Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One Bad Day

6:20 am: Wake up
7:30 am: Ashland, my cat, pukes while up on the table. Said puke gets all over a knitting swatch (thank got not a real project), bills and receipts. All goes into the trash.
8:00 am: Show up for crappy drug testing policy class at the county shops. Feel guilty that I'm in a very bad mood and don't feel like going upstairs to see my old coworkers
9:30 am: Class over, walk over to my boss's office to figure out what he wants me to do the rest of the day. My hours today are supposed to be 1:30-10pm. But now I've got 1.5 hours on the clock in the morning. The boss's options were:
  • Have me do a "shop day," which basically means work 8-5 at the county shops doing....who knows. Whatever they come up with. Work the parts room, take cars for oil changes, wash cars, shuffle papers. Oh Joy. I dread the shop day.
  • Go home and show up at work at 1:30, getting 1.5 hours of overtime--which so far they're not allowing for the trainees
  • Go home and show up at work at 3, so I only do my typical 8 hours.
The boss gave me the option of overtime or show up at 3. Since I was in the throes of PMS and first day period agony, I opted to come to work at 3.
10 am: Arrive home, gather two hot pads, cup of coffee, chocolate, knitting, remote control and blanket and curl up on the couch.
10:02 am: spill coffee
10:03 am: spill coffee
10:05 am: spill coffee
10:06 am: cry over spilled coffee, while wiping off my computer, phone, and knitting.
2:10 pm: My burrito gets screwed up at Chipotle. Ate anyway.
3:00 pm: Show up at work and proceed to drive like crap for the rest of the day. Now, this takes some explaining. When water levels are low, below about 10 feet (measured at a gauge in Salem), you just drive, using the throttles to drive the boat into the ramp. When water levels are high, you have to use "the cables" (also called "the winch") to give you more leverage to turn and angle the boat. Using the cables is like driving a totally different boat. TOTALLY DIFFERENT. In the last month that I've been working, I've had to use the cables maybe a total of 3 days. Right now, water levels everywhere are high. I mean, hell, the Columbia is at flood stages! The Willamette is at 12.7 feet, and will be 13.5 tomorrow. It was 9 feet a week ago! That's a big difference. Driving the boat is so very different with the cables, I truly drove like a full on newbie all over again. It was embarassing. It was frustrating. Since I was pms-y, it made me want to cry. Additionally, I was working with D, someone I haven't worked much with. He intimidates me a bit, and I really don't want to come off as "the girl," and therefore stupid about boats and this boat in particular. Super sucky.
5:30 pm: Go on my lunch break, proceed to whine via email and text to several people (sorry. Blame the pms)
7:15 pm: Another something that takes a bit of 'spaining. Especially in high water, the boat rattles at full speed. The term for this rattling is "cavitating." Basically it's the upstream propeller, rattling a bit in it's housing. It causes the entire boat to rattle a bit. Usually you just notice a heightened noise. Sometimes it rattles enough that the safe, which is on the floor, to swing open. We don't lock the safe during the day (there's nothing in there, don't get any ideas!). This has happened before, and I've always noticed it and swung it shut and latched it. Keep in mind it's on the floor, and about a foot or so high. Yup. It swung open, I didn't see it, and I moved to go take toll, and slammed my shin and knee into the 10+ lb solid metal safe door. Much cursing, hot angry tears, foot stomping, kicking of safe door, ensued. D was sympathetic, and tried to go get the toll for me. I wouldn't let him (proving I'm tough?) and walked out to take toll from a regular. She had a ferry card, which gets swiped. I tried 3 times and couldn't get her card to read (all the while, keep in mind, I'm seeing red, my leg throbs and I'm barely holding back tears). Finally, she looks at me and says, "You're holding the card upside down, dear." I look at her and mumble that I just rammed my leg into something, and get out of there as fast as I could. Damn it, sympathetic people get me every time. I stepped into the cabin and cried. :( I got over it damn fast. Apologized like crazy to D, promised him that I've had my meltdown and was now better, and did my best to prove myself right.

The rest of the night was decent. But still super sucky. Late night, we had cars until after closing, so I didn't leave until 10:10. that's a f'ing long day!

So goes the tale of Cap'n Jenny's no good terrible very bad day.

"Can I drive your cabin?"

