May 23 2010

When is too old for waterslides?

Before today, I would have said “never.” Who doesn’t love a waterslide? And why would they require an age limit?

I found out the answer today at a thermal bath in eastern Reykjavik (not to be confused with the thermal bath we went to yesterday, which was in western Reykjavik and thus totally different). This one was a large complex with a Disneyland-esque parking lot, packed with so many families and children that they had run out of lockers, and the shoe section of the changing rooms had extended into the halls.

But that didn’t stop us. I had spent the morning losing body heat on a whale watching trip in the Reykjavik harbor (Iceland has to be one of the only countries where you can watch sea creatures in the morning and then eat those same creatures at night — lots of whale on the menu, my friends). So I was eager for some warmth.

We jumped into the main thermal pool and then noticed that at this particular thermal bath, there was a waterslide — a four-story tall affair, out of which was popping a steady stream of giggling children. Notice that I said “children” — Peter and I watched it for quite some time, and did not see any adults ejected from the tube. But that’s their loss, right? Sure, there was a sign in Icelandic that said something involving the words “6” and “8” — perhaps in reference to the allowed ages. But we climbed up anyway, taking our places in a horde of dripping kids, and waited for our turn.

Peter went first, hurling himself into the blue plastic tube. I waited for my green light — yes, this water slide had metering lights — grabbed onto the bar in front of me, and pulled myself into the slide. The water rushed around me and for a brief, lovely second I had a flashback to the waterslides of my youth — exhilarating, gleeful –and I wondered why I had ever questioned whether this was a good idea.

Then my bottom got stuck.

I shifted around, got myself to slide forward a bit and then, whoops, stuck again. What’s more, I was wearing my glasses — and since this was a waterslide fueled by thermal waters, they were fogging up.

I have very bad eyesight outside in  normal light, let alone in a dark blue plastic tube when I’m desperately trying to unstick my bottom so that I am not rammed from behind by an eight-year-old. So I pushed them down my nose and began pulling myself along by my hands — slide, stick, slide, stick.

I heard him before I saw him: a small, chubby boy hurtling at me in the dim light. My paddling became more desperate, but it was no use — five seconds later, in a dark section of the tube, I felt his legs slide around my body as he straddled my back. The good thing was that the added momentum pushed me further down the tube. The bad thing was that, thanks to the size of my butt,  I had created a situation where I could be accused of inappropriately touching a child.

Worried that my new friend would soon be followed by others (those metering lights were quick), I reached out for the wall and did another pull — and as I completed the movement, accidentally smacked the boy on his arm. He yelped and said something in Icelandic (probably along the lines of “I’m not the one slowing things down, lard-ass”) and dropped back just enough for me to frantically paddle my way toward daylight.

Whereas most children burst from the tube with the power of a small explosion, I emerged as more of a dribble — a soft kerplunk, followed by several desperate strokes toward Peter, who was confused by what had taken so long.

The boy quickly blended back into the crowd, and I hoped that the number of people in the pool might give me anonymity as well. But then, as I waited for Peter near the entrance, a familiar, pudgy figure wearing socks decorated with soccer balls passed me with his father. Catching my eye, he turned toward me and said something to me in Icelandic. Not angry, but definitely forceful — perhaps something along the lines of “Hey lady, next time, I go first.”