Monday, February 23, 2009

Halfway home

Halfway home. 

I'm sitting in a cafe in Amsterdam, smoking some foul weed or another, and draining espressos as if each were my last.  The day is cool, overcast and threatening rain.  I traveled here in only a T-shirt, so I bought an Amsterdam Athletics hoody.  I look like tourist,and am anything but.  The last 48 hours have been a chaotic blur of mis-adventures and foul-ups of the highest order.  When I leave this place, if one more bum, druggie, or degenerate attempts to part me from my last remaining deutch marks, for a train ticket to Rotterdam, I will strangle them, despite the mellowness induced by this cafe.  Way too many street people here for my refined tastes and delicate sensibilities.  Get a fucking job, people.  This place reminds me of Seattle in the 90's.  Nirvana and homeless teen-agers, everywhere.

Where was I?  No matter...

I began the journey with a mis-step.  Or more to the point, a non-step.  My chopper ride off the ship was canceled and I spent a not-unexpected, extra day and night aboard my ship.  The last five weeks took it's toll and I passed out; a long, black 9 hours the likes of which I've not seen since sometime last year, I should think.  I woke, ate and immediately returned to my slumber.  Woke again, this time with just minutes before my chopper was due to land.  Shit, shower, shave, pack and fire off an email to Mr. Bud in less than 20 minutes.  A feat worth noting as I had to hack off 5 weeks growth of beard.  I really didn't have time to shave but I didn't want to scare the girls when I arrived home.

Choppered off on time, landing in Soyo Base at the mouth of the Congo, in a light rain.  Chaos.  No passports.  Stuck until they arrived on a fixed-wing aircraft an hour later. It was hot and sticky.  Clouds of mosquitoes, or malaria, if you prefer.  I do not.  Prefer malaria, that is.  That reminds me that I need to take another Malarone to ward off the evil malaria that stalks us all here on the West African coast.  With only hours to make my flight out of Luanda, we finally departed the Congo and headed South along the coast, over fertile, green, African plains.  Only the herds of zebras and the occasional pride of lions were missing from the exotic landscape below.

Luanda was chaos of another sort.  No plan, no organization, people milling about, women plodding the street with giant baskets of bananas, piles of large, green leaves, or dozens of eggs, perched on their heads.  What seemed like thousands of people loitering everywhere, some selling wares out of baskets they cradled between their legs as they sat sprawled in the dirt of the road, sidewalks of a sort, or the endless, empty lots adorned with only garbage and piles or refuse.  Women washing clothes by hand in large, copper pots, dogs everywhere.  The smell, at all times, overpowering, hinting of death and rotting flesh.

Luanda airport, yet another form of chaos.  It seemed to have a sort of hidden rhyme and reason that just managed to elude the senses, but always right there on the tip of the tongue, edge of the mind and just under the surface like a shadow seen out of the corner of the eye, disappearing when observed, directly.  We managed the massive queues, security, customs, immigration and the guy with white, rubber gloves.  The one who asks if you have local currency and demands to see your wallet.  It takes all I have to refuse him with his vacant stare and implications of a painful anal probing to follow.  A short test of wills, he flexes his chubby fingers, sighs and nods toward the door.  I run, as if on fire, and finally we all make the bar, in ones and twos, anal virginity intact for this trip.  Reaching a sort of critical mass, we began to order bottles of warm Heineken in armloads of tens and twenties.  We filled the tables and our bellies until it was time to board.

I flew with half the crew to Johannesburg, South Africa.  There, I hung out with the other American on the crew until it was time for me to depart for Amsterdam. We prowled the airport, learning the ins and outs, in prep for stopping here over the next eight months.  We found both smoking lounges, one of them a bar:)  We ate grilled mystery meat sandwiches and mine was to plague me for the next 12,000 miles of airplane toilets.  My buddy stayed, waiting for a flight to Paris.  Poor bastard, Charles De Gaul is the worst fucking airport in the world.