The other afternoon, B was taking tolls and I was driving. There were only two cars on board, and one car had a probably 4 or 5 year old boy in the backseat. He rolled down his window and asked B if he could "drive the cabin of the boat," and of course B said yes. So he came inside, and climbed up on the stool. I showed him how the throttles go back and forth and make the boat go fast, then put it in neutral and had him push them into full speed. We watched the water explained some of the buttons until we got close to the bank. Once I landed and explained what I was doing, I let him lower the gate by turning a toggle, (which also makes a bell ring) and let him press the big red button that blows the air horn.

I think he grinned all the way home.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cement mixers and septic pumpers

One of these days, I'll have to take a video of a big truck coming down the ramp and onto the boat. When, for instance, a cement mixer or a fully loaded gravel truck, like this guy yesterday:
comes across. This gravel truck went back and forth at least 4 times yesterday, full heading west, empty heading east, and then back again.

When a very heavy truck loads, you really feel it. We have to tie the boat up to the shore, since the change in weight could actually shift the boat around a lot. When the front wheels and cab come on, the boat sinks a bit. But really, when the back wheels hit the deck, the whole boat shifts and sinks. To the point that, yesterday, I had one foot on the stool and one on the ground. When the gravel truck hit the boat, it shifted the weight and angle of the boat so much, I almost lost my balance! The heavy trucks also make landing a lot harder. We try to make them park at the middle of the boat, so the cab isn't too far forward. If they pull far forward, the front end of the boat sinks, and the boat lands poorly, and low on the ramp. With a low landing, once the super heavy truck drives off, the boat isn't "stuck" well to the ramp and raises up, shifts up the ramp, and can be dangerous for other cars getting off. It's a lot of balancing and adjusting.

Another interesting truck is this guy:
Just my luck, the last three weeks, I've been working when they've come to pump out our tank and fill our fresh water. Have you ever stood 10 feet from a septic tank being pumped? And you can't walk away cause you have like, 10 tons of boat to land and 6 other cars with people plugging their noses, off the damn boat safely. It stinks so damn bad. Week old poo. Beyond gross. My stomach sinks whenever I see the septic truck pull up.

I love random views out the front window like this:
A truck with two dogs (you can't see the 2nd, he's laying down behind that one) pulled up directly in front of my window. There's a closed window between me and the dogs, but it was fun to see. And see, another huge truck, the yellow one, behind the dogs? that sucker wasn't full, but really heavy regardless. We still tie up, cause we don't know if they're full or empty. And an empty truck is still heavy enough to shift us around.

Sometimes semi trucks--big ones--come down the road, wanting to come across. Usually their GPS sends them this way, but we can't haul more than 63 feet, and the smaller trailers are 44 feet, plus the cab, and it's just too long, and too heavy. Plus the truckers would balk at having to pay $18 if they're heavy enough to take up the whole boat. We do a made up "turn around" motion, and the smarter truckers understand that, and turn around. Otherwise we have to walk up there and say, "Sorry dude, turn around and head back."

In non-ferry news, Michael should be coming home in the next few days. Mom's home right now, and movers are coming this afternoon, to help put the office in the spare room, the master bedroom in the office, and the spare bedroom into the master bedroom. Can we say "CHAOS!?!?" Go Mom, Go! :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Only the good

I don't want this blog to be where I come to bitch and whine. We all hear enough of that in our daily lives. Plus, thanks to my sweet friends, my mom and my sister, I whine enough as it is! :) So therefore, today is all good things.

Things I love about the ferry:

-There's an osprey nest we can watch, and at dusk, the ospreys ride the thermals...then dive straight down and into the water, coming up with fish.

-The blue heron that hangs out about 15 feet from the west boat landing

-I love the quiet at the end of the night. There's no passengers and we just sit, waiting, at one landing or the other. Walk around the boat, walk up onto the road, walk along the river, sit and knit. Last night there was at least 15 minutes of no cars at all.

-Today is my friday!

-The opportunity to take random gorgeous pictures. The location of the ferry truly is beautiful.

-Did I mention it's my friday? Cause it is, and that's awesome

-My mom is a sweetie. She's spending the night with me until Michael's out of the hospital. It was very sweet this morning hanging out with her having breakfast together. Night shift is sort of handy for that, actually.

-There's a stray cat that lives on the west side of the river. B feeds the cat his leftovers. Last night it wasn't even running away when he'd approach. It's sweet.

