There's no doubt that anyone who has made anything, from a book to a movie to the addition of a bathroom in the spare bedroom, believes the story behind said creation is utterly fascinating
I am among those people.
The Dockporter novel, which is releasing on March 1, 2021, is a work of fiction. But it is inspired by a real occupation and a real brotherhood formed on the docks of a real place: Mackinac Island. I've been blessed with incredible friends, from grade school to this very moment. But for reasons beyond comprehension, the bonds created during the years on the ferry boat docks of Mackinac Island remain as strong as a steel Schwinn with a reinforced basket. Totally indestructible.
Why is this? I'm not totally sure. But part of the reason may be mentorship.
Perhaps the most unique aspects of hauling luggage on the island is the old-school system that likely continues to this day. It's a big part of the novel and a big part of the actual writing of the novel. Mentorship also bonds my Mackinac buddies for life. It's a shared experience, even 30 years after we all first met. Much like a sports team (only with no coach and no curfew), we taught and learned from each other.
As many young men are in their late teens and early 20's, we were absolutely wild. I was lucky enough to have a cottage on Mackinac (Brigadoon) but most of the guys were away from home for the first time, living on an island with no cars, too many bars and smart, fun-loving female counterparts who were just as wild. It could have gone off the rails. But amazingly, it only rarely did.
Mackinac Island somehow creates its own kind of order and discipline. It happens by osmosis, the moment one gets off the boat. It's in the air up there; impossible to capture in words. Perhaps it's the side benefit of an island that's only 8.2 miles around with no cars.
Yes, we had fun.
But we also wanted to stay.
So, more or less, we behaved.
Although I'd had all sorts of menial jobs as a kid on the island (busboy at the Fort Tea Room wearing knickers and a puffy shirt comes to mind), my first summer on the docks was 1986 at age 19. I was brought on by Jerry Drudi, who was running the bell desk for the newly-renovated Lakeview Hotel. I had grown up idolizing the dockporter scene. Suddenly, I was one of them. That summer, one of the legendary porters, a big, strong guy named Dan Harris was hanging up his bungees and moving on to a job in the real word. He offered to sell me his dockporter bike. It was a classic beat-up Schwinn Heavy-Duti, already equipped with the requisite Wald basket. It was brown. Ugly as hell. But strong, because Dan was a beast of a guy and needed a strong bike.
It was a honor to take over his ride.
And so that first summer on the docks in 1986 was off and riding. It was a rich time. There was an undeniable passing of the guard happening during that era. My team, all 18 to 22 years-old, got a chance to learn from a true cast of characters. And we paid close attention, studying the style and swagger of the "upper classmen" with keen interest. These were guys with names like Dan Buck, Glen Woulfe, Paul Repasky, Keith Leverton, Freddy Brodeur, Mike Ingram, Sam Oliver, Jim Bolone and many more. Our crew had a healthy share of intriguing characters on the roster but there was no denying that the proceeding dockporters set the bar very high indeed. I settled on a persona somewhere between Repasky - great with the guests, great with big loads, with a wry sense of humor - and Bolone, who was, in short, a total character.
Jim Bolone was raised right, knew how to take care of guests and had a welcoming style. But there was also something slightly insane going on behind his Ray-Bans. At various times hilarious, absurd, even a little dangerous, Jim was totally uninhibited on the docks. His laugh was manic and infectious. A tall cat, he'd often show up wearing black, old man socks pulled up to his knees and dress shoes (all with shorts), calling out the word "love!" at the top of his lungs for no apparent reason. Occasionally he'd carefully roll a fresh powdered donut across his face to create a white sugar goatee, then go chat with guests as if it were all perfectly normal. He also had bike basket full of alter egos, going as far as making a fake name-tag that suggested he was from Bolonia, Italy and only spoke broken English (incidentally, I stole this bit for the novel).
Short version: Jim was wildly creative and seemed not to care what anyone thought.
