July 7th, 2009

PNR, day 33: back here again so soon?

Ah, the old pacifist dude.
Naval Submarine Base New London, from atop the Gold Star Bridge.
The "enemy" in his "lair." (Chiefs' quarters aboard USS Nautilus [SSN 571].)

The penultimate day of the Post-Navy Roadtrip would be one of its shortest - just one hundred miles point-to-point, in less than two hours' time. Of course, I wouldn't go quite that quickly. After taking a late start out of Boston, I stopped at Providence Place just after noon. It's the giant mall in Rhode Island's capital city that I have previously visited several times. On this occasion, I didn't buy anything...except lunch in the food court. I did do some walking around, taking some pictures of the mall, the state house, and the river over which the mall sits. I tried to follow the advice of my friend Mike, with whom I stayed in Los Angeles, who told me to "take my time." In that spirit, I resolved to remain stopped in Providence for at least an hour and a half. It was ninety-four minutes, to be exact, and then it was on to the place where I (literally) spent half of my time in the Navy...

...the "submarine capital of the world." Or, as many of my former 691 sufferers call it, the "bad place." Or, as I called it on Facebook, "the place where young Sailors' dreams end up on life support. (Groton, CT...Norfolk is where those dreams go to die.)" Ah yes, ol' Groton. The first stop back in the Armpit of New England was a place that I somehow never managed to visit in the whole of my time in residence there - the Submarine Force Library and Museum, and Historic Ship Nautilus. I was there for a while, first simply walking about the external grounds, looking upon the waterfront where so much of me was left behind and wasted. I finally did enter the museum, and spent plenty of time looking around at the exhibits, especially the one chronicling Nautilus's attempts to reach the North Pole. There was one point in the place where you could put some sound-powered phones on. My non-verbal response: "no EFFING way...it will be a cold day in hell before I don another set of those." Finally, I went across the brow and onto the ship - that is to say, the half of the ship that can be seen without extensive, irreparable damage to national security. The best part of this particular forward compartment was the chiefs' quarters, which featured a mannequin of a chief eating a pickle. I'm convinced somebody E-6 or below conceived that one.

After leaving Nautilus, I took a quick drive past the apartment where I lived not two months before, and then parked the car on Bailey Circle, which leads to the pedestrian walkway of the Gold Star Bridge over the Thames River. I went up there to get some photos of SUBASE and the waterfront. This was much more of a ordeal than I expected, because some type of charity bike ride was in progress, and the only way for this peloton to cross the river was via the very same passage I inhabited. Given my general respect for cyclists, and the fact that they had the faster vehicles, I yielded many times both on the way up and the way down. Having successfully evaded the men and women on two wheels, I made a couple of other quick stops before heading back to Fort Trumbull. This stop was notable for a reason other than the pictures I took. I was walking back to my car when I had to quickly step aside, because a car was careening into the state park's parking lot, suddenly coming to a stop. It was followed soon thereafter by a New London police cruiser...and then another. They questioned the driver at length, and delayed my departure briefly, as I'd thought the cop cars (and by then there were three) had me blocked in. As it turned out, not so much.

After dinner, I finally checked into the final hotel (I use that word quite loosely) of the trip, the Days Inn in Groton. It was a nice two-room suite, and it was the one slice of lodging on the whole trip that was a pain in the ass to book. This was the third or fourth place I tried. But I was lucky to find it, and it did the trick, providing a nice venue to see the Mets embarrass themselves at the hands of the Yankees. Thankfully, I was not watching at the moment Mariano Rivera got his first career RBI. A chill night was exactly what I needed, because I had every intention for an early start in the morning. I wanted to get out of Connecticut - and thus, back to Long Island - and finish this thing off...

Pictures: Day 33 (Providence, Groton/New London)

PNR, day 34: the Champs-Elysees, at least to me...

Plum Island Animal Disease Center, east of Orient Point.
I can understand the sentiment, but you shouldn't embarrass yourself by misspelling "municipality."
An enduring symbol of Long Island, at "the end" ... but not quite THE end yet.
The very last picture of the trip, in Village Park, Northport. "Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain..."

The final stage of the Tour de France is a ceremonial trip, starting just outside Paris and ending with several laps around that city's most famous avenue. All the work is done; it's an occasion for those cyclists who have completed the Tour to celebrate their accomplishment. The final day of this trip was intended to go in much the same way, and it started with a bang - literally.

