Chuck Williams: Remember the Chattahoochee River race? I do -- sort of

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMay 20, 2013 

They are three most compelling words in Southern English.

“Bubba, watch this …”

What happens after those words are uttered is usually spectacular — and often really stupid. The aftermath is tinged with regret and this strange Southern pride.

I must admit, I have had my Bubba-watch-this moments. One of those included a raft trip down the Chattahoochee River during my college days. Seven of us built a homemade raft out of plywood, 2x4s and Styrofoam. We tested its seaworthiness at Creektown Park on Lake Eufaula.

It was the early 1980s, and we were ready for the big time. We brought our vessel — in pieces stacked on a trailer — to Columbus for the Chattahoochee River Raft Race.

Back then, someone actually thought having a bunch of drunks in a man-made flotilla was a good idea. It was probably a trial lawyer.

Our Eufaula bunch was ready for anything the big city could throw at us. We had six cases of beer and a spiked watermelon for lunch.

What could possibly go wrong?

It didn’t take me long to figure out I was much safer off the raft than on it. So, I jumped in an inner tube, put a six-pack of beer on my belly and floated happily down the ’Hooch.

By mid-afternoon, I was still floating somewhere near the sewage treatment plant when a family friend pulled up beside me in his boat. He asked if I wanted a ride back to Eufaula. To this day, that friend calls me “manatee.”

And that must be exactly what I looked like floating aimlessly down the muddy river.

Safely in the boat, we sped south. There was more beer and no worries.

Late in the afternoon, I was home. At the time my dad lived on Lake Eufaula, so our friend just dropped me off at the nearest dock. I stumbled up the hill, staggering my way through the playroom door.

My dad met me at the top of the steps. I greeted him like any college-age son in my condition would — “What’s up big boy?”

I can’t believe I still have teeth.

Long story short, I went up to my room and fell asleep. All my buddies — including my brother — were stuck in Columbus. To make matters worse, I had the car keys. About 10 p.m., the calls started coming in. I wasn’t a lot of help.

They scrambled a rescue party to retrieve the lost crew. I think they finally found them somewhere along Sixth Avenue around midnight.

The rest of it did not turn out well. But we all lived to tell about it — barely.

Why, you ask, am I digging up these bones? Simple, it is a story worth repeating as the Chattahoochee River whitewater park opens this weekend. The water is much swifter and the risks far greater than they were 30 years ago.

Anyone can go into the river of their own device and take their chances. If you follow these rules you should be OK: Always wear a life jacket; use common sense; and don’t be an idiot.

And, whatever you do, don’t look at your buddies, say, “Bubba, watch this,” and try to go down it in an inner tube.

You might just look like a manatee.

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com.

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