The Wettest Spot On Earth
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Imagine London in March: you can't remember the last time you felt sunshine, your raincoat feels like it may become fused to your body, and there is literally no light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, you're beginning to question whether the sun is really a thing or just a trick your mind once played on you. The entire city is soggy and heavy with varying degrees of precipitation. The gloom has settled in and taken up residence over your life like an uninvited in-law with no return ticket. Now imagine that you're in your second year of business school, your eyeglass prescription has doubled from the amount of time you've spent at the library, your name is Allen, and you desperately need a break from it all.
Allen is a self-professed nerd. He loves numbers and equations and knows more shortcuts in Microsoft Excel than the software engineers who made it. He works hard, absorbs information at an unbelievable pace, and it only took him 27 years to find a few hundred people exactly like him at the London School Of Economics. Many of whom, it turned out, also needed a break.
Allen was up late one night, studying as usual, when the rain beating down on the roof of his flat finally made it absolutely impossible to concentrate on derivatives. On a whim, he Asked Jeeves (this was the early 2000s) to recommend a good deal on a vacation and Hawaii was the first link he clicked. As his modem struggled to keep up, Allen whizzed through the next three hours on a deep dive into all that Hawaii had to offer.
That night Allen tossed and turned, in and out of sleep peppered with dreams of white sand beaches, clear water, and of putting anything on his feet other than his rubber boots which had started to smell like the bottom drawer of an old refrigerator.
He woke up in the middle of the night with butterflies in his stomach because he was so excited. He couldn't wait to soft launch his idea to his classmates. So, at 3am, Allen went to work. He researched, he spread- sheeted, and analyzed data to ensure the best possible outcome.
He learned in business school that a successful pitch absolutely must contain certain elements. First, he had to identify an underserved need. This would be Vitamin D, relaxation, and sunshine. He had to tell a story, identify a roadmap, and illustrate the hurdles. He made a PowerPoint presentation because, how else would someone invite their friends on a vacation? Then he printed out his document on his laser black and white machine, punched three holes on the left side, and attached brass fasteners with an impressive flourish.
As he stumbled into accounting economics at 8am, he passed his grainy printout to Barry, a chap from Belfast who ironically complained about the London weather more than anyone else. From Barry, it traveled to Conrad, to Steven B, To Steven R, and then finally to Paul, a 35-year-old man still waiting for his growth spurt. By 9:55, the group huddled in front of the library desktop to book their trip.
"Pure genius," Barry muttered as Allen typed their information into Priceline.com. Allen felt a surge of adrenaline as he typed in his Capital One credit card information and a wave of relief when it didn't decline. The guys high-fived. Then headed back out into the rain.
The three weeks leading up to the trip dragged unbearably for the six friends. When they finally met at Heathrow for their early morning flight, every single man admitted that he hadn't slept a wink. Conrad already had sunscreen poorly applied to his ghostly pale cheeks and his own spreadsheet with a list of every activity and a Lonely Planet visitor's guide with Post-It notes sticking out of every page. These guys were ready.
Stepping off the plane into the warm blanket of Hawaiian sunshine provided the dopamine rush that none of them had experienced since getting accepted to LES. They settled into their rental condo near the beach, switched their corduroys for flower-printed board shorts, and, armed with Conrad's list, hit the beach, all six grown men piled into one green Jeep. Then they hit a fork in the road.
They had all agreed on the plane (by way of a vote) on the day's itinerary. But the sign pointing the opposite way from the ocean declared itself as the way to "The Wettest Spot On Earth." As The Wettest Spot On Earth was on Conrad's list as a must-see tourist attraction (albeit scheduled for day three, from 10am-noon,) the guys voted to take another vote and then voted to change up the plans and follow the winding dirt road. Another rush of adrenaline flooded the group as they patted themselves on their backs for their uncharacteristic spontaneity.
Paul, the short friend, drove as was decided by everyone comparing their eyeglass prescription numbers and he came out on top as he was only mildly near-sighted. The road got muddier, Paul drove on, confident in their very outdoorsy vehicle. Then it got even muddier.
"We're definitely getting close," Barry said, squinting at his Lonely Planet map as the mud splashed up into his face. But they wouldn't be getting closer for long. Soon - very soon - they would be completely and hopelessly stuck in the mud. The Jeep's wheels couldn't even spin and everyone was sinking past their ankles in the brown muck. It was time… for another vote.
And this is how, while his friends waited with the Jeep, Allen found himself trudging up the slippery road in search of help. Which, to his surprise, he actually found, in the form of Shawn Spader, a young surfer dude with massive muscles driving an ever more massive pickup truck.
Shawn was eager to help this bewildered traveler, and very, very proud of his sick wheels. He made Allen remove his flip-flops before getting into the pristine vehicle. Allen had barely gotten to ask Shawn his memorized list of get-to-know-someone questions before the unthinkable happened: Shawn's sick wheels also got stuck in the mud.
"NO, NO, NO." Shawn's cool, laid-back surfer demeanor quickly switched to that of a stock trader losing his fortune on the Wall Street floor in an 80s movie. Allen was uncomfortable and out of his element, unable to provide much in the way of help. He imagined a scenario in the future where Shawn would call him in dire need of a business plan and he could be the hero but this wasn't his present reality. He felt terrible about Shawn's truck. Then he learned that it wasn't Shawn's truck.
"DUDE. This is my boss's. I was just supposed to get it cleaned, not stuck in the freaking mud. My probation officer is going to hate this." Those were words that Allen had never imagined how much he did not want to hear. He looked around, taking in his surroundings. There was the shimmering blue Hawaiian sky, dotted with just enough wispy clouds to make him feel silly for the knot of dread in his stomach. There was also a long, winding muddy road, and... absolutely nothing else. Allen wondered if his friends two miles away would hear him scream.
