We had lost another swim meet, I think. That's the part I don't remember. Maybe we didn't. Maybe the meet ended early because of the snow.
About a dozen of us from the team met outside the Gaithersburg McDonalds. We had driven through the sleet and slush, which wasn't bad on the main road, Rockville Pike. Some of us had to wait in Gaithersburg Plaza for rides home.
Others wanted to take the opportunity, with most of us free and unaccounted for by our parents, to hang out for a while and party. Our idea of partying was eating fast food together. We were a semi-rural swim team on a snowy afternoon, not a punk band in the city at night.
"We need, like, four tables!" One of the girls laughed.
We streamed through the double-doors, bumping shoulders, saying nothing much as a group, probably, but saying it loudly. We ordered and ate like teenagers do when they are in training. We sat in clusters, mostly close, and leaned between tables to share jokes.
Our food was gone in five minutes. We talked for half an hour. A few of the young men and women flirted. The rest of us didn't have our significant others along or didn't know what else to do except ignore the flirting. Eventually, a couple parents showed up to take their kids home.
"Did you drive yourself?" one of the fathers asked me. He wore a full parka, not one of the parka vests that were cool at the time. Somehow, he had gotten snow on his shoulders and sleeves.
"Well, be careful! It's still plenty slick in the back roads."
This was when most of our routes qualified as 'back' ones, basically narrow, paved countryside paths, so it was a fair warning. After the last parent left for the time being, the rest of the team gave up pretending to eat.
"Let's go outside," someone said.
In a few seconds, we were out, kicking at the snow in the parking lot. We meandered across Gaithersburg Plaza to a trendy clothing store, a local one, not The Gap, then to a record store. After a while, my friends got bored of watching me read album covers and persuaded me to leave the record racks.
The only male diver on the team, a fun guy and a pretty good gymnast, pointed to a car skidding in the snow.
"We could ski behind that," he said.
"What do you mean?" I'd been skiing once. At a glance, cars sliding through slush and ice didn't add anything to my insight.
"I mean grab a bumper and ride."
"I'll show you."
Fifteen seconds later, he started chasing a gray car. The road was slick and he nearly fell. He didn't catch it. He flapped his arms in exasperation. A minute later, he positioned himself in a pile of slush across the road as an orange Mazda XR-7 drifted over the rough patch. He ducked down and grabbed the left quarter of the bumper. The driver never noticed. The Mazda dragged him for a five-miles-per-hour ride.
Suddenly, I saw the potential.
"See?" the team diver called to us after he let go and turned around.
It wasn't hard to do. Some fun things are difficult; not this. I caught the first bumper I aimed for. It was one with a wide, convenient hold on a box-like, heavy Monte Carlo. When the car skidded through a corner, I decided to hop off. Everyone remarked on how I could have kept going. I knew it was true. For a while, then, a few of us took turns. I found that I could aim my feet at the thickest of the slush, so I didn't have to stop just because the car passed over a patch of bare asphalt.
Catching cars in the parking lot felt like catching waves at the beach. I could feel when I had the right timing. We spent twenty minutes or so water skiing, technically, on the snowpack.
"You kids shouldn't do that." An adult passing by on the sidewalk gave us a kind of sad, half-hearted remonstration.
"But it's fun!"
"Everyone should do it!"
What adults probably saw was there was some chance, however slight, of a teenaged snow surfer getting run over while trying to grab a bumper. Looking back on it, though, I'm not sure the worst case scenario was likely. Even deliberately, you'd have a hard time managing to stick your leg under the car. And after making the grab, I'd judge there's nothing that could happen to a snow surfer behind a car travelling at five or ten miles per hour that wouldn't be more likely to happen in a more careless circumstance.
As swim team captain, I felt my mission for the day was fulfilled by the bumper rides. At our school, we lost our swim meets half the time. And our break-even record that year was a serious improvement over the year before. We had no chance against powerhouse high schools with lots of college-bound swimmers. We won our close meets that year, though, and we had fun.
I was desperate for us to enjoy some sort of foolery together. And thanks to the guidance from our diver, we did.