on exploring harbor island to be someplace quiet and different (while longshoremen bide their time with long toss, the sunday crossword puzzle and cigarettes)

These are pictures from Harbor Island the Sunday before last, when the boys and I explored the heavily industrial area south of downtown. It was a sun-splashed afternoon which meant most of the bigger parks around the city were quite crowded (poor social spacing) whereas no one ever flocks down to the container terminals for picnics or sunbathing, at least that I know of. There were several places down here I’ve wanted to scout for photography ideas, I knew the boys would enjoy seeing all the heavy machinery and marine whatchamacallits, larger-than-life proof not everyone in Seattle these days is a computer programmer, writer or barista/writer. Those tugs are always right here, I love taking pictures of them. Right now, they’re moored alongside a humongous barge. More often than not there’s a gigantic freighter anchored across the channel, that empty spot was bit of a disappointment. Oliver Fern seemed to engage in nonstop tomfoolery (he gets cabin fever every day by lunchtime, his zest for life is set to permanent overdrive) while I was trying for just a handful of exposures so I felt like Professor Snape to his Fred or George Weasley. Still, despite not hitting any out of the park it felt nice to be shutterbugging someplace a little different than usual.

May 2020 - Harbor Island 078

We’d stationed the car under the immense viaduct next to the ILWU Local 19 Hall where it just so happened a sizable gathering of longshoremen (all stripes) were whiling away the time, both inside and out of their automobiles. Two fellows were playing catch with a baseball, throwing that thing really hard and WHOA! the ball went flying but somehow didn’t break any windows, it rolled under some guy’s purple low-rider. He was not amused. I think everyone might have been waiting for work from the dispatcher’s office, my inkling is these were casual longshoremen (non-registered) hoping to win the lottery (aka, a paycheck). We were the recipients of some funny looks upon our arrival. I’m burly and hairy, maybe they thought I was trying to get the inside track and brought the boys with me as some kind of sympathy play? Or that I was a weirdo dad bringing his kids down to the concrete jungle? It was hard to tell what sort of work was taking place at the Port. The main terminal was certainly full, plenty of containers but there have been severe disruptions around the world in movement of cargo.

At any rate, we walked along the West Seattle Trail to reach this spot, passing several dusty homeless shanties recalling Hooverville. Two dazed residents of the encampment nodded, it felt a lot like an intrusion of their space as we continued upon our way, past a fleet of sky-blue tractor trailers on the other side of a barbed wire fence with views of the Space Needle beyond. Under that viaduct was just our second encounter with street life, this week. The day before yesterday the severely mentally-ill, badly sunburnt guy with an exceptionally dirty red handkerchief who hangs out under the cedar on the north end of Green Lake yelled at us. He warned me that a rat was climbing up my leg. I’m not that gullible. Still, I checked behind me. Wouldn’t you? Who takes a chance on something like that? Sunburnt guy roared with laughter and screamed I can’t believe you fell for THAT one, mister! Oliver followed my lead, he wasn’t too afraid of the fellow despite the obnoxious baritone. It was sort of funny, to be honest.

May 2020 - Harbor Island 069-2

Back at Harbor Island, there was an elderly gent nearby who kept wandering into our space so that finally I relented, asking permission to photograph him while he was fishing off the bridge for sea creatures (around here, food has three faces). He politely nodded, even pantomiming a photographer. Every time I took a picture he shuffled several feet to the side, however. The annoying clitchety-clack of my shutter must have turned out more than he’d bargained for. As the four of us sidestepped in unison, Adam wryly informed me the poor fellow was just trying to be polite and get out of my way for what he must have figured was the money shot.  As we departed, he waved and uttered goodbye in Chinese, to the boys. I’ve been thinking a lot about street photography, that I’d really like to try my hand at it. The main discouraging factor has always been that nettlesome demeanor which I present through no fault of my own……. droll troll man. Even when I’m happy, I’m frowning. On the other hand, I’m silvering and if I let my nose hair grow out, it’s possible others will start to find me disarming in the hey, look at that old guy with shoes three sizes two big and gigantic eyebrows sort of way. Who needs charm school?
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Several days ago, during a long walk with the boys, the three of us jogged through the grassy meadows of a large park for a total of three minutes, I kept exact time on my wristwatch because I wanted to see if I could still do it. Adam and Oliver Fern were shell-shocked, completely unawares I was capable of such locomotion, this was probably the first sustained running I’d done in ten years or longer. It has been so long since we were up in the mountains, I was anxious to get my heart rate up. So for several days thereafter, our afternoon walks have culminated in footraces, usually a dozen or so around this or that tree with low, overhanging branches that tend to slow me down. Usually I’ll win the first race by sheer effort but I’m toast after that and the boys can’t get enough. You’d think I’ve been robbing them at poker all these years, rubbing their noses in it! A couple times it has been more public spectacle than I care for, parkgoers laughing from a distance at those silly boys and their dad gasping for air like a water-cooled VW, the pigeon-toed Silverback of Notre Dame. But that’s okay, I slept so soundly those nights! The boys’ mother teases me, she says she can tell when we’ve been running because I have bugs splattered across my forehead.