-My mom did my dishes this morning. awwwww.

-The sweater I'm knitting is so gorgeous. I was really hesitant cause there's a lot of colors in it. But the larger it gets (I just separated off the arms), the more and more I love it. The yarn is soft and I can't wait to wear it.

-Time to go to work. The sooner I leave, the sooner friday is over, and it's the weekend!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Nights and Days

Tomorrow is Thursday. Wait, it's not? It's my thursday. sigh. I pretty much hate the night shift. B, the regular guy, who does the night shift most nights, has a set schedule of thursday through monday, 1:30-10 pm. So, since I'm training with him for two weeks, that's my schedule too. It's damn inconvienient, with Michael's surgery and everything, it makes it virtually impossible to go see him at the hospital. Plus, when I'm free, everyone else I know is either asleep (like right now) or working. It's frustrating as hell. I feel cut off from the world, I feel like I can't get anything done, it's very jarring.

I don't mean to just bitch. I'm a little bitter this week. I'm feeling stuck and frustrated. I need a job in my field. There just aren't a lot of those. I'll find something, but I may be doing the ferry for months more. That's fine, I suppose, but if I get a permanent night shift, I'll be utterly miserable. They just can't do that.

Anyway--enough bitching. I promise.

Weekends versus weekdays are really interesting. Weekdays, people are virtually all regulars. We get a lot more people paying with prepaid ferry cards and less cash. Most people on the weekdays have at least ridden the ferry before. On the weekends, there are lot more tourists, who do "annoying" things. In reality, it's not really annoying, it just slows stuff down. The main thing is how they come onto the boat. Basically, if the boat's there, there's a space, and the gate is down, get your butt on the boat. Newbies need to be waved on. And then waved on again. Then reassured that they can come on. Then they need to be pointed to a parking space. If 5 of the 9 spaces are newbies...it really slows down the trip!

Weekdays also have a lot more farmers, farm laborers, and tractors. Weekends have a lot more families, bicyclers, kids, and people taking pictures.

My night landings are getting better. This is what the opposite ramp looks like, at night:
See the tiny cat eye looking lights in the distance? That's a truck, waiting on the other side. It's damn dark!

But the sunsets are gorgeous:

Same with the way the sunlight catches the top of the trees on the opposite bank. The color reminded me of fall in New England. At one point, the entire eastern bank was lit up in golden light.

In Michael news: He's out of the ICU!! Mom's got the phone number to his room if you want to call him. Dialysis is off the table, for now. So SOOOOOO happy! Mom went home for the night (yay! she needs to sleep), and will probably spend nights with me, cause I'm closer to Portland, until he's sent home.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Oh, great.

Well, it happened, I screwed up. All told, it could have been so. much. worse. But still. I screwed up. So on either end of the boat, there are these gates. When we lower them, they're flush with the deck, and cars drive over them to get on or off the boat. When we raise them to go across, we twist a knob, a bell rings, and the hydraulics lift the gate vertical. The bottom is a metal plate, then there are a bunch of tight cables that run across, with some vertical steel bars. I'm using a pic you've already seen, but come on. Work with me. It's almost 11pm and I just got off work.

Click on the pic to zoom in. So you can see the gate--the yellow stuff are cables wrapped in reflective stuff. You can also see the gaps in the deck where the gate sits when it's lowered.

So it was dusk. We ask cars to turn their lights off while they're waiting, since the halo from the headlights makes it hard to land. See also, in that picture, the corner of the cabin wall just to the left of where I'm standing? That's a car-sized blind spot. When the cars were loading, I was certain there were 3 cars. Car one and two loaded, and then I waited. I didn't see another car coming on. I looked, towards the ramp, and saw nothing. I don't think I looked at the monitors (we have cameras mounted...to prevent this exact thing). I didn't see ANYTHING, and I actually thought, in my head, "huh! I was sure there was a 3rd car!" but hit the gate button. The gate got probably 5 inches up, and slammed into the undercarriage of a honda. A shiny new honda driven by teenagers. SHITSHITSHIT! I lowered the gate instantly and my stomach dropped. the driver and passenger got out and looked around and under the car, my trainer, B, did the same, as did I. I apologized profusely, took down their license plate number and make and model of the car. B told the driver that once they drive off, we're no longer liable. The driver was fine with that. I really think I just scraped the undercarriage. but SHIIIIITTTTTT!!!!!!!!! I feel terrible. I did everything I was supposed to do (ok, I should have glanced in the monitor, I usually do, don't know why I didn't. just...didn't). B said that everyone does this, every single operator. In fact, one of the other new hires did this, and much worse, he actually slammed the gate into the fender of a fancy car, which then needed not only a new bumper, but also a radiator!!

