Years ago, one of my friends came to work for me as a gondolier.
His name was Tommy, and while he hadn't done much boating previously,
he really took to the job.
He was active, had an affable personality, and liked being on the water.
As gondoliers we need to be able to adapt to whatever conditions
come our way. Wind, tide, currents - you've got to be flexible
and handle whatever happens.
Ah, but it's not just the elements that we have to roll with.
Sometimes the biggest challenges come in the form of people.
This story is about one of those challenging couples.
Somewhere around 1995, Tommy was standing on the dock
in his striped shirt, awaiting his passengers.
When the couple showed up, he noticed that the blonde woman seemed
to know the most about the booking.
Shortly after they were seated and the boat was under way, the gondolier learned that the woman was the one who had arranged the cruise,
and the man in the boat with her was her boss...who was married
and had a wife and two small children at home.
Yes, there was an affair going on (or at least the beginnings of one),
and while the woman was complicit, she seemed a bit ditsy, and appeared to still be in the process of deciding if she wanted to continue with him.
Meanwhile the gentleman proved to be an arrogant jerk.
It was a nice sunny afternoon.
The gondola was an older style with a fast golf cart motor.
Newport used to have a lot of these boats - they were built in Santa Ana
in the early 80's and originally gave rides to visitors to Long Beach during
the 1984 Olympics. They were usually painted white and had canopies
that looked like something on a horse carriage at the renaissance fair.
The cruise covered many miles of the harbor.
Tommy gave his passengers a full tour of Newport, pointing out
the various islands and sharing interesting stories along the way.
The ditsy blonde found it all quite fascinating, while her boss had
no interest in anything "the kid on the back of the boat" had to say.
In fact the gentleman spent much of the cruise trying to get frisky with the blonde, who didn't like the idea of doing things like that on the boat.
His next angle was to get her to take him home with her to her place
(because he certainly couldn't take her back to his place!).
The blonde had been the one to book the cruise.
It was one of those dates where the guy said:
"set up whatever you want to do and I'll pay for it".
Clearly he had his own intentions,
but she just wanted to sip her champagne and actually enjoy the ride.
Now and then, she would see something interesting and would
ask her guide about it. Because she couldn't see Tommy, and because
he was this sort of "voice from above", the lady started calling him "God".
Not because he was all powerful or anything like that.
It was just a playful name that she used as she'd say things like:
"God, what island is that?"
and "God, does someone famous live there?"
Tommy played along, while the "boss" continued his campaign to go home with her after the cruise.
Eventually the gondola returned to the dock and the gondolier secured
the lines and helped his passengers out.
As the three of them stood on the dock,
the blonde (who had booked the cruise) said to the gentleman
"oh, you need to give him a tip."
The arrogant "boss" stepped over to Tommy,
shook his hand,
placed his other hand on Tommy's shoulder,
"go to college".
That was his tip.
Immediately the guy fell right back into his push to have her take him home.
Now, the blonde did have a bit of a ditsy personality,
but she was sharper than some might have thought.
She paused for a second and said:
"I don't know...
I can't decide whether I should take you back to my place...
I just don't know."
"Maybe I should ask God."
She turned to Tommy and said:
"God, do you think I should take him home with me?"
Tommy looked at the guy, gave a small half-smile of disapproval,
shook his head a little and said "nah".
The self-absorbed guy, who'd just given Tommy a truly memorable "tip",
was totally taken back by what had just happened.
He turned to share his own perspective with her, only to discover that she'd left his side and was already halfway up the gangway of the dock.
The blonde looked back as she was walking away and said:
"look on the bright side, sweetie - at least now you'll get to kiss your kids goodnight."
And that was that.
Tommy took off on his gondola, leaving "Mr. go-to-college" standing on the dock, trying to figure out what had just happened and where he went wrong.
He didn't get any extra money from the guy,
But Tommy sure came away with a heck of a story,
and he sure got the last laugh!