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Host Exchange Dispatch: Working Hard Underwater

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Marine construction worker Matthew Bumpus prepares to dive underwater to repair a mooring chain near Woods Hole, MA. (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

The countdown to the end of this host exchange started this week, and at the same time, I’ve started counting up all the things I haven’t gotten around to doing. Wondering about all the people and stories I’ve yet to meet and hear, all the weird little glimpses of life you only get from a place with time.

So I’m kinda bummed this thing’s coming to an end so quick, but I'm happy to report that I did finally get around to that quintessentially Cape Cod-ian feat of actually getting out on the water.

I’m pretty sure the spirit of Far West Texas resides somewhere on the underside of an Ocotillo far off even the least-maintained of unmaintained 4x4 roads.

Similarly, I think maybe the soul of New England lives somewhere under the growling engine of an old, worn-in-but-not-worn-out boat as it eases back into the harbor - a cold, slow-drizzling rain not doing much more than making sure your fingers stay numb and the deck stays slippery.

I went to that place this week. A local marine repair and underwater construction worker named Matthew Bumpus invited me out with his step dad “Kit” Olmsted.

Kit and Matthew are your classic salty - literally - Cape Cod-ers. On the boat, they speak in streams of sea jargon that I understand maybe an eighth of. Super friendly, easy-going guys.

Matthew works on docks and other marine construction projects that require him scuba-diving down in sometimes super cold waters, but we just went out for a quick side-job.

"Some really basic playing underwater," as he described it: sinking down into the underwater mud to fix some worn-out stretches of chain that hold a mooring in place.

Matthew obviously takes pride in his work. He sounds almost like a triumphant war vet when he talks about the time he and Kit helped salvage boats in the harbor when Hurricane Bob rocked Cape Cod back in 1991. He describes pulling boats off the beaches after they'd been washed ashore, helping as helicopters airlifted other boats out of the harbor onto the land.

"It was kinda fun," he says.

It’s a good business to be in: Matthew says there’s only something like four other companies in town doing this work, so he stays plenty busy.

His rough-and-tumble profession reminds me of the gritty ranchers and cowboys of West Texas - the hard-working, hard-living people that helped create the region’s mythic identity, the myth that draws so many starry-eyed visitors to the region now.

And it occurs to me that probably wherever you go, whether it’s the desert, the coast, the mountains or the city, there’s a history of unsung heroes who helped give the place its character through the simple act of gettin’ up in the morning and gettin’ to work.

Seems like we could all stand to sing their praises a little louder.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.