"On and on the rain will fall…"
Dateline: I, A Statue
From the corner of her sunglasses, came a tear.
And I stood frozen.
From the perfect lipstick, came a quiver.
And I stood frozen.
From under the flowered blouse, came a sob.
And I stood frozen.
From a whisper, came, "db … "
And I stood frozen.
Until I saw her shaking, and then I took two steps and grabbed her arm and I told her in the softest voice I could bear, "It'll be OK," even though I didn't know what "it" was, or if "it" would in fact, be "OK."
But deep inside of me, this I knew, for many of us standing backstage at the B.A.S.S. weigh-in, how fragile we …
… as the bags holding dreams inch closer to the stage.
… as friends and loved ones grasp the handles of livelihood.
… as the financial future of families are measured by the ounce.
And all I could say, as her arm trembled under my hand, all I could say was, "It'll be OK," as I hoped the tears would stay trapped behind the Costas.
Because as I looked at her and saw the tears run down her face.
I knew, that Bobbi Chapman, was crying for many of us.
How fragile, we.
" … like tears from a star like tears from a star … "
I was two feet away from Bobbi Chapman when she broke down behind the B.A.S.S. stage at the Pride of Georgia event on West Point Lake in Georgia.
I'm going to be brutally honest here, say something I never told Bobbi or her husband, Elite Angler, Brent Chapman, but I think Bobbi's breakdown behind that stage was one of the single most memorable moments in sports that I have ever been around.
And I have been around some big-time sports moments.
Sport is at its purest form … emotion.
I have interviewed hundred's of professional athletes and I know standing there holding the microphone that when these guys go into their PR Sport Speak that you've heard a thousand times, I'm STANDING there and I don't care what they are saying, I'm not even listening … how … or why … in the world would you at home care.
"Yes db, I got up to the plate and I hit the ball … blah … blah … blah."
Wake me up when the game is over.
Trust me, it's like interviewing a rock.
When I talk about writing my hands get to moving all about, my arms swinging this and that-a-way, my face gets as animated as it can and I'm spouting and spiting and moving.
I'm alive for all the beauty of life for all the ugliness of life, for the emotion of life.
Dudes … if you love something, SHOUT FOR IT, fight for it, cry for it, laugh for it … SHOW IT!
Bobbi Chapman … do not be embarrassed over your tears … do not apologize for your tears. Thank you for your emotion, thank you for the very human display of what it takes, what the stakes are, what it means to be a professional tournament angler, and the family of one.
I gave the Chapman's two or three chances to back out of this story. If they said they didn't want to do it I never would have said a word, you never would have known, but I also told them this, when I show up to talk to you think of it as going to the dentist. I'll be gentle, but it might be painful.
I will only do it if you open your life up so that people understand. Open your life up in an extraordinary fashion, and after thinking about it, they both, BOTH, said, simply, "OK."
Driving to the interview, my only thought was…
… how fragile, we.
" … on and on the rain will say … "
"db, we are just scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck, Brent's been in the Bassmaster Classic 10 times … but over the last couple of years with the economy and everything, we have taken a 75 percent pay cut."
It's 7 p.m., still 93 degrees, Brent is sitting on the front deck of his boat fixing his tackle for the next day, he's been "at work" for 13 hours today, and he's still not done, still hasn't eaten dinner.
And is facing a reporter asking questions about his personal life.
Bobbi is sitting in the passenger seat of the boat, watching Brent, watching me, watching their two children, 7-year-old Mason and 5-year-old Makayla, run around and play outside of their 5th wheel home on the road.
"We are one season away from big trouble, real big trouble, collapse of everything, that's how bad."
I'm leaning up against the boat, both Brent and Bobbi are in my sight, as Bobbi says that I see Brent frown and shake his head up and down. This is a man built with the strength and backbone of a blue collar who works from dawn to dusk, and can't catch up.
Working hard, but still, just getting by.
More bills, fewer answers. The future that you could once grasp in your hands, now just rainwater flowing between your calloused fingers.
"db, so far this year we have made a Classic check for fifth place, and two cuts … total about $45,000. Entry fees are something like $43,000. Our expenses run around $20,000 a year … so we are facing bills of around $63,000 and income so far of $45,000."
About 18 grand in the hole.
"Brent looks up, finishes tying a knot, bites off the end of the line and says, "Thank God for the sponsors, our sponsors, without them taking care of what we can't, without them, we wouldn't be here, couldn't."
