Burning Water

Jul 2, 2015
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Transcript

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Now, we're going to start off today's episode with one of my dear friends who came up with a simple solution to his problem. This story is from SNAP JUDGMENT live in San Francisco - amazing storytellers, amazing crowd, but we've got you the very best seat in the house - SNAP JUDGMENT live.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WASHINGTON: Our next storyteller, he was with us from day one, Mr. Josh Healey.

(APPLAUSE)

JOSH HEALEY: How do you enjoy life as the world burns? When the planet is on fire and the country's falling apart and the cops shoot another teenager and half your neighbors are getting evicted or deported and Bill Maher is still speaking out loud on television, what do you do? I go to the water park with my nephew Miles (ph). Miles is 12 years old. He is a brilliant, bowlegged troublemaker. I love him despite the fact that he's 12 and still has a rat tail.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: It's really not that cute anymore, dude. We're not related by blood, but Miles's dad, Kevin, is like a brother to me, so Miles calls me Uncle Josh. Uncle Josh, when are we going to the Warriors game? Uncle Josh, will you show me how to open that car with a hanger again? Uncle Josh...

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: Uncle Josh, if - since I'm half black and half Asian, does that make me blasian (ph)?

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: No, Miles, that makes you Oakland.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

HEALEY: It's August and it's hot, which, for the Bay Area, means anything above 67.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: Today it's 91. I'm over at Kevin and Miles's place, sitting in no AC in our tank tops and boxers watching "Key And Peele."

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: I say, guys, we got to go somewhere to cool off, cooler than the movie theater, cooler than the mall. I'm going to take us to East Bay Waterworld. Miles's face lights up, but then Kevin says I don't know you guys. I mean, those water parks, you know, they're so wasteful.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: My main man Kevin is the worst kind of Bay Area environmentalist.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: He's that type of dude who will come over your house and use the bathroom, not flush, but instead write a note on your toilet paper telling you how much water he just saved you.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: That's a true story.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: I say, Kevin, it's so hot out here I could fry an egg on your face, which I will if we don't go the East Bay Waterworld.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: Miles says, please, Dad. I say, please, Dad. Kevin says fine. Go have fun at the park, but take my car. It's a hybrid.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: I grab the keys and soon me and Miles are driving through Oakland. We pass by the trilingual liquor store, the farmers market that accepts food stamps and we make our way through the tunnel in the hills. We emerge on the other side in the Valley. The further we get from the coast, the ground is dryer and dryer, browner and browner. The only green is the manicured lawns of the suburbs, the golf courses, the empty field of the sprawling county jail. And then we see it and we arrive at our Mecca, our oasis in the California desert - East Bay Waterworld.

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HEALEY: And it's even more beautiful than I imagined. There's four wave pools. There's a 50-foot water park. The air smells like chlorine and sunscreen and funnel cake.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: Delicious. Miles's mouth is wide, staring at all these things he's never seen before - carnival games, Dippin' Dots, girls in bikinis. Uncle Josh, this place is awesome. I know, Miles.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: We go and we jump in the wave pool. We float down the lazy river. We spin through the white water rapids until we're totally drenched, grinning ear to ear and surprisingly thirsty. So I go to the funnel cake vendor for something to drink. Can I get a bottle of water please? He says no problem. That will be $7. Seven dollars for a bottle of water. He looks at the bottle. It says - and he literally read off the bottle - it says this here is bottled and purified up near Lake Tahoe. This is California water - California water. I buy two bottles and walk back to where Miles is pointing up towards the sky. I follow his gaze and then I see it. There, staring down at us from the tallest point in the park, is the biggest waterslide I've ever seen, the tallest slide in Northern California - The Annihilator.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: The Annihilator is a seven-story, 80-foot free-fall drop down, all in just under five seconds. It's one of those slides that's so vertical your back comes off the ride when you go down so you feel like if you lean over just a little bit, you're done. (LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: It's the type of slide that's illegal in 27 states and most of the European Union, but hey, this is California.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: I look and see Miles. His mouth is watering in anticipation. We go and get in line. Now, the worst part of The Annihilator isn't the ride down. That's only five seconds. The worst part is the 30-minute wait in line, standing in the stairs, watching and hearing every kid go down the slide, hearing every scream, every shriek, every oh, sweet baby, purple Jesus.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: That's a direct quote from a 9-year-old shout out to purple Jesus.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: Miles is nervous. His hand is clenching the railing. Uncle Josh, is this thing safe?

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: Before I can answer, I hear a voice shouting from the top of the stairs - hands up, put your hands up. It's the lifeguard, a tall, white teenager in red shorts. He's yelling at the girl about to go down the slide - I'm telling you, it's way more fun if you put your hands up.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: And the words hit me like a tsunami. It's August - two weeks after Ferguson, after Mike Brown, after those words hands up became the calling cry for a movement. In Missouri, people are putting their hands up to protest the police murdering another black boy in America. In California, I'm watching kids put their hands up as they go down a waterslide called The Annihilator, and my nephew asks me if it's safe here. It's August in America. In Detroit, they're shutting off poor people's water. California is suffocating of thirst. Half of my friends are pouring buckets of ice over their faces on Facebook. Israel is bombing water treatment plants in Gaza. And in America, we have water parks in the desert, industrial almond farms in the desert, prisons in the desert. My family - me and my nephew right here in the desert looking for anything that could be called an oasis. And Miles asks me if it's safe here. What am I supposed to tell him? I don't want to lie to my nephew. I want him to know that yes, some people will always see him as a threat. But I also want him to laugh and play and go get on this crazy [expletive] waterslide. How do you enjoy life as the world us burning? How do you teach your nephew to hate the park but love the ride? The thing is called The Annihilator. I think it might be trying to tell us something.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: And now we're next in line. A girl with blonde pigtails is shaking her head. The lifeguard says it's OK, you don't have to do it. She backs away and now Miles is up. He steps to the edge of the slide, puts his feet in the rushing water. I can see the brown hills in the distance, Oakland, in all its beautiful contradictions, waiting on the other side. I wave at Miles, say you got this, you got this, dude. And he waves back at me, and when he does, he lets go of the railing. His hands shoots up in the air and the rushing water carries him away. He lets go. He shoots out and disappears over the edge. My nephew - I rush to the side and look over and there's Miles at the bottom of the slide, safe and alive and pulling up his bathing suit.

(LAUGHTER)

HEALEY: He jumps up and runs to get back in line and the cycle continues - water, blood, life, death and maybe rebirth. I'm still on the top platform of the slide. I walk to the edge, look down at California, lift my hands and let go.

(APPLAUSE)

WASHINGTON: Josh Healey, just one of the go-to storytellers here on SNAP. That original score that you're hearing right now was composed by Alex Mandel and is being performed by Alex and the SNAP JUDGMENT players Tim Frick and David Brandt. And I've got news - you can see this performance from SNAP live, filmed in all its glory, right now at SNAPJUDGMENT.org. Now, coming up next, we're going to the very place that most people hope they never end up and someone's going to tell a lie for the very best reason of all when SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Quick Fix" episode, continues. Stay tuned.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.