Last week, I went on a family vacation with my dad and two little brothers. I hadn’t been on a vacation with them for a while, so this was something I was really looking forward to. The plan was to go the Pensacola area and spend a few days there enjoy fun in the sun, see some sights, and spend time with one of my dad’s buddies from the navy.
I took a Greyhound bus to Louisville and, on the following day, rode down the rest of the way with my dad behind the wheel. We made a stop in Montgomery, Alabama to stay the night so we wouldn’t be too tired once we arrived at our final destination. We arrived in Montgomery during the middle of the afternoon, so we only had a few hours to visit places.
First stop with the Civil Rights Memorial Museum. The centerpiece of the museum is a fountain monument outside of the museum. It is a piece that honors and commemorates the people who lost their lives fighting for Civil Rights. It was designed by Maya Lin who also designed the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, due to construction, we couldn’t visit the monument, so we toured the museum.
The museum was rather small but was an appropriate and somber tribute to those who lost their lives for freedom and equitable treatment. While there was information about notable figures like Emmett Till and Medgar Evers, the museum also featured over 40 other lesser known individuals who faced violent racist attacks. The museum even had a section dedicated to the modern victims of white supremacist violence like Heather Heyer, the young woman who lost her life protesting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
The next stop in Montgomery was the Dexter Parsonage. This was the parsonage where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived during the 1950s. I toured his home and saw how humbly he lived when he served as pastor. In 1954, Dr. King received a threatening phone call in the middle of night. To calm his nerves, he went to the kitchen and made himself some coffee. As he sat his table, he was thinking about his recently born child and the future. He meditated and listened carefully on what he should do. In that kitchen, a voice told him to become an activist for civil rights and that is when he made the decision to become a voice for the movement.
The next day, we went to southern Alabama where my dad’s friend Vince lived. Vince and his wife have lived for four years at a Yogi Bear-themed campground in rural Alabama just north on Gulf Shores and not far from the Florida border.
We drove back and forth between Alabama and Pensacola visiting the beach, walking around, touring the Naval Aviation Museum, and whatever else there was to do. However, all this was leading up for why we made this trip. Dad organized the trip to Pensacola because he wanted to go deep sea fishing. And on the day before we drove back home, that is what we did…sort of.
Dad, the boys, and I all got up early and set out to docks where the fishing charter was to take a group of people to fish for red snapper. We packed up a cooler of waters, snack packs, and other foods since we were going to offshore for about six hours. When we arrived, we took our motion sickness relief pills, waited by the dock, and listened to the instruction and procedures for when we made it out to where the fish are.
Now, I had been deep sea fishing once before in Alaska when I was in middle school. Some family friends were visiting and we went out to Seward to fish. I don’t remember much about the experience, but I don’t recall us being that far out from the water, but I remember it was really gray out, the water was fine, and I caught some fish. Though I cannot remember many other details, I remember it being a fun experience. So, I felt prepared for this trip.
We boarded the charter and took up the front four spots on the starboard side. When we set out, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I was incredibly excited. I really love saltwater. I love the smell and feel of it. So, I felt pretty cool standing along the railing, wearing some sweet prescription sunglasses, and watching the horizon.
As we continued away from the shore, I felt a fine sea mist spray up. It was refreshing and really added a nice touch to my adventure on the open sea. Then, that mist turned into what felt like a lite drizzle until it eventually felt like I was standing in the splash zone of a water ride at a theme park. Now, I hate being wet when wearing normal clothes. And I hate being wet in normal clothes in a humid and sunny environment. You just feel really uncomfortable. So, I took my stuff and waited in the cabin on a bench. It is then that I noticed that the port side was bone dry. We got it on the way out because of the direction of the waves, I thought. They’ll get it on the way in.
I didn’t keep track of time because my cell phone was in a zip lock bag, but we spent at least an hour to get to the fishing spot. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually closer to 90 minutes. Either way, we were approximately 35 miles off the coast when we reached the fishing spot.
At this point, the waves were extremely choppy. Between the crest and trough of the wave, the difference was about six to ten feet and happening frequently enough where the boat rocked an entire wavelength in three seconds or so. It was a consistent rocking that affected the boat on all sides. Our side dipped so much that I thought we would take on water, but we never did.
I stumbled to my fishing station and sat down. Everyone else were standing up to prep their rods and cats their lines. No way in hell was I going to do that. I did want to fall and get a hook caught in me, but my nose on the railing, or, more importantly, break my prescription sunglasses. So, I sat on the bench and lifted my legs against the railing to brace myself.
Our bait were little fish (minnows, maybe?) that were cut in half. I grabbed the head of one and jammed my hook through its eyes as instructed and cast out. While I sat there and waited, I watched the waves because they were particularly mesmerizing. The texture of deep sea water is fascinating and it you marvel at the display and power of the water. Plus, I saw a couple of dolphins and that was badass.
