< Go Back

Gauntlet of Death

Gauntlet of Death

    This weekend my wife and I survived a gauntlet of death. It’s called a vacation. If you have never had a vacation, allow me to explain how this works.

    You select a vacation destination based on the sort of accidental death that you find most appealing. If you like being kidnapped, you might choose Mexico. If you like plunging to your death on rocks, you might try mountain climbing. For our weekend, we chose drowning, with a kicker that in most cases it would be preceded by a fall from a great height. It’s called Lake Tahoe, and apparently it’s a popular form of euthanasia. We could hardly find a dangerous ledge that was unoccupied.

    Just to make things interesting, we were on the Nevada side of the lake. Nevada isn’t big on safety laws. In Nevada, when you rent a kayak, you have the option of wearing a life jacket, keeping it with you in the kayak, or, in my case, imagining that it is behind you while it’s actually back at the beach.

    Legend has it that mobsters used Lake Tahoe for years to dispose bodies because it’s very deep. It’s also very clear. I never saw what might be called scenery during my kayak trip. I was busy looking for sloppy informants beneath my kayak. I never saw any bodies. Neither did I see any fish. Not one. Apparently the water is too cold for fish. At least that’s how it felt. I calculated that I could survive less than five minutes if my kayak tipped over. My wife jumped out of her kayak and went swimming for four-and-a-half minutes. For Shelly, cheating death is a form of relaxation.

    We spent many hours at the beach absorbing deadly solar rays. I believe that Shelly could actually walk on the surface of the sun and come away with a beautiful golden tan. By way of contrast, my skin is so brittle that my body doesn’t cast a shadow. The photons burn right through me without so much as the courtesy of slowing down. Shelly put a nice topper on her tan while I lost most of my kidney function scurrying from umbrella to tree shade.

    We signed up for massages because I thought that would be a good way to relieve my vacation stress. The spa attendant showed me to my robe and, recognizing my name from the sign-in sheet, asked if I was the creator of Dilbert. I unwisely said I was. Now, for those of you who have not had the opportunity to be a minor celebrity, let me explain that getting naked in this circumstance is awkward. But I powered through it and looked forward to my massage.

    My massage therapist was in her seventies and weighed about 90 pounds. Apparently she graduated from the massage school of “making it up as you go.” The alleged massage felt like a farmer was slowly strangling a chicken on my back. I could feel something boney happening back there, and maybe a beak was involved, but I can’t say it relieved my stress.

    On our last day at the lake we asked for directions to a scenic hiking trail. Allow me to set the scene. Imagine the narrow two-lane winding road along the lake, most of it on cliffs with no railings, crammed with people illegally parked on both sides, pedestrians darting to and fro, and bicyclists on every blind curve.  Now imagine a delivery van close behind us, in a hurry, as I search for the alleged hiking trail entrance according to these directions: “You’ll see a green gate with no signs. It’s right after you pass the only place you can park.”

    Shelly is all in. We’re going to locate this hiking trail and we’re going to somehow sense it just in time to find the only parking place left in Nevada. Our parking spot might require one wheel to be placed over a ledge, perhaps two, but we can do this.

    I have a vivid imagination. It’s great for making comics, but not so good for vacationing. I begin to imagine a future in which Shelly shouts “THERE IT IS! THE GREEN GATE! STOP, STOP, STOP!!!” At which point I apply the brakes too quickly, the delivery van behind me pushes our minivan off the ledge, and I finally get to see one of those mob informants up close.

    Call it good luck or good karma, but we didn’t see the green gate soon enough to initiate the death plunge. We settled for a less popular trail a few miles down the road. The only catch is that it wasn’t so much a hiking trail as a nearly vertical dirt slope shaped like a ski jump. The difference was that instead of a graceful landing in snow, you had a 50% chance of screaming all the way to an icy death in the lake. That’s called hiking.

    Anyway, we survived, against all odds. I call that a successful vacation.

More Episodes