Driving up Chicago’s famed Lake Shore Drive the other day, I found myself boxed in by four SUVs, all hauling boats of different shapes, sizes and price tags, all bound for their summer homes in one of the city’s lakefront harbors. Like pigeons that descend on a stray bit of food dropped in a public park, nautical vessels in the city seem to materialize from thin air once said air reaches 50 degrees, signaling that boating season has begun.
And every year, I ask the same question: Why, in the name of Christopher Columbus, would anyone own a boat?
If all six of my Powerball numbers appear in the paper one day, then, yes, I might consider buying a watercraft more sophisticated than a blowup raft or a “boogie” board, to date the only seaworthy modes of transportation I have ever purchased. My craft would need a captain, a chef and a first mate, thereby ensuring I had to perform positively zero forms of manual labor, the two exceptions being lathering my body with sunscreen and manipulating a bottle opener. Otherwise, boat ownership means also assuming the following duties: tour guide, servant and designated driver.
I have several friends who own boats, and each year I cross my fingers in hopes at least one will invite me aboard for an afternoon of pleasure cruising, for I truly do love my definition of boating. It means stepping aboard a slick wooden deck on a gorgeous, sun-drenched day carrying nothing but a 12-pack, yelling, “Hey, (name of boat owner), where’s the cooler?” and doing absolutely zilch from that moment forward.
Does my behavior make me a selfish boating passenger? Quite the contrary, I am a TYPICAL passenger, fully content to let my boat owning friend wait on me hand and foot while ensuring my personal safety. Boat owners may put on brave faces and look as if they are enjoying making countless circles in small, cottage-dotted lakes while pulling kids on water skis. But, seriously, at some point they must be thinking, “I had no idea I had surrounded myself with so many lazy freeloaders. Frankly, I’d like to push them all overboard now and sail on in peace.”
At which point their thoughts would be interrupted by me, saying, “Hey, are there any chips in one of these compartments?”
Why do we have such a lack of appreciation for those generous (or dumb) enough to let us disrupt the serenity they dreamed about when purchasing a boat? And why do we feel entitled to show such little respect for their offer? Numerous times in my life I’ve had friends pull up in their cars and drive me to some nearby destination. I’ve paid for the gas, thanked them repeatedly during the journey, and offered to return the favor the next time they’re in need of automotive transportation.
Never have I tossed a six pack of Budweiser in the back seat and yelled, “Woo hoo! Yo, Steve, I’ll give you 20 bucks if you buzz that minivan in the middle lane.”
Not only do I marvel at boat owners’ patience with cretins like myself, but also their ability to maintain spousal relations. In the mid-1980s, I lived in Florida and was often invited on a sailboat belonging to Joe and Michelle, my first married friends. They loved each other continuously, save for the spate of 30 yards that separated the boat from the dock after a day of sailing. When it came time to secure the boat, their conversation reached decibels not heard on the Atlantic Ocean since Allied troops sunk the German Bismarck battleship in 1941.
“We’re too close to the dock, Michelle. Push it away. PUSH. IT. AWAY!”
“You can’t come in on an angle, Joe. Straighten it out!”
“It’s perfectly straight. Now jump out and tie it off!”
“I can’t jump out because now you’re too far from the dock! Closer, closer!”
BUMP. BANG. SCRATCH
“Nice going. You hit the dock.”
“Yeah, sure, I hit it. It’s always me!”
I watched this scene play out repeatedly and often wished I could offer some form of navigational assistance. But I never did.
For that would have meant putting down my beer.