Archive for August, 2011

Between the Earthquake and the Hurricane

August 27, 2011

Two natural disasters in one week, how many people can claim such? Tuesday we felt the roll and shake of a 5.9 earthquake centered forty miles from our house. A boom, then a sound like a train coming, closer, closer, closer, right on us, then going farther away. I felt the shake through my feet, then up through the rest of my body. As the week progressed with aftershocks awakening us in the night, the weather channel began warning us of Irene, a huge category two hurricane coming up the east coast, expected to gain strength and cause damage. Can’t say we don’t have excitement in Virginia.

Chincoteague Island is a ten hour round trip for us. The seven mile long, three mile wide island is located on the Delmarva peninsula. We have a half acre lot there on Big Glade Creek. Our little piece of land is adjacent to a tidal basin. We can stand on the lot in the morning and the water flows in one direction, by afternoon it runs in the other. We know that with a hurricane, water levels rise and although we don’t have a house there to worry about, when we bought the property, a floating dock came along with the purchase price.

We’ve caught enough blue crabs from that dock to fill our plates and stomachs many times. The flat, floating , wooden structure is moored with two nylon cords, one wrapped around the trunk of a pine and the other tied to a stump. Bruce was worried about the dock breaking away with the force of the water and wind from Irene, but we had just taken vacation and I didn’t have the time from work to take off another day to make the trip back to check on the security of the dock.

I worried all day Friday at the nursing home where I work about the Island, our friends who live there, the hurricane, and our dock. The residents kept asking me about the storm and how I thought our property would fare. By the time I pulled into our driveway at four-thirty that evening, I felt my anxiety rising, my heart rate increasing. Bruce wasn’t home and he’s usually home before me. I called him on his cell phone.

“Hey,” I said, not letting him respond. “Where are you? I have an idea.”

“What is it?” he clipped out, obviously bothered.

I slowed down. “Are you alright?” I asked.

“Yeah,  just chasing cows. I gotta go,” he said.

“Go do what you have to do,” I said, knowing that either my father-in-law’s cows had gotten loose, or our friend Robert’s fence was down.

I went inside packed an overnight bags, found the mosquito spray, flashlight, and put some sandwiches and bottles of water in the cooler. I took the car to Brownsville Market and gassed it up.  I called my mother to tell her my plans. Someone needed to know where we were, just in case.

I met Bruce on the porch, ignoring the fact that he was sweaty, tired, muddy and mad, having spent four hours chasing two cows all over Ragged Mountain. “Here’s what I want to do,” I said, explaining.

He tugged off his boots and padded into the house. Pulling out his laptop and leaning into the screen, he checked out the weather website. “Let’s go,” he said, when he realized we had a small window of opportunity. The storm was moving north at fourteen miles an hour. Chincoteague is a five hour drive east for us.  “If we hurry, we can make it just before the hurricane hits.”

As much as my anxiety had pushed me to prepare for the trip, my adrenaline died down suddenly and the careful side of me took over. “Do you really think we can get there in time?” I asked. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck on the island during the hurricane. I’ve never ridden out a storm and didn’t want to start now.

“Getting there’s not the problem,” Bruce said smiling. “We’ll be the only idiots driving east. Getting back will be our problem. Everyone’s heading west.”

He was right. As we headed out, a never-ending line of headlights met us coming from the shore. We set the cruise control on seventy-five. Our only other company eastbound was a line of power trucks from Kentucky Utilities out of Lexington. Someone driving one of the vehicles had torn off pieces of blue tape, and written ‘Irene’ across the white expanse of the bucket. When we hit Virginia Beach, there were six empty lanes of interstate to choose from. The Hampton Roads tunnel was eerily quiet. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge spanned its twenty miles just for us.

