In the 1973 Clinton High School yearbook, there’s a photo that shows Kathy Strand and me when we were voted “Most Easily Embarrassed” by our classmates.
One of the reasons I grew a beard as soon as I could was to make it harder to see when I blushed. It’s worked for me; I have no idea what Kathy did.
Why in the world am I thinking of this? Okay, here we go. There’s a feature on Facebook that shows videos. I have no idea how they’re selected, if they’re the same for everybody, or if the evil geniuses who run the internet are selecting specifically for me. For example, this week I’ve seen several videos by a French chef who starts every recipe by melting a tablespoon of butter in a pan, short bits by comedians I’ve never heard of, and videos of ginormous ships going through locks and canals.
A few years ago, my wife and I spent some time in the United Kingdom. As usual when we travel, we tried to cram in too much. We flew into Edinburgh, rented a car and headed across Scotland. We drove past Queen Elizbeth's house (she didn’t invite us in), had some whiskey in Inverness, spent a night on the Isle of Skye, took a gander at Loch Ness and finally spent four hours looking for a place to sleep in the Lake District, which ended up being a big plus. By the time we were ready for supper, the only place open was a dumpy fish and chips place where everyone went after the bars closed.
Best food I’ve ever had.
Another days' drive took us to Wales, where we drew a deep breath and slowed down. My sister and her husband flew to meet us, and we spent several days floating along a canal in a narrowboat - basically an RV on the water. It was eight feet wide and fifty feet long. The canals were about twenty feet wide with a lock every few miles to raise or lower the water level. My sister and her husband leapt ashore to open and close the lock gates while I lounged at the tiller and counted frogs.
I gotta say, it was the closest to relaxed I’ve ever been.
We putt-putted along about two miles an hour. Occasionally, we’d get off two at a time and walk along the canal, easily keeping up with the narrowboat. Every now and then we’d stop, tie up, and saunter down a path to a pub for a pint and a terrific meal. I didn’t sleep particularly well at night, but that was mainly because I never mastered converting the kitchen table into a bed, so it collapsed about 3:00 a.m. Other than that, a perfect voyage. As self-appointed captain, I was getting downright cocky.
Then we had to turn around.
Keep in mind: boat eight feet wide by fifty feet long, canal twenty feet wide. No way to get lost, nothing to crash in to and a top speed of two miles per hour. As sea faring goes, somewhat less challenging than what my Viking ancestors faced.
When we reached the end of the canal, we were supposed to turn around and return to the starting point. Throughout the last day, we noticed more and more foot traffic along the canal. Turns out it was a marathon, and the finish line was the same as ours.
We floated into the open and found, as the map promised, a space wide enough to turn around. We also found about fifteen other boats, a grandstand full of people, and a band.
I could have done without the band.
I turned the rudder hard to port. Left, as you landlubbers would say.
Just as we started to turn, the wind caught the fifty-foot-long boat and we started a majestic, slow-motion slide toward all the docked boats, plus the grandstand.
This was the moment I wondered why I was the captain. My brother-in-law had been in the French navy; he should have been the captain. Of course, that was back in 1974 and his duty had been to dress in his uniform, complete with the cute hat, and guard an office building in Paris. Nevertheless, he had better credentials than I did. The last vessel I’d commanded had been a duck boat in a cattail choked slough.
The next few minutes are still a blur – there's a chance I’ve blocked some of the details. I do remember a panicky boat owner who shoved us away with his foot, perhaps a little laughter, and some advice given to me in a language I did not understand.
We headed the other way and within minutes, we were back in our safe, narrow canal and out of town. Good thing I’ve got a beard. I’m pretty sure no one saw me blush.
Copyright 2021 Brent Olson