Part Two: Choosing a Port

Aside: read part one here, should you feel so inclined.

At our first meeting, our shipping agent leans in confidingly. “I counsel you not to put hashish in your container,” he tells us. We agree not to, after sharing a highly amused glance. “Good advice,” says Donn seriously. Then we talk about ports.

Now one thing that is quite intuitive about a city named Portland is that it has a port. It is not a misnomer. Port-land has a fine port, right downtown and a little north.

But, says the agent, he can’t ship to Portland. You give him a zip code, which originally was all he needed, he said, but he takes you to his computer and shows you on a map—there are no little stars in Portland, and he can’t ship there. He suggests Seattle.

You don’t want Seattle. For one, the container will then have to be trucked to Portland. Your shipping agent says it will have to be tracked, and it takes you ages to figure out what he means. When speaking another language, it’s always the vowels that will do you in. You agree to Seattle eventually, but keep pushing Portland. And that’s where matters rest until you go in with all your Most Official paperwork and things have to move beyond the theoretical.

You sit in the empty office with the high chair and the interesting mold patches spread across an entire empty wall, and the agent shows you a copy of an email quoting a price to have the container shipping to New York and then trucked across the entire United States. “But we don’t want New York,” you comment.
No, he agrees. And that price is no good, he tells you. The price for the trucking (“tracking”) is more than getting it across the ocean from Casa to New York. “Much too expensive,” he says. He purses his lips and shakes his head.

“White,” he says, so you do. You wait. Eventually he returns with a printed Google map of the Western United States. There are little marks by Seattle, Oakland and Long Beach. “But we can’t do Seattle,” he tells you.
Why not, you whine, although you have promised yourself you will not whine, even when you keep covering the same ground over and over again. There is no reason. They just can’t. He suggests New York again. In fact, one might say, he pushes New York.

You do not agree to New York. New York is very far from Portland, you explain. You use hand gestures. You talk in kilometers. He agrees. “No, no, that’s no good for you,” he says. He disappears again. You “white.”

After a while he comes back. “So, about New York,” he begins.

Eventually you leave. You have agreed that the container will be shipped to Seattle. Demoralized, you have entirely given up on the idea of Portland. Seattle is fine. Fine. So much better than the East Coast, or even California.

In the morning, you have an email waiting for you from the shipping agent, telling you that the container will need to go to New York after all. It’s not his fault—he can’t find anyone who can ship things to the West Coast. “Or Norfolk, Virginia,” he suggests, but Virginia is as bad as New York.

“I don’t think he’s ever shipped anywhere else,” you groan.

Your husband calls him. “Seattle!” he insists. “Or at least Oakland.” You reach a new agreement, which lasts until the day the container is actually on its way from Casa to your house in Rabat. “It’s going to New York,” says the shipping agent on the phone. “Right,” says Donn. “Just cancel it. Forget it.”

But no. No, no, no. He will do his best for you. He understands that New York is not good for you. You are not opening a business; you are just shipping your household items. He will work on it.

Seattle. We have chosen Seattle. The ship is going to Seattle. Our stuff is going to Seattle.


Apparently the ship “siyled” a couple of days ago. We called and emailed Wednesday with our intention to go down today to get the bill of lading. (Note to those who have not shipped things internationally: you need this to get your stuff out of port at the other end.) He wrote back. “Ok! Come tomorrow (Thursday)!” We wrote back. “We’ll be there at 9:30,” we said.

So at 9:40, we arrived. He wasn’t there. The secretary called him and handed us the phone. “Have you had breakfast yet?” he said hopefully, obviously wanted us to go sit in a café for half an hour and not rush him. “Yes,” we said.

He arrived a little after 10. After much evasiveness, we established that the bill of lading was not ready yet but we could come back on Saturday. No, we can’t, we said. This was supposed to be our last trip to Casa. We have other things we need to get done.

Finally, he agreed that we could come back at 2. “Ok, we’ll see you at 2 to get the bill of lading,” we confirmed. “Maybe call me ahead of time,” he said. “Or we’ll just come at 2 to get the bill of lading,” we said. It was 11 a.m. at this point—just 3 short hours from the appointed time.

You already know what’s coming. I’ll cut it short. The agent came back, relaxed after a leisurely lunch and still chewing, at 2:30, and then he started to get the bill of lading ready. Donn emerged, triumphant, with 3 copies of it, just a little before 4:00

But it’s going to Seattle. And that bill of lading states the contents, and number one is: books.
Coming soon: Part Three, Fun With Bureaucracy