Saturday, August 9, 2014

Time Flies

Many, many tides ago.

Ten years ago I was working for a different tugboat company moving aggregate (which is just a fancy way of saying ‘rocks and dirt’) all around the Northeast. We were headed up the Hudson River with a couple of empty barges to meet up with another tug. They were coming down the river with a couple of loaded barges.  Somewhere along the line we were going to meet up so that we could swap out the light barges for the loaded barges and then turn around and head back in our respective directions from hence we had come from.

It was 1:30 in the morning, I was steering the boat and had just passed under the Bear Mountain Bridge, when my cell phone rang.
Now we all know that nothing good can ever come from a phone call after 9PM. No one from Publisher’s Clearing House ever wakes you up at Zero Dark Thirty to tell you that you had just won $1 million a year for life. Ever.

However, my wife was expecting our first child at the time. And even though we had just gone to the doctor’s the day before, where he assured us that it was safe for me to go back to work because it didn’t look as though our child was ready to join us quite yet, I had a feeling that this phone call was to inform me that that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping that my wife was just calling to see how things we going because she had woken up and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I was wrong.
“My water just broke.”
There it is folks. Straight to the point.

Now even though this was our first child. And even though I didn’t attend medical school. And even though I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express. I knew that when the levy breaks, the kid is coming. Whether you happen to be away from home working on a tugboat, or not.

“Don’t worry. I talked to the doctor and he said we have plenty of time and that everything is fine. I’m just going to pack up some things and head down to the hospital. When can you get off the boat?”
First thing, the doctor (who had said the day before we had plenty of time) was now assuring us we had plenty of time. Again.
Secondly, it’s 1:30 in the morning. I’m headed up the Hudson River. I just can’t hope off the boat and drive home. No one is in the office to find me a relief. No one will even be in the office for at least another 6 hours. Logistically speaking, I’m going to need plenty of time.
Unfortunately, I had plenty of time. To sit there and try and figure out how I was going to be able to make this work. It was a LONG night of standing watch.
Just before 0600 the Captain came up to relieve me. I needed to be relieved. Even another phone call from my wife saying she was at the hospital, everything was good, and she was going to take a nap wasn’t a relief.
“We gotta get you out of here”, was the Captain’s first words after relaying the tale of my stress filled night to him. Which was sweet music to my ears and, finally, a bit of a relief.

As soon as the Port Captain was in the office, the boat Captain was on the phone with him.
They arranged that someone from the office was going to drive up to wherever the boat happened to be to pick me up and take me back so I could pick up my car and head to the hospital. Problem #1 solved. Problem #2 was a bit more complicated. How was I going to get off the boat? The Hudson River doesn’t have a lot of options as far as just showing up with a couple of barges and landing at someone’s dock. Luckily, we just happened to be located just off one of the stone (aggregate) terminals. At this particular terminal the barges are moored offshore. Then a small shifting tug comes out to pick up an empty barge and brings it into the terminal to be loaded. Once loaded, the shifting tug takes the loaded barge back out to the mooring in the river, where a larger tug takes the tow of multiple barges down river to their final destination. As it were, the shifting tug was just starting the day’s work. A quick call over the VHF radio and the guys on the small tug were more than willing to give a desperate guy like me a quick ride into the dock.
A BIG ‘Thank You’ goes out to those guys. I really appreciated it.
They even sent a truck down to the dock to pick me up and take me back to the terminal’s office to await my ride.
That is where things kind of fell apart.

 I phoned the office to let them know that I had made it off the boat and was awaiting my ride at the office of the stone dock. It was then that I learned that my ride had taken a detour on the way to pick me up. A delivery had to be made in The City. New York City, that is. Anyone that is familiar with The City knows that first thing in the morning traffic is a complete and total disaster. My ride was nowhere to be found. And wouldn’t be anywhere to be found for quite some time. My once solved Problem #1 was once again a Problem. And a HUGE one at that. Especially when I called my wife’s phone at the hospital and my neighbor (who had accompanied my wife to the hospital in my absence) answered with, “Where are you?!” Judging by her tone, my “plenty of time” was running out. Quickly. 

