Barney walked them over to an adjoining dock, separated from the slew of mono-colored wave runners. He held out his hand to two jets bobbing by themselves, as if they were bad children sent to a time out.
“I think this is what you’re looking for!” said Barney.
Confused, Garrett replied, “They’re pink! I said we want to go fast, not look like we’re going to get our nails done!”
Another deep laugh. “Wolf in sheep clothing, young man!” said Barney. “Trust me.”
Staring at each other. John, hoping for a more docile ride, said, “They look fine to me.”
Exhaling a deep, reluctant sigh, Garrett surrendered. “A-l-l right.”
Barney walked them through the safety procedures, instructing them not to go beyond any of the orange buoys. He said one of the instructors was always out on the water and would tell them when their time expired and warned them to always look out for other riders. When he finished, they both crouched down and threw a leg over the hot pink seats.
“Just slip that bracelet on your wrist,” said Barney, pointing to the rubber chain that looked like a smaller version of an old rotary dial phone cord. It attached to a black button just below the green starter button. “That’s your lanyard. If you fall off, that’ll engage the kill switch, so you won’t have to swim far to rejoin your pink lady!”
Garrett pressed the green button. His pink lady came alive with a deep throaty purr, water churning behind his seat from the propeller forcing liquid though the jet. He glanced at John who was still trying to get situated.
“See ya!” Garrett shouted, rolling the throttle slightly and exiting the slip.
John watched as Garrett steered to his left and rolled harder on the throttle. In three seconds, he was gone. Touching his green button, John’s pink lady squealed like a pig. A second try. Again, the starter spun, but didn’t turn over.
Looking to Barney. “Maybe I don’t know how?”
Smiling. “Sure you do! It’s as easy as riding a bike. It hasn’t run for a while. Try it again!”
“Okay,” John said, pushing the button a third time, igniting a spark that brought his wave runner rumbling to life. A haze of white smoke rose from her rear.
“You might want to put those on,” said Barney, waving his pointer finger up and down at John’s glasses. “You might lose them if you don’t.”
Heeding Barney’s warning, John slid the glasses on, although he found the request odd, since the glasses were harnessed to a strap around his neck. After one last glance at Barney, who had a nefarious look on his face and offered a thumbs up, John slowly rolled his right hand.
The pink lady purred a little louder as she moved from her slip and continued along Garrett’s path. When he felt safely away from the dock, John rolled the throttle a bit farther, causing the rear end to sink deeper and the bow to lift. The smooth power and quick pace instantly made John smile from ear to ear; he was shooting through the harbor with tickled adrenaline, dancing on top of the blue green water like an ice skater. He could almost hear Mozart singing in his head.
For twenty minutes he glided through the harbor, literally footloose and carefree. The gulls above seemed to mimic his nonchalant riding technique, as if their flight bore no purpose other than the sheer joy of stretching their wings. The only time he was reminded there were other riders blasting through the harbor was when their wake crossed his path. Ironically, John’s indifference to everything but the moment fueled deep emotions. He found himself laughing, crying, and screaming at any given moment for no reason other than he felt like it. Carson the Dragon was alive, exhaling a gentle flame.
Finally throttling down, John sat idly watching kids scream and dance, the way only youth can. Garrett carved doughnuts and figure eights out of a small patch of water, contorting his body and machine in a violent manner, testing both limitations. A couple of minutes passed before he took a break to talk with John.
“Hell yeah!” Garrett said, draping his forearms over the handle bars. “These things are a blast!”
“I have to admit, it’s a lot more fun than I thought it would be,” John said, a calm satisfied expression on his face.
“I passed you a couple times,” Garrett jabbed. “You didn’t look. You ride like a kite in a tame breeze.”
“I didn’t…I guess, I was just taking it all in. You know, enjoying the moment.”
“Nothing wrong with that. I’m just giving you shit. Hey, you ready to throw down? See which one of these bitches has more balls.”
“I don’t know…mine’s pretty fast.”
“Are you kidding? I don’t think yours is even warmed up. Did you even turn your throttle half way yet?”
