Fri, 09/02/2016 - 12:45pm

“Morning, I’d like to go on standby, what are my chances?” says the smiling customer.

If you’re the guy or gal asking that question — in the summertime — you are speaking to Dave Martin, Bill Shepard, or me. It’s a loaded question filled with hope, anticipation, and veiled defeat. It’s a question that cannot be answered. It is a question with too many variables. But we want to know, right? 

Note well the following scenario. This is a composite of many scenarios of standby trials and travails.

It’s a Sunday and you left home very early so you could be the first guy in the standby lot. You didn’t hit traffic and you figure that you’ll easily be #1. You roll into the parking lot with an assertive spin of the wheel; your wife is serenely sleeping — kids, too. The golden retriever is not. (After three hours in the car he wants to run.) It’s 5 a.m., and you notice nine other cars in the parking lot — all the passengers are sleeping. You figured you’d get a jump on your vacation; so did the gaping sleepers. Undaunted, you creep into the queue and look around for someone who looks like they’re in charge. No one is in charge and won’t be for two hours. You leave your sleeping family, and man up and attend to the panting dog. You’ve entered a netherworld, but you don’t know it, yet. You’ve entered a world of ambivalence and uncertainty — the realm of vagueness.

The aforementioned variables will dictate the day and its outcome for standby #10. What #10 does not know is that the first three standbys missed the last boat on Friday night — an accident on I-95, and slept in the parking lot. Also, standbys 4, 5, 6 — like you — have 8 p.m. reservations. Furthermore, 7, 8, and 9 have no reservations, but they need to get to Block Island. They are in for the long haul. But, #10 is a guy driven by optimism. He’s a husband and father, so he must be. Our guy is a veteran of myriad life conflicts and this is just another bump in the road; however, it’s about to become a yawning pothole, because of a mathematical certainty involving linear feet — he does not know this. #10 is not thinking about linear feet. While his golden retriever is scoping the perimeter of the standby lot, six more cars show up to go standby, and they all have a story.

“Honey,” #10’s wife asks, “what are all these cars doing here? It’s 5:30.” “Dad, I thought you said we’d be the first ones here,” says the first waking 14-year old son. “Why did we have to leave at two in the morning, Dad?” says the 16-year old daughter, “I knew this was a bad idea, Dad.” Undaunted, #10 is supremely confident because he has gone standby before — in the wintertime — and he’s never had a problem. “Oh, ye of little faith. Don’t worry, we’ll get on an earlier ferry,” he says. At this assertion, the children roll their eyes and his wife raises her eyebrows — vacuous stares and silence follow.

The guy in charge of the standby lot shows up and does the standard drill. “Name? Any gas or propane? Do you have a later reservation?” His job is to maintain order and inform the First Mate — when asked — what is in the queue. Additionally, the standby lot guy can tell people where the restrooms are and where to get some food. The standby lot guy does not answer questions with the words “odds,” and “chances,” because of the math. He does not have any facts involving the load of any given boat. Therefore, he can only be vague and say something very Zen-like: “Wait and See.” (It doesn’t get any more vague than that.) He has only a sequential list of vehicles.

The human condition is based on hope, and people want to know outcomes. There is comfort in numbers, facts and solutions. #10 is sensing his expectation of getting on an earlier ferry may not be met. His family has one expectation; they simply want to get on a ferry, head south and go to the beach. They are oblivious to linear feet. They’ve seen the first three ferries leave, and they were not on them. They have eaten, read, watched, and listened for good news. They have walked the golden retriever. They have had it. The standby lot guy has no answers — silence. It’s a very busy Sunday and the ferries are all booked. #10 is looking for suggestions. To put a cherry on this sundae, in addition to rousting his family at an ungodly hour to head to Galilee and then to Block Island — and get a jump on their vacation — it is #10’s anniversary. And, the dog is starting to pant and drool. It’s on the upside of 85 degrees and it’s only 11 o’clock. Then, the standby guy makes a suggestion.

One sure way out of the realm of “wait and see” in the standby lot on a hot Sunday is for #10 to simply send his charges out on the next ferry. He can put his perishables in a freight box and send his family to Block Island, where they can grab a cab to their rental house. #10’s happy wife, grinning kids, and dog were soon southbound. Bingo! Vacation on! Win, win, win. #10, as all folks in the queue that day realized, had no power or control over the math. The Fates were in control. Finally, everyone did get on a ferry that day, albeit a later one, and the day in the hot and dusty standby lot ended on a happy note with jubilant yawps and high fives.

Happy Labor Day!