Public Shame #3: When the music died

Chapter 4: Seeds of destruction

As wonderful as my first contract had been on The Independence of the Seas, my second contract was somewhat of a mixed bag that eventually turned into a nightmare. I guess the problems started with security.

I must mention here that upon returning to the Independence, my favorite guy in all the world, Matt, was just leaving again to go on vacation and get married. Consequently, the Assistant Adventure Ocean Manager, Laura, was also going on vacation. Matt was replaced by another Adventure Ocean manager, Maita Pangilinan, and Laura was replaced by a woman named Kara, who had just been promoted to the position of Assistant Adventure Ocean Manager and this was her first assignment as a supervisor.

It is interesting that I had left my last contract having recently had a security investigation and when I returned to my second contract, security seemed to be “all over me” all the time. Maybe the two are related. Maybe not. This is what I noticed, however.

One day, I was getting off the ship to go on a scuba diving excursion. We were a mixed group of crew members and guests. When I brought my scuba gear bag, the same standard bag of gear rented by the Scuba Shop onboard the ship, through the security scan, the security personnel pulled me out of the line and asked me to open the bag so they could search it. No one else had their bag searched, just me.

I opened my bag and they proceeded to riffle through it, spilling all of the contents onto the floor. This was a pain, because scuba gear bags can be tricky to pack and it took me some time to re-pack. Eventually, they let me go. I almost missed the rest of the group because they were on a schedule and needed to be at the docks at a specific time.

Time after time, when I was leaving or returning, I kept getting pulled out of line and having my bags checked extra thoroughly when other people, crew and non-crew alike, were just being waved through. What was causing this extra scrutiny and harassment, I wondered?

Then one day I got an answer. Or at least, what felt like an answer.

I was departing the ship in San Juan for the first time since I had come aboard on my second contract and I was bringing my U.S. Passport Card with me as ID. If you are not American, you use a document called an I-95 Card. If you are a U.S citizen, you use your passport. Non-Americans have their passports held by the cruise ship staff, but while sailing out of U.S. ports, American citizens are meant to hold onto their passports to use as ID. Well, unfortunately, when I had signed back onto the Independence, they accidentally held my passport and forgot to give it back to me. But, a Passport Card is equally valid for transit between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean Islands, so I was just using that in American ports.

But the security person working debark that morning told me I couldn’t use my passport card. She told me it wasn’t valid ID. I showed her the details of the card, that it was issued by the U.S. State Department and was the same as a book-style passport. She told me it must be a fake. So, I asked for a supervisor who might know about this card. Now, keep in mind U.S. Passport Cards have been around since 2008 and more than 7 million have been issues to U.S. citizens who paid the extra fee for the card.

Well, this supervisor told me that my card wasn’t any good either. He told me to come back with my Passport. I told him I didn’t have my passport, the crew office had taken it from me. Then, the gentleman went into a big tyrade about how “you Americans always think you deserve special treatment.”

Upon hearing this, I was livid. I worked on a ship with 1,360 crew members and only 30 of them were American – and most of those Americans worked as performers who received three to four times the pay I received and received lots of special privileges and perks.

Ever since our ship had relocated to the Caribbean from Europe and started taking on American passengers, it was a nearly daily occurrence to hear my fellow crew members talk about how much they hated Americans and how dumb Americans were. Ignorant. Uncultured. Lazy. These were insults I often heard flung at Americans. Being American myself, and not exactly proud of the negative stereotypes for which Americans were being put down, it was only a matter of time before this kind of rhetoric started to completely break me down.

And now, here I was being told that I could not get off the ship, essentially because I was American. Suddenly, it occurred to me that maybe this was why I was harassed so much at security. I was the American crew member that people could pick on and take their frustrations with the American guests out on.

Of course, it is quite possible that this was not really the case, but at the time, it really felt like it was the case. I had had enough.

So, I went to the crew office. The poor woman I spoke with in the crew office had me when I was already fuming. I showed her my passport card and explained that security wouldn’t let me off the ship with it and I told her that I needed my book passport so I could get off the ship. She told me she couldn’t give me the book.

