Parents Away II: Truck Launch

(Note: this is a continuation of Parents Away I: Time-Share Gauntlet.)

Time-share sales staff out rounding up those who have escaped the "informational meeting."

Meanwhile, as Mom and Dad were on their first weekend away by themselves being hunted down by time-share sales staff like the kids in Jumangi, things were going to hell in a hand basket back, as they say, at the ranch. There, as I said, it took a good twenty minutes for it to sink in that our parents really weren’t coming back for a couple of days.

Now, my brother and I were pretty good kids. We didn’t immediately call 1-800-KEG -4YOU or anything like that. But we were teenage kids. Alone. And even if the whole “free night stay” coupon was a hoax, we knew that it would take our parents three hours to get down to the ocean, and another three to get back. That meant we were probably good for the night.

I remember that we were standing by the boat, an 18′ Reinell on its trailer next to the Toyota pickup, contemplating this new world.

Brian was the first to take advantage of the possibilities.

I’m taking the boat out,” he declared, taking first dibs on the only thing we owned that could conceivably be utilized as a popularity enhancer or chick magnet. The Toyota just didn’t have much cool factor. We didn’t have a TV. Or a stereo. And inviting people over to see our parents’ collection of blue Norwegian plates wasn’t much of a plan.I resented being beaten to the boat.

That's me in the boat at the boat ramp circa 1975. The tide is up.

“You can’t launch it,” I said, “You can’t take it to Horsehead Bay.” Aha. Check. I had a license. He only had his permit.

“I’ll launch it down below,” he countered. There was a little launch in Moorelands (where we lived) that everyone in the community loop could use. It was a steep concrete ramp cutting through the high bulkhead down to the muddy bottom of Shaw’s Cove.  The water had to be way up, however, in order to make use of it.

Can’t. Tide’s not in.” (I had no idea where the tide was, but it was worth a shot.)

“It’s coming in,” he countered.

“Fine,” I said, foiled. “I’ve got other things to do.”

Brian ran to get the keys, and hooked up the trailer to the truck. After he headed for the launch, I went back inside to try and figure out just what those “other things to do” might be. I needed to figure them out fast. We only had about 36 hours left.

About twenty minutes later, Brian appeared at the front door, knocking.

I looked out at him from my chair in the living room. This was odd. He was supposed to be out in the boat. Maybe he forgot something. But why was he in the front? The parking was around back.

He began to rattle the door urgently. I opened it. He looked like he was going to throw up.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

I …” he trailed off.

What?” I repeated, becoming alarmed.

“I … got the truck stuck,” he managed to say. “I can’t get it out.

Well, here was a fine pickle.

“What do you mean?” I demanded.

“It’s … stuck,” Brian repeated. Then he just said, “The mud.”

I saw it all now. The water was not far enough in, but he couldn’t wait and had backed the truck down too far. Now he couldn’t get it back up the ramp. That was something only someone with a permit would do. Suited him right.

“Where are the keys?” I demanded. “The tide’s coming in.”

“I know.” He looked utterly defeated. “They’re still in the ignition.”

“Christ,” I exclaimed, “I’ll go down and try to rock it out.” (People with licenses, like me, after all, knew about rocking a vehicle back and forth to get it out of the mud.) “We may have to wait for the tide to come in far enough to lift the boat off the trailer.”  I took off at a run for the launch.

The last thing I remember hearing is Brian’s soft, sad, and ominous little voice over my shoulder whispering, “You won’t get it out.

It was perhaps a fourth of a mile down the hill and around the Moorelands loop to the launch. I wondered, as I jogged, if I should have brought a shovel, or some boards, or perhaps a sack of cat litter to give the tires some better traction. I would have to see, once I got down there, what needed to be done.

But as I approached the launch, there was nothing to be seen. No boat. No truck. No trailer. Maybe one of the neighbors had seem him get it stuck and gotten it out. I stopped and looked around. The parking lot was empty. Then, slowly, I approached the point at which one could see squarely down  the ramp.

The ramp was empty. But little tire tracks led from the ramp down the beach. And there, about twenty feet out in the cove, our boat was bobbing nose down as if tied to too short of an anchor rope. Right in front of it, a sliver of hood and the roof of a little truck protruded from the slate green water. The ducks were paddling around it.

