One joyful assignment in my long career consisted of three rather pleasant years in Panama. Because of the long historical association between the United States and Panama, that country is one of the easiest in the world for Americans to visit. The Panamanians are used to Americans; most Panamanians seem to have relatives in the States; and those of a certain financial status make a habit of week-end shopping trips in Miami. In fact, on my own visits to Miami I was struck by how many Panamanian friends I encountered on the streets, in the bars, and the malls. I found Panama and Miami to have great similarities; the biggest difference being that more English is spoken in Panama.
One of the joys of living and working in Panama consisted of fishing Gatun Lake, one of the main sources of water for the fabulous Panama Canal--visiting the Canal should be on every American's "bucket list." On many weekends, a couple of friends or the kids and I would drive over to the lakeside and rent a boat with a guide and bait for an all-day fishing trip on Gatun. It would cost about $20 then and was the best $20 I ever spent. Although a lousy fisherman, even I would come back every time with several large bass which the guide would clean and filet. It was heaven.
The lake had a wide variety of wildlife in addition to fish. Besides any number of bird species, it had manatees and, my favorites, alligators and crocodiles, one of the few places on earth where both exist--another similarity with Florida. These were big monsters, very well fed on the abundant fish in the lake. It was a humbling experience to see these guys following your boat just waiting for a snack.
One fine Saturday a couple of buddies from the Embassy and I headed off for a day of fishing. We had fun, caught lots of fish, and after about four hours decided to call it a day. One of my friends, we will call him Fred, had brought along a Popeil Pocket Fisherman. He decided to try it out as we headed back. He cast out behind our slow moving boat and within seconds had a hit from a good size Gatun Peacock Bass. He began happily reeling in his catch when (insert Jaws theme here, please) a ripple in the water moved quickly towards the struggling fish. A splash. A brief glimpse of a large tetrapod head. Shouts from the guide of "Crocodile!" The fishing line seemed to go straight down and spool out quickly, and then stop. The guide shut the engine off. Fred sat there staring at his Popeil and at the water. One of us shouted out the always helpful, "Holy crap!"
My friend and fellow FSO did what any dedicated fisherman would do: Fred began cranking away on his Popeil. The guide likewise did what any dedicated guide would do: He began shouting, "No! No!" or maybe, "¡No! ¡No!"-- I don't remember which language he used.
I kept thinking this is analogous to the question raised when one sees a dog chasing a bus: What does he do if he catches it?
After a few seconds, my other friend verbalized my doubts, "Uh, Fred, what are you going to do if you reel that thing in? Put him in the boat?" Back came the indignant reply, "But that s.o.b. took my fish!"
Here, ladies and gentlemen, lies the moral of the story. Hours on a lake in the hot sun with only beer and salty chips for sustenance can impede the judgment process. While I consider myself an Old Testament sort of guy who believes in meting out swift justice to transgressors, I was willing, in this case, to cut the croc some slack, and let him go with a stern warning. Fred, however, wanted justice.
We, fortunately, did not have to resolve our different views of justice. The Pocket Fisherman, with all due respect to Mr. Popeil and Ronco, was not built for tangling with a Gatun croc. Snap! Half the gadget disappeared into the water along with several feet of line.
Somewhere in magnificent Lake Gatun, a croc trails half a Pocket Fisherman. I watch the nature shows in the hope that one day Jack Hanna or another intrepid host will find that croc. I stand ready to explain the whole thing.