Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Another Soggy Saga Installment

Welcome back, thought I'd dwell on the shower foibles a bit longer. In my former life, when I was working to be precise, I had many occasions to hitch rides on seagoing vessels of just about every imaginable sort. They ranged from aircraft carriers and their smaller brothers-in-arms to merchant vessels, mostly those under contract to the US Government for one purpose or another. Each of these ships and boats (includes occasional submarine rides) came with its own special form of adventure. The subs were far and away the best for food, okay for accommodations, but woefully short of sunlight. I doubt I'd last but a few days on one, although their crews have the unique status of ALL members being very congenial. Guess you'd have to be if you're stuck in a sausage-shaped tin container for months at a time. (did I say that?) All the crews, military and civilian, were overall extremely welcoming and anxious to make you as comfortable as possible. The best surface ships would be the merchant ships and the ocean going tugboats operated by the Navy, although the ride on the tugs would be off-putting to those sane folks who, unlike myself, don't care for roller coaster rides in heavier seas. The food on the tugs and the berthing were generally the best, and the crews small and tight-knit. The most exciting were undeniably the aircraft carriers, although their available quarters were often less than ideal because of the sheer number of folks (usually 5,000+) aboard. The food was okay most of the time, although the preferred dining was at the CPO Mess as they choose their own menus and usually run their own little diners tucked away from the bustle above. The ingenious and varied places they find to tuck sleeping quarters away, along with the plumbing required, can make for interesting stays. As the various components in Combat Control Centers and several other areas need cooling to operate properly, the ships have what's known as "chill water". This is pretty much self-descriptive, i.e. CHILLY water. I'd probably never have known this but for the stay I made on one ship where the showers and head (bathroom) where I was bunking was directly below one of these computerized spaces. It seems that the plumbing to the shiny new bathing facilities was added in the last days of a recent re-fit, and apparently done with all due haste in order to meet the sailing date. This resulted in the hot water not being operative and scheduled for repair next port they visited. The cold water did work though, and being in warm climate, normal water temperature would be bearable for a short transit to the next port. Great plan, and it would seem, the reason the stateroom I was given was so lonely. This room was in "Junior Officer Country" where they put the officers of lower rank and civilians who happen by. This particular stateroom, my home for the 6 day trip, had six racks. but only myself and one other civilian staying there on a very crowded vessel. The reason became painfully clear when I ventured down the passageway to the communal head on the first night out. There I was, all settled in for a short jaunt with nothing to do but to get underfoot while watching the planes and sailors perform for an audience of one, and off for my nightly shower. As I brushed my teeth and trimmed my beard a bit, everything was seemingly great. It wasn't until I ventured into the "rain-locker" that I discovered the true reason the head facilities were mine alone. Not only did the hot water faucets not work, but the cold water, far from being tolerable, was in fact hooked up to the chill water being piped into the computer center on the next deck up! This meant the water temperature was in the 55F-60F range in that particular shower facility! It also meant the choice of an exceptionally short shower or trudging down one deck and along a long passageway to take a comfortable shower in the next nearest communal officer's head. Being a brave soul, and rather unambitious when it comes to traversing a ship in flip-flops and minimal clothing just for a bit of comfort, I opted for taking showers using a series of VERY short bursts of water. This was much like having self-imposed "water hours" like on older vessels, when water would run short at times, and showers were limited to 2-3 minutes duration. Looking back, I believe I'd have opted for 2-3 minutes of comfortable showers vice the freezing cold and extremely short variety. When I arrived at my destination and checked into my hotel, the first thing I did was take a very hot, very long shower. As one who prefers moderately warm showers, this was rather unusual, but I just felt I DESERVED it that one time just to warm back up. Until next time, take care.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Change of Pace

