We arrived on Monday, April 30, and I had duty, so while many left the boat and partied, my festivities would have to wait. Not a big problem; those who did go out and consume provided much hilarity. Especially when one of my friends insisted on embracing me, and not releasing. There were a lot of hung over personnel on Tuesday morning. I, on the other hand was prepared to get started on celebrating 26. Our first stop was the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, where we got lunch. We then went to Boomer's in Dania Beach, an arcade/amusement type place. I indulged my inner skee ball, and totally schooled my friends in miniature golf. We ended up having to wait an hour and a half for a taxi back to the port, but after returning, one of the guys I was with decided to stay behind. The other, who goes by the nickname Miguel, accompanied me to the night's Fleet Week event at the Ugly Tuna Saloona in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Shortly after we arrived, Miguel and I split up for an hour, giving me an opportunity to commiserate with my favorite liberty buddy of all - Samuel Adams. By the time Miguel returned, I was into my fifth Boston Lager. He suggested I could have another; remembering that I was running on an empty stomach, and the events of October 2005 in England, I emphatically nixed that plan. The beer didn't forcefully kick in until I was on the bus back to the boat. Prior to boarding the bus, I drunk-dialed Ryan, mercilessly taunting him over the fact that I was in one of his favorite cities on my birthday. After getting back to Memphis, I nearly refunded, but everything stayed down. I passed out for eight blissful hours.
Wednesday afternoon brought me out to the Sawgrass Mills Mall - the second largest in the United States - and I buy the new John Feinstein book about the PGA Tour's Q School, as well as two Borat-related T-shirts. We get back to the boat, change - missing dinner again - and head to Tarpon Bend for another Fleet Week event. I start with Samuel Adams, but after two of them, I decide that I no longer wish to pay for the Elixir of Wonder, aka alcohol. I thus switch to Miller Lite, and consume plenty over a long period. There was an average band, and I am once again solidly in an altered state of mind upon arriving back to the submarine. Thursday was another duty day, followed by underway on nuclear power on Friday. Yours truly provided the nuclear power, performing the reactor startup at an ungodly hour.
Our original plan post-Port Everglades was to perform a VIP cruise and then steam back to Groton. Alas, it was not to be, thanks to the USS Seawolf (SSN 21), aka the Pierwolf, aka Building 21. Seawolf was unable to get underway due to a material deficiency. We did the cruise - which included several students and faculty from Virginia Tech's ocean engineering program (story). Since Memphis is the "go-to" boat for pretty much the entire Atlantic Fleet, we got the call to fill in for Seawolf on training ops. Though this delayed our return to Connecticut by twelve days, it wasn't a terrible underway in terms of operational pace. However, I think the boat inherently knew she wasn't supposed to be at sea. First, we ran out of toner for half the printers on the ship, turning normally routine tasks into annoying chores. Then, five days before we returned to Groton, it came to pass that Surge Deployment 2007 would end just like Surge Deployment 2006 did - with a broken evaporator, meaning water conservation in the extreme. But we made it through, and pulled in late Monday afternoon. On top of all this, I not only completed my final qualification on Saturday, I got a raise for passing four years in the Navy.
After standing duty yesterday, I finally was free of the submarine early Tuesday morning, and off for two full days. My car needed a jump start, and then needed another jump start after I nearly drained the battery's charge trying to restart it. I got beer, stuff for Mom, and ended up buying my very own set of jumper cables. I was finally on the road just before 1100, and I had a good trip down, stopping at White Castle for lunch. On arriving home, neither of my parents was present, so I looked around for my birthday present and headed back out. This present, a $400 gift card to the Apple store, facilitated my purchase of a new 80 gigabyte iPod. I needed a new iPod because I dropped my old one from the engine room's upper level to the lower level about two weeks into the underway. It still played music, and the battery still held a charge, but the screen was damaged beyond repair. On my way to the store, I had two motorcycles behind me. At a stop sign on Woodbine Avenue, one pulled alongside me and said "Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert." After a second, I realized he was referring to my bumper sticker (see the January Boston roadtrip entry). I heart that bumper sticker. I also heart my new iPod. The evening concluded with a great dinner at home, dropping off the Minivan o' War for a very overdue inspection tomorrow, and a much needed nap.
I still have to write about the Boston roadtrip in March, and also about the completely new and wacky idea I hatched shortly after leaving Groton. But it's late in the evening - more precisely, early in the morning, and some more sleep would do me good. It is so awesome to finally be home!