Still. I screwed up. blah. I'm fine, just sort of ticked.

In other, non ferry news, my stepdad is still in the ICU, doing decent. His heart looks like it's doing really well, but his kidneys are really taking a hit. They were compromised before the surgery, and now are worse. They're talking kidney failure and dialysis. They haven't yet, but I'm guessing they'll probably need to do dialysis soon. So far, the doctors are all talking temporary dialysis, which I didn't know was an option, and I'm really glad to hear is possible. All I knew about dialysis before was how time consuming it was, 3-4 hours a day, 3-4 days a week. Regardless of the kidneys, Michael is doing well. He sat in the chair for several hours today, he's talking and joking and sounds like himself, only even more sarcastic and wiseass, if possible.

Monday, May 16, 2011

An Affair of the Heart

Tomorrow morning at 6 am, my beloved stepdad, Michael, is going in for a triple bypass surgery. In some regards, I feel like I've been through this all before. In September, my dad was at the same hospital for an aortic transplant. I'm lucky to have tomorrow off, I'm going up there to sit and knit with mom and keep her company during the surgery. Please, in your own way, be it prayer, good vibes, or healing thoughts, please keep him in your mind in the next week as he undergoes and then heals from this.

Ok, big heavy stuff done.

I'm now working nights. Yesterday was my first shift working 1:30-10pm. It was ok, I guess. I didn't "hull out" the boat, which means you land too fast, and the hull slams into the ramp. That's bad. I've been hulling out at least once a day. Didn't at all yesterday. I'm also working with someone new, which is a nice change. I worked well with R for the last two weeks, but I really held my tongue a lot on politics, lifestyle, religion, etc. I think B aligns himself along the same lines as R, but he's just a bit more easygoing in the right way. He's older, and he's old-school, I think he was impressed that a girl could do this. But I drove all night, no problems.

Driving in the dark is so strange. The way you hit the landings every time is by finding a point of reference. For me, when the orange pole thingies on the boat cross the inside edge of a particular post on shore, I know to slow down, throw it in reverse. It's damn hard to see that post on shore in the dark! You actually can see it, there's enough light from the one street light, but you're coming in, and you're thinking you should see it by now, and you don't...and you still don't...and you're worrying that you can't see it and you won't see it and you'll hull out and slam the hell out of the landing....and then you see it and you're fine! phew! And then, once you've slowed down, and you're nosing into the ramp at the very end, it's almost impossible to get your perspective right as to whether you're 5 feet from the ramp or 5 inches. It's certainly a new experience, and something to get used to.

My mom, and a few others, have worried about me being out there "all alone" late at night. In reality, mother-worry aside, it feels really safe. And I'm saying that as someone who's lived in crappy rough neighborhoods in DC. The roads approaching the boat on both sides are long and straight, so you can see cars coming, from their headlights. You know who's hanging out on the shore cause they've either got lights or making noise or something. A very VERY weird guy (utter lack of social skills, won't stop talking loudly, gets very in your face and animated--we've all met people like that) from a security company comes and gets all of the money at one point, so we don't really have anything to steal. Plus--mom, read this part over a few times--in the entire history of the boat, nothing has happened. Nobody has been robbed or hurt or ANYTHING. It feels safe. It's eerie as hell, especially once you've cut the engine. Suddenly there's a swell of noise from the crickets and owls and creatures, and not the roar of the turbines. And walking up the ramp to the car, out of the circle of light from the streetlight, it's suddenly dark, darker than you've seen in a long time. It's really great, actually. It reminds me of being a kid and going camping, and stepping out of the circle of light from the campfire, and really feeling the darkness.

