Transcripts

A Floating Community Fights To Keep Traditions Alive

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
This next story is also about a community trying to hold on to its traditions. In this case, it's a group of Washingtonians living on the Southwest Waterfront. And it's here in this watery alcove that a rather distinctive ritual was born years and years ago. But as Marc Adams reports, things may not be the same much longer.

MR. MARC ADAMS

00:00:23
It's 9 o'clock on a crisp Sunday morning and Roger Thiel pulls his cart of coffee supplies down the dock toward his neighbor, Debbie's, houseboat.

MR. ROGER THIEL

00:00:31
So Sunday morning here, the idea is that we're going to have the coffee up and brewing for people by 9:30. So -- and they show up sometimes at 9:30, but they're more often like 10:00.

ADAMS

00:00:41
Thiel organizes this weekly gathering in the houseboat community of Southwest D.C. It's called Captain's Coffee. And it's a tradition that goes back more than a decade here at the Gangplank Marina.

THIEL

00:00:51
Well, Captain's Coffee just means that we get together socially on Sunday morning to enjoy the waterfront and each others' company and get up-to-date in very informal situation.

ADAMS

00:01:01
But change is in the air or perhaps, in this case, on the water.

THIEL

00:01:05
Everything you see on your right is going to be physically taken down.

ADAMS

00:01:08
He points to a small hotel near the water's edge.

THIEL

00:01:11
Replaced by entirely new things run similar to -- well, this is an oversimplification, but similar to the Baltimore Harbor, the way that's been renovated. Hey, Ken, how's it going man?

KEN

00:01:22
(unintelligible) ...

THIEL

00:01:23
Doing Captain's Coffee at Debbie's. We're going indoors now.

KEN

00:01:26
OK.

THIEL

00:01:26
All right.

ADAMS

00:01:27
Thiel has been living on a boat here at the marina for 22 years. He's part of a community of 94 live aboards, as they call themselves. And like his neighbors, Thiel accepts whatever may come down the river in stride.

THIEL

00:01:40
I would say that like our kind of shaggy way of doing Captain's Coffee though, we are savoring this old way while we still can.

MS. DEBBIE CHRISTIANSON

00:01:50
Come on it.

ADAMS

00:01:54
The smell of coffee and pastries fills the air in this small houseboat as more people enter, each bringing a culinary delight to add to the sugary assortment already on the table.

ADAMS

00:02:12
It doesn't take long before the small kitchen and adjoining living room below are packed with boat dwellers of a variety of ages and backgrounds. For Eve Bratman (sp?) , the gathering is just as practical as it is social.

MS. EVE BRATMAN

00:02:24
It was the best way to meet the neighbors and to get all the boat tips that I needed. I live on an old houseboat that needs a lot of work and so Captain's Coffee is always a great source of knowledge as well as comradery.

ADAMS

00:02:34
In fact, it's precisely the sense of community that lead them all to trade in a life on land for a life, literally, spent rocking back and forth. Jason Kopp (sp?) , a resident in his early 30s, decided to move here four years ago after just one visit. So you were sold from day one?

MR. JASON KOPP

00:02:49
From day one, yeah. I just -- I didn't know exactly when I would make it happen. I was, like, I don't know if I'll be able to get this boat or how I'll get a loan or, you know, how will that happen. But it worked out and, you know, like a month and a half later. After I, I think, frightened my entire family because they're telling me, you're going to move onto a boat?

ADAMS

00:03:07
But things have already changed since Jason took that plunge. The marina has placed a cap on the number of dock spaces or slips that are granted liveaboard status and each resident must renew his or her status as a liveaboard on a yearly basis. This means there is no permanent legal protection to ensure this community will be able to stay. Now, Kopp has been in regular talks with the developers who, with the blessing of the city, want to turn this quiet marina into a bustling tourist destination. He says construction is slated to start in about a year.

KOPP

00:03:40
Right now, there's not a whole lot going on in terms of us having to move to new spaces, but during the transition period, we have a lot of good faith that they'll work with us to make the process as easy as possible. You know, and we'll be willing to compromise as long as we can make sure that we can stay here and we can find a way to make the community enjoyable for people.

ADAMS

00:03:59
Resident Mikale Slausman (sp?) is confident the community will survive.

MR. MIKALE SLAUSMAN

00:04:02
Of course, change is going to bring change. I mean, we don't know what's going to happen in terms in that regard. But I think that we have such great people, such a good team of folks that people seem to be looking out for each other so that we don't think of the change as being a problem, we think of something that we can thrive with.

ADAMS

00:04:20
The residents raise their glasses…

ADAMS

00:04:33
...no matter the language, most residents here agree, change is inevitable. But every Sunday their Captain's Coffee tradition provides a jolt of hope that this liveaboard community will be united in facing whatever comes over the horizon. I'm Marc Adams.

SHEIR

00:04:53
You can find photos of the Captain's Coffee festivities on our website, metroconnection.org. And if your community has a tradition that goes way back, we want to hear about. Send an email to metro@wamu.org or find us on Facebook, that's facebook.com/metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:05:14
Time now for a quick break. But when we get back, making a buck when you live year round at the beach.

UNKNOWN MALE 1

00:05:19
People work two jobs, some people even work three just to make the same kind of salaries that they might make in the metropolitan area.

SHEIR

00:05:26
And the story of a local band that became famous, almost by accident.

UNKNOWN MALE 2

00:05:31
This was going to be our weekly card game. Find a little club to play in, make a few bucks and just have a good time.

SHEIR

00:05:38
That and more coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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