” on!
    The Queen Mary 2 started its disembarkation right on time.  One of the supervisors quickly briefed me on which gangway to use when entering the ship, which gangway to exit through, and the proper route to take during boarding.  It was very straight forward.  First, the ship’s security staff  had to take my ID photo.  The ship’s security officers took my photo, and it was off to the races.  All of the disembarking guests requiring wheelchair assistance were gathering in the Golden Lion, one of the lounges on the main deck.  One of my colleagues from Bayonne was dispatching the wheelchairs on board.  Once I arrived at the Golden Lion, I was introduced to my first guest, Mary.  Talking about a “small world after all”, this guest and her husband were avid railroad travelers.  As I was wheeling her off the ship and through customs, I asked her what transportation she had leaving the terminal.  She said, “We’re taking the train from New York Penn Station to Kissimmee, Florida.  We have a time share down in the area”.  I responded, “You’re taking the Silver Star!  Oh, that’s a really nice ride.  I’ve been wanting to go to Disney World by train for a long time.  You sure picked a beautiful day for riding the rails.”  “We sure did!”, the husband replied.  After I helped the wife out of the wheelchair and into the taxi cab, the husband tipped me.  I said, “Thank you very much, and enjoy Florida”.  The taxi pulled away and they were off.  Back to the races!

    A few minutes later, I headed back to the ship to tend to the next guest.  This guest was just as pleasant as the first.  Her name was Edith.  I introduced myself, and asked how her trip was.  She told me that she had the sways after their five-day crossing from England.  She answered, “It was awful! We had twenty-five foot swells coming over from Southampton.  The captain said that it was the roughest weather ever encountered in the ship’s history.”  I plainly said, “She’s built to handle waves like that.  Hey, you’re in New York now, and you made it safely, which matters.”  I then said, “My family and I had rough weather all throughout our Christmas cruise on the Norwegian Gem last year.  It wasn’t fun, but we enjoyed ourselves as much as we could.  Sometimes, you have to make the best of the worst of situations.” Edith responded,  “You know David, you’re very right about that.  You must have a masters degree.” I started laughing when I answered, “I have a masters in education from Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City”.  When we found her limousine, she gave me a healthy tip.  Once the door was closed, the driver stepped on it.  Off she went!  I love New York taxi and limousine drivers. “Floor it!” has got to be their motto.  I quickly headed back to the ship.  I tended to another guest, and did the same thing.  His name was George.  I wheeled him through the gangway, helped him find his luggage, pushed him through customs, and brought him outside to his transportation.  While I was doing so, I ran into a familiar face.  As I was approaching the gangway, I met up with the cruise director, Ray Rouse.  He was the cruise director on both of my cruises on the Queen Mary 2, just three years before.  He was talking to the security staff.  I  snuck up on him and said, “Good morning, Ray!”.  He turned around and he recognized my face right off the bat.  He said, “Hey, how’s it going man!” How’s your family doing?”.  I said, “We’re all hanging in there.”  He said, “Give your parents my kind regards!”. I replied, “I sure will.”.  Before I knew it, disembarkation was over.  The Queen Mary 2 stood ready to receive her new guests.  Lunch time!

    At lunch time, I went outside to the hot dog cart and bought myself an Italian sausage sandwich.  That kept me alive and kicking for the whole day.  Hey, when you’re Italian, some form of meat is always on the menu.  Lunch time was a good hour long, which wasn’t too shabby.  While we were eating in our own little corner of the embarkation lounge, we were all talking about the Baltimore trip.  That trip was the topic of discussion all day long.  Who wants to forget Baltimore?  That was a work day like no other, a bonding experience I should say.

    At noontime exactly, embarkation began.  I quickly reported to the terminal entrance where all of the guests in need of wheelchairs were waiting.  The first guest I assisted, was rather pleasant.  His name was Eugene, which is my middle name.  They have sailed on the Queen Mary 2 once before.  They told me that they were very much familiar with the ship.  I made sure they had all of their belongings, and I took the husband through security.  First I went through, and then security patted him down.  Once the rest of his family walked through the metal detector, I took them to the check-in counter.  Even though I didn’t know all of the New York check-in staff, they sure knew that they were doing.  It’s my job in Bayonne too, so I’m in the same “boat” as them.  After this family was done checking in, they followed me and the husband onboard.  As we entered the ship, I asked the family, “I’m sure you are familiar with the lounges and clubs on board.  Are you?”.  They said, “Oh yes, David.  This ship is absolutely wonderful.”  I took the husband in the elevator up to their deck, while they followed along in another.  Finally, we reached their cabin.  They gave me a very healthy tip.  I’m not going to say how much.  Doing the job properly, and keeping the guests happy is what matters. 

