Monday, August 26, 2013

And Ye Shall Know Them by What They Carry

Back in the day you could tell the licensed officers (at crew change and in transit, anyhow) by the briefcases they carried.

This was not merely an aspirational affectation; it was, more purely, practical.

You see, the Coast Guard requires us to carry our credentials with us when we’re working.

And until just a few years ago, an officer’s license was an eight-and-a-half by eleven certificate that could not be reduced, laminated, photocopied or otherwise altered.

Nowadays our licenses, ratings, endorsements and internationally recognized seaman’s identification document are all combined into one handy, little red book.

Not a Mao-type Little Red Book, but a passport-type little red book.

In fact, it easily could be confused for a passport, which sort of brings us full circle back to the days when mariners in this country carried a “Seaman Passport.”

The passport-style Merchant Mariner Credential doesn’t require a briefcase for transport, though a lot of the older guys still carry one out of habit.

Others, including me, carry sturdy backpacks.

It has everything I might need to quickly lay my fingers on during the course of my watch or my hitch: the aforementioned MMC and TWIC (transportation worker’s identification card), navigation and plotting tools, my laptop, wallet and keys, a few tools, extra pens, highlighters and grease pencils … that sort of thing.

Digging through my pack at the start of my watch tonight, I discovered a few extra items.

Like the I Want to be a Firefighter book I recently purchased for the 3-year-old. And a diaper, the 1-year-old’s size.

No big mystery. In the course of our recent travails (er … travels) to Chicago, we ditched the diaper bag in favor of my backpack. I guess it didn’t get completely reconverted upon our return.

It does serve as a poignant reminder of my bifurcated existence: vessel operator/licensed merchant marine officer/oilfield-boat-trash/hermit out here … and father/husband/handyguy back at the house.

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