“Suzanne Pleshette” with some sharply dressed, well muscled geek (still wearing his U.S. Army issue eyeglasses) – 1969
While I was In the Army and stationed in Eritrea in the mid-60s my wife JoAnn got a job with The Greek Line, a passenger steamship company operating out of Piraeus and New York. The formal name of the company was the General Steam Navigation Company of Greece. It’s offices were in downtown Manhattan about a block from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and up the street from the draft induction center where conscripts reported everyday.
JoAnn was hired as secretary for the New York Resident Vice President. Since she was smart and ambitious she was soon chartering vessels but of course still got paid as a secretary. That’s the way it was.
The office consisted of a large main floor and and a balcony of offices for use by the Goulandris brothers, the wealthy Greek owners when they visited from Piraeus as well as JoAnn’s boss. I visited the office regularly after I was discharged from the military (I worked nearby) and the place definitely struck me as low key. The owners retained their humble roots and one would never know they were wealthy upon meeting them. They were salt of the earth and treated their employees as family.
A radio was always on. While visiting to take JoAnn out to lunch the tune “Zorba the Greek” began playing. Instantly the volume was turned up and Greeks came out of their offices for some mid-day Syrtaki on the balcony to clapping hands and waving handkerchiefs. Definitely a fun place to work.
The company originally was in the business of trans-Atlantic crossings but the era of the jet age was dawning and business was down. The offices of Cunard and the Italian Line were a block away and passenger traffic across the Atlantic was slack. Italian Line had two magnificent new ships – Michaelangelo and Raffaello – Italy as a destination and fine Italian cuisine. If they couldn’t fill their ships nobody could.
So Greek Line started cruising to Bermuda and the Caribbean. Of course her ships were nothing like the monsters of the sea today. The Olympia was just under 30,000 tons and could dock on Front Street in Hamilton – a distinct advantage when going ashore. No need to take a tender – just walk down the gangway.
Treating the employees like family included “Take a free cruise”. Anyone in the employ of the Goulandris could take any empty stateroom and enjoy during vacation time. Just go down to the ship and get on. Nice deal especially on weekend “Cruises to Nowhere”.
But JoAnn couldn’t swim. Didn’t like the water. Stayed away from it.
After five years or so with the company she was urged to celebrate her birthday with a trip to Bermuda. On the house. So she spent some time on board while the Olympia visited port until she felt safe.
It didn’t help that in the office was a picture of the Lakonia and a memorial plaque. The ship sank after a fire in December 1963 costing the lives of 128. No one ever spoke of the Lakonia.
Well, after a few visits to the Olympia she felt comfortable enough and we set sail for Bermuda. She and I on deck, drink in hand moving gracefully under the Verazzano, the sky a canopy of stars.
Everyone in the company knew JoAnn, knew she never took advantage of the company bennies and wanted to make sure she had a great time. We were treated like celebs. We ate at our own table for two. Special wine delivered by the wine steward each evening “compliments of…..” so and so. Champagne. Flowers from the office. Dinner with the Captain. Just us and the captain. JoAnn and he were on a first name basis. Formal wear the night before we arrived back in New York.
Dressed for dinner.
“Who are those people?” Our identities soon became the talk of the ship. Rumors abounded. Young Greek royalty? Children of some shipping magnate? Daughter of the owners?
Suzanne Pleshette? “Is that Suzanne Pleshette? Who’s that guy she’s with?” We laughed and all the ship’s staff kept the secret. JoAnn didn’t want any passengers to know she worked in the office – she didn’t want to hear any complaints while on vacation.
Company postcard of “Olympia”
So we partied. Ate. Drank. Toured Bermuda. Made love.
We spent one warm day in Bermuda out on the water (she was getting into smaller boats!) Taking the sun. After we got back to Hamilton and were walking to the ship we noticed people in the street were looking at us. Why are we being stared at?
When we got back on board and looked in the mirror we knew why. A deep breath and an “Oh my god!” We were burned as red as any lobster. Red.. I mean red. I haven’t been burned as badly since. Luckily it was only our face, arms and thighs.
When our Greek waiter saw us at dinner he recommended we apply vinegar to the burns to provide relief and avoid skin peeling.
It worked. We laughed when folks passing in the corridor would whisper “Do you smell salad?”
We had a great time on the only cruise we ever took. A couple of years later babies would come and the “fun” would be over. Real life had begun.
After Bermuda it would be Florida to visit Nana and Poppa with the kids. Disney World. Universal Orlando.
Until our 25th anniversary and our trip to Hawaii – but that’s another post.
The Olympia was eventually sold to Carnival Cruise Lines and was the second ship Carnival ever owned. It sailed under its new name Caribe and was eventually scrapped in 2009. The Goulandris family still operates a ship chartering business in Greece and London.
Our cruise photo sits in our daughter’s living room.