|Some visitors are more fun to chat with than others! (Image from here.)|
The runner-up, second-best conversation, was also a child and also in New London. A little girl, maybe 3 or 4 years old, was crying and explained to her mom that she wanted to view the gun deck but was afraid of the steep dark stairs. I told her that sometimes you have to go through the scary stuff to get to the good stuff. (Free life lessons along with your tour of El Galeon, no extra charge.)
Conversations like those give me hope. The one that caused me the most despair was an Asian-American woman, late teens maybe, who wondered why Spain had sent a fleet of ships to found a colony in St Augustine, Florida in 1565. "Didn't they know Florida was part of the United States?" she asked. Um. Uhh... Do they teach history in your school? Do you know what happened in Philadelphia in 1776? Her English was unaccented, so if she wasn't born here she at least spent many years of her young life here. Despair? I truly believe democracy can survive only with an educated voting population.
We had so many visitors that it would be hard to pick a "best." We deeply appreciated the personal friends who made the effort to visit the ship when it was in a nearby city, and we ended up with "special guests" in almost every port, Karen and Howard in Philadelphia; Beth and Lenn and their son Paul in New York; Margo and Victoria and Dorrie in Portland; and my pirate pal "Newport Jack" who came to see us in all three of our New England towns. There were visitors who brought their own priorities and interests, from a professor doing research on the spice trade to a circumnavigator. And there were random meetings or visitors that became friends: a girl named Katie who met several of the crew by chance in a bar in Portland, then struck up a close friendship with one of the crew and traveled to meet the ship on several other weekends and just "hang out;" and a Jamie, a writer from Wilmington who was so intrigued that she came back twice more while the ship was in town, then joined us on the sail to Charleston. The one who stands out most in my mind was a totally chance meeting that became a valued crew member. I was working on the gun deck when I overheard a conversation between two women. One was explaining to the other about how the galleons occasionally crossed from Europe to the new world lightly loaded, and filled the rest of the cargo hold with rocks for stability. On arrival, she continued, they would use the ballast stones to pave their cobblestone streets. This practice caused later generations of archaeologists like herself endless confusion because the geology made no sense. The cities' streets were paved with stones that were so different than any materials nearby, and seemed of mysterious origin; until they figured out the puzzle. The streets of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico,for example, are paved with unique blue stones that are like nothing found elsewhere in the Caribbean ... because they weren't found in the Caribbean, they were imported from Europe as ballast.
"Hey, you're pretty knowledgeable," I joked with her. "Want a job?" Well, actually, she did ... and next thing I knew, Skia the archaeolgist and Navy brat became our newest crew member, as well as a fun friend.
The worst visitor was easier to pick than the best, perhaps because he was so egregious. A father and young (6 years old, maybe?) daughter came aboard on our last weekend in Wilmington and it was crowded. So crowded that we the crew were acting more as traffic controllers than tourguides. We'd have one crew member at the top of the ramp, and another at the bottom, letting 20 people aboard at at time, 20 coming up, one-way traffic, then stopping the incoming visitors to allow 20 to depart, again, one-way traffic, and about 5 minutes between direction switches. I was working at the top of the ramp and asked them to wait just a minute -- "enjoy the ship just a few moments longer" so the incoming people could get out of the way and then they could go down. But that wasn't enough for the dad, his daughter needed the bathroom and he wanted her to be able to leave right now! "If you don't let her go she's going to have an accident right here on the deck!" he told me angrily, as I thought to myself, "I'm happy to offer you a mop, I swab these decks regularly, you can too. I bet you're the kind of guy who argues with the umpire at the Little League games when the calls don't go your kid's way, too, aren't you?" Then he stunned me by loudly telling the child to leave right now, while the ramp was full of people coming up, and just push anyone who was in her way!!! Really? REALLY? This is not advocating for your kid, this is something that has no (printable) name. What are you teaching her? That it's better to risk injury (to herself or someone else) than embarrassment? That when other human beings are inconvenient she should push them out of the way? All to save about 2 minutes? The kid looked back, confused. A crew member had given her one instruction, her father was telling her to ignore it. I let her go. Girl is going to have enough problems in her life, growing up with that bizarrely warped a role model.