Web writes: "An Alaska cruise gets me to thinking about the less fortunate."
I believe I am a little better now that I have consulted one of God’s emissaries. Yet it still bothers me… at least a little.
I remember the day that conditions got to me.
It was a Saturday. I had always liked Saturdays, especially the ones before I retired.
This Saturday, however, was special.
Norma and I embarked from Seattle on a cruise to Alaska in honor of our 50th wedding anniversary. We were going with two other Portland-area couples. They, too, were celebrating their 50th. Or at least one of them was. For the other couple, I believe it was their 53rd.
We got to Seattle in plenty of time and we were ushered aboard efficiently. It wasn’t long before we set sail on the open sea for Juneau.
Although, I had been to Alaska once before, I found the journey fascinating. We—all passengers—were treated like royalty.
However, it wasn’t long before I waned a little sad. Not many crew members were Americans. Almost all of them were from other countries with at least one third of them from the Philippines.
The cruise line employees catered to our every whim, and the food buffet was always open with more food choices than I had ever dreamed of, and some I never heard about. Swimming pool. Movies. A casino. Entertainment. Good fellowship. Such a deal!
However, something bothered me: I early-on learned that the ship’s employees worked hard, day and night, with almost no time off. One cruise would end in Seattle, and about 12 hours later it would depart on another.
In the meantime, the crew of about 1,200 turned to -- to scrub the boat and prepare for another journey. Food was brought on board. The cooks worked to prepare meals. Crews cleaned and scrubbed the staterooms and lounges, bars and pool areas. The whole employee army prepared for another voyage for about 3,000 passengers. It just happened over and over again. As a matter of fact, the work cycle would recur one right on top of the other.
We learned that upon our liner’s return to Seattle, that it would depart on another Alaskan odyssey within 12 hours.
Norma and I had occasion to talk with some of the help during relatively quiet hours. One fellow explained he was from Macedonia—the southernmost of the states of the former Yugoslavia and now its own country.
He said most crew members worked 10 months straight, and got two months off. Most of them would go back to their native countries for their vacations. However, in his case he would get but one month off, because he just transferred from another cruise line. He thus was regarded a new staff member.
This, he said, was particularly hard on him, because at home in Macedonia, he had an 18-month-old daughter he seldom saw.
I asked him how it was that he worked for a cruise line. He said that when he issued from a local Macedonian school he looked around and could find no work. And the few jobs he could possibly get, paid next to nothing. “There was no other place where I could earn this kind of money,” he said. “Americans don’t like it because it is hard work and the pay is not good for the American economy,” he said.
Norma suspected there was another reason: because most of Americans want to do their own thing, and don’t want to be tied down with such responsibilities.
However, the Macedonian acknowledged that most of the cruise’s entertainers nevertheless were Americans. Hmmmm.
We also met and launched into discussion with a cruise line working woman from Serbia. When the season was over she said she’d return to Beograd, Serbia, where she lived. She said she liked the work. Another man from Serbia said the same thing.
A woman from Slovakia—her first language was Hungarian—talked freely with one of us passengers who was born in Budapest, Hungary. She said she liked her work and had been working for the cruise lines for eight years.
She also spoke some English—all cruise line workers must speak at least some English—and I asked her if the work was hard. “Not for me,” she said, as she lifted a heavy platter of dishes. “I’d much rather do this than sit around home and do nothing,” she said. “There’s a certain amount of adventure, too… like seeing the world.”
And so it went.
Similar discussions with much the same answers were heard over and over.
It bothered me. AMERICANS WOULD RATHER SUFFER UNEMPLOYMENT THAN WORK THIS HARD, AND FOR THIS AMOUNT OF PAY.
It disturbed me. That certainly had not been the case in my age group which is now well retired. We had to work our fool butts off. And rightly so. That’s the way we survived and perhaps the way it should be. After all, how could my country (the USA) have achieved so much in some 200 odd years without working so hard day and night?
I asked myself, what has happened to my country?
To put it simply, I was beside myself. So much so, I eventually went into prayer about it. After all, in the Bible it says that slackers will not prosper and that those who refuse to work hard will not eat. Moreover, I mused that even though we have our homeless and those who do not have enough to eat, I always had assumed that these were hard times and that quite a few younger people had fallen on their faces… like the hard times and high hopes we all in America had experienced in the Great Depression.
I never really believed it was because they refused to work because it took them away from what they would rather be doing.
Although, now that I think about it, I do remember talking a year ago to one of our younger soup kitchen patrons, who told me that he’d rather be homeless “Than take orders from some young, 19-year-old punk,” who happened to be of a different persuasion.
I then plunged into deep thought about young members of my own family. And I saw the same problem—even with some of our better-intentioned young folk. They’d rather do their own thing. And nobody better take them away from it or they’d rebel, and make life miserable for everybody including law enforcement folk, and those of us who were now exhausted from working close to the grind stone for more than 50 years. Hmmmm.
After all, I was aware that the younger’ uns were more hip, more enlightened, and therefore deserved much finer consideration and treatment than we ever expected in our day. Huh?
We—and I include myself—have been inviting this problem by being too lenient. Emotionally, I invoked my father’s viewpoint from clear back in the 1950s: ‘Nothing is too good for the kids… bah, humbug!
We have not been hard-nosed enough. Yattita yattita.
I kept telling myself—well, ‘tis not the time-honored American way.
Yet, it bothered me. Made me feel somewhat ashamed. Here we—us older folk— were taking advantage of the situation (via the cruise and all).
Later, after we got back ashore in good ol’ terra firma (continental) USA, I had occasion to offer my trip observations, and the alleged shortcomings of American (and perhaps Canadian) youth.
I called old friend, the Rev. William Thompson. Of course, he was willing to commiserate over lunch. He listened attentively as I expounded by feelings. Finally, he said he had something to say on the topic.
Among other questions he asked, “Were there any other passengers besides Americans and Canadians?”
Of course, I said. “For one thing, there seemed to be hundreds of Japanese.”
He then countered with, “Do you think you would have had so many Japanese aboard as passengers on the cruise say… 20 years ago?”
I didn’t quite know how to answer him, but I said that I doubted there would be so many.
He said, “of course.”
He then asked, “Were there lots of Japanese crew members?”
I told him that I didn’t know, but that I was aware of almost none.
“Well?” he said. “Do you see my point?”
“Whazzat?” I said.
After a long silence, he cleared his throat and said, isn’t it obvious? That all nationalities and ethnic groups will advance to the same state if given the chance. “It’s natural… I expect that Japan has the same problem with its youth.”
He then added a caveat: “Don’t be so hard on American youth. And I hope you enjoyed your trip as God intended.”
Well, we did.
Yet, the situation still continued to bother me. One thing for sure, I had gained a renewed respect for the youth and young workers of other struggling, economically-emerging countries.
Moreover, an old addage took on new meaning— but for the grace of God…
(© 2013 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)