“I used enough gas to get me going pretty good, I thought.”
“Let’s race to the other side of the bay.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, John. It’s just a straight line. We’ll start from a dead stop and just let these bitches go!”
Thinking for a moment, concluding that as long as they were clear of other riders, there wouldn’t be any harm. It wasn’t like they were drag racing through town or anything. They were on water, in a giant open space. “Okay. But we go when I say it’s safe. I don’t want to see another boat or ski anywhere near us. K?”
“I’ll say go when you say ready.”
“Let’s start from over there,” John said, pointing to the non-beach side of the harbor, vacant of any activity. “We can go as far as the orange markers. That’s a good ways and there’s nobody over there.”
“Sounds like a plan. Let’s do it.”
Riding over to the starting line with the preliminary pace of race horses being escorted to their gates, John made them separate by a good twenty yards and removed his sunglasses, allowing them to hang over his life vest to ensure unobstructed peripheral vision. Garrett reached inside his vest and dried his hands the best he could on his wetsuit. The pink ladies gurgled idly as John scanned the water for any potential dangers. When he felt it was safe he turned to Garrett.
“Okay. I think we’re pretty good. If we see anyone headed our way, we stop, deal?”
“When I say ready.
One last look around, and then… “Ready!”
Both riders rolled their throttles back as far as they would go.
John would later equate the next twenty seconds to what it must feel like for a baby to be ripped from his mother’s womb, thrown down the birth canal, and shot through a half open door into a pool of saltwater—but at light speed.
The rear of John’s machine dropped with so much force it was as if a great white was taking it down. The power, though strong and immediate, doubled every second. The kitty’s purr instantly grew to a lion’s roar. His Chiefs hat jumped off his head like it was caught on a fisherman’s hook. He clenched the grips tighter and tighter, praying for a pinnacle of force. The ski’s fuel injectors yawned wide, inhaling gas. The outside corners of his eyes flattened towards his ears and the incoming air pried his mouth wide open to his jaw bone limits, making his cheeks flap like clothesline laundry in a twenty-five mile an hour wind. He thought if any flying insect got caught in the suction, they would tear his tonsils through the back of his neck. If the concept of horizontal gravity existed, John was falling. This was the reason nobody tried parachuting from the side of a jet at Mach ten. His leash became a choker. The new sunglasses pulled their damnedest to free their arms from their sleeves. The power finally peaked, but John couldn’t slow down, his throttle wrist locked in full backward position. Spray sheered off the bow and onto John’s grips until, in a blink, the pink lady went on without him. It was as if he’d squatted, clenching a football with his ass, and someone came up from behind and kicked it through.
An instructor had been watching from a distance. Barney had earlier radioed him to keep an eye on the two riding the pink tampons—the moniker given by the instructors for the two souped up wave runners normally reserved for expert riders. He had witnessed John and Garret’s take-off and was making his way to John’s hat before the fall.
“Are you all right?” asked the instructor, wearing a more traditional length bathing suit.
“I think so,” John spit.
“I see she buck you!”
“Probably a good thing. I think if I stayed on any longer, we’d have taken flight.” John’s lanyard had done its job. His pink lady rested thirty feet away, her throat choked by the shut-off switch. Chuckling, the instructor took John’s hand and slowly towed him back to the ski.
“Here’s your hat.”
Really, John thought. The instructors’ names are Fred and Barney? “That doesn’t sound like a Haitian name?”
Laughing. “My dad’s from Ohio. He met my mother here when he was in the Peace Corp.”
Returning from the finish line, Garrett had his own struggles hanging on and never saw John fall. “Are you okay, John?”
“Yeah. I think the only thing hurt is my ego.”
“I think we got our money’s worth! These things look like tits on the outside, but they’re all balls on the inside!”
“You got that right. I don’t know if I can ride any more though, Garrett.”
“You don’t have to,” said Fred, tapping his diver’s watch. “Good news! Your time is up.”
“Thank God!” John said, climbing aboard and driving at a snail’s pace back to shore.