It's hard to find a more inviting U.S. Coast Guard assignment than the San Diego station. (Jonathan Spaner)
Here’s a helpful moving tip from Capt. Jonathan Spaner:
When the driver of the moving van carrying all 15,840 pounds of your earthly possessions gets fired on his way to San Diego and abandons the trailer in some dinky town in Missouri, just shrug and take your family to dinner.
After 21 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, Spaner has a few other useful notions, as well, when it comes to relocation. Your kids might someday thank you for them.
As for that little snafu this month, he says, panic doesn’t help and hollering only makes your throat sore.
Granted, it helps to be a senior pilot on both C-130 transports and HH-60 choppers, so you know what a crisis really is. But you might as well just laugh, post it on Facebook and find a restaurant.
Spaner, 43, is a familiar figure in Northern Michigan for his stint commanding the Coast Guard air station in Traverse City, which ended in May 2011.
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say he was also a beloved figure, for integrating the station and himself into the community even though he knew he was essentially a migrant laborer with a two-year assignment.
Since then, the Coast Guard has sent him to MIT for an MBA and D.C. to develop our operational strategy on the Arctic.
Wednesday, he’ll take command of the Coast Guard base in San Diego, which is something like a building engineer being handed the keys to the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco.
It’s a big job, and it’s reasonable to assume his elevator is going up.
Back to Michigan - eventually
Spaner and his wife, Laura, have promised themselves they’ll retire in Traverse City.
They’ve scheduled three trips there since they left and canceled them all because something came up at work. But he’s made it as far as Detroit to catch Tigers games and be a tourist with his son.
Teddy is 10, and “this is his eighth move,” Spaner says. Daughter Madeleine is 7, and it’s her fifth.
Laura, an R.N., knew what she was getting into when she said “I do.” The kids have simply never known anything else.
The grounds they moved into in San Diego are so scenic that pieces of “Top Gun” were filmed there. More important to the family, a total of eight children in the same age cluster live in the three houses for sector officers.
That has helped the kids feel at home, only a week after the moving crates arrived. So has this:
“We take pictures of the kids’ rooms,” Spaner says, “as they are before they’re packed out.”
Then the first thing he and Laura do is re-create them in the new location. The walls and windows might be different, but the beds, toys, trophies and trinkets are in the same places.
From the first night, “the kids sleep very comfortably.”
Let the professionals work
Spaner’s other top tip is to get out of the way.
“The movers have surveyed your house. They have a plan,” he says. If you helpfully pack a few things and tag some others, “you actually disrupt the process.”
The only thing he hand-carries is a 120-year-old rug he picked up in Pakistan, one of the 64 nations and every-state-but-the-Dakotas he has passed through, courtesy of the Coast Guard.
The Spaner family’s latest mover “is a good man. A kind man,” he says, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade the company to let him finish the move.
The company wanted him to just drop the trailer at a truck stop. Instead, he found a fenced-in lot. The next day, he called Spaner with the proverbial good and bad news.
To the good: he’d be allowed to complete the job. The bad: rumbling along in his tractor-with-no-trailer, he was almost to West Virginia.
But highways run in two directions, and the load arrived in San Diego on time. Teddy is already in surfing camp, Spaner is ready to fly helicopters and run a station, and the family has another funny story for the logbook.
“It goes with the territory,” Spaner says — wherever that territory might be.