I got a few bites and I rapidly would reel in my line just to be disappointed that I didn’t catch anything. So, I would awkwardly bait my line again as the boat rocked and I kept legs up as a brace. I went through this cycle a few times where I would feel a bite, reel it in to find nothing, and then cast out again.
All the while, I feel a sensation. I remember watching a Henry Rollins special about a decade ago where he talked about riding the Trans-Siberian Express and hearing a little voice in the back of your head. A voice that is associated with a very specific feeling. A voice that tells you, you are going to vomit at some point. That was the sensation I was feeling. Even though my stomach felt fine, that voice in my head woke up and let me know what to expect at some point in the near future. I had to prepare.
We spent about 20 minutes at this spot before the captain called for the lines to be reeled in so we could move somewhere. The fish weren’t biting, so perhaps we would have luck elsewhere. Since I didn’t want to get soaked again, I made my way back to the cabin. The voice in my head was getting louder now. I didn’t know how long it would take before we reached our next spot, so I was determined to silence this voice before we stopped and continued fishing.
As the boat sped along to wherever it was going, I left the cabin and went to the port side. The idea was that I was going to induce vomiting in a spot where my dad wouldn’t see and then make my back to my post and continue fishing. My dad had this trip planned for a while and he was excited about doing it with his sons. I didn’t want to disappoint him because I don’t know how much he spent and I didn’t want to crap out so early.
Even though I didn’t really eat much that morning, I had a surprising amount of vomit come out of my body. I got out as much as I thought there was, went back into the cabin to wait until we got to the next spot, and sat down. As soon as I sat down, I was back it again. I still had some left in me.
After I was done with the second session, I felt for certain I was done. So, I started to make my way back to my dad and brothers. However, after a couple of steps, I thought Oh yeah. This isn’t happening and went to lay down on a bench in the cabin. Excluding the trip out to the first spot, I only lasted 20 minutes. My plan now was to sleep through this awful feeling and not wake up until we were docked.
I did get some sleep, but I woke up at various moments and took in what little I could see or hear. I remember seeing a deck hand apologizing to some people about the poor fishing conditions. While some people were able to catch and keep some fish, others weren’t due to the choppiness of the water. All the while, I’m resting flat and trying to anticipate the motions in some lame attempt to minimize my movement.
I turned my head to the right and saw my little brothers eating bags of chips. I was incredibly grossed out by this. For one, watching them eating nacho-flavored tortilla chips was weirding me out. I had no idea how they were able to eat that junk and not get sick in these conditions. And secondly, they were eating them with their bare hands. Bare hands that were also touching the dead fish we used as bait. Super gross.
During this state, we managed to stop at a few different places to fish. How many exactly I don’t know, but a few. At one point, I managed to get up and go to the marine toilet. If you’ve never sat on a toilet in choppy water conditions, consider yourself luck. The amount of relaxation you need to void yourself is not there, so you have really work at it. It is a mental game for sure, but you’re also using both hands to brace yourself against two different walls to aid yourself as you attempt to feel relaxed enough to do what you need to do and leave. And wiping yourself is no easier as you’re standing bent over with your face bracing a corner so your hands can do what they need to do. It is an awkward experience.
I went back to my bench and tried to sleep. I woke up later to see some weird looking schlubby teenager sitting by my feet and eating Pringles. Now, I was already grossed out watching my brothers eat their chips with their fish fingers, but this kid was the worst. Why? Because he was eating salt and vinegar chips which are the most nasty and potent flavor of chip that there is. I secretly wished he would fall overboard for committing the sin of eating hose nasty things so close to me while I was in this condition.
I kept slipping in and out of consciousness before I realized we were docking. I got up and looked out the window. The port side was still bone dry and I was thinking about how luck they were. I stumbled out of the cabin and sat by dad. I said I was sorry I crapped out so early, but I tried by best to participate. He just laughed. He got sick not long after me and stopped fishing too. I had felt bad because he spent the money to do this and was excited about it. He wasn’t worried about it because we tried it and now we know we don’t ever need to do it again. Surprisingly, despite the water conditions and all the junk food they ate, the boys were fine. One even managed to catch two fish, but they were too small to keep. He was the only one in our group to do so.
I thought this was a funny story and I wanted to find a song about fishing to go with it. Naturally, the first one that came to mind was “John the Fisherman” by Primus. Though first released as a live version on 1989’s Suck on This, the studio recording was released the following year of their first studio album Frizzle Fry.
In the song, John drops out of school and shuns away the normal adolescent desires such as women to become a fisherman. Years later, danger comes over the horizon and the ocean swells. The boat is swallowed by the sea and John dies the fisherman he always wanted to be.
Preparing for this trip, I was imagining I was to be great at catching fish and couldn’t wait to show off photos of all the big and plentiful fish I caught. Obviously, that didn’t happen. In fact, the opposite happened. I’m a terrible fisherman, but at least I didn’t get swallowed up like John. I’ll leave that to him.