Sunday, August 21, 2016

The things we did, and the things we do

A series of facebook posts by New England Waterman  focused on his family's visit to one of the more remote and beautiful hidden gems of Cape Cod, a locals-mostly spot that was shown to me back in 1997, when I had just returned from working in Scotland on my first real grown-up independent study to take up residence at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, which is pretty much the Graceland, Harvard and Bedlam of ocean sciences. 

 The spot I'm talking about is a stunningly beautiful glacial drumlin that stretches out into the ocean. Lovely place. Just as it was introduced to me, I brought my fellow techs, interns and assorted underpaid geek friends there on the regular with my piece of shit truck. Woods Hole and nearby Falmouth, MA, where we all lived (Woods Hole being much too expensive for anyone short of a tenured professor, of which MIT had many living in the damn community). MIT are the owners of the Oceanographic Institute, which is a separate organization from the Marine Biological Laboratory, but which shares the same area and often the same poor employees and interns like yours truly. It is to the credit of the Falmouth police department that they never once pulled me over when I had 10-20 people in my truck, mostly in the back. We were a very law-abiding bunch, though, even when drunk, which was often. 

       It wasn't just the cops who were cool. My neighbors were, too. 6 of us rented a gorgeous summer house, and I know of at least one current university professor from CalTech, and another from UGA who passed out drunk and spent the night sleeping on my front lawn to be woken up by early beachgoers who walked down my street to get to the gorgeous and somewhat famous beach at the end of it. Not one complaint from the neighbors, minus one guy down the road who did complain that my motorcycle was noisy at 5am, when I headed out to the lab on early days. Since I was fishing back home on weekends, I brought him live lobsters a couple of times, and he made nicenice after that. 

      Even the Coast Guard was cool at Woods Hole. When I accidentally misread a formula for making tracer dye for measuring turbulence in flowing water (this is a thing), which was supposed to be something like .1 grams per 5 gallons of water (in my defense, the stained and faded card said 'add 1  to 5gal, injected at 5 ml/min' so I added one 10lb can to 5 gallons of water, used only about a quart's worth for my work, and dumped the other 4.75 gallons into the seawater systems' drain, and it dyed the estuary around the outlet pipe bright red, including the plants, the gelcoat on the many sailboats anchored there (Woods Hole is a tourist destination, as well as being the transit port to go to Martha's Vineyard), and also the concrete and wood of the decks of the local restaurants and yacht club and marina. 

       Well, they found me because a helicopter spotted a fire-engine red streak of water miles out to sea, followed it back to the Eel Pond estuary, figured out that my lab building had a drain for our seawater pumping system, and burst into my lab in the basement, giving me a lecture and a warning, but no more than that. 

That's it, off to the right. Bright. Red. Also florescent, if anyone had a black light. 
        There was a lot of that shit. Being dumb and often lazy, some July mornings, I'd ride in on my motorcycle in shorts, a tank-top shirt, and flipflops, and kept a change of clothes in my lab,  under my giant flume tank, a 60ftx9ftx6ft aquarium tank that I used to do things like learning how lobsters use their sense of smell and current flow to find food. The tank was elevated because the piping and pumpworks were underneath, and there was a great spot there to keep a backpack full of clothes, not to mention a refrigerated seawater tank used to house rare deep-sea creatures behind my flume, that cohabitated nicely with bud light and diet soda cans in the tank. Icy cold on hot days. 

 The Food Buoy, the local deli/convenience store, had a girl there that wore nothing but daisy duke shorts and tiny t-shirts. I learned quickly which sandwich items were located deepest in the food cases. I was in my early 20's after all. 

               The Captain Kidd was a bar that my dad used to drink at when my parents lived in Falmouth. My father worked for "The Oceanographic" for years, when they were doing the real new, badass shit with the ALVIN, their submarine (the one that found the Titanic in later years). The Kidd tolerated a lot of BS from the  interns and techs, but by no means was a college bar. It was a townie bar, exactly the kind of bar I like and have always liked. Even so, I had to keep a low profile and didn't go in there for a while after I dyed their back yard bright red. 
      I once talked a friend out of a fistfight there. Guy has 2 doctorates, which he got at the same time, and was one of the most mild-mannered people you'd ever meet, but someone got his Irish up, and I got to defuse the situation, which ultimately got me laid with one of the interns from Estuarine Ecology, so, win-win, I guess. 
    I packed a lot of living in just 16 months there. I also figured out that I wasn't happy as a scientist there, but it took me a couple of years to get it through my thick skull. 

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