It was a Thursday, around one thirty in the afternoon, and I was taking an opportunity to indulge in my most prominent vice – beer. There were only two other people in the bar, both of them regulars. They sat in their usual seats, drinking their usual drinks, and chain smoking cigarettes at twenty-five cents a pop. Between just the two of them, they’d managed to fill the bar with a dingy haze. Smoke would never bother me until I stepped outside, when suddenly the contrast of fresh air would make me realize just how foul the stench really was.
I had a large list of things to accomplish for the day, so I decided that the drink in front of me would be my last. I was perilously close the point of no return – the time when responsibilities would become second-place to relaxing and downing beer for the rest of the evening – and I wanted to escape the snare I could feel slowly tightening about me. That’s when the jolly crew of the good boat “Tough Luck” walked in – Aaron, Rich, Jeff, and Jerry.
I’d seen them in there before, and from what I’d been able to gather from overheard conversations, they were just as much regulars as the two guys smoking at the end of the bar. Perhaps because he found me vaguely familiar, Jerry came over and struck up a superficial conversation, though it’s equally as likely that I was simply sitting next to his usual seat. As we talked, I couldn’t help overhearing a discussion amongst the rest of the crew. It was decided that since the afternoon was so beautiful, there was no choice but to take the boat out. The question was to where.
“Nah. There’s nothing downriver.”
“So, upriver then.”
“Yeah. We need to go downtown and get us some honeys!”
Jerry’s attention rapidly switched to the planning at hand. “Hell yeah! Honeys!” And that settled it. Upriver it was to be.
It must have been a whim, but as they were leaving, Jerry asked me if I felt like tagging along. I felt that old rush of adrenaline I used to get when planning something crazy and spontaneous. My late teenage years flashed back into my head – nights of staying out from dusk ‘till dawn, long journeys into the wilderness with no idea of whereabouts or direction. I’d stayed at the bar for too long, and the course of my day was taking a new direction. The nagging itinerary would have to wait.
The plan was simple – Aaron, Jerry, and I would prep the boat. Rich and Jeff would get the liquor and meet us at a park a short distance upriver. As we drove to the marina, I listened to the two guys talk, trying to discern all I could about the types of people I was embarking upon this adventure with. It’s a skill I honed while in the military, and it had served me well, allowing me to fit in to practically any situation. It didn’t take long before I had all the information I needed. Jerry was unemployed, and enjoyed a hobby as a part-time DJ. He had very little to do with boats other than riding in others’. Aaron was a professional seaman, and had been since an early age. It was his boat that we were to be taking out. It was his home as well. A thirty-foot powerboat, complete with bathroom, futon, kitchen, television, and upper deck from which he would drive golf balls on occasion.
Knowing comparatively little about boats myself, I sat with Jerry watching “Fast and the Furious” while Aaron did the bulk of the prep work. We helped untie the mooring lines, and moved the dinghy from the lower to upper deck, but not a whole lot more. I’d always loved boats, and had several memories of going for outings on them as a child or teenager. I even served on a ship in Alaska for a short time. However, when it came to the actual operations and maintenance of a boat, I was clueless.
Aaron pulled the craft out of the marina, skillfully maneuvering it with an ease that awed me, and we made our way up the river. Finally letting curiosity get the better of me, I asked him, “So, where exactly are we headed anyway?”
“Well, that depends.”
“On whether the fuel depot is still open.”
“Ah. So we’re low?”
“Well, if we don’t find somewhere to fuel up, this could be a real short trip.” For some reason, this came as no shock to me whatsoever. I don’t know why, but I was sure that we would somehow manage to find what we needed.
A few minutes later we arrived at the park, and picked up the final two members of the crew, bag of liquor in-hand. The fuel situation was discussed, and it was decided that we could make it to the next boat ramp, where Jerry would run to the nearest gas station and fill up the five-gallon container. With the last of the logistics out of the way, the voyage was kicked off with a toast to Jack (as in Jack Daniels), something that should have warned me about the evening to come. The last time I had done straight shots of J.D. the morning after had not been pleasant, and since the incident had only been a couple of months earlier, I attribute my lack of hindsight to nothing more than sheer stupidity. But I did my duty and downed it anyway. The toast was followed immediately by pints of Captain-and-Coke, as we slowly made our way up the river.
When we arrived at the ramp, Aaron stopped the boat as close to the shore as possible, though it was still a fair jump away. There was some concern for Jerry’s ability to make it, since he wasn’t the tallest of guys.
“Jerry, you gonna be okay with that jump?”
“I’m fine,” was his reply as he shuffled to the edge, wobbling sightly. Fuel canister in one hand, he leaped forward as far as he could. His feet landed solidly on the ramp, and then he promptly fell flat on his face. The rest of us stood there, silently. We were caught in an awkward moment of wanting to laugh hysterically at Jerry’s clumsy folly, and not knowing if it was really appropriate. Jerry made our decision for us, and jumped to his feet, arms outstretched upwards triumphantly. A cheer went up from all of us on the boat, and he trotted off to complete his mission.