Shawn gave Allen the stink eye and rapidly dialed a number, switching to a Hawaiian dialect that Allen momentarily enjoyed trying to decipher. When Shawn hung up, Allen felt too, um, petrified for his life to ask what was happening so the two men sat there in silence, occasionally punctuated by a curse word from Shawn that Allen understood perfectly. Allen tried very hard not to stare at the bulge protruding from the shirt of his angry rescuer. That can't be a gun, thought Allen who had never seen a gun anywhere but the new Fast and The Furious movie.
The minutes ticked by painfully until, seemingly out of the ether, Shawn's friends appeared in a much older pickup. Allen's sense of relief lasted all of the thirty seconds it took for them to make him an 'offer.'
"This is our offer," Shawn cocked his head. "You pay us $300 and we leave."
Now, Allen had not yet received his diploma from the London School Of Economics but he was sure beyond a reasonable doubt that that was not how business people would define an 'offer.'
"Or," Allen ventured, "how about—"
"No." Shawn countered.
What an excellent negotiator, thought Allen. And with that, Shawn took every dollar from Allen's wallet as our hero watched the red truck pull the silver truck out of the mud and leave Allen alone on the road with... no truck.
Allen, now muddier, mildly traumatized, and $300 poorer than when he left his friends, turned around and trudged back in the direction from where he came. He'd been gone longer than he thought and his buddies had gotten worried and decided to come looking for Allen, luckily meeting him just a few minutes into his retreat. Allen smiled, they would have heard me scream.
They met him bearing a sliver of good news: their Hawaiian trip had traveled fast among their business school friends, many appreciating the idea and the deal, and there were seventeen people from their class presently on the island of Kauai.
The team schlepped back through the inhospitable road to their rental home and made the most of their evening. That night, as the pounding rain lulled the rest of the island to sleep, Allen formulated a plan. He did not need a spreadsheet.
The next morning he hitchhiked to the hardware store - the first time he'd ever done that sort of thing. Even though the driver who picked him up was a 62-year-old woman on her way to church, he still felt a rush from the potential danger. One would assume that getting the ride back, armed with ropes and shovels would have been harder to land, but Kauai is a friendly island and this was before true crime podcasts made everyone on the lookout for a man carrying such items.
When Allen arrived back at the house, he sent an all-hands-on -deck email to every classmate he knew that was on the island. Everyone replied and forty minutes later, seventeen hungover dudes met at the trailhead and proceeded to wade through the (now, even deeper) mud to the stricken Jeep. When they arrived, they took a vote on the three different options for Jeep retrieval that Allen had emailed at 4am and an additional vote on Barry's idea to just leave it there and argue with insurance when they got home. Knots were tied, butts fell in the mud, and a game of tug-o-war with a football team of guys and one American-made car ensued. And somehow, the humans won.
The Jeep budged. Then rocked slightly. Then was pulled to the right just enough to gain traction. Cheers erupted. A bottle of Pimms was passed around because the majority of these guys were British and loyal drinkers. Allen's relief was immeasurable. Part of him wished that Shawn could see him now. (Just a small part, though, he felt less mortal danger without him there.) But now they had another problem: how to get back to the trailhead.
The storm the previous night had made the mud so much deeper, so much stickier, and so much more impossible to avoid. So, obviously, a vote was taken. One person would drive alone to keep the Jeep as light as possible. And that person would be Allen, because, he volunteered. Now, Allen may have considered Microsoft Excel his favorite hobby, but dirt biking was his close second, a love he had yet to share with his fellow spreadsheet enthusiasts. So, you see, Allen knew how to go fast.
He hopped into the mud-soaked car, took a big swig of Pimms (yuck), and waved to his friends as he buckled his seatbelt and adjusted his mirrors. Then he put every ounce of body weight he could muster into his size 13 mud-covered New Balances, and hit the gas.
Allen freaking flew down the road like Super Mario Cart, narrowly avoiding potholes, trees, and some random grazing cattle. The mud flew up on all sides, splattering his glasses, partially blinding his right eye. He veered to the left, the right, and was ready to fly around a nine-foot pothole when he noticed a couple walking along the road with a very small dog. Allen didn't want to go through the mud lake but he also didn't want to murder this innocent couple and super innocent dog. He hadn't prepared for this obstacle. Allen thought of a business school presentation where his computer died. I can do this, he thought, I can do things without being overly prepared. They got closer. He squinted hard for another route. And, he thought, I really can't kill anyone on vacation, that would ruin the trip for everyone.
And because Allen is nothing if not considerate, he swallowed the fear that had crept into his throat, pushed even harder on the gas, gave the four-fingered wave to the couple that he had seen Jeep drivers do over the years, and quite literally flew over the mud lake. The car landed with a thud that would have excited any chiropractor.
Allen slowed the Jeep, his heart racing, his knuckles trembling. He turned back, expecting maybe not applause from the couple but, hey, maybe something close. The couple looked like chocolate-dipped bananas. His second four-fingered wave was met with both of them giving him the bird. But Allen couldn't help but smile. In the distance, he heard his tug-o-war team approach.
The chatter grew louder and suddenly stopped when Chad screamed -
"Oh my god, he made it!"
The gang ran as best they good through the mud and the Pimms, giving the couple with the small dog a very wide berth as they bounded toward Allen and the Jeep. Allen glowed, his heart pounded, his face flushed, his glasses coated in earth. Then, somehow defying the laws of physics that each of these men so deeply respected, seventeen of them managed to pile into the five-seater Jeep for the final mile to the trailhead.
That night, the beer flowed freely in celebration of their victory. It was all on Allen's tab, because, of course, they took a vote.