Friday, March 27, 2009

I Hate Technology But I Love Being My Best

Last summer we entertained the Lohnes family from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. While visiting us, we took the train into Boston to visit the Museum of Science. Joan and I drifted away from the others and found ourselves in the children’s computer room.

We came upon two small children, a brother and sister, not more than two or three years old. They were sitting on miniature plastic molded toadstools, each playing a computer game. These little kids were so enthusiastic and obviously proud of their ability to play these games. Eagerly they showed this old guy what they were capable of doing. It was a wakeup call for me. Two little kids had learned a skill in their infancy, a skill that I had feared and avoided for the past 20 years. The hi-tech world had left me behind!

That day, I vowed to get with it. I had to change direction, accept this technology, and move forward! Isn’t that what life is all about, growing, improving, adapting to change and moving forward?

My friend, Peter Anastas, is one of Gloucester’s primo writers. He’s a proud member of our Greek community, a Dunfugin elementary student, a G.H.S. graduate, and distinguished Bowden alumni. We don’t always agree, but when he waxes poetically about St.Peter’s Fiesta in the Times, it brings tears to my eyes. When I commented to Tony, the barber, about Peter’s article, his reply was, “every year the altar gets smaller and the carnival gets bigger.” In other words, the founding father, Capt. Favazza’s, conception of St. Peter’s Fiesta in the 1920s is a far cry from what we have today; the Fiesta had to change. The large Italian fleet and the fishermen that once financially supported the Fiesta are gone. The carnival is now the major supporter. When I queried Tony about the blessing of the fleet, his reply was, “what fleet?” CHANGE

Peter is a talented writer but I can reminisce with the best of them. I bring tears to my own eyes. One memory I have of Gorton’s fitting-out wharf and its own Essex-built F/V Mother Ann is the following: a new wooden vessel comes with its own distinctive smells, like a new car. When I pull up my memory of the Mother Ann, I smell the white lead, pine tar, spar varnish, Tarr and Wonson copper paint, and Henderson & Johnson topside paint. Those smells conjure up exciting memories of a forgotten chapter in the Essex boat-building industry that was so important to Gloucester at the time and now a big part of our heritage. Those wooden boats are gone; the craftsmen that built them have left the scene. The men that fished them have moved away because the ocean could not sustain their existence. The paints and finishes, enumerated above, are now outlawed by the E.P.A. The boat-building industry changed. Wooden boat building as we knew it has moved on. All this is a memory of the past. CHANGE

Recently at the East Gloucester Cinema showing of “One More Dead Fish”, I participated in a panel discussion following the program. A member of the audience posed a question in response to the subject of over fishing, “why can’t we return to the hook and line (hand lining) method of fishing in an effort to conserve the resource?” My reply was that hand lining would slow down the harvesting of the oceans; however, we can’t retreat to 18th century fishing methods. The genie, trawl net invention, is out of the bottle. We now have the mechanical capability and the technological sophistication to fish the ocean dry. We have found a way to catch every fish that swims; we have simply outsmarted ourselves. Reality demands that sound fishery management principles be adopted if commercial fishing is to survive.

Gloucester’s most important asset is its people. Our people are exceptional, as if they originated from a different mold. We and our ancestors have been around since the 1600s! Gloucesterites are a tight knit community, sometimes cantankerous, always a hang-in-there tenacious group. We’ve clung to this granite rock pile for almost 400 years; fishing has been our lifeblood, our sustainer. It’s what makes this cape different from the other cape. We’re ready to fight to the end for what we believe, and we are opinionated! I’m one of those guys.

When I was a kid, Gloucester was to fish, as Hershey, Pa., is to chocolate. For me, fishing was my life’s ambition in those early years. I saw fishing as a rugged life, a chance to be somebody; captains and highliners were my heroes. Constantly living and coping with risk, withstanding the elements, finding the fish, were the challenges and givens of the trade. I thought fishing as it was in the ‘40s and ‘50s would go on forever. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my Gloucester not being about fish! CHANGE

I hate technology, the fear of the unknown (unlike the kids in those computer games), but I love success. Accordingly, I want only the “best” for my city. If today’s Gloucester is to survive and prosper, it means adopting new methods, reinventing ourselves, changing, and embracing new concepts.

We’ve exhausted the remaining inventory of buildable lots at Blackburn Park while our first and once dominant fishing industrial park, the harbor, has fallen on hard times. We have turned our backs on our most important park and have allowed our harbor’s peripheral footprint to decay, become frequently vacant, often abandoned and undeveloped. Our once dominant industry is no more. Because of our current designated port status, we have been forced to live with state bureaucracy mandating the harbor’s destiny. Existing bureaucratic thinking, coupled with small activist groups, and ranting, grandstanding politicians, continue to promote out-of-date parochial agendas. These initiatives negatively impact the economic future of our entire community.