I had another visitor this week, Michael and his sister, my auntie Jane (you have to pronounce it ahhhntie, the New England way, since she's from Rhode Island) came up for a look around the ferry. Jane snapped this cute picture of the boat and me:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Party on board

Yesterday, the new BV ferry was towed upstream, past the WL, while I was working. It was already a somewhat slow morning, but, because of a newspaper article, everyone knew it was happening today. I would have loved to have stood on the railroad bridge in Salem and watched the ferry go by from above. But it was pretty fun watching it glide right past me.

I was the first person to see the boat round the bend downstream. All of the other ferry operators were waiting on shore, having gotten permission to come up to watch it come by. I hadn't met most of them yet, so when we saw the ferry coming, we puttered over there and picked them all up. It was great fun, everyone was in a good mood, we all horsed around on deck, since there were very few cars crossing.

When they ferry passed us, we got a good look at it. It's a 6 car boat, but about the same size as the WL, which holds 9 cars. The added space is for sidewalks on either side of the cars, so pedestrians and bikes have a safe place to wait. The cabin looks like a nice size, and the engine room is bigger. Spaces are supposed to be more logical, with better and newer systems. Plus, it's all just shiny and new, and that is cool in and of itself.

The thing I love the most is that the builders who towed it upstream, slept on board. It's a long trip, especially going against the current. They got through the locks at Oregon City and spent the night about 8 river miles north of the WL. Then yesterday they made it past Salem, and tied up somewhere near Independence, I'm guessing. Wouldn't that be fun, sleeping on a boat being tugged upstream? It's very Mark Twain to me. There was a popup camper and a few tents on board. There's a great pic in the Salem newspaper from the railroad bridge, from above. Don't you want to join them in the tents? I really did!

So today, the ferry should land at the BV ramp. It'll take a few weeks to get it hooked up to all the cables and power lines, and to finish outfitting the boat. The cabin needs to be outfitted, all sorts of little parts need to be attached and set up. After that, we'll all train on it. They're guessing it'll open in late June or early July. I hope I'll get to run it! It's much slower down there, fewer passengers. Which is fine by me. The WL gets about 900-1200 cars a day. The BV gets less than 100. So that means I'll get paid to sit in the sun (or air conditioned cabin), talking on the phone, reading, knitting, listening to music. I think I can handle that!

And in the interim, I'm applying for other jobs. I had a pretty bad interview for a job in Coos Bay this week. I knew I was underqualified, and that I didn't want to move to Coos Bay, but interviewed anyway, and I'm glad I did. There's a really great job I'm applying for (today!) as a planner in Eugene, and a planning job in the San Francisco Bay Area. I'm really pleased with myself that, at this point, I've applied for 4 jobs, and had two interviews. Really great percentage, especially in this economy!

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Foggy Day

Yesterday was all about the fog. When I woke up at 4 am, I looked out the window and could barely see across the street. When I turned on the car, the thermometer read 35 degrees, and I had to scrape a thick layer of frost off my windshield. The drive to work, on rural country roads I'm still not fully comfortable with, was slow and plodding. I couldn't seem more than 50 feet or so in front of the car. I knew it'd be even more densely fogged in down right on the river.

It was so foggy that, while parked on one side of the river, we could look across and see a tiny pinprick of light form the streetlight over the ramp. We'd sit there, hoping that cars would leave their headlights on so we could see them, or that they'd honk to let us know they were there. It was eerie. It was like the boat was the entire world, there was nothing else but the white nothing.

When the sun came out behind the fog, we could look straight at the sun, and see a perfectly round orb. The sun, in the trees through the fog was spooky:
That's the sun there, behind the tree. Not the moon. And this picture was taken around 7 am, which usually would be very bright.

The fog didn't lift until after 10 am. I have no clue if the rest of the region was fogged in that late. I can only imagine how foggy it must get in the winter, or what it must be like when it snows. You're very aware of weather in a job like this. Today, the sun came out and it was about 65 degrees. On the shiny metal deck, I was sweating in a tshirt. In the cabin, which is rather shady even with all the windows, we had the heat on, and when the boat was moving, the breeze worked it's way through my sweater. Weather, I tell ya!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Random things

1) Somewhere in the last 36 hours, I've gone from hesitant and unsure of myeslf, to confident and able to read the boat and the river. About halfway through the day today, I pulled off yet another great landing, and realized that I wasn't nervous about the landings, I wasn't hesitant, and I was able to read how the boat was moving and throttle in and out with confidence. It feels GREAT.

