Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Sometimes you need blue skies and water, and so last weekend my friend Gina and I made plans to take a boat ride. We would drive a couple hours to a big lake, rent a pontoon and putter around.

“Easy,” I said, “like driving a Volkswagen on the water.”

I’d settled on the pontoon after considering the less expensive option of a small motor boat, an idea the farmer rejected with a loud, definitive No!

“Laverne and Shirley in a boat,” he said. “You’ll hurt yourselves.”

So a pontoon it would be. We packed the car with enough snacks for a large company picnic and headed north.

“You ever driven a boat before?” asked the teenager as he signed me in. “It’s like driving a car with no brakes.” It would be the first of several times the “brake” thing would come up.

We were met on the dock by a man who, if he wasn’t Willie Nelson’s twin, then was at least a brother or a first cousin because, seriously, this guy could totally pass. He showed us how to drive, and then reminded us about the brakes.

“You’re a big, floating bar of soap,” he said as I took the wheel.

I was about to find out just how big and floatatious and, shockingly, lacking in agency we were. To get to the open water I had to navigate through a space made narrower by my inexperience and also, by the larger pontoon headed toward us.

Gina, aka Gilligan, was saying something about his not seeing us and I was trying to spin that wheel enough to the right to get away from him.

“Headed for that sailboat,” Gina said, pointing to the starboard side with enough urgency that I suffered a panic attack right there, at the helm, just 10 feet from the dock. Reflexively, I was pushing at the floor with my right foot.

Where the brake is supposed to be.

The open water was vast. Although there were sailboats dotting the horizon and a few small fishing boats way off to the sides, I was a jittery mess, worried that I would get too close and, without brakes, would crash. It was a two-hands-on-the-wheel-and-all-eyes-on-the-road kind of day. The whole time I ate exactly two chips, which is so not like me.

Gina was a good first mate, pointing out oncoming boats. She should have been looking for eagles to photograph, and would have, if only I’d been able to relax.

People who have jumped out of airplanes will say nerves ruin the first part, and when you finally relax into the flying, it’s time to start worrying about the landing.

Just as I was getting comfortable with the boat, it was time to start worrying. I would have to navigate back through the channel into the dock.

I was wrong; driving a boat is nothing like driving a Volkswagen on the water. It felt more like snowtubing. And now I would have to find a way to slide into home plate.

Two young boys were at the dock, waving me into the slip. I was going so slowly I suspect my own wake was pushing me forward.

“Give it some gas,” one of the boys shouted. I did, and slammed into the dock with an embarrassing thwack.

“Good job,” said the younger of the boys. I’m sure they whispered something bad about me as I walked away.

As we left, Willie Nelson was sitting there.

“Made it back alive,” I said.

“I saw you crash into the dock,” he said.

I told him those boats should have brakes.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at cootiej@aol.com.

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