Troubled Tropics

Barry was a major pain  in the butt. He was loud and obnoxious, usually dressed inappropriately, and known for outrageous verbal outbursts that could silence a room instantly they were so mortifying. He was also a good friend, the kind who’d give the shirt off his back, although you probably wouldn’t want to wear it. He was also adventuresome and this had a tendency to get him into trouble, visiting it as well on anyone else with him.

It was a beautiful day in July when we rented scooters from a little shop Ft. Lauderdale. Four of us gathered on underpowered and wheezing vehicles that looked like bicycles without pedals. Like a motorcycle, they had twist grip throttles on the right and both handlebars had a brake lever. Left was the rear brake and right was front. There was no transmission, just a clutch that applied power when you applied throttle. They had a top speed of about 25 mph. The cherry on top was the outrageously blinding neon orange color they were painted. So bright, the you look at one and close your eyes and the after image remained for a few minutes.

We putted our way along the beach road in the bicycle lane, gawking at the beach and the scantily clad women sunning themselves on it. We passed a group of ladies playing volleyball and with our attention diverted, failed to notice the snow cone wagon parked in the bike lane until the last moment. We all just barely stopped in time, except for Barry, who was yelling something about how he really liked the bounces he was seeing as he oogled the players.  He hit the snow cone wagon at about half speed, dumping the bike and the snow cone stand. The owner of the stand wasn’t real thrilled and started yelling at Barry, and throwing clumps of crushed ice at him he scooped from the pavement.

His friends, we were obligated to come to his rescue and immediately started throwing handfuls of ice back at the stand owner as Barry yelled about getting a chilly reception. We heard an abbreviated howl of siren and saw that a police car was pulling over. The stand owner ran to the door of the car waving his arms and yelling. Barry took one look and jumped on his scooter and took off down the street. It was a pretty pathetic escape attempt, given the low power and speed of the scooter. My friend, Danny, yelled to the cop, now out of his car, “Don’t worry, we’ll catch the guy!” and took off after Barry. The rest of us followed.

Oddly enough, we got away. We crossed four lanes of lazy traffic and cut down an alley, then taking a switchback route away from the scene. Of course, we thought this wall all very funny and spent the next while cruising the streets and looking at some pretty nice houses with well tended yards. We’d totally forgotten the incident with the snow cone stand when we heard the same short yowl of police siren and looked back to see the cop we’d escaped with his arm out the window waving us over. Danny, Mark and I stopped, but Barry took off across the yard we were in front of. We watched nervously as Barry left ruts in the well tended grass and drove headlong into a hedge that was parallel with the street and about fifty feet back from the sidewalk. Barry zipped right through the hedge, leaving a gap where he’d hit it and disappeared behind the foliage. There was a loud splash just a couple of seconds after Barry vanished.

The cop jogged across the yard and slipped through the gap Barry left in the hedge, and the rest of us laid our scooters over and ran to follow and see what happened. We got through the hedge and there was Barry, treading water in a swimming pool, the scooter he was riding resting on the bottom. An older man who looked to be in his sixties stood in front of a lounge chair holding a newspaper and looking a bit outraged. Make that very outraged.

Barry paddled the the side of the pool where the cop grabbed his arm and one-handed him out of the pool and stood him up. Barry grinned and said he “always liked the make a big splash of an entrance.” Neither the cop nor the property owner thought he was very funny.  The owner complained that the property had been in his family for generations and that it had taken decades to grow the hedge and sculpt it to its current look. The scooter in the pool didn’t bother him that much, in spite of the oil slick now making to pool surface iridescent.  The cop took Barry’s wallet and then commanded him to get back in the pool and get the scooter to the shallow end so it could be retrieved. Barry complied while we watched. The officer got an angry look on his face when he looked at Barry and saw that his tee shirt depicted a fat pig wearing a police badge and mirrored aviator glasses with “I smell bacon!” emblazoned on it.

The cop asked to use the home owner’s phone and was pointed to an extension resting on a little table between two chairs shaded by an umbrella. We couldn’t hear the conversation, but about 15 minutes later a pickup truck pulled to the curb. The officer had herded us out to the front lawn where he was joined by a couple of other cops. The guy who ran the scooter rental place got out of the pickup truck and one by one grabbed the three scooters we’d left at the curb and put them into the truck. The cop sent Mark to go get and wheel the dunked bike from where it sat next to the pool, admonishing him to use the pathway and gate and not drag it through the gap in the hedge. When he got back, the cop told us that we could go, but we should be more particular in who we hung out with. Barry started to leave with us when the cop grabbed his arm and said “Not you.”

We idled around a little, not sure whether we should leave our friend or what, but the policeman told us to get on the move or take a ride to the police station. We all gave Barry a look and shrugged and then we took off, not wanting to share the horrors Barry was no doubt about to meet. We returned to the hotel where our families were staying.

When my parents returned from an afternoon of visiting friends they sent my sister to her room, asking for a bit of privacy as they wished to speak with me. “You’re gonna get it now!” snickered my sister as she skipped into her room and closed the door.

“Well, young man. Let’s have it. What were you and your little friends thinking?” Obviously they knew of the days events. I said it was no big deal and they begged to differ. “John Newcome had to pay significant damages for the destruction of property and also pay for the replacement of a rental scooter. He and his wife are already on a plane home with Barry. They cut their vacation short, humiliated by your shenanigans.”

“My shenanigans? I didn’t do anything. I was just there.” I plead.

“Did you make any effort to stop Barry?” grilled my father.

“No sir. I didn’t.” It was always best to call my dad sir when the fat was in the fire.

“Then you’re as guilty as he is.”

“Now, Kirk,” my mom injected. “Sometimes things happen around you that you have no control over.”

Looking at me. “Did you participate in the snow cone fight with the vendor?” dad asked. I admitted that yes, I did. “So, there you have it. You were a part of all of this. Participating is what’s called de facto support or even tacit support. ”

“Yes, sir.” I replied meekly.

I got a serious lecture on morality and the following day I found myself the indentured servant of the snow cone guy. His name was Gene and he was a pretty cool guy. He did keep me busy though, making cones and working the passers-by hawking iced treats. In the end, I decided I got off light. When the job and day were over I was released from the family doghouse and spent the next few vacation days doing family based excursions and visiting.

Having met them at the hotel, once we traveled back north to Connecticut and home, I never saw Barry, Mark, or Danny again. I sometimes wonder how their lives turned out and decided the fates must have treated them as average, not unlike me.

But seeing Barry fly through the hedge and then hearing the splash still makes me smile and I suspect that either the hedge was regrown or else there’s a Wal Mart sitting on the land.