Friday, April 27, 2007

Soles'n'Bowls

Four years ago, you're working on a house in a little island community, part of Marion.
You turn off the main road (where today everyone is thrilled/appalled to anticipate a Dunkin' Donuts) and drive past the golf course and the famous teevee star's family place, cross a wide landbridge with a salt pond on one side and a beach on the other, a beautiful view of Buzzards' Bay where you eat your bag lunch and pretend you own one of the early-ins imposing their day off on the waters off Converse Point. It's peaceful, idyllic, and you know that if you lived there, you'd probably bring your kids for a picnic every day on that beach, or at least a gin-and-tonic.
Then you go back to banging nails and sheetrocking and painting a place owned by a guy who doesn't really like the water much.
"They sunk one, right out there," says a co-worker, coming back late from lunch because he was chatting up the girl at the sandwich shop. "Oil tanker."
"Sunk?"
"I dunno. Hit something. Big leak."
And then the collective: "Damn."
Admission: I don't remember exactly when we found out about the spill. I know that the mate of Evening Tide ignored the barge it was towing, allowing it to strike the rocks near the first Buzzards Bay green at around 3:15 the afternoon of April 27. The story made the news that night, I think, but local news is very connected to the sea, the source of much audience interest and ad revenue.
According to this unfortunately cool NOAA video, the slick languished around for about a week before attaching itself to just about every rock and bird in the Bay.
Every day after that, though, I would pass the cleanup crews, on the beach in their hazmat suits and their waders and the big grey box that held whatever it was they were cleaning up. I still had lunch there, only now I chatted with the cleanup workers who were lunching there in the small lot. They smelled like an engine room I once knew, all salt water and vague diesel. They spent all day scrubbing rocks, mostly, and explaining to the curious, in sometimes dramatic terms, what our mishandling of our oil addiction can cost, even on a pleasant neighborhood beach 20 nautical miles from the original accident. I envied them their purposeful -- if tedious -- lifestyle, because I was installing, removing, repositioning, and reinstalling windows and toilet fixtures for a tedious tyrant homeowner. The "hazmat heroes" were working against the tide to make every inch of that beach hospitable for birds, shellfish, and families.
Under the Homeland Patriot Security Act or whatever it was that turned the Coast Guard into a regulatory arm of the Executive Branch, Coasties have become particularly unmet around here. They're blamed for cozying up to fuel transporters by ignoring drug and alcohol testing protocols. They're blamed for maybe letting a big fuel company bring liquefied natural gas 26 miles up Narragansett Bay to a possible plant in Fall River. They're ridiculed for citing scallopers for having too-small nets, after the nets shrink at sea. Legislators point at the USCG and say they have to be tougher on rules improvement and execution. And there's friend Mark Montigny, frankly stating, as even I often do, that we're in trouble because the Coast Guard is "in bed with the oil and transportation industry."
Although if I needed help while at sea, I would be in trouble if I didn't welcome the Coast Guard. Or even on land.
And after all, in a few years they won't be taking orders from the same guy.

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