I was so angry. I think I said something like, “This isn’t fair. I am stuck on this ship on my time off jumping through hoops all because you guys are too incompetent to do your jobs right!” Why couldn’t I be dealing with competent people who knew what they were doing I wondered?

Of course, this was horribly inappropriate for me to say. At this point, all my buttons had been pressed: I felt trapped. I felt like I was being discriminated against because the crew didn’t like Americans. And I felt like this was largely due to the incompetence of others – I can’t stand it when supposedly experienced people don’t know how to do their jobs.

Did I have valid reasons to be upset? Sure. But I handled it horribly. And I really hurt to woman’s feelings who was working in the crew office.

Eventually, the whole mess was straightened out and someone in security who actually knew what a U.S. Passport Card was handled the situation and said it was okay for me to debark and embark the ship with it.

Later, however, I was called into see the Cruise Director, Joff, about my outburst at the woman in the crew office. Of course, I was deeply ashamed and embarrassed about what had happened. I told Joff that I planned on apologizing to Teresa about what happened.

Then, I explained to Joff why I was so upset in the first place. I explained that I felt like I was being treated differently because I was an easy target for a largely non-American, American-hating crew to pick on and take their frustrations against America out on.

Joff dismissed my concerns with the explanation that when we sailed out of England the crew would complain about the British just as much and the heat would be off me at that point.

But I had sailed out of England all summer and fall the year before. This didn’t happen at all on the same level or at the same frequency as it did in regards to Americans. Plus, there were a lot more British crew members as there were American crew members – and most of the management positions were held by British crew members. They held a position of privileged on the ship and therefore weren’t as vulnerable to the kind of treatment I was complaining about.

On a side note: The irony of all this is not lost on me. It was like having a front row seat to how minorities in the U.S. know they are being discriminated against without being able to point to anything specific besides negative rhetoric, and how frustrating it must be for them to have white people deny the existence of white privilege and drone on about reverse-racism and how that makes everything even. This privileged American WASP certainly gets the point. 

So, not surprisingly, my complaints were just sort of brushed aside.

Two more times for other incidents, I would bring up the complaint that I felt like I was receiving unfavorable treatment and being discriminated against because I was American. I brought it up to my supervisor Maita and I brought it up to the other Cruise Director, Mike Hunnerup, who was brought on board to fill in for Joff while he was on vacation. Each time, my concerns were brushed aside as being frivolous and not worth addressing.

What I didn’t know, however, was that quite possibly all this was causing Joff to want me gone. I don’t really know for sure, because I never witnessed anything first hand, but several people approached me after I was fired and told me that Joff had given Matt specific instructions to find a way to fire me. Some cited that he just didn’t like me, other cited that he was trying to “de-Americanize” the crew of the Independence. It all seems kind of far fetched really.

Here is what I had to say about Matt and Joff after my first contract from my “Why the last six months were the best six months of my life” blog post:

Speaking of management staff, I feel so blessed to have such an awesome Adventure Ocean manager as Matt Ducharme … Matt is so easy to get along with, he’s incredible with the kids (such a great example), he knows how to balance being an authority and leader with being a fun colleague, and he is so intelligent and resourceful that out department is really thriving under his leadership … Even my boss’s boss, Joff Eaton is amazing. He is such a charismatic leader, it is easy to see why Matt & Laura are able to do such a good job working along side him. I am truly one fortunate dude.

I want to believe that isn’t true that Joff had it out for me and Matt was just doing his bidding. I want to believe this is all just rumors and gossip. I really really want to believe that Matt, whom I looked up to and respected so much, would never lie to me like that. I want to believe that Joff is whom he appears to be on the surface: I kind, respectable, fair, and honest gentleman. So, that is what I choose to believe. The whole “Joff had it out for him” conspiracy theory I have been told about by many people? I am going to have to just accept that it is nothing more than a theory.

And that simply leaves me to believe that I really did screw things up for myself almost entirely on my own. I did make one enemy, however. And this one wasn’t a conspiracy theory, this one was pretty obvious. This guy had it out for me bad, and he was going to stop at nothing to take me down.