Black Warrior Files: Confessions of a Counterfeit Coxswain
- A person who usually steers a ship's boat and has charge of its crew.
- A person in a racing shell who usually directs the rest of the crew.
At approximately 7:15 this past Thursday morning down on the
At approximately 7:15 this past Thursday morning, I parallel parked a 4-seat rowing shell.
Parallel parking is, in fact, my one god-given talent. I firmly believe that everyone is born with the innate ability to do one thing really, really well—better than everyone else. My sister Weathergirl, for instance, can find a bargain every time she goes shopping and, since shopping is an engrained trait for the women in my family, she goes shopping quite often. As evidence, I offer the time she found me a brand new J. Crew turtleneck sweater on sale for $2. My uncle, the Italian Godfather (no, I’m serious, he’s Italian and he’s my godfather), does even better than Weathergirl—he finds perfectly whole, amazing things on the side of the road and in the “discard” pile at his office job. A modest catalogue: two papasan chairs (with cushions), a snowblower, two solid oak executive desks, a waterfall veneer sideboard, an off cut slab of marble.
Me, though—my talent isn’t flashy, it’s purely functional. Barring unforeseen events or dreadful distractions (like small children or dogs running into the path of my car), I can sink a parallel parking space in one go no matter what I’m driving. Part of this may simply be a result of my learning to drive in a mini-van and an extended bed pick-up truck—compared to that, every other vehicle seems small and maneuverable. Part of it is, I’m sure, just ridiculous overconfidence. But the end result is the same: I can park anywhere. Even with eighteen people watching me. On
But for all that, I have never parallel parked a boat.
Technically, I didn’t really do any of the actual parking. The four people rowing the boat did all the work—propelling us toward the dock, compensating for our direction when I asked one of them to stroke while the rest waited. And really, we needed help getting over to the edge of the dock—I misjudged the distance, brought us up a couple of feet away from the edge so that another rower already on the dock had to grab an oar and drag us sideways a bit. But all in all, considering that I am not actually—nor should I ever be—a coxswain, it went pretty well.
Up until three months ago, I never dreamed I would be parallel parking a boat on a random Thursday morning down on the Black Warrior. I never dreamed I would be down on the Black Warrior, period. And then I got that email from the Enthusiastic Creative Writing Professor.
The Enthusiastic Creative Writing Professor is really involved with interesting, athletic pursuits around town. She works with the no-kill animal shelter, runs the odd 10K, and sends emails inviting the rest of the faculty to get involved. Normally, when Enthused sends an email, I scan it, think “that would be fun, but I don’t have time,” and move on. But the email about the Black Warrior Rowing Club got me interested, mainly because I thought, somehow, that Enthused was the ring leader and that this was, somehow, some informal event—you know “show up and we’ll give you an oar.” The time worked for me—6–8AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was just for the summer. Dues were only $25.
“Only $25?” I said to myself. “Huh. How bad could it be?”
I am not, by nature, a very athletically inclined person. I ran track back in the 8th grade. I played pick-up soccer games (not well) in high school. I once managed a Curves (for Women) gym. That’s about it. But rowing seemed like something accessible for two reasons: (1) I’ve always been into canoeing and kayaking, which also involve propelling oneself across the water with a long stick, and (2) I grew up outside of
So that Tuesday, I showed up down at the docks expecting to see Enthused and a handful of other enthusiastic professor-types, which I did. I also saw a whole lot of people I didn’t know being herded by a very tiny, very efficient, very young woman with crossed oars tattooed on her shoulder and a license plate that read USROWING. Enthused called her Coach.
That was my first clue that maybe this was a bit more involved than I’d thought.
Fastforward three months. I now show up on the water three days a week at 5:15. When I’m not pretending to be a cox, I row bow seat (front of the boat) in a woman’s 4+ shell. I row starboard, so my one oar sticks out to the righthand side of the boat, but since I’m facing backwards, to me, it’s the left. Enthused rows port in front of me. We’re looking at maybe going to a Master’s rowing competition some time in November—once we figure out how to get all four of us rowing at once, of course.
I’m not very good.
Coach says I’m getting better.
Here’s the thing: I love it. I love scooting across the water in this boat that moves like a giant waterbug. I love rowing underneath the
And last Thursday, when I was pretending to be a coxswain because we were short handed, I got to parallel park a boat.
The local paper ran a story on us this morning and had this accompanying video clip on the