Several years ago I returned to my university from taking a ten day journey on an old-fashioned schooner designed to simulate being a 19th century seaman, as part of a maritime studies program. To return from the US Virgin Islands to Wesleyan University in CT, I took pretty much every form of transportation possible. That morning I was on the boat, hauling anchor to sail into shore. (I personally hauled the anchor, a fact exhibited by the black oil stains that would remain on me, through the course of the following story.) We then took a pedicab to the airport, where we took first a small plane, then a larger one (there was a moment of fear as the drug-sniffing dog showed intense interest in my friend’s bag on the tarmac in Puerto Rico: the culprit, a tuna sandwich). On arrival in New York City, we took the subway train in from JFK, taking well over an hour to reach downtown. My plan was to take the bus to Middletown CT, but I was to discover that this bus had been cancelled during my absence. My only option was to take the bus to New Haven (at least 40 minutes out of the way), and then a cab home.
So, on entering the cab, I had travelled that very day by schooner, dinghy, bike, pedicab, prop-plane, jet-plane, subway train, greyhound bus, and now, taxi cab. I was not in the mood to talk.
The driver started chatting, and showed some interest in my having been in the Caribbean. I answered shortly, with few words, until it became clear that he knew a lot about what he was talking about. He had left Indonesia as a young man, many years before, and had worked for years in the merchant marine, sailing throughout the Caribbean and beyond. Here I was, 8 modes of transportation and several hours away from my attempt to learn about the true life of a sailor, hearing about it first hand from a taxi-cab driver on the roads of suburban Connecticut.
I remembered this story today, as I stopped to get take out at a Burmese restaurant after my run. I had felt a slight cold coming on and I realized as I ran (ok, shuffled perhaps) that I really was sick. Walking home freezing cold with a sore throat, I stopped in to buy some lemon grass soup. I was not in the mood to talk.
But, as I waited, I chatted with the owner of the restaurant, who told me how he had escaped Burma (Ok, Myanmar) 14 years ago, by taking a job on a cargo ship. He would have perhaps stayed on the seas forever, had he not accidentally fallen overboard while fastening a life boat. Falling overboard is not something you do at sea, since it is usually not something you can recover from. His life flashed before his eyes, he vowed to do something safer, made his way to America, then Manhattan and, as I sat waiting for my food, took an order from a fancy Madison ave. address, chatting like an old friend to the customer on the other line.