My experience of jacuzzis
( August 2008 )

In 1996, I was on one of my coast-to-coast and all points in between marathon drives across the North American continent. I flew into Kennedy Airport on the 19th of June and went to pick up my hired car.

"You're dropping the car at Los Angeles on August 3rd? Wow - you're going to see more of America than I ever have!"

"I probably already have, ma'am," I thought to myself wryly, but simply smiled and said, "Yes, it's going to be a long trip."

First gig was in New York City on the 21st of June then south to Wilmington DE. North to Massachusetts for gigs in Boston and Northampton then south east to Rhode Island and Connecticut before heading back west to Altamont NY for the Old Songs Festival. Then there was quite a long drive to Cincinnati OH, up to Michigan for gigs in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, then round Lake Michigan to Milwaukee and across to Minneapolis.

I was heading next across the Canadian border into Manitoba for the Winnipeg Festival, then an 800 mile drive northwest to Alberta for a midweek gig in Edmonton, then another 750 mile drive southwest down through the Rockies via Kamloops to British Columbia for the Vancouver festival there next weekend. Then back across the border and south through Washington, Oregon and California with gigs in all kinds of places along the way.

But right now I was a day early, had no Canadian currency, the hour was late and I was sick of looking at the white line in the middle of the road. I decided to spend the night of the 11th July sleeping before I crossed into Canada and catch my breath again after a quite exhausting stretch of hard driving and performing, with another month of the same ahead of me. I pulled off the road into a smallish town near the border, the name of which has been totally wiped out from my memory banks.

One thing I need to point out here is that for most of my life I have lived within smelling distance of the sea and I get very edgy in the middle of large continents. In fact, after a few days I begin to feel similar to a dried-out haddock on legs and have been known to burst into tears and start singing hosannas at the sight of a small lake in places like Bavaria and Kansas. (Although it's notable that I have done neither of these in Saskatchewan as there is not even a mill pond anywhere in Saskatchewan. But I did once cry with relief at the sight of the town of Saskatoon, probably the only person who ever thought Saskatoon was a boon sent from heaven. But that's another story.)

Anyhow, I hit Sometown, Minnesota, and started looking for a hotel which would balance the demands of my financial restraints and my desire for self-indulgent comfort.

Sometown had dozens of hotels on a long strip and I began hunting. However, unknown to me, there was some kind of convention going on and every hotel in the damned place seemed full until I finally came to the last hotel on the strip. In tired despair, with all optimism drained from me, I approached the reception and stood there like a spaniel at a picnic, looking pathetic and pleading.

"Well," says the receptionist with a slightly worried expression on her face, "we do have one room left but it's the most expensive room we have as it's a jacuzzi suite."

I have heard of jacuzzis but never shared a room with a live one before so I ask her, "What's a jacuzzi suite?"

She looked confused for a moment as she tried to decipher my accent and understand this unexpected question which clearly nobody in her previous experience had ever been so unsophisticated as to have to ask. Then her face brightened and she replied, with triumphant pride at her own brilliant logic, "It's a suite with a jacuzzi!"

When she told me the price, I almost burst out laughing. It was actually less than I'd paid for shoe-box sized rooms in places like Boston and Minneapolis, so I said I'd take it. To make her feel better, I frowned at the price and said, "Oh well, there's nothing else available round here." As she checked me in, she told me the reason for the unusual congestion in town, some event I'd never heard of but which was obviously a very important part of the local culture.

Soon I found myself standing in the middle of the largest room I've ever slept in. It was actually three rooms - a large kitchen, a toilet and a huge bedroom with a very large tiled structure in one corner and an enormous television set high up on the wall at the other. It also had a bed which was almost as big as the living room of the flat I'd grown up in.

I checked the bed to see if it was sheltering any stray families of bears, elephants or migrant workers and, satisfied that I was alone, I decided to check out the jacuzzi.

So far as I remember, this was my first encounter with a jacuzzi - Scotland's far too small to have many houses big enough for them - and I realised that this may be my one and only opportunity to experience the delights. I was determined that, no matter how tired I might be, this was an experience I would not deny myself.

So I begin making careful preparations for this unique event. On the road I turn into the modern equivalent of a hunter-gatherer so far as sustenance is concerned and I've already stopped at a supermarket on the way through town and so have vast quantities of orange juice, coffee and food to indulge myself.

I set the taps on to fill the jacuzzi, turn on the television - which is showing some ancient and incomprehensible Western movie starring Barbara Stanwyck as the evil siren who gets her come-uppance at the end in the shape of a bullet in the abdomen from the bad-guy lover she's been cheating - and begin setting piles of food and juice on the edge rim of the tub.

The movie finishes and the tub has only filled to a depth of a couple of inches so I watch another and wait patiently for the tub-filling to finish.

After enough water has poured to solve Australia's current drought problems, the tub is filled and in I climb. This is not the best time to have remembered that I can't swim and haven't the faintest idea what to do when water rises above my head - apart from drown noisily - and it's clear that if I sit down in this thing my head would be well and truly under the water.

Then I notice that someone has planned for some clown like me by providing an indented space in the side of the thing for me to sit on safely and there are a couple of grab rails just below the surface which I can cling to. So, there I sit, having a great time of it surrounded by hot water, watching television and swilling orange juice.

But something bothers me.

Here I am simply using it like a very large bath but I know that there is some other feature about jacuzzis which makes them so popular - the ability to turn on some kind of whirlpool effect.

By this time feeling quite relaxed and courageous, and being of the school of thought that I'll try anything once except morris dancing and bungee-jumping, I decide, what the hell, let's go the full nine yards, and I seek some kind of switch or lever which will start up the whirlpool.

And unfortunately, I find it.

Expressions like "bullet from a gun" or "bat out of hell" are hopelessly inadequate. English does not contain any expression which would accurately describe the speed at which my arse flew out of that tub when the waters erupted amid a thunderous roar of machinery and began to fling themselves over my head.

I've sailed across the Minch in a Force 9 gale, I have crossed the North Sea in a hurricane; I love the sea and I'm one of those odd people who seem to have a genetic immunity against seasickness. I've spent a lot of my life in boats and I've never once been seasick.

At sea.

It pains me greatly to have to confess that the only time in my life I have experienced anything getting close to seasickness was in a hotel room in a small landlocked town in northern Minnesota 1000 miles from the nearest sea.

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