From Groton, I crossed the Thames River to New London, where I'd use Cross Sound Ferry to get across to Orient Point. I got off the interstate and rolled down Eugene O'Neill Boulevard. There was a car in the left lane; I tried to get around it, but didn't have enough room, so I slipped in behind. Fifty or so feet from the intersection, the light turns yellow. I think we're both going through, and at first, I thought the other car's driver did as well. Then I saw its brake lights. I slammed on mine, but couldn't get stopped fast enough, and tapped the car from behind. The driver got out, looked at the damage, and said there didn't seem to be a problem. I didn't see or otherwise notice any damage to the Blue Trooper, so I agreed, and we both drove off. Thankfully, she appeared to be getting onto a Block Island-bound ferry; it would have been awkward if she had gotten onto the same boat I did. The trip across was relaxing and allowed me to regroup from the morning's unexpected turn of events. And it even was on the coolest ship in CSF's fleet - the M/V Cape Henlopen, a converted World War II ship that took part in D-Day. The trip ended at 10:28, and seven minutes later, I drove back onto Long Island.

I stopped for lunch at Greenport, whereupon I got a good look at the front of my car. The piece of plastic that sits between the headlights was pushed in, so I opened the hood to restore it to its proper shape. This action created two new problems. One, the right side of the plastic snapped off, leaving it sort of dangling. Two, the hood would not fully re-latch. It was holding in place, but not completely secure. Thus, as I ate lunch, I had a decision to make. Do I continue on the intended course, or do I shorten up and proceed directly back to Northport? After a brief internal deliberation, I elected to press on, which meant setting course for the North Ferry to Shelter Island. This island sits between Long Island's two forks, and is a fairly private community. In fact, a sign in the window of a bar in Shelter Island Heights proudly proclaimed that the town was "not restroom friendly." Luckily, I didn't need to go. Within less than an hour of arriving on the island, I was leaving it - via the South Ferry, to North Haven. I had a feeling as to what kind of traffic to expect on this part of the trip - and I was right. It was certainly slow going, being a beautiful Sunday in Sag Harbor and the Hamptons. But I fought the traffic, and ultimately reached Montauk Point. My expired Department of Defense stickers were of use here, as I was able to park in the lot for free. I spent about an hour out there, including touring the historic lighthouse. Finally, at 2:25 p.m., I returned to the Blue Trooper and said to myself, "there's only one thing left to do...it's time to go home."

It was again slow going through the Hamptons, but traffic eased significantly once I reached Route 24. I was back on some of the roads most familiar to my memory - the Long Island Expressway, the Sunken Meadow Parkway, Route 25A...and at 4:33, I reached the Village of Northport. Thankfully, all of the Northport High School graduation hoopla had died down, and I was able to enjoy a nice peaceful walk around downtown. I took a few last pictures for posterity, though I really didn't need them - I've got hundreds of shots of this area. One last trip over the hill and into Crab Meadow, and at 5:08 p.m., I rolled the Blue Trooper into the Ancestral Palace. After thirty-three days, eight hours, and fifteen minutes, and eight thousand, six hundred fifty-three miles, my car was right back on the very same patch of asphalt. I had done it. It was not without pitfalls and periods where I had to put in some work, but it was a blast and unquestionably a success, and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything in the world.

Pictures: Day 34 (Long Island)

PNR: the numbers and the aftermath...

"The Blue Trooper is underway."The final mileage...
The beginning......and the end.

Now that the blogging of the trip is all said and done, let's look at some of the vital statistics.

Initial odometer reading: 208,495
Final odometer reading: 217,148
Distance traveled: 8,653 miles

Departure from Northport: 2009-05-26, 08:53Q 1
Arrival in Northport: 2009-06-28, 17:08Q
Total duration of the trip: 33 days, 8 hours, 15 minutes (or 800:15)
Time spent behind the wheel: 155:01
Average speed: 55.82 mph
Best daily speed: Day 23 (Missoula - Bismarck), 75.6 mph
Worst daily speed: Day 34 (Groton - Northport), 35.9 mph

Intra-day stops: 191
Fuel stops: 37
Stops for rest due to fatigue: 2
Highest-priced gas: Patriot Gas, Leggett, CA ($3.309/gal)
Lowest-priced gas: Phillips 66, Kingdom City, MO ($2.299/gal)

Highest priced lodging: The Brown Hotel (Louisville)
Lowest priced lodging: Motel 6 (Kansas City)
Best value lodging: Quality Suites (Windsor)
Favorite lodging: The Hotel Minneapolis (Minneapolis)

U. S. states visited: 26
Canadian provinces visited: 1
Most time in one state: 149:04 (California)
Least time in one state: 0:38 (Arizona)
Complete list of time in each state/province

Dinner stops at breweries: 6 (Morgan Street, St. Louis; Wynkoop, Denver; Lost Coast, Eureka; Pyramid, Seattle; Rock Bottom, Minneapolis; Great Dane, Madison.)
Other local beers consumed: 5 (Anchor Steam, San Francisco; Red Hook, Seattle; Moose Drool, Missoula; Ithaca Partly Sunny, Ithaca; Harpoon IPA, Boston.)

