One of the great things about singing in a choir is the choir trips. Just like any good marching band member has a band camp story any choir member worth his/her weight in trail mix has a story that will make you ask, “That happened on a choir trip??” Something like that happened on a trip to Tampa that we took not long ago. It was your average everyday choir trip from the looks of things; pull into town early in the morning, put our things into the hotel room, shower, dress, find lunch, do some shopping, back to the hotel, change again, to the church for run through/sound check, then chill until the annual concert at 6pm. Pretty much the same thing every year since I joined this particular choir when I was 19. But THIS particular year I decided I wanted to go to the beach, mainly because I love the beach, yes, but also in part because I knew there would be girls at the beach because the temperature at that current hour, around noon, was somewhere between a boiling volcano and the magma filled center of the Earth.…and before you start railing and going all like “Hey, Skrap, wasn’t this a church choir trip? Why are hunting for beach bunnies and junk” I will simply say I’m only a man and no one got groped. Yay Jesus! Anyway, I knew that there would be eye candy at the beach so me and a couple of my friends in the choir went to the beach where we would have lunch, watch the beach bunnies, and listen to the ocean crash repeatedly ashore. Everything was lining up to be a regular day until we saw our music director on a jet ski skimming across the waves at top speed about 100 feet out from the shore. He caught sight of us standing on the beach and brought the craft in towards the sand. The Jet Ski was blue and red and the motor purred gently as the engine idled in the shallow water. I’d always wanted to ride a jet ski but when you’re born and raised in landlocked Atlanta your opportunities with watercraft are few and far between; seeing it up close in the water stoked the fires of my wanting though and as if reading my mind our music director spoke up and said, “I’m tired, I paid for an hour with this thing, I’ve used 20 minutes, any of you guys want on this thing?”
Without even thinking I threw my hand up like an overeager 1st grader who knows the answer and shouted out, “Ooo! I want it! I’ll take it!” Looking eager to get off the vessel he took off the loud orange life jacket and tossed it in my direction then called over the Jet Ski guy to let him know that I would have the remainder of his time. After about 10 minutes of safety speak from the overly tanned gentleman I was speeding out to the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and then this conversation with myself…
“What the hell am I doing? Dude, there’s at least 50 feet of open water under this thing, didn’t you just panic the other day in the 8 foot end of the pool? You’ve never been on a jet ski before. Slow down! If you take another turn at that speed you’ll flip this thing and end up in the Gulf and you’ll float damn near to South America before they find you.” Turns out that my anxious inner voice sounds a lot like my parents…even so I was able to push aside those voices and my own fears about speeding along over God only knows how many feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico and before I knew it I was about 250 feet out and at top speed on the thing as I tackled the straight line course, about a mile and a half, before making a tight top speed turn throwing up a huge wall of water and speeding back a mile and a half in the other direction. I felt like some kind of superhero as I jumped waves and relished the water in my face as I carved my way through the Gulf. I was reaching a nearly giddy state doing something that I’d always wanted to do and then I made the silly decision to turn to my right. That’s where giddiness transformed into something a little less, well, giddy. I’m zooming along on this jet ski at around 20 mph minding my business and in my periphery I catch a glimpse of something in the water, about 5 feet from my right foot and moving at about the same speed as I am, then a little ahead of me, then trailing behind, only to run alongside me again. I dismissed it initially as glimmers of sun shining off the water but decided to look over anyway and there alongside me was a smooth fin, wet and slicing through the water at a rapid pace.
I live in Atlanta. Aside from the creek that ran by my house as a child I have no in depth experience personally with bodies of water or the creatures that inhabit them but I know one thing thanks to the movies. Sharks. Have. Fins. Now the anxious voices are back, I start to notice how far away I am from the beach, no matter how fast I go on this thing I can’t outrun the fin…and is it my imagination or is this thing inching closer to me? To compensate for what I think is an impending shark attack I shift my weight left to move the jet ski away from the shark fin giving me about 7-8 feet between me and the speeding fin to my right; bad thing about that was that I didn’t see the matching, and equally fast, fin that was moving alongside me on the other side. That’s right, I was so focused on the one fin that I didn’t even know that there was another one on the other side.
Now I’m right up against panic mode. I’m twisting the throttle but I can’t outrun them, I can’t keep going straight because my mile and a half was about to end and I had to slow down soon to turn around. The fin to my right was a little ahead and the one to my left trailed a bit, it was like all the hunting strategies that I’d seen on PBS except they weren’t hunting seals, on this particular Saturday they were hunting Black Jet Ski virgins. I was imagining their 20mph conversation going something like this:
Shark 1: He’s running out of course.
