The Block Island Times

Sunburn blisters on a new tattoo

By Jon Campbell | Aug 06, 2011

When the harbor in Galilee was dredged several years ago, the most ubiquitous man-made object from the bottom was the beer can, with a high percentage being vintage Narragansett cans. This trail of empties extends along the channel by the West Wall and out across the bottom all the way to Old Harbor, with a fork going into New Harbor. In less enlightened times, it was customary to pitch your empty can or bottle off the stern of the ferry, going either way, and these cans and bottles, if undisturbed by bottom dragging fishing nets, may be a major resource for future generations.

Partying on Block Island is hardly a new development — only the scale has changed. In times past, my aunts and uncles downed copious amounts of gin, amidst the haze of mentholated Kools, and were firm believers in the restorative powers of Scituate Reservoir water, as used in a variety of Narragansett Brewery products. The Providence boat used to pull in, the passengers would go into Ballard's and stay there 'til departure time. Cocktail hour was observed religiously across the landscape nearly all afternoons in the summer, and extended well into the wee hours. We ourselves played in various bands at The Royal and The National when both places were uninhabitable above the first floor — but who cared? It was all about the fun, the wetter the better.

There were fewer cars on the island in those days (the '70s), no mopeds, and whatever drugs were in vogue tended to calm people down rather than wind them up. A small crowd would gather sometimes for fire-lit beach parties on the West Side, but it was about staying away from the police, not engaging belligerently with them. There were unquestionably drunken antics in those days as well, but it was all much more manageable, when viewed in retrospect.

This past St. Patrick's Day, the Chief of Police in Newport blamed social media networks for the surge in full-bore partying in his city. Apparently there's a Fall On Your Facebook out there that prospective partiers can consult to find the best locations for riotous behavior, and it looks like Block Island is one of those designated areas these past few years, particularly on Independence Day (Co-Dependents' Day).

When I rode the ferry on the Fourth last year, it was like being an unwilling participant in a floating spring break, or a Mardi Gras in a flooded New Orleans. The drinking for many started on the first boat out and continued unabated throughout the day. The trip back to Pt. Judith was enough to give you a headsplitting hangover by association, and with no police or Coast Guard enforcement on board during the hour-long trip, the open drinking, which can't occur on the streets of the mainland or the island, got into full swing. There were more F-bombs dropped during this hour than Nixon was able to unload on the Viet Cong; there were young girls overcome by sun and alcohol poisoning passed out in corners of the boat and against the rail, while lobster-red and tattooed hordes in board shorts shouted epithets across the cabin and climbed on the life rafts, spilling beer on anything and anyone in their vicinity. Then they disembarked in Pt. Judith and all drove away.

My understanding is that now no personal coolers are allowed on the passenger deck (which has always been the rule), and the bar is not open on the later trips off the island. This at least turns the mood from actively celebratory to soddenly sullen.

Even before Block Island was billed as the "Bermuda of the North," it had the reputation of being a good place to go and blow off steam. For people in the tri-state area, it was like a trip to another country, and frequently what happened on the island, did stay on the island.

But eventually, just as New York had to clean up and Disney-fy Times Square, and Las Vegas began to market itself as a family- and convention-friendly city, Block Island will have to locate the path less strewn with empties.

The lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer have morphed into something right off that MTV show where knuckleheads crash themselves into things and compare wounds afterwards. Whatever conservative leanings I might have, I got to the long way around, and I'm not advocating calling out the National Guard on these hooligans. But I know that once the parade is over, it's time to go sailing, or off to the beach on the southeast side — anything but hang around in town.

Rockport, Mass., is a "dry" town, but once a year on July Fourth a mob of locals and out-of-towners drag garbage cans full of beer and ice down to the beach and light a huge bonfire, usually with a old outhouse on top of the pyre. We can only hope that some sunburned daze-tripper in the grips of alcohol psychosis doesn't look up from the beach and see the empty Surf Hotel as a giant bonfire waiting to happen.

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