by Ben Cater

Speedboat racers are insane. And Hunter S. Thompson knew it. In Hell's Angels, he describes the limit of speed and sanity that guys who are semi-airborne at 200 mph flirt with. He calls it "The Edge," saying that "There is no honest way to explain it, because the only people who really know where it is are the ones that have gone over it. The others -- the living -- are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later."

While the speedboat racing at the Tri-Cities Water Follies is impressive, the real spectacle is the horde of speedboat racing fans who have been gathering on this strip of the Columbia River annually for the last 39 years.

I hesitate to brand these folks as "speedboat racing fans" since I get the feeling that most of them wouldn't balk, or for that matter notice, if the hydroplane boats were replaced with inner tubes. Hence, a definition:

Intoxipant, n., one who attends or participates in an event, regardless of content, as long as beer is available. See fishermen, golfers, speedboat racing fans.

Attendance at the boat races, I have come to find out, is an exercise in endurance. People who weather this kind of event should enjoy a sense of accomplishment. They should consider themselves participants. They are intoxipants.

At 2 pm, only two hours after arriving at the races last weekend, and with temperatures rising to 105 degrees, my cheeks began to blister. My SPF 50 sunscreen, combined with profuse sweating, kept finding its way into my eyes. (Warning: If you let it get in your eyes, Banana Boat sunscreen will make you cry like a baby.)

Despite the searing pain, I made my way to the beer garden in hopes of finding a walking stereotype suitable for being photographed. It was then I discovered that while an affinity for mullets runs strong in Spokane, it runs even stronger in the Tri-Cities.

As mullet enthusiasts know, there are many variations of this attractive '80s hairstyle. Since I consider myself somewhat of a mullet connoisseur -- I had a "soccer rocker" in high school -- I was not going to be satisfied with submitting a picture of just any old mullet. That was when my friend Brad -- his vision, at this point in the proceedings, less blurred than mine -- spotted the Mother of All Mullets. I refer to a mullet so complete in its mullet-ness that it deserves all the notoriety its owner may garner in the Tri-Cities as a result of his likeness being published in a Spokane newspaper.

It's no coincidence that Mullet Man was spotted in the beer garden: Mullet owners of have historically been wild party boys.

For the crew I came with from Spokane, our particular party destination was the Bali-Hi Motel, where we could mix pina coladas poolside with a gas-powered blender. Perhaps because it sounded and smoked like a weed-whacker, it attracted the attention of none other than Phil Jackson, former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. What was a six-time NBA champion doing hanging out in a roadside motel in Richland? (The accompanying photo explains a lot.) Phil sat back -- his usual, casual self -- as we fired question after question about Kobe, Shaq and the future of the Lakers while feeding him shot after shot of tequila.

Whether we were really kicking it with Phil Jackson, we'll never know. He disappeared as mysteriously as he appeared (before we could check his credentials). Probably off to wander other roadside motels in a town near you. If you see him, treat him well. (He likes Sauza.)

So cheers to Phil and to the Spirit of the Tri-Cities -- because you folks really know how to get down.

Publication date: 07/29/04

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