Monday, April 12, 2004

(The Week of "Training" in Miami)


O.K. This technically wasn't just written on Monday. Friday's entry was written over several days, I finally decided that it was getting too long to have on one page, and I am continuing it here. There IS some continuity, as that page is the whole week of moving, whereas this page will be the week I spent in Miami "training."

My trip started by leaving at midnight Sunday night (this is where I left off from Friday's entry) to head to Miami. I was supposed to check in Sunday night, but they assured me that my room would be open no matter what. So, I figured that I would get there around 3:30, and get around four hours of sleep before going into Carnival. Not much after being up for three days, but better than nothing.

As was happening the whole week, my plans did NOT work out. About 20 miles north of Miami at 3 am, my timing belt went out on my car. For those who don't know, this tends to pretty much ruin the engine. At this point I was so fed up (by the lateness, my tiredness, the fact that I had been working for some time to try to get the title for the car, etc.) that I just wanted to be picked up. I called a taxi service, and described my location in precise detail. I was 100 yards from an exit, in a construction zone, on a bridge, under a proximity-of-exits sign, next to a steamroller, on a major highway (the longest one in the US), and right behind another broken car. After 45 minutes, I called back, and they said that they couldn't find me. I patiently explained again where I was, and left my phone number with them. 30 minutes later, they called back to tell me that they couldn't find me again. Now, I had seen both cabs go by me, both were driving around 70 (in a 45mph work zone) and looking straight ahead. They sent a third, and gave me HIS phone number directly. After watching him drive by, I called him and pointed out that he had JUST passed me, so he finally came around again. I completely filled his trunk with all of the stuff that I had been carrying around in my car for the past two weeks, and had him head to and ATM machine. It was broken, so we went to another. I showed him the directions that I had from Yahoo! maps, but he said that he wanted to call and get directions (I figured out a bit later that he couldn't read English). He got a rather complicated set of instructions from the hotel, and looked at me with a knowing look and said that he never had to write anything down, he remembers everything. When we got close, he started asking what the streets and the address were. It is lucky that I had the printout. I took the plate off of the car also, I figure that since the license place wouldn't give me any way to get a title for the car (the car dealership that had sold it went out of business and never sent the title), I would just let the police figure out whose it was.

So, $100 and 2.5 hours later, I was finally at the hotel. I hadn't been given any instructions what I was supposed to do, so I asked the guy at the front desk. Being in the Hispanic section of Miami, he could barely speak English, but I asked him if Carnival sends a shuttle. He assured me that they do, and that it would come just before 7. Seeing how it was 5:30, this left me just enough time to take all of my stuff from the car up to the room and shower. Sure enough, he called me at 6:45 to tell me the shuttle was there. He called back again at 6:50 to make sure that I was immediately checking back out (he said that the reservation was for 8 days, but now it was for 1), and I assured him that I was NOT immediately checking out. I got to the lobby, and the shuttle driver asked if I was ready for the trip to TAMPA! I said no, and it turns out he wasn't there for me at all. I finally gave up and called Mike (from Carnival) at home, as it was 7:30 and I figured that he was probably up by then. He told me that Carnival was less than 100 yards past the hotel, and that I didn't have to be there 'till 9:30. Well, by the time I would have changed, gotten back into bed, and gotten up to eat, I couldn't have slept much, so I just headed to breakfast.

I walked over to Carnival at 9, and was finally there. There was another guy "training" with me, and he sent the two of us on a shuttle with several other employees for a physical and drug test. One of the guys (who was going to a ship, the physical took place at the port) was the master chef for all of Carnival. He goes to a different ship every two weeks, making sure that all of the food is being prepared properly. We took our physical, and the guy that was taking one at the same time was already gone. They didn't tell us that they wouldn't send the shuttle back, we were supposed to know to get the shuttle driver's phone number. So, a $50 cab ride back to Carnival, and we decided from then on we would take Craig's car. That afternoon we were told to use the computer-based training, which turned out to be nothing but generic computer information, and had nothing to do with ships. Busy work. I got back to the hotel, ate dinner, and finally got to bed. I didn't fall asleep 'till 2 am, but slept like a log.

