Assignment, Baltimore: A work day to remember

A strange sight: Due to hurricane conditions at sea, Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of The Seas is docked at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, NJ
How ironic: Due to hurricane conditions at sea, Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of The Seas is docked at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, NJ

Thursday, November 12th, 2009, the northeast was rocked by a nor’easter.  The following day, I received a phone call from my staff administrator.  My brother and I were busy in the garage re-stringing lights on our Christmas wreath.  I was asked if I could travel with the Bayonne staff to Baltimore.  I was told briefly what ship I was going to be working with.  She asked if I could report to the Bayonne shopping area by 10:30 am.  I said, “Will be there!”.

Saturday morning the 14th, my family headed down the shore to Point Pleasant, and I left for Bayonne.  I drove to Bayonne in uniform, ready for another exciting work day.  I arrived at the shopping center about half an hour prior to everyone else.  I went to Dunkin Donuts to get a bagel and coffee, and continued to wait for everyone. When I saw a motor coach pull up near the movie theater, I knew something was up.  More and more of us started to show up outside the theater, including two of the pier coordinators.  At that moment, I began thinking to myself, “This is no Boston run!”.

The Grandeur of The Seas docked at Baltimore's Cruise Maryland Terminal.
The Grandeur of The Seas docked at Baltimore’s Cruise Maryland Terminal.

We left Bayonne shortly before 11 am.  We were on the New Jersey Turnpike en route to Baltimore.  While on board the bus, we were given a synopsis of the situation.  We were told that Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of The Seas, was due to arrive that morning at 7 am.  The nor’easter caused the ship to slow down on its way to Baltimore.  The port of Baltimore was forced to close due to the severe weather conditions.  We arrived at the Cruise Maryland terminal just before 2 pm.  We were met by one of the Baltimore supervisors.  She stepped onto the bus and addressed us about the situation.  She made it known to us that many of the motor coaches, taxis, and limousines were turned away.  She told us that we were going to be handling many guests who will be unhappy, because they were going to lose a full day from their cruise.

Inside the terminal, we were advised that letters were going to be distributed to the guests as they arrived.  I called my parents up down the shore and said, “We’re going to have a long day here, and possibly a long night too.”  My dad asked me, “What’s the deal down there, moose?”.   My dad calls me the moose.  That’s my family nickname.  I have no clue why.  I explained the situation to him.  I told him that I would not be home for a good while, possibly after midnight.  My dad told me to work hard, and keep in touch throughout the day. That I did, once or twice.  The long wait for the ship had begun.

Embarkation has begun. Slowly, the Cruise Maryland Terminal slowly comes to life.
Embarkation has begun. Slowly, the Cruise Maryland Terminal slowly comes to life.

While inside the terminal building, we were shown the staff room, the check-in area, the customs area, the whole nine yards.  A short time later, the pizza arrived.  There was plenty of it to keep up us alive and kicking for the remainder of the day.  In addition, they had plenty of diet soda on hand to keep us laced.  After eating, I went to the vending machine and bought a few chocolate bars.  Any caffeine I could get my hands on, I made sure I had plenty of it. We sat around watching TV, crocheting, and playing cards.  I was listening to my iPod.  We waited, and waited, and waited, and waited.  It looked like a scene from “Waiting for Godot”.

Never have I ever been so anxious in one day. I finally decided to call my dear old college roommate, Mario, and see what was going on with him.  He picked up after the first ring, and I got the usual response from him. He picked up, saying, “Mr. Kriso, what’s going on champ?”.  I said, “Greetings from Baltimore!”.  He then asked, “What the hell are you doing down in good old Baltimore, buddy? Making music with the crabs?”.  I plainly responded, “The whole Bayonne staff and I are here waiting for the Grandeur of the Seas to show up.  The nor’easter delayed it an entire day. We’re going to be here all night, it seems.”.  We spoke about other things; college, my work in Boston, my job search, substitute teaching, the girls from our class; just plain old college classmate stuff.  After I hung up with him, I went back to listening to my iPod.  I even chugged down another diet soda to keep myself awake.

The Grandeur of The Seas sailing into the Port of Baltimore, with the skyline of Baltimore in the distance.
The Grandeur of The Seas sailing into the Port of Baltimore, with the skyline of Baltimore in the distance.

Shortly later, I walked back outside to the pier.  I looked out to the horizon, towards the Francis Scott Key Bridge.  At that very moment, I saw a bunch of lights and some flash bulbs going off.  It was the Grandeur of The Seas.  The wait was over!

It was 6 pm.  The Grandeur of The Seas was finally approaching the Baltimore channel.  I bolted into the terminal. When I raced inside, I said to everyone, “I see her!”.  A dozen of my colleagues started celebrating.  One of the ladies asked, “Where is she? Show me!”.  I said, “Come out here.  I saw her on the horizon approaching the Francis Scott Key Bridge.”.  We all walked out to the edge of the pier, and there was nothing out there.  I said, “I know she was out there.  She’s probably in the channel entering the harbor right now.”.  We walked back inside the terminal and started cleaning up.  Half an hour later, the pier supervisor took us on a walk-through disembarkation.  She showed us where the guests were going to be directed.  She pointed out where guests were to go if they had taxis to catch, and where the guests’ parking lot was.  Two agents were needed to assist passengers in the customs area.  I volunteered, and I was directed to that spot.  The fun part of the day was finally about to begin.

