Grasshopper Soup: a true Tahoe tale
July 27, 2010
Two local ski bums hit the bar late one summer night. They were broke, but clever, experts at living the high life in Tahoe. They understood the situation perfectly. They knew their sleazy chicanery would appear normal in this atmosphere. They would lurk in the shadows, watching for people to leave their seats and weave through the tables and the tipsy, blabbering crowd, to the dance floor. Then they would casually move in on the empty table, help themselves to the unattended drinks, blend back in to the crowd sipping and guzzling, looking for another opportunity. They were so brazen they even sat down a few times at well hidden tables, chugging on partially used beer bottles. Without being noticed, they proceeded to get very drunk for free.
One of these totally uncouth party crashers overheard a girl chit-chatting by the dart board. Thinking he had her accent pegged, he walked up to her while she was throwing darts and said, and#8220;Hi, are you from Alabama?and#8221; She threw a dart and hit the bull’s eye.
and#8220;No, I’m from South Africa.and#8221;
Ooops. He asked her what she was doing in Tahoe and she said she was a nanny for a well-to-do local family. Then she asked him what he did for a living. He said he worked in the summer and collected unemployment in the winter so he could ski and snowboard. With a huge, proud smile on his inebriated face, he said he was a professional ski bum.
She handed him the darts and walked away.
She finally met an apparently normal, good looking guy who seemed very nice and they struck up a great conversation about the rise and fall of apartheid, political injustice, the illusions of power and political theater, not your typical Tahoe bar talk.
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He was being flippant. She thought he sounded intelligent and well-educated, and he was. She didn’t know it, but he was also a professional ski bum, only he had class, a Ph.D. in history and a pair of enchanting blue eyes. He thought she was young and naïve, and she was. He could see that she found him charming. His plan was working.
They found it very easy to come up with a reason to leave. The smitten couple escaped the shallow bar scene and strolled away into the new Tahoe night. A full moon rose above scattered remnants of rain clouds, giving them a brief, bright silver lining.
They drove down the West Shore until she directed him to turn left. They stopped in front of the big iron gate to the servants quarters of the Fleur de Lac lakefront estate. The grand, stone building looked like a mansion to him. Nestled in a grove of pine and incense cedars, it was the perfect place for a romantic midnight rendezvous. As he punched in the secret gate code she revealed to him, he felt like Duane Leroy Bliss, the great land, timber and railroad baron who has a mountain named after him in the Carson Range of the Sierra Nevada mountains on the east shore of Lake Tahoe. He also felt a bit like Black Bart, the thief. The gate opened and she snuck him upstairs to her room.
About an hour later, the dude who thought she was from Alabama poured himself in to his Subaru wagon and drove off in the same direction. He blacked out at the steering wheel a block from his street. When he came to, he looked out his side window. Six inches away was the rock wall of Fleur de Lac. While trying to turn right, he drifted left, missed three trees and came to a stop next to the wall without hitting it.
It was dark and still. The drunk driver miraculously made it home.
and#8220;Listen to that bird squawk!and#8221; exclaimed the South African girl as the sun rose.
and#8220;That’s not a birdand#8221;, said the incognito ski bum with the Ph.D. and#8220;It’s a squirrel, though some blue jays are bilingual and speak squirrel too. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.and#8221;
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, ski instructor and commercial driver. He’s lived at Lake Tahoe for 27 years.