Grasshopper Soup: Holiday fun with a … what?
It was just after Christmas at the gas station by the Truckee River in Tahoe City. The sky was gray and cold. The only thing on the river was snow, ice, coyote tracks, human footprints, snowmobile tracks and cross country ski tracks.
Outside the gas station, squatting beside a gray glob of MOOP (That’s and#8220;matter out of placeand#8221; for those of you who missed my column about Burning Man) was a man (MOOP, but not burning) holding an air hose to the gray glob as if there was a place for everything, and everything was in its place.
Was I hallucinating? I checked the connection between my brain and eyes, which is worth checking sometimes, and confirmed visual contact with a crumpled, whale-gray rubber river raft (not for rubber rivers), and a man, in freezing weather, dead set on making his craft seaworthy. He, and the limp raft, seemed destined for Davey Jones’ locker.
Dejà vu. Where am I? It seemed like only yesterday I was listening to Christmas carols. Was it summer again, already? I quickly checked to see if there were any girls in bikinis, or coolers and cases of beer awaiting the voyage. Usually, when you see one person filling up a raft in Tahoe City, you see 200, but not around Christmas. I was in a time warp, but you can’t fool me. I know the difference between winter and summer, and a paddle and a ski pole. But, does everybody?
I looked again. It was no mistake. I saw a man inflating a raft. I gave him the benefit of the doubt about the ignorance I thought I saw. It was a cheap raft, not a heavy duty, sturdy, class 5 river raft. I almost said something like, and#8220;Don’t forget your life vest. That river will kill you when it’s low,and#8221; but I was afraid I might sound like I was making fun of the poor guy, so, somehow, completely out of character, I kept my mouth shut.
Then I thought, maybe he was going fishing, but, given the amount of snow between him and any nearby body of water, even that idea struck me as a little bit loopy, so I held my tongue. I could see going fishing on a winter day on Lake Tahoe in a real boat, you know, one made out of wood or fiberglass, from a pier; but in a rubber raft with no girls in bikinis, what, are you nuts? But, who was I to question this guy’s sanity, or his choice of winter activities? After all, we locals have been known to do much crazier things.
The gas station attendant was outside the building leaning against the wall, enjoying a break from the holiday hoards. He could not see the man with the raft. The attendant looked like a guy who would appreciate a good joke, so I said, and#8220;Would you believe there’s a guy filling up his raft over there?and#8221; I thought that would be enough to make him laugh, but he didn’t. He didn’t bat an eye. He calmly shifted in to customer service mode, turned in the direction of the winter rafting expedition as if there was nothing unusual about it at all, and, to my surprise, he said, and#8220;Does he know it’s gonna take forever?and#8221;
Apparently the air pump was out of order and gasping for air itself, or maybe it was sucking instead of blowing, I don’t know. Maybe Popeye just wanted to get an early start so his raft would be full by Memorial Day. It could be snowing then too.
In a world where skiing with a snorkel makes perfect sense (I’ve seen it), would it be any more surprising to see someone gassing up a snowmobile on the fourth of July?
Then the obvious finally occurred to me. Maybe this guy wasn’t so crazy after all. That raft, full of air, would make one hell of a hot toboggan. Who needs steering? Haul it up that steep hill, throw the whole family in, give them a good push, jump in, get everybody screaming and#8220;Happy new yearand#8221; as you accelerate and#8212; and hang on for dear life.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, ski instructor and commercial driver. He’s lived at Lake Tahoe for 27 years.