Friday, October 20, 2006

Here's a Memory For You

Click on the play button, and you'll be whisked back to a distant time when you stood in the hot sun on a crowded pier playing shitty ditties while nobody listened.

It's a ship arrival. I didn't say it was a good memory, did I?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Navy Tradition # 173: "Hurry Up and Wait"

"Hurry up and wait" is often thought of as the result of poor planning. Any MU, however, will tell you the truth: "Hurry up and wait" is the consequence of over-planning. This can best be understood by observing the intricacies involved in getting a Navy band to a gig on time.

Ensign Dipstick puts the ball in play. He's on the phone with the band's operations petty officer, booking entertainment for a dance at the officers' club at his naval base. It's in a neighboring state, and the band has never played there, so the OPs PO asks for an estimate of travel-time.

The ensign received top grades in his navigation class. His expertise, combined with common sense and an Exxon roadmap, tells him the band can make the trip in three hours. But he's an ensign, and needs to be absolutely, positively, definitely sure the band won't be late. So Mr. Dipstick tells the OPs PO it's a four-hour trip and, in a last-minute frenzy of paranoia, adds that, depending on traffic, it could take the band up to five hours to make the trip.

It takes a lot of teamwork to create an effective "Hurry up and wait" situation, so your OPs PO pitches in. Because he hates being chewed out by the band's chief for cutting corners on travel time, he's developed the habit of tacking on an extra hour. He gives the chief a job-sheet indicating a six-hour trip.

This chief didn't get his khakis by showing up late for the prom. He knows his seventeen-piece band needs at least an hour before a gig to unload the gear, set it up and run a sound check. And with the time needed for cleaning up and changing into uniforms, he wants his band on-site two hours before the performance. Add this to six hours of travel time--it looks as though the vans will have to pull out of the parking lot by noon.

Now one of the drivers lends a helping hand, reminding the chief that a six-hour trip will require refueling along the way. And it would be wise to top off the tanks again close to the destination, to ensure fuel for the return trip. The chief nods and factors in two quick pit stops.

Nothing slows down a Navy band more than a "quick pit stop." Typically, before the vans have come to a halt at the pumps, the lead trumpet and bari sax players will explode out the sliding doors screaming, "Head call!" The rest of the straggling MUs will invade the Quik-Mart, methodically stripping the shelves clean of Slim Jims and Yoo-hoo, eventually forming an unruly line that snakes from the cash register to the restrooms.

Getting seventeen MUs back in a van is like trying to squeeze nine ounces of flatworms into an eight-ounce soup can. When the LPO has finally herded everyone back into their seats, he'll notice that someone is missing. Marching back into the convenience store, he'll find the fourth trombone player is still trying to decide whether he wants a Hostess Twinkie or a Li'l Debbie Kreme-filled Kake-ette. By the time the LPO drags this buffoon back to the van, the MUs will have started slipping back inside for a second round of head calls.

Forseeing this, the chief adds an hour for two pit stops. Nine hours of lead time before a 2000 dance now requires an 1100 departure.

Whoops. This means the band will be on duty during the Navy's scheduled lunch time. This creates a "missed meal." The chief talks to OPs, who calls Mr. Dipstick. The ensign agrees to fund the band's lunch at a fast-food restaurant along the way.

Unfortunately, the phrase "fast food" has no meaning to a Navy band. When seventeen sailors storm into McDonald's, the fourth trombone player always holds up the line with his inability to decide between a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder, so the frustrated sax section sneaks out the door and strolls across the highway to Burger King. When they return, the trumpet section has just sat down to eat. This makes the saxes hungry again, so they order another round of cheeseburgers. At this point, the rhyhm section is chewing on a third box of Chicken McNuggets and the chief is chewing on the LPO.

The chief allots an hour for this circus. Muster time is now 1000--ten hours before the dance. But before the chief announces this to the band, the LPO reminds the chief of an important detail: The band has been rehearsing this week, so the equipment is set up in the rehearsal room. It will take time in the morning to load the gear into the trailer.

The chief explores alternate strategies. "Why not pack up after rehearsal the day before?" he asks.

The LPO is on top of things. "No can do," he says. "The rock band won't have the vans back in time."

The chief adds an hour, for a total of eleven hours of lead-time before the 2000 gig.

Belay that. Ensign Dipstick has been back in touch with OPs. He wants the combo to play for the cocktail hour at 1800. OPs gives the chief this update. The chief subtracts those eleven hours from the new start time. Muster must now occur at 0700.

Cause, effect; yin, yang; sunrise, sunset. The requirement to spend two hours setting up before the 1800 cocktail hour creates another missed meal. Another hour-long pit stop at a burger joint coutesty of Ensign Dipstick. Twelve hours of lead time means a 0600 muster.

But the breakfast hour begins at 0600. This atomic reaction is unstoppable. Another missed meal. Another hour-long roadside food-fest. Another half-hour at Dunkin' Donuts, waiting for the bass trombone player to choose between glazed or sprinkles.

"Hurry up and wait."

A task force is poised for victory because each ship hurried to position, then waited for the battle flag to be hoisted.

A weary sailor knows he'll be relieved of the midwatch on time because his relief hurried out of the rack and is waiting to go on duty.

And a Navy band musters at five in the morning to hurry to an officers' club and wait to play an evening gig.

There's only one thing "Hurry up and wait" doesn't explain--one teeny, itsy-bitsy thing:

Despite the operational overload and multiple layers of contingency preparation that has gone into getting the band to this gig, it's still only three hours away, dammit. The band is going to arrive while the sun is still rising over the officer's club.

But try to explain that to a nervous ensign, a cautious operations petty officer, an experienced chief and an on-the-ball LPO. They'll all shrug their shoulders and tell you the same thing:

"It's the Navy way."

But that's another topic altogether.