Our old hippie ways almost got us into trouble the other night. It was Friday night on a holiday weekend. “I have an idea,” I said to my husband as we sat on the deck towards dusk sipping cocktails, “Let’s eat dinner at Bernie’s in Columbiana and then drive down to the lake and go skinny-dipping after dark.” It was a plan. We got ourselves together, packed a bag with towels, jumped in the Firebird and hit the road.
A few weeks ago, we had been driving around looking for a public place to swim on Lay Lake. We found one about half an hour from our house. We followed the ‘Public Boat Launch’ signs to a serene and beautiful part of the lake with the kind of verdant surroundings you see only in Alabama. There was a boat ramp, a nice, new t-shaped dock, and some grassy areas that served as a small beach. The list of rules posted in the parking lot said “No swimming within 50 feet of the launch.” There was plenty of room to swim on the other side of the launch. We swam and sunned that day and met some nice boat people. The cool lake water was still and deep. It was great place to swim, we decided, as long as you’re mindful of the boats coming in and going out. After dark, we thought, it would be perfect for skinny-dipping.
So, on this particular Friday night, we drove to Columbiana and had a nice dinner at Bernie’s, all the while keeping an eye on the last bits of daylight coming in through the front windows. When it was dark, we paid our bill and left, anticipating our private moonlight swim. We drove with the top down through the cool of the evening, breathing the deliciously fragrant air of summer in Shelby County.
When we got to the boat launch at about 9:00, there were quite a few trucks with trailers in the parking lot, which meant that there were still people on the lake who would be coming in at some point. It was quiet, so we decided we could get in a quick swim. We walked out to the dock, stripped and jumped in. The water was surprisingly warm – the long days of sunshine had warmed it up. It was perfect.
Soon my watchful husband saw a boat approaching on the water without lights or motor. We ducked under the dock. I squinted to see what he was seeing. Yes, there it was, a small fishing boat being paddled in. We wondered why they were coming in so stealthily.
Suddenly, the water lit up with the red, white, and blue flashing lights of the Water Patrol which had also spotted the dark boat. The cops herded the little boat to the dock. They were coming right towards us. It was an ‘uh oh’ moment. My husband moved to stand in chest-high water in the shadows, and I stood behind him. We were very still, hiding on the other side of the dock, naked.
Three standard-issue redneck kids, 18 or 19 years old, were in the boat. They pulled closer and closer to the dock. We could see them, but they couldn’t see us. The cop stood up and began questioning the boys. One boy said their front light was broken and they didn’t want to attract attention by running with just the back light, so they were hoping to sneak in. But the Water Patrol had good eyes. So good in fact, that the cop’s next question was, “Have you seen any people swimming nekkid out here? There’s their clothes up on the dock.” No, the boys hadn’t seen anyone swimming nekkid. Not yet, I thought.
What a pickle we were in. My husband whispered, “You can write about this in your blog.” I whispered back, “Let’s see if there’s a happy ending first.”
The cop started shining his flashlight over the water, looking for nekkid swimmers. My husband stepped out of the shadows and raised his hand, smiling calmly. I stayed behind him, mostly out of view. “There they are,” said the cop. He addressed my husband, “You know you’re not supposed to be swimming out here.” My husband responded, “I’m 50 feet from the launch.” The cop couldn’t argue with that.
He asked, “Are these your clothes up here?”
“Yes, our clothes are up there, but our bathing suits are down here.”
“Oh,” said the cop with relief in his voice, “So you’re wearing bathing suits.”
“Of course,” my husband replied.
I thought I might faint.
“Well,” said the cop after a pause in which he clearly pondered his next move, “that’s fine then. We’ll be out of your way in a minute.”
We stood where we were in the water and waited while he lectured the boys at length and wrote out a citation. I fought a fit of nervous giggles. We waited. We were glad the water was warm.
We waited while the Water Patrol pulled away and the three boys maneuvered their boat to the dock so one of them could climb out and get their truck, then we waited while they maneuvered the boat to the launch ramp. We waited while the truck backed down the launch and the boys hooked and tied and chained it all together and then pulled the boat out of the water. It’s a long, slow process. When you’re standing naked in the water, it seems very long and slow indeed.
We were hopeful that these kids would drive away quickly, but it was not to be. Another truck arrived with more kids in it – friends of the boys in the boat. Suddenly there was a party in the parking lot. Then another boat motored in from the lake and pulled up to the dock -- a family. I groaned. The mother and her teenage daughter got out on the dock with their freshly-caught fish, stepped around our clothes, and went to get their truck. We were surrounded. I hoped no one had a video camera.
We considered our options. A) We could wait for all of them to leave, but there would probably be more boats coming in for the next hour or two, and we had had enough of standing in the water. B) We could make a naked dash to the bank and down the dock to where we had left our clothes, but that clearly would have been an uncalled-for spectacle. We opted for plan C: My husband quickly hoisted himself up on the dock and grabbed our underwear. His could easily pass for swimming trunks and mine could be taken for a beige bikini if you didn’t know what a bra and panties look like. We slipped into the shadows and somehow got dressed underwater.
We walked out of the lake holding hands and avoiding eye contact with the crowd of people around us. I think we appeared nonchalant, but inside I was wavering between hysterical laughter and absolute mortification. We walked casually to the end of the dock. I slipped into my dress, we gathered our things, and headed for our car. Eyes were averted as we passed. I appreciated, once again, the innate politeness of the South.
A happy ending was had by some: the boys got a ticket, the family got a load of fish, everyone got an eyeful, and we had our swim.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, we finally burst out laughing. We could see the headlines in the Shelby County Reporter: Skinny-Dipping Seniors Busted at Lay Lake.
I, for one, have learned my lesson: wait until midnight next time.