Once again, the people at the stone dock were more than willing to help. Back into the truck we went and off to the nearest car rental office we sped.
As we pulled into the local Enterprise Rent-a-Car office, a sales person had just finished checking in a dropped off car. As I jumped out of the still moving truck he astutely asked, “Can I help you, sir?”
“I need a car. I need it now. I don’t care what kind of car it is or how much it costs. I need one NOW.”
“Umm. Okay. Is there a problem?”
“My wife is having our first baby and I would kind of like to be there for it.”
I can only assume that the initially very confused sales person also happened to be a father himself. Because all of a sudden he shifted into high gear and he couldn’t do things fast enough even for his own liking.
“Tommy (or whatever the name of the guy working there was)! Get that car we just checked in back out in front! Now! “
“Do you want the insurance?”
“Honestly, I don’t care. But I’m going to go with ‘yes’ since I’m going to beat the shit out of this car trying to get to the hospital in time,” was my reply.
“Noted. Generally we do a walk around to make sure everything is okay before you rent a car. But you need to get out of here. So everything is fine. Here are the keys. Good luck.”
And with a quick nod and a firm hand shake, I peeled out of the car rental parking lot laying down a patch of rubber that would make the employees of the Goodyear Tire Company smile.

I terrorized the back roads of New York State. I found the entrance to the highway and floored it.

Fun Fact: A 2004 Chevy Aveo rental car can do in excess of 115 miles per hour.
Another fun fact: Said Chevy Aveo also has very good brakes. As when you are doing 115 mph and see a NY State Trooper on the side of the road it is best not to go by him doing triple digits.
The 1.6 Liter, 103 hp Monster of the Road!
I exited NY and screamed in NJ. I was making good time. Then the phone rang.
“Where are you?” was my neighbors query, in a much more subdued tone than our previous conversation.
“I’m 15 minutes out!”
“Slow down. Your son is adorable.”

So slow down I did. To 100 mph.
I pulled into the hospital parking lot 14 ½ minutes later. For some reason the entire lot was full. Not a space to be found. Anywhere. So I pulled the car rather haphazardly into the only kind-of sort-of open space that was available. Up onto the grass median strip it went, where I unceremoniously left it. It was, after all, a rental car.
To be honest, this isn't that far from the truth.
I sprinted across the parking lot and into the hospital lobby, where there was a very nice group of 3 elderly ladies at the front desk.
“Can I help you, sir?” asked one of them.
“Yes. I just missed the birth of my son. Could you please direct me to which floor they would be on.”
And with that one statement, I’m fairly sure I ruined every single one of those very nice ladies day. Inadvertently, of course. You could just see the disappointment in their faces. I felt kind of bad.
They directed me around the corner to a bank of elevators and off I went.

My neighbor was right. My son was adorable.

The hospital gives you a small blue and white button inscribed with “It’s a boy!” Which, I dutifully wore around the hospital for the following days.
It seemed to help to spark conversation among the staff and some of the new parents.
However, while answering certain questions about my newborn son, when I happened to mention that I had missed his birth, people’s eyes would light up and they would point and declare, “You’re the tugboat guy!”
And so it went for the next two days.
I was “The Tugboat Guy” to everyone. Including, complete strangers who had been told the tale by someone in the hospital. Probably those poor nice old ladies whose day I had ruined at the front desk.

Later on, after all the dust had settled, I just happened to check the paperwork for the car rental. As it were, I completed the paperwork at 09:59. My son was born at 09:57. I was standing at a car rental counter in Haverstraw, NY when my son was born.

My son just turned 10 the other day. I was home for his birthday. I would have preferred to be home for his birth.
I’m not sure if it qualifies me for “Dad of the Year” status. But it sure makes for an interesting story.
Such is the life of a mariner.
Either way…
Happy Birthday to my Lil’ Binky Booter!
Time sure does fly by.

Just before his 1st Birthday.
Handsome young man.

1 comment:

  1. That kid is so handsome. At least his story isn't like everyone else's.