The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"The Perfect Job"

Salem Career Center. 7:30 am.

Sitting in a hallway on a dingy oriental carpet with twenty or so other unemployed citizens aged 30-50, waiting for the Career Center/ unemployment office to open. One young fellow has clearly mistaken the waiting area for his own living room, yawning audibly, stretched out, his gut spilling onto the floor. The rest of us are on our smart phones; some friendly, soft spoken chatter bounce off the tall ceilings. Most of us have been here before.
Getting here at least one hour before they open at 8:30 am is standard practice and a necessity if you have trouble with your claim. Clients are seen on a first come, first serve walk-in basis and the demand is high for the one, sole staff member who handles claims. Sixty people are seen daily over four time slots: 8:30-10:00 am, 10:00-11:30 am, 1:00-2:30, and 2:30-4:00 pm. Calling the Department of Unemployment Assistance is an alternative, albeit very ineffective: Yesterday I spent 45 minutes listening to classical music before getting through to a representative. He couldn't help, but instead gave me a different number to call to speak with my claims adjuster. With high hopes for a breakthrough in my fight against red tape, I dialed the number. They picked up on the second ring: "Mass General Hospital, Dr. Cohen's Office". SIGH. No option other than to call the help line back: I was on hold for another 45 minutes before being told by a different representative that "the adjuster would call me within eight to ten weeks, that names and numbers of adjusters are never given out. Until then, your claim is on hold."

This translates to no unemployment assistance until then.

You think being unemployed is "the perfect job"? Think again...

Thank god for savings and summer jobs.

Eva Mossberg

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lost in My Native Country

On the road again. Going for a quick jaunt to see the family in Sweden. Yawn. But this time my wish for a travel buddy has come true... a friend from St. Tropez is meeting me there.

Deviating from my usual British Airways flight, surrounded by Krauts (friendly stab at the Germans, originally derogatory term coined during WWII), I embark on Lufthansa's flight 423 bound for Stockholm, via Frankfurt. Upholding their reputation for being punctual and exact, everything is just so. We even depart prior to our scheduled time since everyone's on board and "vee vant to arrive Frankfurt on time". Beverage and food services are delivered efficiently, including alcoholic beverages which were eradicated from airline services long ago to help combat falling revenues and higher fuel costs. As a traditionalist, I embrace the welcome return of what once was, even though I personally abstain from drinking alcohol on flights.

Frankfurt Airport welcomes me with the smell of freshly baked bread and coffee: Bread is baked on site and there are automatic free coffee dispensers abound satisfying your need for a latte, macchiato, or espresso  - just follow the trail of people carrying little red cups and you'll find one of the many stations. Don't bother looking for the decaf option. Europeans are purists.

Getting to and from Arlanda Airport couldn't be easier: comfortable bio fueled buses, equipped with safety belts which all passengers use, depart for the Stockholm city center every ten minutes. Tickets are sold at the visitor center inside the airport, online, in ticket machines outside and on board the bus. A one-way ticket costs me 99 SEK, approximately US $13.00, and I'm in the city 45 minutes later. Taxis cost between three and four times the amount, but should that be your preference, getting one won't be a problem. Taxis are licensed and accept credit cards. They will save you 15-20 minutes.

Guard at The Royal Castle 

Pike Heads. Fjaderholmarna.

 Ignoring jet lag "a condition that is characterized by various psychological and physiological effects (as fatigue and irritability), occurs following long flight through several time zones, and probably results from disruption of circadian rhythms in the human body" (  is not recommended, no matter how excited you might be. It will make you queasy, or worse, especially when coupled with jumping on a trampoline after dinner and drinks. (Hard to resist nieces and nephews.) Give your body a chance to adjust. 