Parking tickets: 0
Speeding tickets: 0
Times pulled over by law enforcement: 0

Upon arriving home, I was pleasantly surprised to find three checks awaiting me, combining for nearly $725. I also received in the mail some important paperwork from the Navy. It arrived exactly as I expected, meaning there would be some work to do on that ahead. But that could wait until Monday; in fact, given that it was already Sunday night, it would have to wait.

1 "Q" is the nautical designation for "UTC-04:00", or Eastern Daylight Time.

The "Battle of the Royally Screwed-Up Form DD 214"

This story is best told by using the Bill Simmons "running diary" / Tucker Max "time stamp" format.

23 April - I finish check-out from Memphis, and proceed to PSD New London for final separation processing. There are numerous issues with my Form DD 214, the piece of paper that officially affirms my separation from active duty. But one stands above all others. The form shows me being separated at paygrade E-5, but without mention of my selection for advancement to E-6. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT? I point this out, and the separation clerk informs me that she needs the exam scores. I don't have them, and the guy who can look them up isn't available, so she tells me to come back...the following Tuesday. Five days. Argh.

28 April - I return to PSD, armed with a copy of my advancement profile sheet, as well as the certificates from my two NAMs. These come in handy, as the guy who looks the advancement scores up is still unavailable, and my NAMs weren't listed on the form. Thanks to what I brought, the facts are placed on the form. I am satisfied, and I sign it out. Thinking the question of my advancement status is settled, I stop checking with the Navy Advancement Center.

1 May - The NAC posts an new profile, indicating that I am slated to be officially advanced to E-6 on 16 May, just two days before my EAOS. Since I have stopped checking, I do not discover this fact.

19 May - at 0000Q, I pass through to the "ultimate awesome" of the civilian corps. Nine minutes later, I drop my military ID into a mailbox, in the hope of expediting the arrival of my Form DD 214.

23 May - I am poking around on myPay, and I notice something weird on my final LES...it lists my paygrade as E-6. Alarm bells and red flags are prominent in my brain. I immediately check back with the Navy Advancement Center, and discover that I was a first class when I got out. The paperwork I signed doesn't reflect this, and is therefore woefully inaccurate. And it's Memorial Day weekend; PSD won't be open until the following Tuesday. That day has another name - the opening day of the Post-Navy Roadtrip. I do care about this serious faux pas, but I am NOT delaying the trip to deal with it.

28 June - I arrive home in Northport from the trip, to an envelope from Groton postmarked in early June. It contains all the relevant separation paperwork, including the erroneous DD 214 I signed nearly two months prior. This must get fixed, and I resolve to employ all necessary means to make that happen.

29 June - I write a letter to PSD New London, in balanced language. I had to be respectful - but at the same time, I had to make clear that I was not requesting that they fix this thing - I was expecting it. With this letter, I enclose a copy of the profile sheet that should prove to be conclusive evidence of my case. That same day, I posted to Facebook that I was "preparing to fight," in the battle that I described in the subject of this post. I also said there that you would find "coverage exclusively on ESPN8, 'The Ocho.'"

I cannot overestimate my resolve to get this fixed. As I told my former co-worker Veez, "the tentacles of the Navy's incompetence reach even beyond my enlistment's grave." I may be a civilian now, but this drew me back to so many things inherent to the Navy. I dropped my expectations to the appropriate level - that is to say, expect the worst possible outcome, and be surprised when it doesn't come to pass. I had researched some things, and was bracing myself for the possibility of having to file a DD 149 with the Board for Correction of Naval Records - and that would have been a VERY long process. I had begun drafting letters to my elected representatives in my head. In short, I expected the Navy to make this hard for me - in fact, as hard as possible. And then...

6 July - I come home from doing laundry to a letter-sized manila envelope. This can't be...can it? I open the envelope...and it is. A signed, sealed, and delivered DD 215, correcting my 214 to reflect the truth of my separation at paygrade E-6. Unbelievable. The Navy makes it easy? What's next, letting Sailors assume normal adult responsibilities in liberty ports?

In all seriousness, BIG props to PSD New London for resolving this using the method simplest for all parties involved. My opinion of the Navy is just slightly less colored...