It was Tuesday. The scuba shop opened at 4:00 PM. What successful business opens at 4:00 PM? I have been in business for myself for 20 years and I worked from early morning until late most nights. This shop has been in business for as long as I remember. How do they do it? A dive shop in the Midwest, not even close to an ocean, but surrounded by so many cold lakes. I was about to find out.
I pushed open the door and a buzzer sounded in the backroom. A woman and an older gentleman stepped around the corner.
“Can I help you?” the woman asked.
“I want to sign up for the scuba diving class!” The words flew out of my mouth.
“Which class?” she asked.
“The next one.” I replied.
“So, a scuba diver certification class then.” She smiled, sensing my anxiety.
“Yes, that one. How do I do that?” I returned her smile.
“I will let Tom explain it all to you and I can help you after. My name is Julie.” She extended her hand and I shook it.
“I’m Traci, nice to meet you. Hi Tom.” I shook Tom’s hand as well.
“Hi Traci, follow me.” I would love to say I heard what Tom had to say as he showed me around the shop. I would love to say I could repeat the names of the other divers, instructors and master divers that he introduced me to. I would love to say I recall any of what I read before I signed the packet of waivers he handed me. What I do remember was the way they all were smiling, laughing while rehashing the last dive trip and planning the next adventure. I remember wanting to be a part of that.
“The next class starts in ten days and the class after that is in five weeks. This next class only has two divers in it, but the following one has 20 divers because a troop of Eagle Scouts are earning a merit badge. You might want to take the online course this week and join us for this month’s class.” Tom explained as I was finishing the paperwork.
“The only problem with that is if I can get a mask made with my prescription in it in in time. I spoke to a man on the phone, Rick I think, he said if I needed my glasses prescription put into a mask you would have to order it and it would take a little while.” I said. I’m sure I was stalling. “It would be nice to be in the smaller class. One on one with an instructor would help to ensure that I am able to overcome my anxiety and be successful in this venture. If I can’t get the mask in time and the next class is too full when is the class after that?”
Tom smiled at me. I’m pretty sure he saw right through my procrastination. “Get your prescription to me as soon as possible. Tomorrow if you can. I’ll take care of the rest. Julie can help you pick out a mask, snorkel, fins, and boots.”
“Ok, got it, thanks.” I turned to Julie, who was very eager to show me everything I needed.
“This way then.” Julie pointed to the wall of masks and snorkels. I felt my body shudder and my throat tighten. I drew a deep breath and stepped up to the masks.
There were so many different kinds. “How do I even choose?” I picked a mask off the wall. It was yellow and black with the removable purge valve in the nose. “Can I get one without the purge valve?” I remembered the incident in the Galapagos so well.
“Sure, and you want one that can accommodate the prescription.” Julie held out a yellow and clear mask that she had freed from the plastic bubble case packaging. “Try this on.”
I pushed my hair back and held the mask up to my face. “Like this?”
“Yes, now breathe in through your nose and see if you have a good seal.” She said.
As I took a breath in through my nose I felt the mask tighten around my eyes and nose. I felt the familiar panicky catch in my chest. I blew out slowly through my mouth, mentally reassuring myself that it was going to be great. “Is this good?” The mask was stuck tight.
“It looks good. Does it feel good to you?” She was nodding at me. I nodded back.
“Now for a snorkel.” Julie took the mask and handed me a snorkel with a purge valve on the bottom and a stopper on the top. “This one doesn’t fill with as much water, it’s easier to purge. Try it out.”
I took the snorkel and checked out the purge valve and the stopper. This was so different than any snorkel I had ever used. I blew through it while holding the stopper at the top. The air blew out the purge at the bottom. “Ingenious! I’ll take this one.” I set it on the counter. A round of laughter rolled out of the back meeting room. “So, I have to ask: How do you all do this? How do you make a living running a dive shop in the Midwest? There seems to be so many of you and everyone is so cheerful. What’s the secret?”
“Oh, there’s no secret. We have had the shop for many years. A lot of people refer new divers to take lessons. Everyone needs tanks for dives. We organize a lot of trips and we sell a lot of equipment, suits, and accessories. Most of us have full-time jobs. We come here because we love to dive. You’ll see.” She turned and walked over to the fins and boots. “Come try these on.”
There in front of me were fins in every color, shape, and size. Some of them had an adjustable strap around the back and some were enclosed like footies. There were short, long, split and not. “Why split?” I held up a pair of long, yellow fins with a split halfway down the fin and a strap around the back.
“Less resistance, more distance from a shorter kick span. Really good for a flutter kick.” A nice-looking man came around the rack of fins. “I’m Kevin.” He held out his hand and I shook it.
“Nice to meet you. Would these be good for a beginner?” I held the fins up to him. I liked that the fins matched the mask and snorkel I had picked out. I am that girl.
“Do you plan on doing a lot of diving? These are good fins, but there are less expensive ones available.” He held up a blue pair. Obviously not getting the whole matchy thing.
“Hmmm, I really like that these match.” I truthed.
“Oh, I get it.” His brow furrowed. He didn’t get it. “What size are you? Try this pair on. Do you have boots picked out yet?”
“Size nine-ish. I don’t have boots. Do I need them?” I sat on a short stool and took off my sandals. I felt like an awkward Cinderella taking the boots out of the package, zipping one on my foot and trying to adjust the strap on one of the fins to secure it on my foot. “Like this?”
“Like this.” Kevin straightened the boot and fixed the strap so the fin extended out in front of me. “The boots will keep your feet warm and protect your ankle from rubbing on the fin. This could cause quite an abrasion.” He stuck his finger in the top of the fin along the front of my ankle to show where it would rub.
“Got it. I’ll take these then. Do I need a wetsuit? What else do I need?” I looked around at all of the things in the shop. I had no clue what any of it was used for. What was I getting myself into?
“The wetsuit, regulator, BC and tank rental are included in the class price. When you come next week we will fit you with all of it for the pool dive on Sunday. This packet is the code for your online class and a journal to log all of your dives.” Julie carried the fins and boots to the counter and set them next to the snorkel and mask. There was a packet on the counter with my name on it. “Do you want to pay for all of this and the class next week?”
“Nope, here is my charge card. I really want to do this. I don’t want to give myself any room to back out. I am just doing this. I am not thinking about this at all!” It was all I could think about for the next 18 days. Exactly what I needed. I handed over my charge card.
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