Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)

February 27, 2002:
Intersession Training in Tampa, Round II

Of mustaches, tattoos, and speeding yachts

By Kate Swearengen '04

Every year during intersession, the Princeton crew team travels to Florida to train on the water. The rowers take buses to the Philadelphia airport, then fly to Florida. The boats get there by way of Interstate 95.

Brad is in charge of the boats. He has nine tattoos and a shaved head, and if something goes wrong with a boat and he doesn't know how to fix it, then no one does. It takes 19 hours to drive the two trailers of boats from Princeton to Tampa, and Brad drives it straight through.


The men's heavyweight crew team had its annual "ugly mustache" contest. The contest kicked off about two weeks before the team left for Tampa, and ended on Thursday. New categories included Miracle Growth 'Stache, for the most luxuriant hair growth in a three-day period, and Porn Star 'Stache, for the sleaziest mustache. Although only one man could take the prize for Best Overall 'Stache, each competitor was given a title. To me, this doesn't seem like adequate recompense for spending three weeks looking like a date rapist, but the men seemed to think it was worth it.

Not to be outdone by their heavyweight counterparts, two members of the men's lightweight squad went all-out to make themselves as ugly as possible. One showed up at the Philadelphia airport wearing a white polyester sports coat over a Hawaiian print shirt and blue-striped flannel pants. The other one sported a comb-over. Both managed to get seats in first class.

"I think McRobert's got mange," I said. "Maybe the stewardess took pity on him and decided to give him a good seat."

"No," Sarah said. "He did it on purpose. I guess when he realized that he wasn't going to get any action on this trip, he decided that he might as well make himself as ugly as possible. So he had one of his teammates shave a bald spot in his head."

"What a good idea," I said, only half joking, as I strained to cross my legs back in tourist class.


Last year, the stroke of our novice eight got a tattoo. This time, it was Natalie's turn. She chose the Chinese character for "heaven," in part for its meaning, and in part for the aesthetic qualities and the simplicity of its design. The implication of having that particular character tattooed on her left buttock didn't sink in until we returned to campus, and Natalie's boyfriend pointed it out.

"Oh my god," Natalie said. "Are people really going to think that's why I got it?"

Natalie's boyfriend answered in the affirmative, and suggested that she invent another meaning for the character, unless she wanted to field requests for a slice of heaven or, even worse, entry to the Pearly Gates.

"That's the second funniest tattoo I've heard of anyone getting," one of Natalie's male hallmates said. "The best was a guy I knew who had 'exit only' tattooed across his rear end."


Rowing on a shipping canal is a lot different than rowing on Lake Carnegie. Our fiberglass racing shells were constantly threatened by boats bearing such names as The Reel Thing and Baby Cakes. For all the saccharine cuteness of such names, however, there was nothing sweet about these boats or their occupants. Neither the leathery men who piloted these vessels nor the leathery women who accompanied them evinced much concern for the enormous wakes that their boats were generating. What I wouldn't have given for a flame thrower.


On Tuesday night, the women's lightweight squad and the men's lightweight squad paired off and went out on dates. On the same night, the women's openweight team gathered in a conference room of the hotel and consumed mass quantities of candy. Those who think that the women's lightweight squad got the better end of the deal are missing the point.

It is at this meeting that the juniors pass dresses to the sophomores. The annual dress dispersal is a tradition that began in the early days of the women's rowing program at Princeton. There are five dresses, and each is intended for a certain personality. The personality types that correspond to the "looks innocent, but isn't" dress, the "tomboy" dress, and the "slut" dress are intuitive. Especially in the case of the "slut" dress. The meanings of the other two dresses are less obvious. The "jolly green giant" dress is passed down to the most cheerful sophomore, and comes with a garish pair of white platform shoes. The fifth dress is actually a black cat suit, and is given to the sophomore "vixen."

I ended up with the "tomboy" dress, which is a red-and-purple combination skirt/jumpsuit that looks like something Timothy Leary would have worn if he had been applying for a job at Banana Republic. I don't think it's been washed since the late '70s.

Each dress is accompanied by a poem, which is read to the enjoyment of the crowd and to the embarrassment of the recipient. The poem for the "looks innocent, but isn't" dress began: "And while no one can deny this girl's full of power/Those who know her will say that she's no innocent flower," before degenerating into a recitation of the recipient's exploits on the Street. I don't think our coach will ever look at us the same way again.


The most interesting experience I had in Florida occurred when four teammates and I took a taxi back from Ybor City. After noticing some commotion on the sidewalk, the cabdriver popped the question that every woman hopes to be asked some day.

"Hey girls," he said. "Wanna see a fight?"

We did, so he pulled over to the sidewalk, where a very intoxicated man was arguing with another cabdriver. In an effort to help the other cabdriver, or maybe just because he wanted to stir things up, our cabdriver leaned out the window and asked if everything was okay. The drunk man responded by falling on the hood of our taxi and bellowing loudly, his face inches from the windshield. I counted two teeth.

Peering at our aggressor with intense interest, our driver calmly shifted the cab into reverse, then hit the accelerator. The man fell to the pavement as the car pulled out from under him.

"He attacked my car," our cabdriver said, as he drove away. "I had to defend myself. He's just lucky that I put the car in reverse, and not in drive."

There is an interesting footnote to this story. The next day, on the taxi ride back to the Tampa airport, I was relating the experience when the cabdriver interrupted me.

"That crazy drunk guy? I got him on videotape." He pointed to a Camcorder resting on the front seat. "He's in jail now. That was me he was fighting with before the other driver showed up."


You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu