Friday, December 28, 2012

No thanks, I'll walk

Rule #3 of Tugboating states, “Keep your name out of the newspaper.”
In the maritime sense of the rule, normally that would apply to things such as making sure your maximum draft doesn’t exceed the minimum depth of water (a.k.a. don’t run aground) or avoid occupying the exact same spot at the exact moment as another vessel (don’t hit anybody).  However, the rule can also apply in other situations. Such as today’s adventure. I was positive my name was going to be in the newspaper.
In the obituary section.

Our boat travels all over the East and Gulf coasts of the United States. Which means you are never quite sure where, or when, crew change is going to happen.  We have changed crew in ports as far south as Brownsville, Texas (right on the border with Mexico) to as far north as Portland, Maine and just about every port in between. My favorite, of course, being Corpus Christi, TX. So we fly into and out of all kinds of different airports. We then meet up with a van driver who takes us from the airport to whatever dock the boat happens to be at. Some drivers are great. A slight bribe of paying for their dinner will usually get you a stop off at a burger joint to get you a quick bite to eat. Or a stop off at Denny’s (R.I.P.) in New Orleans was always one of our favorite stops.
Other drivers are, well, let’s just be kind and say they are a little bit “off”.
“Is that a gun?”
“Sure is. Never can be too safe.”
“What kind is it?”
“Not sure. Never had it out of the holster. I think it’s a .9mm caliber round Coltglockchester thingy. Let me see…” As he proceeds to wave it aimlessly around the vehicle.
Four Rules of Gun Safety, my friend! Four Rules!

Tonight’s driver, on the other hand…

Holy Hell !!!
To start with, he was approximately 652 years old. Now there is nothing wrong with octogenarians driving all over the countryside terrorizing the nation’s Superhighways. But this guy needs to have his license taken away and burned in a blast furnace as soon as humanly possible. A “menace to the roads” does not even begin to describe how bad this guy was. 

This guy is supposed to be a “Professional Driver”. It is his job to drive people around. He even admitted to me that he used to be a driver of a charter bus that would take people to the casinos outside of New Orleans. So these people would not only gamble all of their money away but would also roll the dice with their lives by letting this guy drive a charter bus (see what I did there?) 

It began with us exiting the terminal where we crew changed. “This road doesn’t look familiar. Is this Oil Terminal Road (or whatever the hell road we were on)?”  
Okay. Let me get this straight. He just drove down this road to bring the on-coming crew to the boat. He exited the terminal at the exact spot that he entered it. For some reason the road doesn’t look familiar to him? 

But it gets better. Oh, so much better.

We turned onto the main road by turning rightleftstraightleft and then proceeded to drive down the exact middle of our side of the road. Literally, the white-striped line, used to segregate the two lanes on our side, went directly down the middle of the van. It was like he was driving the cars at Disney World where there is a rail that runs down the middle of the car so the cars stay on the track.

Stay on target!

Then, we just stopped on the side of the road. Actually, it wasn’t the side of the road. There was no real side of the road. It was road, one foot of space, sidewalk. So we pretty much stopped on the edge of the right hand lane as he wrote down something on his clipboard. He then pulled back into the street and decided it would be a good time to have a sandwich. As he was trying to unwrap his dinner we were swerving all over the roadway. At one point our Captain asked, “Would you like some help with that?” As his fears of us being run full speed into an oncoming vehicle was quickly becoming a real possibility. We had been in the van for less than 3 minutes and I was already wishing I had a full fire-proof race suit and a helmet. A quick glance around the van confirmed my trepidation, as the rest of the crew were all trying to get as much slack as humanly possible out of their own seatbelts. White knuckle ride, here we come!

Speed limits were of no concern to our driver. Not that he was exceeding them. But 45 miles per hour is not really a recommended speed for an Interstate Highway. There was hardly any traffic on the roads at 1 am (thankfully) but that didn’t stop our driver from just randomly switching lanes. I wanted him to stay in the middle lane. That way we had more room to drift all over the highway before we smashed into the divider on either side of the road. A large percentage of the time we weren’t even on the road itself. Our driver was under the impression that the break-down lane was a legitimate lane of travel. As was the triangle that marks where the road divides as you come up to an exit. More than once More than a dozen times, I thought we were going to exit the highway and/or plow head first into the stripped orange barrels that shelter the concrete divider from on-coming traffic. And this continued for every single exit that we passed on the way to the airport. He would slam on the brakes, read the sign, swerve into the center lane, speed up, drive towards the divider, straddle the right/middle lane, look like he was going to exit, then proceed on at 45 mph until we got to the next exit and then do the exact same sequence of events. I’m not really sure that he had any idea where the airport actually was. Miraculously, we didn’t die, and by pure luck, we arrived at the airport. 

