Storm salvage

Someone called in the big guns this afternoon to get the Tartan 4100 off of the beach by the boat ramp. A big Krupp crane crept down Old Shore Road, extended big legs, latched on with slings, and lifted the beneaped boat up from the sand and out a dozen or so feet into the clam mud. A BoatUS towboat huffed and puffed and for a second it looked like the big boat was free …. but they shut down with a couple of hours to go before dead low tide, probably to return on tomorrow’s high tide around 2 pm.

Very cool seeing the crane’s boom bend, and issue all sorts of interesting creaks and popping sounds. Soundtrack courtesy of the crowd and my VHF radio in channel 18 eaves dropping on the crane operator at the tow boat crew.

The Day of Nailbiting: Irene Blows Through

John Steinbeck opens his memoir, Travels With Charley with an account of rescuing his 22-foot motorboat from Hurricane Donna in 1960. I remember reading that story before ever experiencing a hurricane myself, and I was impressed by Steinbeck’s willingness to risk his life for his beloved boat, wading into the waters of a harbor on Long Island Sound to free her from the clutches of some other boats and then power her up and steam safely to a safer anchorage. Since then I’ve repeatedly suffered the peculiar paternal anxiety of a boat owner confronted with the possibility of losing a boat, especially during those terrible storms where there just isn’t enough time to pull it safely from the water. When that happens it’s just wait and watch.

I own a 26-year old 33-foot Endeavour sloop — the Bald Eagle Too — a gift from some good friends who were going to consign her to a charity auction after her last owner passed away (I’ve retained her name out of the superstition that a renamed boat is bad luck). The boat is a total joy — who can argue with a gift? — and it has become the center of summer life for me and my family these past three years.  The first  twinges of boat anxiety began to build when Irene started to threaten early last week. I phoned the local boatyard on other business — to organize the pullout of the yacht club’s motorboats — and the owner answered his cell phone with an abrupt: “If this is about your big boat, tough titty…..” I never expect to be on anyone’s priority list for boat hauling as I maintain the boat myself to save money. Big spenders get pulled first so they can continue to spend.

On Friday my son and I stripped off the sails, took down the dodger and spent an hour attending to the mooring lines, insuring the chafing gear was in the bow chocks and running a third backup line from around the mast, down the bow roller for the anchor line and then down to the splice in a bowline where the mooring pennant met the chain in a blob of sea squirts and barnacles. Somewhere down there in the black muck was a fairly new 500-pound mushroom anchor. Hefty, but still, past hurricanes have ripped moorings that size out of the mud before. When we finished pumping the bilges dry, switched off the electrical system, and made one last paranoid check we motored up the harbor to check out a hurricane mooring I was given last year during the threat of Hurricane Earl. Alas, it had a little swim float tethered to it — 2,000 pounds of serious yacht insurance for a little wooden float — but hey, not my mooring, not my place to bitch and moan, and the Bald Eagle was just going to have to tough it out on her own.

All around us, out on the edge of the mooring field, the other owners of the big sailboats were making the same preparations we had. You can instantly gauge the saltiness of a boat owner from how thoroughly they approach their storm preparations. My good friend the Judge, who has been through hurricanes dating back to the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944, was doing the same thing I was — get all the canvas off the spars and spend a lot of time on the mooring pennants and chafing gear. Less experienced owners were leaving their roller reefed jibs on — a fatal mistake as the gusts will pick them open until the boat is literally sailing unattended at the mooring, wildly tacking back and forth until the mushroom is dislodged.

The danger in a mooring field isn’t necessarily what happens to one’s own boat, it’s what the 0ther boats that break free will do to you. In fact, late during yesterday’s storm a very new and hot looking racing sloop just to windward of me broke free late in the storm — probably due to the lines rubbing through, and blew down wind, just missing me but hanging up stern to bow on a small sloop that had stoutly made it through the worst of the blow, only to get dragged off by the combined weight of its own hull and the runaway. If I were the owner of the second boat I would be irate this morning, as he’s totally high and dry on the northern beach next to the boat that took him out.

I first went down to the water at 6 am on Saturday, just when the first storm bands were blowing in, and things looked fine. A party barge had broken free, but otherwise it was a good eight hours before the peak gusts were scheduled to arrive around 2 pm. I took the family out to breakfast at a seaside restaurant, but the windows were moaning so loudly in the gusts we lost our appetites. We returned home and for me, the worst was just starting.

The helplessness one feels during a storm is overwhelming.  You stand at the shore, pick a good angle to view the boat, and with every hard gust that blows the tops of the waves into the air, every blast of green water that goes over the bow, the boat hobby-horsing on its tether at a 45 degree angle up and down into the air and troughs ….. Yes, I could have spent the storm out on the boat. The thought occurred to me. One tactic is to keep the diesel running and then feather the throttle during the gusts to relieve some of the tons of pressure from the mooring. But, as I learned in my younger days as a surfcaster when a wave nearly flooded my waders and drowned me while I was fighting a striper –no fish, and no boat, is worth drowning for.

The crowd at the foot of Old Shore Road was mostly gawking at a motorboat thrown into the middle of the street and the occasional sailboat dragging down onto the sands. A gorgeous Tartan sloop from Annapolis came in right at my feet, the mooring float still tied to the cleat on the deck, the boat a victim of bad chafing gear. The fact the sails were still on the spars and a big inflatable dinghy was still hanging from the stern davits was an indication the owner hadn’t prepared for the worst, yet I heard him on his cell phone being very angry with the boat yard that rented him the mooring.

I’d watch for an hour then walk back up the hill to the house for a drink of water, some food, and a few minutes of pacing around telling myself que sera, sera — no need to go back down, what will happen will happen and there isn’t a thing you can do about it. That blithe rationalization lasted about a half hour until I pulled the orange Grunden back on and made my way down the shore road, nervously watching the tree limbs over my head, convinced I would get crushed by a falling maple branch on the next puff.

At noon the police arrived and kicked everyone off of the landing, putting up crime scene tape at the top of the hill to keep gawkers from driving down. High tide followed 30 minutes later at 12:30 — the storm surge coinciding with the new moon extreme tide — and Old Shore Road flooded, carrying a sportsfisherman right onto the road and blocking it closed. A big cruising catamaran, the Split Ticket, dragged ashore — the wind catching under the cabin sole between the two hulls and just muscling it slowly down the harbor into the beach grass. Blocked by the police from the beach and losing my mind at the house, I called a friend who lives on the water and has a view of my boat to see if I could come pace and fret on his lawn.

“I’ve got bad news,” he said. “She’s gone.”

That sucked. She had broken loose. “Do you see her on the beach?” I asked.

“I don’t see it. It might be up in Inner Harbor near the Oyster Company.”

As soon as I dropped the F-bomb my wife and son knew the worst had happened. We piled into the car and starting driving to the section of the bay where she would likely come ashore. As I turned the car past the cemetery the phone rang again.

“Never mind. I see her now. I guess I couldn’t get a good angle from my kitchen.”

I said another bad word. This was like the punchline of a bad doctor joke. “I’ve got good news and bad news ….”

We drove to his house and with a beaming smile (Har, har, April Fool’s!) he handed me a set of binoculars. The Bald Eagle was still out there, getting pounded as hard as I’ve ever seen any boat get hit at anchor. I handed the binocs to my wife. She stared for a few seconds, handed them back, and turned away.

“I wish I hadn’t seen that,” she said.

I snuck back down to the landing and remained there all afternoon. Pacing. Staring. Wincing. You could tell who the boat owners were. We all stood silently, arms crossed, staring. The gawkers and spectators were snapping pictures of the boats canted over the road, laughing, socializing, caught up in hurricane fever; but we owners were together but lost in our thoughts.

The Bald Eagle late on Sunday afternoon

Then more bad news as the gusts started to hit even harder. The Polaris, a gorgeous blue ketch, perhaps one of the prettiest boats in the harbor, was ashore just north of Lowell Point. I felt for the owner and his sons as they slogged through the surf and eel grass towards the spot just out of sight where she was rolling in the shallows. Then the C-Team, a grey sloop went on the beach at Handy’s Point. A sportsfisherman went into the trees under the bluff. The Lowell’s finger pier vanished in a tangle of planks. As I stood and spectated I felt a sharp twinge in my neck, and for the rest of the day couldn’t turn my head without wincing. I dug my finger into the spot — the kind of pain one gets from sleeping wrong — but nothing would make it go away.

My boat continued to plunge. And plunge. And careen under the impact of the williwaws and gusts. The hull heeled at a crazy angle under the force of the wind. At one point I thought I heard a jet engine out over the harbor — perhaps a stormhunter or Coast Guard Falcon jet from Otis Air Force Base? No, it was the sound of the wind honking through the spars and rigging of the 30 boats in the bay, an eerie mechanical, unnatural wail. I started to lose it. Just make it stop now. Throw a switch. Enough is enough. The boat had been riding hard for eight hours. I visualized the mooring lines where they came through the bow chocks and ran back to the cleats: a cartoon image of frayed dacron line, down to one Coyote-and-Roadrunner thread, waiting to snap with a little “plink” …..

I walked through the flotsam and wrack to Lowell’s Point to see if I could help with the Polaris. The owner and his sons were wading big anchors out into the surf and then using the jib winches to kedge the stern off of the beach. Coming ashore at half-tide was a good thing if they could keep her from being pushed any higher up on the sands. The next high tide might float her enough to be tugged free; otherwise, as in Hurricane Bob, a big Sikorsky SkyCrane helicopter with slings might be needed to get her off.

The Polaris ashore

And so it went through the late afternoon. At 7 pm I made my last trek down to the harbor. The wind had veered to the southwest, sustained at 40 knots with an occasional gust up to 60. They had said Irene was not so much a high impact storm as a big, long duration one and they were right. It blew for 12 solid hours. The longer it blew the more chafing I had to fret about, and as boats continued to break free and drift down on her right up until darkness there was no celebration on my part that the worst had passed. Coming home for the last time before nightfall I saw the boat’s mooring ball on the deck. A friend had found it on the beach. Ironic the float made it ashore while the boat didn’t.

I must have knocked on wood a dozen times yesterday, looking for a tree every time I said, “She’s still out there.”

By the twilight's last gleaming ....

At ten I went to bed, mentally exhausted. My wife and son were both exhausted and enervated by the long day of worry and helplessness. We all crashed.

….At so, at six today I woke to bluebird skies and the ringing of the first chainsaws. I pulled on fresh pair of shorts and walked down the lane, stepping over the downed limbs and pushing through piles of green leaves. More boats had come ashore during the night. One had a white hull with a blue stripe …. was it my boat? I thought for a moment my luck had run out.

In the blazing twinkling sun, too bright to see through with sun glasses and a hand visor, I looked out to that space in the harbor where she should have been and with immense relieve saw her hull, placid and bobbing safely on her mooring. She made it. I could safely celebrate without knocking on wood.

And the pain in my neck is completely gone.

 

Irene arrives

I went to the beach at 6 am in time to see the first boat come ashore. Three hours later things were pretty intense, even though high tide was another three hours away and the peak gusts aren’t due to arrive until 2 pm.

Ropes Beach is pretty crowded with gawkers, but I’m glad we pulled the Cotuit Skiff fleet yesterday and got the dock out of the water. My boat is still out there, riding bravely and looking good. For now.

I’ll post more videos until the power goes and I lose my connection.

This first series was shot at the Town Dock.

Preparing for Irene

Cape Cod fell under the National Hurricane Center’s hurricane watch last night, so with 48 hours to go before the first effects are felt on Sunday, it’s time to make preparations. Between my own property, boats, and the local yacht club, things are going to get hectic. I’ve been through the drill a few times before, so everything is manageable, just complicated.

The wind profile shows an earlier arrival than expected. Earlier in the week I had been assuming a night storm peaking around 1 am on Monday. Now it looks like Irene will hit during the middle of Sunday — right at the peak of the extreme new moon high tide at noon. With a southeasterly approach in the high 50-60 knot range, with gusts into the 70s, the damage could be considerable. Irene is a very massive storm in terms of its footprint. While the track of the eye of the storm has it now making landfall just east of New York City, the most powerful and dangerous quadrant of the cyclone is to the north and east — from noon to 3 o’clock on the virtual clock face. Meaning eastern Long Island through Cape Cod will take a hard beating and an extreme storm surge.

I’m not too concerned with flooding — the ancestors picked a high point to live on, but the shoreline is going to be innudated along with the coastal roads and piers. One key thing to remember in hurricane tracking is not to focus on the “dot” or the center of the storm, but the cone of influence preceding and surrounding it. Nasty conditions will hit hours before the eye, making preparations impossible up to six hour before landfall.

So, today, I have to:

  • Remove the sails and dodger from my 33′ sloop, pump the bilges, turn off the electrical system, duct tape down the halyards and fret about the chafing gear where the mooring lines come through the bow chocks. I’m riding on the outer edge of the mooring field on a 500 pound mushroom and hope that any boats upwind that break free won’t be driven down and foul. If the boat can swing free it has a chance, but what generally happens in the gusts is moored boats begin “sailing” at their moorings and oscillate in a wide arc while plunging in the four to six foot harbor swells. Combine that with an extreme high tide and the mooring chain and tackle lifts out of the mud and eventually works the mooring out. Enough time will chafe through the lines and then it’s a fast drift onto the beach. My top concern is the sailboat — but there’s no chance to haul it at this point in time and no haven safer than the one she’s in now.
  • Get the dinghy off the beach.
  • Get my motorboat fueled and on anchor at the beach to provide tender service for the yacht club.
  • Get the yacht club’s 420 fleet off of the property and hauled out of town to the local boat yard.
  • Haul the yacht club’s motorboats and get them to the boat yard.
  • Confer with the commodore and make a decision about pulling the Cotuit Skiff fleet tomorrow
  • Clean up the yacht club’s grounds and secure any loose gear
  • Clear my gutters and downspouts
  • Take in the garden furniture, bird feeders, racing scull, etc. etc. etc.
  • Do a flashlight/lantern check
That’s today. Tomorrow, Saturday, will be the last day for final prep. That will mean hauling 50 Cotuit Skiffs and storing them in a local field, taking down the yacht club pier, hauling my own motorboat, moving the cars out of the garages and  away from any trees, conducting the annual meeting of the yacht club’s association, and making sure all radios, cell phones, laptops, etc. are fully charged and powered off before going to bed.
Sunday morning it will be on us. Here’s the wind profile that shows the hourly build and peak. High tide is at 12:24 pm on Sunday, right when the worst of it happens.

Wireless Deadzones

The annual August arrival of the President on Martha’s Vineyard brings with it a couple plane-loads of black SUVs, burly Secret Service agents, and — according to the New York Times — portable cell phone “towers” to insure the Commander In Chief has four bars on his Blackberry at all times.

Ironic that suddenly the little village of Chilmark has cell phone service when the place is famed for being one of those rare spots where one can take a vacation and never have to worry about what mayhem is unfolding in one’s inbox for the simple truth that you can’t connect. There are no excuses for being unplugged on the western end of MV during the summer — you just can’t get connected there. No wonder I love my annual fly fishing vacation in late September in Menemsha — I can spend six hours baking in the sun waiting for a school of bonito to explode in the channel and not once will the phone ring.

Except of course unless the President is in the area, in which case paradise is temporarily lost to the invasion of the always-on/always-connected tyranny of life in the Blackberry lane:

“But others — especially those who live or vacation in Chilmark because it is remote — rolled their eyes when asked about the improved connection with the outside world.

“A lot of the people who vote here, who live here year-round, couldn’t care less if the people who invade them in the summer get to talk to their Hollywood producers in the middle of the Chilmark store,” Ms. Fox said.

Ms. LoRusso said the lack of cell service “keeps things up-island and rural.” Mr. Ford, who has spent the summer working on a farm here, said: “Personally, I like being disconnected. I like the privacy.”

Finding new stuff — then and now

I’m sure Malcolm Gladwell or Forrester Research has some nifty term for that type of person who discovers stuff first. You know who I am talking about; the girl in college who bought the first Talking Heads album while the rest of us were still stuck in a rut of disco or bad rock. The guy who saw The King’s Speech three months before you did. The type of person who moves on from Bikram yoga just as you’re discovering the Down Dog position. Everybody wants to be first, but why are some of us better at living on the leading edge than others?

How do trendspotters find the avant garde before it becomes mainstream? Is it intuitive or is it part of their psyche? Someone more willing to buck the norm and have the courage go out on a limb and tell their skeptical roommates, “Trust me, some day these guys are going to be huge”?

I used to have impeccable music spotting abilities, but was always the weird guy in the dorm, defending stuff like Lou Reed, The Ramones while the rest of the world was stuck on the Stones, Beatles, Allman Bros. etc.. I wasn’t super-gluing my hair into a purple mohawk or acting particularly hip — I just could, and still can, listen to very obscure music and intuitively know what’s going to be cool or not. How did I find it in the first place? By paying attention to college radio, especially late night, by reading the Village Voice, and by flipping through the milk crates of some of my more out-there acquaintances. Someone has to start playing it. My only knack was hearing it once and deciding it was worth hearing again.

Case in point. Late 90s I started listening to lots of electronica/techno because the beat rate syncopated nicely with rowing ergometer workouts. I start buying the Chemical Brothers and my teen children pick up the habit and instantly become cool in their own way. Fiction: I still press a copy of Barry Hannah’s “Geronimo Rex” into anybody’s hands who will listen. I found him in the early 70s out of complete luck and chance. Misses? The horrible Little River Band is one album I was ashamed to own.

One rainy day recently my youngest son wanted to go to a movie. Instead of relying on some direct recommendation from a pal, he just pulls out Rotten Tomatoes and looks at the score. Anything under an 80% he won’t waste his money on. Same goes for video games — he has his bible, Game Informer, and follows their recommendations slavishly. I suppose the only difference between him and me using Rolling Stone in the 1970s is media and nothing else.

My oldest son, the auteur, is a total creature of New York’s East Village, NYU film school, and now West Hollywood. His radar is set at max detection for two things: way way out there art film from the likes of Bela Tarr and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (aka “Joe”) ((stuff that will NEVER go mainstream since no one on earth wants to watch a seven hour epic about the decline of a Hungarian farm collective after the fall of the iron curtain)) and electronica which comes in a dizzying number of subcategories from dubstep to intelligent dance music (IDM) to breakcore. His discovery models are interesting – Last.fm in particular allows him to tag music and discover related stuff tagged by other listeners, and I just need to follow his play list history to discover the same.

He was also a fan of a site called Metacritic — which compiled professional reviews and ranked music, games, TV and movies on a 1-to-1o0 score. Then he gave up after one Scandinavian techno band, The Field, inexplicably dominated the rankings.  The point of Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes is they aggregate professional critics — not amateurs like you and me — and give a modicum of authority to the rankings and recommendations.

The power of recommendation engines is very significant in the Web 2.0/Social media set of features. While a lot of pundits opine that user reviews are the most powerful factor in a purchase decision (I trust her taste, therefore I will buy the same kind of car she drives), I think the “like-this” functionality that was  pioneered by Patti Maes at the MIT Media Lab and led to the ecommerce recommendations on Amazon (“People who bought this also bought this …” is very very influential in helping us discover new opportunities in media. The risk, as some critics have said, is that recommendation engines can put us into a self-referential echo chamber where the old phenomenon of a “Top Story Today” function on a news website continues to drive traffic to the same top headline, which keeps it on top ad infinitum.  How often does a recommendation engine push us to the extreme? Exposing liberals to conservative points of view and vice versa?

The notion of using tags and a “genome” approach to music and art to push the “like-this” function we’ve seen in the last decade to a more random, surprising discovery model is what is making the discovery of new art easier and more rewarding.

Anyway, as I sit here listening to the IDM tagged station on Last.fm I find myself “loving” specific songs by hitting the heart icon. Every time I do so, the algorithm looks for tagged matches and further refines my taste for me, all the while taking me deeper and deeper into the avant garde by the hand.

How to sink and be saved

Mark Cahill posted this on his blog this morning. Having gone through the same experience himself I can only imagine how he felt watching this. Moral of the story … there are many. But first and foremost is how fortunate these guys were that their handheld VHF radio popped to the surface after their boat sank.  While I’m generally not a lifejacket guy, I am seriously considering a set of survival suspenders after nearly buying the farm on Sunday jumping from my sloop to my motorboat in a big swell during the squalls. I came this close to doing the big swim.

“You too can work from home …”

Yesterday my friend Om Malik remarked on my screed about Cape Cod crime and asked me to expand on this digression:

“I came here full-time in 1991 in my early thirties as a technology enabled telecommuter and even went so far as to write a  big utopian story for Forbes on how tech was going to transform the hinterland into a paradise of ISDN-enabled day traders, software programmers, and affluent bohemian “knowledge workers” who would phone it in via telepresence technology. Ha. As one old timer told me early on at the village post office, “You can’t be a fireman unless you live near the fire.” The story of my career has been: “Raise the family on the Cape, earn the living elsewhere.”

So I did. Here is the story of me and telecommuting and ultimately how we’re all telecommuters:

Among my many journalistic mistakes was a story I wrote for Forbes Magazine in the early 90s that painted a utopian picture of a wired rural society where ISDN-enabled “knowledge workers” would revitalize quaintly inexpensive farm towns and resorts with their  Manhattan-sized pay checks direct deposited into their accounts at the Bailey Building and Loan Association. Goodbye to the tyranny of two-hour commutes and endless NPR fund drives, freed from the tedium of office cubicles and petty office politics and hello to Jetsonian H.246 teleconferencing, parents who could actually raise their kids (and home school them!) and a return to local life for the first time since the Industrial Revolution ripped our great-great-grandparents from the farm and chained them to a machine in a mill.

Ha. Having evenly divided my career between newsrooms/offices and home offices in bedrooms and various outbuildings, I am here to pass on what one old retiree told me in 1991after I decamped from Boston with my family to Cape Cod in search of pre-schools less competitive than Harvard, an actual backyard, and a quieter pace: “How can you be a fireman if you don’t live near the fire?”

Consider that twenty years ago – when I was writing that silly article — fax machines were marvelous things, most companies didn’t have email (if you needed email then you had MCI Mail or CompuServe). There was no Internet. The fastest PC was a 486, John Scully mismanaged Apple, and the height of wireless technology was a Motorola cell phone that resembled a Humvee. Videoteleconferencing cost a gazillion dollars. Digital cameras, let alone web cams were years away.  Basically, life was lived at 9,600 baud on a Hayes modem, dialed into pre-Internet services like The W.E.L.L. and various BBSs.

I ordered an ISDN line from Verizon. They sent men in white coats and hard hats to come look at my house. I wrote an entire story about the ordeal. I was a pioneer. I was wired.  CallerID was coming. I couldn’t wait.

The tools I needed to work from home came down to a PC that could dial into Forbes’ ATEX production system using a floppy-based program called “Send/Fetch,” the aforementioned fax machine to receive story proofs, and a touchtone phone with a headset for conducting interviews. That was it. Life was lived on the phone since no one had email other than a few geeky sources. I woke up, got the kids on the school bus, cleared the decks for the day, made a pre-emptive call to my editor to punch the virtual clock and then worked until three or four in the afternoon until the kids got off the bus. After dinner was when Forbes went to work – editors or fact checkers would call and keep me busy until nine. It was good. I started flowers from seed and learned how to fly fish.

This life was revolutionary at the time. None of my colleagues – present or former – did anything remotely similar. Everyone I knew worked in an office.

I grew my hair long. I wore atrocious slob clothing, attempted a moustache, and gained weight from seeking inspiration in the refrigerator. I joined the local library board.  I was 32 years old and growing senile on what the optimists were calling “The Silicon Sandbar.” In all my time telecommuting from Cape Cod I never met a fellow “knowledge worker,” just carpenters, landscapers, fishermen and retirees.  Where were the hedge fund managers? The coders? The novelists?

