I was so hot this weekend that I called up Jerry Phillips, who is known to keep cold beer and fresh clams aboard his 28-foot Bayliner, and I said to him, "Jer', my people are wondering how the cleanup of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers is going, and I need a boat ride so I can find out."
This was a lie, but when your brain gets baked for a few days by 100-degree temperatures there is no telling what you might do or say in search of relief.
For instance, when I showed up at the District Yacht Club on Water Street SE yesterday morning prepared to take the ride, D.C. police and fire patrol boats were racing toward the John Philip Sousa Bridge where someone was perched atop the guardrails about to jump into the river.
District and U.S. Park Police officials prevented the man from jumping, which was a good thing for a number of reasons. I, for one, couldn't help thinking that if he had jumped, authorities would surely have closed the river and ruined my boat ride. (Whew, the heat sure can make you sound cold.)
Anyway, thanks again, because a boat ride with waves splashing everywhere is something everybody ought to be able to do now and again, and if anybody knows how to do it, it's Jerry Phillips.
A fourth-generation Washingtonian, Phillips started boating when he was 4. His uncle had built a boat just for him and called it "Mr. Music." Every summer when school was out, Phillips' parents would ship him off to visit relatives down in Eagle Harbor, Md., where he would sail the days away.
Four years ago, he bought his own boat on which he can sleep, cook, eat and entertain. As a result of his love for boating, he has become something of an expert on the condition of the waterways.
"Watch out for those Anacostia alligators," he says of tree logs that have been washed into the river by storms.
For the most part, however, the cleanup of the Anacostia River appears to be coming along just fine, although it is not nearly as sparkling as the Potomac River.
Truth be told, it is hotter on the water than on the land. "No shade out here," Phillips explained. But then, when you're out on a boat with no people in sight, you can take off your shirt, or whatever, get tanned and enjoy the breeze.
You also can cruise to The Cove near the Wilson Bridge and jump into the water, which is surprisingly clean and cooled by some underground spring. You can continue on to Mount Vernon, or turn around and head back to Georgetown, dock at Washington Harbor and enjoy the view.
"As far as inner-city rivers go, you can't beat what we have here in Washington," says Phillips, 46. "Of all the places I've been boating, I think Washington has the most scenic waterways, especially at night. And you can't find a transportation vehicle more graceful than a boat, unless it's a horse."
Washington's waterways are quite popular, and people sail here from around the world. Yesterday, there were boats in the Washington Channel from as far away as Bermuda and the Bahamas.
As the boat cruised along, photographer Dudley Brooks, also on board, contemplated buying one. Phillips turned the steering wheel over to him and began shucking clams. I drank the beer.
"It's really very inexpensive," said Phillips, who works for both WDJY radio station and the District government's cable television channel. "A weekend on the boat costs about $50, mostly for gas, while a dinner for two can cost twice as much."
This, of course, does not include the cost of the boat: about $30,000.
So, as our trip ended, I could report, truthfully, that the condition of the waterways is definitely improving. Add to that this: If you don't have a boat this summer, make sure you get to know somebody who does.