Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Life is Good

Sometimes that's all you can say. Life is good.

Monday morning I got an e-mail about a lionfish trapping project taking place at the Frederiksted Pier. I'm including a link to the story I wrote so I don't have to give a lot of background. If you don't want to read it (it's an interesting story, I think) just remember lionfish = bad.

The message gave a time of from 1 to 3 p.m.

I didn't know what to expect, but I figured a short little spiel for the press. They'd show off the traps, give the "lionfish = bad" rap, answer a few questions and go to work. So I drove down to the pier after lunch. Got there at 1 p.m. on the dot, but forgot to factor in parking. Ended up having to park three blocks away, and walked onto the huge concrete cruise ship pier at 1:07.

And saw a dive boat pulling away. Literally, 30 seconds later and I'd have been right there. But in life as in comedy, timing is everything. Assuming that was the lionfish project, I had just missed them.

I stood thee and stared, waving a little, hoping someone might glance back. Another boat pulled up to the pier, this a small, yellow inflatable motorized kayak looking thing. A young guy, mid-20s, got out and tied up.

"Do you know if that's the lionfish project out there?" I asked, pointing to the dive boat, which seemed to be stationary, about 100 feet off the end of the pier.

"Yeah," he said.

"Damn," I said.

He looked at me funny and I explained I was a reporter who had just missed my story.

"I can take you out to them," he said.

"Great! Let's go."

I scrambled down into his boat, which he explained was used for diving, and was designed for Navy SEALs, which would explain the large opening in the bow. The SEALs could enter the water without having to go over the side. He zipped it up, and we were off. The photo shows the nose of our boat with the dive boat dead ahead. That's what the picture shows, the approach to the dive boat.

Just moments later we were circling the dive boat, where a couple of the people aboard recognized me and waved us over. With permission to come aboard, I transferred my phone and camera to the safer Velcro pockets of my cargo paints and reached for the proffered hand that helped me step up into the dive boat. It turned out the hand belonged to a friend of Millie's, MacKenzie MacQueen. She's a senior at Good Hope, and a certified diver. The trapping project is actually her project for the school science fair, which is a very big deal at GHS.

Along for the ride were her dad Neil, who I've met before and is an interesting guy, the young lad Alex, another friend of Millie's from GHS, Dr. Coles from Fish and Wildlife, the guy piloting the boat, and another diver, Pete, hereinafter referred to as "the ancient mariner," not that he's any older than me, probably not quite as old and certainly in better shape. He's a real lionfish zealot, says he's personally killed more than 14,000 of the bastards.

The whole project is described in the article linked to above and I won't bother going over all that here. I could have shot the whole thing from the pier, watching as they circled around dropping the traps in specific locations, and gotten the information after they came back, or in a phone call.

But who wouldn't want to spend a chunk of the afternoon out on the water, sun shining but a breeze keeping the temp down. The water so damn blue I can't describe it. It was as bright as the blue of a particularly clean swimming pool, but a much darker shade.

And this way I got the story in a casual way, in bits and snatches of conversation rather than a more formal interview – not that there's anything terribly formal about my interviewing style. My very favorite interview of all time was when I got to interview a Nobel-prize winning physicist and started our talk by saying, "I have no idea what you do." He was so startled by my candor – and such a gentleman – that he tried really hard to explain his work and what it meant. Really nice guy.

But back to the point, they kept trying to convince me that I had to take up diving. I kept explaining that I'm not much of a swimmer, that if I go in the water and don't drown, that counts as swimming for me. They claimed that you don't have to know how to swim to be able to scuba, but it sure seems to me like something you ought to know before you take up diving. Maybe I'm missing something, but you're in the water, right? Like, way underneath it? I'm not convinced.

Anyway, in no time at all the traps were in the water and we headed back to the pier.

Being a reporter has its plus sides. Along with the usual crap, I've got to watch a couple of rocket launches, interview some celebrities and high muckety muck politicians and that Nobel winner and walk through a forest fire with a firefighting team. Met a lot of interesting people in interesting places. Got into Disneyland free several times.

But I'd have to put that hour on the water up there with any of it. Even given the serious subject matter (lionfish = bad) it was just a great, great way to spend the afternoon. And I got a good story out of it.

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