The Skipper and His Little Buddy

by

The email Stated: Congratulations! You are High Bidder.  

Then in bold letters:

Note: Failure to pay for this item as agreed to in the terms and conditions will result in a server fee of 40% of your winning bid.  Promptly contact the seller to discuss terms and conditions, times and location for pickup/delivery options, etc.

The terms and conditions box was blank.

We waited two days to receive an email with instructions from the Seaside Heights, New Jersey Fire Department. Nothing.

“I’m sending an email tonight,” Bruce said. “We’re not asking them if it’s alright to come on Friday to pick up the boat. We’re telling them we’re coming for it.  If I have to stick the check under a door somewhere, we’re hitching to a boat trailer and hauling it away from there.”

He woke me at 2:22 Friday morning.  “You ready to go?”

I turned over to the smell of coffee brewing and could see the light from the kitchen across the hall. I’d taken the day off for a long weekend of travel to pick up our newly purchased boat. I was sure we’d get in some actual boating too.

I hadn’t planned to start the trip quite that early though. There is no going back to sleep once Bruce and the coffee are percolating. It was too late to coax him back to bed.  I groaned and pulled the covers over my head. 

“Can you go without me?” I mumbled from under the sheet.

He laughed and pulled the covers off me quick, like a band aid.

I grabbed for the sheet, but my reflexes were still asleep. Curling into a ball, I mumbled, “OK, OK, give me at least five minutes to wake up.”

He reached out, pulled me up to a sitting position and put the coffee cup in my hands. I sipped and watched him stuff clothes into his overnight bag.  I’d packed my things the night before and put them in the car along with all the stuff from the garage he’d already packed, the toolbox, spare parts, grease gun, shop towels, bungee cords, and other things I didn’t recognize.  I wondered why we needed so much stuff just to hook a trailer to the car and head to a water adventure.  I shrugged; Bruce always over-prepares.

We headed out of the driveway at 2:38 a.m. and traveled north. Bruce’s goal was to miss the rush-hour traffic in DC and Baltimore.  Once we got out of that area, he figured we would have, as he said smiling, “Smooth sailing.”

We set our compass on the computer generated directions, skirted the DC traffic at daybreak, and enjoyed the view from the interstate, including Baltimore harbor, the wide Susquehanna, and the Delaware River from the Memorial suspension bridge linking Delaware to New Jersey. As I peered over bridge railings to each body of water below, I imagined us in our boat, cruising along, stretched out in the sun, drinking something cold, and fishing.

We don’t leave Virginia often, so we’re used to a slower pace of navigation than what whizzes past north of us. The New Jersey turnpike turned out to be different from what we’re used to.  Where we come from, you pay tolls when you enter the highway. We sat confused over the ticket we received at the toll booth.  We couldn’t find an attendant to ask what to do with it.

We looked around for cops.

“Take off,” Bruce said, trying to read the fine print on the piece of paper.  “If they pull us over, we’ll plead southern ignorance.”

I peeled out and checked in the rearview mirror every few seconds, listened for a screaming siren behind me, expecting to be hauled off to some jail in New Jersey for going Bonnie and Clyde onto the toll road.

The lady at the booth who collected our $1.90 fee when we exited the turnpike laughed at our story. “Welcome to New Jersey,” she said. “Enjoy your weekend.”

We pulled into Seaside Heights under heavy fog.  It’s a small coastal town with cottages, ice cream parlors, a boardwalk, and sixties era motels with names like Sea Breeze, The Neptune, and Cloud 9 Inn. We smelled the salt in the air and the wind came from the east off the Atlantic.  For late June, the place looked deserted.  I glanced at my watch and realized it was still too early in the morning for vacationers to be up and about.   

Finding the firehouse was easy.  It butted up against the police station, and public works department on Sherman Avenue. A big statue of a Dalmatian guarded the two bay doors and the large American flag was snapping overhead in the wind.

The fire chief would certainly be in his office by 8:45 a.m.  Bruce walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. No one answered.  I shrugged and suggested we try the police department. We walked from the street into a small hallway with a door at the end.  Bruce tried to turn the knob, but the door was locked. There were two windows, one on each wall at eye level.  The girl behind the one on the right sat at her desk doing paperwork.  She looked up.

“Can I help you?”

“We’re looking for the Fire Chief,” Bruce said.

“Oh,” she said. “He’s probably not in.  Check across the hall at the Police Department. They can page him for you.”

 We peered into the thick glass window across the hall. In our town, you walk right into the police department, shake hands with the man on duty and fix yourself a cup of coffee. Here, people milled about on the other side of the glass, not paying attention to us.  I pressed the doorbell next to the window.  Still no one looked up.

“Must not work,” Bruce said.

“Try knocking on the glass,” I suggested.

He knocked on the thick glass, making a heavy dull sound, and still no one looked up.

“Do you think the glass is bullet proof?” I asked, excited at the prospect. I hadn’t seen anything bullet proof in my life.

“You think they’re deaf?” Bruce clipped out his frustration.

About that time, a girl moved into view from a hallway behind the window and Bruce frantically waved his arms to try to capture her attention.  She looked up, surprise on her face and came across the floor to us to ask what we needed over an intercom. Bruce explained about the boat.

“Oh yeah, the boat,” the girl said. “I’ll page Sammy for you.”