I threw dirt in the air and wailed like Job.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” I screamed, running in circles. Each time I came full circle in front of the launch, I stared in disbelief into the cove. Then I started over again. Finally, I headed for the house.

Don't hit me! don't hit me! Don't hit me!

Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me!” Brian shrieked, cowering in a corner with his hands and arms thrown over his head, as I blew through the front door in a rage.  I chased him around the house and over furniture, but I was too worn out from my sprint up from the beach to catch him. I swear to God I might have killed him if it were not for the fact that this would leave me alone to face Dad about the truck. Several minutes of screaming at each other, punctuated by mutual wailing, ensued. We were in deep, deep shit. And the tide was rising fast.

As I surmised, the water was not quite high enough. He had, in fact, backed the boat down the ramp, thinking he would poise the boat where he could launch it as soon as the water rose high enough. But to his credit, he was mindful that he needed to keep the truck’s rear tires on the ramp. The ramp, however, was too steep to see its end in the truck’s side mirror. So he paused, opened the door, and peered out of. Still, he couldn’t see it from a sitting position. Leaving his right foot on the brake, he stepped out with his left and stood to get a better view. As he did, his foot came up off the brake just enough to let the truck roll, and the roll was just enough to make him loose his balance. In a second, he was on his back with the open door passing inexorably over his head. By the time he got to his feet, the truck was already well on its way out to sea. All he could do is watch it slowly disappear.

In retrospect, all of this could easily have been the winner of America’s Funniest Home Videos, but at the moment there was nothing funny about any of it. Not only was the truck under water, but it was salt water, which corroded everything it touched it a heartbeat. Things like engines, like trucks, and like the remainder of our lives, which had now shrunk to about 35 hours.

We raced down to Tannahill’s, the only neighbors we knew with something big enough to pull the truck out. Tannahill had a virtual auto shop in his garage and a tricked-out four-wheel drive suburban nearly the size of a Monster Truck. He stared incredulously as we explained our predicament, then went off, shaking his head, for a chain and his keys.

There was no way we were going to be able to keep this quiet.

We headed for the launch, where a small crowd of neighbors was gathering, along with the ducks, to consider the strange sight. There was no way we were going to be able to keep this quiet.

Eventually, after getting the boat unhooked and on a bouy, and with a mixture of laughter and encouragement from the neighbors, Tannahill pulled the truck back up the ramp. Water poured out of the doors. We all stood around and stared at the mess. The crowd grew quiet, as if their mirth had given way to the sinking realization of what lay ahead of us. “Well,” Mr. Tannahill said, “We better get this up to your folks’ place and you boys had better get busy.

We spent the next 33 or so hours tearing apart and washing off the truck piece by piece. Everything we could get into we flushed with fresh water, and then used spray oils to try and keep the parts from rusting. Brakes. Engine. Running gear. Glove box. Running boards. We probably ran up our parents’ water bill 1000%.

But by the time my parents returned, the truck was back together. “Oh, hi Dad,” we said, as my father carried the luggage in from the car. He and Mom seemed less than relaxed from their weekend.

“Why are there towels all over on the truck seat?” he asked.

Well ..” one of us began.

And yet we lived to tell the tale.

Years later, we’re still at it: See “The Second Deadliest Catch.”


2 comments for “Parents Away II: Truck Launch

  1. Mitch Hull
    March 1, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Like Eric just commented, I was wondering why I had never heard this story before. Then I remembered, around the same time using that same old magically empowering driver’s license to “borrow” my dad’s new 4X4 GMC pickup. It was kind of off limits to me, until my folks were out of town. Funny how that works. Fran and I got that truck so deeply stuck in a mud hole that I was certain we’d never get it out. Honestly, the bed and the cab were at acute opposite angles and the mud and muck was almost up to the windows. Even the large wrecker had trouble pulling it out. I thought that we’d cleaned every vestage of mud off that rig, but it took my dad all of 5 minutes home to call me on it. How could he have known? Needless to say, it’s not the kind of thing you brag about at school. I suppose you weren’t anymore anxious to tell your story back then. These things need time to age and decant into fine memories!

  2. February 28, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Now, why didn’t you ever tell us that story when you were teaching the Summer Scholars creative writing class? It’s a delight, one of those “watermark experiences” that English teachers are always telling us about as the subject of a good personal essay.

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