From recent news reporting, there could be a crack in the armor, a possibility of relaxing our designated port status, thereby allowing prudent diversification in future development. Now we find ourselves at a critical crossroads, deciding the future course of harbor improvement. Our commercial waterfront could take on a more modern-day 2009 mixed use interpretation. Our new focus should be developing our existing undeveloped, decadent waterfront we turned away from following the urban renewal debacle in the 1960s. We must now decide our direction. Imagine, we could be in the driver’s seat!

My friend, Gus Foote, is a decorated Korean war veteran and a fellow Marine. Gus has been Gloucester’s Ward II councilor for decades. Foote is a poster child for term limits. In my opinion, his familiar ranting oratory, is neither credible nor convincing. He should retire. In the game of poker, we’re advised, “there is a time to hold and a time to fold.”

FO’C’S’LE SCUTTLEBUTT: Congratulations to Bill Goodwin on his permanent appointment as principal of Gloucester High School. This was a well deserved common sense promotion; Goodwin has been rewarded for positive job performance, as well as being endorsed by parents, and respected by students. This was the scuttlebutt heard around town during the recent interviewing process.

There’s scuttlebutt circulating concerning the future of the Birdseye plant in the Fort.....stay tuned.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"The Kid on the Waterboat" Now Delivers Common Sense

I was 12 years-old the first time I met the old, deaf man. He shouted over to me asking if I would shovel snow off his boat deck. I earned a quarter that day. A few days later I was running hoses onto dozens of Gloucester's fishing fleet vessels. Among the crews, and all along that waterfront, I was called "The Kid on the Waterboat;" I delivered fresh drinking water. Well, the waterboat is gone, but not "The Kid," only now I deliver Common Sense.

I’ve witnessed the local scene for a lifetime and viewed Gloucester from all angles, its people and our once world-leading anchor industry, fishing. I’ve watched and waited. I’ve seen the whole show, from the great depression of the ‘30s, to the rise and fall of our once great industry in the mid ‘80s. Along the way, copious notes have been taken and opinions formed based upon personal experience, hands-on involvement, and in-depth observations.

I’ve kept my mouth shut - for the most part - bowing to politicians, so-called fishing industry leaders, lobbying groups, government authorities and some off-the-wall, so-called activists. I refuse to sit back any longer and watch as Gloucester’s future is decided by a few, sometimes elite, opinion molders, who are intent upon making rules and policy that result in stifling this city’s ability to adapt and change. To me, the people deciding the future of my city should, at the very minimum, possess the ability to recognize a haddock from a cod. The movers and shakers, the decision-makers that represent us, should not be limited to professors, marine biologists, politicians and environmentalists, but rather by representatives from our entire community.

Within this blog, I will return to my role of delivering what you need, just as I did in the old days. But today I deal in Common Sense, the working man’s common sense, viewpoints from the fisherman, the barber, the homeowner, and "all the ships at sea." I’ll speak for the average guy, comment on current issues of the day, the important concerns affecting our community, and give you my feedback - like it or not!

This effort is a sincere, caring attempt to express my positive feelings for the future of our beautiful Gloucester. Almost fifty years ago I returned here with my young family. Although my hometown offered my family a unique lifestyle and a promising future, it certainly was not an easy decision to resign the security of my Marine Corps commission. But a nomadic life is no proper life for a family, at least not for this guy. 1961 was my time to move back to Gloucester! A former classmate once wrote, “You can come home again!” I write this blog for all of Gloucester, our home. I write this for the old and younger generations.

We live in exciting, changing times. Gloucester is a wonderful place. The launching of this blog is a contribution to my community. At the very minimum, I bring to the table a seasoned viewpoint, which should certainly add relevancy toward how we decide and act upon our community issues.

My Upcoming Seabag Discussions:

1 I Hate Technology, But I Love Being My Best!
2 The Waterfront: Then & Now (but this is NOW)
3 “Don’t Tread On Me”
4 Residential Developments: Who’s Right & Who’s Wrong!
5 Gloucester Crossing-like Development Projects Impact Upon Downtown Business
6 How Travelers Are Picking Our Pockets
7 How Gloucester’s Legacy Can Aid Our Future
8 The Future of Gloucester’s Fishing Industry
9 “Fo’c’s’le” Scuttlebutt - heard in my travels

I have no ax to grind, no hidden agenda, no dog in the race. My only desire is to promote Gloucester’s prosperity and contribute to the prudent, measured progress of my hometown. I will lay out my thoughts and suggested solutions to all issues, thus challenging our community leaders. I will often question the prevailing rationale that has its roots in arcahic thinking and fear. I want common-sense action to our serious, ongoing community problems.

So, welcome aboard; come with me while we explore ideas, challenge the so-called experts and learn together. I welcome your comments.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Coming Soon To Dock Near You!

This blog, hosted by noted author and Gloucester historian, Ron Gilson, will commence regular publication on Friday, March 20th, 2009. We look forward to your joining and engaging us as we embrace both the past and the future of America's oldest commercial fishing port, Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Please join us each week!

Richard Bowden