Former Somerset Library intern a drummer at sea
It's about that time, when people long to take a vacation somewhere warm and exciting. Jay Bodin, 38, a former Somerset Public Library intern, has a job that gives him just that.
Bodin, a Hudson resident, is currently performing as a drummer on the Oasis of the Seas Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
Right now, he's somewhere between Fort Lauderdale, Fla., St. Thomas, St. Martin, Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico.
Bodin has been a musician since he was about 10 years old.
He's substituted on Broadway shows, played six nights a week with a jazz band in Switzerland and eventually was given the opportunity to perform on a cruise ship.
His first voyage in 2001 took him on a three-month world cruise and then three months between ports in New Zealand and Australia.
"I thought that was an opportunity that I could not pass up," Bodin recalled. "I thought it was my only chance to travel to the southern hemisphere, so I took it."
His first experience wasn't what he'd expected.
He was told he'd be playing a Big Band gig, but quickly found he'd actually be a show drummer, which was a little out of his comfort zone.
"I was a jazz drummer. I didn't really care about playing rock or pop. I wasn't into that and I really didn't have the technique for that (show drumming). But here I was, thrown into this on the other side of the world in Cape Town, South Africa," he said.
It didn't take long for Bodin to adapt, though.
"Once I got into the gig and the lifestyle, I found out I was very good at it," he said.
In the last 10 years he's earned the title of musical director of a ship and he's even performed with Barry Manilow and Celine Dion.
Being a show performer isn't all glitz and glam, though.
"You miss having your own room, things being your own and being in one place," Bodin said. "The thing I miss the most is being able to go someplace at night."
Even though he's able to explore on land during the day, Bodin's nights are always spent performing on the ship.
"I've done three full months without a night off," he said.
Bodin said performers typically have an hour-long rehearsal in the afternoon and two shows every night.
"Once you get to port, you can do whatever you want. Usually from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. you've got the day off. You can go to the beach or on tours," he said. "You're trapped and you have freedom at the same time."
Bodin has taken full advantage of the opportunity his occupation has given him to explore new areas.
"I've been fortunate enough to perform on world cruises and go on enough things, where I've been to 126 countries," he said.
Of the 100-plus countries he's visited, St. Petersburg, Russia is Bodin's favorite.
"It's like nothing else. It's very poor, but it's so interesting. There's so much history and culture," he said.
Bodin, an art history major, said he tries to visit an art museum at every location he visits.
He says it's those enriching experiences that make up for the bad food, drunken roommates and lack of a night life on the ship.
On his journeys to unfamiliar locations, Bodin has dealt with language barriers and even a corrupt Russian cop, while on a personal extended vacation between cruises.
He considers the cop incident his "Jason Bourne" experience.
While at a Russian bar, Bodin was approached by an undercover police officer who demanded to see his passport.
After explaining why he was in the country, Bodin asked for his passport back, but the cop refused to return it unless Bodin gave him more than $1,000 in cash.
Unable and unwilling to pay the ransom for his passport, Bodin said he opted to grab his passport and run.
"He took off after me, with two other guys, chasing me down the street," he said.
Luckily, Bodin was familiar with the streets, since he'd been there for six weeks.
He eventually escaped the drunken, corrupt cops by crossing a raised bridge and entering an underground jazz club.
He says his frequent trips to the Caribbean have been far less adventurous.
It hasn't always been smooth sailing on the sea for Bodin, though.
On his first voyage on a small, 600-passenger ship in 2001, Bodin experienced a severe storm at sea while the ship traveled from New Zealand to Australia.
"It was an absolutely massive storm. The ship rocked so violently it knocked everything over. It knocked the piano into the drum set. The drum set was completely crushed," Bodin said. "If we would have been there (performing), we would have been severely hurt or killed. Luckily, they cancelled the shows at night because it was too rough -- which is something they rarely do."
The ship was stranded at sea for three days, unable to reach a port.
"We had to tie ourselves to our bunks so we didn't fall out," he recalled.
In regard to the recent ship wreck off the Turkish coast, Bodin says a severe situation like that is uncommon.
He says all ship crews are trained to do certain things in the event of a disaster -- they undergo Coast Guard drills, fire drills, emergency escape drills and more.
By international law, passengers are also required to do safety drills before embarking on a cruise lasting more than 24 hours, he said.
Typically it takes three to four hours for a ship to sink, due to technology that allows compartment doors to be electronically closed, which is more than enough time to load lifeboats, Bodin claims.
He says the massive size of the hole in the Costa Concordia did not allow adequate time for crews to get passengers on lifeboats.
"That was really out of the ordinary. It would be very difficult for the crew to line people up and get them in the lifeboats when the boats are hanging off the side of the ship," he said.
Bodin says he's never really worried about his safety while out at sea.
Bodin admits he has an untraditional lifestyle.
"I don't have a home. I don't have a 401(k). I don't have a traditional 9-5 job," he said.
His work schedule usually includes four to six months performing and six weeks, or more, off.
During his time between cruises, Bodin stays with friends in various locations around the country and world.
Though Bodin feels fortunate for the experiences he's had performing on cruise ships, he says he'd like to attend graduate school someday.