A flawed life is a life worth remembering.
I hope you find my journey is a trip.
Up A Creek!
We were just out of college looking for a spring weekend getaway.
When we arrived at a campground near Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Hills, we headed up a road to the campsite we had reserved. We had spent the past few hours in the car with another couple, anxious to begin a weekend of fun.
As soon as we entered the campground, which was dead due to the late hour and chilly spring, we drove at the posted 10MPH. Lights flashed behind us anyway. It was a ranger.
Tony broke news to me, “Rock, switch places with me, my license is suspended.”
I looked at him as if he were crazy. The hesitation was just enough for the fast-moving ranger to appear at the driver’s window.
The ranger asked some questions, for a license and registration. Tony lied his butt off. He couldn’t find his license (obviously) but produced the car registration and an Oscar-worthy plea for leniency for “forgetting” his license.
The ranger went back to his car to run the plates and registration, I presumed.
Tony was sweating bullets. It was dark so we figured if the ranger saw a photo of his dad by the same name and for whose name the vehicle was registered, he may see enough resemblance to think Tony Jr. was Sr.
“I can make a real stink here but I won’t,” said the ranger. He returned the paperwork and left.
We set-up camp in the dark and hoisted our food on a rope over a high tree branch. Later, we had to try and fend off several raccoons trying to heist our goods. One was actually on that tree branch trying to pull the sack up. It was a bizarre sight. We lightly tossed things at the raccoon to scare it away but that coon could care less. Ironically, it was the same campsite my girlfriend (soon to be wife) and I had a while back. On that night, we played a board game at the picnic table by firelight, munching snacks. She and I kept feeling rubbing against our sweatpants. When we realized it wasn’t each other we looked below, freaked out and jumped on top of the table. Stealth raccoon invaders were everywhere.
On this trip, Tony, the girls and I decided to take the all-day canoe run. We had no idea it would also take half of the night before we got back to camp. It started as a typical canoe trip always does. We slapped water at each other’s canoe with paddles, and then rocked the boats to scare the girls and that sort of thing.
Actually, my typical canoe trip involved much worse. My friends and I would be soaked from flipping each other so much. On one such trip, we had decided to just ram things head-on after paddling as fast as possible. It was a game to see how far out of the canoe we’d fly. I almost broke my shins when they got caught on a crossbar. Another trip was in Michigan where we spent three nights on a river. The very first day, one college buddy got so drunk by Noon he passed out and doubled over with no shirt on. Hours later, baking in the sun, we checked on him. He was definitely paying the price for the rest of the trip because he had burned so badly. When I got out of the Army, we had canoed the Mohican River and drank. But sitting down, it didn’t hit me until I stood up – in the canoe – and fell out. Then, like a jackass, I hollered in fun and poured beer on my head. But it went straight into my eyes and burned them. I felt my way back to the canoe, following sounds. As I tried to climb in, I got clobbered and I didn’t know why. I grabbed an arm and said, “Stop dude, help me in.” To which a woman shrieked, “Let go of my son, let go of my son…” I let go, instantly sobering up, cleared my eyes and found my friends on a nearby bank. They rolled on the ground, laughing as hard as I had ever seen anyone laugh in a long time.
So here we were on a new trip, trying to give the girls a taste of our reputation. By Midday, Tony and I pulled the canoes over to a large tree. It bent over the river and had wood planks nailed to it like a ladder. We climbed up, against the girls’ protests and jumped into the river. It was fun so we repeated the thrill, climbing higher each time. It was our little game of “chicken” to see who would leap from the highest point. Tony won.
After we shoved off, Tony and I decided to canoe together so we could do more radical things. The girls could only take so much of us plowing through spider filled branches or abandoning ship by hoisting ourselves out of the canoe when passing under an overhanging branch. Once we had our fun, Tony was going to take a smoke break unbeknownst to me. He fished out his zip lock bag from another bag tied to the canoe. I didn’t notice because all I could see was his back in front of me.
I got the girls’ attention as they were about a canoe length behind us. Then, I flipped my canoe with me and Tony in it. Not only did we fall out but so did the contents of the zip lock bag which I had no idea Tony had opened. In it were his smokes …and his car keys.
We fished that spot and down river four about thirty minutes. Nothing!
Afterward, we explored several stages of recovery, skipping some. No doubt Tony touched on pain, confusion, anger, depression, and finally acceptance. By that time, we had made it back. All of us stood freezing in a parking lot after using a store phone to call Triple-A and locksmiths. We were waiting for a call back. We waited a long time. We were very wet and shaking so rapidly, it was like we couldn’t control our bodies as they gyrated with a mind of their own.
“Someday, we’ll look back on this and laugh,” I offered, teeth violently chattering.
“*^&%$@# yourself!” was the response from …everyone.
Just before the store closed and went dark, a locksmith called back and said he’d come out. He was nearly an hour away. We were in the boonies so, by the time he found us, close to two hours had passed. Now we were starving to boot so moods got worse before we became slap-happy.
After lots of trial and error and more time, the locksmith’s only option was to bore a new hole into the steering column and create a new keyhole, etc. It took a while longer. Our slap-happy moods caught the locksmith’s attention a few times. Each time, he just shook his head and went back to work. We didn’t care because we saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
One day, I think it was the very next weekend, Tony told this story with gusto to everyone at a barbecue. I just sat back and listened with a smile. Every now and then he’d ask for my validation, “Right Rock?” I’d grin and nod. Everyone was laughing.
It’s funny how it’s the mishaps that can make for the greater memories.
By Frank Rocco Satullo, author of “HERE I THOUGHT I WAS NORMAL: Micro Memoirs of Mischief” and editor of OhioTraveler.com