Now, Houston is served by two different airports, Hobby and George Bush Intercontinental. We had made it to Hobby, where all six of my lucky crew mates were flying out of. I, on the other hand, was just beginning my harrowing journey. I was lucky enough to be forced to stay in the van and go all the way to the other side of Houston to IAH airport. I was not looking forward to it.

The second leg started out much the same as the first. We pulled out into traffic by doing the infamous leftrightstraightleft and then stopped in the middle of the road, just as we had done previously. He proceeded to try to get his bearings fully stopped in the middle of traffic. Which was the most logical place to do, compared to trying to do it while we were sitting in the parking lot. I kept checking behind us as we sat there, hoping upon all hope, that the oncoming traffic would realize in enough time that we were completely stopped and that they could avoid ramming into us from behind and killing me and our intrepid driver in a giant fireball of death and destruction.

Somehow we managed to find the highway. The giant signs may have been a good indicator. And off we went with more of the same random lane switching and confusing exiting/not exiting/breakdown lane/median type shenanigans. 
I wish I could really impress upon you how all over the road this guy was. There was almost no traffic on the highway. No one to pass (not that this guy was going fast enough to pass anyone).  No one to move over for. Nothing.
But we were going from the right lane to the far left lane for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Continuously.  It was a four lane highway and, apparently, he was going to use every single bit of it. 

I'm coming out of the booth!
This leg of the trip had an added twist to it. It was a toll road. So not only did we have to negotiate the multitude of exits. But we also had the added fun of toll booths. This particular van was equipped with EZ-Pass (or the Texas equivalent there-of). Therefore, he only had to drive past the toll booths in order to pay the toll. The first one we passed he managed to pull it off. Barely. He slammed on the brakes and swerved, narrowly avoiding the plastic stakes segregating the toll lanes, just as we were about to enter the Cash Only lane. The second toll both caught him off guard. You would have thought the first one would have served as a warning. Straight into the toll lanes we went. Exact Change Only lane at that. The one with the scary arm that prevents you from blowing through the toll lane at 65 mph. This confused him. So he put the van in park and was preparing to get out. I’m not sure if he was going to get out and go rip off the arm so we could continue or what. Then he decided to back up. Which is always a good idea on a highway. Then he decided to blow the horn to get the attention of the toll booth attendant. Where he proceeded to explain that he had EZ-Pass and that he was a complete idiot and shouldn’t be allowed on the road. Okay, he might not have said that last part. Mercifully, the gate went up and off we went. Except we didn’t. He had the van in neutral. Once he figured out the intricate mechanical workings off an automatic transmission, we were off. 

Once again, he started to do his now famous exit/not exit routine. But this time we actually took an exit ramp. 
Now I’m not from the area. But usually when you are going to a major airport there are GIANT signs announcing that the airport is this way --->.  But there was no GIANT sign. There wasn’t even a little sign. So I found it a bit odd that we were taking this particular exit to get to the airport. I found it even odder when we pulled into a convenience store parking lot. 
He stopped the van and we sat there. 
In awkward silence. 
I wasn’t sure if this guy was going to go get something to eat, go get gas, fall asleep, or kill me and throw me into a ditch. 
We sat there for a good 2 minutes.
I tried to delve into his psyche by trying to start a conversation, “You getting tired?”
“A little bit.”
More awkward silence and no movement. Well this can’t end well.

Eventually, we started to move again. We pulled out onto the main road and proceeded to stop at the traffic light. A GREEN traffic light. 
The light cycled all the way through. 
It turned green again. 
We sat there. 

“That sign says ‘East’” our directionally challenged driver remarked to no one in particular. 
Finally! Confirmation. I’m not going to wind up dead in a ditch. 
We were lost. 
The “Professional Driver” had no clue where he was. So I fired up my cell phone, plugged in the information for the airport, and off we went. Again. 
Low and behold, 5 miles down the road was a GIANT sign for the airport.
I made it! 
Or so I thought.