Given that Forbes only published 26 issues a year, it wasn’t surprising that I became one of the most prolific writers on the magazine’s masthead. I wrote out of boredom, looked forward to my monthly visit to Forbes’ elegant headquarters on lower Fifth Avenue, and was constantly bugging my editor for permission to travel to Silicon Valley or Seattle in search of cool technologies to write about. In other words, I was bored.

Within three years of arriving on Cape Cod I needed some cultural and social stimulus and a decent Indian restaurant. Those wishes were fulfilled in 1995 when I started Forbes.com and suddenly had a business to run and a staff to manage. What followed were five years of weekly plane rides on a Beechcraft 1900 from Hyannis to LaGuardia, living out of a suitcase, and trying to ride the Web 1.0 wave in Silicon Alley while maintaining a family 250 miles behind me on Cape Cod. All the video teleconferencing in the world wouldn’t have permitted me to manage Forbes.com, so, like a good fireman, I went to the fire. Any time I tried to get things done from the Cape all hell broke loose in some bizarre variant of Murphy’s Law. When my staff at Forbes.com broke the Shattered Glass expose I was in Paris trying to enjoy my 40th birthday with a Toshiba laptop, a useless cell phone, and a stack of useless phone and voltage adapters.  So much for being there.  My head wasn’t in France and my ass wasn’t in the newsroom in the midst of its biggest scoop ever.

The cultural swing between the work week in the city that never sleeps and the deserted winter beaches of Cape Cod was a bit too intense. The best advice on going home I received at the time from a fellow Cape to NYC commuter was: “No one missed you while you were gone, so when you get home, find a chair, sit in it, and eventually someone will come sit in your lap.”

Generally that someone was the family dog.

When I left Forbes and journalism to join McKinsey another wise soul said, “The virtual office virtually works.” Right. I found myself commuting 80 miles a day by car from the Cape to the lifeless Route 128 suburb of Waltham to sit in a cubicle and produce endless Powerpoints. Thankfully that operation had its plug pulled by McKinsey and I was transferred back to New York City, and once again was living the Cape Cod to Manhattan lifestyle I thought I had escaped in 2000. The only time telecommuting at McKinsey was actually a blessing was in the terrible days following 9/11 when flying was out of the question and very few people wanted to be in the city, including those who lived there.

The worst telecommute was Zurich to Cape Cod. Once big time zones get introduced then telecommuting becomes a misery. Swiss managers – to hopelessly generalize – like their staff to be under their noses.  Trying to manage my staff from the Cape or the company’s Wall Street offices was impossible. After Zurich I worked for a Chinese company with offices in Raleigh, North Carolina and there I discovered commuting to work meant flying from Boston to the Research Triangle only to sit in an office staring at pine trees and spending most of the day on massive global conference calls while making fun of whoever was talking through instant messenger with my colleagues. The only difference between taking those phone calls from Cape Cod was latitude and better barbeque. Woe to the call participant who forgot their mute button. We learned to know the barks of each other’s dogs, the screams of unhappy children ….. The amount of travel – Bangalore, Beijing, Istanbul – meant I was basically telecommuting again, but instead of doing it from Cape Cod and a former whaling captain’s house on an IDSN line I was doing it from one hotel room or business lounge after another on $20 a day Wifi.

Today? Three days a week I work out of a nice townhouse near the Museum of Modern Art on 54th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues – pretty much right in the middle of the action. With one child remaining at home with only a year left before college, my wife and I are 13 months away from moving back to a city and letting Cape Cod revert back to being a weekend/vacation spot.

We’re all telecommuters now and it’s not paradise in the mountains or on the islands. We still live in the angry suburbs, commute bumper to bumper and cheek to cheek, but this time we’re also expected to be 100% available and well informed all the time, be it in the car, on the runway, or in a beach chair.

Enjoy your beach chair this August. The office will be waiting for you when you come back.

 

 

 

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