Chincoteague was deserted, with no cars in parking lots, few house lights on, and most of its windows were boarded shut. The usually bustling place sat, a sad, lonely town, waiting for its fate.  When we got out of the car at the lot, a cool breeze was blowing in from the ocean. The usually quiet Big Glade Creek was alive with jumping minnows. I wondered if the small fish somehow felt the impending doom.   It took us twenty-five minutes to reinforce the mooring on the dock with thicker rope attached to metal stakes and tree trunks.

We took one more look at our little square of property with its nine pine trees, floating dock, and beautiful view of Big Glade Creek, then, we turned around toward home.

By the time we reached the Bay Bridge, rain had started. As the wipers swept the drops away,  I imagined the wind picking up while we were on the bridge. The side rails seem tall enough when the sun is shining, but in bad weather, where curtains of rain obscure the path and wind whips a car to and fro, I bet those rails seem much shorter. Facing a plunge into that deep water is scary. I found myself holding my breath.

There were no other cars with us, no other cars passing us from the other direction. Even the usually annoying presence of police cars was absent. I can’t remember a time on the road when I wished for flashing blue lights or a police officer armed with a flashlight. Where were they?

We made it to the other side safely under a sprinkling of rain. Two miles into Virginia Beach, the wind  picked up.  The ominous sound of  the emergency system blast came over the radio. “rrmp, rrmp, rrmp,” it said. Once a month I hear that sound on my radio. It interrupts a favorite song to tell me “this is a test of the emergency broadcast system, this is only a test.”  I longed for that announcement. Instead, it said, “A tornado warning has been issued for the following areas: The city of Chesapeake, Suffolk County, Currituck County, and the city of Virginia Beach.”

We were right in the middle of Virginia Beach.  Bruce and I looked at each other. He pressed down harder on the accelerator.  We turned right onto Interstate 64 and sprayed water out from the tires as we hurried through a puddle of standing water.  I made that scared sound I hear in my dreams when someone ominous is chasing me and I’m just out of reach. It’s the start of a scream with a sudden intake of breath.  My worst nightmares involve dark figures chasing me, and tornadoes.  “I hope the traffic’s thinned out,” Bruce said.

At one-fifty in the morning, most cars were safely west of the storm. We, however, were beginning to feel the effects of Irene. The wind blew rain against the car and we shifted in our lane from the gusts. Rain came down in sheets, obscuring the view, then  lessening as the wind died down, only to catch us off guard once again with a blast to the side of the Honda. That pattern continued as we raced through the city.

“Once we get through the Hampton Roads tunnel,” Bruce said, “we should be fine.”

The tunnel was three miles ahead.  ‘Check your Gas’ the sign stated.

“We have a quarter tank,” Bruce said, looking down. “That should get us through.  We’ll fill up again in Williamsburg.”

The tunnel was empty and bright with its shiny tiles and yellow fluorescent lights. We were the only ones there and its quiet confines calmed us after the wind and rain outside. I’ve never liked the tunnel with its exhaust fumes and usual darkness after sunlight, but it felt comforting and I believe I could have stayed the night right there under the bay in the safety of its mile-long tube.

Out of the tunnel, we kept our pace until we reached Colonial Williamsburg. There, we ran out of the rain, and by Richmond, our nerves had calmed and our heart rates were back to normal.

Our driveway looked awfully good  as we turned off Rt. 250 in the pre-dawn darkness of Saturday morning.  We fell into bed at five after five, and slept until almost noon.

Upon waking, we knew Irene was pounding Chincoteague and we were safe, riding out the storm five hours inland to soft rain and gentle winds.  Our dock, however, would have its own story to tell.


As Luck Would Have It

August 23, 2011

I stand frowning at the old gas pump.  I stopped to fill up the Honda at the Royal Mart convenience store on the corner of West Broad Street and North Pickett Avenue in New Hope. Royal has cheaper gas than the service station over the mountain, closer to home. As luck would have it, they only take payment for gas inside, no credit at the pump.  Oh well, I’m thirsty anyway, so I walk inside to pay for the gas and grab a cold soda.  The temperature outside has topped ninety-eight and the humidity hangs on my shoulders. Even in the shade, taking breaths is like sucking in thick heat. 