2) Car smells. Except for when the toll taker is there (she works 4 hours in the morning and 4 in the evening), I'm taking tolls as well as driving. People have amazingly stinky cars! There was a car yesterday, I was about 6 feet from it when I could taste the overwhelming stench of air freshener. How was he not choking from it, sitting in the car with the windows up? And the cars that smell like 40 years of chain smoking. And the weird car that smells grossly like moldy bread.

3) Even worse smells. There's a lady who runs a mobile rendering company. She'll pick up dead farm animals and take them away to be rendered. She came on today, with two cows in the back. Speaking of cows, there's the hoof trimmers. There are these two huge red pickups, with big grates around the front and back, and this bizarre looking contraption where the bed would be. They put a cow in the contraption and hold it down and trim the hooves. When they're on the boat, it smells like driving by a dairy. A big dairy. And so far, the worst smell of all is when we get the septic tank pumped. Has to happen about once a week. He came yesterday morning. Even with the doors and windows shut, you can smell it. The bathroom is gross enough. Smelling that....blech.

4) Birds! There's a blue heron, that sweeps low across the water. It's amazingly graceful. There's also a huge osprey nest up on a phone pole. I have yet to see anything flying into it, but I've been assured by other operators that they're on the nest. Also, there are these little grey birds with yellow bellies that swoop around the boat. They'll swoop around for the whole trip across the river. Yesterday, there were three of them, zooming around cars and us. Made me smile, and I could see passengers enjoying it too.

5) There's a moment, when you put the engines in neutral, and the props stop spinning, where it's very quiet, and the river gets this lovely ripple in it. Everyone in their cars notice the change in speed and noise and look around interested. It's a very cool moment of peace, in the middle of a river.

6) Today, I feel like I can do this. I'm not going to do this all my life. I don't want to do this all my life. But as long as I can get over the sore feet, I feel like I can and will do this for as long as it takes to find a good job in my field. People are happy when they come on the boat. I get to take people on a curious and sweet old fashioned journey. They're charmed. They smile. It's a nice break from reality. For me as well as them.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I will survive

I've worked a week. 5 days. However, only two of those days were full shifts. I was in the shops on monday, had a coast guard physical on wednesday and drove to Portland to fill out 15 minutes of paperwork for the TSA yesterday. Even so? I'm exhausted. This is hard work.

I haven't had a physical job since high school, when I cashiered in a grocery store. And that was basically standing in place for a long time, and moving my hands and arms in such repetitive ways that I got carpel tunnel and tendonitis. This is much harder.

This is doing a weird combination of leaning, sitting and standing, usually at the same time. Maneuvering around trailers, trucks, tractors, tow hitches (which if you bump into one, it hits mid shin--haven't done that one yet), huge side mirrors, gates, slippery metal deck, doors that open a foot off the ground. Add to that the stress of being new, not knowing what I'm doing, screwing up landing after landing after landing, and trying to get along with people I don't know and don't know if I really want to know, and I'm exhausted. When I'm stressed, I hold the stress in my feet, and my feet just ache. I have flat, wide feet, virtually no arches. I have custom orthotics, but still. I got home from work today around 2, and I've pretty much been on the couch since then.

Emotionally, this is really hard. It still feels really unfair that I was laid off. Not so much that someone else should have been laid off--I don't think that, I know how government bureaucracy, unions, and office politics work--but just unfair in the general sense of the universe. I'm tired all the time, which is a new feeling for me. My schedule is chaotic and always changing. I'm not used to not knowing how to do anything and being the newbie. I'm a woman in a VERY blue collar man's world. These are huge changes. I've come home and cried most nights this week (tonight too, thanks to the supportive ear of my sister).

It will get easier. I'll be able to read the currents and the boat better, I'll nail the landings regularly. I'll be able to handle toll taking and driving the boat at the same time. I won't be the newbie, I'll be working on my own, on a new boat, in the summer. I'll be able to come home and not need to just sleep. But for now? This is easily the hardest transition in my entire life--and I've dropped out of high school, I've been fired a week after my car was stolen, I've had rough transitions!

And just cause I like including a pic, if I turn around from the controls, and look out the window, facing south, this is my view:

The cable, for some odd nautical reason, is called the baloney. It's basically an extension cord, holding all the electricity that powers the boat.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The who, the what, the where

Note: I've decided that, since I haven't mentioned to my boss or really anyone in charge at the ferry, that I don't want to be specific about where the ferry is located. But you know where I live, it's not too hard to figure out exactly where the ferries are. It's more that I don't want to use the names of the ferries a lot, since that would get them into google searches, which gets more notice than I think I want. So, the ferries will be known as the WL and the BV. 

