MatadorU: “First Day on the Job”

-The following is a post from Kyle the Vagabond’s ongoing matriculation through the Matador U Travel Writing Program. I have chosen to post a number of the course assignments here on Kyle the Vagabond as a way to highlight Matador’s program and convey travel-related tales at the same time.-

“First Day on the Job”

There are few things worse than not being able to sleep. The clock’s red flash of 3:38 is a stark contrast to the darkness outside my window. I blame the restlessness on my nerves. I always get nervous before the start of a new job. Tossing over onto my right side, thoughts of the boat’s operating systems, where the batteries are, and if I’m going to remember the precise location of all of the lake’s shallow boulders race through my head.

I check the clock again. 3:41. The 3 minutes that seemed like an hour.

I’ve been in this situation before, and from those times I’ve learned it’s best to simply get up. Yet before I can make the long-delayed switch from horizontal to vertical, my thoughts must switch to New Zealand's Marlborough Soundhow I’m actually going to make my exit from the bed. Last week when I couldn’t sleep, in an effort to not rouse my sleeping wife, I attempted to move in extra-slow motion and keep my sleep-deprived frame from making the slightest sound. Turns out that all my body-shuffling woke her up anyway, and at 4:09am she made no secret of letting me in on her displeasure. Not wanting to repeat that ordeal, I decide that this morning’s plan of attack will be the ultra-swift, all-in-one motion of lunging from bed to floor to door. With a deep breath in, I look, I leap—nearly trip—and swing the door over the soft carpet beneath me.

I think it might have worked.

Noticing my thirst, my first inclination is to start a pot of coffee, though I’m not sure if it’s the beverage of choice for calming down. I chastise myself for being so nervous. It’s just a 26’ boat on Lake Tahoe, and it can only hold 8 people. What could possible go wrong? After all, I’ve driven boats much bigger than this one, like that ferry in New Zealand. That thing could hold 1000 people. Granted, I wasn’t the actual captain of that ship, but I nonetheless manned the wheel and helped navigate that ferry through the South Island’s narrow Marlborough Sound. Of the 600 or so people on that ship, I doubt any of them suspected their vessel was being manned by a complete stranger that the Captain had met on the streets of Wellington just a few days before.


Busking in Wellington It was the day of the biennial Cuba Street Carnival—one of the capital city’s more raucous events—and my two University mates and I had chosen to raise a little beer money by playing some music on the street corner. Busking as the Kiwis call it. Rapidly strumming my four string ukulele and the other two playing acoustic guitars, we personified mediocrity. For what we lacked in musical talent, however, we apparently made up for in entertainment value. That’s how we ended up meeting the Captain.

A native of England who had signed a 2-year contract to drive the massive car ferry that connects the country’s north and south islands, he too was enjoying the festivities of Cuba Street that day. Happening upon a haggard band of ukulele strumming Americans, idle talk turned into rounds of beers, which turned into my ending up in a parade riding on a float of Polynesian dancers from the island of Tokelau. But that’s a story for another sleepless morning. That next day, over a headache riddled breakfast of oatmeal and exceptionally strong coffee, the Captain suggested to us that we hop a ride to the South Island with him the following day. He’d even let us drive.

Walking out onto my deck above Lake Tahoe to catch the first few rays of the rising sun, I chuckle to myself thinking back on navigating that iron beast. It would take someone at least a decade to acquire a large enough license to drive a vessel of that size, and all it took me was an ukulele and a few rounds of Monteith’s Black.

Readying my bag back inside the house, I grab my passport-sized US Coast Guard Captain’s License and place it in the waterproof front pocket. While it may only be a 100-ton license—not nearly adequate enough to drive a ship the size of the Interislander ferry—it’s more than enough to captain an 8-person speedboat on a shimmering lake in the Sierras. I take the final sip of the coffee I decided to make, and double check to make sure the license is securely inside of the front pouch. Though still trying hard not to think about it, I’m going to need that with me today in the event that something goes wrong.

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