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.

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