We called him Heavy D. Because his gait was reminiscent of Bigfoot and carabiners were a part of his stock and trade.
We called him Dilly Dally. Because his concept of time was warped. Skewed more toward the Latin American version than the northern European version.
I called him Big D, little A, double L, A, S. Because that was how the radio station I listened to growing up spelled Dallas, and I liked repeating it.
He was noted for absolutely not wearing a dirndl despite our most determined efforts. He was also noted for - begrudgingly - donning pink bunny rabbit ears to emcee Dinner Theatre on guide training despite feeling under the weather.
On that night, we called him ‘Angster Bunny’. It has taken him more than a decade to laugh about that.
A story Dallas loves telling about me occurred during his weekend training. He accompanied me in the company van from the greasiest of greasy spoon cafes in the slumbering lumber town of Darrington to a county park located twelve miles out of town on the lower Sauk River. We knew very little of each other beyond the pleasantries we exchanged over the course of the training and the twenty minute ride from restaurant to campsite.
Basically, he knew me as the boss. I knew him as the eager trainee.
Winnie, my Australian shepherd/sheltie mix, had also accompanied us in the van. At the restaurant before we left, I let her out to stretch her legs. She was a smart, well-behaved dog and I rarely needed to look out for her.
As Dallas and I pulled into the county park I came to the sudden sickening realization I had driven off without Winnie due to having been distracted - no doubt - by the need to do some cat-herding. I exploded with a torrent of choice expletives and Dallas thought we had either thrown a rod in the dilapidated Orion rig or were about to drive off the bridge into the river.
I am sure he was terrified and impressed at how quickly I transmogrified from mild-mannered James to ranting-and-raving James.
No phone booths required.
Dallas was a young, good-looking buck who took to guiding like sows take to mud wallows. Being young and egotistical, I anticipated he might, like many self-absorbed males before him, become a hazard to himself and clients. But he surprised me.
His wake-up call happened early on. He said everything changed about his attitude toward guiding the day he fished one of his customers out of the frigid waters of some Washington river and got a look at what terror looks like up close and personal.
From then on, he never checked being empathetic at the door. He never forgot commercial trips were not about the egos of the guides, but about the experience of the guests. That guiding meant you had to know what it was like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
And the vast majority of guests have zero desire to find themselves without a boat in whitewater.
Two of his more memorable remarks were:
“If I had to, I could get infants down this river.”
And. . .
“That turd’s gonna shoot on through. . .”
The former came during a media interview when, in his inimitable way, he was explaining the confidence required to succeed in guiding a commercial raft. Enough to declare that you could take infants if needed.
The latter comment was uttered as he and I watched a raft dive over a falls on an impressively high water trip in May. I had my reservations and fears as I watched the boat lock in to the slipstream above the cascade, but Dallas was as confident as a blackjack dealer who knows exactly how the odds are stacked.
Dallas and I have always had a complicated and competitive relationship whether it be drinking games, horseshoes or esoteric topics. He was never one to blindly kowtow to my authority, and I have often listened to, if not harkened, his sage, and ample, advice.
We’ve watched one another’s backs on many occasions on river banks around the western United States.
We’ve howled at the moon and rebel yelled loud enough to disturb the dead.
But the story I like to tell about him happened on the Grand Canyon.
It had been a long day on the water and - for once - I was not the group leader. But, the downside was, I was not in charge of determining the itinerary. It turned in to a day where we pushed further downstream than I was comfortable and, as the afternoon acquiesced to twilight, I was not in any humor for shenanigans when we reached camp.
It was my group’s cook day. As it so happens, Dallas and I were partners, along with Ally, in a three member chore group. We were midway through the Canyon and, so far, Dallas’ primary contribution to our crew on the days we cooked was to bar tend. Which - ordinarily - was wonderful.
He was noted for never skimping when it came to the quality of alcohol. Nor the quantity for that matter.
(Another one of his favorite expressions: “Twenty four beers in a case. Twenty four hours in a day. It can’t be a coincidence.”)
I hit the beach that evening exclaiming to anyone in earshot, “I’m going to be useless!” Meaning I was prepared to do some drinking.
But, as the cooking commenced, some god-awful barley concoction, it became clear that if I wanted to be ‘useless’, Dallas needed, for Ally’s sake, to be somewhat useful.
He had already begun his bartending routine.
That’s when I pulled him aside and told him in no uncertain terms, “Heavy D, I love you like a brother. But if you don’t chop some onions, I’m going to heave you into the river.”
Incredibly enough, he took it to heart. The meal still sucked. But we had a swell time creating it.