A while back a close friend mentioned that when stressed, or otherwise needing spiritual renewal, they found peace and comfort in the shower. That got me recalling some of the offbeat events I've experienced over the years that have involved bathing or showering and I thought I'd share the tales over a few short posts. No photos, as I'm pretty sure everyone capable of reading this far is well acquainted with the processes involved. You'll have to bear with me a bit, as this is somewhat of a different type of memory than those recounted to date. I hope they'll still be entertaining and offer a slightly different view of things than that considered "normal". The first events involved showers in a rather around-about way. During the years I travelled in connection with my job, I often found myself staying at hotels in countries that hadn't seen a tourist industry since Hitler topped himself in the bunker in Berlin. These places, as charming as they were, often had "slight" problems in the areas of food, heating, and plumbing. Specific plumbing problems here refer mainly to the scarcity of adequate amounts of hot water when the places were fully booked. When assigned to one of these jobs, I would find myself in the company of a bevy of folks who were supposed to accomplish the task which I was overseeing. This elite bunch generally had all the same players assigned, the work crew, their supervisor, a translator (needed or not), the local plant engineering rep, and the always present "Official Government Compliance Officer". In most cases involving contract work performed in these countries, the government involved would pay these folks, the hotel and transportation charges, and other necessities such as food, laundry, etc. Then my company would pay the government back and present them with a bill for the total expense of the job, for which the involved country would then pay my employers. A very complicated and bureaucratic system fraught with fraud, bribery, and all the other evils encountered when doing business with these folks at that time. I would usually arrive on scene about a week prior to the beginning of the project to ensure everything was ready to go. This generally meant that I would meet with the official translator and my assigned driver, visit the place of work for a brief tour, check the transportation arrangements, permits, and hotel accommodations over the first two days or so. Then, when I was happy, bribe the transportation people, the petrol supply man, and my translator to tour me about the area until the others arrived. This was usually the best part of the trip, as the locals were always eager to show me all the wonderful things about their towns and families. Very enjoyable, and my favorite type of tourism. On my initial foray into this type of job, I was pretty thoroughly briefed by others involved in similar operations as to what to expect, what to demand, and other helpful tips. Two items I learned on my own over the first two trips to these places. The first trip I learned that, not having been updated for decades, the hot water supply was generally inadequate to provide hot showers for the entire work party. Thus, I learned from that trip to run the hot water and time it until it ran cooler. I'd then have to figure how many showers that would allow, adding in the other factors, such as leakage, etc. Then I'd sit with the translator , the "overseer", the engineer, and the supervisor to arrange shifts that would permit all those just off work to get a shower that was at least tolerably warm. Thus, armed with my newly devised plan of action, I embarked on my second such journey, fully anticipating an easy time of it. I did all the aforementioned things and when the crew arrived eager to go, I foresaw none of the "new" problems that would soon be encountered. The meetings went very well, I met an entirely new crew and a rotund, very jovial "overseer" who was well into his sixties. He assured me that he was an old hand at this and had made all the necessary arrangements needed beyond those I'd made. Taking this as an excellent sign, I relaxed and enjoyed the first day of the project and was truly impressed by the professionalism and talent I saw at work. Little did I know that this wasn't to remain the case for long. As this hotel had adequate hot water and dining facilities, we all would work the same hours, meaning a small fleet of mini-buses would ferry the group to the plant and back daily. The meals at the hotel and at the plant cafeteria were all to be taken as a group as well, thus cutting costs and ensuring better quality, as the "overseer" would dine with us as well. All was in readiness, or so I thought, as I went down to see the buses off the next morning. After sitting in a pretty chilly bus for twenty minutes beyond the agreed upon departure time, I decided enough was enough, and went in to the hotel desk to inquire as to whether wake-up calls had been made and was assured all was well. This was the only morning we were to eat breakfast at the plant, so I knew the crew wasn't in the dining room, and so I returned to the bus line. As soon as I saw the buses a feeling of dread came over me. There were all the crew, mostly on the buses, but with a few retching violently outside. Spotting the translator, I hurried to his bus and asked him what was wrong, as I noted that he, the "overseer", the supervisor, and most of the crew were very pallid, except for being a bit "green about the gills". In my naivete, I asked if they had all caught a "bug" from some of the obviously ill plant folks they'd been around the previous day. As soon as he answered me, I realized my problem. Those who weren't still drunk, were extremely hung-over, and none were in any condition to work. I ordered the day free from work and ensured them that they'd still get paid for it. Then they were all directed to go sleep it off and BE READY FOR WORK the following day. After all had settled down, I called my offices in London to speak to one of the other site managers about the problem. As soon as he heard the story, he laughed and asked if "Gregor" was the name of the "overseer" and described him to a 'T'. He then told me to start asking around the hotel staff until I found the "source" of the booze, and offered that these guys couldn't afford to drink like that without help from elsewhere, and that Gregor had a long history of this. So, armed with this new insight, I questioned the hotel staff and got totally stone-walled as nobody knew anything. Then, I overheard a younger worker gossiping with another man about how he wished they'd get some of the benefits of silence beyond keeping their jobs. After getting over the shocking discovery that the American could understand him without a translator, he succumbed to the appeal of two crisp Andrew Jackson portraits, one for each, and told me the basics of the deception. It seems that the bureaucrats never questioned the bills received for these jobs, as they were simply passed along to my company in that complex payment system. Therefore, older hands at it, with enough seniority to dare to do so, would arrange for daily rations of large quantities of vodka, schnapps, or whatever the best local booze happened to be. These rations were doled out to the entire crew, who gladly "disposed" of the contents of the bottles or cans. Thus the terrible drunken state I'd found them in. As I'd been told that I needed to find out how it was being billed and cut off the supply if I ever wanted any work to get done, off to the hotel manager I strode, full of indignant ire. Of course, the manager and all the staff were in on it and denied any knowledge of such a dastardly scheme. Gregor had apparently spread the wealth around to all who might dare to talk, the lower employees fearing for their jobs if implicated in the discovery of the plot. Knowing full well what was happening and seemingly powerless to prove it, and thus stop it, I paced angrily to my room. On entering, I got my second break from hotel workers in the form of a matronly lady who was cleaning my room. As she worked, she and her much younger helper chattered away in the local lingo, secure in not being heard by anyone other the American, and I didn't count. You can imagine her surprise when I, having heard her remark how nice it was to clean my room after dealing with the drunk pigs in our crew, especially the bossy, womanizing, oaf Gregor, asked just what she meant. Of course, she grew nervous and knew nothing, a condition quickly cured by the sudden appearance of even more Andrews for each of them. I got it across to her that I knew about the booze, I just needed to know how they were covering up the cost. Having obviously been down this road before, she told me to wait while she went to her cart. She promptly returned bearing a clipboard with the room cleaning assignments on it. Handing me the list, she indicated that was how it was being done. Not being totally able to converse, we still managed to agree that the list was the key, according to her anyway. Finally, getting flustered, she snatched the board from the obviously dense American, and poked at an entry very solidly with her thick finger. Seeing my look of utter confusion, she poked the board repeatedly, beside every entry on the page, while saying "da" (yes) at each poke. Upon reaching the last line, she suddenly said "nyet" (no). Then she did it over while counting and wrote down the total. Now I knew there was a problem, one guy too many listed. Indicating that I finally got it, I thanked her and started for Gregor's room, when she grasped my arm like a falling man clinging on for dear life. Asking what was wrong, she only said "no room man" in English. Telling her I understood, she again got rather upset and went down the list, stopping partway down and pointing at a name, then she showed me the same name with a different worker number further down saying, "good numba" over and over. Seeing me once again confused, she took me by the hand and led me out into and down the hall. As we got to the end, she indicated that now I could see the problem. Being still at sea, I asked her what she meant. She again said "no no man, no room man" which I took to once again mean no such man in the room. Finally, grabbing the clipboard and clipping me in the head with it very lightly, she went to the nearest door and touched the number. "No no man, no room man" was again delivered, but this time with a big grin, as she had had a thought. Going to the next room, she repeated the performance, then to the last door doing the same. She then stood there and beckoned me over showing me the room number and the clipboard entries. AHA!! Room 231, 232, 233 and the doors stopped at 232!! Then triumphantly she said, "no no man, no room man!" NOW I got it!! The end of this rambling tale, is that I went to Gregor's room and, hearing him snoring harshly, told the woman to open the door. There on the bed in his torn, filthy, boxer shorts, amid several empty vodka bottles, lay Gregor, dead to the world. Wanting to confront him, but unable to wake him, I took the empty glass from the night stand and went to the bathroom sink and ran the water until it was extremely cold. Then I returned ready to dump it on his head, when the old lady stopped me again and took the glass from me with a vicious leer. She then proceeded to soak Gregor's boxer short's frontal area with the frigid liquid and immediately handed me back the glass, kissed my cheek, and scooted from the room before Gregor could see her. Now that I had his attention, we discussed the possibly negative effect on his position as "overseer" if the incident was to be repeated and if the free booze supply wasn't shut off. Negotiations were very successful and the rest of the project went smoothly. Until next time, take care.