Excerpt from Not Being On A Boat:

from chapter two: on board

I stayed by the rail until I couldn’t see land any more, and then I went to my stateroom. It took a minute. All the passengers were milling around, it felt like hundreds of them, and personnel was involved also, carrying things and pushing carts and giving directions. I shouldered my way through the crowd on the deck, in the hallways, waiting by the elevator banks.

Once I was inside my stateroom, finally, I took a moment to rest and reflect. I’d been working at speed for a few weeks, thinking on my feet and making hard choices and keeping an eye on the rear-view. Under these pressures and working against distractions, I booked into the Mariola , and I paid the pop for the deluxe package, the floating condo investment, the Lifetime-Lifestyles option. So I was fully committed. And now I was getting my first chance to sit back and review, take inventory, and see what I was getting for my money. After a long stretch of dodging and weaving, the last few days especially, full of deadlines and arrangements, there was nothing left to do. I did everything already. I had the rest of my life now to kick back and relax, to enjoy all the good things I’d earned. It was exactly what I wanted. But I didn’t know how to start. So I had a look around my suite as an opener, to see how reality compared with the brochure.

I was on deck six, an exterior suite with a balcony, even though it jacked up the price. The royal yacht, it wasn’t. Everything was nailed down, and the proportions were all junior, a size and a half smaller than life ashore. But the amenities were good. There was an ice machine twenty feet down the hall, clean sheets daily, laundry on demand. I walked around the living room and out through big sliding doors tothe balcony and back through the other glass doors into the bedroom and I put my head in the bathroom and closet.

They had taken my bags at the check-in on shore, and I had been a little concerned about that. But I saw that all my luggage had safely made it to my suite while I was on deck and that someone had unpacked for me. All my pants and shorts were hung up, as well as my shirts, jackets, and ties. Socks, underwear, athletic gear, golf shirts, and sweaters were folded and stacked in drawers, with tissue between items. Everything was organized by colour, moving from light to dark, which I thought was a nice touch. I looked to make sure nothing was missing. I noticed a claim tag for my suitcases on the dresser, which they stowed somewhere for me, I guess.

It was a hot day, and I’d been through the check-in and beside the rail. I was getting ripe. So I took off my pants and shirt and put them in the laundry bag. Then I washed my face and armpits, talced, and put on khakis and a golf shirt. I sat down on the bed to put on clean socks, and I noticed a bell to call the steward. It was an easy arm’s reach from the bed, which I thought showed good sense. And I was checking the amenities. So I looked at my watch and pushed the call bell.

It took about thirty seconds until there was a knock at the door of my suite. I was impressed, but I didn’t want to show it. If you give your workforce too much praise too early in the game they can go soft, and I wanted service to stay sharp. So I finished putting on my socks and then my shoes and there was another knock before I went out to the living room and opened the door.

The steward wasn’t what I expected, not really measuring up to the luxury standards of the Mariola . He was tall and lean, a boy still, not filled out to a man’s bulk. So I was happy he was wearing long pants  and not the shorts that some of the crew went for. But he had an old man’s grey face; his skin looked dingy against his crisp white uniform. Still his manners showed respect. He folded his hands together like he was praying and he leaned in toward me.

 “Welcome, sir, welcome. You called for steward service. How can I help, sir? A problem? A question? What can I do?”

 I nodded him into the room and settled back for some conversation.

 “What’s your name, my friend?” I asked him.

 He touched a name tag pinned to his uniform. I hadn’t noticed it. “Raoul,” he said, a bit slowly, like he was sounding it out for someone just learning to read.

I thought about being offended, but passed. “Raoul,” I said. “I’m happy to meet you, Raoul. I’m checking out the territory, learning the ropes. I’m wondering, what have you got to say? What’s the drill? What are you going to do for me today?”

He looked hard at me for a minute and then nodded and straightened up. He kept his hand on his name tag like he was taking the oath. “First off, sir, I want to welcome you on board the Mariola and let you know you are in for a superb retirement lifestyle experience. I am the guy on the front line to deliver. It all starts with the amenities in your suite. Have you had a chance to check it out, sir? Did you find everything you need?”

I looked around. “I think so,” I said.

“Let me walk you through it so you know what’s where,” he said. He waved his hands around. “You’ve got your living area.” He walked back to the door and pointed at the panel beside it. “The a/c control for the living room is by the suite entrance, with your basic settings: on, off, max, min.” He punched some buttons and turned a dial. “You’ve got a separate panel in the bedroom, so you can spot control conditions in each room for optimal comfort and convenience. You already know, but the Company likes me to remind you: you want to keep the balcony doors shut when you’ve got the a/c on, or you can run up your power bill.”

I had the doors open because I like a breeze, and I had turned the a/c on also, because it’s my right. I thought he noticed probably, but he didn’t say anything out loud, which showed respect. Instead he came back into the room and pointed around some more.

“Light switches at each point of entry, and the lights are all on dimmers so you can set the mood.” He went to a switch by the balcony doors and turned the overheads on full I think. It was the middle of the day and I couldn’t see a difference. “Anything from a reliable reading light to a romantic glow,” he said, and he turned them down, I guess, although I couldn’t really tell.

He pointed outside. “Full outdoor living enclosure with standard features and portside exposure.”

“Is that a good thing?” I asked him.

“It’s the best way to go,” he said. “Although it depends on our latitude and bearing and the time of day and if you like direct sunlight and so on.”

Then he went over to the desk and picked up a remote and brought up the wall screen. “The Balcony Stateroom package includes standard entertainment and information systems. On-board closed circuit streams informationals about cruise destinations and on-board activities. In emergency protocols, the in-house channel keeps guests up to date and fully informed. It’s part of our passenger safety package. You also find in-house pay-per-view selections on this menu. Reasonable charge. Also you’ve got satellite access to major broadcasters, depending on latitude and satellite availability like you’d expect.” He ran through a menu on the screen while he was talking, but I didn’t come to sea to watch television so I didn’t pay attention.

Copyright © Esme Claire Keith, 2011