Last summer my family and I returned to a certain northern Michigan canoe livery for a fun canoe trip down the Platte River. This canoe livery has been in existence for decades. My excellent husband, who by some standards is ancient, remembers canoeing down the Platte from the very same livery in the 1960’s. The place remains largely unchanged. Its log-cabinesque building is the same – absolutely no visible remodeling or improvements in the last 40-some years. The “convenience store” is still crammed with every convenience and non-convenience item imaginable, from beef jerky to laxatives. Tacky T-shirts, cedar plaques that boast “Sleeping Bear Dunes” or “Platte River”, its all there. Handicap accessible? Forget about it. Restrooms? Still only one tiny room for each gender, crammed into the back of the store, hard to find among the shelves of tacky items. Despite the fact that hundreds of people have passed through this place daily for more than 40 years, it appears no money has been spent on updating or modernization. So on what are they spending their what must be considerable profits? Certainly not on customer service. My family’s recent experience there led us all to the same conclusion: these people are the canoe Nazis.
The canoe livery has had the same routine for hopeful canoeing candidates for as long back as anyone can remember. Park your car. Go up to the friendly check in desk. Give the number of canoeists in your party. If you haven’t been there before, they make your stand by the sign and wait for the next “orientation” before you can canoe. At one time this orientation was largely about safety and helpful canoeing information. Three of the four of us in our group had been there before. I thought seriously about fibbing and answering “yes” to the “has EVERYONE in your party been here before” question. But I wanted to set a good example of honesty for the kids, even though they’re now grown up kids. And what if there was some crucial safety information of which our new party member would be deprived, had I not answered honestly. So we patiently “waited by the sign” for the “orientation” before embarking on our trip.
This is where the first canoe Nazi showed herself. Instead of a treatise on canoeing safety or fun canoeing trips, we had a stern lecture about the canoe route, and the monetary penalties that would occur should we choose to deviate from the plan. Canoe out into the big lake? Don’t even think about it. This deviation could make your trip take longer, and there was a $20 penalty for any canoeists who took more than the 2.5 hours allotted to us for our $39 per canoe. In fact, your canoe receipt is time-stamped the moment you set your toes into the aluminum bottomed boat, starting the clock ticking on your canoeing afternoon of fun. Want an extra person in your canoe? This will cost an additional $10, and if you want a child safety seat for your extra loved one, another $1 for that. Once you navigate your trip under the allotted 2.5 hours, your must turn your canoe in to the canoe guys at the river beach site. The guys will take the canoe off your hands for free, but if you want to give them your cushions and paddles, that costs an extra $5. “Gee kids, I remember back in the good old days when the guys took our paddles for free.” Five dollars. To return something that belongs to them. Our canoe Nazi delivered all this news in a clipped and dictatorial fashion. We were scared. Only 2.5 hours to navigate the slow-moving Platte, or we would incur severe financial penalties. Were we up for it? Our fun canoe trip was quickly turning into a canoe death march.
After our indoctrination and waiting while one person in our group drove our car to the end and got a ride back (you get one free ticket for the return ride, and if you lose it, surprise, you have to pay extra) we approached our canoes. I’m sure these are the same canoes my husband used in the good old days. Aluminum seems to be fairly indestructible. The cushions and paddles are well-worn too. I wanted a lifejacket and a cushion, but, you have to pay extra if you want both. So I threw caution and safety to the winds, hoping that in the event of capsizing, my cushion would save me before the kids let me go under. This was all very rash behavior, considering there is a hefty fee for not returning all our rented equipment.
The day was sunny and pleasant, the trip itself uneventful. We kept a brisk pace, not wanting to be charged extra for an extended trip. After all, we might want to buy gas or food on the way home so we couldn’t afford any late fees. When we reached the end of the trip, we hauled our canoes out of the water and gave them to the fit-looking canoe guys. I’m sure they used to haul them out for you, but now this must cost extra. Then, instead of lingering at the beach to enjoy the pleasant day, we hurried back to return our paddles, because in addition to having to pay to give them to the canoe guys, there was an extra charge if we brought them back late. At least we finished our trip in under 2.5 hours and didn’t have to pay the extended trip fee.
Back at the livery, we were “encouraged” to buy a delicious hot dog or hamburger combo meal for only $5, but by that time, we’d had enough of the canoe Nazis. Will we canoe there again? Maybe. There’s no other canoe rental place around. But we’re gonna need a bigger wallet.