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Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Steve Cole reports on OPERATION FETCH:

For the last two years, we've been planning for the time when Jean moves to Amarillo and takes up a full-time desk in the office. Due to some tedious circumstances involving an ex-boyfriend who did not want her to move, the operation took on aspects of a secret military mission. This ex-boyfriend as been very-very-ex for several years but refused to take his changed status seriously. He still thought that he was a part of her life and could tell her what to do and when to do it. A big part of the plan was to avoid disabusing him of this notion and avoid him realizing what was going on. (When we did Captain's Log #46 which had an article about Jean's full-time duties in Amarillo, we sent him a copy in which that one page was replaced by an article explaining why she had decided to stay in North Carolina.) To be fair to the ex-boyfriend, we don't know if he would have become violent or caused trouble of some sort, but there is no "undo key" for life and no matter how slight the chance of something bad happening, finding out that there was going to be something bad was too great a risk.

1. We had to load up her stuff in one day (while the ex-boyfriend was at work) and get out of town before he realized she was leaving the state. That meant she could not use a normal moving company (which just would not schedule things that way), but had to rent a truck and do it herself. That obviously required help, and in the end, there was only one solution: Steve P and Steve C had to be there to supervise the loading and drive the truck back to Texas while she followed in her car. Even worse, things had to be "packed" into boxes before they could be "loaded" into the truck. That took more time and caused a lot of confusion.

2. Getting ready for the move took Jean over a year. Like all Americans, she has spent a lifetime accumulating stuff and moving meant leaving half of it behind. That involved a combination of selling stuff, giving stuff away, and planning to just abandon other things. The whole point was to get the stuff in her house down to an amount we could pack and load in a few hours. She rented a storage building and began moving to it things she wanted to take with her, but which she would not need (or at least could do without) while in North Carolina. (For example, her winter clothes went to storage in late March.) We could then load the storage building stuff the previous day.

3. The plan was, like all military plans, written backwards from the point of the main move, that being the moment late on a Thursday afternoon that she left North Carolina for good. (It had to be Thursday because if we left on Friday, there was a risk that the ex-boyfriend might chase her down the highway. As he had to go to work on Friday, leaving Thursday night pinned him in place.) So it was decided that on Thursday we would load everything in the house and on Wednesday we would load everything she had in storage (something he would not notice due to a pre-scheduled maskirovka operations). The original plan was that we'd spend Tuesday inventorying what had to move and planning how to get it all done. Over time, however, the sheer volume of stuff to be moved meant we had to do the survey on Monday so that we'd have Tuesday to deal with anything the pre-written plan could not handle (such as renting a second truck, or a trailer). That meant Steve and Steve had to secretly reach North Carolina on Sunday night. As the drive was over 24 hours of rolling time, that meant two very hard days of driving and no margin for error. In the end, Steve and Steve decided to leave Amarillo at noon on Friday, which would in theory get us to the target at noon on Sunday. If everything went well for the first 80% of the drive, we'd take a few hours to see some Revolutionary War battlefields that were conveniently next to the highway and still get there by dark. That actually worked out quite well.

4. Jean rounded up a couple of SFU friends and some local non-SFU friends to help load. This was good (we had labor on site when we needed it) but was also bad (the crew was not a unit but a gang of individuals, none of whom took orders from anyone else and all of whom more or less loaded whatever looked like it needed loading). A detailed plan written ahead of time collapsed because Steve C had a broken leg (he spent all but one hour in a chair, packing stuff into boxes) and Steve P (who had blown out his knee) spent his time sitting down sorting things to be packed. All of that meant that some minor items were accidentally left behind and some things that should not have gone got loaded (both being subject to tedious prisoner exchange negotiations).

5. The plan for the drive home involved three people, Jean's car, and the big truck. The theory was to rotate drivers (Steve Cole taking every third shift in each vehicle). As it worked out, Steve C simply could not handle the big fully loaded truck, leaving Steve P to drive the entire route by himself. Jean would not allow anyone else to drive her car. This required heroic 12-hour days of driving, far beyond what anyone should be asked to do. (Steve C got demoted to being Jean's radio operator and in-flight stewardess. He was bored out of his mind.) The other choice would have been to stop for long breaks and take an extra day to get home. It's arguable that we should have taken the extra day in the name of safety.

6. We debated endlessly whether we should have done the operation in July. It would have been hotter, but we would have been over the injuries and would not have had the Origins pressure. That said, however, Jean's personal safety and psychological health was the top priority. The ex-boyfriend had announced plans that would have reduced Jean to a virtual slave. Jean had, by February, fixated on the idea that "May 2nd and I'm out of here!" and it would have crushed her to be told to wait two more months.

7. Leanna played a key role in the mission, even though she stayed home. She had to keep the office open, but she also had to get Jean's apartment rented and get the stuff Jean had sent ahead moved over there. Leanna had the guest room in her house ready for Jean and graciously invited Jean to stay over two weeks while getting her apartment (into which the over-full truck was emptied all too hastily) in livable condition.

8. There was one "Seinfeld moment" in the operation. Jean assumed that Steve C (who packed most of the boxes) knew to label each box as to what was in it (or at least what room it came out of). Steve C (me), having received no instructions to label the boxes, did not do so. This meant that Jean had over two hundred boxes stacked randomly in her new apartment without any idea what was in each one. Worst of all, the bolts that held her (disassembled) bed together were in a plastic kitchen container inside an unmarked box inside another unmarked box. While Steve C remembered what the box looked like, nobody had told Jean or Steve C that the box in question had been placed inside another much larger box. So, after Jean futilely opened every box of the type described without finding the bolts (and resigned herself to sleeping on the floor) she accidentally found the bolts in a random box she opened two weeks after moving.

9. During the drive to Texas, we kept the vehicles in contact by using the two-way radios we bought for Origins years ago. Yes, it seems silly to use radios when cell phones have been invented, but it can be tricky to dial and answer a cell phone while driving a very large truck, and the radios meant that the people in the car could talk to the guy in the truck without such bother. This was critically important during the one hour when Steve C drove the truck, as he couldn't see out of it very well and didn't realize that he was driving with the right side tires on the shoulder. Jean was horrified to find that she had been assigned the radio call sign "Swamp Rat" but then decided that she really did like it.

10. In the end, a lot of things went horribly wrong, but did not affect the success of the trip. The car Leanna rented for the one-way drive east turned out to be far smaller than she thought, and the Steves had to leave home 80% of the packing supplies they had prepared for the trip. (By dumb luck, the things they did bring -- tape and bubble wrap -- were the things in the shortest supply.) It started raining before the end of the first day and rained continually until the afternoon of the last day, with the only break in the weather coming on the day we loaded the stuff out of the house. Pre-arranged helpers backed out at the last minute, but were quickly replaced from Jean's expansive circle of friends. In the end, luck was with us, and the ex-boyfriend did not even suspect what was going on until we were out of state, and somehow Jean and Steve P managed to drive 26 hours (22 of them in two days) without falling asleep or having an accident. I strongly suspect that angels were watching out for all three of us.