Wednesday, May 12, 2010

And she shall be named Arlo

During my last summer in Seattle, I worked for a kayak shop. I loved the place, despite the enormous dept we had sunk into, and the terrible business ideals we practiced, and the constant phone calls from angry reps demanding we pay at least a portion of the money we owed. I loved the place because they payed me to write long blog posts about the grand canyon that nobody read, and when it was slow (it was always slow) we held flat water rodeos on the lake outside our doorstep.
But one thing stood between me and total employment bliss: I worked weekends. And oh, how I hated working weekends. I had myself convinced that I would have to work weekends for the rest of my life, and therefore never assimilate into that perfect group of weekend-warrior friends, or be able to maintain a meaningful relationship. I would float forever in that sad pool of people who have random week days off and never get to go on any adventures.

Unfortunately, throughout that summer, that sentiment was proved correct many times over.

The worst day that season had to be the time that everyone went rafting. Everyone but me, of course. Someone had to hold down the fort, even though we had stopped getting any customers weeks before. I had a very handsome coworker named Ryan, who had a wispy, Title 9 cover model of a girlfriend. I do not mean that she could have been a cover model, I mean that her cheekily cap and scarved face adorned the cover of three separate waterlogged catalogs next to my toilet, which is where I read them.

Between the two of them, they had a handful of friends who were either handsome or pretty, all young and enthusiastic, all fresh from the beach or the cliff or the campfire. And all of them were so very close to becoming my friends, all I needed to cement them into place was one solid, mutual adventure.

The day they went rafting was a Saturday. They showed up as I was opening the shop, a whole truck load of fresh faced, glossy haired 20-something holding reusable mugs full of shade grown coffee. Ryan and the other boys shoved an inflatable raft into a truck already loaded down with cartons of New Belgium beer while the girls stood around and informed me in voices full of easy laughter that they were heading for an overnighter on the Skykomish. The Skykomish, my favorite river. And they were overnighting it, complete with campfire. And stories. And many many occurrences that would later surface obnoxiously in dinner conversations in the form of "remember that time, when we overnighted the Skykomish......oh wait, that's right, you weren't there!"

As they drove off in a cloud of dust and indie music, I sat miserably on the cement stairs in front of the store, feeling the inadequacy of my life bloom around my feet. I would have given an eyeball to go with them.

I never did assimilate into that group of friends, the kayak shop fell apart at the hinges, and eventually I left Seattle in search of greener pastures which, much to my surprise, I found.


Just last weekend, I woke up and trundled outside to see the most luscious, technicolor sky I had ever seen. I wanted to lick it. I said to myself, "This is going to be one hell of a good day, I can feel it!" Gung ho was I!

My friend Cat lured me over to her place with the promise of a big breakfast. When I stopped by, just planning on a few pancakes and then off to work, I found our friend Cooper trying to coral everyone into going rafting. And everyone was saying no for one reason or another. And I say no, because I don't have any of my stuff I'm supposed to work I don't feel like driving blah blah blah. . . .

I collected my things and headed to the car, and as I turned the ignition, a memory floated back to me. I saw a younger me, a smoking college athlete body (RIP), cute little wardrobe (RIP), and the absolute rock-bottom sadness of being left behind. And I thought to myself, it's been two years since that day at the kayak shop, have I learned absolutely nothing? And with a sudden burst of energy like the kind tiny little mothers use to pull monster trucks off their babies, I leaped out of the car, hollered to Cooper to WAIT! I'M A-COMIN! and I drove home through the traffic and construction, grabbed my paddling gear, threw down an iced coffee in record time, and showed up just in time to drive to the river.

Cooper told us we would be back in time for dinner, and I knew this was a complete lie because of how late we were leaving, but I kept quiet. Poor Rachel had a few graduation dinners to attend, and it was her birthday, so there were a few parties behind held in honor as well. And since she was leaving for Africa the next day for the rest of her life, there might have been a bit of final packing she wanted to get done. Well, we didn't put on that river until 4:30, which is extraordinarily late time to put on a river, and the wind blew us upstream the entire time, and as David and Cooper grew increasingly drunk throughout the day, they became increasingly ineffective as guides. Needless to say, dark fell, the moon rose, and we were still paddling.

