Man made this place, a concrete thorn sticking into the side of the Atlantic. The wind is strong, and the ocean pounds against this cement annoyance relentlessly. The sound of the water is deafening, the fishermen who inhabit this pier shout when they need to talk, but they have largely given up on communicating.
Forty or fifty men congregate at the end of this pier – the highest point – hoping to stay dry. It’s not working. They jostle in a crowd, but most are alone, each keeping to his own thoughts – poles pointing to the sky in anticipation of what won’t happen today. The fish aren’t biting.
As I walk back to the shore, the tang of salt on my lips, I notice a man fishing on the pier right next to where the waves are breaking. I wonder if this break from the logic of the masses is yielding fish – that would be a great story I think as I approach. But Richard doesn’t know if the fish are biting. His pole is set like he’s fishing, but all of the line is reeled in. He’s given up. His bait bucket tosses violently against the pier moorings below, but he isn’t fishing. He starts sharing some of his thoughts, yelling above the waves crashing behind us.
He ran a commericial construction business in North Carolina he told me. He and a partner, building strip malls and small office buildings. There was a disagreement, his partner bought him out and Richard started working for himself. He said life was good, he was working way too hard, but most of the clients followed him and he had plenty of work and lots of money.
He realized that was all changing one day when he lost a bid to a company that employed 2,000 employees. Fish that big didn’t usually feed in his waters, but here they were, under-bidding the little guys – trying to keep their employees busy while they found bigger food sources.
Soon the waters were crowded with these big fish. The little fish couldn’t eat. Many changed occupations, most just left in search of new feeding grounds.
Richard’s heart turned to home. He had grown up here on the treasure coast, loved the ocean. He was tired of being land-locked and figured if he wasn’t going to work, he might was well not work in a place he loved.
Now he spends his days trying to crack into the home repair and remodeling for the rich “old people” of this area. There are lots of guys just like him, and most days he just tries to work, not really finding what he needs.
So one day a week you can find him here. On this pier. He tells me it heals him. Fixes things inside of him he didn’t really know was wrong. The sound, the smell, the hours of waiting for a fish to be interested in his offering, it all serves to calm him. Centers him.
He told me he fishes down where he gets wet to stay away from the tangled lines on the end of the pier. By the time we are done with the conversation, I’m soaked through. I mention it and he smiles. He loves it here. He hates what being here represents. His smile reflects both feelings all at once.
As I walk away I turn back. It looks like Richard is fishing, but I know the line is still reeled in.