Industrial arts

Eva Murray: Logistics

Posted:  Thursday, July 31, 2014 - 7:45am

Logistics. When I see that word now, I usually hear in my head that UPS advertisement they were running a few years ago, the one about how that company loves "logistics" and sung to the tune of That's Amore. UPS had its own wording but once I'd heard the jingle I'd keep humming it with more island-themed verses:

When you can't go by plane 'cause it's dumping down rain, that's logistics,

And they can't fly the mail in the lightning and hail, that's logistics.

It's low tide at the dock so you're stuck on the rock — that's logistics,

When your diesel's broke down, then you can't go to town  that's logistics...

Friends ask simple questions about the island and expect simple answers. "How do I get there?" "What time's the morning boat?" "Who comes and takes away your trash?" "How do the emergency responders get you if you're having a heart attack?" "Will you come to my party a week from next Saturday?"

Getting here — and leaving here is complicated, expensive, uncertain and always only weather-permitting. Likewise, if you need emergency medical services, how we'll proceed depends upon the sea and sky conditions. (EMS, at present, means me, backed up by a few other good Samaritans with various medical backgrounds. There is no doctor or even anybody close to being a doctor.) We have no idea if we can come to your mainland celebration a week from Saturday because it's way too early to get an accurate forecast and most of all, there is no "they." There is only us.

We who live on the outer islands get used to the constant demands of logistics, meaning boats and airplanes and U-Haul trucks and everything in the world coming in a cardboard box. It means the packing and hauling of everything, the timing of trips and tides, the complexities of multimodal transportation, hand-over-hand freight-handling, and waiting for the mail, and getting stuck on the wrong side of the water without your toothbrush. It means our constant nemesis, the final determinant  the weather. High winds or rough seas interfere with boat travel; fog, snow, hard rain, thunderstorms, icing conditions aloft, and high winds will force the air service pilots to spend the day in their Owls Head office, pacing the floors and answering countless telephone calls from people who want to be reassured that conditions are improving.

It also means dealing one hopes — thoughtfully and deliberately with trash. For some, it births an inspiring willingness to reuse, repurpose and repair. It means the local fix-it guy is a notorious pack-rat, the EMT is a nervous wreck when the fishermen are drinking, the postmaster is either frantic or bored and expedited delivery is a complete waste of your money. Grocery shoppers find they must have fax machines; cooks in need of a missing ingredient resort to communism.

Our groceries come to us in banana boxes and our recycling goes out in the same banana boxes. We get good at managing all of this  remembering details and planning ahead and buying by the truckload and bravery in the face of sure-fire seasickness. The few who do not learn these lessons impose mightily on the neighbors and show themselves a general pain in the neck.

As a rule, islanders grow used to the tyranny of the tide calendar and the fog and the mud. We may or may not be gracious when confronted with the very significant expense of all of this. Still, long experience doesn't make this dance one bit more convenient. The wise-aleck says, "'You can't get there from here' isn't lame Maine humor  it's the weather report."

Island transportation variables are difficult to explain, all this business about "flyable" weather, and how the "steamboat" wharf is only accessible during the upper half of the tide cycle, and how we have no store. It all leaves some listeners with their eyes glazed over. People have entrenched ideas about how things work based on other places they have lived, or visited, and it can be hard to break through those pre-existing notions. Among the hardest myths to bust, when we are trying to describe our lifestyle, is the legend of the imaginary characters called "Them." "They," meaning the agents of public safety or public works, are expected to show up like the Lone Ranger and save the day. Not here. Here, if we want a municipal solid waste system, we'd better start one. If we want an EMS system, we'd better start one. If we want a nice playground, we'd better fund raise for, design, order and assemble it ourselves.

Until recently I assumed that every aspect of life on the larger islands those with high schools and stores and paved roads, I mean  was easier than ours, but I humbly admit that I have learned otherwise. My position on the Maine State Ferry Service Advisory Board has enlightened me to the complicated runaround that is the parking line-up procedure for those islands during the summer. It's more or less a mess. On primitive little Matinicus, at least, a vehicle owner will know with certainty whether he can get his vehicle on the ferry or not. We only get a vehicle ferry about 32 times a year, but we make our reservations sometimes months ahead, each foot of deck space is accounted for and paid for, and nobody is in line just hoping to squeeze aboard for a day trip.

"Why don't you just get a boat?" ask the tourists, the relatives, the random people at meetings and in line at the store. "Then you can travel to the mainland for free!" They have not done the math. There is no getting across the water for free. ("Why don't you get a cow?" they also ask. "Then your milk would be free!" Ye gods and little fishes.)

You can cross the bay on a lobster boat, or you can fly with Penobscot Island Air, or you can take the state ferry if it happens to be making one of those rare trips when you want to go — but remember, in the winter, that'll be once a month, and a round trip that starts and ends in Rockland. It is really intended for the propane delivery and the lumberyards; Matinicus islanders headed for the dentist generally must find another way.

There are also a few charter passenger boats working the area, the Jackie Renee, Harvest MoonEquinox and others. For the past few years we have had the luxury of an excellent passenger boat service based here on the island. The 35-foot Robin R. is roomy and fast and clean and safe; Capt. George is organized and attends carefully to business. The boat gets everything it needs or could wish for, and its master knows when it is safe to go and when it might be best to say "No" to battling the seas. George publishes a schedule and sticks to it, returns phone calls promptly, handles dogs and kayaks and bicycles and plywood with patience, and can talk about sea birds, marine mammals or Abbie Burgess to any little kid, Iowa schoolteacher, or tweedy twitcher who takes an interest.

Being based here also means that the boat is available should some sort of emergency require an unexpected trip. I, for one, slept better at night knowing that George and the Robin R. were ready. I write that last bit in the past tense because this summer, George is stuck on land, managing with his crutches, and there shall be no passage aboard the Robin R. for the rest of the season. The other passenger boat captains, based in other ports, are making a valiant effort to fill the gap.

Nothing is simple here in the "simple life."

Eva MurrayEva Murray lives on Matinicus.

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