We stood for awhile and waited. Bruce kept looking at his watch, then up at the window. Finally, he went outside to smoke a cigarette and I walked to the car for some ibuprofen. The turn of events had upped my stress level.  

I had expected to pull right up to the boat at the fire station, endure Bruce’s usual inspection of the equipment, hook to the trailer and head to the water.  I hadn’t expected to wait.  I was leaning against the car, taking deep cleansing breaths of ocean breeze, when an older gentleman wearing a white helmet whizzed past me on a red moped. He stopped in front of Bruce who was leaning over the rail outside the police office.

“You here about the boat?” The man on the Moped asked.

“Yeah, are you the Chief?” Bruce answered.

The man laughed, “Nope, but if you follow me, I’ll take you to look at the boat.”

He waited for us to get in the car and pull out behind him. At the first stop light, I read “Old Guys Rule” on the back of his t-shirt.  Bruce and I looked at each other, smiled and shrugged.

“If this thing is in awful shape,” Bruce said, “we’re leaving it behind, sale or no sale.  They didn’t list anything about what shape it was in, didn’t return phone calls and didn’t list terms or conditions.  Seems like we have an out if we need one.  I hope the trailer’s not a bucket of rust or the wheels aren’t dry rotted.  It might be so rough we can’t pull it.”

Now I really did feel like Bonnie and Clyde.  Bruce would inspect, give the signal, jump into the car and I’d be the get-away driver.  I hate conflict and confrontation. I’m lost without a GPS, and with my luck, we’d end up right back at the Police station where we’d be arrested for non-payment. No one we know would make the trip to New Jersey to bail us out of the brig.   I prayed for an intact hull, and decent wheels with no rust on the trailer.

We crossed the bridge to Pelican Island and turned right into a neighborhood with neat yards and bay views.  A couple left turns later, I spotted the boat from the auction website photos. Its bright, spring green hull screamed “Far Out”, and suddenly I wanted to don bell bottoms, a peasant shirt and let my long straight hair loose again.  My index and middle fingers raised to form a peace symbol.

The “Old Guy” on the Moped, whose name coincidentally happened to be Guy, introduced himself as the treasurer of the fire department. My husband shook his hand, but didn’t stick around for pleasantries. He left the two of us standing in the street while he inspected the boat, motor and trailer.

Guy was a salesman.  He obviously hadn’t been informed of the done-deal sale because he kept touting the positives to me: “Sound hull, no cracks in the windshield, decent seats,” he said.  “Man offered me three hundred bucks just for the trailer not too long ago. The man who donated it said he’d put a new floor in and all the motor needs is a tune up, maybe a spark plug.”

Bruce is never so easily convinced and doesn’t take anybody’s word for condition. Guy finally got tired of watching Bruce pull aside carpet, poke around the dash, flip levers, and fiddle with the engine. He perched on the seat of his moped and gave me the skinny on the boat.

“Fella who donated it never did bring us the title to it.  I’ve got his name, address, phone number and last registration for the boat and the trailer.  He kept promising to bring the titles by the station, but never did.  What’s the fire department gonna do with a ’72 tri-hull?” He asked.

The tires on the trailer had lost pressure and the boat had been sitting for so long, the tires had sunk into the sand. Bruce kicked the rubber, then bent down and rubbed the sides. “No dry rot,” he said. He picked up the tongue of the trailer and rolled it backward.

Guy was in awe. “That thing’s heavy,” he said. “Hey want to use my compressor to pump the tires?”

“Brought my own pump,” Bruce said, extricating the bicycle hand pump from the car.

“Whew, you got more stamina than me,” Guy said, watching Bruce pump the handle while the tires inched fatter with air.  Both held. Bruce’s look made me think I’d be leaving with a boat. I let out a breath just like the valve stem under the tire gauge.  Things were looking up.

Bruce reached into his front shirt pocket and handed Guy the cashier’s check for seven hundred fifty-two dollars. 

We were on our way now.  I could feel the rock of the boat on the waves.

Guy wrote his phone number on the paperwork and said he’d be at work for awhile, but if we needed anything just to give him a call, he’d help us out anyway he could.  He got in his truck and waved goodbye.

“Look,” I said. “We have a boat.”

“Yep, needs work, but nothing I can’t do myself,” Bruce said.

“Do you think we can go home via Chincoteague?” I asked.

Bruce laughed. “Not hardly,” he said. “We’re not nearly finished here.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed.

It seemed the trailer had passed Bruce’s initial inspection, but would need its wheel bearings repacked, and its lights re-wired before we could even pull it out of Guy’s driveway. I had a sinking feeling about my weekend float. Friday was waning, we still didn’t have a road worthy boat trailer.  Bruce hadn’t even begun to determine the sea worthiness of the boat.

“Let’s get to work,” Bruce said, lifting the tool box from the car.

I followed him to the tongue of the trailer where bare wires awaited his attention.  “Aye, aye Skipper,” I said.

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One Response to “The Skipper and His Little Buddy”

  1. OldMack Says:

    A great trip. Bruce sort of reminds me of someone I know, name of Mack something as I recall, an old guy.

    I just dashed home from the hospital and brief visit with Chris. I beat the thunderbumper dumping rain on my aluminum awnings right now.

    I posted an ad on Craigslist; my boat is for sale–very cheap.

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