It was just one of those beautiful Saturday mornings in Seattle, where every once in a blue moon, on EXTREMELY rare occasions, there’s a break from the constant rain fall that the city is known for and the summer sun shines bright through a cloudless sky. You walk out the door facing the west and are greeted by the majestic Olympic Mountain range glowing across the Puget Sound onto the famous Seattle landmarks such as Pike’s Place Market and the Space Needle. Take a look back to the east and there lays the bright and beautiful Cascades, separating the abundantly green and rain soaked forests of Western Washington from the harsh and desolate climate of the east side of the State. And then to the southeast, there sits Mount Rainer, the grand daddy of em’ all in its full glory, beaming over the city and sitting dormant over the younger peaks, shining vividly behind the morning sun as it reflects off its blanket of snow that permanently covers the rocky sculpture.
The perfect Saturday for adventure, exploration, and indulgence of the final days of summer… And I was on my way to work, just like a schmuck! Just me and my senior technician and advanced material warrior Sheila to support the mission of the Navy and deliver the boat back out to sea from the emergent work recently pressed upon us. If we failed, we were going to get crapped on big time. And if we succeed, well, we’d still probably get crapped on, but it didn’t matter. We were going in and giving it our all to support the mission, because it’s the right thing to do.
The morning went by and we blazed through our paper. I mean, we were on a hot roll like butter! Writing, reviewing, correcting, signing and finally issuing. We had done our job and it was time to go home, and it wasn’t even noon! With no more issues, Sheila, our fearless material battler walked out the door. “I’m going to check my facebook and then I’ll be out here,” I said as she waved goodbye. What’s a few seconds to check facebook? No big deal… And then, within those precious few seconds, Sheila’s phone rang.
I was reluctant to pick it up, for I knew whatever came through the receiver would be pain and suffering, but being a man of honor, I picked up the phone. Code 133, the government material inspectors, calling at the worst possible moment… and in shipyard terms, right on time.
Now, ask me a question about pipe stress, how much pressure’s involved, or velocity and flow, I’m there. I use Bernoulli’s Equation like sailor’s use profanity, and twice as efficient. But when it comes to material issues, I’m SOL, and without Sheila, I was cornered, faced with an onslaught of weapons they had no shame in deploying.
“We need a Certificate of Compliance for the ball valve… This is MCD-B Material and must go through RIP-25 inspection criteria with SOC 12 attributes… The VG SMIC code does not apply to for this application. This material is cleaned per MIL-STD-1330 and is going into a MIL-STD-1622 System… The material specifies CRES 304 but the physical and chemical composition leads to CRES 316…” And on and on and on. It was like they were speaking some foreign language, and I had to somehow decipher all the mumbo jumbo and get this material down to the shop for work and get it sent out to Guam by the end of the day!
Meanwhile, I have the material manager calling me every 10 minutes on my case for why the material isn’t where it’s supposed to be, the shop wondering why they haven’t started work yet, the project engineer putting in his two cents, and my Guam counterpart whom I call “The Yardman” eagerly piling on more work for us. “Oh yea, Zack and Sheila, those guys can do anything, they’ll support you no problem.” I appreciate the kind words, but I really could’ve gone for mediocre as I watched the last heat waves of summer slowly fizzle away from my cubicle.
The grueling material battle pursued throughout the afternoon, going back and forth, hitting brick wall after brick wall. Every solution was met a demoralizing threat of losing my job, or being audited, or being critiqued, or being a total piece of crap. They always have some stupid rule or regulation to rain on our parade with, and there’s only so much a man can take. I was spent, totally depleted with any will to carry on and fight. And I’m very ashamed to say, but I was ready to give up the fight.
“Oh gee, look at here, this is on the same contract of ball and seat kits we ordered a month ago, this material is ok after all!” Quality Assurance had an epiphany. I had won, the material finally got sent to the shop, just in time for them to go home after 8 hours of sitting around on overtime. But who cares? I was free to go, just in time to grab a Jimmy John’s Italian Nightclub sandwich, TBO with hot peppers and catch the 4:20 ferry back to Seattle. All that was left was a report on our status to the Yardman.
“Oh by the way, Quality Assurance has a snubber valve that’s stuck in receipt inspection that needs to be shipped out Monday. Can we count on you to support?”
“Are you freaking kidding me??? No way, not doing it. Sorry. ain’t gonna happen. Screw you guys, I’m going home!” The phrase flowed through my mind as if I had recited it 1000 times before, and the Yardman was going to receive it, whether he liked it or not. I opened my mouth and delivered the devastating blow, almost in the exact same fashion.
“Sure, I’d be more than happy to help you guys out!” I answered. Being a young impressionable engineer once again proved to be sucky, adding a two-hour delay to my Jimmy John’s indulgence.