As I walk back to the drink cooler, a tall, thin man staggers past me on his way to the front of the store. He brushes my shoulder. “Scuse me,” he slurs. The smell of beer on his breath is almost as strong as his body odor.  He grabs onto the display racks of cookies and potato chips, trying to balance on legs that are willing, but not able to hold him steady. He makes it to the front of the store, thumps the forty ounce bottle of cheap beer onto the wooden counter and asks for a pack of Marlboro’s.  He leans against the counter for support.

I look into the glass display case of bottles and see the reflection of the man who passed me. His back is hunched a bit as he searches pockets. I see the cashier frown, hear the concern in her voice. “Is that all the money you have Jack?  If that’s all you have, you better take it easy. It’s three more days ‘til the first of the month.”

I pick out my soda and press the cold bottle to my neck as I make my way to the cash register.  Jack hasn’t said anything to the cashier, but continues his search for money.  He’s a wiry man, mid-forties I’d guess, with long strings of wavy blond hair under a faded blue baseball cap.  His hands shake. Jack wears a nylon windbreaker over his tee shirt, dark jeans and a pair of worn New Balance running shoes. I drip perspiration just looking at him.

I join the line at the front of the store.

Jack had put several crumpled dollar bills along with a wrinkled lottery scratch ticket and some gray lint onto the counter. He slides the bills and the lottery ticket up next to the glass beer bottle. He fishes in the front pocket of his jacket, finds some coins and scatters them across the countertop.  A worn rabbit’s foot keychain falls among the metal pieces. Its fur is rubbed off, its sharp nails prominent. It reminds me of a horror movie I’d once seen. From the other pocket, he pulls a worn paperback book. I’m surprised. It’s a copy of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. He lays it on the counter.

“Damn,” Jack says. “I had another five here somewhere.” He continues to reach into various pockets as the cashier removes a ‘closed’ sign from the other side of the register and  motions the next customer to bypass Jack.

The man who was behind Jack sets his Red Bull and a bag of pork rinds down, reaches into the back pocket of his khakis for his wallet and pays with a twenty. The cashier counts his change back to him.  He slips the ten and four ones into his billfold and lets the handful of coins drop into the plastic take-a-penny cup on the counter.

Jack keeps looking.

The whole line detours to the now open spot, and no one pays attention to Jack as he searches for more funds.  The woman in a smart navy business suit and low heeled pumps swipes her credit card to pay for gas, a candy bar, and a pack of Marlboro Lights. She signs the receipt and hurries out the door to the jangle of a bell.

I look at Jack. “A damn drunk,” I hear my father’s voice say inside my head.

When I was a little girl, we took walks on the downtown pedestrian mall close to my grandmother’s house.  Disheveled men leaned in doorways, sat with their backs against the walls of the tall brick buildings, and held their hands out for money. They had long hair and long fingernails.  Most were quiet, but some spoke up, asking for change. Some said, “God Bless” when a passerby handed them coins.

I remember feeling a little scared of those men, their smell, slurred words, and whiskered faces, but mostly I felt bad for them. They looked sad.

“Never give bums money,” Daddy said.  “You can buy them a sandwich if you want, but if you give them money, they’ll drink it away.”  My Daddy was a smart man. He knew what he was talking about.  Before I was born, his father had been one of those men hunkered in a doorway, drunk, trying to keep warm.

Sometimes on those walks, I’d find pennies. “Take that home and put it in your bank,” my Daddy said. “Pennies make dollars.” Once, I found a quarter. I picked it up, excited about my luck, jumping up and down, showing off the shiny coin. Half a block away, I wanted to give the quarter to one of those old men. I held the treasure over his cupped palm only to have my Daddy jerk my hand away.

