If you ever run into my father, ask him to tell you about the time he went swimming off the coast of Rio de Janeiro and got caught in a rip current. It’s a good story even if you already know the best part, which I’m about to tell you (sorry, Dad). As he was being carried out to sea, facing the possibility of an imminent, unpleasant death, he wasn’t thinking about just how far from the beach he was drifting, or whether his affairs were in order, or even the skill level of the Brazilian lifeguard staff. He was thinking about how, once he got home safe, he’d tell the story.
I come from a long line of storytellers, and whenever anything the least bit out of the ordinary happens to me, I find myself doing exactly what my father did in that rip current.
And so it was, just yesterday, as I directed traffic on Route 6A, stopping first one lane and then the other so cars could get around our boat, which had crashed down in the middle of the road when one of the tires came off the trailer.
We were on our way to the Millway ramp in Barnstable to check our lobster traps. Kevin had baited them on Sunday morning, and we figured 36 hours would give the lobsters lots of time to crawl in, but not enough time to get out. When we were just a couple miles from our destination, we heard a thunk, and we turned to each other and said, in unison, those four little words that strike fear in the hearts of trailer-towers everywhere: What was that noise!?
We found out about 100 feet later, when the tire flew off and the trailer collapsed in the road. I won’t bore you with the details; suffice it to say that leaf springs were involved.
We did everything you’re supposed to do when something like this happens to you (it does happen to other people, doesn’t it?). Kevin took charge of traffic. I called 911, and the dispatcher told me that a police officer was on the way. I called AAA, and they told me they would have nothing to do with boats, and that we were on our own. Kevin was in the process of calling a local towing company when the aforementioned police officer arrived on the scene.
It was that cop who doomed my story. From the moment he arrived on the scene, nothing remotely interesting happened. He took charge of traffic, and drivers waited patiently, first in one direction and then the other, as the other cars went through the single lane that was open. He called the towing company, and they said they’d send a flatbed right away. Kevin apologized for screwing up traffic on one of the busiest roads on the Cape just as school was letting out and people were beginning to leave work, and the cop told him not to worry, it happens all the time.
The neighbor whose lawn our tire had rolled onto and whose grass was being driven on by cars giving our boat a wide berth came out to chat, and said he was sorry we were having such a rough day. The same thing had happened to his son just last week.
And then came the flatbed. I half expected the driver, whose name, we found out later, was Peter, to take one look at the collapsed trailer and say, “I can’t tow that.” But he didn’t. He simply pulled up in front of it and got to work.
Peter looks a little like Sonny Bono in his Sonny and Cher days, with straight hair and a 70’s-style mustache. He also seemed to have something of Sonny’s cheerful disposition. Our situation didn’t faze him in the slightest, and it took him no more than about ten minutes to get the boat and trailer on his flatbed.
His first priority was to get out of the street, so he told us to meet him in the parking lot at a school about a half-mile away. He wanted to check that the boat was on the truck securely before he drove it to our house.
We shook hands with the police officer and thanked him for his help, and followed Peter to the school.
As he checked things and we gave him directions to our house, I had a thought. A flatbed tow truck is a pretty amazing thing. The bed has hydraulic controls that slide it back off the chassis of the truck, and tilt it down. Would it be possible, I wondered, to launch the boat from the flatbed? If we backed the truck right up to the ramp, slid the bed all the way back and down, could we roll the boat off the broken trailer and into the water?
If you’ve never fixed a boat trailer, you may not know that one of the difficulties is that it usually breaks while the boat is on it. This presents a serious problem, as fixing a trailer is a much more difficult and dangerous proposition if the trailer is loaded with 1600 pounds of boat. And, if you can’t get the trailer to the water, it’s really hard to get the boat off the trailer. It can be done, but it’s a process that involves boat stands and brute strength and trees, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
So, when I asked Peter whether he thought we could launch from the flatbed, a lot was hanging on his answer. I expected him to frown, or to laugh, or to give me one of those pitying looks that capable people give incapable people when they make unrealistic suggestions. But he didn’t. He considered the question, smiled, and said, “I think we could.”
We wanted to put the boat into our pond at the ramp a few houses down from us, so we could walk it down to our house (there’s a ten-horsepower limit, so we couldn’t fire it up) and anchor it there. It turns out that Peter knew exactly what ramp we were talking about; he’s our neighbor and he brings his kids to swim there all the time. He said he figured he wouldn’t have trouble getting the flatbed down there.
He had no trouble at all. He backed it up to the water, we slid the boat into the pond, and he took the trailer to our house. And, get this: no extra charge. Also, no interesting interactions, no funny mishaps, nothing whatsoever that would make this a good story.
Nobody was hurt, the boat wasn’t damaged, the trailer is salvageable. The police officer was efficient and understanding. The drivers we inconvenienced gave no signs of irritation; there were many rueful smiles as they went by. The tow-truck driver was as helpful and competent as it is possible to be.
What a bore.