Let's do the hustle: Gulf's waters filled with opportunists, money boats &things that drop in the night
On the summer solstice, day 63 of the Gulf oil spill disaster, I took a boat ride through Barataria Bay to Grand Isle, Louisiana. Our party of three left the “Seaway Marina” in “Lafitte” and traveled due south for 10 miles (approximately 50 minutes by boat).
Minutes into the trip I asked the boat captain, “Why don’t I smell oil?”
“Because of the wind direction right now,” he answered. He was right. On our return, I didn’t just smell oil. The oil sheen on top of the water, (especially that time of day) shined like one huge penny.
The boat captain, while a nice guy was also, I later concluded, a bullshitter.
His 34-year-old deck hand (alleged contractor) was moreso, only younger. “I like to hustle,” he told me, referring to his “hustle” post Hurricane Katrina. But at the end of the day I was compelled to write something down.
“Doesn’t hustle …he’s a hustler.”
I had to give them (besides the money for the boat ride) credit for one thing — they were trying to make a buck and who could blame them for that? Wasn’t this the American way? Clearly it was BP’s.
Oddly enough, these two seemed the only people in the area who were NOT working for BP, something they were smack in the middle of trying to change.
The boat captain had purchased a “shop vac” and from the photographs he’d shown me — it had successfully sucked up oil the day before. With the “shop vac” and the right kind of boat (they were also working on that) they hoped to “get a contract with these guys so we can go out and get more.”
During the trip over to Grand Isle (unlike the return) I never saw oil or animals in oil but 10 minutes into the ride — my eyes began to burn and my tongue tasted funny. Later that afternoon, the taste was gone but the sting wasn’t.
Feeling a little concerned I asked, “Hey guys, my eyes burned a little coming over this morning — I’m just curious, did yall’s?”
“No,” answered the boat captain, “but that could be the diesel we used to clean the boat yesterday.”
Hours later, as we climbed back in this boat he said, “I’m not sayin’ it was diesel.” I don’t remember my exact response — only that I assured him he needn’t fret about me.
The plan was, once we arrived in Grand Isle, we’d hop on another boat (arranged by the deck hand) and travel to the areas with oil.
However, for reasons undisclosed to me and perhaps not fully disclosed to the deckhand — the boat was a no show. In these waters, who could be sure what was going on?
Based on the characters and the activity alone right here at the marina — the atmosphere seemed chaotic and sorta creepy to me. Not to mention … mucho testosterone.
Who knew what all was in the water.
Disaster zone economy
My compadres, seemingly cool about the no show, suddenly vanished in search of a four-wheel vehicle to “borrow” so we could then cruise over “to see the pelicans,” (at Wildlife & Fisheries) the boat captain declared. Meanwhile, I stepped inside a small grocery store to buy eye drops.
At the counter I struck up a conversation with a fellow who’d been working in the area for “35 days.”
“What kind of work exactly are you doing?” I asked him. With a smidgen of a smile he said, “Well, I have to admit … I’m one of those ‘vessels of opportunity’.”
I’d heard this term before and during our boat ride over … the boat captain had pointed to plenty of these “vessels.”
Basically, they are people (with boats) — employed by BP to perform any number of tasks … from picking up birds “dead or alive” to putting out booms and picking them up.
The boat captain also referred to them as “Pelican chasers” and believed they were making anywhere from “$1700 to $2000 per day.”
The fellow at the grocery store counter fine-tuned it for me. “You get $1200 for the boat; $300 for the captain; and $300 for the deck hand … and that’s per day for a 30-foot boat. For a boat over 30 feet — it’s $1500 and for one over 45 feet, I think they’re payin’ $2000.”
I asked him if he’d heard anything about workers who’d been in a “nesting area” a few days before. While “unconfirmed” I stated, several had told me they’d heard a fight had broken out amongst the workers — “throwing eggs at one another.” “Yea,” the man said sadly and looking downward, “I heard that too.”
I also asked him (knowing what he knew now) — “If you were ‘King for a Day’, what would you do?” With zero hesitation, he looked me dead in the eye and said, “I’d let another company come in here and clean this up.”
Hope takes a beating
Two days later, I called him on his cell phone. “Did you mean a company or companies from other countries or what?” I asked. “Guardians of the Freedom of the Republic,” he answered. “They’re from all over the U.S. and they have 530 million dollars in humanitarian funds.” He suggested that I go on YouTube and check them out “They have these natural microbes that eat oil,” he said.
“The oil’s coming in,” he added, “in patches.” The same thing other “boots on the ground” had told me all week. He also said that he and others believed BP was still putting dispersement in the water. They’d seen “activity on the water at night.” “BP’s thing is,” he said, “outta sight … outta mind.”
Later that day on the dock at Grand Isle, I joined two workers sitting at a picnic table. The skinny guy told me with a great big grin on his face, “I’ve met so many people this last month I feel like I’m the Mayor! Some woman from New Orleans was over here the other day promoting hair booms …. I’ve seen em’ all.”
“Do you take people out on boats too?” I asked him. He grinned even bigger and said, “Depends on whether I’m having a bi-polar fit or a coon-ass fit.”
The other worker wasn’t grinning. He sat quietly rubbing hard on his hands with a rag as if polishing silver.
After the coon ass got up from the table and left, he opened up but not without occasionally glancing around.
“Lady, I’ve been an ‘industrial cleaner’ all my life,” he told me. Then, he just looked down and shook his head.
“You know oil expands when it’s hot,” he continued, “but when it gets down there where the water’s cool ... it get’s ree-al dense.” I felt like he wanted to say more. I asked him for his cell number and he seemed relieved to give it.
The expression on his face reminded me of a doctor who’d just come out of surgery … and knew too much to be hopeful.