Late afternoon on July 4th and tourists were massing on the docks at the City Marina to catch the Sunset Fireworks Cruise.
Uncooperatively, on that afternoon, Mother Nature was roughing up the seas, puffing up clouds with a threatening shade and fil
ling the cosmos with ear-splitting thunder. As a consequence of the foul conditions the crew was dispirited; they knew that bad weather acutely affected the culture of tipping. The boat owner did not pay salaries and the mates were expected to earn their keep in tips.
“Will this clear up soon?” the timorous tourists bleated
as they were herded on to the boat.
“Of course things will clear up!” replied the mates, trained in damage control and deterring a customer from ever seeking a refund, and handed out life jackets to a backdrop of cracking lightning.
The boat left the safety of the piers and chuffed off into an awakening squall. Mates distracted passengers with reams of trivia, statistics and facts and such. Wind raked over the tourists so that they began to shiver and pout and grumble.
Sunset was invisible and any hope of seeing it was swallowed by the whipping gale.
“We want to go back to land!” the tourists had assembled and were attempting a coup.
“The fireworks are going to go off any minute now,” mates said soothingly, handing out miniature sodas and small tough squares of cheese and soggy crackers to the mutinous passengers.
“We want to go home!” they clamored, many of them stubbornly refusing the cheese offering. The handful of children aboard stuffed their mouths to the brim with the food.
Thunder detonated overhead, releasing torrents of rain, drenching and silencing the screams of the terrified children. The seawater was dancing and the boat bobbed sickeningly, mustering nausea, until two small children were heaving liberally on their parents. Mates rushed over with rags and a bucket of water, familiar with vomit protocol.
“Look!” mates pointed at a fizzling red firework, flaring into the dark sky and opening up like a flower.
Undaunted by the tempest, Monroe
County officials had determined the celebrations were a go. Fireworks had been scheduled, and fireworks there would surely be. The works were dazzling, wondrous colors and lights, and oddly visible despite the thick storm clouds. But the audio of the rockets was muted, enveloped, and making for an oddly surreal display. The tourists were briefly hushed, gripping their children in tight embraces, plastic rain protectors snapping in the wind, all faces trained on the pretty lights.
On the return trip to the harbor mates kept their distance from the restive crowd. They knew there would be no gratuities, so they switched out of ‘customer’ mode, and lit cigarettes and played games on devices. Sure enough, when they docked, tourists scurried away, never looking back, the tip bucket remained echoingly empty.
No one so much as wished the mates a Happy 4th of July. But later that night, in a favorite bar, the mates got piss drunk and picked up some equally lubricated young ladies, and the day was not a total loss.