October 21, 2018

Man The Lifeboats, by Brendon marks

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A few years ago my wife and I went on a cruise to Alaska, and I highly recommend it. If you think you can’t afford one, don’t worry. It’s no more expensive than riding a Greyhound bus three times around the world, while staying in fine hotels and eating in fancy restaurants. But the cruise is worth every penny. Although the room you share is the same size as a bus seat, it does have a TV, and if you’re lucky, a window, except on a ship they’re called portholes. At least that’s true on the left side of the ship–starboard holes on the right, even if you’re facing aft, wherever that is. I wonder if they’re called aftholes in the back and bow-holes in front.

Before the ship even left port (or was that starboard?), we were required to have a lifeboat drill so that everybody on board would know where to go and what to do in case the cruise turned into a chance of drowning. Each of us was assigned a letter that signified which muster station we were to report to in case of an emergency. The odd-numbered letters were on the port side, even-numbered letters on the starboard. Now all I have to figure out is “F” even or odd? Where is starboard? Do we turn port to go aft?

But first we had to go to our staterooms and put on our lifejackets, which have changed significantly over the years. What used to be a musty-smelling canvas bag full of kapok has evolved into a musty-smelling foam block with a keyhole punched out of the middle, a couple of straps, a light, and a whistle. When you put them on, they stick straight out in front (on some people that is). That’s why many people waited until the last possible moment before putting them on, otherwise they couldn’t see where they were walking, unless first spinning it around and pointing it backwards.

When we finally all arrived at our assigned muster station “F”, a perky little crewmember, whose real job was a dancer in the on-board dance troupe, greeted us. I think she was five feet tall, weighed 100 pounds and was about eleven years old. In a real emergency she would have had to trade her bullhorn and clipboard for a bullwhip and cattle prod to maintain order with this crowd. She did know her job though. She checked off our room number on her clipboard, made sure we had our lifejackets on correctly, and lined us up in rows. She explained that in a real emergency, signified by seven short blasts and one long on the ship’s whistle, the lifeboat that was right above our heads would slide down next to the rail where, in a calm and orderly fashion, all of us guys would step to the side and let the women climb into the boat, all the while waving and blowing kisses.

I, among others, compared the size of the boat to the size of the crowd, and one brave soul asked the question: “How many people will that thing hold?”

“One hundred fifty Americans, or one hundred eighty Chinese.”

I did a quick scan of the crowd at muster station F and saw 15 rows of 11 people, and no Chinese. I asked our little warden if I could transfer to another muster station with a lower percentage of women or higher percentage of Chinese. She said, “No.”

Next cruise I’m packing a plus-sized dress.

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