Riding the Waterpole

Harborfest happens every year at the edge of the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Virginia. It comes standard with a nice view of Portsmouth just across the water and old school sailing ships and new school yachts snugging the bobbing bleached dock wood. A big crowd poured in like the rain from Tropical Storm Andrea that blew through hard enough to cancel the first day’s events. But on a sunny Saturday, music jammed under canvas covered stages and people sampled barbecue and seafood. I’m not afraid to say I used to be a little hesitant to scarf down a softshell crab served from a tent, but I did, and it was tasty. My sense of adventure has returned.

By the way, giving storms like Andrea names really bothers me. Makes the vagaries of weather seem so personal. A nasty breeze comes through, wrecks my stuff and now I can attach a name to the damage. “Snarls up my gumption,” as my grandmother used to say. Brings out the revenge side of my Southern upbringing. Yet there is nobody to revenge against. It is weather, plain and simple. Like my ex-wife, Andrea just didn’t care.

I roam around sunburned people who drink cold beer from plastic cups and then I saw him, a dude out in the river, flying a jetpak. You ever see one of these things on YouTube? It is crazy. He was about thirty feet in the air and jets of water were blowing down out of tubes keeping him aloft. He flew all over, big foamy circles blooming on the surface under the jets. He came right up to the dock, gave a woman a high five and threw a football with some guy on a boat. My adrenal glands were watering I was so excited. If I were in better shape (AKA 25 years ago), I’d be out there trying that thing. So I followed him back to the docks and there I ran into Butch.

Butch runs OBXJetpak out of North Carolina. He is terminally friendly, a grinning, thin, beach-tanned fellow about my age who has seen his share of boats and the water. Instantly great guy. Randy, his flyer, and Mike, who was riding herd on Randy from a jet ski, all welcome me like I’m family. Next thing you know I was on Butch’s pontoon boat and Randy is again turning heads atop that big plume of frothy river water.

If you’ve never seen a jetpak, check out this very short video of Randy doing a little demo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHssO33hLZY

Now that is an easy manuver, just so you get the idea and I do not have to waste 200 words describing how this thing works with the control arms and 1,000 gallon-a-minute propulsion tubes and the long tail that sucks water up into the machine to blow the rider into the sky. Watching this thing bores straight into the little ten-year old boy part of my reptilian brain and stays there.

“This is the legal definition of fun,” said Butch. “A 350 pound man can ride this thing. And he’s gonna be smiling the whole time.” Butch is smiling the whole time too. Just like me. This thing would make Tommy Lee Jones smile.

Speaking of 350 pounders, I know a few, and I’m trying to imagine Harley or Tiny (yeah, they call big men Tiny in the South) riding way up on a rushing, twin column of water, but I agree that if they did, they would be smiling, even though Butch’s machine might be straining a valve or two.

Randy flew the jetpak all around the harbor as women cheer and kids scream and men lust in their hearts to be Randy for just a few minutes. Even the Coast Guard and water police troll their official-looking crafts over to shoot video with their smartphones. Butch’s jetpak is clearly the highlight of the day – well except for the woman who walked backwards into a family picnicking on a grassy knoll and stepped in their barbecue sandwiches. That was pretty good too.

I was so excited about this whole jetpak thing that I never even thought to get my MoonPies out of the truck. And now that I’ve admitted to my failure, I’m pretty sure my boss at the Chattanooga Bakery is going to be calling me in for a little – oh, hang on a minute, phone’s ringing. Ugh. I’m going to have to get back to you.

“Sam? Yeah. I was there. I know. The MoonPies were in my truck. I meant to, but, yeah, but, yeah, I see what you mean. No, I understand. But Sam, but Sam, ah, there was this jetpak and a dude named Butch and Randy was flying and Mike was, uh huh, I hear you. Yeah. Okay. I can’t expense the trip? What?”

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