“Put that in your pocket,” he said, pulling me away from the man. Daddy kept walking, tugging me with him. I looked back to the man and he smiled at me. I smiled back and mouthed “I’m sorry.”  He shrugged his shoulders, palms up, still smiling.  I turned back and that’s when my Daddy told me about buying and giving a sandwich.

We didn’t buy that man a sandwich though; we walked on to the drug store where we sat at the counter and I picked at a grilled cheese sandwich.  “I thought you were hungry,” my Daddy said.

“Not enough for both Jack,” I hear the cashier say, bringing me back to present. “Which do you want to put back?”

“Cigarettes I guess,” Jack says. “I thought I had another five.” Jack pats his pockets again, frowning.

“You ready?” the cashier says to me.

“Oh yeah,” I say, placing my soda on the counter. “I need twenty in gas too.”

She rings up the sale on the register. “Twenty-one, sixty-six,” she says.

I hand her thirty in cash and she counts the eight thirty-four in change back to me. I stand with my wallet open, deposit the coins in the change purse and slide the bills behind my driver’s license. I look at my picture. I look stern. They won’t let you smile at the DMV anymore. I go to zip my wallet and stop. Opening it back up, I pull out the five dollar bill and hand it to Jack.

He takes the five, looks down at me, and says, “God Bless,” just like the old men I remembered, only Jack is young. He pats my shoulder and smiles, showing even white teeth amidst more than a week’s stubble of whiskers.  “You’re a good woman,” he says.

“No problem,” I say, pointing to his paperback on the counter. “I like Mark Twain too. Tom Sawyer was my favorite.”

Jack picks up Huck Finn and thumbs through the pages. “Twain was a smart man,” he says. Then he stops three quarters through the book and pulls out a five dollar bill. “Well I’ll be damned,” he says, smiling. “There it is. Must be my lucky day.”

He looks at the two fives, then looks back at me.  He offers the one I gave him back to me.

“No, you keep it,” I say. “You need a bookmark.”

“Thanks he says, placing the five back into his book.

I turn and walk toward the door.

“Give me back those cigarettes Shirley, and while you’re at it, a computer pick mega millions ticket too,” I hear him say as the bell jangles behind me.  





Along the Shoreline

August 20, 2011

We take our teenager to the beach today. He wants to show off his new swimming trunks, splash in the surf, girl-watch, and ride a few waves. Bruce and I don’t have to run after Ryan now, we can sit in beach chairs and let him swim on his own. He keeps us in sight; and while Bruce naps behind dark shades, I look up from my book every so often to make sure I see Ryan’s head bobbing above the waves.

 Bruce and I gave up worshiping the sun awhile back. We are content to sit in our folding chairs under the shade of a striped umbrella, share a smoked turkey sandwich with tomato slices from the garden and a bag of potato chips. He drinks iced tea and I pull a bottle of water from the cooler for myself. Between chapters and naps, we chat about our boys, Ryan’s upcoming school year, and Ben’s obsession with finding a truck.

Bruce takes off his glasses, pushes up from the arms of the chair, sneaks me a kiss, and grabs the boogie board, heading in Ryan’s direction. I know how the water draws the boy in Bruce to it. His strides are long and sure as he steps into the surf. I grab the camera and run to the water’s edge to capture a father/son moment.

As I make my way back to the umbrella, I hear the cell phone ringing in the side pocket of the cooler. I answer the phone to my Dad’s voice. It’s been almost a month since my step-mother died. The loss has been hard on him. They’d been married thirty years. We talk for a few minutes about the weather, our vacation, and the boys.

“What have you been up to?” I ask.

“Cleaning out drawers,” he says, with a small catch in his voice.  I want to reach through the phone and hug him.  “I clean awhile and cry awhile,” he says. “When I can’t take it anymore, I go outside. That helps.”

“You know Labor Day Weekend is coming up,” I say. “Why don’t you plan a trip to our house and join us for a picnic?”

