Sunday, May 15, 2016

High in Hawaii

It was many sunsets before this one but it happened on Maui nonetheless. As I look out on the ocean this time, I remember another Maui day a decade or so ago, a day we decided to go Parasailing.
By "we" I mean me and Sandi, my personal manager Gregg, his wife and brother.  I can't say Parasailing was a bucket list event but it was certainly something to do on a day off.  
Now, I'm not good with heights, in fact walking the rim of the Grand Canyon caused me major psychological issues. The beauty of the landscape could not over come a dizzy feeling in my stomach at the site of the sheer cliffs. It felt like I was falling and just waiting to hit the ground. So I wouldn't normally choose to put myself in that position but peer pressure can sometimes cause you to "do things", and that was certainly the case when I decided to join the group in a Parasailing excursion.   I was also younger then and more highly insured. 
Now before anyone gets all judgmental and reminds me that parasailing is not the same as walking a tight wire across the Grand Canyon, I knew this excursion wouldn't be much more dangerous than a Ferris Wheel ride. Still being a hundred feet up in the air above the shark infested waters of the Maui coast line supported by nothing more than a sling under my butt and a bed sheet over my head was not "nothing" to me. Besides, I don't like Ferris Wheel rides either. 
Now here is the thing about Hawaiian history. When Captain Cook looked like he was going to stay in Hawaii longer than the locals wanted, they killed him and ate him.  Since then the locals have learned that they can make more money out of "Aloha-ing the shit" out of tourist instead of just eating them.  So everything costs tourist dollars and going out on a boat towing a parachute is just one way of commercializing Aloha. 
The parasailing deal was this: the boat ride alone was $25. (That was 1990's dollars I have no idea what it is today).  If you wanted to go up on the parachute, attached to a 100 feet of rope to have a look around for 15 minutes, it cost an additional $25.  Once you got up there and found that you really did enjoy this gull's eye view, the captain of the boat would reel out another 50 feet of rope to take you higher for another 10 minutes... For another $25.  All the captain needed was a signal to know if you wanted to extend your ride and height. Because you would be too high up in the air and too far from the boat to communicate verbally hand signals were established for communication.   
It was a beautifully calm day at sea and it was great to be on the water instead of working in a hotel Ballroom.  The captain sailed fairly far from the coastline, turned off the engine and gave us instructions on how to prepare for becoming a human kite. For those going up on the chute there was a signal for "go higher" (I'll spend another $25) and a signal for "high enough" (I will live to spend the extra $25 another day).  
I was fairly certain that I would choose to go up but being a gentleman (and just a little bit pussy) I said I would go last. Gregg was first and said told the captain no signal would be necessary for him, send him to the 150 feet level for the full time.  This pattern was repeated by his wife and brother, no signals needed.  
Sandi (my darling Bride) is more practical and thrifty. She said she would give the signal to go higher after she evaluated from the 100 foot level if the extra expense was worth the thrill of another 50 feet. It was not long after she got to the first level that she extended both her arms above her head and pointed her fingers to the heavens.  This was the signal that she wanted to go the 150 feet as well. 
After what seemed to a great experience for her, the captain reeled her in and she floated to the deck like the last leaf of fall. 
It is now my turn.  There was a moment when I thought, WHY?  They had their turn, they had fun, they liked it, surely my involvement in the activity would not impact their enjoyment one way or another. That was not the case. They liked it so much, they all wanted me to have the great experience as well.  How could we have a conversation about the trip over cocktails later, if I had no frame of reference? Besides, they said, you only live once, capré diem, excite yourself... Bla Bla Bla... This is the peer pressure part I was referring to earlier. 
I said "why not," and strapped on the nylon contraption that was to be my only connection to the real world.  But using the logic that my wife had come up with, I said I would evaluate the experience once I was there. I would let the captain know if I wanted to extend my height.
At first the sensation is not like you are being lifted very high. It seems more like you are being abandoned at sea. You seem to be standing still as you watch the boat get smaller moving away from you reeling out the 100 foot rope.  This lack of excessive altitude gives me time to carefully consider my decision, so far this is not the terror I thought it might be. From where I sit the rope looks more like a string than a safe tow. I loose site of it before it connects to the boat below and start to rise at the end of this 100 foot thread. I can't recall in this moment who it was that compared this experience to flying a kite, but that is not a good image for me.  As a kid I remember perfectly how my kite would soar up into the air just like I was doing now and suddenly reverse directions and crash head first into the ground.  I held onto the lines that connected the canopy in the hopes they would stay aloft if I suddenly "kited" head first to the ground.  

It seems an eternity up there but it's still not enough time for me to relax and enjoy the view. The one thing I will not do is look down. Suddenly the boat slows and speeds again causing me to change altitude quickly.  It is the captain's way of getting my attention.  It works, I look at the boat hoping to catch one last glimpse of my beautiful wife down below.  It is time... Time for me to declare my intention. Do I stay at that altitude for the rest of the ride or go higher? It wasn't about the money, it wasn't about the peer pressure, it just wasn't going to happen.  I placed my right thumb under my right arm pit, and my left thumb under my left arm pit and flap my elbows, the sign of the chicken.  It was the signal that I did not want to go higher.  
Now I was told that hand signals were needed because verbal communication was not possible at this distance.  However, I distinctly remember hearing, quite clearly, four people, not including my wife, on the deck of a little motor boat making clucking chicken sounds like a barnyard coop.  
I'm no longer with that personal manager.  He and his wife divorced soon after and his brother is now a corporate producer in San Diego who has rarely hired me for work. 
I am, however, still married to Sandi and we just celebrated our 44th anniversary here in Maui last Saturday.  At no time did she even suggest that we go Parasailing this time.
As you were, 


P. Grecian said...

Again, a great story.

Dave Robison said...

From someone, who thinks Ferris Wheels were a bad idea from the beginning, I would have never left the boat, and would not have been able to watch the others even put the chute on.

Roy said...

Para sailing? No way.
Used to like Ferris Wheels. Not now.
I had the same experience at the Grand Canyon. Awe mixed with fear.
Ditto Hoover Dam.
But the worst are fancy hotels (Weston) whose elevators are clear glass, going up and down on the outside of the building.
"Roy, look at the view!"
(Uh uh. My back is pasted to the door.)
Key in the musical theme from Hitchcock's "Vertigo" here.

Mark Barrett said...

You had me laughing in tears when you got to the part describing what the signal actually was!
Sorry about your humiliation. That was just cruel!
Glad you survived and it didn't effect your marriage!
Again, Happy Anniversary!!

Gwyn Oswin said...

I have got to stop reading your blog at work. I got to "aloha-ing the shit out of tourists instead of eating them" and had to try to stop myself bursting out laughing at my reception desk.