Writing a book about the docks requires gaining the trust of the people – dockworkers, fisherman, and sailors. In an industry that doesn’t work well with government oversight and meddling, the author must become an insider. As an experienced sailor and resident of New Bedford, Rory knows the people and their stories.
Nugent introduces us to the inhabitants of New Bedford, Massachusetts. They have needed to retool themselves several times throughout history to meet the changing fishing and manufacturing conditions. Their fortunes have ebbed and flowed with the economy.
The port started as a center for the whaling industry, and the streets were paved with gold. After the whaling industry faltered, the town shifted to manufacturing. Goods from the port flowed across the seas to other population centers. However, fishing has always been the backbone of the economy.
Today, the fishing grounds have been depleted, and government regulates the industry. Large corporations have replaced the individual, self-owned fishing boats, and the town’s economy is faltering.
New Bedford is a working town. The boats berthed at her docks are working boats, not yachts and weekend sailors. The seas off her shores have provided her people a livelihood for centuries. Nugent provides us a glimpse of these lives by telling us six tales of her inhabitants.
Ports and docks mean the unloading and the distribution of goods. In the northeast that means teamsters and longshoreman. Any good book about the docks will need to include a chapter on the unions, the Mafia, and getting things done. In Down at the Docks, Nugent tells us about Mr. Pink, the facilitator.
Mr. Pink was the man that knew everyone, and made sure things got done. In many instances, he was the lubrication between the government, the workers, and the mob. Even the CIA was not above using Mr. Pink to advance their nefarious insurrection schemes in Africa during the Cold War.
Nugent provides a history of New Bedford that offers a glimpse of a growing and prosperous United States without reading like someone’s dissertation. He uses stories of Mr. Pink to inform us about the fishing industry and harbor life from the 1950s through the 1970s.