Our tug boat was underway today towing an oil barge heading for the sleepy town of Ponce, PR. The weather was what we call in the business, sloppy. The seas weren’t angry, just a little ticked off. Just bad enough to make it uncomfortable to, say, exist. I had just filled my cereal bowl with Special K and added the milk when the boat took an unexpected dive, sending my cereal sliding across the table toward the edge. If it wasn’t for my cat like reflexes I would have been cleaning up my first spill of the day.
That got me thinking again, about how different my job is compared to others.
I understand there are differences in many jobs. The guy working at the construction site hauling bags of cement onto a roof of a newly constructed home definitely is different from the insurance salesman’s job, and each has their own unique issues they have to deal with. What I’m saying is the issues we, merchant seaman who work on boats for a living have some issues no other job has to deal with. For instance, walking in a straight line in 10 ft seas can’t be done. You walk one step at a time, holding on to something with each step as you make your way from point A to point B. Viewed from a distance we all look like the town drunk leaving the corner bar at closing time.
There are many obvious differences between land lover jobs and seaman’s jobs, but one that no one thinks about is the one I think is drastically different. The crewmembers I work with are the same people I eat with and the same people I watch TV with and the same people who I share the washing machine, shower and toilet with. Have you ever had a day where a particular person in your office was just driving you crazy? Maybe it was only because of a particular quirk he or she has that just drives you nuts. At the end of the day you’re counting the minutes before quitting time because if this person sucks his teeth or cracks his knuckles one more time you’re going to scream? And 10 minutes after you’re out of the office and in your car you feel much better. You’re on your way home or heading to the bar or going to watch your kid’s soccer game and a weight has been lifted off your shoulder. You’re away from what has been bothering you for the last 8 hours. You’ll interact with different people. You may even begin to forget how annoyed you were just hours earlier. You get a mental break each day.
Well, with my job, there is no end of the day. The guy with the strange quirk or the rude manner is still there after work, sitting next to me at the dinner table. That same guy might be leaving the bathroom a mess after his shower. At 10 PM that same guy has the volume on the TV up way to high. So, you go to bed but you know you’re going to see Mr. High volume or Mr. Rude in a few hours at the breakfast table.
I think it’s the most difficult part of my job.