The gator and the golf cart

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 8, 2001

I think it’s an unwritten rule that everyone who grows up in a small town has to have at least one friend who is a couple of sandwiches shy of a full picnic basket.

He’s not necessarily demented or retarded, just the kind of fellow who wonders why nobody has ever tried to jump off a bridge onto a moving train or ride a bicycle around the inside of a culvert or see just how far the chain on a tied bulldog will stretch before it breaks.

Having a friend like that always made for exciting times, as well as serving as an excellent practice field for anyone interested in emergency medicine.

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I had a friend like that; still do, which is probably the eighth wonder of the world.

Let me take this chance to introduce you to Elton Bainbridge; daredevil extraordinaire, taker of risks, lover of life and great friend.

Elton is living proof that the good Lord has a very soft and protective spot in His heart for those who don’t quite bring the bubble to level in the plumb bob of life.

Elton is a firm proponent that life is not a spectator sport;

if you aren’t firmly in the middle of what’s going on, you’re missing at least half the fun.

The great thing about having a friend like him is that you always have a great story to share with others.

Let me tell you about the gator and the golf cart.

Elton and I had taken off one afternoon many years ago and headed to a wonderful little golf course some distance south of here.

We rode happily along, talking about how great our golf game had become (we lied) and about how we were going to shoot lights out that afternoon.

It turned out to be a good day, and as we came to the 14th hole, the match was tied.

This hole in question was a beautiful downhill par four that required you to hit a layup shot off the tee. (to you nongolfers, that means that if you don’t hit the shot harder than your mother whipping your bottom when she caught you smoking rabbit tobacco out behind the shed, you won’t clear the pond in front of the green).

Both of us hit picture perfect irons right to the edge of the hazard, and were tooling down the fairway when a thought suddenly hit Elton.

&uot;I’ve heard they’ve got an alligator in this water hazard,&uot; yelled Elton over the roar of wind in our ears.

&uot;Helps them keep the turtle population down in the pond.&uot;

Sure enough, when we got to our shots, there, just as plain as day, lay an alligator on the bank in front of the green.

He was just laying there, not moving, like he had given up the gator ghost and passed on to carnivore heaven.

We both hit our approach shots to the green and rode around the lake to finish the hole.

As we got close to the green, Elton steered the cart over by where the alligator lay. (Another major mistake was to ever let Elton drive anything.

You were just as likely to arrive on two wheels with as state trooper in pursuit as you were to arrive on time.

More about those abilities later.)

He parked a respectable distance away, then pulled out his putter and began to amble over to the reclining reptile.

I followed a very respectable distance behind.

Sure enough, as we got closer, the gator did look like he was dead.

Flies buzzed all around him, and the smell of all the pond slime that was stuck to him sure wasn’t anything that I could have slept through.

&uot;See, I told you he was dead,&uot; crowed Elton.

&uot;I don’t know about that,&uot; I said from a safe distance away.

&uot;Here, I’ll show you how dead he is.&uot;

And with those fateful words, Elton popped that gator dead between the eyes with the blade of his putter.

Nothing happened.

It was so still you could hear the flies buzzing and my heart pounding.

Never being one to leave well enough alone, Elton decided that one more little tap would just be icing on the cake, so once again the brain pan of Mr. Gator rang with the sound of a putter bouncing off scale.

With an almost audible &uot;click&uot;, one of the gator’s eye’s shot open.

Elton saw himself being stared down with an pupil that looked like it came straight from a Cretaceous swamp.

It’s strange how stupid facts force themselves to the surface when you’re under a lot a pressure.

As the gator rose on his squatty little legs and opened a mouth that looked like a bathtub lined with spikes, I could hear my fourth grade teacher repeat that "over a short distance, an alligator can outrun a race horse.&uot;

Maybe a race horse, but no way a screaming, zigzagging Elton at full speed.

As I watched Elton and the alligator head toward the green, all I could think about was how many stitches it was going to take to put Elton back together.

Just as the gator started to gain, Elton veered toward the golf cart.

He ran through the golf cart and out the other side.

The alligator, with his short little legs, couldn’t quite make the jump, and slid to a stop with his head on the floor of the cart and the rest of his body on the other side.

After a short pause, the gator began to shake himself out of the cart, and, with just a momentary pause to shoot a hiss back over his shoulder, began his march back to the water hazard where, hopefully, he could resume his nap in peace.

I never before knew that Elton could balance on one foot on top of the flagstick in the middle of the green.

And I never knew until then how hard it would be to finally talk him down off the flagstick.