Needless to say, I loved every wild moment. Every time we were blown into an eddy and David would holler "Paddle forward. Change of plans. Paddle backward. Good. Change of plans. Paddle forward." Every time one of us would lose our footing during a rapid and flop like a fish on the inflatable floor (I'm killing it with alliteration!) Every luxurious mile with nothing but sun and rapids and pools and beer and hilarious laughter cause, when you're rafting, everything seems funny.

As the sun set, Cooper treated us to a long and impossibly accurate version of Alice's Restaurant by Alro Guthrie, and I decided to name my first child, boy or girl, Arlo.

Arlo, in honor of a life spend outside plowing through rapids with handsome friends. After all, that's how I met Will. A month of rapids in the Grand Canyon in deep winter. And it's worked out well for us.
After four hours or so, Rachel and I grew so cold we were about to chop our teeth in half with our shivering. Towards mile eleven, we came across a fire burning on the side of the river and a host of colorful tents and people strolling around playing bean bag toss (which, by the way, is called "corn hole" down in these parts. Yuuup.) I figured it was a church camp; we were in Tennessee, after all. But we pulled over anyway and tied up the rafts, and hoofed it over to the fire to warm up. You should have seen the looks we were given, us in our long underwear and blue fleece onesies and PFDs with the ropes and safety gear. We looked like strangers to the planet entirely.

It turns out, we were crashing not a church camp, but the end of the year celebration of a local medical school. Which means we were surrounded by swathes of young doctors in leisure mode. CHA CHING. There was even a three string bluegrass band singing Wagon Wheel (what else) to set the mood. "Cooper!" I hissed. "This here is the perfect place to find a potential life mate!"

So David and Cooper generously decided to leave Rachel and I by the fire as they paddled away to the take-out. "Go find yourself a doctor!" They shouted as they faded away into the darkness.

So we sat there and waited for the doctors to rain down upon us, propose marriage and make us trophy wives. It was obvious we were healthy and active and of child bearing age, what else could they ask for? Sure enough, after just a few minutes, a young man in an Arcteryx jacked approached us, studied us with his head sideways and and then said, " guys.....look like you....float good. huh."

I was prepared to overlook this, this worst pickup line ever delivered, because he was a doctor. "Look," I whispered to Rachel, "he's wearing Arcteryx, definitely a doctor." (In case you weren't aware, Arcteryx is a brand so pricey it makes Patagonia look like the stuff of the church garmet sale.)

Well, it turns out, he wasn't a doctor, or a nurse, or even an orderly. He was a raft guide for the NOC base on the Nolichucky. In fact, every boy who talked to us that night was a raft guide. I wanted to say, "Gentlemen, I don't mean to be impolite, but we can have conversations with raft guides any old time. We're here for the Meds." But unfortunately for us and our futures, the doctors took no heed to two waterlogged adventuresses. Not even Rachel, and she's gorgeous. Perhaps it was the fleece onesies with the drop seats, but the doctors stood with their backs to us the whole night with the pretty brunette girls who, at age 26, were already accomplished pediatric oncologists.
When Dennis, our scraggly kayaker who had long ago ditched us for the warmth of the car finally appeared by the fire to usher us away, we were happy to take our leave. And truth be told, Dennis is five times more handsome than any MD I've ever seen.

On the two hours of stomach twisting roads back to Boone, I sat tired and content in the front seat. I thought again of that morning in Seattle, and I was so proud of myself for transforming my life into what it had become.

Looking back on it, I suppose it was the last time I was ever really that happy in North Carolina.


Tracy said...

Arlo?! Oh Lina, I don't know about that one.

Melina said...

What is I spell it Arlow with a w?

Wait, scratch that. No W.

You'll learn to love it!

Katie said...

Lina, I want your life.

Heather Ann said...

I like it. And I love your writing. And I love you even more. Sounds like a fun adventure, I hope I have some of those if I land in NC!! (P.S. I also LOVE the new site!)

Abby Crahan said...

oh melina-- this makes me feel like i was there with you!! i love this post. it is so boone.

Ryan said...

I am sorry you didn't go rafting that weekend. I did feel bad driving away... Did I mention how fun it was;) Glad to hear you're doing well in NC!

rdudasik said...

it was, in fact, the best birthday on record. good music, great adventure, and the best friends any gal could ever ask for. thank you, melina, for making it a memorable (and well-documented) one. i will try to keep you updated with my new adventures here, although they will make me miss you so...