I hear him flipping the pages on his desk calendar, the one that has all of his and my step-mother’s doctor’s appointments written in it. “I could come for a few days,” he says. “My dentist appointment isn’t until the following Wednesday.”

I tell him I’ll invite his sister, my Aunt Marsha, Bruce’s parents, our friend Robert, and his girlfriend.

“Tell your Mom and Gilly to come too,” he says.

“OK,” I say. “We’ll make a day of it.”

“I’ll be in touch before the first of September,” he says.

“Do you need anything?” I ask.

He pauses, a long pause. “No,” he says in a very small voice.

“I love you,” I say.

“I love you too,” he replies, and the line disconnects.

I hang up the phone and look out to the horizon, catching a glimpse of my husband and son, riding waves and splashing each other. I pick up the camera again and walk toward them.

In the periphery of my vision I catch a glimpse of a military cap, the kind my Dad wears with the name of his ship, The USS America on it. I turn and find it on the head of an elderly man who’s walking hand in hand with the woman he loves.

I follow them for a few minutes, watching as they take slow, careful steps along the shoreline. They don’t talk, but every once in a while one squeezes the hand of the other.

 I lift my camera to take a picture. I want to capture this moment, not for them, but for myself.

I feel a cold spray on my back. I turn to find my husband cupping more water in his hands to splash me again. I put the camera in my pocket and bend down to the water to give him just as good as he gets.

A Boat, Wrapped in Red Tape

August 12, 2011

Bruce and I have spent a month in the garage, just the two of us. July and August are miserable in Virginia. Humidity hangs in the air, and we’ve had two weeks straight of temperatures in the upper nineties with no relief.  I sit in a dry-docked boat, no water lapping at the sides, no ocean breeze, no cool drink. Sweat runs down my forehead and drips into my eyes. Box fans don’t cut it.  I remove my glasses again, wipe at the salty sting, and curse the day we decided to buy a boat. How could this much work be worth it?

We have less than a week before our Chincoteague trip and not only are we still without a title, we don’t even  know whether the Evinrude outboard motor will run. It sits, attached to the end of the boat, its cover off, wires, like wild hairs, stick up in all directions.

Bruce stripped the boat when we got it home. The hull was fairly sound, but everything else needed an overhaul.  I’m no mechanic, nor am I a carpenter, and I’m certainly no boat repairwoman, but I have cleaned, scraped, sanded, and patched fiberglass, measured, cut and pieced the wood flooring, laid carpet, stapled upholstery, cursed bolts into uncooperative holes, then held parts in place while Bruce cursed the same bolts. He’s in charge and I’m the fed-up helper. We’ve barked at each other, pulled ourselves up and over the side of the vessel hundreds of times, and so far, our only reward has been a dizzying high of inhaled epoxy and fabric adhesive.

My back can’t take much more. Last night, I stretched out in the bottom of the boat, looked up into the spackled sheetrock of the garage ceiling, and grieved the loss of seven hundred fifty-two dollars spent on this sixteen foot untitled, unregistered, illegitimate watercraft.

My plan had been for Bruce do the boat repairs while I handled the paperwork involved in getting the title and registration for the boat.  I found that although I’m very efficient in collecting the evidence needed, the state of New Jersey and the state of Virginia are in no hurry to help me.

I go to the mailbox each afternoon, hold my breath, reach inside and look for that Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries envelope. Our illusive title is so close. The process began June  24th, but nothing involving the government is easy or quick.  