The next day when we showed up, they had us give our driver's licenses to hold, which got us security cards to get around the building. I needed a passport, so I swapped back for my license and Craig drove me to the Govt. building in Miami, where one of the very few official passport agencies in the US resides (as I didn't have the six weeks it takes to get a passport the normal way). I gave him my cell phone and I had a pocket full of dimes, and he went off to perform another errand (this was 10 am). Security there was really tight, and since I have a big watch I tripped the alarm. They did the normal hand metal detector, and I went up. I waited in line (which wasn't bad at all), and just before I stepped up to the window I remembered that I had forgotten to stop by Kinko's on my way out of town (the last thing on my list before leaving Melbourne). I had to go back downstairs and get a passport photo ($27,  it would have been $9 at Kinko's). Oddly enough, it was a surprisingly good picture. Back through security, back through the hand scan. I got upstairs, got back in line, and got to the information desk. She went over my paperwork, and I showed her the name change paperwork and birth certificates (one with old, one with new). She looked a bit confused when I happened to notice someone else's driver's license on her desk. I, being the bright and helpful person I am, pointed out that someone had left their license. She then told me that it was mine. Of course, the Carnival security people had given me the wrong one. I went back through security (by this time, I was taking off my watch and running it through the x-ray machine each time), as they don't have any public phones in the 12-story building. I used one just up the street, and called and asked security to fax over a copy of my license. After arguing with them about whether or not they could, they finally caved (since, after all, it was their fault and I was 45 minutes away) and agreed. Back through security, back into line. They gave me a ticket to an actual window, and when I got there she showed me the fax. It was my license, very small, with a black square where the picture was. Back through security, I called and told them to blow it up and fax it at higher quality. Back up to the 7th floor, where they showed me an identical fax again. Back down through security, again asking them to blow it up on the copier, which they insisted they didn't have (there are 6,000 employees in the Carnival building, so this seemed really unlikely). I told them to find one, and went back up. They used the fax machine to copy it at low quality and blow it up, and faxed it again at low quality. Now I had a huge black square where my face should be, and very large bad text. Back to the pay phone, a long instruction on how to use a copier, fax, and photo mode, then back upstairs. They would be closing at 3:30, and it was now 1. At 2, when I still didn't have the fax, I gave up and called Craig. I told him that I'd fill his tank and buy him dinner if he'd drive me there and back before 3:30. We raced there, swapped licenses, and raced back. I got there just in time (they had been holding the rest of my paperwork), and instead of waiting to get a queue number, I waited 'till the girl with my info was done with the person she was with. I jumped up there before she could advance the number, and 3 minutes later I was done. It is amazing, they said that they'd have the passport in a day if I needed it. I opted for two days, and paid the $160 fee. All in all, my passport ended up costing just under $300. Add that to the $150 in cab fares, and it ended up being a very expensive week. To top it off, the second thing that I forgot to do on the way out of town was deposit my apartment refund in the night deposit box, so ended up bouncing about ten checks. THAT cost just over $500 in fees. So, even though I made a good profit on the motorcycle and one of the cars, nearly 100% of it got flushed down the drain. Of course, one of the cars I was going to sell I lost out on also, as I left it on the side of the road.

I put "training" in quotes because during the whole week I was there, I didn't learn ANYTHING about the job. It was pretty much just a lot of running around. They hadn't gotten my fax about my measurements, so I had to go directly to the uniform place to get my uniform. It turns out that the formal uniform company purposely changed the measurements on Craig's informal uniform, to screw up their competing company that provides those (and has since Carnival opened in 1972). So, Craig and I both went there, and picked up my passport en route (less than 2 miles apart). The company is great. The guy who owns it is the grandson of the guy who was providing uniforms in the beginning. He measured us both, had us wait ten minutes, and had the women modify and stitch three shirts and three pairs of pants for each of us. Very efficient, and very friendly. We had another day that we had to do busy work, and another day (mostly busy work) helping the receiving guy open pallets of broken things sent back from ships. We also worked on our profiles to put on the internal web site, and did a lot of paperwork. Other than a really helpful speech from the director of IS, we didn't get any ship-related training or information. I got a lot done on the computer, though, and finished a lot of leftover personal paperwork.

