“I’m negotiating with the airport. They want five grand. I told them $3,500.”
It was around 10 p.m. on a Friday night after the final day of the Creative Machines event here in St. Petersburg, FL.
About twenty of us were gathered in my favorite local bar, The Scott, in the lobby of a quaint hotel downtown when it all started.
Sam Woods was talking with Angie Colee and a few others when the subject of skydiving came up.
Some had done it, others “always wanted to,” and Sam decided they should go do it right now.
“You mean TONIGHT!?”
“Yes, tonight,” said Sam. “What could be cooler than skydiving at night?”
“I’m in!” exclaimed Ross O’Lochlainn, followed by a chorus of others, followed by Angie who said reluctantly, “I’m scared… but screw it, I’m in.”
Within minutes Sam was on the phone with a local skydiving company making the request.
“Yes, tonight. Just tell me your price,” said Sam to the dumbfounded, and, I’m guessing, somewhat inebriated, instructor.
He held the phone away from his ear and announced, “Five hundred a piece… It’s normally two fifty. Yes?”
After counting the “yeses,” Sam said into his cell, “Sounds good. There’s four of us.”
Despite some goading, I was not one of the four.
Years ago, sure… But a traumatizing bungee jumping experience changed me.
Back in my road days, I had the bright idea to kill a Saturday at the comedy condo by bungee jumping and talked the other comic, Joe, into doing it with me.
I can’t remember the town, but I’ll never forget the cracked-pavement parking lot where the crane was set up with a hand-drawn sign that said, “Bungee Jump!” and an arrow pointing towards the crane.
These days, flinging people from a mechanical scaffolding is quite common – especially in the south.
You can’t walk down 40 feet in Orlando without seeing a terrorized teenager from Ohio swinging wildly from a rubber band while their yahoo parents video from the ground.
Somehow this is legal and, not only considered safe, but a must-have memory for pasty visitors to “the sunshine state.”
“Up next, kids, machine guns!”
The parking lot crane back then, I’m sure, was not legal, and most likely rented from a place with a name like “Get-R-Done Heavy Equipment.”
Joe and I gleefully signed the waiver and handed over our $20 to the crane guy who looked like an out-of-work carnie with less teeth, while his partner, Beavis, strapped us into the harnesses.
“Whoss firssst?” asked the carnie, whistling through a jack-o-lantern smile.
“I’ll go,” said Joe, looking to impress his girlfriend, who was traveling with him, and standing next to me on the ratty asphalt with a concerned look.
We blocked the sun with a hand to our foreheads and watched Joe ascend bravely into the air until he appeared as a tiny shadow figure, receiving instructions from Outlaw Johnny, the toothless thrill conductor.
Joe held his arms above his head like a swim team diver and leapt headfirst, the coiled rubber rope unfurling behind him.
The first bounce was perfect. Or, at least, as perfect as being jerked skyward by a stringy cord can be.
Then we saw it.
The shape of what appeared to be… liquid, flying from Joe’s head.
“What is THAT?” said Joe’s girl, clasping her hands over her mouth in shock.
“Did he… puke?” I stammered, grasping for logic.
Just then, as Joe made his second of several awkward bounces, the mystery liquid splashed down in drops at our feet.
“Oh shit, blood,” I announced, and began pulling desperately at my harness to loosen it from my waist.
“BABY!” screamed Joe’s girlfriend, “Are you okay? Can you hear me?”
Joe was now dangling a few feet from the ground, blood smeared across his face and soaked in his long, orange hair like a strange salon coloring gone wrong.
“I’m fine,” Joe replied, looking shaken, but otherwise unharmed.
“Get this fucking thing off me!” I yelled to Beavis, who was standing motionless, staring at the horrific scene with a look of indecision over whether to help or run.
We jumped into my Oldsmobile and rushed to the hospital where, two hours later, the doctor shrugged and said, “There’s no sign of impact. Best I can guess is he popped a blood vessel.”
The running theory was that because Joe’s a ginger, and redheads have thinner skin, plus the fact that he’d been chomping NoDoz pills to help him stay awake on long drives (common practice for truck drivers – and road comics)…
… jumping from a crane and being yanked back at 50mph was the perfect storm of bad decisions that led to him squirting blood onto a random slab of concrete on a Saturday afternoon.
(We did two shows that night, with loads of fresh material from the adventure.)
So, to say I wasn’t “in” for Sam’s spontaneous midnight skydiving plan, is an understatement.
The fact that he negotiated his scheme all the way to the local airport, thwarted only by their hefty price for “looking the other way,” is both impressive and concerning.
We settled for a karaoke bar where we sang and laughed our heads off past midnight.
These are the moments that make leaving home worth all the effort.
You can’t make these stories up.
You’ve got to be there.