A gentle rain / Falls on me / And all life folds back / Into the sea
– Warren Zevon
Every other Friday, Michael Glass leaves the law offices of Preller Glass LLC – nestled in the shadow of Baltimore City Hall – and heads down to the Inner Harbor to swim with the fish.
“[First,] I’ll come into the office around 5:00 in the morning and work till eight [a.m.],” explains Glass – one of about 200 scuba divers from across the region who volunteer their services one day every two weeks of the year with the National Aquarium in Baltimore. “During our lunch break at the Aquarium, I’ll come back for a few hours and just answer phone calls and e-mails and so forth. Then, when I’m done at 4:30 or so, I’ll come back to the office and put in two or three hours. So, Fridays are actually a very productive day for me!”
The divers are broken down into 14 “A” and “B” teams – one for each day of the alternating two-week cycle. They share in a variety of responsibilities, from preparing food for the animals first thing in the morning to interaction with the public.
“Some people interact [with the public] more, others less,” says Glass. “We’ll field questions from people who are looking over the railing. I think the thing that’s really awesome about the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and the program, is that you’re in the exhibits with the animals, so it’s literally like taking a mini-vacation every two weeks. There’s no place locally where you can dive with [those kinds of animals].”
Getting into the program isn’t easy. “There’s only one period of the year when you can apply,” Glass notes. “You take a written test, which tests your general knowledge of scuba diving. About a hundred to two-hundred people take the test. Historically, they’ve taken the top 30 or 40 people of those folks, and you then do an in-water test: go through an obstacle course, take off all your gear and put it back on, and a few other things. They just want to make sure that you know what you’re doing, that you can navigate through tight spaces with scuba gear on and that you’re comfortable in the water.”
“I took the written test in December 2004,” continues Glass, who scored high enough to merit an in-water test the following month. “Once you get through that, you’re then put on a waiting list, and as people drop off the program for whatever reason they start filling the slots. [As such,] I was put on a team around February/March 2006.”
Glass had been snorkeling for several years when he first took a scuba “resort course” during a family vacation to the Cayman Islands nearly two decades ago.
“[It] entails learning how to use the equipment in a pool,” Glass explains. “They basically walk you through what to do and make sure you’re comfortable, [that] you’re not going to freak out when you get out in the water. Then, they take you out and you dive in 30 or 40 feet of water.”
Glass immediately fell in love with the sport. “I came back and was just absolutely blown away,” he admits. “It was a whole new world – how close you could get to things, and how much more interactive [than snorkeling] it was with the wildlife was just very interesting.”
Since then, Glass has traveled the world, diving spots as far-flung as Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Hawaii, Central America and the Caribbean. Ironically, however, one of his most cherished excursions came during a snorkeling trip to the Silver Bank, off the coast of the Dominican Republic.
“Every year, between late December and mid-April, thousands of humpback whales migrate from all over the world to this one spot,” he explains. “There are about five- to six-thousand humpback whales within a 20-mile radius, and [while] you’re not allowed to dive, you can snorkel with them. It’s unbelievable.”
But his extensive travel has also given Glass a front-row seat to one of the sport’s more “depressing” aspects – the worldwide destruction of coral reefs and their delicate ecosystems.
“You go back to some places and you can see how much damage there has been to a lot of the reefs,” Glass laments. “There are all kinds of theories as to why that’s happening. Global warming is one thing that they think is affecting the reefs. And I think, unfortunately, perhaps the amount of diving that happens in some places is contributing. A lot of places are [also] being over-fished, and some countries just aren’t as environmentally conscious as others.”
Though the demands of having young children and a burgeoning law practice have somewhat limited the frequency of his travel in recent years, Glass still manages to “get away” at least once a year to dive. His short list of choice locales yet to be discovered includes the Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica’s Cocos Island, the latter being particularly renowned, Glass notes with enthusiasm for its concentration of hammerhead sharks.
“I really enjoy seeing big wildlife,” he says.
In the meantime, Glass looks forward to that next contact high, only a few blocks away. “It’s literally a departure from your environment,” he says. “It’s just – I don’t necessarily want to say escape – it’s more of an entrance into a completely different world where you’re not breathing as you normally do on land. You’re seeing animals that you don’t see every day – except in a fish tank.”