“War stories.” You must have at least one to share with longtime pals; and most have nothing to do with wars.
Here’s my favorite, and that of three other great pretenders who were on the scene in the summer of 1984 in Lake Placid, NY. We had driven six hours from Traffic Circle, NJ to fly fish for trout in the legendary Ausable River and St. Regis Canoe Area as well as try our luck with smallmouth bass in the lake. It was me and two Marine Corps pals, headed up on the NY Thruway and then the I-87 Northway. My brother was coming over from Vermont to join us. He was to arrive early and secure our boat for the short ride out to Buck Island on Lake Placid and the waterfront camp we rented for a long weekend.
Lake Placid village hugs the much smaller Mirror Lake, but it is stocked with trout. Lake Clear Wabblers with a nightcrawler trailing is the lure of choice for locals. We had just settled in at the island house, mixed some drinks and got burgers sizzling on the grill when a boat motored in down at the dock. “We’ve got company,” I observed sagely, being an ace reporter and all that.
Coming up the hilly footpath was a squat middle-aged man in rumpled trousers and a hideous pink shirt that bulged at the beltline where his chest had slumped and surrendered to fat. There was a badge affixed to his left shirt pocket. He did not appear to be from the Welcome Wagon.
“What can we do for you?” I asked between bites of a freshly made cheeseburger.
“What are you guys doing here,” he demanded to know, face flushed and panting from the climb.
“Eating and drinking” I replied cleverly.
“You’re all under arrest,” he said. Hello indigestion.
My brother blanched, one friend gurgled the death rattle and the other looked for a place to hide. I tossed back the rest of my drink in a quick gulp and asked, “What’s the charge,” trying to sound nonchalant while wondering what the world record, time wise, was for four fishermen being arrested after arriving in camp.
The charge was stealing a boat and the corpulent high sheriff insisted we board his boat and go back to shore – to face a town square hanging, no doubt. Back at the village dock, word had spread, amazing in that day long before social media. A crowd had gathered. State troopers had arrived, as well as tourists and locals. This was probably the most exciting event in Lake Placid since our college kids beat the Russians in the 1980 Miracle on Ice.
On the dock we introduced ourselves all around. We soon learned most cops have no sense of humor. They must check it at the training academy and don’t get it back until retirement. The elderly couple we rented the boat from said we damaged it.
“Did not,” I said in defense. Clarence Darrow, eat your heart out.
However, it was eventually determined we did “maybe, sort of” scruff up the canvas cabin cover. The chubby constable was playing to the crowd saying he had a friend who just paid $400 for such a repair. One of the state troopers, I noticed, did an eye-roll, knowing this was complete nonsense.
My friends had to restrain me when I “loudly” argued that my brother took the wrong boat because the slips were not numbered, something a five-year-old could do with a magic marker, and two of the boats, side-by-side, were almost identical. I did not mention that my bro might’ve spent a little too much time at “The Cottage” off Main Street (38 years later, still a favorite watering hole) waiting for us to arrive and could’ve been a tad confused as to which boat was the one we rented. A local, anticipating the hanging no doubt, remarked on the slip numbering: “I guess we’re not as sophisticated as you flatlanders.”
I restrained myself, due to the circumstances, from informing the clueless woodchuck that the highest shore elevation south of Maine is in New Jersey. We finally settled at 45 bucks for the repair. The ordeal over, we jumped into the right boat, my brother shoved it into reverse to back out of the slip. The boat lurched, nearly pitching us into the lake. It was still tied to the dock.
Now we old survivors laugh about that “adventure,” as the late Tom Leahey (USMC) used to call our trips larking about in the outdoors, as well as various dancehalls, saloons and Fran Betters’ fly shop. Probably a good thing those glory days are safely tucked in the memory bank as we grow older. Because it’s a wonder one or more of us didn’t get hurt, or wind up in jail – all those years ago.