It was 1995 or so. Chris and I were living on Eglin Air Force Base near Destin, Florida. Chris was a weather observer, and worked on the ranges with the Army special forces guys a lot of the time. This meant that he’d often come home and couldn’t tell me what he’d been doing all day.
Of course, I was working for a military contractor that built weapons simulators for military aircraft. So very often, I’d come home and couldn’t tell him what I’d been doing all day either. It was all very Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
“How was your day, hon?”
“Fine, can’t talk about it. Yours?”
“Fine. Can’t talk about it.”
It made for brief dinner conversation.
Every weekend, we would look at our bank account, and figure out what we could afford to do to entertain ourselves. If it was a really good week, that might mean a road trip to New Orleans. On a really bad week, it meant that we’d go to the beach and sit on towels in the sun on the sugar-white sand, which wasn’t really all that bad.
Most weeks, it meant we’d go to Damon’s, a chain barbecue joint, and play NTN Trivia, drinking enormous beers and giggling from the back row as we skunked the regulars. Chris would cover sports and science and I’d cover most everything else.
One weekend, we discovered there was going to be a Cardboard Boat Regatta at the Postl Point Outdoor Recreation area. I used to go to Postl Point and rent canoes and sailboats after work, because it was half price from 5 – 7 PM. I could paddle around to my heart’s content for a good hour for about $.50. The sailboat was more like $5, but I only did that once because I found out that sailing is not that much fun. Especially when you inattentively forget to duck when the wind changes, and get smacked upside the head with a metal beam.
You might assume that a Cardboard Boat Regatta means small model cardboard boats. You would be very wrong.
The rules were simple. The boat had to be made of cardboard. You could seal it with duct tape, paint, varnish, or whatever, but it had to be built from regular old corrugated cardboard. It had to be propelled by cardboard, preferably a paddle. Again, it could be sealed, but it had to be made from cardboard. It could be shaped like a canoe, a riverboat, a rowboat, Noah’s Ark, a Viking longship, the shark from Jaws, whatever.
And it had to carry a crew of two adults about 50 yards out to a buoy and back.
There were additional awards available: Best Costume, Best Theme, The Titanic Award for Most Dramatic Sinking…
And oh, yes. Many of them sank. Most of them sank. Like a rock. Like a cardboard rock loaded down with costumed and half-inebriated Airmen.
It was glorious.
The Noah’s Ark boat, in addition to its human crew (which consisted, naturally, of a man and a woman) held about a dozen stuffed animals. The two women on the Viking ship crew wore horned helmets and bullet bras. Two guys on the Shark had shredded pants legs painted bloody red at the bottom.
There were two canoes that probably are still seaworthy, they had so much varnish and duct tape applied. The yellow one named “Banana Boat” won, I think. But it didn’t really matter.
Chris, his friend Derrick and I sat on the bank and watched, a 12 pack of beers split between the two guys. I was designated driver. For some reason which I cannot at present recall, the boys decided to start singing a particularly dirty Prince song as we walked back to the car afterwards. Very loudly. The mom with three or four little kids we passed seemed to not really appreciate their performance.
I loaded them into the car, and headed home. For some reason, Chris decided that it would be a good idea for him to try to get something out of the back seat, which resulted in his knee accidentally throwing the gear shift from Drive into Neutral at 55 mph.
It was a memorable day. Everybody had the luxury of acting a little stupid. Nobody got hurt (unless you count the little kids who heard some R-rated Prince lyrics). I tend to complain a lot about how unpleasant my twenties were, but there were also a lot of days like that Saturday.
I’ve been taking my kayak out a lot lately at Buffalo Trace Park. My boat is yellow like the Banana Boat. From time to time, as I’m paddling around and looking through the murky water at the fish and turtles below, I remember the Cardboard Boat Regatta and smile.
Sometimes I start singing a Prince song quietly to myself.