In the quieter moments, away from the daily (and nightly) antics, he was also a thoughtful, artistic soul who was uniquely aware we were into something special, even poetic, on this unusual island. He inspired us. We were all going through changes at that time in life. It was normal but scary. I was becoming convinced I wanted to make a living "being creative" and had no idea what that even meant. But with Jim around, it was at least okay to live creative and that was a damn fine start. Putting on a show, even it was on a dock every half-hour, was interesting. Turned out we all could be lead characters in some imagined novel in our heads.
We started to see the world differently.
The Dockporter co-author Dave McVeigh enjoying
a calm evening on the beach with friends in 1988.
I also imagined Jim saw something in me and he encouraged it. He laughed at my oddball observations and references. He saw past the slightly insecure, jocky persona and recognized the blurry outline of a potential artist. A weird shorthand developed. For a time, we communicated solely by using Jack Nicholson lines from The Shining. ("Wendy? When you hear me typing, that means, I'm working"). But Jim also suggested, mainly through his actions, that living in a state of joy, love, poetry, literature, film references and hilarity - along with loads of suitcases - was a perfectly legitimate choice.
During those summers, we all became more confident in expressing our own inner weirdo because, hell, if a mentor says it's okay, why not? We embraced the mentor/protege idea wholeheartedly. We learned respect. We learned tradition. We learned how to ride big loads of luggage on our bikes. But we also learned how to perform. How to charm.
And how we wanted to be in the world.
Flash forward 30 years.
Yup. You read that right.
I did end up following my bliss and, partially inspired by my summers on the island, worked my way up to a creative director role, a job title just vague enough to encompass a variety of creative interests. So far, it's been a fantastic, twisting, turning journey of a life working in TV, film, commercials and what we now call (unpoetically) content.
Along this trip of a career, I'd also written a movie script called, not shockingly, The Dockporter, which was nearly made on a low budget film in 2006 and which I had planned to co-direct with my big brother Scott.
Unfortunately, life realities got in the way. The film didn't happen and the project was relegated to that overused region of the stove called the back-burner. I was also now living in Cebu, Philippines (that's another post) with my wife and daughter, which would have made the logistics of making a movie on Mackinac a bit challenging. One only needs to check a map for confirmation. I was also a little burned-out on the notion of waiting for financing, actors and all the other elements that have to magically converge to make even the smallest film happen.
That said, from time to time I would open the script on my laptop and polish it up like it was an ancient brass family heirloom. A line of dialogue here. A comma there. It wouldn't go away.
And yes, I'm mixing metaphors. It's now a chunk of brass simmering on a stove. Roll with it.
Then unexpectedly, the back-burner flamed back to life, blasting me on my ass and singeing my nose hairs. Why does it have to be a movie? Why not a novel with an audible version? Hell, I'll narrate it myself. It was so obvious.
But of course, for that to happen, the script had to be restructured into something that looked, sounded and read like a novel. Reality set in. This was going to be a ton of work. But I charged ahead and made the commitment to myself. "Novelize" and narrate The Dockporter movie script by the end of 2020. The pandemic, oddly, helped. Something good must come out of this shitty year. But as the task became real, I knew I needed serious help.
And guess who strolls down the virtual ferry boat dock of my odd life? Jim Bolone. The very maniac mentor who had partially validated my choice to pursue a creative career when I was 20. He's now wildly popular high school writing instructor. His short stories have been published. Says he wants to work on something together.
Got anything interesting, McVeigh?
Um ... yeah. As a matter of fact I do. I have a project and it might be the most interesting thing either of us will ever do, if all goes well.
The Dockporter co-author Jim Bolone celebrating
life and love at the Dockporter Ball in 1986
With age does NOT come wisdom, sadly. But what does come is the ability to recognize when things are supposed to happen and ride that moment. I'm no Deepak, but this timing was not an accident. His mentorship decades ago was not an accident. So we got to work, collaborating virtually with a google doc and the same intense, creative, bustling, frantic energy that surrounded us on the docks so long ago. I was wildly inspired. Again.
Now it's December 2020. The book - The Dockporter - is in the final proofreading stage. The audible version is recorded with music and sound effects and in the final mix.
Turns out, our mentors never leave us.
I highly recommend looking one up.
It's never too late for payback.