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All the way down to the not so Bitter End

All the way down to the not so Bitter End

My friend who just bought a houseboat said that there's a party at his marina on Percy Priest Lake tomorrow night," the voice mail informed me.

Relaxing on boats, sipping beer by a quiet lake in the great outdoors—it sounded perfect.

"—oh, and it's a toga party," the message continued.

Why is there always a catch? The remainder of the voice mail assured me that togas were preferred but not required, but I was already imagining Animal House-boat antics where someone inevitably gets thrown into the lake. I decided to leave the toga at home.

The next evening, my friends and I searched Elm Hill Marina for Dock H and signs of a bacchanalian bash. We headed for the obvious: a brightly festooned dock reverberating with the sound of a live band. "Where are the togas?" we wondered, squinting toward the dock.

"You want togas?" said a portly, and noticeably tipsy, fellow who was lumbering in our direction. "The toga party is that way." He pointed out to a random spot in the water. "This is another party," he said, pointing back at the noisy dock, "but not the toga party.

"That way," he motioned again, "look, waaaaay out there. See those lights? Go there." The far-off lights he indicated didn't look like much of a party. Perhaps this salty dog had drunk a wee dram too much brine.

We heard giggling and turned around to see two girls swaddled in togas, their hair decorated with ivy wreaths. They directed us to a skinny bridge with a locked gate that led down to a long dock and "The Bitter End Yacht Club"—home of the toga party. Like magic, a security guard showed up in a golf cart to unlock the gate. Even as we descended the bobbing, swaying bridge to Dock H, we couldn't see or hear a party. We walked and walked, passing dozens of sport boats, houseboats and even sailboats. Finally, we saw the soiree. Most boats had their night lights on, live music could be heard, a huge disco ball hung from haphazardly strung Christmas lights and a large banner welcomed us. Almost everybody was wearing a toga.

Our host, Dave Pearson, came out to greet us. "You've got to meet The Mayor," he said.

"Hello! Get some beer. Where are your togas? Do you want wine?" said a towering and very tan figure who turned out to be The Mayor. Looking more like Zeus than a statesman (he sure didn't look like Bill Purcell), Hizzoner greeted shouts from every boat and gave us some history on the "Yacht Club." Dock H seems to be the longest dock at the marina, and it's quite a walk from the last slips to the shore. Folks down at the Bitter End, he explained, spend a good deal of time hanging out and talking beer, boats, babes and boys. Unlike other marinas, or even other docks, where the sailboat people and the motorboat people "stick to their own kind," all boats are welcome on Dock H.

"This is nothing," said The Mayor, who is known 9-to-5 as telecommunications engineer Paul Aubrecht. "You should have been here for our crawfish boil. Southwest flew in the crawfish and we had boxes of 'em stacked all up and down the dock." The Mayor's wife, Sheri, handed me an ivy wreath, so that I'd be appropriately dressed from the neck up. I noticed that other partiers had outfitted my fiancé with a glowing plastic sword. Every time he put the weapon down, it was handed right back to him.

"The crawfish boil took hours to clean up and about 15 trips up the dock and back—each," said Gary Clarke, the young captain of a big ol' Sea Ray motorboat. "But this isn't so bad," he continued. "Now, you know it's a party when another marina comes in!" he laughed, referring to the toga-laden party boats that had arrived from nearby Nashville Shores.

The colorful characters at the Bitter End would have been right at home in Jimmy Buffett's Tales From Margaritaville. The togas ranged from basic white cotton sheets, to black satin with gold lamé flames, to patriotic red, white and blue. There was even a young faux-hawked dude who actually made his toga look good.

I thought that instead of a new car, I really needed a boat and a membership to the Bitter End. "We really know how to yahoo," Clarke said. "Other people save up thousands of dollars and take weeks off of work to go on vacation. We have a vacation every weekend."


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