Friday, September 2, 2011


image borrowed from bing


In the Emerald City,
before Seattle
was called Jet City,
Seafair started as an annual event
in 1950;
amidships in the Highlands
of Renton
I was six years old,
living in a government
housing project,
left over from WWII,
next door to my grandparents.

Early in August,
we heard a deafening cacophony
of something called
ten miles off
on Lake Washington;
slim racing boats
powered by plane engines;
V-12 Rolls Royce Merlins and Allisons,
roaring lake monsters
fast-flying surface watercraft
called “hydroplanes”—
screaming low over the flat surface,
barely touching the lake
with a tiny fraction of the hull,
planing powerfully
at 160.323mph;
sporting a single tall tail,
shaped like a fighter’s—
their twin sponsons
fully airborne
on both sides of the wide bow,
with the driver, engine
and steering equipment stuffed
into a narrow rectangle
dead center.

For years
as children
we would listen on race days,
and stare adoringly at photographs
wherever we could find them;
at the ladies of the lake;
Miss Thriftway
Miss Bardahl
Miss Budweiser
Miss Pay-N-Pak
Atlas Van Lines.

We could not afford
a television yet;
had to wait
until 1953,
when a gaggle of us gathered
on the floor in front of
a huge blond wooden cabinet
with a 12” round screen,
broadcasting in black and white
those gallant roostertails,
those crowds,
those pits,
those heats—
all the spectacle
we could stand.

Bill Muncey
piloted Miss Thriftway,
and Seattle owned
the Gold Cup
for most of my tweens
and teens,
until Kennedy became President,
and the turbulent 60’s,
pulsating with civil rights,
and the Viet Nam War,
stole our youthful focus,
and we just did not notice
when the Cup was won
by outlanders,
and the race,
and honor
was taken at night
to other bays, rivers, and lakes,
in faraway lands
with names like
Detroit, Madison, and San Diego.

Muncey was fierce,
a son of Neptune,
laughing into the lenses
as he was told he was
“too old to win”,
Continuing to drive
up into his 50’s,
setting unlimited hydro records
that have never been beaten—
until 1981
in Acapulco,
when he died at the wheel
in a blowover crash
traveling at 175mph.

You know
they rebuild and improve
putting cunning canards
where bulky tails resided;
reversing the width,
changing sponsons
into outriggers,
placing horizontal stabilizers
aft and astern,
bestowing aerodynamics upon
planes of the water—
while we Boomers
age hard like cedar posts,
creaking, graying, stoop-shouldered,
sporting big bellies,
blemishes, moles, and flakey skin;
clucking our tongues,
squinting fleshy lids,
pointing arthritic fingers,
and fussing about
how the good old days
will never return,
and today’s
admission prices,
faggy safety measures,
gas prices,
the Bush Wars,
the New Crusades,
and our latest surgeries.

in late summer when
thunderous bellicose churning
of super-charged props
propel hydroplanes
over 200mph,
tossing their proud roostertails
like water stallions,
shooting lake mist
thirty feet in the air,
it never fails
to stir
old blood,
old ears,
and thrill
old hearts.

Glenn A. Buttkus

August 2008

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