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Monday, September 08, 2008

Injuns, Pirates & Community Organizers - Aargh!

Every summer in the middle of the camping season we had a week off to clean up the camp and take a breather from campers. We usually ran a life-saving class to train up the next generation of camp lifeguards and water safety instructors. About mid-week we always went to Arlington for a day at Six Flags Over Texas.

One memorable summer, we had all been doing a lot of canoeing – late at night, often merely drifting. A couple of us had mastered the art of paddling with the canoe gripped in your toes. Someone suggested we create a new level of canoeing honor – the Advanced Canoeing & Piracy Honor. We had a couple of new war canoes and so we all crammed ourselves into one canoe and began to practice. The target of our practice – The Indian Canoe Ride at Six Flags.

In those days, Six Flags had a ride that consisted of a huge Indian style war canoe into which some 20 people were crammed, given two foot long paddles and compelled to paddle a loop around a shallow lagoon near the Runaway Mine Train. It was a low impact, safe for little kids kind of thing. A couple of “Indians” sat at either end of the canoe with long paddles for steering. There were two islands and the canoes traveled a simple oval around them.

The tiny passage between the islands gave us the idea for the final exam for the advanced canoeing and piracy honor. The semi-final exam involved a moonlit night, sitting on the stern and bow decks or standing upright and removing your pants, but we won’t go into that here.

We arrived at Six Flags wearing identical blue Lone Star Camp Staff T-Shirts. At 11:30 we all arrived from different directions and slipped into line at the canoe ride, spacing ourselves so that we would all be in the same boat spaced evenly along both sides of the boat. Our pseudo-native-American guide pushed off without suspecting anything, though militarily spaced phalanx of blue shirts should have given him some pause.

We rounded the back of the second island and were approaching the gap between the islands when a soft chorus of voices began singing, “Stroke, stroke, stroke…”

Our Indian Guide began to look a little nervous.

Then our director, Sam Miller, sang out, “Paddles out!” 12 paddles came out of the water and poised at 90 degrees.

“Starboard pivot…………………..”

Paddles on the right side went back. Paddles on the left side reached forward. Some of the civilians on board joined in, thinking, I suppose that this was part of the ride.

“Hey, what’s going on?” shouted the bewildered Injun.


The starboard side of the canoe began paddling backwards (at least all the ones in blue shirts and some of the civilians).

The port side of the canoe began making a wide sweep stroke in opposition to the other side. Ponderously the canoe began to turn toward the channel between the islands.

“Hey, guys, c’mon,” our guide whimpered leaning on his own paddle trying to bring the canoe back on course.

“What are you doing back there?” the Indian in the front called out.

“It’s not me!” he called back. “We’re being hijacked.”
After a brief struggle, our guides surrendered to the inevitable.

“Oh, well,” Chief Pain-in-the-Buttox shrugged. “I always wanted to go this way…”

By the time we cleared the channel everyone in the canoe had joined in the hijacking and were merrily stroking in rhythm to Sam’s called cadence. A crowd had gathered on shore and were cheering our merry band of pirates on. As we cleared the channel, Sam called the commands that pivoted the canoe back on course for the dock. We swung around and found ourselves now playing “chicken” with the second war canoe coming straight towards us.

Sam increased the stroke count so that we were now cutting along at a pretty good clip. The Indian crews of the two canoes managed to avoid crashing headlong into each other, but passed uncomfortably close.

“Hey, you’re going the wrong way,” called out Chief States the Painfully Obvious.

"I know,” Chief P.I.B. called back. “I’ve been hi-jacked!”

As we came into the dock, Sam kept the speed up till just before we rammed the dock and then called for us to hold water. The canoe instantly reduced speed and glided into the dock smoothly and perfectly lined - except it was the wrong dock and we went in backwards.

Everybody bailed out of the canoe and scattered before security arrived. For the rest of the day, we heard snatches of rumor about a mysterious terrorist group that had hijacked the War Canoes.

There were copycat attempts later, but none that I have ever heard of were successful. Of course, they didn’t have three trained canoeing instructors, half a dozen lifeguards and some burly garbage men/lumberjacks along for the ride.

Now that’s community organizing!

© 2011 by Tom King

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