Monday, August 23, 2010

COLUMN: River Walks

When I first started in the newspaper biz some umpteen years ago, one of my first jobs was typing in personal ads. Nowadays, there's a kajillion different dating websites promising to find your soulmate, but back then, the best shot for the hopeless lovelorn was a simple ad in the personals. And once upon a time, those ads would come my way.

I remember one lady who would routinely place her ads in the form of epic oversized poems (because as we all know, if there's one thing us fellas like, it's a girl who can rhyme.) Some ads would be brief (aka the ones written by guys,) and others would be like reading a comprehensive biography and/or job application. But after typing in dozens of these things, a few trends began popping out.

For instance, it appears that single people LOVE to play darts and pool, because one or the other would be mentioned in almost every one of these ads. I'm not sure what "head games" even are exactly, but every girl out there is apparantly sick of them and needs to make sure that all potential suitors know this. Chubby guys like me are "chunky," while chubby girls are "full-figured." And maybe there'd be a lot fewer chunky full-figured bachelors and bachelorettes out there if they'd stop spending all their down time watching NASCAR and enjoying "quiet nights at home."

But one phrase would constantly pop up in these ads more than anything else:


The number of times you would see this exact wording in an ad would boggle the mind. And the best part? Most of those people have to be lying.

If all the people who claimed to love taking long walks along the river actually loved taking long walks along the river, you would never be able to SEE the river through all the people taking long walks along it.

I, on the other hand, never fell victim to the alluring spell of long river walks. Why? Because the river's kind of, umm, well, ICKY. There, I said it. But let me qualify it so you don't hate me forever.

I love the river. The mighty Mississippi is the most important geographical element of our area. It shaped our hills, it shaped our valleys, and it shapes our lives. It is what makes our cities Quad, and as we all know, there's a feelin' in the air that you can't anywhere except the Quad Cities, right, KWQC? Many of us have jobs thanks to the river. Many of us love our community for the simple fact that it's situated on the biggest and most majestic river on this continent. The Mississippi is beautiful and forceful and bountiful and a sight to behold. I just kinda prefer to behold it from either a car or an air-conditioned vantage point.

There's two simple facts about the Mississippi (and pretty much all rivers) that bug me: (1) Rivers are dirty, and (2) rivers are smelly. And if I wanted to walk next to something dirty and smelly, I'd built a Habitrail around a landfill. I know a lot of you like to boat and fish the river, and hey, if I could swim, maybe I'd be one of you. But I also know a guy who went swimming in the river and got some of that majestic river water into a cut on his leg. Before he knew what hit him, his leg swelled up like a balloon, they ran tests and determined he had no fewer than 32 different strains of bacteria setting up shop in his thigh, and despite an inhuman load of antibiotics, the poor guy's been plagued with health problems ever since. Like I said: ICKY. And God bless him for all the work that he does, but there could be a million Chad Pregrackes running around cleaning up the river and I'd STILL be too scared to stick my foot in her.

But when I found myself last weekend in my girlfriend's car with her behind the wheel asking what I felt like doing, I had the uncommon stupidity to go, "Oh, I don't care. You pick." That's right, within minutes we were pulling into the Ben Butterworth Parkway and I was taking (gulp) a long walk along the river. And you know what? It was really entertaining.

We'd barely stepped out of the car when the entertainment began. A nice breeze was rolling in off the river and I was just starting to enjoy the tranquil awesomeness of the setting sun. It was really rather peacef--


That's the sound of the least peaceful thing in the world: a jet-ski, which went careening by us way too fast for its own good. Onboard was a guy having the time of his life. But trailing that dude by a few hundred yards was his buddy, clinging on to an inner tube for dear life while hitting the river with a series of mighty FWAP's. Inner-tube guy looked like he was having considerably less fun than jet-ski guy, mostly because he was taking facefuls of river water with every FWAP.

As a non-swimmer, I'm fairly inexperienced with any facet of boating that doesn't involve pulling the handle of a slot machine and losing money. But boating in itself seems like a nice idea. Gentle waves, relaxing water, I get it. Jet-skiing, on the other hand, seems like a hobby for insane people. Let's just examine the word itself for a minute. Does putting a JET on SKIS even sound like a smart idea? I'm terrified enough of regular sporting activities, but any that involve compound or hyphenated words are extra bad: JET-SKIING, ROLLER-BLADING, BUNJEE-JUMPING, WIND-SURFING. (I've seen the Summer Olympics and now I'm even afraid of PING-PONG.) Let's just simplify it and call them all DEATH-DYING. It's as if a mad scientist thought to himself, "Hmm, how can I get across this river as violently, painfully, and noisely as possible? I know, let's put a JET on a SKI..."

Eventually, Jet-ski-guy dropped his buddy off and went back out on a solo run, most likely to impress the bikini-clad girl checking him out. Ergo, he decided the best course of action would be to take the river at a weird diagonal, gunning the engine and purposely cutting into the waves to hop out of the water as dangerously as possible and almost do a backflip.

"C'mon," my girlfriend whined. "Let's keep walking and get some exercise."

"Sure thing," I replied. "Just let me see this dude bite it real quick and we'll be off."

But darnit, he never did, and presumably lives to woo more bikini-clad girls at a later date. As for me, I got distracted by a lady distributing a loaf of bread to some lucky ducks... while standing directly in front of the sign that said, "Do not feed ducks." People rule.

All in all, though, it's not every day you get to see a guy nearly drown and a woman blatantly break the law. Plus the sunset was pretty, so hey. I'm Shane, I'm a little chunky, and I like darts and pool and NASCAR and long walks along the river.

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