The state of Virginia requires that a buyer without a title (that’s stupid us), make every effort to contact the previous owner of the boat to obtain the original title. This involves sending a certified letter, return receipt requested.  If the title is not available, the former owner is asked to send his own certified letter, to us, stating that the title is lost. If the previous title-holder has been searching for his boat, he must send a letter stating that he wants it returned immediately as it’s been lost or stolen. If the past owner is dead or has moved without a forwarding address, our certified letter is required to hang around the post office for fifteen days, after which time, it is stamped as undeliverable and returned to us. Our letter was mailed July 6th. We tracked its location online and waited. The letter returned to us, unopened, undeliverable and un-signed for on July 26th

The state of Virginia also requires that the unopened certified letter, along with a copy of the letter inside the sealed envelope, the New Jersey lien-holder form, a copy of the bill of sale, copy of the cancelled check, copy of the former registration/title holder information, a notarized  Affidavit for Transfer of Watercraft Registration/Title form, all be sent to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  Within thirty days, if all checks out, we receive a title in the mail.  Thirty days from July 26th is August 25th.  Our vacation falls in the middle. We’re screwed.

 Bruce punches numbers into his cell phone.  He explains what we have done so far, that the papers and the check are in the mail.  “There’s no way to float this boat until we get a title?”  he asks the person on the other end at The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

 The nice lady directs us to Walmart, where we receive our temporary boat registration. It’s good for thirty days. The form states however, in big bold letters across the top: “This form does not constitute ownership.” 

No worries. No one, not even the two of us want to own it at this point.

One Little Bite

August 6, 2011

The tiny deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). I never thought much about the insect. It was a pest, something to search for on my body after a hike in the woods or tall grass. Sometimes it was stuck tight to my skin and needed to be extracted with a pair of tweezers and some alcohol. The nuisance, pinched between my index finger and thumb was then flushed down the commode in the bathroom. Recently I discovered that the tick is actually an arachnid. I should have cringed at the significance of this information. I hate spiders. Now I hate ticks.

I’d heard of Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These maladies have symptoms to look for like a bull’s eye around the bite, muscle or joint pain, fever, chills, fatigue and headache. Never in my life did I think a tick bite would lead to an allergy to one of my favorite foods.

Four years ago I was out of town at a baseball tournament with my eldest son. After one of his games, we went to a nationally known steakhouse for dinner.  Ben ordered a huge steak for himself, and his grandmother and I split a meal.  After midnight, I woke with stomach cramps, walked into the bathroom of the hotel, and fainted behind a locked door.  My mother heard me fall, banged on the door until I regained consciousness and then she coaxed me to open the door. I had severe nausea and vomiting.  We thought it might be food poisoning at first, but she was not ill. We had eaten the same foods. We then assumed I had been hit by some sort of bug. Little did I know.

Three months later, my youngest son and I went to a local Mexican restaurant before attending a little league game. Ryan ordered a burrito while I chose the taco meal.  At eleven o’clock that same evening, I fainted in the hallway outside my bedroom.  Ryan heard the fall and came to investigate the noise. He found me, having regained consciousness, but vomiting violently. I went to the doctor the next day and he seemed to think that I had a case of food poisoning.

The third instance occurred after eating out at one of our favorite local burger joints.  I began to suspect that I was ingesting some type of spice or additive that restaurants use to season food. Each time the fainting and vomiting occurred I had eaten out. I contacted each restaurant to obtain a list of the ingredients in the recipes of the meals I’d had.

My doctor considered low blood pressure, a heart condition, and after those tests proved me to be within normal ranges, he sent me to an allergist. They took blood and did skin tests. The skin test showed a mild allergic reaction to hay, grass, dust and cat dander. The blood test gave me the answer I was looking for.

 I received the call on my cell while I was sitting in the drive through at the local McDonalds. I loved Big Mac’s.  “I’m allergic to beef?’ I asked in disbelief. “As in cow?”

The doctor confirmed it was indeed a beef allergy, and I best not eat any more of it. How could I be allergic to beef?  I’d eaten beef my whole life. It had to be something else, and furthermore, the symptoms didn’t occur every time I ate beef. I could count three other times that week that I’d had beef and didn’t faint or vomit. The instances of symptoms were coming more frequently though, and when they did happen, they were also more severe.  

I was called back to the doctor’s office and given instructions on the use of an epi-pen, a needle one can use to inject a shot of epinephrine in the event of an allergy attack.  I looked at the device and then at the doctor. I felt silly. “An allergy is just an inconvenience, right?” I asked him. “Something that makes you sneeze or swell up and itch. A little over-the-counter antihistamine takes care of it, right?”

