There is an unalterable fact about the Holiday season in the States: as the Holidays approach, madness ensues. Sometimes this stateside madness even reaches out and grabs ahold of people many miles from the States. Sometimes it even grabs me.
This year was no exception. Last year my family visited me in San Blas for Christmas, but to think that would happen again would be wishful thinking. Which left two options: 1) go back Stateside (not preferable) or 2) don’t see the family (also not preferable), don’t participate in the madness, and spend Christmas on a deserted, white sand beach cooking freshly caught fish (preferable).
Of those two options, I chose option 1. The truth is, I like seeing family. Which is, besides a boat-part search, the only reason I can see to return stateside.
Leaving NOMAD wasn’t all that easy. The night before there was a small going-away party. I needed to leave the boat somewhere safe (and get it there with a single engine). I needed to go through all of the rigamarole of closing up and turning off the boat for a couple of weeks. We emptied the fridge and turned it off, shut down all unnecessary electronics, put everything inside, and locked everything up.
With our going-away party the night before, we were very short on sleep when the launcha arrived to carry us away. The ride to Carti from The Swimming Pool was a long one. Because of a minor emergency, I was leaving a little earlier than planned, and we (Ana, Dez, and I) were all in the water-taxi and then all in the same 4-wheel drive vehicle – heading to Panama City.
At the airport, I said goodbye to my crew and then the usual nonsense started. One of the security guards balked about the contents of one of my carry-ons. I was bringing part of my watermaker home to have Spectra re-work it. He didn’t like the way it looked, and despite it breaking none of the rules about contents of a carry-on; he decided it warranted further investigation. He insisted that I get an employee of the airlines to come and look and make a decision. I raised Hell. He quickly lost his confidence as I explained the issue to the police – who took notice when I raised my voice. I could see, across the face of this particular security guard, that he knew he was going to lose this – but he stood firm and so I went off to try to get some underpaid flight worker to make a decision that I already knew would go my way.
Explaining to a Spanish-only airline employee that you have a part of a desalination system in your carry on, and that a security guard with a learning disability is insisting that someone from an airline come and pass judgement on it’s validity as a carry-on item isn’t easy. But I did it.
The airline worker kept saying that he didn’t understand what the problem was. The truth is, neither did I. But this was the game, and so we played. After a brief discussion, the airline worker looked disgustedly at the security guard and told the security guard that he needed to let me through, as I was breaking no rules. The security guard balked at first – but I got the police involved again and he sheepishly helped me re-pack the part and let me through. Jackass. This was the beginning of my re-integration, and it was already feeling like it would be a struggle.
Next up was a flight delay. Then on the flight there was a screaming infant one row in front of me and a morbidly obese person on my immediate right. People were coughing all around me. My larger than life neighbor was already asleep and leaning toward me – a sure sign of me becoming their head-rest and drool pillow for the next few hours.
This trend, thankfully, began changing when I touched down in Houston, Texas. My Mom was there to pick me up and I collapsed in the passenger seat – wanting nothing but Taco Bell and somewhere to lay my head. Back at her house I took my first hot shower in months and attempted to sleep. Sleep, I would learn, wouldn’t come in these next weeks.
The next day I unpacked, sorted through the corrugated Great Wall of China that the UPS, USPS, and FedEx guys had constructed along the front porch. This was the result of my Amazon shopping for my boat-toys and replacement parts. With life slowly starting to take shape here, I packed the minimal into the saddlebags on my motorcycle and that evening I sped toward Austin. Admitting the speed in which I made it to Austin probably isn’t a great idea, but I will say that it was an exciting ride, despite the traffic the car-drivers endured. Getting back on a motorcycle, after so long, is a remarkable feeling. The speed and freedom is addicting.
On The Move
In Austin, things already broken deteriorated. But eventually I was back in my groove and day-drinking with friends that should have been working.
A trip to Houston. Back to Mom’s. Back to Austin. An expensive ticket on the bike. A music festival. New friends, old friends. Drinking and playing. Never feeling at home. Sleep a thing of the past. Everything so superficial. Everyone taking such pride in uttering the words: “I’m busy.”
People were now married or now had kids. But all was remarkably similar. If we’re being honest, the people were so similar that I often wondered if I’d ever left. What, pray tell, had they done in the last months? I wondered if it would always be this way. I had changed, again, immensely. I could feel it. The growing impatience with the small-talk of “home”, the lack of interest in people’s job-talk, the tiring of hearing the same bland story over and over. Even more, now than ever, a man apart. Everyone else just going with the flow.
The distance between “normal” and myself ever-widening, those “normal” folks seeming completely stuck. I’m moving, changing, growing so quickly – sometimes it seems as if they are altogether unmoving, despite running faster and faster on the wheel. What is it about the Rat Race which is so hard to identify as fruitless, when one is running it? Or is it a constant state of distraction that enables it?
I’ve always been an easy-sleeper. In the military, you so often find yourself at the end of your wits and completely physically exhausted (through lack of sleep, the adrenaline-crash, and extreme physical exertion). In this state you learn to sleep in any position and in any environment. But sleep evaded me this time home, despite air conditioning and luxurious beds. Hot showers, baths, cold drinks, Benadryl, and full stomachs didn’t help. This added to an ever-deepening feeling of discomfort Stateside.
Christmas came and went. The family was together and that was what mattered to me, the gifts and the religious muddling could be left for the birds.
I’m a grown human being – and when grown human beings want/need an item, they hardly make a list and hope that Santa delivers it on Christmas. They visit Amazon and it shows up on their doorstep two days later. If I see something I want/need on December 24th, I’m buying it, not waiting and hoping someone can read my mind and get exactly the item I want/need. Please. Of course, I’m also expected to mind-read and have gifts for everyone else. I’ve always been a bit curious about this, but especially now. How, after months sailing around the Caribbean, in limited contact with everyone but the people in my anchorage, should I know that you need a new leash for your dog? I prefer Thanksgiving.
