Monday, February 23, 2009

Second City on the Exxon Valdez

Sure enough, half a foot of snow fell early Saturday morning and then on and off through the day. I'd thought shoveling snow was finished for the season, but no. The car that we leave parked outside was coated with a nice, smooth shell of white that glittered in the sunshine on Sunday, and I hated to disturb it.

But I figured that driving the thing under a snow coat would be more hazardous than strictly necessary, so I dusted most of the glitter off. I left the snow on the roof, since I enjoy driving along, producing my own little snow shower in my wake.

After listening the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem sing "Bringin' Home the Oil" a few times, and considering that I'm reading The Prize (see last Thursday), I had to wonder why Gulf wanted to "bring home" oil to southwest Ireland, which strikes me as a remote transshipment point "to keep all Europe movin'/ from our base in Bantry Bay." It seems that the class of really large tankers celebrated in the song, known as ultra large crude carriers (ULCCs), were too large to berth in most existing facilities in the late 1960s, so new ports were built, and Bantry Bay was deep enough to accommodate the behemoths.

Still, things didn't work out for Bantry Bay as an oil depot. In January 1979, the French tanker Betelgeuse blew up while unloading its cargo there, killing everyone on board and a number of men at the terminal. I must have heard about it at the time, but it made such a light impression that I'd completely forgotten about it. Wiki offers a well-written account of the disaster that seems reasonably sourced. It proved to be the undoing (mostly) of the oil business at Bantry Bay.

The Exxon Valdez spill was a decade later, and now 20 years ago, but it's still the thing that comes to mind when North Americans think of oil spills, at least those of us old enough to remember it. About a week after the spill, I went to the Second City comedy revue -- the last time I attended that Chicago institution, I think -- and they did a 15-second skit about it, a to-the-point gag.

Silhouetted on the stage was a fellow standing behind a large ship's wheel. From offstage, an announcer said something like, "And now, what really happened on the Exxon Valdez..." Pause. Then the stage lights went up, reveling a familiar red shirt and white sailor's cap on the fellow at the wheel, who was fumbling with it. At the same instant, another familiar voice boomed from offstage, startling the fellow: "GILLIGAN!" the Skipper bellowed.



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