Distances in Stockholm are deceptive. An avid runner, I set out to run the morning after arrival (again, reference above paragraph on jet lag) and cover the very outer limits of my childhood territory in thirty minutes. So I run another lap, dodging dainty deer munching tulips and hares with big floppy ears hopping down the middle of the road. Idyllic? Most certainly, yes.
Roof Top Tours

Riding the "tunnelbana" - the subway system is easy: all stations have maps, are well marked, and all subway lines are color coded and connect at T-centralen (there are one or two exceptions) and safe. I notice a mother leaving her Baby Bjorn stroller where it can easily be stolen, but the Swedish logic says "what would a drug addict take my stroller for?". And based on what I witnessed, they don't.

Roda Villan, Fjaderholmarna
Swedes speak English. Very well, and very happily as they are eager to practice their "internationalism" every chance they get, so even if you try to speak Swedish, or if they "somehow" detect that you are a foreigner before you open your mouth, they will be proactive and address you in English. Contrary to Paris, it is perfectly accepted to address someone in English; you don't even need to ask if they speak English. Because they do.

Water is everywhere.
My idea of exploring a new place is to first grab a coffee at a local cafe and see where the tourist are heading. I take note and go in the opposite direction... This is not what my friend had in mind: zig-zagging the city for three days, we visit the Royal Castle, several art galleries, Gamla Stan, Stureplan, Ostermalms Salu Hall, Photografiska Museet, SoFo, Globen, the Vasa Museum, Skansen, the Cherry Blossoms at Kungstradgarden, Djurgarden, and Fjaderholmarna. The must visit attractions are FjaderholmarnaSkansenDjurgarden, and the rooftop tour. Naturally, we also sample the local cuisine, an absolute must for any visit abroad, and in my opinion more important than any museum or statue. For me, the highlights are fresh, fried herring out of a food cart parked at Slussen, thin, Swedish pancakes with ice cream and chocolate sauce, a ham and cheese panini at Roda Villan Fjaderholmarna and not the least, the glass of wine enjoyed in the warm sun at Kajen, quay side on Strandvagen, overlooking the ferries and pleasure boats criss-cross the blue water.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

C.R.U.I.S.E: Epilogue

Feb. 23, 2013

Balboa Clipper update from crew member to me:

"we hit 11.5 knots on the clipper then the sheets for the jib jammed on the anchor on deck a mess so we dropped the mainsail and Cap lost the bitter end and I got hit by the boom and hung on for dear life! fixed that mess too...did I mention the mizzen mast blew thru the floor and I jammed Kellys steel bucket to keep it from punching the hull? ..on dry for awhile!"

C.R.U.I.S.E Part V: The Bitter End

Cringing dinghy my companion
Howling winds my chorus
Wincing wood my lyrics
Tomorrow my hope

-Written by crew member at 4 am.

We are all eager to get to dry land, each of us with our own reason: To get parts so we can put the boat back together and sail on to Belize, to eat something other than rice and beans, to socialize, to experience the renowned Fantasy Fest ( where body paint is more prevalent than clothes, to get away from the damned boat that won't stop moving like a rocking horse... I have one more day left of vacation and, full up with adventure and close calls, there is nothing I want more than to spend it somewhere, anywhere, away from this boat.

We part ways at the dock - in typical fashion, the crew goes one way, the captain another. Us crew members fall into the nearest restaurant, relieved to be on "the hard". The TV broadcasts continuous updates on Tropical Storm Sandy saying it could be "a rare event" and we discuss returning to the boat versus not returning to the boat. When the waitress asks what we'd like to drink we laugh out loud and in unison order three dark and stormys, a lovely concoction of spiced dark rum, ginger beer and lime.

Further decimation happens among the crew after breakfast. I'm in the contingency of two who go to explore Fantasy Fest. Originally an initiative undertaken to boost tourism to the Florida keys in the slower months, Fantasy Fest week has taken on a life of it's own and now produces the most revenue of any week during the year. It's a show, a carnival with festive floats, costumes, no shame, a whole lot of body paint and even more rum.