Shark 2: Yep, he’s gotta slow down to turn around…
Shark 1: You’re right! And when he does…
Shark 1 and Shark 2: It’s shark attack time!
Meanwhile, above the surface of the water I remember that I’ve gotten pretty adept at the high speed turns so I planned to come off the throttle, turn hard right, hit the throttle again and be full speed in the other direction before the sharks knew what happened. I gave myself a countdown from “3” and pulled off the move effortlessly, I mean, it was something out of a James Bond movie how well I pulled it off as I sped off 180 degrees away from the…wait a second…I seemed to have forgotten along the way that things in the ocean swim for a living, I mean, it’s what they do so it’s not like I could outmaneuver a shark in its element, right? First the fin on my left reappeared and then the one on my right popped out of the water and assumed his position.
Can’t outrun them. They’re too fast.
Can’t outmaneuver them. They’re too crafty.
Can’t slow down. They’ll eat me in 3 or 4 bites
Can’t turn left or right. They’ve got me hemmed up on either side.
All I had was fast and straight and the deep dark feeling of resignation weighing on me. The scene looked just like in the cartoons when the illustrated sharks gather and circle around what will soon be dinner. Finally, I had to have a 20 mph heart to heart conversation with my maker about this little situation.
“Really, God? Like this? I grew up a stone’s throw from the city and with all the ways you could have chosen to end me You spun the wheel and landed on ‘Death by Shark’? Really, God? So I’m guessing that to make things even there’s a little suburban White chick that’s about to get it in a drive by or traffic induced 20 car pileup? Really, God? A shark attack, I’m in the ocean, what, once every 2-3 years and the one time I get in the water You send the shark brigade out for a Black dude buffet? Really, God? Like this. You know my Mama! You know she’s going to resuscitate whatever part of me that the sharks don’t eat and beat it to death because I was out in the middle of the ocean right? No fair.”
At that moment the fin to my left dropped down into the water to where I could no longer see it. This was my chance to make a left and head back to shore since my way was no longer impeded and that I did. I made a hard left and opened that Jet Ski up as fast as it could go towards shore. Standing about 200 feet away in waist water was the Jet Ski instructor. He obviously saw that I was wide open and motioned for me to slow down but that wasn’t happening, no chance, not with those two hungry sharks right behind me. I could hear the instructor in the distance now; he was screaming, “Bring it down! Too Fast!” and furiously waving his arms but you know what else I could hear? I could hear the theme to Jaws booming in my ears building to its famous crescendo leading my imagination to think that the sharks behind me had now leapt into the air and were ready to pounce down upon me and engage the feeding frenzy. The beach was 75 feet away, I was doing roughly 25 mph, and I’d fully made up my mind that I was going to ride this pretty blue and red Jet Ski out of the water, onto the beach, and to the rental car in the lot. The instructor was blowing a whistle now and he looked upset as he repeatedly yelled STOP directly at me so, throwing caution to the wind, I did; turning hard to the left as I hit the brakes throwing a 7 foot high semicircle of water in my wake drenching the instructor and a couple of kids nearby splashing around in the shallow water.
“What’s your problem, man? Thought you were going to beach my jet ski”, he exclaimed.
“Why? What…what were you going to do that for?”
I was frantically looking around in the water for the reemergence of the fins in the water, “Sharks.”
“Sharks? When did you see sharks?!”
“Two shark fins were out there next to me when I was riding.” In a raised voice now, “They were FOLLOWING me, man!”
“Oh, you mean, those two sharks out there?” He pointed out to the area in the deeper water where I was riding moments earlier and there were two dolphins out there jumping around in a very Sea World-esque fashion. One would leap out of the water and then the other would leap and twirl after him. “The dolphins like to swim along with the jet skis. It’s how they play. Hell, that’s the reason that people rent jet skis from us anyway is because they know about the dolphins.”
He laughed at my silliness and then remarked that I still had 10 minutes left but I was done. This guy from the landlocked city of Atlanta who was faked out by two dolphins and obviously forgot that other creatures in the water other than sharks had fins had had quite enough. I climbed down off the jet ski and waded back to shore, gave Jet Ski Guy back his lifejacket and hurried to dry land as, you see, there was this choir concert in a few hours and a certain someone who had just narrowly escaped a shark, errr, dolphin attack in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico had some extra thanks to give.
~thanks for reading 🙂
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