The ride from San Marcos to San Pedro was rocky again. We might have waited another day to make the trip, but we were out of cash and San Marcos is without a single bank or ATM.
I sat in the back row of the boat, second to the left. Leftmost sat an American man in his late seventies. His wife, wearing an identical Columbia hiking shirt, sat one row ahead of us, all the way to the right. She was alert, alternating glances between the other passengers and the rising waves, now determined to roll us like a toy boat in a bathtub, while his blank stares and occasional grunts suggested he might be slowing down.
They’d been taking Spanish lessons and were headed to San Juan for that very reason. I asked if the classes were helping. They’d resurrected words and phrases he’d known fifty years ago but that had long been dormant. We agreed that language works that way. Then he noted that I haven’t known anything for even close to fifty years, and chuckled a chuckle that quickly morphed into a sigh, what he’d said or why it was funny already out of grasp.
Suddenly a jolt of fresh energy shot through him, from the feet up, and in an attempt to volley the conversation back to me, determined not to let it drown on his watch, he raised his right hand and pointed out that there were thirty-four of us on the boat, not including the driver, but only seven life jackets. He was right, only seven life jackets hung from the ceiling, all on the left side. Despite the treacherous waters, the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.
It seemed natural that a man his age should be the one to notice such a thing, and a cruel reality that, if panic prevailed, he’d be the least likely passenger to secure a life vest and make it to shore.
I told him to enjoy the Spanish classes when I got off at San Pedro.
He studied my face suspiciously, trying to figure how I knew he was taking classes. Too proud to ask, he simply left me with:
One Way to Get Off a Boat
[On a small passenger boat from San Marcos to Santa Cruz; woman behind me is telling a story to the man beside her; waters are choppy and the boat is rocking severely; a few people within earshot are talking about what to do if the boat flips on sinks; the body of the boat is covered while the front and back are open, making it easiest for the passengers at the front and back to escape, and most difficult for passengers in the middle; we’re all in the middle]
“I was on a boat from [somewhere] to Ireland. It was a big boat and the weather was getting worse by the minute. What was supposed to be a four-hour trip turned into twenty-two hours.”
“Once we’d all boarded, but not all of the cars has been loaded, and they were having trouble loading the cars, the weather took a turn for the worse. We were obviously still docked, but they were trying to make up for lost time and made an announcement that they were no longer letting anyone on or off the boat.”
“Upon discovering that he couldn’t get off the boat even if he wanted to, one man panicked. Soon it grew from an initial confrontation and mild bantering to a full-blown panic attack. Still, they wouldn’t let him off and instead had him escorted to his room.”
“So what did he do? He gathered all of the tissue paper, all of the towels, pamphlets, menus, threw them all into the waste basket and lit it on fire. Several minutes later, as smoke began seeping through his door, he was arrested and taken away in cuffs.”
“That’s one way to get off of a boat you think might go down, huh?”
“John is fine in small doses,” the young man in the second row of the water taxi pleadingly replied to his friend in the first.
“Right, agreed,” she returned.
“At the bar the other night, when I was sitting by myself, he came over and talked to me and was really sweet,” added the passenger to her right. “He is alright, in small doses.”
The problem with people who are fine in small doses is that they’re rarely available in that size.
The problem with people who talk about other people who are fine in small doses is that they’re all the same – comprised entirely of identical contaminated ingredients, and fine in no dosage.