It had been 11-hour of straight work, and I barely had the strength to catch the 6:40 departure. Nonetheless, I putted into the ferry terminal totally drain, but with Jimmy John’s in hand. I tore into that sandwich, the first grain of ecstasy since breakfast; and man was it good. The organic compounds secreted into my mouth with each bite, reacting with my taste buds and sending a signal of culinary delight throughout my body. I ate at a brisk pace, for I did not want this sensation to skip a single beat.
I was on the brink of complete satisfaction, down to the last two bites of my succulent sandwich, when a sudden unprecedented interruption thwarted my pleasurable dining experience.
“Nice Bike. That one’s got some miles on it.”
I turned in observance of this mysterious voice. A haggard looking old dude shot me a smile as if he’d just hopped his last train to make it out west. Scraggily gray hair, a few missing teeth and screws here and there, probably lived under a bridge or two… Pretty much a spitting image of Ben Woodward in 30 years.
“Oh great,” I thought to myself. I appreciated the kind words, for my bike is pretty awesome, but I knew all too well that he wasn’t going to stop talking.” And that’s exactly what he did. He talked… About his prefrabricated house he was going to buy, how expensive Seattle is, how he was a Vietnam vet, how Christine Gregoire was a terrible governer, and on and on and on for over 10 minutes. I waited and waited, listening to this guy, responding with platitudes, just to be polite.
“Oh yea, politicians are terrible people,” or “the Seahawks are doing pretty good this year,” or “Yes, Kanye West is the greatest musical genius of our generation.” I responded, not really knowing if the response were appropriate, but too generic and truth-based to argue against. Secretly however, I was just praying that the boarding bell would ring so I could devour the rest of this sandwich that was just torturing me as it sat in my hands uneaten. Forget water boarding, this was 10 times worse.
Finally as the buzzer rang and I was free from the shackles of the blabbering old man, I bolted on board in the most casual way possible to act like I didn’t care about getting on first, a common theme among shipyard workers while boarding the ferry. In the morning it’s a mad dash to park your bike and grab your booth before the walk-ons snag it, except obtaining your seat is more of an art than a race. You see, racing onto the ferry is frowned upon amongst the young professionals, and there’s a fine balance between running to your seat and acting like you don’t care about it, the later being the much more delicate.
And if your seat happens to be taken before you get there, you have to pretend like it doesn’t matter. But deep down, everyone cares. I mean, I sat and listened to Amarosa vent for over a half hour at work about some dingus who decided to start taking his seat every morning, not to mention the countless times that I’ve been absolutely up in arms because the weird guy whom we’ve named “Blade,” with his ripped up coat and balding hair style that looks as if he took chunks of hair and glued them to random parts of his head waddles on the ferry and snags my spot. And because making a scene on the ferry is taboo, I quietly find another booth and let the incident eat me up inside throughout the rest of the day.
Luckily Blade wasn’t there this time, so I found a prime seat with ease before the walk-ons had their say. Sadly though, it only took minutes for my position to be compromised as a large family with a dozen rambunctious kids found a booth next to mine. There’s nothing worse on the commute home than trying to take a nap after a punishing day at work with a couple of parents next to you who decided to bring their army of homegrown minions along, untrained in the ways of public obedience. I could all ready hear the stomps and screams of the young punks raising hell all around my personal space, and had a 6th sense that the parents had no intention of disciplining their children throughout the trip. I wasn’t having any of that this time. Not on this day!
I quickly relocated to a booth on the opposite side, where I was still in the vicinity of a few yappers, but nothing a veteran of the ferry commute couldn’t handle, as I popped in my headphones and dozed off into a slumber to the tropical rock riffs of Vampire Weekend.
I procured their most recent CD during my trek from Minnesota to Wisconsin via iPhone (the wonders of technology). I listened to their hit “Unbelievers” on the car ride to the airport with my friend Cambra, and it got stuck in my head from there on out. From that point on, I had to listen to it over and over as if it were an ode to my memories in the state of Minnesota, saying goodbye to one journey and hello to a slate of new adventures.
To be fair however, that wasn’t the first time I’d listened to that CD. In fact, I had listened to it during another car ride to another airport with my older sister Alicia driving. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give it the attention it deserved, for all I could remember of that trip was how bad I had to pee, and the stubborn sister who refused to stop at Hardees so I could relieve myself of the pain, and possibly grab a double XL fully loaded omelet biscuit. Why not kill two birds with one stone??
She was very insistent on performing a hydrostatic strength test of my bladder during that car ride, which in the engineering world, is a test that’s performed on a component at 150% of it’s maximum operating pressure, just as an extra safety precaution. Usually, these tests last about 5 minutes. However she was determined to make this a 1-hour test, and I have to say I was getting kind of pissed off! No pun intended. Actually, people always say that, and I never took the time to research what the origins of that phrase are, or what it truly means, so I think I’ll go out on a limb here. There was plenty of pun intended, as it ruined the CD for me for the longest time!
