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Tanis in repose

The White Trash Float

AKA: The Jailbait 3K

Highjinks and Shenanegans on the Deschutes

Two years ago the city of Bend installed a new bridge and route over the Deschutes River on Reed Market Road.  It's a very pretty little piece of road for being in the middle of a town.  Last year, they put in a new park called the Farewell Bend Park.  This park has grown increasingly popular with the residents in Bend and rarely does a warm evening go by without this park being filled.  When the summer heat is on this park is absolutely packed from sun up to sun down.  Shortly after the park was finished, a strange thing began showing up in the river; flotillas of young people during the day and a bit older in the evening all drifting lazily down the calm, frigid river.  During the heat of the summer, I don't think it was uncommon for 200 people or more all floating down the river between Farewell Bend Park and McKay Park just on the other side of the Colorado Street Bridge.

Tanis ODonnell setting off on the first part of the White Trash Float on the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon

During the nice, cooler weather I like to run along the river trail during my lunch hour and would see the beautiful women and their boyfriends going down in flotation devices.  I use the words flotation devices, because there is no better way to describe the variety of things people will lay on in order to not have to swim or exert themselves.  I have seen rafts, inflatable kayaks, canoes, row teams, inner tubes, air mattresses, foam noodles, aired reclining chairs, even wooden platforms with a cooler locked down.

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Things are pretty tame with the earlier crowds as they are younger and don't have access to the more destructive habits of the average American.  With the falling of the sun a sometimes more unsavory element drops itself onto the water with all the aplomb of turd on a dinnerplate.  A long time ago, in a corporation far, far away, myself and a few others tried to start a new holiday called "Fiesta de la Basura Blanca", or The Festival of White Trash.  This float trip has now taken on all the aspects of that grand tradition. 

Under the footbridge at the Farewell Bend Park on the Deschutes River

One evening I watched a 300 pound woman floating down on a tiny car tire inner tube, no life jacket and a one year old in her arms, also sans life jacket.  The inner tube was straight from an old VW Bug, struggling for boyancy and took on all the aspects of a drowning dog trying to keep his nose out of the water for sweet life.  She had a 290 pound friend on another over-burdened inner tube lodged up her strap and somehow keeping her (oh, you know she had an unsecured infant as well) afloat.  I am not unopposed to good, old fashioned fun, but c'mon, ladies, if I may be so bold, I think this would be a no-brainer.  But this is what makes up the white trash.  Stupid, thoughtless decisions molded out of expediency and done in a tasteless fashion utilizing MacGyver-like implementation without the mental prowess.  Call it what you will; bigotted, prejudiced, etc, but their is a subspecies of white folk, and while we may love them to death, we like to have at least one foot in between us and them in group photos.  I can dig my white trash compatriots on any given day.  Plus, how the hell would we ever have sit-coms without white trash?

The Black Crater Fire burning behind the Colorado Street Bridge on the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon

Now comes the really sad part.  We have had a couple of deaths on the river in that stretch of water doing the White Trash Float.  Last year there was a semi-pro baseball player from the Bend Elks who drowned and this year two people have died with two more who almost died.  It is no hidden secret that water can be dangerous to the average Joe, but it has hit vibrating frequency out here.  As it is right now, there are a series of huge, orange buoys that cordon off the area you don't want to go down.  The river is so slow you could float for 15 minutes before you even need to start moving towards the outlet and it is so shallow that I believe my six year old could stand up in it.  Yet, this is the dangerous area.

And of course, the inevitable chatter from the beaurocrats and city governments to shut the river down, ban alcohol and cause all of kinds of other knee-jerk reactions.  But the problem isn't the laws or lack of them, it is looking at the issue clearly.  One of the women who died wasn't wearing a life jacket and couldn't swim.  No offense, and I believe it is a tragedy that she died, but the simple fact was she had no business being out on that river with that set of conditions.  It was a very, very preventable tragedy that she could and should have stopped from happening.  The baseball player who drowned last year was evidently so plastered, his raft flipped and his .200% alcohol level body drowned in an area that water comes up to my waste.  Again, while a tragedy and a horrible loss of life, it was preventable.

The flags over the footbridge at the Old Mill Shops in Bend, Oregon

There was an article in the local liberal rag which talked to the owner of the area where the drowings and the spillway are.  He was asked a series of questions about how to make the river and spillway safer.  Someone suggested a cable across the river, but as he put it, someone would get hurt from the cable and he would get sued.  They suggested putting a ladder for last minute escape from the spillway.  He knew that if they put that there it would cause idiots to float the dangerous section just to see if they could grab the ladder in time.  His bottom line was you can't legislate stupidity.  Does that mean those people who drowned were stupid and don't deserve sympathy?  Absolutely not.  But what they did was stupid.