When I got the call from the temp agency, and the voice on the other end asked me if I wanted to be a bouncer (“alcohol monitor” was the actual job title) at the Portland Pirate Festival, I had to say yes. It was just too strange an opportunity to pass up. For two days I would make sure that thousands of reveling pirates conformed to Oregon Liquor Control Commission drinking laws.
What had I gotten myself into? Having never been to a pirate festival, and knowing nothing about the people that attend them, my imagination vacillated between a Caribbean version of the Society for Creative Anachronism and a seafarer’s Sturgis.
I arrived at Cathedral Park in St Johns early Saturday morning and instead of a long red coat and musket, I was issued a bright yellow T-shirt with the words “alcohol monitor” emblazoned across the back. Rumors were circulating about an astronomical number of scurvy dogs gathering under the St. Johns Bridge in an attempt to establish a world record for pirates assembled in one spot. As ill-forutne would have it, the effort fell just short, but I was still impressed by the high turnout—especially considering it was raining buckets.
I spent my tour of duty wagging a finger at an army of rum-guzzling scalawags strapped to the gills with swords, whips, flintlocks, daggers, belaying pins, blunderbusses, and harpoons, putting a stop to overt drunkenness and contraband alcohol smuggling (the things pirates enjoy most of all). Fortunately for me, while festival pirates are infatuated with vintage gear, they’re not gun freaks or re-enactors (although the smell of black powder and the roar of cannon fire did get the their riggings in a bunch).
For most of Saturday I stood in the rain in front of Oberon’s Tavern (the festival beer garden), where my charges were captains all, mostly men with big hats and ornately decorated coats who told tales of far-away pirate festivals to maiden and wench alike. It turns out you don’t need much of a crew to pilot a motor home or fly coach (though first mates and li’l swashbucklers accompanied many captains courageous). Thankfully, the beer-garden buccaneers were more Ren Faire than rebel biker gang.
It could’ve been so different (i.e., worse). After all, the biggest part of a pirate’s pirate-ness is his or her voracious appetite for rum, grog, and ale. Even a sober pirate has to act the part, and pirates act drunk and crazy. (Not to mention, Sunday was National Talk Like A Pirate Day.) There are no exceptions—not even for the young or the lily-livered. When asked, many a boisterous buccaneer would drop his faux-English accent and politely reply, “I’m not drinking. I’m just being a pirate.”