My Epitaph

If you don't question everything, you will know nothing and believe anything!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Memory Lane

January 23rd, 1998 was my last night in the Caribbean working aboard the M/V Yorktown Clipper.  I would awaken on the 24th and work breakfast at dock at St Kitts before my flight(s).  My ticket had me flying from St Kitts to Puerto Rico, from where I would fly to Miami for the night before flying on to San Francisco (SFO) in the morning.  I had two friends meet me in Miami to go out for a late night before I got on an early flight.  I remember finally, almost asleep for about an hour or two nap before having to go through security for my flight to SFO, when my packed, battery-operated/backed-up alarm clock started beeping.  Jumping from the edge of slumber, I tear into my pack to turn off an alarm clock that last sounded 24 hours ago for me, although I changed a time zone or few.  I capped off a week of barely sleeping with a 24 hour day!

After that all-too-brief nap, I cleared pre-9/11 security and took my seat on a six-hour flight from Miami to San Francisco.  Being told to return to the upright position by the stewardess about 15 minutes before touchdown, I awaken to hear my row mate exclaim "I'm impressed!  You didn't even move when they came by and tried to offer you something to drink!"  I replied with "Let me tell you about my week..."

One of the motivations for the sleep deprivation I had just pushed myself to endure was I knew I could sleep for 6 hours on that flight and be well rested by the time I arrived at SFO, which was still late morning so I essentially had no jet lag.  I took the Marin Airporter to San Rafael and carried all I owned about a mile to my friends' house.  They were busy cleaning and preparing for their annual Super Bowl Party, but asked why I hadn't called for a ride.  I explained I had just been cramped for about 8 hours on planes and buses so I really needed the walk, but was going to be buying a better full pack before leaving the Bay Area.  I was told that there were a few sales that day, so I borrowed a vehicle and crossed into the East Bay, arriving back around half time.  [I was also complimented on my parking job of the Ford Excursion into a driveway that it had one angle it could fit - not bad considering the last time I had driven was on St Kitts, shifting gears with my left hand, driving on the left side of the road and sitting in the passenger, I mean right-side seat of a little car (after being warned to try and miss any cows in the road but to not hesitate to run over any monkeys in the road) into what I joked being the largest land vehicle made by man.]

I had been pushing myself all week, knowing I could sleep on the plane and for the whole next week, and was averaging about 2 hours a sleep a night.  I had just spent about 8/9 months on the Yorktown, boarding her in Ketchikan, Alaska in May.  After extending my 4-month contract another 5 or 6 weeks, I took a two week vacation in October 1997 while she went into dry dock [I had to rent a car to attend the safety at school classes, but she was a day late getting to dry dock and I arrived for the first day of sea school in time to see her get hauled out of the water (I arrived in a taxi from the Emergency Room in time to see the Nantucket Clipper get hauled out of the water in November 1996 having pinched my sciatic nerve the day before in cleaning out the walk-in cooler preparing for dry dock), and since sea school was cancelled for that day, I was able to catch the last of the 30th Anniversary Summer of Love concert in Golden Gate Park my friends had gone to when I went left for fire school] before re-embarking to see her southern itineraries for the winter.  I was going on a two month vacation back to the Bay Area: two weeks with friends from university, 4 weeks in San Francisco while earning a TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) certificate, 2 more weeks with said friends then fly to Lisbon to board the M/V Clipper Adventurer for my next stint that would see the High Arctic/Polar Ice Cap in July.

I was definitely high on life 20 years ago, as I spent my last night in the Caribbean.  Not only was I heading back to sea in a couple months, but I was intending on using Clipper to fly me around the world to and from ships while taking my vacations from the ships by teaching English around the world.

Not only was it my last night aboard the Yorktown, but, unbeknownst to me, one of the hotel management chain from the office would be boarding her the next day with a mission: to basically ask all the crew questions concerning the list of points I wrote against a hotel manager on the very paper she was writing me up.  She had one complaint against me, which was essentially condemning me for my quick wit that the passengers that I had addressed (and all passengers with a sense of humor) loved about me, including how 2 of the 3 couples at that table of 6 were on their second cruise with Clipper in large part because of me from the cruise where they met on the Nantucket the winter season previously, and the other couple was the "young" couple sailing with the traveling alumni group from my Alma Mater who quickly became friends with the other two "young" couples that greeted me with hugs ecstatic to see me again on another cruise (50s v 70/80s being relatively "young").  Before I signed the formal write-up, I listed 11 criticisms against her to indicate why I might act like I didn't have much/any respect for her in the first place: I didn't.

Eventually, I would hear that the manager from the office wanted to terminate her employment after talking with the crew still onboard, but was unable to by his superiors ordering him to give her a warning to clean up her act on her next stint since she was leaving on vacation for a month after that cruise: basically she had 30 days to think about how much she wanted to work there and come back and prove she was worth keeping as a Hotel Manager.

I saw and did some amazing things during those two years working at sea.  Some of the more important stories can be found somewhere among the chapters I published for free.  One distant sight from the Yorktown 20 years ago was truly awesome in its destructiveness, but that destructiveness wasn't visible: at night passing Montserrat you could see the red glow of lava (even better through binoculars) from about 25 nautical miles contrasted with the night sky.

In shipboard jargon, I was done counting down my days and was down to just my wakeup (i.e. "3 days and a wakeup..."), ready for some time off to get rested, go get a certificate that would open up a world of opportunity for me (or could have had my life gone as I were trying to plan it) and then go back to Europe for my third time, but my first time to work (first for school, second for pleasure).  I had planned on buying a new full pack that vacation, as well as adding something else to own that I could carry in the first surfboard I bought.  The new pack would hold over 40 kgs on my back, guitar case in one hand and, now, a surfboard bag in the other hand: all I owned at the time, I could carry, albeit not very far!  (Hard not to sound nostalgic for that lifestyle again: "I own what I can carry, and even then it's too much!" was something I stated more than once during those years!)

Clipper's motto/slogan was "In the spirit of adventure" and it was a dream job for me in my mid-20s.  It was the best and worst job I have ever had: I got paid to travel, but I do like to sleep in and/or take a day off more than once in 4 to 6 months.  One life lesson I learned was how to be a workaholic aboard a ship, but when it came time to take a vacation from a ship, I could entertain myself long enough that about the time I was bored on land, it was time to go back to sea.  This lesson was probably one of the most important to surviving my back being broken and the lifelong downtime forced upon me from said injury.

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