|Sails are ready|
Day One, Saturday, 7/2: Get In The Groove. As usual, the arrangement of the Festival is completely different from the year before. There seems to be more space for vendors in the new Lake Union Park, but there seem to be less boats. Lavengro, Zodiac, and Adventuress represent for the tall ships. Logan does what he does--fascinate some, frighten others. I am pleasantly surprised to be joined by old pirate buddies the Carlsens, who find me at a table behind the boat house. They join me as the beer garden opens, which this year has been expanded because it is now being run by nearby Jillian's but has lost any sense of character, with big Redhook and Budweiser banners and out of place music like Huey Lewis and Elton John. I storm the Model Boat Tent and the pond--with flintlock and megaphone!--and progress to the Arthur Foss. My Pirate Pied Piper routine pulls in a young boy named Matthew, who sits next to me and watches for the British Navy with my brass telescope as I get down to Story Time.
|Flags are waving|
For as long as I have been a teacher, I have been self-consciously fascinated by the transformation that occurs when I get rolling. I require my notes less and less and just start improvising. Blackbeard, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, John Paul Jones: They all just sort of trip out of me. Brad Carlsen, as we debriefed at the beer garden afterwards, astutely observed that part of the magic is the audience: The young kids who come still have open minds, curious about the world and unfettered (or unjaded) by something that might be peer pressure or might be information overload. They ask crazy, blunt questions like, "Why do pirates fight?" and "Why do pirates have hooks?" The trick is to give straight answers without revealing everything. Open the chest just a little so that they may see the treasure of history, but make them open it fully on their own. Education, entertainment: same damned thing. Or should be.
Day Two, Sunday, 7/3: The Groove Is Deep. The skies are cloudier, and the crowd seems lessened. I go about my business, wandering the grounds taking pictures and having my picture taken. I am a photo op: I am a Leo, I'm good with that. My old friend with the cap and the red suspenders, denied his usual, comfortable PA in the Boat House, walks around with the megaphone. "Right where we left off," he says. "What do you call a pirate on welfare? A yaharr-dship case." Aboard the Zodiac, a little boy asks another one of those innocent, awesome questions: "Where do you sit?," as if the boat had a driver's seat.
I don't feel like I'm doing anything different as I make a ruckus at 12:30. Yet, even on this grey middle day, I seem to have gathered an army. When we reach the Arthur Foss, a demonstration on celestial navigation is running late. I gather kids and parents at the bow and in whispers get everyone ready to "mutiny." We storm the aft deck. Then there is no sitting, there is no notebook, and I stand and gesticulate, hitting every point and every segue. Even the boy who is completely fixated on "What happens if a pirate ship gets stuck in a sandbar?" cannot break my energy. I don't know if it's perfect, but it's probably the best ever. And my wife, mother in law, and uncle got to see it!
Day Three, Monday, 7/4: Let The Groove Run. At this point it has all become familiar. Everyone acknowledges that the Center for Wooden Boats runs on plain bagels, stale donuts, and black coffee. The buildup is slow as I do the rounds. It's the Fourth of July. It's all about endurance, preserving the last vestiges from the last two days to make it 'til the fireworks. It's also the hottest day yet, and I have planted bottles of water at the boat house and the merchandise/information tent. We are the volunteers. We are the people who wear cool hats. We are the people who follow traditional ways to make canoes with the hearts of trees, hand labor, and rocks from a long fire. We are the people who are there three days straight to catch the first pint. We are the sunburned.
After chatting microbrews with another volunteer and a recent immigrant from Eureka, California, I make some noise and gather my mutineers again. As I do my last Story Time of the Festival, I get the one missing character: The Know-It-All. When I ask the audience, "Who can tell me the name of a real pirate?," a girl chimes in "Grace O'Malley" before "Blackbeard" can spill off any one's lips. This is both a challenge and an affirmation--thank ye, lassie, good to know yer out there...honestly. I'm still past the notebook, but the crowd's just not the same. I am now parched and tired. With two beverage tickets that deserve redemption, I head back to the beer garden and settle in with a friendly crewman from the Zodiac whose face is smeared with barbecue sauce from ribs he has given their due attention.
Here's to another year. To all me Center mates, cheers. To all the parents who brought their children to my audience, thank you. And to all the kids, mum's the word 'til I say so, and then the boat will be ours.