Totally Into Tubing Society
Sunday, July 30 2006
setting: setting: Martha Jefferson Neighborhood, Charlottesville, Virginia
This morning Nathan and I walked his three dogs around the neighborhood and then went to Tip Top for breakfast, the cleanest and most-efficient of Charlottesville's greasy spoons. It's in the red state part of town and on Sunday mornings one usually finds oneself waiting behind a long line of heavily-perfumed churchgoers wearing the latest pastel fashions. But we'd come before that crowd and had opted to sit at the bar. Looking around, American flags seemed to be everywhere: on the clothes of the staff and customers, and in peeling decals affixed to equipment. I myself was wearing a big American flag on my teeshirt, the grey white and yellow version with the caption "These colors don't fade." The company that had made that teeshirt uses low-quality inks and it had faded considerably from the already-faded look it had back when it was new. Most people glance at it and assume it has something patriotic to say, and the thing about patriotic sentiments is that they're never original. As a result, few people pay close enough attention to get to the irony. In the context of Tip Top, no one would ever expect anything ironic to appear next to an American flag, so I blended in seamlessly with the churchgoers, blastocyst huggers, and gay marriage opponents.
While down in Virginia to attend my 20th high school reunion, I'd also arranged to go tubing on the James River with Jessika and whomever she could scrape together to go with us. Today was the day we'd planned to go, so after I'd left Nathan's house, I drove over to Jessika's house in the Hogwaller neighborhood. (Jessika and I had invited Nathan, but he had to pick up his wife Janine at the airport.)
Jessika had told me to come to her place at 11am, but when I got there it was obvious that no one was up yet. Recalling the state she'd been in last night, it seemed best not to even knock on her door. So I sat a couch on the front porch and borrowed her WiFi through the wall with my laptop until it ran out of power. I'd been reading a magazine for awhile by the time Jessika opened the front door. At the time she was on the phone talking to my cellphone's voicemail, which I've forgotten how to check.
Jessika's boyfriend Aaron was walking around too, not looking especially rough given the circumstances. He's in the process of moving in with Jessika, with his stuff is still all piled in the front room and some of his things scattered in the front yard. Evidently he'd yet to inform whatever part of his reptilian brain gets him home after a night of heavy drinking because early this morning he'd woken up in the front yard of the house he's in the process of moving out of.
One of the joys of mornings at Jessika's house is drinking coffee on her front porch. There are mosquitos there, but they're the kind that only attack your ankles. You're in the shade watching the world go by. Unlike, say, the San Fernando Valley, kids in Hogwaller play in the street. They ride their bikes back and forth and sometimes a ball is heard to bounce. These kids are an eclectic bunch, the United Colors of Benetton. In the group I saw this morning there were several little boys that included blacks, whites, and at least one Hispanic. Not that these kids are entirely benevolent, no kids are; Jessika's windows have been hit by at least two .22 caliber bullets.
As I exchanged witty banter with Aaron on the front porch, Jessika was on the phone making some last-minute arrangements with others in hopes that they'd come tubing with us. A year ago Jessika's neighbor Jessica came tubing with us. She's since moved to the soapstone-rich Schuyler area but we were hoping she'd meet us down in Scottsville. At the last minute, though, she threw some sort of inexplicable tantrum and didn't end up going at all. In the end only four of us went on this particular tubing adventure: Jessika and Aaron, me, and a young woman named Saras. The last time Saras appeared on this website she was drunkenly telling me she wanted to pump me in the ass, whatever that means. This morning, though, she was behaving like any other sane Charlottesvillian on a Sunday morning. Perhaps she had a hangover like the rest of us.
We drove down to Scottsville in two vehicles, the minimum needed for a self-logisticized tubing trip. Since Jessika still had all her tubes from a year ago, the only supplies we needed were consumables, particularly beer. We rendezvoused on the way out of town at a grocery store to buy two cases of beer (Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon), a six pack of Sparks (the beer with energy drink additives), and some food items. If that sounds like a lot of alcohol for only four people, it bears noting that this was on top of six 12 oz bottles of Keegan Ales beer I'd brought down from New York.
I rode to Scottsville with Jessika, but once there Aaron and I were the ones who handled the pre-positioning of a vehicle at the downstream place where we'd be landing. Usually our tubing adventures go from Warren Ferry to Hatton Ferry, both upstream from Scottsville. But today Jessika wanted to do a longer float, from Warren Ferry all the way to the landing in Scottsville, it a little more than twice as far. Nobody really knew how long this would take. Usually the Warrne Ferry to Hatton Ferry leg takes "several hours" but back in early July when the river had still been in flood stage (and considered too high for commercial tubing outings), it had only taken 45 minutes. The drive itself from Warren Ferry to Scottsville seemed long and as we did some last-minute tube inflation at Scottsville gas station, Aaron expressed his doubts about the wisdom of undertaking such an expedition. Still, it was Jessika's idea, he said, so that's what we'd be doing. For my part, I rather liked the unpredictability of it all. I had nothing else planned.