    The next guest I assisted was very friendly.  He had a wonderful family, too.  His name was Henry.  They were absolutely wonderful.  I remember it well.  This family was sailing on the Queen Mary 2 for the very first time.  I took them through security, and then to the check-in area.  While they were filling out their health forms, I asked them about how they heard about the Queen Mary 2.  They said, “We heard that this ship has quite an on board atmosphere.”.  I said to them, “That it is.  It’s an incredible ship. There are plenty of things to do and plenty of places to hang out.  Once we’re on board, I’ll point out some of the popular places.” The wife said, “That’s so kind of you.”.  Once they were checked in, they followed me and Henry through the hallway.  They didn’t want their embarkation portraits taken.  They said, “They’ll be taking pictures all throughout the trip!”.  I retorted, “They sure know how to sneak up on you and pop the flash.  I love the Titanic grand staircase backdrop they set up on formal nights.”.  I then added, “The photography staff on board does an incredible job.  There’s never a time when they take a horrible shot of you.”.  Just as we entered the ship, I showed them the duty free shops, the Golden Lion, and the casino.  I then said, “On the deck down below, there’s another place called the Chart Room, where the champagne is always flowing.  Also, do check out the Queen’s Room and the G-32 Lounge right next door.”.  Henry said, “You sure know this ship, David!”.  I answered, “Every cruise is like practice.”  We took the elevator  up to their cabin.  They too gave me a healthy tip.  As I left their cabin, I said, “Enjoy your cruise, and have a great time.”.  “We sure will, David. Thank you so much for your help.”.  It was back to the gangway and to the terminal once again.  The day was going awesome.  Well, so I thought!

    It was a gorgeous afternoon.  I had already assisted two guests onto the ship.  Embarkation was going great.  I had assisted two guests who were absolutely pleasant.  Just as I returned to the wheelchair waiting area, that’s when I met “the fat guy”.  This guest and his family flew in from Poland.  If I can recall, Jon was his name.  This guy was one heavy dude.  He had this pot belly you would not believe.  He looked like he weighed three hundred and fifty pounds, maybe more.  He got up using is cane, and sat down in the wheelchair.  When he sat down, I could have sworn I heard the chair’s axle bend.  I started thinking to myself, “How in God’s name did the plane get off the ground?”.  They spoke broken English, very little I should say.  I took him through security, and the family followed behind us.  Pushing this guy was a challenge.  I was then wondering why they didn’t check him in at the curb.  Once they were all checked in, I pushed this guy toward the boarding area.  This guy was H-E-A-V-Y.  I thought I was pushing a pallet load of food provisions.  Yikes!  We entered the boarding area, and we passed the photography staff.  I was glad they didn’t take this family’s photograph.  Who would want to take a picture of this guy?  This guy had me on the verge of a hernia.  When we entered the elevator, this guy’s body mass took up half the space.  I was sure hoping the elevator would make it to the gangway level.  It did.  Phew! The first leg of the trip was over.

     Getting Jon on board the ship was one challenging situation.  The easy part was over, well, sort of.  Immediately afterward, I began trying to get the wheelchair over the metal bulkhead and into the gangway.  He was so heavy, he was sliding forward, and almost slid out of the chair.  The gangway then pitched downward, and then it would turn sharply to the right, then upward, and then onto the ship.  I didn’t want this guy to slide out of the chair and get hurt, so I had to do things the hard way.  I turned him around and I dragged him through the gangway backwards.  This guy, Jon, was heavier then Jaba The Hut.  As I was dragging him through the descending portion of the gangway, I felt my chair pushing against me.  The last thing I wanted was for this guy to run me over.  I then started thinking to myself, “If this guy runs my butt over with this wheelchair, what a way to go out!”.  I couldn’t imagine my tombstone saying, “R.I.P.  Do Not Despair.   Pancaked By A Fat Guy In A Wheelchair”.  Pulling this guest through the gangway was like a sequel to The Little Engine That Could, or should I say.......ah, forget it.  Finally we reached the end of the gangway.  I was fearing that the ship was going to list.  He nearly ran me over as I carefully rolled him down the bridge plate into the ship.  He made it!

    Finally, the real easy part was coming up.  I was wrong!  The ship had these metal bulkheads which I too had to navigate over.  When I hit one of them, he nearly slid out of the chair.  I had to turn him around again and drag the chair backwards.  The elevator door opened, and I took him into one elevator.  The rest of his family followed in another.  I was so glad they did that.  I was afraid the elevator wouldn’t move an inch with everyone else in it, including him.  We finally arrived at their deck, five decks up exactly.  I was then whispering to myself, “How in hell is he going to get around this ship?”.  Well, I left that up to them.  The wife tipped me ten dollars.  I said, “Have a safe trip, and take care.”.  I returned back to the gangway.  When I returned, I was met by a bunch of my Bayonne colleagues who were just giggling at me.  I said, “Did you see the guy I was pushing? THAT WAS ONE...HEAVY DUDE!”.  One of my dear colleagues, Paul, said, “You should have charged him per pound, Dave.” I said, “Shut up!”.  I then said, “I hope they loaded enough food on board.”.  The rest of the day went along without a hitch.  Before I knew it, embarkation was over.  The Queen Mary 2 was preparing to set sail on her thirteen-day Caribbean cruise, with one fat guy in tow. I really mean, “in tow”.

    When work was done, Paul, a few of his Brooklyn colleagues, and I signed off and left the terminal.  As we were waiting for the bus to take us to Jay Street, we watched the ship leave.  I still couldn’t believe that a ship that big can float.  Having sailed on her twice, that was one incredible ship to work at.  Once we got off the bus at Jay Street, Paul showed me the way to the subway station.  We all said, “Good Night” to each other, and I walked down the subway steps.  I took the A train to New York Penn Station, where I took the train to Secaucus, NJ.  There I changed trains to finish the trip home.  The long day’s work, including pushing a three hundred and fifty pound man, sure caught up with me.  When I walked in through the front door of my home, I shared my story from my parents and brother.  When I told the story about Jon, the fat guy, did I have my mom and my brother laughing hard.  That was the topic of discussion for a month, even on Thanksgiving Day at our friends’ house.  Here’s to having an exciting and rewarding job!