A whale of a July Fourth adventure


Dear Geek,

With all of the calamities that happen to computers and other technology, you must have some pretty funny stories. What experience provided you with your most amusing story of 2016?

Inquiring Mind

Dear Inquiring Mind,

Thanks for writing in; it provides a fun way to recap an interesting story from this past year. It took all of 30 seconds to pick a story that rose above all the rest. Ironically, the event happened six months to the day of this week’s MV Times distribution.

July Fourth is a crazy time all for us who live here. Professionally, as the IT manager and public information officer for the Town of Edgartown, my role for that holiday deals mostly with public communication. I attend numerous meetings leading up to the Independence Day events, then craft messages to send out to the public, press, and social media, and post them on the town website. The people who organize the festivities for that day have it down to a science, and everything looked like it would go quite smoothly. Personally, my children were with their mother that morning, and I found myself in the odd situation of actually not having much that I needed to do, as I had prepared all of my town communications beforehand. I typically spend a large portion of the Fourth at the police station, town hall, and other locations in town, gathering information and helping out in whatever capacity I can. Since most of my prep work for the day was already done, at 7:15 am I told myself that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I was going to relax and try to only work a minimal amount unless something came up, in addition to my tradition of enjoying the parade and fireworks with my children.

There I was, coffee in hand at my house, reading the news on my laptop, feeling as relaxed as if I were here on vacation. Ten minutes later my phone rang, and it was the Edgartown police chief, David Rossi. When I saw who was calling, I figured Norton Point Beach was closing much earlier than usual. That beach had very limited parking this past summer, and oftentimes it closed to 4×4 vehicle traffic by late morning. I thought the July Fourth crowd probably knew this and packed the beach early. Not the case. When I answered the phone, Chief Rossi said, “Hey Adam, I need you to send a text out (meaning send out a group text from the town to subscribers to the Edgartown text-messaging alert system*). A dead whale washed up at Left Fork, and they’ve roped off an area down there.” I replied “Wait. A dead whale? On July Fourth? Really? Is it on Norton Point or more towards the beach at Left Fork?” He said, “It’s right where the party happens. Pretty much right where the road hits the beach.” I asked a host of questions, and when it came to asking about the smell, he said it wasn’t pretty. I recited a couple of “Jaws” movie lines to him, and I knew I had some interesting work to do.

I felt there wasn’t a person around who would believe a text stating a whale had washed up on South Beach on July Fourth, of all days. It would sound too much like a practical joke. After a few minutes of thinking, here’s what I sent: “We can’t make this stuff up regarding South Beach this year. Large dead whale washed up at Left Fork. Yes, we’re serious. Please swim at your own risk.” Once I finished sending the additional messages to the press, social media, and town website, my phone blew up with texts from friends, emails from press outlets, and I then watched the story rapidly unfold on social media, always an entertaining but rarely a factual venue.

For the first time in my life, I spoke with an handful of off-Island reporters, with an NPR reporter asking, “When do you think it will be safe to swim near where the whale is?” I laughed when she asked this, and said dead whales attract sharks, which don’t adhere to a schedule. While they aren’t looking to harm people, she wouldn’t see me in the water near it anytime soon, especially with the chum slick created by the whale.

Given the fact that my morning was now a full-on work event, I figured I should at the very least see the whale for myself. I drove to Left Fork, parked the car, and within a couple of minutes found myself on the back of Gene Townes’ 4-track over-sand vehicle zooming up and down the dunes until I got to the caution tape surrounding the area containing the whale. I ducked under the tape and took a handful of pictures and video clips. What I didn’t realize was that while I was taking the pictures, the waves crashing on the whale had created an oily residue that became airborne. I was directly downwind from the spray of the waves, and effectively bathed in it while standing up, not realizing what was happening.

Feeling good about the pictures and video I captured, I decided it would be easiest to send them out from a computer at the Edgartown Police Department, as it was nearby, open, and I often spend time working on computers there. I noticed a strong smell in my car while driving toward the station, but figured the smell was in the air outside the car. I was wrong. It was in fact coming from inside the car.

As I was sitting at the station emailing the pictures and video, one by one Edgartown’s finest said to me, like the line out of Top Gun, “You stink.” After spending a mere 20 minutes at the station, the legendary dead-whale smell hung like smog there for the rest of the day. After leaving the station a shower made me smell human again, and a bottle of Febreeze made my car far more palatable. During that day I was reminded of my effect on the station by my friends on the police force, at the parade and again at the fireworks that night. There’s little I find more humorous than making fun of myself, and I can take a joke. As a result, I found that day to be hilarious and the smell did in fact dissipate from the police station by the next day.

Within the next couple of days, the whale had slowly migrated down the beach with the current, and soon afterward a boat towed it far offshore. Our unexpected guest had made for some unforgettable experiences, and I’m happy to say the July Fourth weekend was still a smashing success full of wonderful moments.

The town, Trustees of Reservations, press, beachgoers, and social media participants did a whale of a job helping spread the word and keeping the information accurate and consistent that day.

Aside from the joking in the article, a dead whale of that size on our very own South Beach was a depressing sight. It must have been a beautiful whale prior to its passing, and seeing it in the condition it was in that day left a lasting impression on me. They are incredibly smart, amazing creatures of the sea.

—The Geek

* To subscribe to the Town of Edgartown’s text-messaging alert system, please text the word Edgartown to 99000.

Adam Darack is the IT administrator for the town of Edgartown. He writes regularly about the technological issues facing Island business owners. Got a question? Send it to onisland@mvtimes.com with the subject line “Dear Geek.”