On the drive back to upriver, Aaron was telling me how his relationship with Jessika had developed. It had begun with a crush from afar back when she worked at the Jefferson Theatre (which is now closed for rennovation). About the only thing Jessika did for him in those days was give him stomach aches. But then somehow they became friendlier and he did some research in the Big Fun Glossary, learning exactly what he needed to know to get to where he is today.
By the time we all launched at Warren Ferry it was 4pm, much later than expected. It had been at least noon before Aaron and Jessika had even gotten out of bed, and then a couple hours drinking coffee, waiting for Aaron to fetch sandwiches, and contacting people, most of whom flaked on us. Even Saras had to be cajoled and convinced, despite the fact that never in recorded history has anyone ever regretted going tubing.
Before our launch and throughout our adventure, a recurring theme was a teeshirt that one of the others had seen bearing the acronymn "TITS" - which purportedly stands for an organization calling itself "Totally Into Tubing Society." Whether or not doing various things was "Totally Into Tubing" or not became a metric used to measure various activities as we either did them or saw others doing them. Bringing two cases of beers, now that was Totally Into Tubing, as was jumping off the rocky island and breaking your neck or tubing when the James is in flood stage and the trip only lasts for the time it takes to drink a six pack of beer. But more than anything else, doing what we were doing today, skipping Hatton Ferry and sailing all the way to Scottsville, that had all the others beat. We were Totally Into Tubing.
The dynamics of a four person tubing flotilla are such that it's possible for the interaction of a couple people to alter everyone's experience. The interaction I speak of in this case was between Aaron and Saras, who have been housemates and seemed to know each other like an old married couple. Throughout most of the first half of the adventure, extending beyond Hatton Ferry, they roughhoused and flirted like an unruly pair of besought nine year olds. The dynamic usually started with Saras soliciting a cigarette from Aaron. He'd give her one but then, in retaliation for something previous, would endeavor to flip her over in her tube. The resulting spash and dunking would destroy both Sara's beer and her cigarette, and so the cycle would continue. It was all very attention deficit disorder meets preteen sexuality and over time grew to be something of an annoyance, particularly near the end when there were no more beers and we realized that squandering them in childs play had been shortsighted (in the typical way in which humans as a species tend to be).
Periodically Jessika and Aaron would separate from us for a little while, which isn't unexpected when half a flotilla is comprised of a couple. This left Saras and me to talk about various things, which was interesting for me because I barely knew her at all. She told me, for example, about what is was like to be named by the Yogaville Swami and also about a recent depressing visit to relatives in Las Vegas, a land where absolutely everything is absolutely (and sometimes flamboyantly) artificial.
When we landed on a sandy beach for ten or fifteen minutes, we found it littered with beer cans. Saras was horrified and immediately collected all the rubbish and added it to our already-substantial cargo of crushed cans. Her heart was in the right place, but in the end her effort was for naught; by the time we landed we were so drunk and uncoordinated that most of our trash ended up being carried away by the river, along with the shittiest of our tubes.
Their rollicking wedgy & pigtail-pulling hijinks seemed to mask the fact that Saras and Aaron didn't really know what to do with themselves on a tubing adventure, particularly one of this duration. By contrast Jessika and me, the "mature" non-smokers in our flotilla, were doing what is easiest on the James: submitting completely to the will of the water. Periodically we'd lecture the others about the foolishness of wasting beers or chirp pleasantries about how this was the life. But it didn't seem that Aaron and Saras particularly agreed. At one point, after darkness fell and we'd been on the water for hours more than expected, Aaron suggested mutiny, that perhaps we should go ashore and find our way home without benefit of vehicular transportation. And then Saras proposed the magical hypothesis that perhaps the river was taking us a giant circles past the same landmarks, perhaps for all eternity. She feared we were trapped forever in a giant physics-defying Escher print!
But then, faintly at first, the rectangular features of the Route 20 bridge faded into view in the distance. Scottsville is located where Route 20 crosses the James and we knew that if we could just get to the bridge, our flotilla could finally make landfall. But that bridge grew at an agonizing pace, as if we were trapped on a stale pond in front of a painted set. And we weren't even sure the shapes in the distance were actually those of the bridge until we saw the headlights of a car driving across it. As we drew closer, it swelled to an impressive size, towering much higher over the water than I ever imagined it did.
When we landed it was midnight. Today's tubing had taken us eight hours. I could tell I'd been on my tube an unusually long time because I'd developed tube burns in my armpits. That was the first time that had ever happened.
Another indication of the damage I'd self-inflicted by eight hours of beer drinking came during the ride back to Charlottesville with Jessika. I suddenly felt like I needed to throw up, so I rolled down the window and started moaning. I felt a terrible acid burning in my stomach and then the light of my consciousness started growing dim, as if I was I was dying. Jessika pulled over and I stretched out on the grass. Doing this allowed me to recover rapidly, but I was regarding the rest of the evening's activities, I was finished. Saras and Aaron managed to drive to the Downtown Mall and successfully ordered a few drinks at Millers' despite the fact that they were barefoot. Later they all returned to Jessika's place, where I was stretched out unresponsive on the couch.
There had originally been a plan for us to all go see a traveling carnival/burlesque show called The Wunderkammer, but we'd returned far too late for that.
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