Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Not Cutting the Muster

One of the biggest wastes of time, especially in Corporate America, is meetings.  Most are merely repetitive nonsense where the big boss gets off on forcing underlings to suffer through the droning of his voice.  He believes that it’s the meetings that justify his position and the more he has the more valuable he must be.  Of course, most of the meetings are about why nothing is getting done, which can be answered by “Too many meetings.”

Going on our cruise, I thought that for four days we could escape the monotony of meetings, but before we had even set sail there was a mandatory safety meeting.  It was set up so that people in bright orange vests could tell us what to do in case of an emergency and demonstrate how best to put on a life jacket.  Of course, my first thought was if the girls had brought the right shoes to go with the standard emergency orange, but with twenty-eight pairs in our room I’m sure they could make something work.  We’d just be late to the meeting while they decided.

What was supposed to take place was the general alarm would sound throughout the ship – even in the bathrooms, I was assured – and you were to stop whatever you were doing, which wasn’t easy, because I was in the bathroom when it actually went off – the steward had been right about hearing the bell; it scared the crap out of me – and quickly, but safely make your way to your designated Muster station.  Ours on this trip was E and suddenly I had flashbacks of trying to find the car in Disney’s massive parking lot.  We’d be lost forever.

Of course, this was just an informative meeting, but if it had been a real emergency we were supposed to bring out life vests with us, which were stored in one of our stateroom’s closets.  It was strange being in a room that came with life jackets and I was beginning to wonder if Char hadn’t been right in her fears after all.

Then their location began to worry me.  What if I wasn’t in my room when the death bell sounded?  If I was playing putt-putt golf on the Sports Deck, which was five floors above me and all the way to the front of the ship, did I have to race back to my room, grab the life jacket and then go to the Muster station?  That seemed like a giant risk.  No, I decided right then and there, we’d stay at the rear of the boat for this trip and carry our preservers wherever we went.  Safety first, after all.

As the bell sounded, the captain’s voice came over the intercom commanding everyone to report to their Muster station.  This was reminding me too much like work, but the girls wanted to go.

“It’s mandatory.  We have to go,” Teri said.

“It won’t take long,” Sarah added.

“Not even out of port and already we’re in trouble,” Char said.  “I told you this cruise was a bad idea.”

I opened the door and standing in the corridor was a man in a bright orange vest, probably stationed there to ensure I didn’t take a nap while everyone else was being coached on how to save their necks during a real live emergency.  It was silly on his part, because I can nap anywhere.  Seriously.  I was sitting with my mom and Char once having a conversation and in the middle of one of my sentences I fell fast asleep.  I woke up forty-five minutes later and finished my sentence as if nothing had transpired.  Char just shook her head and told me to go back to sleep.

I knew the man stationed outside our door had power, because he wore the same type of safety vest that crossing guards wear and those people can control traffic.  He was basically doing the same thing by funneling us down the corridor, up two flights of stairs and to a lounge at the back of the boat.  All he needed was a whistle and a small red stop sign in his hand.

We found our seats inside the Plaza Lounge while the other passengers were arriving.  A fitting place to hold the meeting, I thought.  I mean, after all, if we’re going down we might as well make it one final party.  However, the waiters were absent and the bar temporarily closed.  I was willing to go back to the cabin for my special stash, but the girls knew I wouldn’t come back.  I was stuck there.

The next voice over the intercom wasn’t our captain’s, but our director of fun while aboard the ship.  I didn’t want to be coaxed through an emergency by the man who was going to put us into a Congo Line later!  I wanted someone with authority at the mic, someone in complete charge.

I could see it now.  “Okay folks, we’re going to demonstrate how to put on your life vests.  First, you put your right arm in…”  No!

“Ladies and gentlemen, once you have heard the General Alarm, you will meet at your Muster station where our experienced crew will then lead you one section at a time to your lifeboat in an orderly fashion.”

He had to be joking.  Really?  Precious minutes had already been lost by bringing us to this non-alcoholic lounge while the boat was rapidly filling up with water and now we’re to muddle around calmly talking about what we would have done in Freeport if we hadn’t drowned!  The man dishing out the instructions wasn’t even in the room with us.  He was talking to all of the Muster stations at once via the intercom which meant he was probably already on the lifeboat himself, reserving the best spot.  In the meantime, some twenty-year old in an orange vest he hadn’t earned was going to make us stand one table at a time and head through the back doors and up a flight of stairs while we were supposed to stay calm.  Screw orderly fashion!  I’m going to be screaming like a two-year old that was just told Barbie receives Botox therapy and knocking people out of the way.