I was flying US Airways, which was located in Terminal A. Which I pointed out to him. 
As we passed the GIANT sign for Terminal A, I pointed that out to him as well. 
As we got closer to the exit for Terminal A I once again mentioned that Terminal A was where we wanted to go. 
That we should be in the left hand lane to go to Terminal A. 
That we should really be in the left hand lane as the exit is very close.
And as we got to the exit for Terminal A.... we went straight. 
Right towards Terminals B, C, D, and E.
So close!

So we circled the entire airport and eventually found the exit for Terminal A again. As we got close to the terminal I mentioned that it was US Airways departures. 
Upper level. 
Up there. 
To the left. 
 <--- That way! 
And we proceeded to drive right past where we needed to go.

At that point I just wanted out.
“Just stop right here. I’ll walk.”
“Are you sure?” remarked our confused senior citizen.

My hand prints may very well be a permanent fixture to the arm rest in that van.

Next time, I may just take a cab.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

'Twas the Night- Tugboat Version

This year, we were on the boat for Thanksgiving, as documented HERE.
Which means we are also on the boat for Christmas. Yippy!
I have also mentioned that we tend to get a little stir crazy sitting at anchor. Proof located HERE.
So with a little bit of free time, you end up getting my take on a holiday classic.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas- Tugboat Version

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the tug,
the only thing brewing, was the coffee for my mug.
The lines were all carefully stowed, everything ready for sea,
while thoughts of being home with family were entertaining me.

The tankermen were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of cakes and cookies danced in their heads.
And the Engineer in his coveralls, and I in my watch cap,
had just been awoken from our off-watch nap

When out on the boat deck there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the wheelhouse to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
turned on the deck lights and opened the hatch.

As the spotlight shone on the water, as it did churn,
gave the lustre of midday to an object just off the stern.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but an overtaking motorboat, overloaded with gear.

With a little old helmsman, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick,
Alongside he came, with not even a bump,
he boarded our tug with a most graceful jump.

Now Moran! Now Reinauer!
Now, Hornbeck and Kirby!
On, Bouchard! On, McAllister!
On, Buchannan and Crowley!
From the Port of Houston!
To the Long Island Sound!
To ports near and far,
Is where you are all found.

He was dressed in foul weather gear, from his cap to his boot,
and his clothes were all tarnished, like an engineer covered in soot.
A very large ditty bag he had flung onto his back,
and looked a lot happier than any crew that was returning back.

His eyes—how they twinkled! Range lights not nearly as bright!
His cheeks were like roses, like the deckhand’s on a winter’s night.
His droll little mouth was drawn up, a bright smile to see,
and the beard on his chin was a white as a following sea.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, I was reminded of myself.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath

He spoke not a word, but proceeded straight to the galley
He restocked all the grub, refreshed the coffee as a finale
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, out the engine room door he goes.

He sprang to his boat, to the pilot gave permission
And away they motored, into the expansive ocean
But I heard him exclaim, as they proceeded to some far away slip,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a safe trip!”

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

How much? To where?

Give me a vector, Victor.

Airlines confuse me. 

Not that I don’t understand how airplanes work. Curved upper surface of the wing creates a low pressure area as the air is accelerated over the wing causing lift which overcomes the downward force of gravity. 
I get that.

I don’t understand the airline pricing structure. At all.

Take, for instance, our most recent crew change. 

I usually fly out of Charlotte, NC. Airport code: CLT. This week, it was going to cost approximately $700 for a direct flight from CLT to Houston, TX. Now take into consideration that CLT is about 600 miles closer to Houston than New York City. So you could reason that a 600 mile difference would make the flight from CLT cheaper than one from New York.  However, it was also going to cost the rest of the crew approximately $700 to fly direct from the New York City area.
So much for that theory. 

If you fly with a connection through a hub airport, such as Atlanta, flights are usually cheaper. So my company booked me on a flight with a connection. I mentioned Atlanta because that happens to be Delta’s hub in the southeast. So, naturally, you would think that on a flight from CLT to IAH (Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston) on Delta airlines, you might pass through Atlanta. You would be wrong.  Did you know Delta also has a hub in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota? You do now. For some reason, a flight from CLT to IAH is cheaper to fly north, almost to the Canadian border, and then south to Houston. How much cheaper you ask with piqued interest? $580 cheaper. You heard that right. A flight from CLT > Minnesota > IAH was only $120. Someone please explain that to me?  