A friend on facebook recently asked me to describe more about where the ferry is and who rides it. And really, since ferries are sort of unusual, and because the ferry isn't right in town, it's a good question!

The WL ferry, where I've been working, and will until the new boat arrives for the BV, is about 15 miles north of town. It's in a rural area, surrounded by farms. There's a very tiny community on one side of the river, with about 6 houses. Mainly though, it's farms. On the east side of the river, it's mostly hops, which look amazing growing. There are filbert (hazelnuts to you non Oregonians) orchards, cherry orchards and apple orchards. On the west side of the river, it's more of the same, plus wheat fields, wine grapes, corn fields and a small cheese factory, which is spectacular.

So because of all the agriculture, a lot of the passengers are farm related. In the early morning, big vans come through, full of field workers. There are also tractors, farm trucks, and farm related businesses. There's a guy with a big weird truck that holds cows so he can trim hooves. His truck stinks like cow poo. There's a guy with two trucks with apiaries--beehives. He takes them around to different farms. There are always bees on board when he's been across.

There's also a cement factory just around the corner from the west bank of the ferry, so it's common for fully loaded cement mixers to come across. I HATE cement mixers! They scare me, they're big and full and heavy, and when I'm next to one at an intersection I always imagine the mixer will come loose from the truck and squash me FLAT! Today there was one and it was full, and you could hear the cement rumbling around inside. My stomach turned as I walked around it to take tolls.

There are also a lot of regular non farm people going back and forth. Evidently, certain trips on certain GPS units direct you via the ferry, especially if you select "shortest" rather than "quickest." There's also a fancy rural private school near the east side of the ferry, so students come across before and after school. Some people commute via the ferry, they live in towns or rurally near the ferry and it's quicker to take the ferry than go about 15 miles south or 15 miles north, to the nearest bridge. For certain locations, it makes a lot of sense.

Most of the travelers are regulars. You can buy a toll card, which is reloadable online. Probably half of the travelers have toll cards, which I simply swipe through a machine. You can also write a check to reload the card right on board. I've gotten quick at that. The people who aren't used to the ferry are the ones that hand me a pile of coins, or scrounge around in their car, hoping they've got the cash. Earlier this week, someone didn't have enough. She forgot her toll card at home, and only had $1.20. I gave her a bit of a lecture and let her go, since we were in the middle of the river. We're supposed to be firm, and other operators have been known to go back to the shore and get off. But the secret is that we have a small tin with change in it, for just that situation.

I've only taken one picture of the inside of the wheelhouse. Click on this pic to enlarge it, I've described some of what you see.

It's a really tight space. I haven't tried it, but if I stand between the desk and the stool, I think I could stretch out my arms and touch both walls. So it's about 5 feet wide, and maybe 15 feet long. A very tight space. If you're sitting on the desk and you want to get your lunch from the fridge, it's easier to go outside and in the other door, than to climb over the other person.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A full day

This ferry stuff? It's exhausting. I'm not lifting weights all day, and I'm not solving world hunger. But the combination of the odd hours, moments of intense concentration followed by 2 minutes of utter boredom, leaves you exhausted by the end of the shift.

I got to work at 5, to start at 5:15. I woke up almost every hour, worried I'd oversleep. I hope I don't do that tonight. I think I drank about 5 cups of coffee this morning, too. By the time we started up the boat at 5:30, there were two or three cars waiting on either side. My trainer this morning said that they're regulars, and are almost always the first customers of the day.

I drove a lot today. My trainer was very easy going and laid back, which is a lot easier for me. His preferred method is to let the boat coast into the landing, rather than going in fast, then putting it into reverse to slow down. I had quite a few perfect landings, which made me proud. At the same time, a few times, the boat had to be backed up to renegotiate the landing, since it was so far off, half the apron was hanging over the rocks.

