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A Day of Reckoning at Raging Waters

Wednesday, Aug 12 1998
Every now and then, you are given an opportunity to face your demons. I'm talking about the aspects of your psyche that when on display can reduce you to a cardboard cutout of a human being. The secrets that, if they saw the light of day, would cause even those who know you best to slowly back away. And then run like hell. My secret is that I don't like to share my water space.

Most of my adult life, which as a 34-year-old I'd say began a couple of years ago, I've avoided Jacuzzis, public pools, water parks, even bathtubs. My rule is that if the body of water isn't fed by pristine mountain springs the likes of which you see in Coors commercials, or if the other side remains visible on a clear day, I avoid it like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

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What am I afraid of? Is there any rational basis for the terror I see in naked bodies sloshing around in an oversize petri dish heated to ripe incubation temperature? Okay, if I put it like that, it's kind of rhetorical. But, truly, the questions I'd pay a shrink to answer are: Is it really that bad in there? and, Is my fear of splashing about with my fellow man evidence that the heart of a misanthrope beats beneath my humanitarian exterior?

Oh yes, I worried there would be a day of reckoning. And there was.

It all came together for me on a recent Saturday as I was standing seven stories above the huddled masses, waiting to take the plunge on Drop Out. Drop Out is one of the attractions at Raging Waters, where, knowing the issues I grapple with, a sadistic editor at this publication thought it would be fun to send me. Raging Waters may well be the last best hope for relief for hundreds of thousands of the Inland Empire's subjects, but for me, the name said it all.

So there I was atop Drop Out, "one of the tallest vertical drops in the country," waiting to pitch myself straight down at speeds approaching 40 miles per hour into a catch basin for both customers and the 1,500 gallons of recirculated water employed to keep them sliding freely and landing softly. Far, far below was a viewing area where friends, family and chickens gathered to watch the Mountain Dew moment. If they only knew what I was thinking . . . because by then, it had all become crystal clear.

On the aforementioned day of reckoning, my friend Kelly and I climbed into my giant metallic-blue pickup and made our way out of Hollywood and onto Interstate 10 East. That's troubling enough, but the really weird thing is, Kelly didn't have to go. She wanted to. Then again, Kelly's long been suspected of being an alien, and I figured she was going to replenish her juices, or take samples, or something.

The air over the San Gabriel Valley was festering like a scab on a dog's ass. Moving deeper into the heart of the haze, each mile pushing the thermometer toward the triple digits, I was struck by the notion that we were going the wrong way. We were driving away from coastal breezes and white, sandy beaches. Away from water that doesn't come from suspicious sources. Away from vendors competing for attention with endless and imaginative varieties of cool drinks and icy refreshments. Away from the dream and toward the hard reality that we are all prisoners of circumstance. Toward what happens when you are forced to make the most of a bad situation. Toward San Dimas, and its Raging Waters.

As we passed the roadside attractions of the 10 - strip malls, auto complexes, chain restaurants - Kelly spoke of how she used to fantasize about being a mermaid in an aquarium and swimming up to the glass to smile at the happy onlookers. Crazy alien bitch, I thought to myself, and returned to my own inward journey. The one that took me back through a long series of watery affronts, none more unspeakable than the Glenwood Springs Vapor Caves and Hot Springs Incident.

Glenwood Springs is a little town in Colorado with a long history of hosting weary travelers, like Doc Holliday, who went there to treat his tuberculosis and ended up dying. But the town is perhaps most famous for its hot-springs pool and the Yampah Spa vapor caves. On New Year's Day 1994, both became permanently branded on my id.

Glenwood Springs is where me and my cousin Greg found ourselves after a New Year's Eve that ended badly, with allegations of wrongdoing on a lot of people's parts. The next morning, we gathered around the breakfast table of my folks' condo in silence, afraid to talk about how it had gone from beautiful to bad so quickly. That is, until Greg, the main instigator, pulled up to the table, grabbed a cigarette from my mom's pack - a bold move in and of itself - put his feet up on the table, lit up the heater, blew out a thick plume of smoke, waited a beat, and then said to my mom, "Sandy, where did we go wrong?"

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