Waterfront story

Two freighters are in port today: Green Spring at the Martime International Terminal, and Sophie at the State Pier. I was walking past the vehicle exit of the State Pier, after going to look at the schooner Ernestina in the snow, when a beat-up blue van pulled up.

“Hey,” said the man driving the van, “You from that ship there?” cocking his head in the direction of Sophie.

I laughed and said, “Nope, not me.”

“Oh,” he said. He was about 60, with friendly blue eyes, and wearing a blue parka with that faintly greasy black patina that comes with hard work and long wear. “If you was from one of those ships, I was going to ask you what she’s carrying there. I used to be in the Merchant Marine, and I got curious. But now they got that up,” and he pointed to the chain link fence with the barbed wire at the top that encircles that part of the State Pier where the freight ships dock. “It’s prob’bly because of the longshoremen, they’ll steal you blind.”

He proceeded to tell me a few stories: one about longshoremen who stole from him (he showed me his state peddler’s license, which lets him sell watches and such things out of his van); another story about seeing a state cop stealing whiskey from a container that the longshoremen has broken open, “I saw him, taking it out. If I only had a camera! –I would have caught that #$%@! right there”; and then he told me one last story, saying, “You’re going to laugh your @#%$ off when you hear this.”

There used to be a Coast Guard base in New Bedford. Once in a while, at lunch time, he would stop by the Coast Guard cutters. The crews of the cutters would come out to buy their lunches from the lunch truck. “Then they would come over and buy watches and stuff off me.”

One day he pulled in and noticed there were a number of state police cars parked near the Coast Guard cutters, but he didn’t think anything of it. What he didn’t know was that there was a ship offshore dumping bales of marijuana into the ocean, and letting it drift into the harbor. The state police and the Coast Guard were watching and waiting to see who would run out and try to pick up those bales of marijuana floating out there. So he pulled up in his van, not knowing this was going on. He opened the back doors of the van, and shouted, “Hey, get your hot stuff here!”

“All of a sudden I had about a hundred guns pointed at me,” he said. “I went like this,” –he sinks down into his greasy blue parka and puts his hands up– “and I said, Whoa, whoa! They came over and a couple of them went through the whole van and saw that all I had was some things to sell, you know, all legal. When they got done I asked a trooper, What’s going on? He said, There’s this ship offshore dumping marijuana and letting it drift into the harbor. Another cop says to me, Next time, I guess you won’t say ‘Hot stuff to sell,’ will you? Jeez, I’m telling you….” He shook his head remembering it.

“The next time I came in to sell stuff to the guys in the Coast Guard, they all came out and started laughing at me,” he went on. “One of them says, ‘Ya got any hot stuff to sell?’ I said, no, no.”

Just then, the light turned green (for the third time). He put the van in gear, “Hey, nice talking with you. Take care, OK?” I told him to stay warm, and he drove off.