“Your symptoms are pretty severe,” the doctor said. “When you faint, have stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting, your body is exhibiting signs of anaphylaxis. This allergy could kill you.”

It still didn’t feel life threatening to me.

Then on a Tuesday evening, after a delicious dinner at our favorite family style restaurant, I stopped breathing. I was getting ready for bed when the phone rang. I had a nice conversation with my aunt and as I went to hang up the phone, I felt a bit light headed. I remember thinking; I need to call for Bruce, my husband, because I felt really strange.  When I came to, members of the volunteer rescue squad were huddled around me as I heaved violently. My body itched from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet. Hives covered me.  

Bruce had found me in the kitchen chair, not breathing.  Ryan called 911 while my husband followed the dispatcher’s instructions to get me breathing again. The ambulance crew arrived and administered the antidote. I spent the night in the emergency room.  I had eaten potatoes that had been fried on the same grill as beef. The juices from the beef mingled with the potatoes and four hours later, my body reacted. The allergy was no longer a silly inconvenience.

I now understood the significance of the beef allergy, but had no idea how I had developed it after years of eating beef with no problem at all.

One day I received a phone call from a friend. She had heard a story on National Public Radio about a study that was being conducted at the University of Virginia concerning people developing beef allergies from the bite of a tick.

I pulled the story up on the computer and found that I presented with every symptom listed. I had found my answer.

Doctors believe that there is a bacteria in the tick’s saliva that causes the body to react to the sugars in beef as allergens. Some people develop allergies to pork, lamb and other mammals as well as to beef.  What is unusual about this allergy is that the reaction occurs four to six hours after the ingestion of the beef, when the sugar from the beef reaches the bloodstream. Because the reaction is not immediate as with other allergies, people don’t associate the response with eating the meat.  

This allergy is becoming more prevalent in regions where deer and deer ticks are common. The study is still being conducted by the University of Virginia.  

Link to study:

Caveat Emptor

August 3, 2011

So much for my long romantic weekend of boating. I found out on the way back home, you cannot put a boat in Virginia waters without a valid title.

“I thought not having a title didn’t matter,” I accused, staring at the side of my husband’s face in the dark car.  He’d spent the day rewiring the boat trailer, repacking the wheel bearings, adjusting the motor mount on the Evinrude and swatting the biting flies and blood sucking mosquitoes of Seaside Heights, New Jersey.  It was now twenty-three hours into the trip and I was testy.

Bruce shrugged. “I didn’t think it would be a problem. I still don’t.  How hard can it be to get a boat title?”

“Well according to that man at the rest stop back there, he’s glad he’s not in your shoes. He mentioned something about to Hell and back.”

We arrived home exactly twenty-four hours and twenty minutes after we left. I was so tired I didn’t care about being mad anymore. I could be mad tomorrow.  I fell into bed and slept twelve hours straight.

When I woke, Bruce was gone.

I dragged myself into the kitchen and poured cold coffee into my mug. I looked out the window into the backyard. There was my husband. He had pulled the boat trailer into the grass and was stripping the inside, tossing parts and pieces into the yard.  Boat seats, strips of carpet, plywood flooring, vinyl covered bumpers, a fire extinguisher, three bright orange life preservers and a long handled fishing net littered the ground.  Bruce’s shirt was off. He was embroiled in serious business.

I turned away from the window, poured myself a bowl of cereal, and sat at the table, drowning my disappointment in the sweetness of Cap’n Crunch. Fatigue, hours spent in a car, not in a boat, and the realization that not having a title might mean we’d be sailing no further than the yard or driveway, put me in a rare funk.  I’m not touching that boat until I’m sure we’ll be able to use it, I thought.