A couple of interesting and extremely helpful things happened on Friday. Number one, I was going to have someone drive down to pick me up in Miami. However, the guy we were working with ended up getting me plane tickets to Orlando for the next morning. That night at the hotel, I was trying to figure out how I was going to get all of the stuff (see picture above) condensed down far enough to get on a plane. I went to the bar to see if they had any boxes. The bartender got me one, and then told me that the airport shuttle wasn't busy at night, and would likely take me to Wal-Mart if I asked. I told her that I would see how much I could fit into the box first. 45 minutes later, she actually called up to my room to tell me that she had reserved the van for me, and it was outside. I found that I couldn't get it all into the box, and they didn't have a bigger one. So, I went down and the driver ran me to Wal-Mart. I found the cheapest bag that I could, at which point the driver (who insisted on coming in with me) kept trying to get me to get a better one. It turns out that the hotel was paying for it, and he didn't want me to get a cheap one. They ended up buying me a large, $50 (I didn't want to take advantage) rolling square bag with a suit compartment. I got as much as I could in it, threw away a couple of things, and was set to go.

The next morning, the hotel shuttle drove me to the airport, where I found out that Delta now has a weight limit of 50lbs per bag. One of my bags was exactly that, the other was 26 lbs too heavy (when I flew with my SCUBA gear a few years ago, the limit was 80 lbs, and I was just under that). So, they gave me a shoe bag, and I took 25.5lbs of stuff out. Some things I threw away, the rest I crammed into the bag. I ended up carrying that and my carry-on bag, and checked the two suitcases. I'm really glad that I showed up early, as they then picked me out for the "special" search (which has happened to me before, I guess I just look suspicious). Having to unpack and re-pack the bag was a real pain, but the rest of the trip was uneventful.

I got back, stayed up most of the night and all day Sunday arranging my stored stuff to take up as little space as possible. The guy who bought the sailboard on EBay picked it up, and I gave him a small lesson in how to set it up and use it. He is about 5'4" tall, 120 lbs, close to 50, and lives nowhere near water. He also didn't believe me when I told him how big it was until he saw the sail up. I would be willing to bet that it sits in his garage forever, but at least I don't have to store it. Once I got a real boat, I hadn't used it again anyways. I worked on my desktop computer to get it set up for Noel, and tried to wrap up as many things as possible. I continued to work on organizing storage stuff on Monday, and watched my motorcycle get up to $1,950 on EBay.

Monday night Tonya and I went to the Aerosmith concert. It was incredible. Because they were filming for VH1, they rearranged the stage to have a long runway, kind of like a modeling show. So, instead of being 20 rows back, we were only 4 (partially because the rearrangement moved us up 4 rows). Because the front row was against the stage, there were only two rows between us and him. They played the first two songs at the very front of the stage, then a crew took down the drums and wires in about ten seconds and they moved back. He ran up and down the stage, as well as to the sides which went way into the audience. At one point he grabbed a handle on the end of a rope that was actually tied to a rafter (about 15 or 20 stories up), flipped upside-down, grabbed the handle with his feet, and swung out over the crowd. He would have an AMAZING amount of energy and stamina for a 20-year-old, and he is three times that old. Back late, and two more days spent 24 hours a day arranging, organizing, finishing, and finally packing. I delivered the motorcycle to a last-second bidder in Orlando, for a final price of $1,975. I had wanted $2,000, so I was pretty happy. Frank, the president of Globe was the high bidder 'till it reached $1,800, interestingly enough. If he had just offered me that, I would have taken it, just to save the trouble of having to sell it. I came back from Orlando after dropping off the bike, and spent the rest of the night packing.  I was careful to pack as much as possible into as little space as possible, as they had said for IS managers to try to pack JUST a carry-on bag. Since the 5 uniforms that they give you take up a carry-on bag, this isn't really feasible, but I really didn't take much. Early in the morning, Tonya ran me to the airport. I called the contact guy at Carnival to let him know that I was on my way (since he had asked me to), and he told me (on my way to the airport, mind you) that I needed a bag with wheels as it was a ways to the ship on the pier. I had a very heavy bag, which I had picked because it could be compressed into a small space. I had weighed it several times, and made sure that it was at 50 lbs. It, of course, does NOT have wheels on it.

That's all for this page, which is also too long . . .