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Visiting sailors transform city's social scene

By Ellen Barry, Globe Staff, 7/17/2000

s the last of the Tall Ships pull away from the pier and make their majestic way back out to sea this week, thousands of Bostonians will bid them farewell with a pang of regret. Howard Werman will not be among them.

TALL SHIPS COVERAGE

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* Hostility left in Tall Ships' wake
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* Before the mast

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NECN REAL VIDEO

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* Aboard USS John F. Kennedy


   

He made this known at The Rack late Saturday night, as he watched a woman in a black tank top whisper into the ear of a man with the pins of a naval officer.

''I've been standing here, how long, 20 minutes, and she hasn't talked to me,'' said Werman, 39, a broadshouldered man in a yellow polo shirt. As a bass line thudded out from the dance floor, a group of Italian sailors filtered through the crowd with small gold daggers at their hips. It was beginning to look like a long night.

''If you want to know my opinion,'' Werman said, ''my opinion is I wish they'd go home already.''

Every night for the week since they first stepped on land, Sail Boston 2000's 10,500 sailors have flooded into Boston's dark streets with their glowing uniforms and their peculiar nautical charisma. Nightclubs waived their cover charges; long lines were circumvented; notorious dress codes became as flexible as jaywalking statutes. Club personnel watched for a week as the normal conditions of Boston night life, such as the ratio of men to women, were transformed by the largest influx of uniformed officers the city has ever seen.

By the end of the week, young women were walking the streets with white sailor hats perched on their heads, and Werman was thinking with new interest about the uniform he wears to work as a court officer at Attleboro District Court, an official-looking two-piece outfit that includes a badge.

But it all came to an end at 2 a.m., as sailors walked out of closing bars into pouring, cabless rain. Asa Cope, 24, spent an hour and a half of his precious remaining time on land trying to catch a live lobster with a claw machine. You could find him doing a lot of things when curfew is closing in, and not all of them make sense.

''I could be walking around the city. I could be dancing on a bar. I could just be sitting and talking to someone who maybe I would have never met,'' said Cope, an aviator ordinanceman from Bloomfield, Iowa,

''A lot can happen in a few minutes, a few hours,'' said Cope, who was waiting by a pay phone for a return call from the woman who he met the night before. ''I'll go back onto my boat and lay in my rack and think about things that have happened, conversations I've had that might not have meant anything to the other person.''

Not a single incident was reported involving any of the sailors over the week, according to Boston Police spokesman Cliff Connolly. Their buoyant social effect was unmistakable, though - the boost, as one club manager put it, of a floating military base's synchronized needs. At midnight on Thursday, when thousands of US sailors' paychecks cleared, some ATMs around Faneuil Hall grew snaking lines for more than an hour.

As the event approached, Mayor Thomas M. Menino sent out a letter to local business owners asking them to be hospitable to the visitors, and some special accommodations were made - at Avalon, stage dancers moved to techno music in sailor's caps and very tiny dress whites. Disc jockeys at Jillian's were more likely to play the Village People's ''In the Navy.''

But club staff said it was difficult to predict where the sailors would congregate. Paul Barclay, owner of The Rack, said he had made virtually no effort to attract the sailors, but business had increased 50 percent last week, starting when he noticed ''more women out here at 5 o'clock on Monday dressed like it was Saturday night.''

After the fireworks, as Faneuil Hall flooded with partiers, sailors said certain cities along the Tall Ships' route have granted them all the advantages of celebrity.

Richard Montgomery, who helps move planes aboard the USS John F. Kennedy, has been asked for his autograph. When the Tall Ships docked in New York earlier this month, he slipped into the back of a movie theater with a dozen of his shipmates; when the lights came up and their uniforms were visible, the whole audience turned around and applauded them.

''We felt like we were Superman, walking around,'' he said.

But it would be wrong to think a sailor's life is dominated by free beer and friendly civilians, said Boatswainmate Third Class Dale Suiter, a blue-eyed 25-year-old from Jackson, Mich. Sailors are preparing for long weeks of monotony - or danger - in close quarters.

Sometimes it's a relief just to talk to a woman, he said.

''There's something special about being out to sea for 20 days and smelling perfume for the first time,'' Suiter said. Although he was looking across a room full of halter tops, Suiter's thoughts were with an ''extraordinary'' 28-year-old lawyer whose acquaintance he made during the USS John F. Kennedy's days in New York.

He met her on Thursday night, then went out with her on Friday and Saturday before the JFK shipped out to Boston on Sunday.

Here, he was elated to receive a letter from her.

''I couldn't believe she wrote me,'' Suiter said. ''I'm just a sailor. ''

This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 7/17/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

 


 


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