What's almost harder than telling your girlfriend goodbye for two and a half months? Having to tell her you've missed your connection and won't be making it to dinner that night after waiting 75 days for an on time arrival at her doorstep. Traveling is rough and weather delays make it so much worse.
I felt a little embarrassed being taken completely unawares by the frontal system churning up hot air and releasing massive thunderstorms all along the Mid Atlantic coastline. My job includes staying on top of the weather and had I been paying attention maybe I would have worn more than flip flops and board shorts onto the airplane. At least I packed a toothbrush.
Lines seemed to be the only place where I made any progress during the 48 hours it took me to complete two 1 and a 1/2 hour flight segments from Charleston to Northern New England. Whether it was waiting for a cab out of the airport in Washington where I missed my connection or waiting to check in to the hotel the lack of sleep, which began at midnight the day I was paid off, compounded.
The airline did give me a discounted room at the Hyatt which I accepted over one of those airport benches with the armrests that inhibit weary travelers from sleeping. I hoped to pass out for the full six hours I had in the top floor Parlor Suite (The only room they had left) but found myself wide-awake after three because I had just dropped a time bomb on my biological clock.
Instead of fighting it I fooled myself into wakefulness and went down to the lobby for a great breakfast at Panera. Here I was greeted by a crowd of business suited inner beltway D.C. suburbanites hobnobbing over the wonders of geospatial intelligence and how it can be employed to empower the war fighter though information technology. It felt just like that scene from Fahrenheit 911 where the business guy admits war sucks for civilians but it’s damn good for business.
The 2009 United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation conference did look somewhat interesting; it included speakers from the government agency that develops navigational charts; the former Defense Mapping Agency renamed the National Imagery and Mapping Association. But topics such as Vapor Phase Synthesis of Upconverting Nanoparticles made me feel like just another dumb sailor so I decided to pass up a research chemist's presentation.
After this moment of culture shock, a result of the luxurious surroundings, roasting Starbucks, well dressed business elite and PhD's (A sharp contrast from the steel holds of my ship, Folgers coffee and boiler suit wearing co-workers) I stocked up on caffeine and set out to conquer the skies of Northern New England, weather pending.
My bags had ended up at their proper final destination but I had not. This necessitated a rental car to drive the tree lined roads of New Hampshire to fetch them 100 miles to the east but I was buzzing from the freedom that signing off a ship always entails. By the end of the ordeal I estimated that I had gotten about four hours of sleep in 48 hours and was feeling pretty loopy by the time we did get around to that welcome home dinner.
At least I was able to maintain a sufficient level of sobriety throughout. My younger brother, who recently began his seafaring career, was thrown off his first flight home after three months as a trainee for stumbling one too many times while boarding the airplane. I could not blame him though, airport bars are have always been there for homeward bound water weary sailors.