Derek Gentile: A good story about a good guy



It's been a year since my father's death, and I must admit, it is weighing on me more heavily than I anticipated.

Not that there was anything I could do to prevent it; he had a long and good life. I just miss him.

However, I'm sure that most of the people who read this don't pick it up to read soupy, sentimental glop about someone many of you don't know. I don't think I would.

So as I was driving into work on Thursday, I was thinking about some funny story I could tell. I'm good at funny stories.

So, I don't remember the year, but I was maybe 12. My parents had planned a trip to some of the theme parks in upstate New York. I don't know how many people will remember Santa Land or Frontier Town or the Catskill Game Farm. You have to have lived in that era.

So we hit a bunch of them over a two- or three-day span. In accordance with my father's cost-conscious mentality, we all stayed in motels along the route.

It was fun. If I was 12, that means that the whole family, even my youngest sister, Karla, was along. So we had a good time.

I don't remember what day it was, but we were visiting some kind of amusement park, with all sorts of rides. Everyone was having a great time.

One of the rides was "Jungle Safari" or Safari Adventure" or some such name. Basically, you got into a boat that resembled the boat in "The African Queen." The boat went down a "river," and hippos and crocodiles would come out of the water. Leopards and lions would prowl the shoreline and ominous-looking native warriors would peer out at the boat from the jungle.

This was all, by the way, fake. The natives were mannequins. The animals were all mannequins. It was just a kids' ride. And the guy running the boat kept up a running commentary, warning the kids to keep their hands out of the water, lest they be bitten by a crocodile.

I loved it. So much, in fact, that I convinced my sisters to come back with me and ride it again.

So, near the end of the day, we went back, two or three of my sisters, my father and me.

We got to the boat, and the pilot looked pained when we -- as well as some other kids who had tagged along -- asked him to take us out one more time.

"Sorry," said the guy. "Park closes at 5."

Dad stepped forward.

"Well," he said. "My watch says 4:30. The ride is only 10 minutes. You have time."

He said that with what I can best describe as ominous finality. It was a tone he used with me when it was time to stop playing basketball and come in for dinner.

My Old Man was a big guy. The pilot of the boat was not. Without a word, he went to the back of the boat to start it up again. We all jumped happily aboard.

But it was a very quiet trip. The pilot evidently didn't feel like making conversation. No running commentary about the gators or the hippos.

Nobody cared. The kids all had a great time.

I knew, though, that the pilot was annoyed. After the ride was done, we all hopped out. My father thanked the pilot, who didn't say a word.

"Dad," I said, "that guy was ticked."

My father waved me off.

"The ride was 10 minutes," he said. "We had a half-hour. What did he have to do, clean it? Not exactly a big chore, is it? Fifteen minutes, tops. The guy just wanted to get off work early."

Dad was correct, of course. He was big on finishing the job.

So OK, there was no real "Leave It To Beaver" moment, here. Or none that I can see. It's just a good story about a good guy this week.

Derek Gentile is an Eagle staffer. Email him at


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