Saturday, August 18, 2012

How do Heros Handle Extortion?

Major break down starting two days ago.

We were informed by the shipping company (the one that owns the freighter) that they would need a substantial amount of additional money otherwise we would not be getting our boat. It would be off-loaded into custody.

They blamed the shipping agent (the guys who are sort of like the travel agents for freighters.) Because of the agent's neglect, a bad cradle was delivered.  Because a bad trailer was delivered, it took four hours to load our boat, and some unknown extra time to shore it up with props because the cradle was unreliable. I spent a lot of time on the phone with three different people from the shipping company. Their advice: Settle the issue with your agent. The agent should take the financial hit. 

The agent, of course, said it was the shipping company's fault. The cradle was fine, they claim. Their stance: the shipping company should drop the surcharge.

Bottom line: If we wanted our hostage back, we would have to give in to this extortion.

Frankly, I lost it. I was screaming and swearing in a conference call with agents. If it hadn’t have been for Jennifer, who knows how the conversation would have ended. She took over.

Threatening legal action had little effect.

“Go ahead, we’ve been in situations like these with boats worth millions and I can tell you, we are iron-clad protected.”

Oh really? That’s funny, because when I asked that very same sales agent before we shipped what kind of problems we might encounter; what kind of “unexpected” events sometimes occur, he said that in his fifteen years, he couldn’t remember a single one.

Jennifer and I went into a pretty deep funk. We discussed breaking off the trip. The costs associated with this whole trip have spiraled way beyond what we expected. It is certainly into the realm of irrational. Perhaps into the waters of irresponsible.

This extortion became the straw that was breaking the camel’s back. We added up the money, all the money we have spent in the last two years of preparing for this trip and going on this trip and we fell deeper into depression. I became catatonic, falling into bed and pulling the covers over my head. The next morning, Jennifer had to drag me to the coffee shop. I sat, drank and just couldn’t lift myself out of this deep, dark hole.

So, I’m doing the numbers. It has been almost a year since the fire. What a long, arduous detour on this voyage. We wanted to go on a two-year trip, and so far, out of the past 15 months, we have spent four on the boat. And you can’t really call crossing an ocean comfortable cruising, so deduct those six weeks. That leaves ten weeks of cruising.

It would be better to call the whole thing off now and quit throwing good money into a fire that is still burning from a year ago.

But, I rarely stay depressed for too long. I began having an emergency session with my council. In times like this, I have imaginary conversations with the people I know; the people I trust. My council.

My father ranks pretty highly in the council. My siblings all have seats. Joel, of course. And in second-row seating around the table are other voices. People I have known, who know me, and even if they aren’t in my life actively anymore, I still listen to them.

The council was divided. I was left with digging deeper into myself. And then I started remembering other guiding voices. One, who doesn’t sit at the table, but whose poem hangs on the council room wall, is Rudyard Kipling. His poem “If” has been a guide for me since childhood.

One line in his poem reads:

If you can "watch the things you gave your life to, broken
and stoop and build 'em up again with worn-out tools ..."

The poem concludes that if you can do that, among other things, then “yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.”

And finally, I thought about my own advice to my daughter, Zoe, who took on her own adventure of spending a year in Germany during her tenth grade.

Voyages and adventures aren’t easy, I told her. But each time we venture beyond our comfort zone, (whether it be a trip, or even trying some new practice in life) we become the quintessential hero. The hero, as Campbell said, “with a thousand faces.”

Jennifer and I are Odysseus right now. We have a long way to go before we return home. We almost chose the short-cut. But then we would have given up. We would have given in to defeat.

Yes, it might be a ridiculous cost. Yes, our cherished boat might have suffered damage in that %$#@* cradle. But this is an adventure we have not completed yet. We are so close to the isles of ancient history we set out to explore. We cannot give up now.

Although, instead of just paying up, I wish I could settle this old-hero style. Run my sword though a couple of agents, then slice the tie-downs holding Phoenix to the freighter deck, kick the stands away, watch Phoenix splash into the Aegean, grab Jennifer around the waist with one arm, catch a crane line with the other, and swing us down onto the deck of Phoenix and sail away.


Anonymous said...

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

a voice from the council

Anonymous said...

I feel sooooo sorry for you two. Every sentence hurts to read, but Mathias look at it this way:
You want to write. Can there be a more boring book than one about a trip where everything went well? What fascinates people more than stories of troubles, trials and tribulations?
So write down every detail while your feelings and emotions are still fresh and continue your journey and while the mortal in you wishes at last for a peaceful ride, may the artist in you striving for the immortal hope that the next catastrophe is waiting around the corner!

another voice from the council

alykat said...

Just like I said before : ) ( imagine a nice healthy slap here, M)

I think? I may have a place on the council...


abbot said...

dont pay !

when the ship is at the dock, let the air out of it and Phoenix will float off

judymac said...

so sorry......middle men....that could fill pages and pages
in anyone's journal....but for you two right now it feels so unfair and it is.....

but on the other hand you will get the will continue your journey.....(all of life is a journey.... the ups, the downs, the curves, the twists, the u-turns)....and what a tale to tell.....

Anonymous said...

Hero? Odysseus? Not.

Stevedore unions do not welcome laypeople doing their jobs as they are seen as taking food out of their families' mouths. You blame the line, the agent, the cradle. Blame yourselves. Your desire to save a few pennies cost you pounds of foolishness. Your grand adventure stepped on the wrong feet. You've seen On the Waterfront!

No one teases the cunning powers of this world with impunity.

When you got on that ship in Baltimore and evidently screwed up the whole operation with all the delays you caused, did you think it was free? Are you that naive or just that dumb minded? Now you made your own bed but didn't like sleeping in it and complain about charges. Ships, ports and port operations are expensive, did you just discover this?

You exposed yourselves to what you are. Petty, pathetic, self-righteous bourgeois with no honor. You call yourself a hero? You who blame others for your own faults and consequence crying about how you were forced to pay more money and how unfair it was, while you blog about your vixen wife wearing a low cut skirt to help you both minimize the bribes you would pay the Turks to release your boat for your own self interests. Petty, and cheap indeed.

If this journey teaches you anything it will be to perhaps learn how to be real human beings instead of the frauds you have been to this day and take responsibility for your own actions with the allotted consequences that result instead of unduly passing blame.

When Diogenes lifted his lantern looking for a real human being it was because he was surrounded then like now by people like you.

You are no hero and certainly no Odysseus but perhaps this journey will turn you both into human beings in the end on your way to Ithaca and maybe then, you will realize what Kavafy's Ithaca means.