Amsterdam is pleasant, if cold.  Easy to make my way around this place, like an old friend, or a favorite car from the past.  They have added many self-serve kiosks at convenient points all over the airport.  You can accomplish transfers, check-in, get flight/gate updates, upgrade, or change your seat assignment, easily, from these little buggers.  I like 'em.  Anyway, I made my way through passport control to the train station and hopped the express to the city. The red-light district and hash bars are here, just outside the station.  I window-shopped the working girls and made my way to a hash bar I remembered from years ago.  It's warm, comfortable and quiet.  The selection is excellent, the espresso scalding hot, every cup.  I simply while away the hours in smoky silence.


It's time for me to stumble back to the train station and make my way to the airport and my plane to the states.  It will be good to be back on my home turf.  I'm tired of airports masquerading as "old friends" and things not of my culture and country.

I'm back in the airport now, unable to hook up to the w-fi.  My Dutch sucks.  Found a little cafe just outside the casino, that serves a decent latte.  Yes, a casino.  This airport boasts a casino, porn shops, the beehive bar (my undoing on more than once occasion over the years), massage parlors and a small museum.

  I just finished touring the Rijks museum, that is currently celebrating 400 years of trade between the Dutch and Japanese.  The mix of styles, East and West, in the 1800's, is more of a mish-mash than a melding.  19th century, puritan-like motifs in lacquer.  No Van Goghs, more like the Maris brothers do Taiwan.   Reminds me of a plastic replica of a Ming vase, I saw in a pawn shop, years ago.  It doesn't work for me.  There are, however, several period paintings here that have nothing to do with trade, or Japan.  They speak to me, on some level.  In most of the paintings, it is the eyes, for me.  I do not know why, but I do see my daughter's eyes in one painting and I want to go home.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

The end

Made it to the end.  My chopper lands in about 4 hours.  I've just pulled a 30 hour shift and am off for a cat nap before I fly.  See you cats on the other side


I stumble; my mind unhorsed.  Trampled underfoot the last 24, besieged from all sides, home and work:( 

Today, about a third of the crew left.  They're taking a slow boat to shore.  Tomorrow, I chopper off.  Everyone who works for me has left.  I'm sitting here totally alone.  It's kind of strange and depressing.  Not to mention I have a shit-load of work to do and nobody to delegate to:(  

A kingdom of one and a very ragged one, at that.

Bright side is that in about 24 hours I will cruising over the African plains in a chopper, heading for the nearest watering hole.  Those water buffalo better get the fuck out of my way when I belly up to the bar.

Picked up another 25 GB of music, Mr. Bud.  Not to mention a few flicks.

This morning I ate two tablespoons of instant coffee, right out of the jar.  Breakfast of champions.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Bite you in the ass

Just when you think you've got it down...a line from some song in my distant past.  I finally felt I was making headway on the most difficult problem I've ever faced at work.  I thought I nearly had it licked.  All the inter-relations, twists and turns.  I collared and muzzled the many-headed dog and was about to chain it to the wall. 

But no, I missed a head, which has just reached around and taken a huge chunk out of my ass, tonight.  The progress from last three weeks of 20+ hour work days is falling down upon my head like a deck of cards.  Every solution, every link in the chain I have built to restrain the beast relied on every other link and they have all failed.

I realized something tonight.  Never in all my years have I been defeated while on the job. I get paid to take a pile of shit and turn it into gold.  I get paid to find and fix problems.   I've been so very lucky in that a solution has always presented itself and in time to pull my ass out of the fire.  Every single time, in the end I've won.  Tonight, I also realized that this time I have been defeated.  The beast has won.  I will leave this ship in four days, defeated, and I don't like the taste it leaves in my mouth.

