There's some good scenery around here," agrees Kameron, a business major (all the marina staffers are college kids or recent grads) who's my mentor for the most-famous job at Roche Harbor. "But it's probably good that you talked to the girls before doing this."
There are a lot of boats at Roche — which, including permanent slips (there's a 10-year waiting list) and summer-weekend Med (Mediterranean-style) ties, can accommodate 600 vessels. But none garners as much attention as the squatty metal tub that bobs at the end of the fuel dock marinating in a clawing funk that makes diesel fumes smell like a Cinnabon.
"You'll get used to it," says Kam as he jumps into the Phecal Phreak, the marina's "honey wagon" or floating pump-out station — a service that's included in the dockage fee.
"I sure hope not," I say as I follow him on board and stand awkwardly, trying not to touch anything, amid a tangle of a sickly green big-bore hose. I'd heard of the Phreak and figured the marina staff must hate this duty.
"No way," Kevin tells me later. "They fight for it. These kids get paid $9 to $11 an hour running their butts off on the docks, but when they pump heads, they can triple that in tips."
It's also one of the few times on this job that you actually get to drive a boat. "Albeit a boat filled with crap," says Kam.
Filled indeed. The Phreak is a veritable Hadron Collider of caca — an odiferous collection of pumps, motors and valves attached to a 200-gallon tank. And just to make sure there's no missing it — even if you're upwind — Kevin attached a billboard that shouts the boat's name and slogan: "We Take Crap From Everyone." As we float past, people come rushing out of their cabins, shouting, whistling, hailing us like we're a warm cab on a rainy winter day. Kam waves and writes their slip numbers on a dry-erase board (our to-doo list?). As we idle to a stop by a big charter catamaran, I hear a series of slams as the surrounding boats shut their windows and doors. Kam shrugs.
"You watch: When it's their turn, we'll be their best friends."
I ask the obvious question. "Oh yeah," Kam answers, "sooner or later you're gonna get it. Sometimes it's just a side spray, a streak across your chest — unless of course you break rule No. 1 and hold the pump up at face level, then …"
I get the picture. "And eventually you'll get a full-blown baptism," he says as he pulls the starter and jams the nozzle into the first of the catamaran's four deck fittings. The Phreak starts coughing, roaring, sputtering and gargling as the "stuff" percolates through the hose and into the tank.
And then it's my turn. Kam talks me through it — "Slowly open the valve … wait for it … feel it? Okay, let her rip!" — and thankfully I escape a baptism. We pump the cat's three other heads, and Kam shoves some dollars into his shorts. As we navigate toward our next job, boaters smile and wave hello, and we smile and wave back. Kam gestures with a surgical-gloved hand, taking it all in — the beautiful boats, the babes, the brilliantly sunny San Juan Islands day, even his command of the crappiest craft in the navy — and reassures me, "This is the coolest job you'll ever have.