When we were finally shown the gangway area, we saw the Grandeur of The Seas coming into port.  The ship looked absolutely beautiful, with her lights on, and all of the guests camera flashes going off.  We started applauding as the ship pulled alongside the pier.  I yelled up to the guests on deck saying, “We’ve been waiting all day for you!”.  Once the ship started lowering her lines, it was time to go to work.  Half an hour later, disembarkation started. I was walking back and forth along the long line of guests, telling them to have their customs forms and passports ready. They came off the ship and through customs they went.  Immediately afterward came the general disembarkation.  Many of the guests on board the ship that evening all had one situation in common.  They were twelve hours late, and were worried that they had missed their flights home.  Some even missed their trains, or were cutting it close to their flights and trains. I was able to help the guests with their train situations.  I gave them Amtrak’s phone number, so hopefully they could be rescheduled.  More than one hundred guests had trains to catch home, to New Jersey, to Connecticut, and even Rhode Island.  Disembarkation continued until 9 pm.  I was getting exhausted, but the night wasn’t over yet.  My favorite part was finally coming up.

At 9:30 pm, guest check-in officially started.  It was my time to shine.  I went to my computer station, and started raised my station paddle.  The first party came up to my computer.  I greeted them, saying “Welcome to the Grandeur of The Seas! Do you have your health forms all completed?”.  I then said, “I apologize for the long wait today.”  This party was absolutely content with the delay.  They weren’t upset at all.  They appeared to be a bit tired from a long day of doing practically nothing, but they weren’t upset.  I asked for their passports, their cruise tickets, and the credit card that they had registered.  I gave them their stateroom key cards, and wished them a safe trip and a pleasant evening.  Once I was done with them, I showed them to the waiting area.

Embarkation continued into the night. I raised my paddle again, and the next party came to my station.  This party wasn’t upset either.  Same as before, I asked for their health forms, cruise tickets, passports, and their credit card.  I issued their stateroom keys, and off to the ship they went.  The night wore on. I was looking at my watch every half hour.  I was hoping for a break in the flow of guest traffic, so I could step away for a diet soda.  I was getting weary, and yawning my butt off. Finally, I heard the words I hoped to hear, “David, you’re free to have dinner.”.  I stepped away and went into the break room to have a cup of coffee and a diet soda.  The night wasn’t over yet.  There was still plenty of guests walking in.  It was the longest day my colleagues and I had ever worked.  We were already pushing seventeen hours.  We were surely on the verge of setting a record.

It was 1:30 am.  Our longest work day in history was nearly complete.  Once the incoming guest traffic started to subside, we were just begging to call it a night, or I should say, morning.  I never saw my colleagues yawning so much after a long night.  We were talking about every last guest we checked in.  It wasn’t all that bad of a night.  Before heading out to the bus, we were all thanked by the pier management for giving up a whole day to assist them on short notice.  If it weren’t for us going down there, the Baltimore staff would have been up a creek without a paddle.  The Carnival Pride was due in at 7 am. I was sure of it that they were going to send us a thank you note.

The sun rising over the New York City skyline. How strange it was to see it returning home from work.
The sun rising over the New York City skyline. How strange it was to see it returning home from work.

At 2 am, we finally boarded the bus.  We set a huge record.  We worked the longest shift ever; nineteen and a half hours.  Once we were all on board, we hit the highway north to Bayonne.  As we were leaving, the Grandeur of The Seas was minutes away from departing. I took out my iPod, put on Bruce Springsteen, and I fell asleep instantly.  I didn’t wake up until 5 am, when we were crossing the I-78 bridge.  When we pulled in front of the Bayonne movie theater, it took a short while for many of us to rise and shine.  We got off the bus and went back to our cars.  As I was on the New Jersey Turnpike approaching Giants Stadium, the sun was starting to creep up over New York City.  I said to myself, “Man, is this awkward!”.  I was returning home from work while everyone else was just waking up.  How strange!

At quarter of six, I finally pulled into my driveway.  I went inside, turned off the alarm, changed out of my uniform, and put on my my Aerosmith pajamas.  Minutes later, I went to bed.  At 11 am, I woke up.  I quickly took a shower, got dressed, and went to church.  At church, I fell asleep during the readings, then during the Eucharist, and finally during Communion.  When I finally arrived back home, I turned on the Jets game.  Once again, I fell asleep.  I slept through the entire game.  A short time later, my family returned home from Point Pleasant.  They saw me passed out on the couch.  My dad whispered into my ear saying, “Moose, you want to order pizza for dinner?”.  I was so out of it.  While in a fog, I responded, “Let’s go for it! As long as diet soda’s not on the menu.”.  A long and hard day sure has its rewards, doesn’t it?

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