Disaster, averted

Yesterday, as I sat in the smoking lounge conducting an appraisal with one of my reports, the ship went dark and silent.  I jumped up, looked out a porthole and saw we were slowing.  Loss of power and propulsion!  Not a good thing if you are towing, say, 40 MILES of free-floating gear behind your ship, that just keeps going if you stop.  Had to run through pitch-black companionways to get to my computer system and insure that it survived the switch from ship's power to UPS.  All was well, except for 2 machines that were not actually connected to the UPS.  Surprise!  Anyway, we re-instated power and propulsion, forthwith and motored on ahead.  Everything out back eventually settled down and we kept on keepin on.  In the end, just a bit of adrenaline.  Four more days of this shit.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Every Saturday we have a drill of some sort.  Today, we had to find and kill a stowaway.  Of course, they picked the smallest , sneakiest son of a gun on the vessel to be the stowaway.  He went off and hid sometime before the drill and NOBODY knew where he hid.  The alarm went of ,we broke into teams and performed a very thorough and organized search of the entire vessel.  Then, we did it again.  And again.  Then, we broke up the teams, disregarded the placard lists we held and began tearing the ship apart to find the little bastard.  Then, we did it again.  And again.  And again.  As it came close to 2 hours of fruitless searching and we began to wonder if he had fallen overboard, the captain was forced to ring the alarm bells, again and plead with him to come out, over the intercom.  We met in the mess for a general meeting and gave him a standing ovation when he finally entered.

It's hard to describe, but the best I can do is to say he hid INSIDE a structural beam of the ship.  Bastard.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Still here.  Everything out here is chaos and excruciatingly complex.   The most convoluted set of problems I've ever encountered.  Much like trying to win an entire chess match in your head.  Plan every move from opening to end game, based on every possible move your opponent can make.  IF I make this work, it will be a minor miracle, but I suspect that I'm going to have a seizure long before things are solved...eight days to go and I just cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fire! Not.

Fire alarm was tripped today.  Went off about a dozen times in the space of 5-10 minutes.  Sure glad I wasn't one of the poor fuckers sleeping.  They did not look pleased when they mustered...Me?  I only had to drop my dinner plate and bolt out of the mess.  When I returned everything was cold, but I don't eat much anymore so no great loss.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

And the days just drag on and on...

Same old shit out here, currently.  It's hot, about 105 degrees, sunny and calm-same as always in Angola.  I am still doing 18-20 hour days and dead-freaking tired.  Two weeks to go...

Today, we had a muster drill, then took turns at different stations around the ship, training in various aspects of fire-fighting, life-saving, escape and abandoning ship.  Much-needed diversion for me.

Last night I managed a victory in one of the many small battles that make up the war that is my job this trip.  Took me 22 hours sitting in front of a computer to figure it out.  Took a sauna and watched my first movie (Last of The Mohicans) of the trip afterward.  Long, long, long day.  Grabbed a 4 hour cat nap and I am right back at it, but can't get the sandpaper feeling out of my eyes.

I received my flight details today.  I have an 8 hour layover in Amsterdam:)  Schiphol  Airport is one of my favorites.  It has great pubs, porn, great duty-free shops, a casino and if you have more than an hour layover (yes, I do), hash bars and brothels right where you get off the train from the airport.  Always a treat, that Amsterdam...better than Luanda, or Charles de Gaul in Paris, anyway.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Still here.

So, I wasn't sure that I would survive the last few days and thought it might be fitting that my last blog entry would be that my head exploded.

Alas, it seems I am fated to live through this crap.  So, basically, my job is a nightmare.  I and the rest of this ill-fated crew have no experience with what we are trying to do and it is not going well.  Especially for me, because I'm the one who has to fix everything that's not correct.  I deliver the goods.  The goods are not good.

I'm pretty much working until I fall asleep in the job, then sleep for a couple hours, get up and work till I fall asleep on the job, then sleep for a couple hours.....

I don't go outside, I can't eat and when I do get to sleep, I dream of work and the problems I have. We've all had tough times on a job.  I sure have.  But even in the current job market, I am ready to quit.  I feel like I'm getting run over by a cement mixer.  Very slowly.

OK, I'm done whining.  I just thought I'd let you all know why I may or may not be posting for a while.