We had to pay attention. We had to think.
Traveling to new places can make you appreciate or at least think differently about the rules and procedures of your own country. And when it comes to safety procedures, sometimes I think the United States tries too hard to keep people safe. We’ve gone so far in the name of safety (and in the name of avoiding lawsuits, too) that Americans no longer need to think for themselves. That wasn’t the case on the Greek island of Skiathos last weekend.
Last Saturday, my husband Mitch and I took a 30-minute flight from Athens over the Aegean Sea to Skiathos Island, the smallest of three isles that compose Greece’s Sporades Islands. After a three-minute taxi ride down dusty, narrow lanes from the Skiathos Airport to the harbor, we confirmed our passage at a ferry ticket office and then made our way across the crowded main street to an assemblage of casual chaos.
The noonday sun beat down on the dusty parking lot filled with tourists carrying luggage and others just out for a weekend excursion. Music from the row of restaurants drifted from across the busy street, an incongruous backdrop to the hectic activity of the dock.
As we approached the crowd of waiting passengers, a young man was backing up a semi tractor into the lower hold of the ferry. He craned his neck left and right to peer into his rear view mirrors, guiding the tractor cab in reverse toward the gaping hold of the ferry. He jostled and bumped his way onto the ramp, clearing the opening on both sides and above by less than a foot and then disappeared within the ship.
About two minutes later, he emerged with a fully-loaded trailer of goods. Brushing his sweaty forehead with one hand and steering with the other, he maneuvered the rig, first in drive and then in reverse, to the edge of the parking lot near where we stood. And then he did it all over again, four more times to be exact.
All the while during his performance, a stream of disembarking ferry passengers had been descending the staircases along the side of the hold. A quiet procession of bag-bearing zombies, they inched down the staircase, watching their feet with each step, one step at a time. Once they reached the last stair, they wandered across the tractor’s loading area, where ferry workers, professionally dressed in white shirts, ties and dark trousers, ushered them along, guiding them out of the path of the semi that was soon to emerge from the ship.
It was very casually run for being so chaotic. There was no yelling. No running back and forth. Just a toot of the semi’s horn when one man stopped in the middle of the path to check his phone. Just an occasional raising of a dockhand’s arm to direct people along and keep them out of harm’s way.
We talked quietly between ourselves about how different this would be in the states. There would be a beep screeching from the semi tractor every time it backed into the hold. There would be traffic cones arranged to keep the area clear. Passengers would likely be contained in a holding area off to the side. But not here. Here, apparently, you have to pay attention and watch.You have to think.
Finally, with the ship’s hold empty, it was time for passenger boarding. We fell into a line and inched up the yellow-painted staircase where we slung our bags into loosely formed stacks and onto odd-shaped ledges and shelves that lined the stairway. There was no exchange of baggage receipts, no record that we had dropped off a bag at all. It would be our responsibility to retrieve our luggage when we descended upon reaching our destination. When we arrived in Skopelos, we would have to remember and pay attention. We would have to think.
Ascending the stairs, I placed my new, shiny wheeled carry-on onto a wobbly stack of suitcases and thought about how differently this procedure would be handled back home. There would be tags to keep track of or a ticket to scan. Thought would be taken out of the process. Without a doubt, I would get my bags back, but I wouldn’t have to think to make that happen.
“Leave here. Get later,” I heard a Greek ferry worker say to some passengers climbing up behind me.
Thank you for reading! My husband is serving a three-week artist residency at Skopelos Foundation for the Arts on Skopelos Island in Greece. I’m along for the ride, writing and posting and otherwise enjoying my summer off from teaching middle school English Language Arts. Follow this blog for more articles and find me on Medium.com under Parenting, Education, and Travel.