The boat is on a cable. Several, in fact. The cable that really keeps the boat in place is called the "low water cable." It's attached to the shore on each side, on the downstream side. It runs through a pulley on the east and west side of the boat. Because of the current, the cable doesn't lay straight east and west across the river, but arcs. Because of the arc, there's extra play in where the boat can go. That's why the landings are tough. The boat may always go roughly east and west, but the cable plus the current means it usually doesn't face where you want. So you throttle back and forth and play with the winch to get the landing "square."

I like chatting with the customers. Almost everyone, even the regulars, seem to see that the ferry is something unique and a bit special, and greets me with a smile when I take the tolls. Unless the boat is totally full and we get something complicated, there's enough time for a bit of chit chat. Lots of people ask if I'm new. Tons of regulars.

At one point today, we had a super chaotic load. 4 large trucks and several cars piled on board. 2 of the trucks were beekeepers, and one guy tried to use his preloaded ferry card to pay, but the card was empty. So he was scrambling to come up with the fare. While I was trying to figure that out, since his card paid a portion of the fee but not all, and the machine doesn't let me fiddle with the amounts due, just the number of vehicles, someone else wanted to buy a new ferry card, which takes a few minutes. AND someone else needed a receipt, which takes a minute. I think it was also that same load where another car paid with a baggie of coins, and about half were Canadian, so I had to run back and he had to scrounge for coins I could accept. Phew!

But then I took a break. And I'll say, my breakroom? Way better than yours. :)

Right as my shift came to an end today, we got word that the old BV ferry, which will be replaced in the next few weeks, is being barged downstream, and will be passing our way momentarily. We had to take the boat to a particular shore, since it pulls harder on the low water cable, giving the ferry and barge more clearance. When it went by, it seemed so tiny and flimsy. It held 6 cars, the cabin was tiny, and the whole thing looked like a piece of cardboard, floating in the river. Is that what my boat looks like? While standing on board my boat, it seems strong, sturdy, huge. Here's the BV ferry going by, being pushed by a small barge.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My First Day

Today was my first day. I worked about 5ish hours on the boat, the first few hours were in the shops. I got to work, and my boss introduced me to everyone, got me keys and equipment, and showed me around the "dirty" side of the public works facility. Prior to that, I'd only wandered around the office building where Planning is, and really, I only knew how to find Planning and Building Inspection. The rest was a mystery.

I now have:
1 bright greenish yellow reflective vest
6 keys that I'm still not sure what they operate
1 pair of safety goggles
2 pairs of gloves, one leather, one rubber and neoprene
I'll get a hard hat soon

The boss drove me up to the boat, since it was my first day, and he wanted to make sure I knew where to go. A regular operator and another trainee were already working, having been there since 5:15. I spent from then until around 3:45 driving the boat, bullshitting with the guys, and taking tolls.

Driving the boat is HARD! Eventually, I'll take a picture of the panel of buttons and knobs. The main thing is that there are two joysticks. Each one is for one engine, the downstream and the upstream. It's easy to start the boat, you press the button that lifts the gate, and move both joysticks over to the direction you want to go in. You've then got about 90 seconds or 2 minutes to hang out. When you get close to the other landing, you have to use the joysticks to put the engines in reverse, then fiddle with the engine speeds and directions, as well as a giant winch cable, to swing the boat into facing the landing head on. It really likes to twist in the current, especially on the east bank. I get really flustered as we approach the landing, it's tricky navigating the boat in. I have yet to do a landing without very clear direction. However, the other trainee, who'd only been doing it for 2 weeks, had it down pat, so I'll get there too.

Toll taking is nice. Talking to drivers, standing in the sun, directing cars. Some really huge trucks come on. We had three or four cement mixers, there are cement plants on both sides. And we had a big tractor. As soon as the wheels on the mixer or tractor hit the deck, the whole boat shifts around, it's a bit intimidating. You have to learn where to put those, not too far forward or one apron (the ends you drive onto and off the boat are called the aprons) will stick out of the water, not on the upstream side, etc.

Anyway, I like it. At least, so far. Tomorrow I have to be at the Yamhill county (opposite side of the river) side by 5:15 am. I hate mornings. I'll make it though.

Quick things I've learned:
-I need a baseball hat. keeps the sun out of my eyes and keeps my hair back
-better shoes
-better and easier layers
-better food! I had a bowl of risotto and some chocolate, and I was famished. Tomorrow I'll have risotto, raisins, cheese and crackers, and maybe some carrots.

When my boss came and picked me up, I snapped this picture: