Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Machines of the Future

The Machines of the Future
By Eric Renner
There I stood, seabag in one hand, nervous as hell and awed by the size of the M. S. Patriot. She was about nine hundred feet of solid blue hull, a full eleven stories towering above the dock, with twenty two life boats strung about the top deck, very impressive. I was about to embark on the most crucial job of my life, though I couldn’t have known that at the time. All I knew was that I despised the civilian unskilled working realm and hated the military even more. My short military service career had ended bitterly, leaving me without the skills I had signed up to learn and a poisonous level of disillusionment about the world in general.
Two weeks prior I had met an employee of this behemoth vessel and put it firmly in my head to go work on the engines. I had never done anything of the sort before, so I was winging it all the way. If there was anything I had learned in the military it was that if you did something with enough confidence, and the organization was big and loose enough, you almost always got away with it. That was why I was nervous: I was signed on for deck crew, but there was absolutely no way I was chipping paint for five months. However, that was my foot in the door, and given enough confidence I was to grace the engine’s department and discover an entirely new and fascinating realm of mechanics, changing my life and setting me on the path of engineering.
After I had waltzed my way into the engine room, I felt something I had never felt before; I was enjoying my job! Our ship, the Patriot, was bought from the Dutch, and the entire crew sacked, leaving the engine department in disarray and turmoil, cultivating fertile ground for a crash course in wrenching and rigging. Here I found out what it was that I was good at: problem solving and learning, particularly when it came to machines. There was an element of chaos that the navy lacked, for obvious reasons, but that galvanized my approach to trouble shooting and work ethics.
Since we were essentially doing figure eights around the Hawaiian Islands, port call came often. We would complete our duties and be on the beach by early afternoon on good days. At night there was the cool ocean air to accompany the sight of lava flowing into the sea, or stars above the bay. Dry dock was never this much fun; a bunch of ornery, smelly men speaking such abominations as to peel the paint off a nuclear burrito the length of a football field. I remember feeling my life draining away in utter worthlessness while standing watch, staring at two sixty foot high doors holding back the entire sea. You can’t tell the ocean to stop and show identification, you can only ask nicely, and it is likely she won’t listen.
Throughout the spring and summer aboard the Patriot I absorbed more mechanical knowledge than in my entire life prior. I developed a connection to machinery, a deeper “groking” of, to borrow from Robert A. Hienlien. Here was something that felt right, not a waste of time or boring repetition of mind numbing activity. This was something I could pour my entire being into and get back more from it in terms of satisfaction and enjoyment. Mechanics and engineering were to become my future that summer, a future that is gaining in clarification and brilliance every day.


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