Head of the Hooch — Part 1

A few weeks back, I wrote about how storys come about.

Here is part 1 of the story that came out of that. Part 2 will be up next Monday as well as a combined full version of the story.

The weigh-ins and practice runs were done. Pizza on the Hill smelled like a locker room crammed full of rowers from fifteen to fifty. “Carb load” was a keyword for pizza with the younger rowers. The more serious had steered their way clear to a plate of pasta and healthy green salad, but they were the exception.

School colors dotted the room like a prelude to a gang movie. College of Charleston girls sat at one table while Brown University boys took up another while several other schools were sprinkled throughout the crowd. The fire marshal would have shut the restaurant down had he happened by on that chilly night.

Nestled on the corner just a short walk from the Chattahoochee River and the closest pizza place to the landing where the Head of The Hooch tournament was set to go off on Saturday, Pizza on the Hill had quickly called in all of their servers and were running pizzas through the oven as quickly as possible.

The overpowering smell was due to the fact that many of the teams were simply camping out on the river bank with porta-lets, but no shower facilities. The girls bathroom had a steady stream of girls with makeup cases in tow making the best of it while several did the pee-pee dance in line.

Trevor Daniels sat at the far end of the table of Brown rowers taking it all in and appreciating the well tanned Southern women, one in particular. The guys from the eights and fours had all ended up here. Raucous laughter and course humor floated in the air in a room filled with participants in a sport often characterized as “eight nuts in a shell.”

No one was waiting for the men’s room, so Trevor made the line and turned to find a College of Charleston female in line behind him. In fact, it was one of the lonely pasta eaters that he had marked as a ringer. She had intense blue eyes, a nice tan, and a smattering of light freckles.

“Wrong line, I think,” he said to her by way of a greeting.

“No, I’m fine. Thanks,” she said with a smile.

“Jen,” he said reading her embroidered name, “It’s the men’s room.”

“Listen,” she searched his jacket, “Waffler? You’re name is Waffler?”

“It’s a nickname.”

One eyebrow raised as she waited for an explanation.

“It’s from the movie, Mystery Men. Each of us in our four took a nickname.”

“With your griddle of justice,” she began the line from the movie.

“You’ve seen it!” Trevor said.

“Just the Smash Mouth video,” she said.

The door swung open and one of his teammates pushed past. He let her go first and was rewarded with a small smile. Turning he found another C of C girl in line behind him.

“Wow. Don’t they teach you to read at Charleston?” he asked her pointing at the men’s room sign.

“Nice try,” she said, “but I’m immune to pick up lines.”

“What about her?” he said tossing a thumb at the closed bathroom door.

“Skyler? Forget it. Ice water in her veins until the season’s over.”

A few minutes later, Jen Skyler appeared at the door and swung it wide, letting him in.

“It’s all yours.”

When he was done, he was disappointed to see that she was gone. As he walked past the Charleston table, he heard the murmured comments, “Gone back for the captain’s meeting,” “left her jacket,” “back soon enough.” He glanced and one of Jen’s teammates caught his eye.

“Another one falling for the Sky,” she laughed.

He felt himself flush and then spotted the jacket with Skyler written in big letters across the back.

“Let me have the jacket and I’ll run it back to her,” he said.

The girl hesitated. Finally, she handed it to him holding on to it just a bit as he took possession.

“Good luck,” she said and laughed again.

He ran, holding the maroon jacket, hoping Jen had taken the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge. A quarter of the way across, he met her coming towards him. He flagged her down as she started to pass him.

“Looking for this?”

She stopped.

“Thanks. Now I gotta go,” she said.

He ran alongside her, and she finally relented and made small talk with him until they reached the far side of the bridge and the captain’s meeting that was already in full swing. Most of it was rules about right of way and boats overtaking other boats. When it wrapped up, Jen pushed her way through to the rest of the crew captains and coxswains from College of Charleston. With nothing better to do, Trevor stayed where he was and tried to look inconspicuous. One of the girls must have said something because Jen glanced over her shoulder.

“Are you still here?” she said with a flicker of mischief in her eyes.

“I didn’t have anything better to do than wait for you.”

“Not much of a life then.”

“Want to go for a walk?”

She tsked and waved her finger at him.

“I do have better things to do,” she said.

“Walk you back to your pavilion at least?” Trevor asked.

They swapped first names and noted the events they would run over the next two days. As it turned out, the College of Charleston pavilion was only a stone’s throw from Brown’s. Both teams were camped out and expecting a cold night in their sleeping bags.

“We’re neighbors.”

She rolled her eyes at his corny jokes and felt angry that the corners of her mouth seemed to want to smile at him, a University of Brown rower of all things.

“I could move my bag over here and keep you warm tonight.”

“I’d rather sleep in my own urine,” she said.

“Given how cold it is, you shouldn’t have wasted it at the restaurant.”

She shook her head.

“Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow from the finish line,” she said.

He turned back, a bit dejected and she bit her lip as she watched him go.

“Trevor.”

He turned.

“Thanks for bringing me my jacket.”

The wave he threw her might as well have been the bird. It poked through even her armor a bit, but she had a competition to get ready for.

Most of the camp had died down as Trevor jogged back toward Northshore. He needed to think to get ready to compete tomorrow and he didn’t want to be around when his teammates crashed out at the pavilion. Crashing and burning was his specialty, since he always seemed to find another girl to peek his interest. One of these days, he’d find someone.

Footsteps pounded behind him.

“Is that the best you can do?” said the voice that had been playing in his head for the past twenty minutes.

He looked over his shoulder, unsure of how to react.

“Oh, c’mon on, don’t be mad,” she puffed out as she came alongside of him and matched his stride. “Did you expect me to jump up and down like a school girl in front of my team and yours? Besides, you go to Brown.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means I was all set to go to Brown and be a part of the best woman’s crew in the country, but the coach rescinded his scholarship offer minutes before the deadline because some witch’s rich grandfather gave the school a hundred grand.”

“Monica Evans.”

“Ugh, don’t even say that name. Yes, Monica Evans. I may slit her throat in the middle of the night tonight.”

“She’s very good.”

An ugly look played across Jen’s face.

“We’ll see after Sunday who is the best between her and me. As for you, I think you can forget about any plans you had for us.”

“I was thinking,” Trevor said, “about a nice dinner after the races tomorrow and maybe a walk around downtown.”

“Wow, treating me to pizza? That is classy.”

“Not pizza. Sticky Fingers, the best rib place in the South.”

“What does a northerner like you know about food in the South?”

“Quite a bit,” he said.

“Tell you what. If you can beat me back to the pizza parlor then we can talk about dinner tomorrow night,” Jen said.

She sped away and he watched her go, but didn’t break stride. Rounding the next corner she was jogging in place waiting for him.

“You must not like me much,” she said.

He slowed his pace even more and she fell in beside him.

“It’s not very smart running hard enough to pull a hamstring the night before a race. Monica Evans would be disappointed if she won by forfeit tomorrow.”

She punched him squarely in the shoulder.

“I hate you,” she said, but there was a smile on her face. “That would have sucked. Maybe we shouldn’t talk about tomorrow night. I usually only go a mile and a half the night before a race.”

“We’ll run across the Market Street bridge and then back up the river.”

When they got close to the pavilions, Jen whispered something to him and he nodded. Before she could say something else, Trevor made a hard right turn toward down town and she clopped through the silent pavilions until she was back with her team. From her sleeping bag, she listened intently until she heard a tentative jogger slow down at the Brown pavilion twenty feet away.

Part 2 – next week!

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