postscript: This account has been sitting mostly ready for the past week but it got embarrassingly long and dull (ugh) so I gave up and decided to try later. Don’t know why I always feel pressure to make something out of nothing. Saturday morning as I was doing the dishes, Adam came inside from the back porch, asking if he could please tinker with one of my old cameras. I offered him my Fuji. He took some pretty good pictures shooting wide open, I was excited to peek out the back door, discover him roaming the rust garden for close-ups. What a wonderful diversion for him! On the other hand, the hood broke when he threaded it crooked, tight onto the lens. It wasn’t really his fault. Fuji designed that hood so poorly, it has never seemed to stay on. Little wonder he thought it required extra oomph.  

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It was hot this weekend, alarmingly close to triple digits on Saturday (a record for the date). Sunday morning after he and I did some tinkering in the backyard, I gave Oliver Fern permission to hose himself down, he was happier than a chickadee in a birdbath! We hunkered down at the house both Saturday and Sunday. I’m not sure what got into them but most of Sunday the boys were dueling novelists. Oliver Fern has been writing a mystery that’s pretty much lifted directly from the pages of his latest Hardy Boys read (i can’t wait to get rid of them, they’re far worse than I remember). I tried convincing him to change the protagonists’ names, Hank and Frank, to something less cartoony but he wouldn’t hear of it. Adam has been logging an incredibly detailed, year-by-year account of a futuristic scientific mission that reads like a manifesto.

5 thoughts on “on exploring harbor island to be someplace quiet and different (while longshoremen bide their time with long toss, the sunday crossword puzzle and cigarettes)

    • Dunno if this was much of an exploration nor if my corny blabbing added anything of value this time so last night I took it down, must have been right after you remarked. I was sorry because I knew you’d scorn me for going to all the trouble just for naught :-). i’m just putting it back for the heck of it.

  1. Dear Pigeon-Toed Silverback (c/o Notre Dame) – this was a great ramble, reminded me a little bit (not saying imitative, just reminded me) of reading Cannery Row, I’ve never been around a working port very much, and didn’t realize there were still day labor guys on the docks, like Russell Crowe in “Cinderella Man” when he was down on his luck. I thought a longshoreman’s union probably had everything locked up tight. I figured, not knowing anything about it, everyone was just using cranes to drop the ship containers directly onto the railroad, like at Jersey City. Sounds pretty interesting place to hang out.
    Well, I did hang around a port around here for an hour or two – – Oswego, NY. (Ha! pretty tiny port.) The Canadians ship aluminum there, then barges to Toledo & Detroit, because the new F-150’s use so much. (Somebody told me, most of the Quebec aluminum was headed for Atlanta, but I have no idea why. Coca-Cola cans? ) But looking at the heavy-duty tugs in your photo, it looks like Seattle gets some good-size ships. It’s such a different world, and I’ll tell you, there’s absolutely nobody around here getting sunburned! 🙂
    My dad used to make up stories for us, when we were kids, that he said were inspired by Hardy Boys & Popular Mechanics, but he’s got a pretty tenuous grasp of science/reality, and a terrible memory, so they were pretty wild stories, probably nothing like the originals.

    • Same here about your observation re: the union having everything spoken for, especially since I’ve always been under the distinct impression nowadays the container yards themselves aren’t as labor intensive as they might first appear (though I’m sure our size port must have plenty other operations that meet the eye….we’re not the size of the west coast biggies like Oakland or Long Beach but it’s pretty strategic).but it sounds like the system’s set up to give people a foot in the door, to help the port when there’s a surplus of work. The size of the pool of workers that weekend was sobering, the majority of them must have anticipated they’d be going home emptyhanded. The way things are right now, it wouldn’t surprise me if there weren’t any assignments whatsoever to be had. That’s intriguing about the barges going up the river to Toledo and Detroit for the F-150s. The boys’ mom has a close first cousin who’s an engineer for those. he drives a ridiculous truck three stories high

      • All the pickups have bulked up, haven’t they. I always thought it would be neat just to have something about the size of the older Ford Ranger.

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