Subtitle: Things I Observed, Learned, or Was Reminded Of
I've had a few days to recover from OpSail 2012 in Norfolk last weekend. I've caught up on grading assignments for my two summer classes, rested up, and tried to reflect on the weekend that was. I realize this is a very long post, but please take time to read it; I think you will take something away from it.
My messmate Chris Grimes and I had planned to go up Friday afternoon and take part in the War of 1812 living history program at Fort Norfolk on Saturday and Sunday. We were kind of glad that we were going to be out at the fort and not in the middle of the craziness that was sure to be down near Waterside. We were looking forward to fun and fellowship with our buds in the 10th US, 20th US, and a number of other units. Then came a call from another group of friends, Ship's Company. They were slated to be in the USS Constitution gun deck model at Waterside and had a few folks drop out unexpectedly; they were short and asked if we could assist. Chris was committed to the weekend's activities at the fort, but we decided to try and accommodate all of our friends. Chris and I would leave earlier than planned on Friday and help Ship's Company. On Saturday and Sunday, Chris would go to the fort and I would stay at Waterside. Friday was busy, but light compared to the onslaught of Saturday and Sunday. I haven't participated in anything that big since Pepsi America's Sail in 2006. I bet in three days we saw over 100,000 people. At the end of the weekend I was whipped, but I was glad to be able to help out our friends.
Following are some of my observances from the weekend. Please note, that none of these are meant to be judgmental or negative; they are simply my observations for good, ill, or otherwise. Also, they are in totally random order, no ranking at all.
1. Downtown Norfolk is a lot cooler than I realized and I need to go back there and spend some time when it isn't absolutely freakin' insane. Almost makes me wish I had gone to grad school at Old Dominion, but that water has been under the bridge for a LONG time now.
2. Tattoos, tats, ink: people in Norfolk are really into body art. I saw plenty of it. I thought I was in Vegas or LA. Some people will point to the fact that Norfolk is a "military town," but I'm not buying that explanation. I've lived in a military town most of my life and I've never seen so much ink.
3. All the questions you get tired of visitors asking are only asked multiple many more times when you are at an event of this magnitude. "You must be hot in those clothes." (To which my partner for the weekend replied, "My wife thinks so!") "Are you pirates?" (when we are clearly dressed as War of 1812 sailors - I know, I know, people just don't get it) "Is there really water in this cup?" (as he proceeds to pour it out all over the place) I could go on, but is there really a point?
4. If I had a dollar for every photo that was taken of me, I'd be much richer now. I even had two very attractive young ladies actually sit on my lap for photos. Obviously they were very comfortable around sailors or very naive about sailors, I'll let you decide.
5. Tall ships are cool. Period. Some are prettier than others, but they are all cool.
6. Folks do not teach their children basic manners, nor do they watch them. Maybe I shouldn't paint this with such a broad brush because there were some parents who really kept tabs on their kids and there were kids who were very well behaved and polite. But the majority had no basic manners. My biggest illustration of this is that I cannot count how many times I saw kids grabbing my ditty bag and going through it. If I turned my head for even a second some kid would have my bag open, taking stuff out of it, and acting like they had every right to be going through someone's personal stuff. At first it freaked me out because I had a very sharp knife in there (which I suppose could have taught some of them a lesson), but then it bothered me even more because my wallet and phone were in there too. I tried moving the bag to different locations, all of them inconspicuous (or so I thought). When I finally lost it, I turned around to see some kid going through my bag and without even thinking I snatched it out of his hand and said "That's mine, son!" I almost wish his parent had been somewhere nearby, but of course they weren't. I would have loved that confrontation. But hell, the parents were just as bad. While setting up Sunday morning, we turned around only to find a parent had picked up a pistol off of our blanket and was handing it to his kid so he could take a picture. I guess the lesson I took from all of this is that folks just have no respect for personal space or personal property anymore. (OK, so that was the big rant for this post. Sorry.)
7. Lots of people have no concept of their nation's history, nor their own personal history. Saturday afternoon an African American visitor came up to me, shook my hand, hugged me, and proceeded "I know what all this shit's about, but I ain't blaming you for it. It ain't your fault, but I know what it's about. Where would I be if I was on this ship? I'd be cleaning floors and saying Yessir Masta! But I don't blame you. You can't help it you had fucked up ancestors." Just ruminate on that for a minute. As he staggered off, I realized that he had already had way too much "grog." But the point remains, he viewed our whole set up totally differently than anyone else. BTW, my "fucked up ancestors" lived in Pennsylvania and didn't own any slaves, but I wasn't going to prolong that conversation. I should have mentioned to him that the sailors on board our "ship" were actually free blacks, but he was in no mood to get a history lesson. He wanted to vent some pent up frustration towards "the man" or whatever and he got what he wanted.
8. Most people don't know squat about the War of 1812 except for maybe Fort McHenry, the Star Spangled Banner, and the Battle of New Orleans. This is not surprising to me. But I found that there are a lot of folks who WANT to know more and understand what the war was all about. I had some of the lengthiest and most intelligent conversations about the War of 1812 that I've had in a long time. There were some visitors who were genuinely interested and wanted to talk. That was refreshing.
9. No matter what the conditions or the adversity, you do the best job you can and sweat your ass off to try to educate the public. Those who want to learn will take something away from it, but 95% will just walk through like cattle, looking at things and maybe learn something. It's the 5% who engage you that you are out there for. You have to make sure you make that connection. When you think about it 5% of 100,000 is a whole lot of people who were able to learn something from you.
10. Finally, helping friends is a good thing. I thoroughly enjoyed my crazy, hectic weekend with the gentlemen of Ship's Company. They are a wonderful bunch of guys and I always enjoy their company, their knowledge, and their singing (which they did plenty of over the three days). Thanks to those guys for inviting me into their part of the crazy world that was OpSail 2012, Norfolk!