Tuesday, May 6, 2008

America's Port - not like the wine

Last night whilst channel surfing the uninspiring 9pm CST time slot, I came across an episode of America’s Port on NatGeo. As I said in my last post, I saw the trailers for this new blue-collar reality show and was intrigued enough to take it for a test drive.

This episode began aboard the cruise ship Monarch of the Seas, as we meet the first-ever female captain. The ship is docked in Catalina, 20 miles southwest of the Port of Los Angeles. A port police dive team must go underwater and check the hull for IEDs, which I heard are all the rage in any terrorist organization.

Sixteen divers in two teams submerge, and start checking the barnacles for telltale red blinking lights and MacGyver-like digital countdown clocks.

This author must admit that barnacles have always grossed her out for reasons unknown. She becomes skittish when swimming too close to boats and/or piers, and tries to stay away from the slimy, algae-covered surfaces. Sorry, we digress.

Twenty minutes into the dive one team is fighting a wicked current and cannot continue. The other team spends the next two hours picking up the slack and no bombs are to be found. We cut to a bigwig in port authority who interviews that today is the busiest day of the year because not two, not three, but four cruise ships are scheduled to make port in L.A.

This means more passengers embarking and disembarking with much luggage to be checked for explosives and narcotics. And let us not even mention the cleaning and restocking of each cruise ship in preparation of its next voyage.

After our commercial break (so Extra gum is now billing itself as a “5 calorie snack”? What’s up with that?), it is now pre-dawn at the Port of Los Angeles. Our Monarch cruise ship is entering the channel and maneuvering in 23mph winds to find its berth.

Port authority must escort each ship through the channel, apparently to play interference between the ships and any unregistered small craft that may mean harm (see: USS Cole in Yemen). A port authority pilot takes over at the helm to guide each vessel to its pier.

As we see this pilot maneuver the Monarch, Thom Beers describes what highs winds can mean for this particular vessel, and explains that the wind could push the Monarch into an already parked ship causing billions of dollars in lost profits for the entire country. No pressure or anything, Thom.

It turns out Thom’s fears are realized as the Monarch’s lady captain takes over the wheel because a container ship, Evergreen, has just announced the dreaded Breach (Breech?). This author formerly thought breach was only in reference to births and Hollywood blockbuster films about secure computer systems, but now is told that it also refers to one of the worst situations possible in naval/maritime relations. Because of the aforementioned high winds, the Monarch is now on a collision course with the Evergreen (collision = breach).

Voice on Loudspeaker keeps announcing things like, “Breach to Evergreen three-zero,” in reference to the fact that our cruise ship is only thirty meters from impact, yet this author feels that merely announcing the obvious without suggesting any solution is hardly helpful. Not to mention the cold, inflectionless way he says it. The ships are about to crash; you think he could drum up a bit of emotion.

Alas, the crash is averted through ship-driving mechanisms unknown to me.

We immediately cut to two hours later. It is seven o’clock in the morning, and our port workers must load 90 pallets of supplies onto the Crystal Symphony, one of the four cruise ships in port today. Crystal Symphony needs to get loaded and then get the hell out of dodge as the Port has only three docks for cruise ships, yet one more ship is on its way. In other words: there’s no room at the inn, and Crystal Symphony drew the short straw.

The next twenty minutes are footage of bomb and narcotics sniffing dogs checking luggage interspersed with a stressed looking dock manager in charge of loading supplies on Crystal Symphony.

The stressed dock manager is blowing a gasket because, instead of the previously arranged 90 pallets of crap, more semi trucks keep driving in and running the tally up to over 250 pallets of crap. Explained to the uninformed viewer, this is a lot of crap to load in five hours. After a few tense minutes and one commercial interruption, all is well as the ship gets loaded and vacates the premises.

But is everything all well?

We head back to our favorite K9’s, whereupon the bomb sniffing dog sniffs a bomb, and the narcotics sniffing dog sniffs narcotics. The police handlers assure us this rarely happens, yet I am obliged to disagree as what are the odds that two things that never happen, happen on the same day?

After all living persons are cleared from the building and the bomb squad X-rays the bag, we learn that what looks like a grenade is actually a chunk of coral. We also learn that the aforementioned explosives are actually residue from when the bag’s douche bag owner transported guns and ammo to a gun range. Seriously, Dumbass, thanks for wasting everyone’s time.

The narcotics, however, turn out to be residue of previously transported marijuana. This douche bag is detained by the police and questioned. The nineteen year old answers that he does not remember what drug was in the bottle (the narcotic-smelling article in question is a prescription drug bottle), and the police officer cordially offers to test the residue in his handy on-the-spot testing kit (whereupon we learn it’s marijuana).

Cut to nineteen-year-old Douche trying not to look worried.

Commercial break (Seriously, Extra. Snack? Gum as a snack???)

At the end of the show we learn that Narcotics Douche is sent home with a slap on the wrist. What could have been a $5,000 fine, has now been turned into a lesson learned for all of America’s Port viewership.

Overall, the show has merit, though I do not enjoy the narration of Thom Beers. His voice does not convey the proper emotion and drama that Mike Rowe so easily does in Deadliest Catch.

I give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

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