In my experience, some of the funniest things that have ever happened to me became an idea after a glass or two of wine. Deciding to go boating on a New York lake a few years ago was no different.
“The Loeb Boathouse”, a beautiful and charming restaurant in Central Park sits next to a lovely little lake, and as you can tell from the name, the restaurant started out as a storage place for locals’ boats in the 1800s and has been rebuilt and remodeled over the years. By the 1950s it needed another renovation and a wealthy New York investment banker and philanthropist, Carl Loeb and his wife, Adeline, generously donated the necessary funds. The current Loeb Boathouse opened in 1954 and has been providing New Yorkers and tourists alike with tasty meals in a beautifully scenic environment ever since.
And I eat there every time I’m in town. On this particular visit to one of my favorite places, my girlfriend, Kathy Goodwin, was with me. She shared my love of the Boathouse and was as eager to go as I was. Somehow, between the second glass of wine (mine) and the cappuccino (also mine), I had the brilliant idea that it was a great day for boating.
When I announced my clever idea to Kathy, she wasn’t met with the enthusiasm I was hoping for, but I managed to lure her to the lakeside long enough for me to pay the man and he helps us get into the boat that was waiting for us. .
“Julia…I just hurt my shoulder…I can’t help you row, you know.” If it was meant to deter me from going out on this water, it failed miserably.
“Oh no worries…look at these people…only one person rowing each boat anyway. We’ll be fine.” I was sure I could handle this boat. I mean how hard could it be?
Famous last words.
First of all, apparently EVERYONE on Manhattan Island had decided to go down on the lake that day and EVERYONE wanted to go boating. The lake was WRAPPED! And on this crowded lake were dozens and dozens of people from all over the world speaking dozens and dozens of languages and we were all in boats none of us knew exactly what to do!
He was a clustermuster.
There were so many people on that water that you could, if you had the balance of an alley cat, literally walk across the lake without getting your feet wet just by jumping from boat to boat.
Kathy and I were laughing so hard just sitting in the middle of this chaos and not even trying to row or move. I knew the weather was on our side, as the others splashed, clamored and thrashed the water we were slowly pushed and pulled out of the din and within minutes we were in “open” water with all the other boats behind us .
“Phew!” Kathy exclaimed. She thought I had pulled us out of the hubbub on purpose, but it was actually just an act of God and stupid luck that we drifted apart. We were heading for some trees that were hanging low over the water and could be a problem if we went under them, so I picked up the oars and dug them into the water.
“Do you even know HOW to row? Kathy asked me breathlessly as she tried to stop laughing.
“Guess we’re about to find out,” I said confidently, realizing I’d turned the boat around to all the aquatic pandemonium, and unless I rowed fast, we’d be stuck in the middle in a few minutes. .
I plunged the oar into the water and the boat turned. I dove the other and the boat turned the other way. I tried to straighten us out and paddled hard with both oars. We pulled under the trees and were suddenly bathed in sunshine and it was HOT!
After some fumbling with the oars, I finally got us moving, but we were heading around a bend and drifting away from everyone. It would have been nice if I had any idea what I was doing, but since I didn’t, I wanted to stay in sight of anyone who could save us in case I turned on us.
But I didn’t tell Kathy.
I started to sing “Row, row, row your boat”, but then we collapsed on top of each other in helpless laughter. By then we had been sitting in the hot sun for at least 20 minutes and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t bring us back to that shady tree. The wine was dissipating and the cappuccino was strutting on my bladder telling me it was time to start heading for the shore.
Only I couldn’t get the boat to cooperate.
Once I figured out that both oars had to paddle if we wanted to stop circling, the crowd had started to catch up with us. The air was filled with laughter and shouting in so many musical languages if you closed your eyes you might forget you were even in America.
But between the heat, the wine and cappuccino and the water splashing all around us, my bladder insisted that we head to the small beach where we would turn around in our boat and find the ladies’ room. I knew Kathy couldn’t help with her injured shoulder and to be fair, I had dragged us into this and it was ultimately up to me to pull us out.
I started rowing like I had seen a few others do. My oars were in the little holders on the side of the boat and I was moving along the water quite quickly! We were quickly approaching the return of the boat but there were a few stragglers from the previous commotion blocking our path. I started to say sorry in French, Spanish and Italian, but the people in our path were obviously NOT French, Spanish or Italian as no one was moving.
“So vulgar!” I whispered this to Kathy as boat after boat people ignored us. She looked around helplessly, then leaned over to whisper to me.
“I think they think we’re going back to the lake,” she whispered softly.
“WHY would they think THAT?” I was now HOT in addition to having to use the bathroom so I was not in a good mood.
“Well…I’m not sure, Julia, but…doesn’t the pointy part of the boat come first?”
I looked at our boat and sure enough…the ‘pointy part’ where the bow was pointing towards the lake and the stern was pointing towards land. Everyone else on the lake thought we were going out instead of in, including the man who was in charge of the boats. He was bouncing up and down, waving his arms and pointing to his watch… I assumed our time was up, but right now there was not much I could do.
We made it back to shore, and apart from a dodgy sunburn on odd parts of our bodies, we were pretty much unscathed.
Unfortunately this year when we visited The Boathouse was closed, but will be open next year. I can’t wait to go back and enjoy a glass of chilled Pino Grigio on deck again. And who knows? After a drink or two, there might even be another boat trip.
After all… no good story EVER starts with “So after eating a nutritious salad…”
I say it like this…