At some point during Jerry’s absence, I happened to glance at the half-gallon bottle of Captain Morgan. It was already a third emptied. I did some quick drinking math in my head, and decided that unless we wanted to run dry sometime during the evening, we would need more liquor for the trip. Rich didn’t buy my theory at first, so I had to explain it to him, and he eventually agreed that yes, we should get some beer. I volunteered, jumped ship, and ran to the market just as Jerry was lugging the full container back down the hill.
Silver Bullet in hand, I returned to the grateful crew, and we departed. Now there was nothing more to do than enjoy the cruise. As Aaron maneuvered the boat in a circle, I was mesmerized by the shadows of the window frames that the setting sun cast on the cabin walls. They crept along, traveling to some undisclosed destination of their own. The light followed closely behind, not ever quite catching them. Throughout the scene was a myriad of waves made of a brighter light, a mirror image of the water surrounding the boat. With a rev of the motor we began to move forward again, and just like that, the scene was over. Momentarily sobered by the vision, I climbed to the top deck and gazed out at the river, losing myself in reverie. The golden light reflected off of the water, casting its glow onto everything. For some odd reason I was reminded of Apocalypse Now, as we slowly made our way up the river, the motor chugging away. The marinas we passed were silent. All the windows in the houseboats lining the river were still dark. It was as though the river was completely ours, yet something lurked just beyond our line of sight, waiting.
“What’s going on up here?” Looking behind me I saw Jeff climbing up the ladder to join me.
“Oh, nothing,” I replied. “Just looking at the water.”
“Yeah, pretty cool, huh?”
“Indeed. Hey, what bridge is that? The steel bridge?”
He looked at it for a second. “No, that’s the Hawthorne Bridge.”
“That’s not the Hawthorne Bridge.” I didn’t really know what bridge it was. Not only had I never seen it from that perspective before, but I also had no idea how far up the river we were.
“I’m telling you, that’s the Hawthorne bridge.”
It was then that I realized the liquor had fully kicked in. Why else would I be debating about which bridge we were under, when I didn’t even know?
I got Jeff to tell me a little about himself. He was a landscaper, but had a boat of his own.
By the time I realized the liquor had fully kicked in, I was in the middle of a debate about which bridge we were currently traveling under.
The Island stop was next. We’d gone through a quarter gallon of rum, a fifth of J.D., and hadn’t yet touched the beer. This stop was purely for my benefit, as the gang wanted to show me where their Summer “camp site” had been. The island in the middle of the river had a draw that was very tricky to navigate into. Because of this, they had been more or less guaranteed privacy, and several telltale signs of their presence were still visible. I found myself wistful that I hadn’t known them longer, for simply seeing the beach made me want to have experienced some of those summer nights spent there.
After leaving, the next few hours were spent in a surreal dream of cruising in and out of various marinas, stopping at various locations to talk to the transients watching us from the canal sides far above. We tucked away the rest of the Captain Morgan, and most of the beer before heading back. Our last few beers were thrown to the outstretched hands on the banks above us, and we departed. One of the crew was passed out, another had vomited over the rail hours before, and I myself was unable to see clearly, let alone walk a straight line. I stood on the top deck with the one remaining man still able to hold a conversation (other than the captain), and once again speculated about bridges, this time from a darkened, much more drunken perspective. Several times we appeared so close to the underside of the bridges that it seemed we could reach up and touch them. But no matter how hard we tried, or how high we jumped, they were always just out of reach.
It was only sue to the superior boating skills of the pilot that we made it back to dock safely, and from there I bid the fellows a goodnight and stumbled toward home. The closer I got, the more I slipped back into the real world. All the things I’d meant to do that day, were now hanging over my head, reminders of my irresponsibility. By the time I reached my door, almost all of the magic of the evening’s spontaneity had gone. I was left with only the drunkenness, and the thoughts of how much work awaited me the following day.
There was no sympathy to be gained from my partner, she having given up such overindulgences years before. She was, however, kind enough to not remind me of my tasks that had not been done. I stumbled to bed, having the sense to first down some water. It wouldn’t help.
The next day I awoke to pain. I knew the full meaning of “the horror”. Later, when I was able to think without causing too much disruption in my head, I wondered what had triggered such an act. I’ve always been somewhat impulsive, so perhaps it was an attempt to capture my slowly escaping perception of youthfulness. But the drinking… I know better. In my younger days, I could have consumed that much without a problem, but I’m no longer that boy. I no longer have that metabolism, or the stamina for such a binge. When breaking it down further now, the event becomes even more clouded. Had I not consumed as much alcohol, it would not have been nearly as effective of an outing from the “rebellious and free” standpoint. Many of the lucid sights would have most likely gone unnoticed. So I couldn’t have had the same cruise without the alcohol, and I in no way regret the experience of the trip itself. It was only the aftermath that pained me. Perhaps all good things simply come with a price. Some are just less noticeable, or less painful than others. Even now, enough time has passed for me to start forgetting how terrible the morning after was. Indeed, because of this, it is likely that I will do something similar again in a sudden moment of spontaneity. Maybe this means I’m not so old after all, though I suppose I shouldn’t confuse the issue of age with that of maturity.