Got Dignity? (or “My Introduction to Lake Tahoe Diving”)
Reflections by Darlene Lee
Sometimes, God doesn’t want us to dive. We may will ourselves to make it happen, especially if we’re chicks and feel like we have to push ourselves farther, but somehow, God still wins. Okay, so maybe it was just some kind of cosmic karma problem or other, but I’ll assume divine intervention for this story.
As a new member, I was nervous that not only did I not know any of the Aqua Tutus members beyond introductions, but I was going to a dive site that for me, has always been the result of the leftovers from many winters of skiing, not a place I needed to see underwater. I had heard rumors of underwater currents taking bodies of people that had drown in Lake Tahoe to other lakes via underground tunnels, and many friends I had asked to dive Tahoe with me, had all turned me down over the years as though I was insane.
So, Friday evening, September 9, 2005, I drove to Beverly Lodge to spend the night in an effort to achieve a good night’s sleep for my 9 AM dive. I arrived at about 11:15 after a swift and non-eventful drive to South Lake Tahoe. I checked in behind Tim and his friend Jake and dropped my stuff on the floor, washed my faced and brushed my teeth. I barely had time to ‘jammy’ up before dropping into bed.
It must’ve been about an hour later when the drama began to unfold. I heard the pitter patter of footsteps go downstairs in front of my room, #201, and then a subsequent loud male voice uttering “IF YOU WANT TO DANCE WITH OTHER MEN, THEN YOU SHOULD DATE SOMEONE ELSE B%$CH!”. It’s difficult to quote someone without the actual language, I apologize. Then, there was the in-room scuffle where someone or something heavy was pushed across the room back and forth a few times. I could hear all of this and some random yelling in the parking lot since my room was so close to the stairwell. Some time went by and more pushing or throwing continued as my head pounded. I then heard a man yelling at the first man “STOP BEATING ON YOUR WOMAN, MAN. DO YOU WANT TO GO TO JAIL?” There were a few more back and forth discussions between the two men that suggested that the ‘hero’ saving the beaten girlfriend may have been the man that the girlfriend had danced with in the first place and may have tried to ‘pick up’ on her earlier that evening. Sensing that it wasn’t going well between the two men and that it may be a while before there well –communicated drunken chat ceased, I decided to intercede. Up and out of bed, I thrust open the door to my motel room and out came “IS THIS REALLY NECESSARY?” with all the threat of a Pomeranian. After hearing the sound of my own voice come out sounding much like the Karen character on Will & Grace, I wondered why I was even up. With the best defensive drunken back-up stance he could muster up, the hero yelling at the abuser explained himself “BUT, HE WAS BEATING UP ON HIS LADY”. Tired, I took a deep breath, told him I hoped he could help, but please end it soon. I shut the door and lay back down, gave my heart a few moments to stop pounding out of my chest with adrenaline and tried to sleep.
Not much time passed before the man was trying to get back into his room, more scuffling continued, and then staccato pounding on the door and more yelling ensued. There were some conversations between what seemed to be another woman and the tough boyfriend. I thought of the people in the various episodes of COPS and wondered if I had enough curlers in my hair to actually call someone for assistance. I considered calling the manager of the hotel. I waited a few more moments through the melee until I again thrust open the door only to find a police officer inches from my face. Aghast and out of breath, I asked the officer “WILL IT BE MUCH LONGER?” Be sodden, he lowered and shook his head in shame and pleaded “I’M SO SORRY, NO, IT SHOULDN’T BE”. I explained that my reason for being there on a Friday night was to get a good night sleep in order to dive. Again, he apologized and I reminded him that the fault had nothing at all to do with anything he’d done and thanked him and went to sleep.
Saturday morning arrived; I drove to the Starbucks down the street and arrived at Sand Harbor at 8:45AM, fifteen minutes early. I said my hellos to those I remembered meeting in Castro Valley at the Round Table in August and went back to my car to refresh from the chapter and prep for the dive. As I was prepping gear, I was talking to Ben and Dale in the vehicle to my right about diving dry as opposed to wet and how much better it was for us. As I dressed, I placed the shoulders and neck back over my head and a square inch of rubber fell off into my left hand. “No!” I exclaimed as I realized the implications : no dive, no dive shop nearby, no cute new plastic cert card, no way. My heart was broken in an instant and calm took over as I approached Neil to notify him that I wouldn’t be diving with him. As he inquired, I handed him the obviously-missing piece of rubber and pointed at my neck where the piece belonged. Neil considered duct tape and other options halfheartedly, but knew deep down that I was done for the day.
I paced the parking lot and Jo and Patti suggested to me that the other dive class may know of local dive shops closer that the Reno shop they were aware of. A woman on the other side of the parking lot was kind enough to direct me to a man at the end of the parking lot that owns a dive shop in Carson City, NV called Strictly Scuba. His name was John and he listened to my plight and immediately grabbed his cell phone to contact his shop. He walked the person on the end of the line through boxes of inventory hoping to locate an Apollo seal. He didn’t want me to drive there if he couldn’t help. The person in the shop located the neck seal and John took my dry suit with him, explaining that we should wait some time before coming to his shop since the glue would take a few hours to dry. Jo and I waited an hour or so, and then took off. Carson City is much closer than I had remembered. It took only 20 minutes to get to the dive shop. The look of defeat on John’s face made it clear that my problem had not been solved to his satisfaction. He explained that the neck seal he had in the shop wouldn’t work, so he glued a piece of another seal over the top of the tear and to let it dry over night and then give it a try. His solemn apology was heartfelt, but I could tell by his tone that he did not have faith in this solution. He never charged me for this work, so I bought a few little other goodies, thanked him and headed back to Sand Harbor.
