By Sanjna Shukla and Kathleen Dillon
Every issue, The Oppy will spotlight a local business around campus and listen to the stories of the exceptional people working there. It is more important than ever to support local businesses and their staff, so use this series as a recommendation of where to stop by next!
The Blind Tiger opened in 1995 is now a West Village institution on Bleecker known for its extensive list of craft beer. Fortunately for me, Blind Tiger is conveniently located between campus and my apartment, so I’ve spent many weekend (and weekday) nights there. The inaugural bar in our Local Business Series, Blind Tiger has a large outdoor dining/drinking set up on Jones street, all following social distancing protocols.
Luke Manson, one of the bar’s many friendly faces, has some of the most interesting stories as a former Logistics and Operations Specialist for National Geographic expeditions. He’s been scuba diving in Mozambique, been charged by an elephant in Botswana, and has come face to face with an Oceanic Whitetip shark in Colombia. And that’s not even the half of it. Kathleen and I caught Luke on a beautiful fall Sunday and heard about some of his crazy stories, complete with amazing pictures included below. I would highly recommend stopping by the bar for great beer, better service, and if you’re lucky, a classic Luke story.
Luke’s Story: From Musical Theater in Manhattan to Mozambique
I’m from Kansas, born and raised, moved to New York to go to Musical Theater school right after high school. I got into bartending at that time and started bartending here at Blind Tiger then. Around 28, I did my first international travel to Nepal and bought a one-way ticket. I was there for three months and then decided to come back to NYC.
Once I was back, I was leaving a bar in midtown at the age of 30 after hours, around 5 o’clock in the morning, I was put into a car, all my credit cards and ATM codes were stolen, and they left me unconscious on the road with all my front teeth missing. That changed the trajectory of my life from that moment on. A woman I had met in Nepal, her dad was a dentist and gave me a deal to replace all my teeth.
This woman was a miles hacker who had earned a free trip to Colombia, and she gave me the free trip. I went to Colombia and I was willing to do anything that I had always been scared to do. That’s when I started scuba diving. I was terrible at it at first, but I just kept doing it and started scuba diving everywhere like Hawaii, etc. I had one experience where I was tied to a boat with a 50-foot line and this massive shark comes up and is swimming around me. It was an oceanic white which I think kills more people than a Great White. I have a couple stories like this in my back pocket.
Through the bar [Blind Tiger] I meet a couple guys from National Geographic and end up going to one of their 40th birthday parties. I was in a suit and I had come from a wedding to his 40th birthday party, so I was well on my way, and I don’t remember much of these interactions. But I met a bunch of these guys from the Okavango Wilderness Project who worked for National Geographic. We start telling each other stories, and they’re telling me all these crazy stories about elephants and hippos and I’m telling them every good piece of information I have to throw at them, but it’s hard to compete with National Geographic! Those guys are crazy.
I’m working this special event and the Nat Geo guys come in and tell me they have a volunteer spot on their expedition, and asked me if I wanted to come. I said ‘Fuck, yeah!’ and they were like great you said yes.. Now let me tell you how scary it is. They’re talking about landmines in Angola and I’m like ‘Cool, so I’ll walk behind you and if you won’t step on a landmine neither will I, so we’ll be fine right?’
I messaged this guy every day for 2-3 months about the volunteer spot until finally they said okay you can come, but you’re not getting paid. I bought my own ticket and flew out to South Africa. We drive up through Botswana and stop at the Okavango Delta. This whole project is to save the Okavango delta. There’s all this amazing freshwater there and it’s the one place in the world where there’s an inland delta. The water breaks the complete wrong way out of the mountains in Angola and flows inland through Namibia, Zambia and into Botswana.
It makes no sense, but there’s an inland delta in the middle of a desert. This place has the second highest population of elephants in the world, in addition to lions and everything. Before this, I’d never been on a camping trip in my whole life. You start doing these missions where you camp for 3-5 months at a time, and then you take a break and travel across the Okavango delta. The water that goes to the Okavango delta starts in Angola. The water is completely naturally filtered, we would just drink the water straight from the river. Steve Boyes is the guy who runs the project, and he’s basically like the Indiana Jones of the project. What they’re fighting to do is build the largest national park in the world.
When the river is not deep enough to traverse, we would have to drag the 500-600 pounds boats on our back. I bought football harnesses before I left and took them to Africa. We would have 3 guys on either side and pull the boats behind us until we got to water. There was one stretch where they pulled boats for 10 days.
Every year I leave, I come back to the Blind Tiger to work Thanksgiving and work the Christmas season, and in March I would go back to Africa. I’ve been doing this since 2016. I was supposed to go to Africa in March, and then Alaska for another job in May, but now I’m here.
Last year I went to Mozambique to get my dive masters in order to be able to apply for the job scuba diving in Alaska. While in Mozambique, I took on marine biologist jobs. Going forward, I want to go back to school to get a degree and look for research-related marine biologist jobs.
*All photos provided by Luke Manson