Neil Swidey has turned his Globe Magazine piece about the divers who became trapped in an enormous underwater sewage tunnel into a book. (I pre-ordered mine today.)
The story (behind a completely-worth-it 99-cent access paywall):
The divers packed themselves into the basket and prepared to be lowered by a crane down the 400-foot shaft. But they couldn’t move until DJ Gillis got into the basket with them, and he wasn’t about to be hurried.
“C’mon, DJ,” one of the guys yelled. “Let’s go!”
Tap Taylor, who was DJ’s boss, started yelling, too. “Let’s go!”
It was a radiant summer morning, and they were standing on Deer Island, a peninsula that hangs down like a comma from Winthrop into Boston Harbor, curling in front of Logan Airport. It also happened to be Tap’s 36th birthday, and he didn’t want to waste it waiting for DJ to move his tail.
The two of them had a close if combustible relationship. Tap was a hard-charging guy who logged one 14-hour day after another with the singular focus of building his small New Hampshire commercial diving business into something bigger. Still, he had a soft spot for DJ, treating the 29-year-old more like a kid brother than an employee. A 6-foot-2, solidly built charmer, DJ had developed a reputation as a talented diver who worked hard and partied harder. He’d show up late to job sites many mornings, often dropped off by some blonde or brunette. As DJ would be hurriedly changing out of his dress shoes and pants from the night before, Tap would start cursing, threatening to kick him off the job. But those outbursts usually ended the same way. Before long, Tap would calm down, laugh, and begin pumping DJ for details from his latest adventure hopping bars and beds.
“C’mon!” Tap shouted again.
“If you’re in that much of a hurry,” DJ barked back, “then go without me!”
It was the morning of July 21, 1999, a Wednesday, and the tension was thick, mainly because so many problems had surfaced on the project that Monday and Tuesday. Getting down the shaft would be the easy part. The challenge would come when the divers had to make their way to the end of a dank, dark sewer tunnel that began at the base of the shaft and kept going and going, for nearly 10 miles. Tap, who would be monitoring their progress from topside, was in no mood for DJ’s same old antics.
In reality, neither was DJ. The only woman he had on his mind now was the Virgin Mary.
He had been searching the construction trailer for a piece of twine. He needed it to tie a small oval religious medal to the underside of his hard hat. The medal had once belonged to his grandfather, a carpenter who helped construct the Prudential Building that defined Boston’s skyline.
DJ had asked his mother for it the night before, remembering the story of how his grandfather had kept the Miraculous Medal in his pocket the whole time he worked on the Pru, taking comfort in the Blessed Virgin’s protection. Seeking comfort himself, DJ had gingerly asked his mom, “Is that still around?”
“Yes,” she said. “Why?”
“I’m a little concerned about the job.”