But as I awoke from my slumber due to the changes in speed as the ferry prepared to dock (after years of commuting, it kind of acts as a biological clock), the delay of me buying that CD due to my sister’s attempt to blow apart my bladder actually started to make sense in a strange way.
Hannah Hunt started playing, a song I had grown very fond of over the last few weeks, and at the exact time the soft piano riff mixed with calypso sliding guitar played into my ear, I looked out over the water and witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I can ever remember seeing in a city. A blood red sky melted over the vast skyscrapers that mended into a purple haze between the cracks of the high-rise buildings, all peering through a small cluster of cumulus clouds. And to top it off, the reflection of the water bounced off the glass windows of the towering structures, sending a green tint glowing throughout the appropriately named Emerald City.
And after a day where it seemed as if everything that could go wrong did go wrong, I finally had this moment of peace and serenity. The calming tunes flowing through my head mixed with the beautiful scenery of manmade wonders all came together at a perfect time, where suddenly, God stopped the world for just that moment, all for me, after I having such a stressful and chaotic day. It had to be a sign, and I took it as such, about how lucky I was to be alive in this moment, at this exact place, at this exact time.
And it’s funny how at times where your in hell and you think that there’s no way out of the madness that surrounds you, you can find comfort in the slightest things that make you appreciate the beauty of life. The last time I remember having this feeling was during finals week in college, where I was working at ungodly hours on a project for my thermal systems design class, and I trotted to my partners house in the deep snow, carrying a backpack full of energy drinks to carry us on through the night. It was a moment free of the tension of engineering calculations that had been polluting my life for the past month. I looked up at the snowfall, the white mist, and the glow of light from the blanket of snow covering the Palouse at 2AM. It was so calming, and brought great perspective to the world at that moment, making you realize the things you think are important to you can really be just miniscule in the grand scheme of things…
“If I can’t trust you then damn it Hannah. There’s no future, there’s no answer,” the lead singer lightly sang as I rose from my seat and proceeded to the car deck to hop on my bike. Usually at this moment of the ferry ride, I’m pumping some Kanye, getting into the zone and ready to take on the world, when my Co-worker Justin taps me on the shoulder with some worthless remark that I don’t give a crap about.
“Hey, did you see the hot girl on the ferry with the backpack? Huh huh, huh huh…”
“Yes Justin, I saw the hot girl, and I saw her the day before, and the previous day, and everyday before that whenever you point her out to me. Thanks so much again for pointing her out and ruining the moment… Again.”
But not this time. There was nobody to bother me, and I strutted through the ferry with a stupid grin on my face looking like a weirdo, just like Blade. I didn’t care the slightest bit.
The song kicked into the bridge, where a drum fill sets up a rockin’ piano solo with a burst of energy, all leading up to the grand finale where the singer reprises the chorus, belting it out at the top of his lungs! I was going to bust out of that ferry terminal with a newfound passion in life, ready for anything to come my way. I grabbed my bike with only seconds left till the finale. I was shaking with excitement and anticipation for the chorus, about to have the greatest moment of my life…
And there he was. The haggard old vet. Staring right at me, as if he’d been waiting for me this whole time… You got to be kidding me.
I prayed that he would mind his own business, as any desperate man does when he realizes he’s run out of options. It’s all we can do. Maybe to my luck, he wouldn’t have anything to say, and he’d let me be on my merry way. But that’s nonsense. You can’t just ignore the laws of physics. And just as they proved, he opened his mouth.
I pulled out my Apple ear buds right before the grand reprise I’d been anticipating ever since that glorious moment of tranquility, as if I were saying goodbye to my son as he boarded the school bus for the very first time. My heart sunk deep into my chest. I was completely devastated. My perfect moment over, and I didn’t have the audacity to break ferry protocol and blow the guy off.
Everything that was good about the day, the sunset, the song, the serenity, gone. Totally evaporated. Vanished. Obliterated. Destroyed! Demolished! Abandoned! Left cut open in the middle of the desert and unable to move while vultures come every half an hour and peck at your internal organs that are baking in the smoldering hot sun, leaving you with a slow and painful death. And very rapidly, I started remembering all the crappy events that had led up to this point. All because of this one freaking guy who made me miss the best part of the song! Don’t even get me sarted on the Jimmy John’s!
I don’t remember a single thing from the conversation I was so mad! All I could think about was how much his words were tearing me up inside due to the fact that I couldn’t listen to the rest of my song and fulfill the glorious moment I was having! First the Jimmy John’s, now this???
ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS LISTEN TO HANNAH HUNT! IS THERE ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT??? JUST A FEW MORE SECONDS TO ENJOY MY SONG IS ALL I ASK OF YOU! AND YOU FREAKING ROBBED ME OF THAT!!! WHY???
Well old man, if you’re out there, who knows why you had to talk to me that day. Maybe you took a look at your life and realized I’m a lot like you. I hope you enjoy your new pre-fabricated house, because I certainly didn’t enjoy the rest of my day. Ughz.