Charlie Maggio is a stand-up guy.
So are Dicky Tehaan and Billy Collins and Paul Jackson and Joe Fletcher. Once there was a guy named Big Slim, and he was a stand-up guy, too. But he's not around any more.
"Never any doubt when Big Slim was coming up the river," Joe Fletcher said. Big Slim looked like the Washington Monument in a rowboat.
These stand-up guys are the perpetuators of the capital city's own brand of river transport. They don't use any gasoline or diesel fuel or electricity to get to the fishing holes. They row.
Charlie Maggio is 81 years old. He'll be 82 this summer. He stands over five feet tall and he might break a hundred pounds if you filled his pockets with sinkers.
He doesn't hear unless you shout and his eyes are misty with age. But he can propel a 200-pound rowboat from Fletcher's Landing to Chain Bridge, battling the current, standing up, without any help from anybody.
"Charlie doesn't go that fast any more," said Tehaan, "but he can go wherever he wants. He just plugs along nice and slow."
The other day the river was too high for the boats to go out, so the regulars at Fletcher's were hanging around on the dock, pulling small crappies up, believe it or not, through the cracks in the dock.
Maggio doesn't care much for that, but he was making his slow and surefooted rounds, collecting the little fish whenever anyone caught one, and carrying it to a pail he had in the boathouse. Later he would take them home to his rooming house in Northeast, where they would make a fine dinner.
During the course of an hour-long chat he confided that he'd come to the States from Italy after he finished fighting in the war. World War I, that is.
"Yeah, boy, 1921," he said. "Long time ago."
When Maggio arrived in Washington he went straight to the Potomac and looked for a place to fish.He found rental boats at Fletcher's and proceeded to cast off the dock and row the only way he knew how - standing up, facing the bow, the way the Venice gondoliers do it.
A half-century later everyone's doing it. "It's good," said Maggio. "Nice change. Sometimes you hurt in the back. Then you stand up, use difference muscle."
For 58 years Maggio has been rowing the Potomac and for 58 years he's been mad at the police.
"They used to chase me away at Roach's Run, by the airport," he said. "We sneak back in. One time I got a nice string of fish down by Hains Point, detective come and say, 'Charlie you give me those fish, otherwise I lock you up.' I tell him go to hell."
Now the police drive Maggio to distraction with the rules on wearing life vests, which are mandatory above Dixie Landing, just downstream from Fletcher's.
"I'm 81 years old. A man wants to fall overboard and die, he don't hurt nobody. I say let him."
Maggio is not alone in the anti-life vest faction. The Harbor Police have a screaming fast Boston Whaler they use to streak upriver. Most of the boaters at Fletcher's keep a wary eye downstream, and it's always a battle to see whether they get their vests on in time once the Whaler rounds the bend. Tehaan claims he once almost fell overboard racing to get his life vest on.
But we digress. The question is, why do the Potomac boatmen prefer to row standing up and pointing frontwards?
They have a lot of answers.
The Potomac is full of rocks and shad fishermen and floating logs: If you row normally you end up crashing into things or fouling people's lines.
Anchoring is always a zoo in the fast water, and the front-facing oarsman can size up his spot, dash up to the bow and plunk his anchor rock overboard more easily.
It helps build up the chest and leg muscles, said Tehaan, flexing a pectoral. Standard rowing helps the back but doesn't do much else.
They give these reasons, but one suspects there's more to it than that. One suspects that the Potomac boatmen are stand-up rowers because 58 years ago Charlie Maggio did it, and everyone stopped to watch. CAPTION: Picture, BILLY COLLINS, ANOTHER OF THE POTOMAC'S STAND-UP GUYS. By Angus Phillips