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Or is it?

Perhaps it’s an anomaly. 
A one-time thing. 
Some crazy sale on flights through beautiful Minnesota. 
They all seem to be that way.

Well, there's your problem right there.

When it’s time to go home the prices are just as screwy. Flights from IAH to LGA (LaGuardia Airport) are about $250 on average. 
IAH to CLT?   $600!!!
Here is where the airlines lose me again. 
The flight from IAH to LGA goes THROUGH Charlotte! 

Here is when I’m going to save you intrepid travelers a few of your hard earned greenbacks.

If you ever have to fly with just carry-on luggage (if you are packing enough luggage to go on some sort of 9 week vacation, this won’t work) and your flight ends at a hub airport, book a flight to somewhere else. On my flights home I have booked my destinations to Chicago, St. Louis, Miami, New York, and Tampa to just name a few. All of which have a connection that goes through Charlotte. It is cheaper to book to somewhere else and just get off the plane when you land at the hub. Easy.

The flight routes don’t make much sense either. Obviously, the Minnesota detour seemed a bit odd. But we also did a crew change in Norfolk, VA that made just as much sense.

My flight went from Charlotte, north to Newark, NJ and then back to Norfolk, VA. The rest of my crew went from Newark, NJ, south to Charlotte, and then to Norfolk, VA. So we passed each other in the air, went to the airport where the others started their flight from, and then backtracked back to the airport that we had already flown past. It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out it would have been easier for me to fly from CLT to Norfolk, since there was a flight from CLT to Norfolk anyway. And the rest of the crew to fly from Newark to Norfolk, since that was where my connecting flight was coming from.

So not only do we have to worry about when, and where, we are crew changing. But we also have to have some sort of an advanced degree in order to figure out how, and how much, it is going to cost to fly home. 

 I have to stop now. It’s making my head hurt.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Go towards the light

This post has absolutely ZERO to do with anything crew change related...that will come later.

Like a good husband and father, today I was hanging up our Christmas lights outside. I was stretching up way too high in an attempt to reach the gutter, because some jackwagon decided to put a safety warning sticker on the ladder saying I shouldn't go "above this step", even though I needed to go up at least one more rung in order to properly reach said gutter.
It was at that moment that I felt a pull in my chest muscle region.
It kind of hurt. But, I soldiered on in order to get "the lights hung by the chimney with care".

Later, we were driving over to a friend's house to deliver dinner to her, because that's what friends do, when all hell broke loose.
As we pulled into her driveway, I sneezed.
And proceeded to die.
Or at least that is what I thought happened.
Apparently, when your chest hurts, you shouldn't sneeze.
At all.
I put my head down on the steering wheel and cried a little bit inside.
Getting old sucks.
That warning label guy is going to get punched in the face.
Just as soon as I can breath again.

And so begins my time off.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stir Crazy

We have been sitting at anchor for 5 days waiting on a berth to become available. You know what you do while sitting at anchor for 5 days waiting for a berth to become available? You go stir crazy. And not stir crazy in the sense of "funny, ha-ha" kind of Stir Crazy, starring Richard Pryor.
The weird kind.

You end up with a lot of time to think. Reflect on life. Count your blessings. Ponder the vastness of the universe. Of course, that would be what normal people would do.
Me? Not so much.
I contemplate the financing options of a Russian T-55 main battle tank.
I dream of the items that will go onto the menu of my "Bacon Restaurant".
I think to myself, "Just how close to an active volcano can a person get before bursting into flames?"
It's not good.

Basically, I'm just trying to keep my mind off the fact that even though we have been sitting at anchor for 5 days waiting on a berth to become available, I know crew change is going to get screwed up.

That is, of course, the impetus of this blog after-all.

So tonight, my focus happened to drift towards beer. Now I'm not a huge beer drinker. In fact, there are a few bottles of Samuel Adams Octoberfest still in my fridge. From last year.

However, the synapses in my brain just happened to electronically fire off and send my imagination wandering in the direction of beer.
Specifically, a new micro-brew that I think someone should come up with. (I have neither the time, nor the talent to start my own micro-brew.)

It shall be of the Ale type.

Something in an Irish red type of blend.

And it should be called.....

wait for it......

Soulless Ginger Ale!