My life preserver is in my room and I now know thanks to Danny, the fun guide, to put it on shiny tape outward.  I’ll let the rest of the passengers have their group huddle to kiss each other good-bye while I’ll be crawling onto the lifeboat waiting for the sudden drop while clutching tightly to my bottle of scotch.  Time is of the essence and I’ve already wasted too much of it in my life.

“As your cruise member is leading you out of your Muster station, it will be women and children first onto the lifeboats.”

Oh, hell no.  Women fought for equal rights decades ago.  Now is not the time for them to suddenly expect chivalry again.  They may get on the boat right beside me.  First come, first saved and that’s equal opportunity in action.

Besides, were there not enough seats on the lifeboats?  Why should it matter who got on first if there was room for everyone?  They wasted time by bringing us to this Muster station and now the men had to drown because of it.

It was finally our turn and we stood, falling in line with the other zombies wondering if we’d make it.  Char had been nervous about coming on the cruise since it was booked, preferring a lake where she could see the shoreline to the open sea that was hours away from any real rescue.  She had been silent during the whole meeting, arms crisscrossed over her chest in classic “I told you we were going to die” style.  When it was our turn to go, we put her in front of us, so that she could be first on the boat.  “You go first.  I’ll stay with the sinking ship,” I gallantly told her.  She wasn’t amused, but she did go first.

As we passed through the lounge doors on our way to the smaller vessels that were to keep us safe whereas the bigger ship couldn’t, a female crew member complimented Teri on her dress.

“Yes, it’s a beautiful floating-face-down-in-the-ocean dress, because we dawdled on our way to rescue.  Tell you what,” I said,” I’ll give you the dress if you get us on that boat first.”

The lady just laughed as Teri elbowed me in the ribs, giving me that look again.

“No, seriously, we’re about to drown here.  It’s all yours if you allow us to cut in line up ahead.  Do we have a deal?”

Char and Sarah were walking faster, abandoning Teri to the task of having to explain me to the people around us.  It’s never an easy task.

As I glanced up ahead, I noticed that it wasn’t going the way I had thought it would.  Those who arrived first were put against the wall.  When they reached a certain point, the cruise personnel in charge would have the next person start a new row.  The first in line were the last on the lifeboats.  I made a mental note of that.  When the time came I would let the others walk out first, so that would put me first when I got there.  It would give the appearance of bravery while saving my neck first.  Smart.

When we arrived, however, Char was the end of her row and Sarah, followed by Teri and myself, were told to start a new row.  We did and that also put us as the first to get on the lifeboat.  Char was now behind us.  Not good.

“Come up here with us,” I said.

“No, there’s no room.  I’m fine.”  I hate “I’m fine.”  It’s never good.

“Well, then trade me places and come stand with the girls.”

“No, Robbie, I’m fine.  Just tell the boys I love them.”

My boat was sinking fast.

In the Navy, the Muster station is where people go to take roll call and receive their Morning Orders.  On a cruise ship, it’s where you go to get emergency instructions or if someone is missing.  Of course, I’m not sure how someone could go missing on a cruise ship unless they jumped overboard and we had already learned that that feat came with a $100,000 fine if you survived.  It was a much steeper penalty than the $1,500 fine for jumping off the bridge at home.  I know that bit of information because Zac did it for kicks.

We stood there staring at the port for about five minutes before finally someone said, “That concludes our safety meeting.  I hope everyone enjoys their cruise.  We’ll see you tonight on the Lido Deck for the hairiest chest contest.  Join the fun, ladies.”  And just like that we were dismissed to go frolic on the boat.  As every other meeting I have been forced to attend, this one could have been done in email.  It wouldn’t have even been that long of a letter.

“Dear Sir, In case of an emergency, please report to Muster station E with the life preservers in your room.  Please do not bring your books or allow the girls to bring their twenty-eight pairs of shoes.  From the Muster station please follow your ship personnel in a quiet, brave manner to your designated lifeboat where you will be rescued.  We hope.  Sincerely, the Captain.”

Two minutes as opposed to thirty and I could have used that time to purchase another over-priced souvenir drink.  As it was I went back to my cabin, cracked open my Arizona Tea bottle and poured me a scotch while Char and I practiced our Titanic pose as we set sail.

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