Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Good 'Ole Days

Technology sure has transformed the maritime industry. I could go on and on about advances in RADAR, AIS, GPS, SONAR, and a whole host of other maritime related acronyms. But what I’m really talking about is advances in communication devices, namely, cell phones. 

When I first started in the business there were no cell phones. If you wanted to talk to your loved ones, family members, friends, probation officer, or just a good divorce lawyer, the only way to communicate with them was a good old pay phone. Obviously, there are some logistical problems with using pay phones when you work on boats. Most glaringly, there are no pay phones on boats. Your only option was to wait until you get to a dock in order to use one. After a while, you knew the location of every single pay phone, at every single dock, in every single terminal, in every single port that you went to. Now just because you managed to figure out the location of all of the payphones on the eastern seaboard, you still had to deal with a bunch of other issues. 
The now extinct "payphone". For the younger crowd.
Namely, just because you finally were able to get to the dock and find a working pay phone, there was no guarantee that the person you wanted to talk to was going to be near their phone. Many a conversation was dashed to pieces by the phone ringing and ringing and ringing etc. only to fall on deaf ears. Back in the day some people didn’t even have answering machines. On occasion, even that didn’t matter. Case in point, even today, I call my parents and their answering machine has the ‘robo-voice’ greeting on it. I love technology. How my parents have not managed to embrace the technological advances in the world and yet still have me as a child is mind boggling. 

Another issue that I had concerning pay phones was that my wife was still in college when I first started working on boats. At the time, she didn’t have a private phone in her room. So I was forced to call another payphone that was in the hallway of her dorm in order to talk to her. After being at anchor for over a week, all you could hope for was that some kind soul would answer the phone and then attempt to find her so that we could talk. More often than not, it just rang and rang. Sometimes you would get someone. Sometimes they might even go look for her. Sometimes they just left the phone hanging off the hook. Sometimes you just listened to the conversations in the background of an off the hook phone just because it was all you had. Sometimes, on the very rare occasion, we actually got to talk to one another. In retrospect, I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t more than one mariner type relationship that had ended because of payphones.
“No, sorry. She isn’t here.”
“That’s too bad. Hey, what are you doing tonight?” Or something along those lines. 

For some reason, she stuck with me through the payphone days.
Then came the cell phone era. As with the beginning of most things, it started with one. 

One hitch, the Chief Engineer on a long past boat, came back with this new miracle of communication. It might as well have been a communicator from Star Trek as far as we were concerned.
"No Service"...Damn it, Spock!!!...
The cost per minute for using this new cell phone was absolutely ridiculous. The cell phone tower coverage sucked. It was ugly, unwieldy, and unreliable.
And we all had to have one!!!
The days of standing out in the snow and rain waiting for your turn on the only payphone within 50 miles was over!

It started with the Chief’s phone. A trip or two later the Captain had one. Then someone else bought one.
Eventually, when we sat down at the galley table for dinner, there was a pile of cell phones in the middle of the table. Should one of them ring, it was a mad scramble to determine who the proper owner of the phone was. No personalized ring tones back in the day.
Hello?... Hello?... Hello?...

Fast forward to today. Everyone has a cell phone. Most are smart phones. Most have more computing power then some of those early day RADARs, AIS units, and other assorted letter jumble electronics we have aboard.
Right up until it breaks.
Which is where we are today. 

My wife’s cell phone broke. Technical support (me) from a few hundred miles away wasn’t able to fix it. She is now cell phoneless. An absolutely horrible condition in today’s technological world. 

Calls to the house went unanswered. Messages left on the answering machine were ignored.
It was like being back in the old days of the payphone all over again. The horror!

A new cell phone is on order. In the interim, she had a friend give her an old phone that she had lying around. It might be able to send text messages. It might not. Either way, it is a phone. We can talk once again. Honestly, if she happened to look in one of our kids toy boxes she probably would have been able to find my original cell phone. It got retired on 9/11/01 after the terrorist attacks. I got frustrated, threw it on the galley table, and smashed the screen. Yet the thing still worked. Probably still does. Try that with one of today’s smart phones.
You never forget your first

With all of that being said, sometimes it’s nice not being in constant communication with the rest of the world. There aren’t any cell phone towers offshore. And some of the places we go, the phone and internet service is spotty, at best. It’s nice to be “off the grid” every now and then.

Then again, it is also nice to be able to talk to my wife and kids when I’m at work. 

Plus, it also means I get to look for a new phone when I get home. Why should she be the only one with a cool new cell phone?


  1. LOL - the days of sitting on the family phone talking to the latest 'love of my life' and trying not to let the whole family hear me are long gone !
    Have the best day !

  2. Two days without my phone, I missed god knows how many calls, a doctors appointment, I forgot my work commitments and who knows how many photo ops. Still not as bad as returning home from a 3 minute trip only to realize I'd missed your call and would more than likely have to wait another week before I got another chance.