You can get high these days without the trek and effort of yesteryear; make crypto-currency bets with million-dollar upsides and acquire non-fungible tokens capturing the artwork of tomorrow. Beer gets delivered via an app. Order a car online and it’ll be in your drive the day after next. Lobsters arrive on the porch with a text. There’s no paper menu; just scan this QR Code. Order it on Amazon, complain about it on Quora and sell it on eBay. It’s all remote and distant and makes me feel like I’m high all the time; unwillingly baked out of my mind as reality slips into the electronic folds of the Internet.
A month or so ago I drove to Bristol, RI to visit Jamestown Distributors. My daughter dialed them seeking an address and then turned to me in horror – they don’t have a store anymore. It’s all online. Why no storefront? Why can’t I wander the aisle and read the paint labels and shake this and look at that and nudge my gangly daughter into the fender display? What? You think leaving us with the boating big box store satiates our salty spirits? The big box store where the money is on the clothing and the kayaks and fishing gear and anything else you want is a multi-day wait. The big box store that imprints its moniker on everything. Please.
When I was young, I captained a three-spreader C&C 41. I took it places; cleaned it up and did those things it needed to be ready when the owner wanted to race. I wasn’t particularly good at any of it except getting the boat safely from port-to-port. The thing is, for that job I remember walking into the original Jamestown Distributors with its miles of shelves and wooden flooring that creaked underfoot. I remember too, JT’s Ship Chandlery in Newport, RI – right up from the dinghy dock. These were the places you’d go to replenish and renew the vessel and maybe in hindsight, yourself.
A trip to the chandlery broke the monotony of boat work. A trip up the street might’ve yielded a meetup with a fellow that knows of someone wanting a quick delivery down to Stonington, CT. Maybe what you thought you needed to replace that winch spring-thing you dropped wasn’t on the shelf, but the fellow in the Dickies shirt, with a notepad peaking up from the breast-pocket, showed you a ready substitute. My point is this electronic version of boating loses the personality of boating. Maybe the young guns have it all going on via WhatsApp, SnapChat and Instagram, but what about the rest of us?
Yes, I ordered what I needed from Jamestown Distributors online and it was a snappy day or so later that it arrived on the porch. But I ask you online merchants, how are you any different from the grocer that wants me to pack my own bag? Am I realizing any savings? Probably not. Is the experience better? Definitely not. Plus, you’ve lost that customer contact and relegated yourself to an emotionless transaction turning solely on cost.
If fortune allows and my tide doesn’t ebb too quick, I hope someday to find myself aboard a boat for a long haul. I’ll sail clear of these parts and head toward a distant sea and shore. I won’t be chasing anything, but fleeing a world choking on the ones and zeros of a computer age that’s just begun. I just want out from an online presence, passwords requiring at least two ‘unique’ characters and a society worshipping shareholder returns.
If you’re in Newport sometime soon, go over and get a seat at Gary’s Handy Lunch Diner on lower Thames. The food is good and quick and the coffee, hot and consistent. It’s a paper menu and there’s no app. I can sit at the counter and see the marine electrician I know, a former client who always gives me a wave and some crew who came around last year asking about a wage loss claim. The staff shouts greetings and bustles around with the smooth efficiency of a Beatles’ chorus line. (I don’t like the Beatles, but I like that their music was tight because they spent a long time playing no-name clubs. It’s Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour theory in practice.) The background noise of life fills that diner and it’s a window of what things were and maybe should be. Life is visceral and ugly and random, and when reduced to keystrokes we lose the experience of this quick voyage.
I appreciate as I write this that people around the globe would kill for the fortune life has so far shown me. Ordering online is your big gripe, they’d say in disgust as they despair as to whether a tomorrow even exists for them. I understand, but you write what you know and maybe what you think will be a problem for everyone at some point.
Joe Cooper has a good piece of writing in the August 2021 WindCheck (The Empty Three Quarters). I like that kind of thinking and drawing parallels between things and generally roughing-up reality. Don’t sit still. Don’t be a button pusher. Go on and read the thoughts of others and push on with your own adventures – whatever they may be.
And there we are. If you’re reading this, it means the crew of this good ship let me write a column that didn’t specifically address a maritime legal topic.
Underway and making way. ■
John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.