Behind him, in the passenger seat, Bobbi wipes her eyes.
I'm not saying anything, they've opened up their personal finances to me out here in the heat and sweat; next came their heart.
"db, this is all I know how to do, I've been fishing since I was 13 years old, I love this, love it (love it said in the way you say you love someone who you know can break your heart) I don't have any trade to fall back on, if not this I couldn't imagine what else I could do."
Bobbi is talking to me but looking to her right, past the driver's seat of the boat, out to the field her children are playing in, "We are just like everyone else with children … you've got …"
Bobbi didn't finish, she just sat there looking at the play, listening to the giggles, wondering about the future college bills, the clothes they grow out of so quickly, all the things marketed a child's way even if the parents can't pay.
Up until this point it was Bobbi who did most of the talking, but I could tell from how she sat, imploding inwards, that I knew she was done, she sat there just staring past me, past the boat, past the field, past her children, staring out there looking for the future, afraid of what she might see.
" … how fragile we are … "
Brent puts down his tackle and moves over closer to Bobbi, sits on the step next to her, looks down at the carpet, glances at her hands folded in her lap, looks up at me.
"I never realized how selfish a person was until I had children."
I see Bobbi swallow hard. Brent continues.
"I may have taken it for granted, making a check, but you know what, it has forced me to realize how to keep life in balance, sure we need this to work, but I also have to focus on family, focus on faith."
Then Bobbi starts talking, answering a question that was playing out in her head. May have taken both Brent and myself by surprise.
"When I saw his face I knew he was just trying to hold it together, hold it together in front of those he competes against, hold it together for the crowd, hold it together and just focus on getting across that stage."
Bobbi was sitting in the boat, but was really once again, backstage in Georgia.
"I just couldn't hold it back db, couldn't pull it together … "
I have no follow-up, there can be no follow-up.
The two of them just sit in the boat, I just lean up against it … we are all looking far ahead, afraid of what we may see.
So I ask Brent this question, "Dude, I know you just got back from helping out in Joplin compared to those poor people how … "
And he jumps my question.
"No question about it db, we are so fortunate for everything we have, I just spent five days in Joplin with a chainsaw. It hit me hard, we were just about to cut up a lump of trees and limbs and the cops pull up with dogs and start sniffing the clump of debris that we were going to hit next … the Pastor there said that later in the day they found the body of a 3-year-old in it. It hit me hard."
Brent is talking, his hand is gently stroking Bobbi's leg.
"Our pastor tells us that to serve others is very important … we were driving by this house in Joplin and in the driveway a car was sitting and it had all the windows blown out of it. I saw that a guy was walking up the driveway so I stopped the truck and ran up to him and told him I had a couple tarps in the truck and we could cover his car for him so if it rained it wouldn't get inside … and while we were doing it he stood there watching with tears in his eyes, couldn't believe we would do that."
I saw that private glance between husband and wife, the glance that, even facing what they face, the look said, not making the cut, while a problem, is not anything like not having a house anymore, not having your stuff anymore.
As Bobbie said, "Just when you think you have it figured out … everything changes." And it does.
When a Blue Tarp lesson comes your way.
Every person out here from the owners, to the anglers, to me, to the guys who set up the stage and the service crews, are here because we love it.
Every one of us have taken hits. The hit of being away from family for weeks, the financial hits of the three guys who bought this Blue Tarp we call B.A.S.S.
I know the pain of calling home only to hear about all the bills we are faced, with half the income. I know the pain of standing in a supermarket with Elite friends as they figure out what credit card will go through so they can buy food for their family.
I know the pain of $4-something fuel.
I know the pain of lying in bed at night wondering when I have to toss in the towel of all of this.
But so DO YOU.
Which is the point of all of this. We, are you. I wrote, and I know some think I'm crazy, but I believe the four letters of B.A.S.S. stand for USA, for America.
Bobbi, you are a reflection of the lakes you fish, a reflection of the streets and highways we travel. Those in the crowd watching the weigh-ins, are us.
As you stood there crying I stood motionless, as we all did, but as I will never do again.
Because Bobbi, you are us.
And the only way we reach the future that holds such promise, is by going there together.
Just like our fans, just like the people in the crowd, just like America.
Helping each other.
As the big Blue Tarp.
That is, B.A.S.S." … how fragile we are."