By Julianne Frank
As I browsed my neighborhood West Marine, I found myself a stranger in a strange land.
A friend living on his sailboat had invited me for dinner aboard. It was my first time setting forth on someone’s floating home. A gift was in order…the marine supply store seemed a logical source. But what gift? The shelves were lined with all manner of marine gear completely foreign to me. My head spinning in befuddlement, I made my way to the books and magazines. Most seemed technical in nature or designed for commercial exploitation: “Easy ways to install S Band” or “We Rate the Top 100 sailboats”. Nothing seemed an appropriate gift. I was prepared to give up when a magazine title caught my eye, it having conscripted the name of a famous Jimmy Buffett tune. Jimmy’s sailing revelry had always brought a smile to my land-bound lips so I plucked the rag off the shelf and, assuming it was connected to his burgeoning empire I fanned the pages. It had nothing to do with Jimmy Buffett. Article after article extolled the virtues and joys of something called “the cruising lifestyle”, none in an attempt to intimidate. Nothing in maritime “greek”. No horror stories of disaster or failed rescue. Not a single solemn tale.
Instead, from every page there exuded some form of a love fest. Love of life. Love of humorous moments. Love of freedom. Stories of growth and inspiration and self actualization. Stories of romance at sea and abundant adventures. Stories poetic in their expression of passion for the lifestyle. And each writer seemed a person not so different from me. Standing in that aisle, it was as if the heavens had parted and a beam of light transported me to A Place That Somehow I Knew I Belonged, even though at that moment it was a world completely foreign to me.
That evening I excitedly handed the issue of Latitudes and Attitudes magazine to my host, neatly rolled and adorned with a ribbon. He patiently waited as, in my preemptive effort to explain the import of the gift, I waxed ad nauseam about how I had found this magazine and how excited I was to have made this initial foray into his world and how much I wanted to experience it. Barely stopping for breath, I implored: “When can we actually go for a sail? I would be available to leave tomorrow and I would be willing to pay all the expenses and …..”
“Stop”, he said, aiming a palm at me. “I get it . You discovered Bob Bitchin”. I stared at him with furrowed brow. “ I’m sorry”, I said, perplexed. “Bob who?” He snickered the snicker of one in the company of the clearly unenlightened. “Bob Bitchin”, he replied, tapping the magazine. “The founder and editor of this, the cruising lifestyle bible.”
Skepticism painted my face. “I swear”, my host continued, “ that’s his name. He used to be a big biker dude. Like… literally big. A bear of a man. Covered in tattoos.” He allowed me a moment as I tried to absorb this tale. “Oh c’mon,” I said, rampant cynicism evident in my tone. “First of all, no ‘biker dude’ would ever have a clue about the sheer poetry in this whole sail cruising thing. And please, there is nobody who actually names themselves ‘Bitchin’.”
Polite laughter by my host as he peeled open the magazine to its first page, and turned it to me across the table. The caricature of a hirsute, tattooed, sunglassed, boat drink laden, Jerry Garcia- look- alike in repose and steering a helm with his toe, winked back at me above what appeared to be an editorial article.
“Oh please”, I crowed sarcastically, ” tell me you do not think this is a real person”. Now it I was I who was bemused. “This is obviously just a fictional character…a nom de plum or mascot. You know, like the Geico Gekko.”
I am not sure if he answered me. What I do know is that many sailing school tuition dollars later, I was bareboat licensed, and within a few short years, had helmed a dozen boats on a dozen charters and had a thousand sea miles under my belt….all the while, my trusty latest issue of Lats and Atts at my side. Each month I would soak in the philosophical gems and anecdotal tidbits offered by this allegedly non-fictional Bob Bitchin’, and more often than not, would revel in the epiphany they offered about my favorite pastime; tidbits of writing that to me, translated to life in general: live the dream–don’t dream your life; cast off the lines and face your fears head on; the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude.
Platitudes yes, but profound enough that I adopted them as my own living mantras.
It was several years into the game when I decided to attend my first boat show. As I rounded an aisle in the vendor area, I froze, my jaw slacking. Looming a few paces away was the Latitudes and Attitudes booth… all of its paraphernalia and swag and novelties on full resplendent display..and in the middle of it all… Could it possibly be? I could not believe my eyes. A monster of a human being, red curls and beard asplendor, tattooed ham hocks of arms peeking from a tent size Hawaiian shirt. Consider for a moment the prospect of seeing a fictional character leap into corporeal existence before your very eyes. Shaking off my stupor, I shyly approached. “Bob.”, I offered tentatively, eyes moistening, “You don’t know me. It’s because of you that I realized dreams that I didn’t even know I possessed. I don’t mean to embarrass you, but you sir are an icon to me”. The giant warmly stuck out his paw and I refused it, responding instead with an equally giant bear hug. We instantly bonded, and I could only revel in how joyfully ironic the universe could be. Having absorbed my fawning spew, Bob turned to yell to his wife.
“Hey Jodi”, he said, pointing at me. “Check this out. Another life ruined.”