Monday, September 28, 2009
On Friday night, my family took me out for my birthday dinner at Cheesecake Factory. Right outside the restaurant, there is a waterway that was made to SORT of resemble the Riverwalk in San Antonio. Our waterway is a little too young to be the cultural and social mecca that the Riverwalk is but it's growing. There are businesses and restaurants along it and there are Waterway Taxis that take people from place to place or just give a tour of the Waterway to those who are just along for the pretty ride. Since this story is about our boat ride, I thought it might be nice for you to have a good mental image of what I'm talking about. Here's what the Waterway and the taxis look like this . . .
As we were sitting on the patio of the Cheesecake Factory, my nieces and nephew kept coming up to me and whispering loudly in my ear things like: "LET'S GO ON THE BOAT FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY! CAN WE?!?!?" or "TELL MOMMY, CATCHY, SO SHE'LL SAY YES!!" or "Did you ask yet, Catchy? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease??"
How on EARTH am I supposed to say no to THAT??
We told the kiddos the good news and then my mom went to find out when the next boat was. She returned with some bad news. We had JUST missed the 8:00 boat and the next boat didn't leave until 9. The kids looked from one adult to the other, silently begging us to wait for the next boat. So we thought "what the heck?" and decided to just kill some time so that the kiddos could enjoy a nice evening boat ride.
They were SO excited . . . 9:00 could NOT come fast enough. We headed down to the boat at around 8:45 and the kids half skipped and half ran to jump on board. They were giggling with anticipation. As we approached the boat, the driver stepped out and pulled the boat so that it was flush with the dock. Then he greeted us by barking:
"Step over the crack. It WILL rip your foot off."
Oooooooooooooookaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay . . . We should have abandoned ship at that point. Literally. Instead, we paid our money and took a seat. The kids were barely able to contain their excitement. Then the driver began his tour with some fun little tidbits. This is the gist of what he said:
"I'm gonna start by telling you that this boat weighs 30,000 pounds. I have put life jackets all around this boat. They are under all of your seats. Now if this boat were to sink right here, we're only in about 3 feet of water so you would have water up to your knees. But when we get out into Lake Robbins, the water is 12 to 20 feet deep so this boat will sink straight to the bottom and you WILL drown. Now, I have put the life jackets for the kids over here by me. The reason for that is that when the water is flooding in through the windows, I don't want to have to go all the way over there to get the jackets for the kids. Now, speaking of kids . . . we will be going through narrow passes. These passes are 15 feet wide and this boat is 14 feet wide. Put it this way - it's a tight squeeze and I will have to get us through there safely. Do not let your children walk around this boat or put their arms or heads outside the boat. Basically, if their hand gets caught on something, it takes 30 yards for this boat to stop. [looks around] It weighs 30,000 pounds [shoots us a warning look and then continues] Put it this way - if their hand is caught and the boat takes 30 yards to stop . . . just use your imagination to figure out what will happen. The boat keeps going, the hand stays. [then, as if we didn't get it . . .] It WILL rip their arms right off."
The kids sat there stunned, their excitement giving way to pure terror. That's when we realized that we had a driver who took his job as a Waterway Taxi driver a LITTLE too seriously. Perhaps he had missed the cast calls for Deadliest Catch? I don't know. I just know that the mood on the boat was not unlike that of a post-iceberg Titanic. Minus the band. And that he was the suckiest tour guide in the history of tour guides . . .
He put the boat in motion and started down the Waterway. He pointed out the various restaurants and points of interest along the way. Fairly quickly into the tour, we approached Lake Robbins. Now let me tell you about Lake Robbins: it's a small "lake" on the perimeter of the mall that really resembles a pond. There's a fountain in the middle and a few business around the perimeter of the water. It's actually more of a water feature on the Waterway. In fact, I was surprised to hear it called a "lake." And the boat kind of cuts across the side of it on its way to the other half of the waterway. It's really no big deal. As we entered it, I expected to hear some interesting little tidbits about when it was made, the businesses that were on it - something to that effect. Not so much. Instead, Captain Sunshine says, "Ahead is Lake Robbins [dramatic pause] . . . the reason we have the life jackets on this boat. Do NOT move around." Then he clicked the microphone off and put both hands on the wheel so that he could navigate us through the danger.
As we were entering Lake Robbins, Erin looked over at Savannah and noticed that she looked positively terrified. Erin asked her if she was having fun and she shook her head quickly, as if she were too afraid to speak. I told her to come over and sit on my lap and she started shaking her head and crying because she wasn't supposed to stand up in the boat. It was like I was betraying her by asking her do something she could get killed doing. So I stood up, walked over to her, picked her up, and brought her back to my seat. That's when she saw that Brian's elbow was hanging out the window and she started crying all over again, whispering pitifully, "Tell Brian to put his elbow back iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin. Tell him, Catchyyyyyyyyyyyyy. So it won't get pulled oooooooooff." I tried to explain that nothing was going to happen to his elbow but she wouldn't rest until all of his appendages were safe. She muttered over and over: "I wish we'd waited for the next boat or that we just hadn't gone on a boat ride. This is NOT fun at ALL." Then she asked Erin, "Mommy, can I sleep with you tonight? Because this is gonna be in my head."
Fun times. Fun times.
We saw what appeared to be Otters on the bank of the lake and the kids starting pointing at them excitedly and yelling "Look! Otters!" Captain Sunshine quickly got on the microphone and said, disdain dripping from every syllable, "Nooooooooooooooo. Those are NOT otters. They are Nutria." Then clicked the microphone off and went back to driving.