Peer pressure evasion has never been my strong suit, hard to imagine how I made it through school in the 80’s without so much as smoking a cigarette. In that fashion, I was coaxed into trying on other divers various extra wetsuits at the site. Wayne’s top was too big through the shoulders and chest, but oddly enough Syd’s top fit just right! Everyone attempted to convince me, including Jo, that her wetsuit bottom would fit me, but I knew better. I’m at least six inches taller, outweigh her by 30 lbs. or so and quite frankly, I’m just a bigger girl. Okay, I’ll try anything under pressure. It is important to note that I hadn’t planned on diving wet and my undergarments lacked the bathing suit coverage that one would hope for in order to change in the parking lot. Patti offered me her assistance so with a bottle of baby powder and Jo’s tiny wetsuit bottom, off we went to the restrooms. Although a true lady never reveals her age, I now feel that all of my shame and pride were ripped away. Let’s just say it’s been well over thirty years since I had been diapered. The humbling experience of pulling on the legs and having Patti pour powder and pat me down in order to get me in almost made me want to leave Tahoe altogether. Barely able to waddle, I put the top from Syd’s wetsuit over my super-tight Johnny, and wiggled over to my car. Sweating, I donned everything and waddled down to the water.
Now, in Neil’s safety- first way, he was gonna make darn sure that I was clear about what was expected of me in the water so he intercepted my water entry in order to go over, for the second time in half an hour, our dive plan. Patti and Syd could see me sweating and breathing shallow with the strange sound of a baby harbor seal (it’s amazing what a poor fitting wetsuit does to a person); so they pushed their way between Neil and myself, briefly explained that I needed to get into the water and helped me in.
The dive was great with the exception of a little buoyancy trouble and the fact that with each exhale, my mask filled up with water which went up my nose and caused me to choke. I did my seal tricks, did my best to keep my mask clear and then decided that four times choking under water wasn’t the best plan overall. At one point, Jim (ever-patient buddy) asked me how many kick cycles I had counted on our last trick and after choking, coughing, over- inflating, grabbing his arm, dumping air and coughing a few more times, I wrote my reply: “Thanks, 37”. Dennis was on the bottom (possibly napping) nearby, so I decided to give him a shot at my problem, but I had a little trouble getting his attention. I tapped on his fins; no response; pulled on them; no response; poked his shin; no response; pulled on his leg; finally, King Dennis of Atlantis rose to the seated position to see my haphazard attempts to communicate under water that my mask was continuously filling and I was choking on the water coming into my nose. (Not real sure what the PADI signs are for this one- anyone?) He tried to help a few different ways and then I indicated that I had gotten cold and was ready to get out.
Dennis led Jim and I slowly back to shore. I trudged back up to the parking lot and went almost straight to the restroom to get out of the tiny wetsuit. Jo and Patti followed to help and as we passed a few of the $65/person local wine snobs at the wine and cheese fair at Sand Harbor, they noted my being “slightly under-dressed for the occasion”. I abruptly ignored the comment trudging into the bathroom; knowing full well that the fact that I couldn’t feel anything below my waist was not really a good thing for much longer. Some of the ladies in the restroom erroneously came around the corner into the shower seeking more toilets and were likely horrified by the scene. There I was on the little bench in the shower, in the corner, gripping onto the two handrails for dear life as my bottom was elevated and my wetsuit was being ripped off of my body from two other women (laughing hysterically). Now, perhaps in women’s prison this kind of scene is normal, but the wine snobs were not quite used to this kind of activity in their neighborhood. I got out quickly, but realized that I was freezing in a public restroom soaking wet and in my skivies. Jo asked “You know what else you don’t have?” and my immediate thought went to PRIDE as a response as she said “A towel” and took off to further assist me. I can’t remember more helpful people in my life.
For dinner on Saturday, we went separate ways since none of the local restaurants could accommodate a party of 24 on the fly. Sleep wasn’t a problem on Saturday night (I think the previous evening’s guests were either too hung over to continue the melee or had left the motel). Sunday morning, we drove to DL Bliss amid hundreds of cyclists competing in a race on the highway and set up our gear to try again. I took two trips down with my gear, donned the dry suit and snorkeling gear and got into the water. As suspected, the piece of rubber glued onto my suit made the hole too big and water immediately seeped in. Defeated, I walked my gear back to the car, grabbed my dive book and went back down and napped in the sun. I had lent out some of my gear and didn’t want to miss out on any briefings that might help when I have to make up my three missed dives, so I stayed on the beach for the rest of the day catching up on the reading I had missed for class.
The bottom line is no amount of trials and tribulations were going to stand in my way. Think about a great vacation you had where nothing went wrong. You came back to work, people asked about your trip and you may have given them a few details, but mostly, you just said it was great. Now, think about a trip where things went wrong. You came back to work, people asked about your trip and you suddenly remembered every detail and your story went something like: “Okay so first, we’re at the airport and this…..” and every detail of that treacherous voyage stays with you even now. You are actually getting a little grumpy while you’re reading this story thinking back on that trip. Well, I believe that the things that take us out of our comfort zone, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually are the times in our lives that are the most memorable. So although I wasn’t always comfortable this weekend some good came from it; I was able to add another resource for future Sand Harbor divers for nearby tank fills in case future classes don’t want to take four tanks in their cars (Strictly Scuba in Carson City); I found out how truly giving, sharing, helpful, patient and safe Aqua Tutus members are; and I will never forget these two days of my life. I’ll take it! Thanks.