Missing Jay Leno

By Bernadette Bernon
November 17, 2000
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
37 17 N 76 49 W

People often ask us what we miss about our old lives ashore. Apart from missing our friends and family, until this week there wasn't much. We've loved living on the boat these past five months.

Then, on November 7, the presidential election chaos began.

Photo of sunrise in Mathews Our view of sunrise in Mathews, from Ithaka’s cockpit.

Ithaka's docked at Zimmerman Marine in the ultra-conservative outback of Mathews, Virginia, a spectacularly lovely place as far as foliage and hospitality goes, but a black hole as far as public-radio-station and cell phone reception goes.This is the beginning of "The South," and the changes in landscape and outlook are marked. These days we find ourselves provisioning at Winn Dixie, eating hush-puppies and barbecue, and watching hunting dogs with electronic sensors on their collars trotting alongside the road followed by hunters tracking them in pick-up trucks. We're listening to gunshots just before sunset almost every evening, and several times we've had folks tell us people shouldn't be allowed to vote in this country unless they own property. We've been here so long now that Douglas has started combing his hair forward, and introducing all kinds of Southern-isms, such as "y'all" and "you bet" into his normally Yiddish-laced vocabulary. I appear to have a veritable Jewish Garth Brooks on my hands.

Photo of fall leaves The fall leaves are on the ground now in the south, and the temperatures have plummeted.

Without a television aboard Ithaka, and with no car to transport us to a bar somewhere for a Larry King fix, Douglas and I have been somewhat in the dark about the current political nuances. We've tuned the single-sideband radio into the BBC news, but there's something unsatisfying about listening to Brits tell us what a shambles we've made of our election.

"I miss Greta!" said Douglas, referring to Greta Van Susteren, the legal analyst on CNN. And I miss Jay Leno. For the first time since we left, I miss having a television. I'm craving some satire.

Over the years, I've had an on-again, off-again affair with the tube. My family bought our first television the week the Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show, which made my parents think, erroneously as it turned out, that we'd been missing a lot more than we had. When we returned to Ireland during the summers of my childhood to visit my grandparents, we never had television — nor did anyone living in the modest little stucco houses in the green fields around us. Indeed, no one had running water, phones, heat, or flush toilets either, so in an ironic way, for me here on the boat, things have come full circle.

For a couple of years in the late 70s, I was a community organizer with VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America, Kennedy's old domestic Peace Corps), and worked with community groups all over New England. During those exciting times, I turned my back on commercialism of any kind, unplugged my TV, and put it in the basement. This was the same period when I lowered the heat in my house to 40 degrees for the winter, so that I wouldn't have to support the oil-producing countries, and I rode my bike everywhere because ... oh, never mind. Let's just say that I had a lot of idealistic passions then, and was just the kind of person that I would find awfully annoying today.

Photo of Douglas dabbing bottom paint along Ithaka’s underbody While the boat is out of the water for a day and a half, Douglas dabs some extra bottom paint along the waterline on Ithaka’s underbody.

On a business trip for Cruising World to the London Boat Show a few years ago, I decided to surprise my grandmother with a visit. On my way back to the States, I stopped in Ireland for three days. After renting a car in Shannon, I drove the several hours of winding country roads to County Kerry, daydreaming of the warm soda bread and hot pot of tea I was going to enjoy with her at her old kitchen table, sitting in the worn chair right near her big open-hearth fireplace, the same fireplace piled with smoldering peat where she'd baked the magnificent mound of bread. She'd lived in this cement-floored, three-room house for six decades, in this out-of-the-way place called Greenane, in the forest at Blackwater, between the villages of Kenmare and Sneem. By herself, she'd brought up four children there, including my mother, and supported her family by being a tailor after my grandfather was killed when the British bombed a house suspected of being an IRA meeting place. She lived in the countryside, with farmers and sheep and cows and horses on the roads, and not much else. As I approached the driveway around 10 o'clock that night, turned off the headlights so she wouldn't see me turn in, and then galloped up to her big black door, I was so excited to see her face when I presented myself out of nowhere. I knew the latch would be open — it always was. I burst in.

I don't know who was more shocked when I flung open that door. There was my little Irish grandmother, sitting in her armchair by the blazing fire, just as I knew she'd be — but with a big black television set planted right in front of her.

"JesusMaryandsweetSaintJoseph!" she gasped. "Bernie!"

"Granny!" I blurted. "You got a television! You're watching Dallas!?!"

"Oh," she said, one eye still on the box as she gave me a big hug. "Poor JR. The crather is so misunderstood ..."

My grandmother had been hooked. By then, she’d also gotten a stove. Around the time that my own television came out of the basement, she got a refrigerator and running water. She had her priority list: JR made it, but a phone and a flush toilet never did.

Photo of Douglas provisioning with a passion We’ve been provisioning with a passion, in our preparations to head toward the Bahamas in a week or so.

Last night, at bedtime, Douglas and I faced our bunk in the forward cabin. On top of it were all the cans and spares we'd stored in the aft bilges and under the sole, as well as most of the floorboards. We'd piled everything on our bunk to clear the area around Ithaka's prop shaft so that the yard could install a new dripless packing gland, beef up some wiring, align the engine, install a new Balmar battery monitor, and a few other odds and ends. They'd hauled the boat and worked all day, but hadn't finished yet. Our quilt and blankets were trapped under the weight of all the spares and floorboards, and we were too sleepy to move it all. So, fully clothed, including two layers of fleece, we crashed on the settees in the main salon, partially covered ourselves with a couple of beach towels, unplugged the portable ceramic heater we'd borrowed, and turned out the lights.

"Douglas, are you still awake?" I said after about 10 minutes of trying to get comfortable and get the towel situated.

"You bet," he said. "I'm too cold to sleep."

"Let's break out of here tomorrow," I said. "Take a hike, thumb into town, anything."

Photos from Colonial Williamsburg contrast with the scene on the tube Scenes from Colonial Williamsburg contrast with the scene on the tube.

"A hotel bed in Colonial Williamsburg is sounding pretty good right now," he said. "It's only about an hour from here. Maybe we could rent a car. Y'all in?"

We discussed the cost of this hotel/car prospect in the context of how nervous we were about the chunk of our cruising funds we were spending on upgrades. Being in a boatyard for a couple of weeks engages you in some free-fall spending that makes you crazy with helplessness.

We got up the next morning, and called to arrange a car. The only rental agency in Gloucester had one car available. They offered to bring it out to the boatyard but said we'd have to wait awhile because they'd locked the only set of keys inside it, and couldn't find the locksmith. The car appeared at about 11; we jumped in and left Ithaka looking like a trapped horse, gracelessly propped on the haul-out truck.

That was yesterday.

Today, we're in the magnificent Colonial Williamsburg of 200 years ago, which should be a must-stop for cruisers heading south. We're staying in a period house on historic Duke of Gloucester Street, enjoying the 18th century ambiance, a soft bed, flushing toilets, and 24-hour TV. Outside our window, colonial townspeople walk by. It's midweek and quiet, and we have this precious town to ourselves. On the news front, we've watched CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, Katie and Cokie and Peter and Dan, Al and Dubya, and it's enough now. We've caught Jay's monologue, and we're satiated to the point of overload on the news. With our heads full of America's glorious history in our war for freedom against the British, we've also got some perspective on political priorities, and by the end of the day, I think, it'll be nice to get back to the boat, and Mathews, and to the peace and quiet.