Well, I did it!
And don’t even ask about the cold. I couldn’t feel it. Too much adrenalin. Too many good-natured people in crazy hats. Too many Secret Service agents.
More on that last one later.
It was a great morning: clear and cold, about 48 degrees on the island.
What I had heard about the exuberant Turkey Plunge was spot-on. It was a major event. People assembled from all around: grandmothers brought lawn chairs, kids came in parkas and boots with inner tubes around their waists and lots of people carried heavy towels.
I was the only one from my merry band crazy enough to face the saltwater. Plunge organizers, mindful of the crowds, allowed me one mate on the beach to hold the towels and one by the coffee pots to wait with a steaming mug.
Getting there early was a mixed bag. It was great seeing all the wacky costumes, but standing around the registration tables for 45 minutes gave me time to wonder if I was in over my head, and—well—it was a little cold.
During the wait, plunge officials awarded prizes for the best individual costume, best family costume, and prizes for swimmers who had traveled the farthest. I thought I might have a shot at the long-distance prize. After all, we drove nearly 200 miles, boarded the ferry at Hyannis and then crossed the Sound for an hour.
Foolish me. Last year’s long-distance plunger came all the way from China. Our little jaunt across the state was nothing.
And I was no match for the costume prizes either. I wore my swimsuit, of course, then about five layers of warm clothing and last of all my heaviest bathrobe– the animal print one that looks a little like wild fowl from far away. To top it off, I found a beige plush, plucked turkey rump to wear as a hat.
If you’re goin’ in, you might as well go all the way.
But looking around me, I realized my get-up was tame. First there were the guys who drove up from New York: the Teletubby boys in brightly-colored fleece. We took photos and admired each other’s attire. Then there was the family dressed as a Wizard of Oz troupe. Dorothy apparently hadn’t had time to shave that morning. And Dan, the Turkey Tie Man, his feathered wings made out of a hundred ties.
Of everyone assembled—about 300 in all–the best dressed participant was Mr. Gobble, a spectacularly handsome white turkey in a red bow tie. He nonchalantly strolled around the beachfront as if he owned the day.
All morning the local radio station provided music from a flatbed truck and called attention to particularly good costumes such as young Superman and the rogue tattoo artists who made their costumes from brown grocery bags hand-lettered to read simply, “Happy Thanksgiving.”
Those who seemed in-the-know moved down to the beach at 9:55 after murmurings that a countdown was starting. That’s when I took a deep breath and began peeling off layers: first the wild fowl bathrobe, then the red insulated sweatpants, next the sweatshirt, then more sweatpants and more sweatshirts. The last to go were my insulated boots. I really hated to give up the boots.
I stood by the edge of the water and looked out to sea. Plymouth Rock was only a few miles away. All of America was at my back. I felt solitary, stripped of time and place, and part of the long march of history. Well, as much as you can feel history with a plush turkey rump on your head.
And then it began.
The radio station turned up the volume and started the countdown. “Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven.”
I looked around to find my Teletubby pals. I wasn’t going in without them. They waved from across a distance and I waved back. Then I looked the other way and saw a guy I hadn’t noticed before. He wasn’t as playful as the rest of the crowd and seemed oddly unaffected by the cold. I also noticed a coiled wire snaking out of his ear.
That’s when I saw him.
A familiar face in a ball cap and a broad smile standing next to the guy with the wire.
Joe Biden! Holy Moley! I’m plunging into Nantucket Sound with the vice president!
“GO!,” the radio announcer yelled and we all rushed into the water—hats flying, turkey ties swirling, a vice presidential baseball cap bobbing in the waves.
I couldn’t think of a better place to cross off a goal on my Bucket List. And I couldn’t imagine a better way to make a fool of myself on Thanksgiving morning.
Apparently others felt that way, too.
The next afternoon, I ran into Vice President Biden and his family in the Even Keel Café. Joe was sharing a plate of French Fries with his grandchildren.
I think he gave me a wink.