Spin a good yarn at the Lake View Inn and Wally the bartender may reward you with a free drink. When I arrived on a recent evening, my good friend Chuck Larson was just wrapping up some tale of woe about a rainy day of angling.
“Well, a bad day boating still beats a good day at work,” said Wally, employing a tired cliché to bring Chuck’s story time to a close.
“Hmm. I beg to differ,” said a voice from the end of the bar.
“How’s that, stranger?” Wally questioned, addressing a tall fellow in a Cubs cap, obviously a displaced person from south of the border—the Illinois border.
“You’re wrong about the boat and work. Make me an old fashioned, barkeep, and I’ll tell you a true story.”
Wally grabbed his muddle, and the stranger began his tale.
“It was 20 years ago, a hot Friday in August, and I left work early to spend the afternoon prepping my cabin cruiser for the weekend. She was at a star dock in Diversey Harbor. As I was walking across the parking lot, my least favorite client called my flip phone, and I had to answer. By the time he finished his 90-minute rant, I was completely aggravated. As I hurried down the dock, my elbow smacked a piling, and I dropped my phone into the water.
“I thought, ‘OK, I’m not going to let this ruin a perfect afternoon,’ so I rowed my dinghy out to the star dock and started cleaning the boat. I raised the hatch and climbed below to check the engine oil. At some point, I bumped the hydraulic ram with my shoulder and the end of the ram broke free, sending the hatch crashing down. I was not hurt, but the hatch must have weighed 400 pounds. I was trapped.
“The hatch was resting on the end of the ram, which left a gap of about 2 inches. I tried yelling for help, but the star dock was isolated. It was blazing hot, and I was soaked with sweat. Two hours passed. I was beginning to panic when, finally, I heard voices at the adjacent star dock! I screamed and yelled, and soon the other boat owner hopped aboard. Together, we could lift the hatch.
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“Filthy and exhausted, I decided I was done for the day. I rowed back to shore. When I got to my car, I searched my duffel for the keys, then saw them lying on the seat through the window. I was locked out of my car, barefoot, wearing only my swim trunks, with no phone and grubby as hell. Across the parking lot, two young women were sitting on the tailgate of an SUV. I told them I’d sit in the back if they would please give me a ride home. When they dropped me off at my building, I looked so rough, my own doorman asked me to leave. It was a fitting end to an especially bad day of boating, one I would have gladly exchanged for a few hours of work at my desk.”
As the stranger finished his tale, he reached for his wallet, but before he could pull out a bill, Wally shook his head and said, “Fellow, that story just earned you free drinks for life.” We all raised our glasses in agreement.