We circle back to the dock between rounds of rum punch and at long last we intercept the captain, soaking wet, dinghy in tow. Soon, a crowd gathers, soaked boat cushions, a cooler, frozen chicken thighs, a few apples, and life jackets are offloaded onto the dock. We can't help but laugh at it all. His attempt of returning to the Balboa Clipper with one of the crew members, groceries and a new steering cable had failed, in the true sense of the word: Going straight into the weather, one wave too many had come over the bow and claimed the rights to the dinghy directly in front of the coast guard station. The rescue was swift but far from painless to the ego. When the TV crew on board the coastguard cutter asked for permission to film, the answer was reportedly "short and negative".

I now really regret not having taken my backpack off the boat and since none of the other crew members have any intentions of setting foot on board that night, only I remain to go back out with the captain. Despite the inherent risk, my heart pounds with excitement. This is another Louis and Clark expedition! Oh the fine line between brave and stupid... Engine flushed out and reattached to the dinghy, we test the waters once more, with almost the same disastrous result as the first attempt. Bailing feverishly to keep up with the waves crashing over the dinghy, we joke about what to tell the coast guard if a second rescue is required...  "Um, yes sir. I found this lovely young lady ashore... I'm sure you understand..."  Luckily, no such scene is called for and as soon as we reach the Balboa Clipper (almost not soon enough) we quickly clutch the stanchions and haul ourselves out of the near sinking dinghy, bucking like a yearling under saddle for the first time. With an acrobatic balancing act and not just a little bit of luck we remove the engine, check the anchors, dry out soaked wallets and cellphones, secure what can be secured, and put our heads down for the night.I'm fully dressed, including life jacket. My passport and wallet are in a watertight bag in my zipped up pocket.

Against all odds, I sleep very restfully. Probably from sheer exhaustion. And the knowledge that I'm close to the end of this delivery. I have booked a ride in to shore in the morning with a shuttle service, will grab a taxi to the airport and once there with a boarding pass in hand, I will have a stiff drink and not worry about my safety for the first time since we left Fort Lauderdale.

Now I need a vacation.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

C.R.U.I.S.E. Part IV: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Our boat is quickly transformed to a floating repair shop, brightly illuminated by deck lights. Not only is the steering cable off its track: The bowsprit is looser than it was when we cast off in Fort Lauderdale due to a rotted out heel, and there is a one inch play in the steel plate securing the mizzen mast.

Looks like we'll be here for awhile.

A surprising amount of tools are pulled out of the hold, one by one, like rabbits out of a magic hat; a mounting mess including hundreds of feet of anchor chain, a portable generator, a sawsall, spare pieces of wood, steel bars, caulk, glue, drill sets, socket sets, various hammers and mallets, bolts, nuts and screws of every size imaginable... In the wee hours of the morning, the moon, a creamy yellow big crescent of cheese sets in the big blue, and defeated by fate, we find a place to rest. I curl up in my sleeping bag under the dodger, worried about the prospect of our floating scrap metal yard being tossed around by the elements due to a dragging anchor with no available options of maneuvering. I wake up continuously.

Morning comes, and with energy levels and hope restored, the Balboa Clipper is pasted together with a mixture of ingenuity, steel plates, and marine caulk. I'd like to point out that, against all odds, the second most common problem on a boat, after crew, is not in need of repairs: the packing is tight and sounds like a happy donkey each time the handle is raised and lowered to flush. As a result, we begin to refer to the head as The Donkey. It didn't take long for "I'm going to hit the head" to become "I'm going to feed the donkey". Ah, life on board a boat...

We set sail, haul the anchor, and point the nose to the west, hoping to reach Key West before we have an altercation with the rapidly approaching, recently upgraded Tropical Storm Sandy. She brings us plenty of wind and a display of spectacular storm skies to our aft, but the skies above are blue and the winds on our backs. If I could only shake the constant, nagging feeling of "when?"

 "When" happens at sunset, just as we enter the channel to Key West, in close proximity to other boats and the hard (i.e. land) for the first time in sixteen hours. The emergency tiller, a two feet long steel shaft is installed and in 35-40 knot winds we enter the mooring field, its water boiling with whitecaps.

Another meal of rice and beans, anchors out and holding, wind howling through the rig. With no reliable steering, I'm happy that the Coast Guard Station is located eight hundred yards away.

We wouldn't need them until the next day.