Bruce came in a little while later. “You want to ride with me to Ace Marine in Stuarts Draft?” He asked. “I need to look about a new bilge pump, and some other things.”

On the way over the mountain to the boat dealership, Bruce talked non-stop about flooring, fiberglass, repair and patch kits, marine grade vinyl and indoor/outdoor carpeting.  The boat needed two new car batteries, the bilge pump, some half inch pressure treated plywood, a few two by fours, and new stringers.  I recognized some items, but was clueless about others.  I remembered his comment about this being the only boat he’d ever owned.  He sure seemed to know a whole lot more about the Larson Shark than I did.  It seemed he’d given up online auctions for boating websites now.  

We browsed the aisles and shelves of the boating store. The salespeople were outside showing brand new vessels, so we were able to pick up items, compare prices and talk without interruption. As we looked at various types of anchors, a miniature dachshund came wagging his tail in our direction. His toenails clipped along the floor and he walked right up to Bruce for a head pat.  “Well aren’t you the cutest one,” Bruce said, reaching down to rub the little brown dog.

“Charlie, where are you?” A woman’s voice called from the back room. She stuck her head out the door and whistled.  The little dog left us, running in the direction of his master.  She picked him up and noticed us alone in the showroom.

“Hi, didn’t realize anyone was in here. Anything I can help you folks with?”

“You don’t happen to know anything about titling a boat in the state of Virginia do you?” Bruce asked.

She laughed. “Do it all the time here. That’s my job. I complete the paperwork for the boat sales,  get the registrations, titles, all that stuff.”

“We bought a boat in New Jersey in an online auction,” Bruce said. “How hard is it to get a title in Virginia?”

“Not hard at all. You just take the New Jersey title to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and have it transferred to your name.”

“We didn’t get a title with it,” I said.

The woman frowned. “No title, huh?  Well that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.  If it was in Virginia, I’d know what to do, but since it’s from New Jersey, I’m not sure.  Tell you what, if you can give me a few minutes, I can make a phone call for you and find out.”

Bruce thanked her as she walked back to her office, then he turned to me and grinned, as if to say, “See, no big deal, she’s gonna fix everything for us.”

I rolled my eyes.

“You got the hull number with you?” She called from the other room.

Bruce pulled the information from his pocket and took it to her. We stood just outside the door, petting Charlie, who’d come back out to visit us.

I listened as the woman began the quest on our behalf. She was transferred from one person to the next, then to someone else and again to someone else. She was put on hold and transferred again, and again. She was more patient than I would have been. If it was me, I’d have handed the phone to Bruce so he was the one pushing buttons, and repeating information over and over again.

After a good ten minutes, she hung up the phone and handed us a piece of paper.  “You have to go on the New Jersey DMV website and get the D-21 form, print it off, fill it out, attach the information you have and send it to them with fifteen dollars.  They will check to see if there’s a lien on the boat. If you’re lucky and there isn’t one, you get to go on to the next step. The website explains it all.”

“Wow,” Bruce said. “I never thought about liens.”

“All I can say is good luck. Glad I’m not in your shoes,” she said. “You may get the boat in the water by next summer.  Sorry it’s not better news. Sounds like a lot of red tape.”

I thanked her for her time and for the information. She was the second person in two days who was glad not to be in my husband’s shoes.  Bruce put down the anchor he’d picked out and we walked back to the car empty handed. “Damn,” he said.

I patted his back. “Let’s go home, look up this website and print off the form. It’s not like we stole the boat.  We’ll just take this mess one step at a time.”

Bruce dropped his head. If he had been a little boy, he would have kicked the dirt with the toe of his boot. “I wanted to get her into the water on our next trip to Chincoteague,” he grumbled.

“We’ll get it straight,” I reassured him. “I’ll take care of the forms and you can concentrate of fixing up the boat. Just think, the extra time will give us a chance to do it up nice.  She’ll be the prettiest ’71 Larson Shark out there when we get her into the water.”

“If we get her in the water,” he muttered.