What Did You Guys Do After I Left?
One morning, shortly after I returned, I made a mistake and watched a bit of news in a hotel lobby while eating a marginal continental breakfast. It was Donald Trump defending a ban on Islam, as a presidential candidate. I won’t get into the reasons this is a dumb f*cking idea, but lets just say if and when one has this kind of idea – it would behoove them to keep it to themselves. Better to be thought a fool, than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. It was a stark reminder of how foolish the American public is. And that is enough to remind me that removing myself from the clutches of those very masses was an intelligent decision. That was my last flirt with news and “real-life”, I decided. You can have all of that, I have no use for it.
Suddenly it was time to go and everything was in disarray and half-complete and I was wondering where the time went – despite, earlier, spending hours wishing it would just be over. Goodbyes. Farewells. Tears. Hugs. That last email. This last Facebook message. The last phone call. A couple of very permanent goodbyes. Some goodbyes I hoped were less permanent. Genuine heartbreak. Shedding anchors.
More Airport Foolishness
Packing for these trips is stressful. I have too much boat-gear that needs to get to my boat-home, and the airlines are doing a great job of taking up where the rest of society leaves off: if you don’t fit in their box, you’re going to have a bad time. This “fitting into the box” makes moving through life much easier, but as everyone tries to fit into the box we remove individuality and everything becomes so vanilla.
And this evolution of the airlines – once a symbol of freedom, now another source of stress and outrageous regulations and “security” – all pushing conformity. The feeling of a cattle-herding operation, the whole of which is a near-perfect metaphor for the progression of our society.
The feeling of being outside-looking-in never stronger, and from where I’m sitting (outside) – it seems more like a dystopian nightmare playing out on the inside. I’m not fighting to get back inside. This I promise you.
Arriving at the airport with too much baggage and trying to make the square peg fit the round hole is part patience and part dealing with people that have below-average intelligence. Maybe I’m being harsh and it’s just an exercise in futility. Or maybe, this may be a circle of Hell.
Part of my baggage included three flexible solar panels that I was planning to mount to my hardtop bimini to increase my solar capabilities onboard. Upon arriving at the airport, we were almost through the bullshit – when a roving airline worker noted that these panels (which I was trying to check in) were actually three separate boxes that were taped, and roped together. This was against some protocol. I explained that if it made them feel better about their lives, I would happily cover these three boxes in a piece of fabric, because, afterall, that was (essentially) what my other checked bag was. I offered to cover these three separate (but well secured) boxes in whatever material they wanted, and though the airline workers (surprisingly) recognized my sarcasm and the underlying point (what, exactly, constitutes a single “package”) – they would need a manager’s approval.
As soon as we (Mom and I) saw the manager we knew we were screwed. My Mom made a comment to that effect immediately. Picture an unhappy, overweight, past middle-aged female airline worker. Someone resigned to unhappiness, a tangible aura of unhappiness emanating from her. Got that mental image? Good. That is who they sent to ruin my day. She arrived with a frown on her already unpleasant face, and I only saw it change for a nanosecond when she got the satisfaction of ruining someone else’s day. She was so efficient at this I actually wondered if it were in her job description.
Rather than being human and waving the bag aboard, she chose to go through every possible reason the package wouldn’t be able to go. The thing she decided upon was (wait for it…..) an embargo. There is, as I write, some random embargo. This embargo restricts packages above 68” in total whatever they measure – from entering Panama. There is, of course, no notification of this to travelers. I checked the baggage rules right before I left, and there was no mention of this. So this airline worker refused to allow my package onto the plane. When I asked her how we were supposed to know about this embargo, (I shit you not) she replied: “You know now, don’t you?” And, as if to try to top that as the shittiest thing an employee of an airline may say to the customer of said airline, she ended our brief and unpleasant encounter by explaining that this embargo “Inconveniences us more than you.” The ignorance in this statement is and was dumbfounding. Thanks United Airlines, here’s my middle finger right back atcha.
And so, the solar panels so carefully chosen and packed (and so necessary to my lifestyle) are in Houston, Texas as I made my way to my boat.
All of this, in combination with lack of sleep, didn’t help my mood. In an effort to get over that – I decided to have a crew interview as I was waiting on my plane to board. The interview went well and reminded me how good my life was soon to be. The interview reminded me this trip home was coming to an end, and that soon I would be back onboard NOMAD. Soon, if I could just make it to my boat, all would be right in the universe.
This positive interview reminded me of something else – after all of this insanity, the universe owed me something awesome. It needed to balance out the scales. We have an understanding to that effect. The universe came through in the form of two beautiful women that were just ahead of me in the boarding line. One turned to me and after an up-and-down look, she asked me why I was going to Panama. I told her I had a boat there. She asked why I had a boat there, and I told her it was a good place to have a boat. And then this beautiful woman told me that neither of them had plans, they loved boats, and they were looking for good beaches. Of course – I was anchored around some of the best beaches on the planet and had room on my boat.
So the women were interested and beautiful and available and on my flight. And as I boarded, I couldn’t help but smile. Here it was: the universe balancing out the bullshit I’d so recently endured. My friends in San Blas would be, again, surprised by a bikini-laden NOMAD.
PS – to those of you I met at home, who read this – you made the trip infinitely better. Seeing people back home, and reconnecting with people who read what I write is something I enjoy immensely. So thanks to everyone in Bellville, Houston, and Austin that tolerated me for my brief stint Stateside. Without you hoodlums, I’d likely have been driven insane 🙂