Thursday, June 01, 2006

Tubing James

From James Grippando

Last week I saw a national headline that, once again, made me ask “Why do I live in Miami?” It was some survey by AAA reporting its findings on “the rudest drivers in America.” I thought surely L.A. or New York would be at the top of the list. Nope. It was none other than my home, Miami. (Technically I live in Coral Gables, but it’s hard to argue that you’re not part of Miami when you share a zip code with the University of Miami.) I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Even among the more courteous drivers, the international sign of ill will is used more often here than turn signals. At least they don’t shoot you.

Fortunately, something good happened this week to make me glad to live in Florida, if not Miami. My law school did a feature of me for the alumni magazine. What made the piece particularly nice was the fact that it was triggered by the unusual setting I chose for the most exciting scenes in my latest Jack Swyteck novel, Got the Look—the Florida aquifer. For any Gator (that’s what we Florida grads call ourselves) tubing down the Ichetuknee River is a veritable right of passage. The river runs for six miles across north Florida , not too far from Gainesville , where I went to school. I made my first trip in an old black inner tube in 1977, and I was struck by two things. One, the water was absolutely crystal clear. Two, it was freakin’ cold! This was not an entirely pleasant surprise (though it was a welcome enhancement to the six-pack floating alongside me). I soon learned that the Ichetucknee rises up from the watery underworld of the north Florida aquifer, a limestone labyrinth of interconnecting caves and caverns that was millions of years in the making and that now discharges 7.7 billion gallons of crystal-clear drinking water every day. Some of the caves stretch for miles, and the average liter of water percolates and circulates around and around for twenty years before reaching the surface.

I remember coming to a wide part of the river where thousands of small air bubbles were rising from the river bed. “Cave divers,” my friend told me. I was dumbstruck. Basking in the sunshine while floating down the cold river in an inner tube was one thing. But it gave me chills to think of people beneath the riverbed, crawling through tiny openings, meandering through tons of jagged limestone, clinging to flashlights, checking gauges, sucking air through hoses—willingly swimming down, down, down into those confusing honeycombs in the earth where plenty of divers had lost their lives in the name of sport. And it raised an obvious question: Why?

In my mind’s eye, I can still see those air bubbles rising from the riverbed, and as a student at the University of Florida , I saw the newspaper reports of divers who lost their way and drowned in the aquifer, many of them just around the corner from daylight. Tragically, it still happens. In fact, just last summer (2005) another diver drowned at Ginnie Springs, a place that features prominently in Got the Look. It will happen again, I’m sure. Again, you might ask: Why? The answer, I suppose, is that the Florida aquifer is one of the most amazing, mysterious, alluring, and dangerous places that nature has to offer.

I suppose you could say the same about Florida in general. Rude drivers and all.

James Grippando


  1. Your description of the aquifer was atmospheric and a bit creepy. Great scene for a novel. I've only been to Miami a few times, but it has a mystique all its own.

    Actually, the driving ability of Angelenos is in question, but they are polite for the most part, especially if they want to live to drive another day.

    Inner tubing was the thing to do when I was growing up in Yakima, Washington. And by the way, I just finished reading your thriller UNDER COVER OF DARKNESS and was stunned to find out that you used Yakima as a setting in the book. How did that happen?

  2. Hey Jim,
    You keep that up, Florida State grads are gonna boycott your books. Yes, they can read!

  3. Patty - My sister has lived in Selah Washington since 1979 or so, and her husband is a Yakima County Sheriff, head of the Emergency Rescue Unit. So I've seen LOTS of Yakima, and the clothing store described in Under Cover of Darkness was actually owned by my sister!
    Paul - I have immunity from FSU backlash. I married a Seminole and--this is something I really can't comprehend--I made an FSU law grad the hero of Lying with Strangers! JMG

  4. "Tubing James" threw me. I thought it was Jim's report of his latest colonoscopy.

  5. Selah? Holy cow. And the pic. I thought Cornelia was the only techo-savvy nakedauthor. You've definitely raised the bar.