Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Typical Last-Minute Cruise

So last night I was enjoying a relaxed dinner at a local ribs and barbecue restaurant, tucked into a comfy restaurant booth with my family.

Suddenly the phone rang, and my mother-in-law Anne (who handles much of our sales calls) answered the line. It was a guy who wanted to cruise that night.

My wife flipped open her laptop and my father-in-law rolled his eyes - he'd seen this a few times before.

It was 7:30pm.

On the phone, Anne was telling him that "yes, we can arrange a cruise for you tonight".

Next I start to get the look from her that says "you're on".

I shove what's left on my plate into my mouth and chew like mad.

"Oh, you're going to propose! Well, no wonder you want to cruise tonight" she says.

I drink a few more gulps of my Diet Coke.
My wife is rapidly entering information into her computer.

"Sure, we can get you out soon, in fact..." Anne checks her watch, it's 7:34, "oh, I'm not sure about eight o'clock".

I shake my head vigorously with a "no thank-you" look on my face.

"How about eight thirty?" she says.


"Well, eight fifteen might work", she looks at me with a "Come on, you can do it" look, I concede, after all, this is my Sicillian mother-in-law here.

We pay the bill and shuffle out the door, dragging leftovers along for later.

I drive fast, warn the family when I'm about to take a corner hard, and pull up to the house.

It's 7:45 and I charge upstairs to change, muttering something like "I can't believe I got talked into an 8:15".

By 7:50 I've changed and thrown my gondolier's bag into the car.

I kiss my wife and run out the door.

At 7:55 I'm zipping down towards the office with the stereo blasting.

I turn off Metallica to warm up my singing voice.

Some jackass pulls out into traffic right in front of me and I hit the breaks, waving my hands in the air like a good Italian.

At 8pm I've parked the car and am hurrying down to the docks, keeping in mind that my passengers may already be there watching me fiddle with my keys and make funny faces.

First order of business: uncover the gondola and make sure there are no surprises.
Boat is uncovered, clean, and everything is in order.
It's 8:05.

I set up the seat with pillows and blankets, place my boombox and bag on the back, and go for serviceware.

At 8:10 I've placed a bucket of ice with a bottle of sparkling cider on the port bancheta, complete with glasses, chocolates, and electric candles. As was requested by the client, I spread rose petals on the gondola and put my makeshift running-lights in place.

Standing by my gondola at 8:15, I smile as my passengers arrive with Starbucks cups un hand.

At 9:40, after much rowing and singing, I've created the perfect environment for what's about to happen.
9:41, the gentleman in my boat scoots off the seat, hits one knee, and asks his girlfriend to be his bride.
To provide this guy with such an opportunity makes all that hurrying and stress worthwhile.

He pulls out a ridiculously sparkly ring, puts it on her finger, she says yes, and for the three of us on the gondola, all is right with the universe.

Such is the life of a gondola operator.

This post is dedicated to Tim, Sean, Megan, Matt, Sarah, Angelino, John, Debbie & Dave, and the list goes on (you know who you are). A list of people who know exactly what I'm talking about here. I have yet to go for a workout row with Tim at Sunset Gondola without his phone ringing with a client on the line. I always say that such inerruptions are a good problem to have. Truth is that when the phone stops ringing, that's when we really get stressed.

As a business owner, I learned a long time ago, that:

"There are two kinds of people - business owners, and those who get to clock out at the end of the day."

But when you're standing on the back of a 36-foot gondola, rowing towards the horizon just after sunset, with the sky painted in radiant colors, with a cool breeze in your face and passengers who are more relaxed than ever - you love your job and life is great.

Really great.


Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

Greg, don't you need an apprentice or substitute gondolier whom you can task with all the inconvenient jobs, like last-minute requests?

By the way, if only venetian gondoliers had someone to handle the calls for them! Yet to see one of them NOT talking incessantly on the mobile phone while rowing single-handedly.

It is disrespect to their customers and also a traffic hazard. Drive the car while talking on the handset and the policeman hits you with a big fine (here in Europe, maybe elsewhere, too).

At the very least, gondoliers please use a headphone! The mobile phone problem is a serious PR issue, every tourist mentions it as a negative experience!

Sean Jamieson said...

Please post your comments about what YOU believe to be negative aspects about Venezia, venetian gondoliers, gondoliers abroad, and boats from around the world elsewhere.

For better or worse, the readers of this blog are interested in what people are doing with Venetian inspired boats around the world.

We are interested in Venetian culture, past and present, because, for those of us who are not Venetian, Venice is kind of our surrogate motherland.

Are we critical? Sure. Privately. Would I talk on my mobile with guests on board? No way! Or..only for an emergency. I still find it to be an interesting aspect of the Venetian gondolier.

And you missed the whole point. For Greg, this wasn't an "inconvenient job." He got to be out on a gondola on a beautiful night and create the perfect setting for a successful proposal.

The more readers and the more commenters, the better, but please keep it positive.


Are you sure it was 9:41?

bepi venexiano said...

were we separated at birth? Last night was a family get together that I could finally attend, until the call. I gulped an early bowl of my dads tomato soup and as I walked out the door all the guests were arriving. I was a beautiful sunset and when I finished and I met my faily at the beach to hunt grunion. Based on how many fish we saw it could have been a snipe hunt. Una bela giorno.

Unknown said...

Hi Greg.
I just discovered your blog a few days ago. What a gem. I have a gondola in Copenhagen Denmark and like you I enjoy a trip in my gondola while the sun set in the horizon. For now im just sailing for fun and training either alone or with friends and family. But I can see you have made the jump and are making money from it.

So how is that? Are this your main occupation or just something you do part time? how often do you take make excursions? and finaly what do you charge for "an unforgettably evening"?.

Thanks for a great blog Simon www.gondol.dk

Nereo da Venezia (Italia) said...

your words, my thoughts. Thank you

Gondola Greg said...

Simon, it's great to hear from you.
I would love to communicate with you via e-mail. Please contact me at greg@gondola.com, or let me know what e-mail address I can reach you at.

grigory-never-get-there said...


An inspiring post to say the least. If the world had your positive attitude and appreciation for their work, it would be a better place by FAR. Thanks for sharing. And keep up the good work :)

Gondola Greg said...

Even the fast driving to Metallica?

cruise ship jobs said...

Well one of the great thing about having cruise ship jobs is that we get to be a witness to these sort of things. Proposals, weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. One of my personal favorites are proposal, although, I have seen tons of rejections as well.