How We Became the Griswolds

Matt and I went out to eat tonight at one of my favorite restaurants. On our way home, we drove over one of the many bridges that span the lake. It was a great day for the boat owners to get out with their “toys”. We saw lots of families out on their boats or wave runners, enjoying the last few hours of sun before the new work week begins.

Living in a town dominated by a lake is an experience. Everyone seems perpetually tan. The second question (after “What do you do?”) that most people ask upon meeting you is “Do you own a boat?” The attraction of spending hours cruising the lake appears to most as impossible to resist.
Matt and I do not own a boat, but I have spent my fair share on the water. For most of my life, my father, Tom, has owned a boat of some variety. Sometimes it was a fishing boat, sometimes a ski boat. Once it was a little jet boat. He has even owned a cabin cruiser upon which he and his girlfriend lived for several years. He has kept his boats on lakes, on the Intracoastal Waterway, and even on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, where he currently resides. The type of boat may have changed, but I don’t think that he would ever be comfortable without ready access to the water.
With so much experience on boats, in different types of environments, most would assume that a trip with Tom would be fairly routine. This would be an incorrect assumption — something always seems to go wrong. The engine blows, or the plug is missing (I swear that happened, like the stopper was gone), or there is water in the line. It is always an adventure just to get started on a boating trip with Tom.
My favorite and most memorable trip with Tom, however, began before we even got in the water. Sometime late in my teens, we decided to go and visit my Aunt Linda and Uncle Philip in Charleston, SC. As part of the trip, we would haul the boat to the Intracoastal Waterway near Myrtle Beach, SC, load up and cruise the waterway south to Charleston. The journey would as much fun as the destination.
The trip to Myrtle Beach was routine until we hit the small town of Conway, SC. As we were driving through the town, the engine on our Ford Bronco died. Tom was able to coast into the parking lot of an Amoco gas station and assess the situation. It should come as no surprise that Tom’s luck with boat engines carried over to car engines; something was always dying, breaking, blowing up, smoking or doing other things equally as expensive.
Tom had a plan. He knew a local that could help us. His name was “Spanky”. Spanky would know who to call to get us out of this jam and back on our way. First thing Spanky was going to do was call the Ford dealership to get help for us with the Bronco. They would come, tow the Bronco, quickly get it fixed and we would be on our way in no time.
As the minutes progressed into hours, we had no choice but to make the best of the situation. Stuck in a parking lot, in the middle of summer in South Carolina, sitting in our broken down car wasn’t an option. Sitting on the boat, still on its trailer, was a much better option. Ashleigh had on her headphones, listening to her music, sun-bathing, pretty much ignoring the rest of us. Mom sat in the co-captain’s chair, sun-bathing, reading her book. I tried to lie down on one of the bow seats, keeping my head low from the people who continued to drive by and shout directions to the water, while Tom sat on the dive platform, drinking beer, swinging his feet back and forth, waving at all the passersby.
For four hours, we sat in our boat, in the parking lot of the gas station, enjoying our vacation. We even sat there for a while without the Bronco after the dealership tow truck came and towed it away and before Spanky could come with his truck to hook up the boat. At least we had access to the gas station’s restrooms, but it definitely felt like a “Griswold” vacation.
The dealership had to order a part in order to fix the Bronco, and by that time it was too late to put into the water. We did not spend the night on the boat in the parking lot of the gas station, but slept in a hotel. We cast off the next day for Charleston, leaving the truck behind for repairs until we returned. I remember my Aunt Linda and Uncle Philip getting a good laugh out of that story.
Over the years, we have also laughed at this memory, at how silly a family of four must of looked sitting in a gas station parking lot, in a boat, on a trailer, doing the things that you do when you’re on the water. Of course, with gas prices as high as they are now, I’m surprised that I don’t see more families enjoying their boats in their driveways (or a gas station) instead of the water. I did learn that day that the water isn’t what makes a boat fun — the people in the boat are the reason that boating is fun.

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