Occupations throughout my life have, for the most part, been very enjoyable. Someone once told me that if you like 75 percent of your job, it’s good. No job is perfect. I have spent my employed years as a radio actor on a soap opera as a kid, then a television director and producer, a tour manager, an executive with three cruise lines, a general manager for an air ticket company, as well as being a personality on radio. I have probably forgotten several.
In the late 1980s I was in Berlin taking in some of the great art the city has to offer. During this time I was invited with a friend to attend a dinner in the home of an Egyptian who had a very nice apartment in Berlin. At the dinner were his lovely wife and five other people. It was an illustrious occasion with a string quartet to entertain after the meal. The dinner itself was gourmet all the way with the finest wines available.
The host, I discovered, owned the largest bus company in Cairo, a small airline and was finishing putting together a three-boat Nile cruise company.
During the dinner conversation it was revealed that I had been employed as an executive with three cruise lines. The Egyptian nearly jumped out of his chair and told me about his new Nile cruise company. He said, “You must come to Egypt and be the general manager of this company.”
He said it as an order!
I hardly knew what to say. I stated that we should get together at another time while I was still in Berlin. We decided the next afternoon would be good for us both and ended the subject.
The next day I made my way again to his apartment and we sat down to discuss his offer. First of all, you should know that I was not employed at the time by choice. It was a period in my life to just kick back, do some traveling and take it easy. The gentleman gave me the details of his Nile cruise company and stated that he had commissioned three deluxe river boats to operate five- and six-day cruises for foreign tourists to enjoy the many antiquities found in the Nile valley. These are all world famous as you know and are from 3,000 to 7,000 years old. We’re talking temples, tombs, carvings and statuary that are found in textbooks the world over. Most located on or very near the Nile River.
At the end of the meeting I told the man that I appreciated his offer to join his new company, but I was enjoying the time off. He told me that he needed me now and gave me an offer that was difficult to refuse, but I did.
When I returned to my home in Los Angeles the next week he called twice and practically begged me to come to Egypt and work for him. To make this part of the story rather short, he called almost every other day for three weeks sweetening the offer each time.
Finally, I accepted – the offer could not be refused.
Not only was the salary most generous and paid in U.S. dollars, but he promised to fly me to any Mediterranean city after working four days per week to enjoy three days in Europe the balance of the week. All expenses paid. He rented an apartment in the best facility in Cairo and supplied me with a car and driver, plus a butler. How can you say no to that?
My friends in Los Angeles told me that I had probably made a mistake, but wished me well. Another friend who had lived in Egypt told me to wash my hands after handling the money and to never swim in the Nile. It contained living creatures that get inside your skin and go into your blood stream.
On the appointed day, I departed for the airport and boarded Egypt Air for the long flight to Cairo. The plane made intermediate stops in New York and Paris and finally we landed in Cairo.
A fellow holding a sign with my name met me and I went over to him and identified myself. He escorted me through customs and immigration, claimed my luggage, stepped into my new Mercedes and off we headed for Cairo.
About halfway into the city the car began to sputter then quit. It must have been 110 degrees outside. I asked my driver what was wrong and he said he had run out of gas. Now, if your new boss was arriving from abroad and you were to meet and transport him and his luggage to his new residence, wouldn’t you have made sure the automobile had a full tank of gas?
If I had known up front what I was getting into with the Egypt assignment, I would have told my driver to turn around and head back to the airport so I could board a flight back to the U.S.
After a few minutes waiting in the car with the windows rolled down and stalled on the side of the highway and getting hotter by the second the driver hailed a car to stop. He explained our situation and the other driver pulled a hose from the trunk of his car, placed it in his gas tank with the other end in our tank and siphoned gas from his car to ours.
The apartment was actually situated on top of the best hotel in Cairo. I guess it should have been called a penthouse. Very nice throughout. It had several bedrooms, four bathrooms, formal dining room and a living room with views of most of Cairo. The neighborhood was much like that of Beverly Hills. I discovered later that this hotel was where most of the visiting royalty of the Middle East stayed when in Egypt. There were usually 18 to 20 family members and staff. The prince or king, his wives and children and staff would occupy an entire floor. It was interesting to watch.
Anyway, back to my account of working in Egypt. My first day on the job was spent in the home office of the company. I was assigned a nice office with a complete staff to assist in the duties of making this Nile cruise company work. All spoke fairly good English.
The three boats were built along the Nile in a suburb of Cairo and that was the beginning of my troubles. Little worked! They looked as though they were put together with spit and mud. Maybe they were!
The fitting out had supposedly been finished and the boats were about to be positioned 300 miles south of Cairo at Luxor.
On the second day there I went aboard the three examples of Egyptian boat construction and made notes of what I thought was required to make them a true luxury product on the world tourism market. The owner agreed to most of my suggestions and quickly, within a few days, all seemed to be ready for the repositioning.
Already hired were the boat general managers (they don’t have captains) and staff and crew. Each boat had a Swiss chef to manage the galleys and dining facilities. They did all the food planning and oversaw preparation.
The owner wanted the onboard ambiance to be like that of a cruise ship that operates out of the United States.
Since this was the Middle East, there is no liquor allowed, anywhere. I had to invent drinks that looked boozy without the kick! I trained the staff to attend the guests as crews would on an international cruise ship.
Well, I ordered a mock cocktail party using some of the office employees to pretend to be passengers. At the appointed time, the crew was a no-show! Soon I discovered that the general manager of the one boat I was first training resented me and told the crew not to attend.
Things got worse as none of the three boat managers would respond to my orders. I went to the owner who stated he could not fire the managers as they were close friends and relatives. After some meetings things got a little better for a short time.
We began taking on guests and started our five-day cruises. On the second day of our first cruise 70 percent of the passengers had become ill with vomiting. It happened on the second boat and again on the third. This continued for three months and the only conclusion we could come up with was that none of the galleys were air-conditioned and would reach temperatures of more than 112 degrees during the day. The food would spoil! I purchased large fans, but this changed little. They just blew the hot air around.
Often I would accompany the chefs ashore to watch the food buying from the local vendors. The meats would be covered with a zillion flies. Bon Appétit!
I was so embarrassed with the illnesses, the rather poor attitude onboard of the crews and the lack of respect from the general managers of each boat I finally threw in the towel and came back to Los Angeles.
And by the way, all during this time I never did take any time off to enjoy three-day weekends in Europe. It remains the worst job I have ever held!