I know!!! Genius, right?!

The logo may need some more work
See what happens when you sit at anchor for 5 days waiting on a berth?

In other news, the Powerball Jackpot is going to be +$425 million on Wednesday. If I hit the jackpot we can all have tanks, open up bacon restaurants, and start our own micro-brews that we want to. I just need someone to hook me up with the winning ticket. Not too many 7-11's out here. I'll split it with you.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy ...Day!

Tugboat food does NOT look like this

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you are a mariner, and at work, Happy Thursday!

Or is it Monday?

The problem with working out to sea is that you sometimes lose track of the days. A typical 9 to 5er’s schedule goes from Monday to Friday, with the two all glorious days of the weekend remaining in order to cut loose a little.

A mariner’s schedule goes- Monday, Monday, Monday, Monday, Monday…etc. for two weeks straight (or however long a hitch they happen to be working). It then proceeds to go… Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, Saturday…etc. for however long they have off. There are no weekends, weekdays, Holidays, whatever. You are on. Or you are off. Simple.

Except it’s not.  

The rest of the world is still slave to the calendar.

This summer, I was on my time off, and my wife and I decided to meet up with some friends to have lunch. With the kids in tow, we meet up at the local burger joint fully expecting a similar family unit to meet us there. Except, they were missing one member of their party.
“Where is Jon?”
“He’s working.”
“Why is he working today?”
“It’s Wednesday.”

Which is funny, if it were just a one-time occurrence. 

Another time this summer, my wife and I were out grocery shopping. We both were surprised that the construction workers were working on a Sunday building the new development across from the store.
“They must really be under the gun to finish that project up soon if they are all working on the weekend.”
Or it was a Thursday. We weren’t even close. 

At least it’s a little better when the kids are in school. At least they have to conform to the M to F / 9 to 5er’s schedule. But once summer vacation happens, it’s a free-for-all. Every day is a Saturday. Or a holiday. As shown, it’s pretty easy to lose track. 

So a Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Or a Happy Monday, as the case may be.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Internet is a Dangerous Place

I’m not talking about the Craigslist Killer or being infected with a computer virus. It also has nothing to do with stolen credit cards or identity theft.  I’m talking about a bigger, more serious problem…internet shopping. Buying stuff on the internet is way too easy.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE shopping on the internet. It is a rare moment when I have to go to the store to buy something I need. And the UPS guy is very familiar with our address in the weeks preceding Christmas time. The big problem is that you can buy ANYTHING on the internet.

Case in point… I want a tank. Not a water tank, compressed-air tank, or an oil tank. I want a military surplus main battle tank. Who doesn’t?
Freeze, gopher!

It’s a bit of an obsession. On par with my bacon obsession. 

I want to buy 100+ acres of land and drive my main battle tank around the yard. Park it in the driveway. Keep the riff-raff away. That kind of thing.

The problem is, the internet. Of course, they have main battle tanks for sale. 

Need a quote for delivery for a German tank from Dusselberg? Yeah, they can do that.
How about a Russian T-55? Sure. It's located in California.
You got a World War II U.S. surplus Sherman tank? You betcha.  Head on up to Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, to take a look at one. Or two.
It’s too damn easy. 

Just last week, I decided it would be a good idea to look on the internet to see how much a main battle would actually cost. It wasn’t a good idea.

I found a surplus Russian T-55 main battle tank for sale for $85K.

$85,000!!! That’s totally reasonable!

I’ll sell my car. Who needs a car anymore with a tank in the garage? However, I may have to skip going through the drive through at McDonalds. Then again, maybe not. Who is going to turn away a tank? 

“Sorry, sir. You can’t bring a tank through the drive through.”
“Colin (my kid and self-appointed gunner/tank commander), load an armor piercing round. Aim for the fry-o-lator.”
“On second thought. Thank you for your order, sir.  Please drive through.”

The only real issue I might have with buying a main battle tank is trying to convince the bank that I need financing for it. Can you imagine the phone conversation for that?

“First Goliath National Bank (not a real bank). How can I help you today?”
“I’d like $85K in order to buy a tank. Can you help me with that?”

Thankfully, my friends are just as bad as I am.

My friend Mark suggested, “Just show up with the tank at their front door and make them an offer they can’t refuse.”

With friends like that, who needs enemies?

He may just get the first ride.

Now where did I put my credit card?