Poor Robert’s Ruminations with Rob Whittle: Adventures on the Potomac River

Poor Robert’s Ruminations with Rob Whittle: Adventures on the Potomac River
(Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

A funny thing happened at work today:

On a call, Dr. Phil could be heard dispensing sex advice before I could mute.

On a Zoom call, the camera tilted down to reveal me in my underwear. The client was not amused.

I rejected an important call because Erica Kane was about to break up with her boyfriend on a re-run of “All My Children.”

Columnist’s note: The rest of this column will be Corona-free unless you happen to be imbibing one while reading this.

Consider the Potomac River. I contend that it’s one of the great rivers of
the world. There’s the Nile, the Amazon, the Mississippi, the Yangtze, the
Seine and the Thames. The latter two are most famous because of the cities
they spawned. Likewise, the Potomac gave birth to Alexandria. Well, Washington, too.

Why is Alexandria situated where it is? First of all, both the District of Columbia and Alexandria are on the fall line of the river. Equally important, though, is that the channel takes a hard left at the Wilson Bridge, as you’re heading upstream, to the Virginia side of the shore. From the bridge heading downriver, the channel hugs the Maryland shore for many miles. But for a vagary of nature, we would be Alexandria, Maryland, not Alexandria, Virginia.

At any rate, we sit cheek by jowl with one of the world’s great rivers … and we hardly notice it’s there. We curse the traffic on the bridges. We recoil from the occasional aroma emanating from Blue Plains Treatment plant. Oh, and every now and then we glimpse it out of the corner of our eyes. In fairness, Alexandria city planners have done much to enhance our enjoyment of it with the redevelopment that’s taken place. But that’s mostly for tourists, right?

I can tell you firsthand, though, that there’s a thriving boating community on the Potomac. It is another world, one which most Alexandrians never experience first-hand. On a summer night, there are scores of vessels plying the waters from Occoquan to the Key Bridge. Boats abound in all shapes and sizes, from yachts to scows. Every couple of years, I will bring my boat up from the lower Potomac, about a hundred-mile voyage. It is a beautiful route, full of history and surprises around every bend in the river. A plantation here, a series of cliffs there, a monument over there.

Whenever I bring my boat to Alexandria, some kind of disaster befalls me. There was the time I took the women in my office for a cocktail cruise to be followed by dinner ashore. On the way back from Mount Vernon, the heavens opened – I mean opened – with a gusty thunderstorm, drenching the passengers, hairdos included. They were not amused when I suggested we could still dine on King Street.

There was the time after night fell that we ran out of oil and had to limp to shore in the ritzy neighborhood below The Wilson Bridge. I found myself climbing over a 10-foot gate to get to the road to meet someone bringing us a can of oil.

Then there was what I think of as the “Night of Officer Mott.” We were docked at Washington Harbor, which was crowded with luxury yachts. My boat is decidedly not a luxury yacht. I was attempting to make a tight turn to leave and midway through the turn realized that I was going to hit the bow anchor of a much larger boat.

Hit it I did, making not a scratch on the other boat, but crushing my windshield. Lights immediately began flashing from a nearby Coast Guard cutter. The captain informed me, to my chagrin, that he was obliged to report any incident to the D.C. police. Thus began the interminable wait for Officer Mott to do her thing. After a 30-minute wait, here she came in a 32-foot center console. I explained to the officer that the only damage had been done to my own boat and that I would be on my way, thanks-very-much. But Officer Mott simply scowled at me and let me know in no uncertain terms just who was in charge here.

She then proceeded to write the equivalent of “War and Peace” in various tickets. While she scribbled and scribbled, my guests and I could only wait in frustration. I attempted to get a situation report from time to time, only to be rebuffed with words to the effect of, “One more word out of you, and I’ll really throw the book at you!” Finally, and I’m talking an hour in, she presented me with a handful of citations. I could not imagine what the total would be. Turned out to be 75 bucks.

I do recommend an evening on our Potomac, which is, after all, one of the world’s great rivers. Just don’t do anything to attract the attention of Officer Mott.

Rob Whittle is CEO of Williams Whittle Advertising and is the author of two historical novels, “Pointer’s War” and “Pointer and the Russian.”