Monday, August 8, 2011

Seafair: a slowly mellowing rite of summer.

As we stood sipping our beers, looking upon a sun splashed Lake Washington, Mount Rainier looming in the murky distance, my friend Corey casually placed his hand on one of the metal barriers which cordoned off the beer garden.

A middle-aged, balding security guard swiftly approached from our left, his wispy comb-over fluttering in a mild gust.

"Sir, you're going to have to remove your hand from that railing while holding that beer. Those bars are considered outside the drinking area, so you can either put down your beer and grab the railing, like this, or let go of the railing and hold your beer, like so. Just not both. You can even do this..."

We watched as the pudgy man bent his upper torso over the bar, his head reddening and upside down on the non-beer garden side of the barrier.

"See what I'm saying? You can do gymnastics on this thing as long as you are not in possession of beer or wine. Have a good day, now."

As he retreated into the sparse crowd, the three of us stood silently. How times have changed.

Since 1982, Corey  my brother and I have upheld a tradition, a rite of summer in the Puget Sound area since the early 1950s—we've been attending the Seafair unlimited hydroplane races on Lake Washington.

The event, held the first Sunday of August, isn't really much of a race at all. An overwhelming majority of the day's heats are noncompetitive and comprise a minuscule portion of the entire day. It's kind of like a house-sized hum bow, where the bread part tastes pretty good, but there's only about a thimble full of gooey pork filling.

Seafair Sunday has seasoned itself and evolved at a similar rate to my companions and me. What began as a free-to-the-public, alcohol soaked orgy of homemade keg barges and overflowing Honey Pots, has grown into a choreographed, rule-laden corporate juggernaut.

What started as every twenty-year-old's dream day of swimming, subtle nudity and complimentary Eve cigarettes, has morphed into three guys in their forties and fifties looking for a shady spot to have some Pad Thai and a Jamba Juice.

But with all the flux in Seafair tradition, the day's marquee event hasn't changed since I've been attending. At least half of those in attendance park their lawn chairs solely to gaze up at the Blue Angels, the United States Navy's precision fighter air show.

I slightly enjoyed those blue and yellow jets my first ten viewings, and I still admire the pilots' skill and athleticism. But then the novelty dissipated, and the Blue Angels started looking like a really nice dining room set, where the seats are electric chairs made of the finest mahogany. They may look cool, but their true function cannot be questioned.

I understand that many don't share my left coast viewpoint on the BAs, so call me a bleeding heart socialist, call me a commie ass clown, or just call me a guy who's tired of the same two-hour routine every year, but that's a pretty expensive demonstration of government testosterone.

But hey, time to take the high road and ignore the politics of the day.

Every year, after I return home from twelve hours in the sun and I'm scolded by my wife for not using sunscreen, I flop down on the couch and ponder the boats and the food, the planes and the babes, the friends and the laughs.

The boats of the past will never return, the Pride of Pay 'n' Pak, the Miss Budweiser, Atlas Van Lines, Miller American, Winston Eagle, Squire Shop or Circus Circus.

Will I keep coming back? Yes, I will...even if Corey, Tom and I have to form a Little Rascal caravan.

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