Dateline: Cabin 23
Somewhere in Shreveport a security guard is shaking his head.
He's tellin' the wife a Classic story of his own.
In security guard school, they don't train you for this: A Close Encounter of the db Kind.
Here's a shout out to all the security guards and local law enforcement people that are here keeping peace and order at the Classic Compound ... and to all you people ... I apologize.
I figure I'll do it up-frontlike, and you'll be more forgiving when I go to db'ing stuff on your watch — save you the time of getting all redfaced and spitting as you have just witnessed something I just did, or was about to commit had you not been standing right there but still had that "yep-I-was-about-to-commit that" look on my face when you caught me.
So here's why this exact conversation is taking place right now at some security guard kitchen table: "Ma, you're not going to believe what happened today."
I'm what happened to the poor guy.
About sometime late yesterday, I get this tip from a whole bunch of people who happen to be watching the same tip thing, which is why I sometimes get multiple "Top Secret Tips."
Tipsters: "db, there are some strange goings-on in the boat yard that you have got to see to believe."
Now, having been in the boat yard many times and having actually witnessed "tipable" things my ownself, I'm not actually surprised to be getting these calls, but, as I seem to be a "Strange Magnet," I key in on the S-word.
Me: "Strange? How strange?"
Tipsters: "db strange."
Me: "I'll be there."
Here's the part where this tip thing starts to go bad. To witness these strange doings I have to be there at 5 a.m., which is morning to some, but still yesterday to me.
If you have read anything I have ever written you KNOW that morning — the new day — that first day of the rest of our problems, never, NEVER begins for me until at least after the 3rd or 4th running of the morning SportsCenter.
Nothing before that counts.
So, once again I have managed to say yes to something when I had no idea what I was yesing to.
At 4:15 a.m., the cabin alarm clock goes off and pretty much simultaneously ends up in the garbage pail over there in the john.
At 4:30 a.m., the alarm clock I can't reach goes off. I'm up already. Enough.
For some reason, before I went to bed, only a few hours before this event, I thought it would be wise if I laid out the clothes for the morning, to save time, so I did ... I laid them out with me in them ... just never bothered to take them off.
'Cept the shoes.
Take a handful of vitamins for my health, down them with a can of Coke, grab a three-day-old Krispy Kreme I found on the pillow next to me, and out the cabin door I go, heading in the general direction of the tip.
Here's where I pretty much make the security guard "Moron Hall Of Fame."
As I'm stumbling toward the tip I see up above me this huge, HUGE, bright-arse moon. A Harvest or some kind of Fish moon. A once-in-a-lifetime (specially with my sleeping habits) photo op.
So I lean against this cop airboat thing, all camouflaged up so we think it is some kind of 40-mph bush coming at you and not the water police, and I tell the security guard standing by the fence that, "I'll be done leaning on this cop boat as soon as I take a picture of the moon up there."
This is the part when the security guard at the kitchen table starts laughing and can barely be talking.
So as I steady myself from this 48-hour yesterday I seem to be living, I flip the camera to auto, my eyes have no chance of focusing on anything until about 10-minutes past Oprah, and the lens does its fuzzy, nope not fuzzy, oops fuzzy again thing and then the moon comes into other-worldly crisp focus, and about 3 seconds after it does this, I see exactly this:
Written in red ... on the moon.
And, as I take the camera away from my face and look at the moon, which just happens to be a huge blown-up ESPN balloon thing, I turn to look over my shoulder at the security guard who is just standing there, mouth all open and agape, cigarette dangling, eyes all bulging out and white like as he stood there watching me take a picture, "of the moon."
The Tip: The Running of the Bass
So, I leave the moon photo op pretty quick, with the mouth still wide open security guard watching me every step of the way and head for the reason for this early yesterday wake up call.
The Volunteer Observers.
Believe it or not, there are people out there who, upon their own free will, get up earlier then yesterday, in all sorts of weather, just to come to the Classic to WATCH, official-like.
Frankly, it was only after the nap I just took that I remembered that I actually forgot to ask the observers what it is that they are supposed to observe, but I'm guessing that BASS puts them on each Classic competitor's boat to make sure no shenanigans are going on fish catching-wise, but if this is the last column you ever read of mine on BASS you'll know that statement I just made was probably not correct.
Now, so you yourself don't have to get up yesterday, come down here and sneak by the still-shocked security guard, let me save you all that planning and just TELL you what happens.
Fifty-one or so of the volunteer observers, all wearing yellow caps, meet in the boat yard around 5 a.m.-ish, get instructions on a bunch of stuff I also remembered after my nap that I neglected to write down, and then they are told, "OK, go to your boats."
And all hell breaks loose.
It's Pamplona, Spain, without the horns. It's Le Mans without the driver's dash. It's not a thing you want to be standing in front of.
Which I was.
Suddenly, ABSENT the cue I told the BASS bosses to give me to let me know it was about to start, 51 men and women, turn from the meeting, and sprint ... SPRINT to the boat of their favorite angler.
This is first come first choosing business here.
And all that stood between them and their favorite boat was me. db.
Legs, arms, beer bellys, all in a blur by me. Arms pumping, health-care cards in their back pockets twitching, knees aching, back spasming all out sprint to glory and a heating pad future.
The morning dash to dreams.
The Yellow Caps
Dempsey Young, a retired sheriff detective from Lake Charles, La., has been here all week, on his own dime, as have the others.
"To learn from the best, I love to fish, and this opportunity to fish with the best in the world, you couldn't hold me back."
That would be right ... Dempsey was one of the first yellow caps at the boat.
Jody Simmons, a lumber yard manager from Henderson, Texas: "The only thing, the ONLY thing better would be to be able to fish against these guys."
I've seen the looks on these faces before: A guy as he looks at a 60-inch Plasma HDTV hanging in front of HIS chair; a wife when you get your anniversary date RIGHT; A child on Christmas morning.
"You learn so much, it's unbelievable," DeWayne Lewis, President of the Mansfield, Texas Bassmaster Club. "It's like going to school out on the water."
Gary Krouse, an air traffic controller from Baton Rouge, La., "It's as close as I will ever come to the sport I love, plus it allows me the opportunity to give BACK to the sport that has done so much for me and the other guys out here."
And then, down at the end, stands James Person from North Carolina. "I been fishing since I was 5, 'bout 5. Yep."
That would be 55 YEARS of fishing experience.
"I love seeing how these boys work out there, how they catch those big bass, love just talking with 'em. Been just about with all of them now you know."
That's because this is James' 14th Classic. In a row. As an observer.
"Seen a lot, yep, learned a lot more. Yep. Respect what they're doing."
Me: "Why do you do it, why keep doing it?"
"Huh ... must be because I justs loves it ..."
He's looking past me, eyes seeing through the darkness of the boat yard, and amidst all the chaos around us, the noise of boats and trailers, shouts, Hey's and Hi's, power tools fired up and down, around James there is calm.
The calm of being here and doing that.
" ... I justs loves it, that's all, justs loves it, I do."
Don Barone is a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. Other stories of his can be found on Amazon.com. For comments or story ideas, you can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com