Banned in Boston

Aug 28, 2002 at 12:00 am

When my wife and I found out that our friends Kurt Weigle and Cait Cain were to be married near Boston this summer, we couldn’t wait to make the trip. The town has so many appealing features: public transportation that takes you anywhere you need to go, great restaurants, a classic ballpark and more historical sites than you can shake a minuteman at.

I was especially excited about seeing the USS Constitution: “Old Ironsides,” the oldest commissioned warship in the world. Little did I know what lay in store when Cindy and I tried to pay it a visit.

After a water taxi trip across Boston Harbor and a visit to the USS Constitution Museum (located next to the venerable vessel which was launched in 1797), we lined up to board the ship. As we approached the gangway, we were instructed to dump the contents of our pockets and backpacks into a large wicker basket. Terrorism, you know. It was only then that we discovered a forgotten pocketknife rattling around Cindy’s backpack, the same sort of device that has kept Switzerland safe from enemies foreign and domestic for centuries.

This European-made tool was duller than the Congressional Record and couldn’t have damaged a slice of bologna. It was also nearly old enough to vote. Didn’t matter to the swabbies on duty; no such devices were permitted aboard ship. And, no, they couldn’t hold it for us until our return. We could throw it away, take the tour separately or leave.

It seemed unwise at this point to mention that my wife is an awesome martial artist who could have wreaked plenty of havoc without the use of any weapons. After a hurried consultation, Cindy decided to wait for me in the shade while I boarded the ship for the tour.

The guide was a strapping young Navy man from Philadelphia, proud and honored to hold this particular duty. He said he loved Boston for its myriad educational opportunities; he was working on a taxpayer-funded college degree and planned on coaching football and teaching after graduation.

Resplendent in his blinding Navy whites, the sailor told the tour group fascinating stories of life aboard ship. Those ancient mariners could only bathe once a month and slept in shifts in hammocks hung 18 inches apart. Sounds from the cannon fire aboard ship regularly caused bleeding ears and deafness. Injuries and amputations were frequent. The food was skimpy and usually full of bugs; the rum rations were watered down.

Our guide was especially proud that no enemy forces had ever boarded Old Ironsides other than as prisoners of war. This was due in part to the skilled fighters who served aboard ship. When threatened by anyone in the wrong color uniform coming across the gunwales, they grabbed handy boarding spikes attached to the USS Constitution’s three masts. Think of a broomstick on steroids, about five feet long and crowned with a long, sharp metal spike. The sailors jabbed these weapons at anybody trying to come aboard without permission.

Funny, though. These weapons, now rusted with age, were unsecured. I passed within arm’s reach of them several times. Had I been stupid enough to do so, I could have easily grabbed one and begun target practice on some other innocent civilian, probably cutting them badly and exposing them to the risk of tetanus or worse. I’m certain I could have gotten in at least a couple good licks before anyone would have been able to stop me. Of course, I’d surely have been keelhauled or made to walk the plank.

Clearly, it would have been pointless to mention this oversight to any of the personnel on board, as pointless as the earlier search (in the name of “homeland security”) had been. These days it’s more important to feel safe than it is to be safe. And thank God that our mighty military was able to keep that Swiss Army Knife off the ship. There’s no telling the damage it could have caused.

Vic Doucette is the copy editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]