Somewhere in there, he noticed some condensation running down one of the windows. It was, at most, a mild irritation to the lady who was sitting by that particular window. But he told her that he had a shammy in his bag for the water and that she should get it. She stood up, resulting in a collective gasp from the kids on the boat, and walked to his backpack. He said "It's the red shammy right there in that pocket." The lady looked at the backpack, momentarily confused - it must have had at least 20 zippered pockets. But he didn't give her any time to figure it out before he started yelling "Right THERE! The red thing! In the POCKET!" And then he said "I'll GET IT!" as he backed away from the wheel, grabbed an opaque tube from the backpack and pulled out a slightly orange shammy. And the whole time he was doing it, he was looking desperately back and forth between the shammy tube in his hands and the waters ahead of us as if he were thinking "If I could only get this shammy out in time to save the boat from sure destruction!" You've never seen a shammy retrieval handled so dramatically. It was like Sophie's choice for him . . . all for a little condensation.
It was right around that point that Ben turned to Erin, pointed to an opening by the door of the boat, and asked, "Auntie Erin, is that where the water is going to come in when the sinking part comes?" Poor guy thought the sinking/drowning part of the ride was a sure thing. Erin explained to him that there would be no drowning tonight.
Then we began to approach the narrow arm-ripping passageways that we had been warned about. (If you scroll back up to the top, you can see a picture of them in the background behind the boat.) Captain Sunshine took the opportunity to warn us again and that, of course, prompted the kids to do a panicked appendage-check to ensure that all of our arms and limbs were out of harm's way. He put his hands at 10 and 2 and had an intensity on this face that would rival that of the Irish captain from Jaws. One poor kid on the boat made the mistake of moving from his seat and relocating to a seat along the front of the boat so that he could get a better view. This elicited a bark from Captain Sunshine: "Hey! Do NOT move! It will redistribute the weight and send us DIRECTLY into the side of the passage!" As we went through the passageway, I noticed that we had at LEAST three feet on each side of the boat and had NO problem navigating our way through it. Plus, we weren't going fast enough to be in any danger, even if we HAD run into the walls. In fact, there was a jogger running alongside the waterway with a Yorkie so you can imagine the speed at which she was moving . . . not very fast . . . AND she was outrunning us. By a lot. So even if we had plowed into the side of the passageway and ricocheted our way through it, we would have come out on the other side unscathed and most likely screaming with our arms up roller-coaster style.
After our near-death experience in the first passageway, we continued on toward the turn-around point which is a large basin at the end of the Waterway. The driver turned us around and headed back toward our beginning point. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand then we approached the "narrow" passageway from the other side. As soon as it was in sight, he started talking about the skill necessary to navigate through it safely. He started talking about how he was going to approach it and then make a sharp 90 degree turn and it SHOULD coast right through. He only hoped that no part of the boat would hit the walls. He must have reviewed the technique with us at least 5 times - he was going to head straight for the bushes and then do a sharp 90 degree turn. None of it mattered to me but apparently it was really working Savannah up because when Ben stood up to get a better look at what could be our last sight on this VERY dangerous boat ride, she said very sternly "BEN! Sit down!! He's about to do the 45-5-whatever." And then she held on to me for dear life.
If it wasn't so funny, it would have been sad.
As we pulled out safely on the other side, Erin sarcastically shouted "Praise Jesus!" and everyone on the boat cracked up. I guess we weren't the only ones who had picked up on this guy's dooms day approach to tour-guidism. Not surprisingly, we made it through just fine and headed back to our starting point. At that point, Ben looked up at me and very seriously asked "Catchy, when is the arm-ripping-off part gonna come?"
That man TRAUMATIZED those kids!
As we headed back to our starting point, the driver was telling one of the passengers about how much strength it took to drive one of those boats: "Basically, it takes a lot of strength to drive one of these. Put it this way, I have a workout I do. This boat weighs 30,000 pounds." Then he saw two ladies waiting for the taxi and he yelled out, "Here we go! Remember how I told you this boat takes 30 yards to stop? Well, here's your perverse thrill!" And then he proceeded to slow it down so that the could pick the ladies up.
Someone was AWFULLY impressed with himself and wanted us to be impressed, too. It was NOT a perverse thrill.
Erin and my mom tried to warn the ladies that they should run for their lives but they got on and the driver yelled at a little girl who dared to put her hand on one of the pylon that we were docked against: "Do NOT touch that ballard! It is NOT a toy! This boat weighs 30,000 pounds! It WILL rip your hand off!" Then the girl got yelled at by her father for touching the ballard. She was having as much fun as our kiddos were.
We FINALLY got back to the starting/ending point and, when we did, Captain Sunshine announced "Folks, here's one more perverse thrill for you - I'm gonna stop this boat." And then, with an air about him that said "I'm the coolest person you know - and I saved your life 5 times tonight," he stopped the boat.
We filed off and he gave us one last parting "Watch your step. This WILL rip your foot off - that boat is 30,000 lbs." We unanimously agreed that it was a HORRIBLE ride and quite traumatic and that we would never ride his boat again. Then we staged a couple of photos for you.
Here are the kids re-enacting how excited they were when we were getting on the boat:
And here they are giving their best "That was the worst, arm-ripping boat ride EVER!" looks:
(Note: Avery was too traumatized to participate in the photo shoot. She was seeking the shelter of her mother's arms.)
So if you find yourself walking along the Waterway saying "I'd love a good perverse thrill today," hop on one of those 30,000 pound boats and see where it takes you.
But, for goodness sake . . . DON'T touch the ballards.