Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Adventures of Rick O'Shea

A week or so ago I was enjoying an afternoon repast with my ole buddy Punch at the White Lion in St. Augustine, FL.  The occasion was the annual Gamble Rogers Folk Festival which, for the first time, was spread out among several different venues throughout the ancient city.  A great idea as St. Augustine, the nation's oldest city, is easily one of the most desirable destinations in the country and the location made for a grand afternoon of great music and visual delights.

As usual, Punch had gotten his calendar totally screwed up and ended up in Baja Georgia nearly un-announced and a month earlier than planned, which was alright with me as the boy's visits are always an excuse for some good creative loafing, this one being no exception.

As we sat on the Lion's patio overlooking the Castillo De San Marcos, I was reminded of my recently departed friend Rick O'Shea, one of the most special people it's ever been my pleasure to know.  A wheelchair-bound paraplegic due to an auto accident at the age of nineteen, Rick was one of those persons who made lemonade out of lemons and, because of his infectious spirit, was always surrounded by the most interesting people doing the most interesting things.

The patio at the White Lion Pub

View of the Castillo De San Marcos from the patio.

To digress a bit, a week or so before the folk festival I had gone on one of those "clean-out-the-dresser" tears where you rip through your dresser drawers and pull out everything you haven't worn in three years and toss it into the rag pile.  In my case, it always involves several dozen t-shirts that I've collected over the years but could never throw away, some of them twenty or thirty years old and emblazoned with some logo or other from some event or other that I attended or was part of.

One such shirt was a rather ugly one that I never wore (pictured) but is full of fond memories from an event surrounding Rick.  It seems Rick's mini-van had broken down and he didn't have the money for a new one, so his friends got together and threw a party to help him out.  Indeed, we ended up raising several thousand dollars for the down-payment on Rick's new van.  (Some of you might recognize a few of the players at that event, particularly Grammy-winning bluesman Derek Trucks and Noel Friedline, a fabulous jazzer who now lives in Charlotte.)

Well, with great gumption and fortitude of purpose, this particular shirt ended up in the rag pile.  A short while later, when I grabbed it to wipe down my just-washed car, I paused to look at it and a rush of memories came flowing back to me. 

As you can see from the logo, Rick is depicted in his chair flying a kite.  Rick had gotten into kiting some years earlier and by then had a cottage industry employing two or three people in his garage building and selling them.  There are many tales surrounding him and his kites, one such adventure involving the aforementioned Castillo De San Marcos.

It was Rick's custom to station himself each Sunday afternoon on the great lawn of the fort so as to catch the sea breeze off of the Atlantic and fly his kites.  He was always attended by a retinue of pretty young girls and hippie guys who were constantly looking for ways to push the kiting envelope.

It began benignly enough with just one kite, usually a very colorful one such as a Chinese dragon or the like.  Then, it expanded to two kites on a line with a banner or two.  Then, several kites on a long line topped by a para-sail which they tied-off to Rick's wheelchair to hold it down.

Well, you guessed it, it wasn't long before a gust of wind sent Rick and his wheelchair careening across the lawn straight for the old fort and its surrounding moat.  The hippies and chicks ran him down and tackled him before any serious mishap, but the string of kites took a furious nosedive and crashed into the top of the fort, scaring the crap out of a gaggle of tourists, and knocking a softball-sized chip of coquina out of the national treasure, much to the chagrin of the National Park Service who forthwith banned any further kite flying on the grounds.

It seems that Rick's kite assault had done more damage to the fort than all of the battles and mishaps of the previous four-hundred years!  All of this I observed with much glee from my favorite Sunday afternoon perch on the patio of the White Lion.

Undaunted, Rick and his minions soon set up shop at the end of a residential street which dead-ends at the grounds of the fort, giving access to the great lawn and the attending sea breeze.  By now the kite line was a 300 foot length of rope at the end of which was a para-sail some 20 feet or more across and supporting 25 or 30 smaller kites and banners.  It was a glorious sight and became somewhat of a tourist attraction in its own right.

They used a wench to control the monster and fastened it to the bumper of Rick's mini-van to hold it down.  The kites were self-supporting in the strong wind, requiring no attention, and it made for good entertainment for Rick and his friends to picnic on the grounds of the fort in the cool summer breeze while enjoying the kite spectacular.

Well, you guessed it, it wasn't long before a gust of wind overcame the weight of the mini-van and dragged it down the street, crashing it into the concrete barrier at the end and completely destroying the drive train in the process.  Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Thus was the demise of Rick's mini-van and the catalyst for the party to raise funds for a new one.  And thus, the catalyst for my memories and this post.

More to come.


  1. Hilarious incident and a lovely little tribute to boot. It also illustrates why I have a seemingly unnatural fear of kites which may not be so unnatural after all. It also illustrates why the ancients should have considered using kites instead of canons.

  2. You young kids sure know how to have fun!

  3. If I knew kites could move a vehicle i would have saved thousands on tow bills.

  4. Lovely day, great story, Rick was one of a kind. A true example of how to overcome a tragic life altering event.

  5. Mo... kite trauma is a terrible cross to bear. I'll keep you in my prayers.

    Stephen... oh that it were so. These events occured in the 80s.

    Walking Man... it wouldn't have helped. Towing is part of the great police industrial complex and they would have fined you for not having a wrecker. A biker friend of mine once got a DUI while pushing his bike home. Go figure.

    Thanks Punch, see you soon.

  6. What a cool story, Mr. C! Thanks for sharing that slice of your life.


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