To say that the initial Friday of our "Everglades encounter" was packed with firsts for everyone would be an understatement of immense proportions. Whether it was the first time in a class with two professors or the first time in the Everglades or the very first time ever coming face-to-face with a fifteen-foot gator, everyone was encountered with a first experience of some sort. For every person embarking upon this "Everglades encounter", the cliche took on a whole new meaning; there truly is a first time for everything. No matter how extraordinarily bizarre or how insignificantly routine these occurrences seemed, one thing is certain: they shall never be forgotten.
Even the most trivial of experiences might have been a memorable first for some of those involved. Several students made mention of the fact that this would be their first time in a class with field work. Others still noted that they had never taken a class that met on Fridays. Similarly, one student proclaimed this would be his first time in the Everglades much to the chagrin of both professors. For others, a relatively memorable experience regarding this class might have come when they purchased all seven books for one class in one semester for the very first time. Yet another first time was stumbled upon when our "encounter" veered off into an entirely different kind of environment: cyberspace. This too was a first for some. These minute concurrences, like so many others, filled the cracks in a day that would have otherwise been as predictably topsy-turvy as the next.
As memorable as the insignificant occurrences may have seemed to some, they are still no comparison for the extraordinarily bizarre first times that took place on that initial Friday. For example, the thrill of a first airboat ride was enough to whet the curiosity of one dedicated engineering student. For many it was the very first time they had come within an arm's length of the menacing snout of a terrifying alligator while others had never before run their smooth, pale hands across the abrasive and seemingly callous hide of a gator (while it was still alive). One student remarked that he had never heard the bone-chilling hiss of a fifteen-foot alligator. Another student was amazed to hear an awe-inspiring gator growl for the very first time. This left such an impression that he confused the growl for a lion's roar. Some students laughed at the thought of their first visit to an establishment that served "gator tail" as part of the chef's native cuisine. These peculiar happenings provided even more novelty to a day full of novel occurrences. Nonetheless, all of these bizarre experiences cannot even come close to the peculiarity of most unusual of these firsts which took place on one student's very first airboat ride. This rarity can only be worded one way: a complete role reversal.
The very first time a person rides an airboat you get an unusual sensation. You feel as though the driver is in control of something that is seemingly uncontrollable. This very thought can be unnerving at best. Commonly, airboat tours include a tumultuous ride through sawgrass and water and swampy marshes. There you are sitting on the water-sled that twists around, turns behind, and tumbles near any and every marshy obstacle in its way. Like any novice you cringe and, the driver gets his kicks. Well, this is not the worst of it. Later on in your tour, you spot a gator in the water. All of a sudden, the driver, with a smug look on his face, stops to feed it (which is quite illegal). Now, the gator stops on the right of the boat and kind of surveys the passengers with his glassy eyes. The driver then gives the passengers instructions for estimating the length of a gator by looking at its snout. Now, to the average person this is all fine and dandy, but, to the unnerved passenger this is all too similar to a very common experience only with a slight twist. This first time on an airboat engaged with a gator is very much like a person going to the meat section of your local market and selecting the nicest, plumpest, freshest meat available. In this case, however, the driver is your butcher, the gator is the shopper, and YOU are the fresh meat! You see, the driver uses the instructions for alligator measurement as code words for "Hey, Mr. Gator, look in the middle, at the fat kid with the facial hair. He's easily 200 pounds and ready to go. He's not lean, but there's a whole lot of meat on them bones. Tell me he wouldn't be nice for your rainy season feast. Go ahead, just take'em. He's all good to go!" Now, this could just be a figment of my imagination, but, that gator did look hungry and as a two-hundred pound kid with facial hair who was quite nervous, I was not taking any chances. Both arms and both legs could not be any tighter, and I could not have avoided eye contact any better. Say what you like, but I won't ever forget my first time on an airboat tour of the Florida Everglades. This is by far my most memorable first of this initial Friday.
There is no question that this first day was filled with first times for everyone. Likewise, there is no question that these experiences are all memorable in some way for everyone. Undoubtedly, these firsts ranged from the eternally routine to the frighteningly bizarre. The routine will remain notable for some while the bizarre shall remain memorable for most; but, my experience with a hungry gator, a sardonic tour guide, and a starring role as the "tasty tourist" will forever endure in my mind as truly unforgettable.
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