by Ben Small
Crime on the Guadalupe River?
Who'd have thought?
I'd heard the rumors: dealing; transporting, smuggling -- violators old and young.
Yes, a river known far and wide for its beauty and danger, rumored to float a massive crime wave. And in Texas, the Gruene and New Braunfels region to be specific, not the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez some eight hours to the west.
I had to see for myself. Brave the cold water, suffer the embarrassment every man fears: shrinkage.
Dressed casually in a ruby red swimsuit tight enough to expose fat rolls, I blended into the rush for tubes.
The intake, you see, entry point for smuggled goods. All around me I saw them, the contraband, their method of transport usually black rubber tubes, some with mesh containers and coolers, all of them stuffed with similarly clad butts. Butts in tubes roped together -- the connection.
A rubberized chain gang, filling the river's fast-flowing current, the lifeblood of Mother Nature. The Guadalupe curves, rolls, then flattens and sweeps out. Water volume varies, sometimes by several feet on the water gauge -- in hours. Ride the Guadalupe twice one day, and you'll see different rivers. It rose fifteen feet the day after our plunge.
We saw debris thirty feet up, hanging off massive trees, leaning toward the flow. Shore lines were lined with root balls, twisted brown shapes wriggling over and under and around obstacles...or each other. Established, that's what I'd call those trees. Behind the root art lay flood damage, downed trees, wrecked homes. The Hundred Year Flood was just months ago. People died.
The Guadalupe sweeps over rocks and slabs, creates and surrounds islands. It carves, marks and changes the landscape it dominates.
But my discreet entry to the Guadalupe's criminal wave was foiled, and my wife and the friends who'd led me there -- my snitches -- made three critical errors. We were grossly underweight, i.e. too thin; we had no tattoos, and we weren't drunk.
Outed on the Guadalupe. The shame of it.
All around us we heard the clarion call, "Butts Up". We expected puffs of smoke, the sweet smell of burning hemp, maybe a few foot-longers. You know, Cheech and Chong stuff.
But this signal meant something else: a herald for defensive action; ignore at one's peril.
Unfamiliar with the Code of the Guadalupe (Jiggers the Cops), we gambled and lost. We've got the bruises to show for it. For the call is for rocks, underwater hammers, knives and spears, and tubed as we were, constrained within rubber bounds, legs and heads pointed up, swirling around in current eddies, our trailing fannies -- and body parts nearby -- took the hits.
We bumped from rock to rock like human pinballs, occasionally impaling our buns -- or worse -- on pointy granite slabs. The term "Butts Up" took on a new meaning and exposed us to sights no eyes should see. Exposed skin, and way too much of it -- the wrong parts, too. Some of the show clad in Speedo, some in Spandex, most of it stretched to the snapping point.
Aaiieeyah! My eyes, my eyes!
Another thought: All those coolers, all that beer... Was the water getting warmer?
Eyed warily by those around us and returning the favor, we floated down river, cytoplasmic blobs of connected rubber tubes. Think Dodge-Em cars on water, Superball on a horizontal plane. Think soap bubbles draining -- bump, swirl, spin. There was a nervous tingle in the air. The river churned and throbbed, rolling over slippery surfaces, occasionally presenting a turtle-head for a bit of quick suspense. Snappers can hurt, don'cha know.
There was always someone ahead and someone close by. I saw more tattoos than people.
A tight corner ahead, channels merging, sweeping to the left. We held our collective breaths as once more the call went out: "Butts up!"
Bravely, we turned the corner, and the current slowed to a crawl. Bodies began to stack up, bobbing together in a rubbery blob.
Crimes all around us. We readied ourselves to spring upon 'em.
And saw the locals had beat us to it. New Braunfels cops, copping in a Zodiac. Making arrests by the dozens. Taking names, issuing citations.
Damn! Beaten to the punch,
Should have expected it, I guess. Everybody knows: Cops in Texas are plentiful. More cops in Texas than flies in Florida. More cops than tattoos, oh yes, more cops than deer. And like all Texas cops, these guys were serious. Citations aplenty. Container size, underage drinking and Jello Shots.
Jello Shots: Plastic jello containers filled with vodka-mixed jello. Any flavor.
I'd never heard of Jello Shots, but was told they're deadly. They taste so good and hammer you on the sneak.
We saw plenty of that.
One by one, the two cops moved tube by tube, as one reached in and tossed jello cups to his partner, who dropped them in a large blue mesh trash bag. From a group of thirty-some tubes, our hero flashed a wide grin and held up two such bags. He roared, "A new record!"
Everybody cheered. Yup, even those arrested -- especially those arrested.
And just around the next bend another tube-cluster, this one full of nattering old folks like me. You know, head-shakers, complaining about an iPods music or the double-WMDs somebody flashed. Old folks like me always find something to bitch about.
Meanwhile, some drunks on shore had two boat coolers full of Jello Shots. They lobbed plastic cups full of the stuff to the Oldies. The summer sun flashed off upturned Jello Shot bottoms as sugar-suicide slowly transformed the white-hairs.
Don't know if money exchanged hands. I can't remember.
The cops say I like strawberry.