I didn't really want to shake Jesse Bushnell's hand.
Normally I'd be glad to, grease and all. But Jesse, whom I'd known as someone from bike rides, from watching the spring classics in his bike shop (The Hub, which doubles up as a furniture shop, The Zoo), and as one of my bike mechanics, had suddenly shot to fame as a principal participant in this summer's most entertaining happening: the maiden voyage of the Acorn, a replica of the US Civil War submarine, the Turtle. As to where Jesse's hands had been, this New York Times article says it all. (Even the droll, coolly ironic tone of the article cannot disguise the glee of a reporter assigned to a story whose copy virtually writes itself.)
So I go down to the Hub:
(Jesse) Dude, how's it going?
(Me) You're asking me? I'm surprised to see you still a free man.
[Grins, pauses, grins again...] Oops!
So here I am, interviewing Jesse Bushnell. What follows is a reconstruction of a conversation; I went in with prepared questions, but life is not a prepared activity when Jesse is around.
What's your connection with the other two?
They're both great friends. The Duke's my best friend.
Mr. Riley was recorded as emerging from the sub with a beer. Do you think it's safe to drink and dive?
The beer was intentional! That was to thin the blood. There's a ton of lead in that thing, so you've got to keep the blood thin, and the alcohol does that.
Given the quote by which the nation now best knows you, I have to ask: boxers or briefs?
Owing to your action, do you think Alberto Gonzales would be justified in upping the terror level to a new color code? Say up to Celeste?
Who's that guy?
Aren't you embarassed about the lack of a propulsion mechanism, given that you work in a bike shop?
Dude, that's what saved us! The FBI told us that if we'd had a screw, they'd have definitely arrested us.
What's your relationship to David Bushnell?
The Duke tells me I'm related.
This unfortunately stole my next few questions, such as: was he related to Nolan Bushnell (of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese fame); whether, like the senior Bushnell, he too planned to migrate to making naval mines; and whether, given that David Bushnell moved to Georgia and adopted the name of David Bush, Jesse was also related to George W. Bush.
Some of the other things Jesse related was how the media glare was so intense he had to be escorted out the back door; how he got bitten by a dog while he was in the East River, and got stung by several jellyfish; and how the FBI descended on him. He said he was at one point bobbing around in the sub, looking out over at the Statue of Liberty and thinking about how cool all this was, when he saw a group of helicopters heading directly at him and began to revise his evaluation. When the Feds eventually got to him they asked him about various aspects of his life, including details of the houseboat on which he lives. He asked them how they knew about it. Their reply: “Because we have agents on it right now.”
The last word should surely go to Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly who, with New York sangfroid, called the Acorn the “creative craft of three adventuresome individuals”. Give the man a medal for his understanding that such utterly unfettered and wholly midsdirected creativity is precisely what makes America so insanely great.