We set out from a two-man launch, just a pair of sunburnt teens, buzz-cutting and running and spraying and splashing across a series of slow-rippling wakes. The wind was whipping past in stringent fits now, playing hell on loose hair and lifejackets as we approached a tiny inlet where the ocean meets the bay. Meghan spun the left-hand throttle, slingshotting clear across my bow. We were zipping back and forth now, crisscrossing Jarvis Channel like a pair of wild west cowboys – high-flying if not fearless, undeterred by flashing lights and floating buoys. Out here on the open seas the sudden shock of water felt like baptism. Out here on the open seas the two of us felt stoned; we were idlewild.
Meghan and I had fallen into a habit of arriving very late in the afternoon, engaging in several minutes’ worth of small talk with her mother before we mounted dual waverunners, zigzagging clear across the Sunset Lake. Once we reached the gaping entrance to the Intracoastal Waterway, the two of us would throttle down, goosed forearms draped and dripping over miniature black consoles, the constant bob and plunge of lapping currents all around.
And then – without fail – one or both of us would spot them; an entire school of bottlenose dolphin, cycling west to east in parallel factions, smooth heads bobbing up and over just like pistons … up and over, round and through, as they wound their way out past the breakers, our vantage point panoramically shifting, sightlines fading slow from snout to dorsal. Minutes later the faintest trace of them was gone, leaving Meghan and I alone out on the high seas, slow to ponder just how long we might remain before doubling back toward the shore.
Frontier clouds went settling in; the evening tide took hold.
Meghan and I shared one day off a week throughout that summer. More often than not, these 24-hour periods were considered sacrosanct, perhaps even ceremonial. Early mornings were reserved for sunrise, matching omelets before bike-riding down the promenade. Afternoons were set aside for beach time, summer reading and then surfing in between our barefoot tete-a-tetes. Island mid-days were for waverunning; showering up, then screwing ’round beneath the crisp, fresh-laundered sheets. Early evenings meant fine dining – New York strip steak at the Boathouse or New England chowder ala Wharf; raviolis down at Alfie’s or apple crumb at nearby Groff’s. Twilight meant the boardwalk, racing go-karts beneath Surfside after we tripped the air-conditioned stores. Midnight calm, it meant relaxing; Meghan sipping on wine coolers as I downed a lonely six of beer.
The whole damn thing felt so organic – right time and right place, right backdrop for two people fit for falling deep in love. There were no deceptions nor distractions, no expectations nor conditions; there were no set terms nor term limits, no inset stigmata forming the brand of past relationships. There were only two sun-stricken teens, quasi-reveling in the notion they had found whatever it is most people set out looking for.
Certain August evenings, the two of us would simply sit there ’round my table, chain-link Tiffany hanging down from overhead, mapping out a list of destinations we planned on visiting during our upcoming road trip. We’d stack a pile of cassettes up on the radio, sifting through them based on vibe. Every now and again, Meghan would even fall asleep there in the shadows beside me, both of us setting separate alarms to ensure she beat her father home from work.
The silent times, they always represented the very best of times, particularly because we had so fleeting few of them to spare.
There was an attraction known as The Slingshot set up along the southwest side of Surfside Pier that summer. This attraction was comprised of a cast-iron gondola held in place by a magnetic lever, the entire mechanism situated in between a pair of 150-foot steel girders. Dual riders were secured via a plethora of belts and harnesses, the two-seat gondola fastened to an intricate network of elastic cables, all of which were subsequently stretched onto their breaking point via a series of slow-grinding pulleys.
Once both riders were secure, a nearby henchman would pull back upon the lever, thereby releasing a magnetic latch, which, in turn, sent the cast-iron gondola hurtling toward space at wind-speed velocities approaching Mach 5. At its pinnacle (approximately 200 feet in the air), the adjoining cables would stretch out like a parabola, forcing the entire gondola to ratchet back upon itself, reversing directions before free-falling to earth.
The liability insurance was astronomical, which is part of why The Slingshot cost a whopping $25 to ride (the ancillary reasons being slow turnover, combined with a max capacity of one pair of customers per run). Meghan and I had been daring each other to step aboard The Surfside Slingshot since the first week of July, and on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 16th, we finally got our chance.
We had run into The Slingshot’s foreman at a party a few nights before, at which point he insisted he could let us ride for free. True to his word, that foreman welcomed us with open arms the following Tuesday – strapped us in, then waved goodbye.
“Three … two … one … FLY!” someone exclaimed.
What followed was a rush akin to taking nitrous; a booming shot toward the heavens with no filter in between … Meghan screaming as the pressure wheezed through purging ears. Nineteen stories high the engines petered out, perspectives churning as the beachfront lots unfurled beneath us – a thousand squares of island real estate extending out beyond back bay, beyond the bridges and deep marshes, beyond the flatlands and decay, beyond it all until they disappeared onto a point into the sky.
I craned my neck. Were we really that high? Would we ever be that high again?
(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB)