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Commentary: Turning $500 into a million bucks in just five hours

Robert L. Brenna Jr.

Several years ago, overlooking the Pacific, spinner dolphins were literally jumping for joy and more humpback whales were surrounding Kauai than had been there in years. They were down to only 500 worldwide at their lowest population ebb, but they’ve survived. The worst seemed inevitable, but they’ve come back. They’re now 10,000 strong.

Anyway, my fantasy was to dive with them. Not all 10,000, mind you — I go through air tanks quickly. But, at least I had hoped to go diving with one of them.

I called the dive boat to make the reservation, and to explain I needed to dive with whales at least once in my life. Their response was reasonable, but disappointing. They simply stated, “It will depend on what the other divers want to do,” and the dream evaporates into illusion.  Well, my friend Peter Parts wouldn’t let that stand in his way, and he’s taught me, by numerous examples, that I shouldn’t either.

So let’s analyze this minor stumbling block the way he would. What would Peter do?

How many times will I get back here? How much did the planes, hotels and automobiles cost? How long did I plan this trip? How much did I have to go through to free up enough time from the office? Will I ever get back here again?

“How much for the whole boat?” I finally ask. The answer comes quickly: “Five hundred.”

“Well let’s see,” I immediately think, rationalizing as fast as humanly possible. “If I amortize all of the cost to get here etc., etc., etc. …”

Before long, I say, “I’ll do it!” Could the fantasy actually become a reality? It would be worth a million bucks to me. Hell it would be worth every dollar on the planet.

We started out early the next morning, spotted three behemoths, and soon the dive master and captain tell me that a pod of dolphins are headed for the boat. “You want to swim with them?”

In a nanosecond I almost yell, “Absolutely!”

I know their acute hearing eliminates the dive gear even as an option — but what the hell — I’m going to die anyway someday. I go in without a tank- scared to be without it — especially in 300-feet depth. But the thrill overwhelms the fear, and before I know it the whole pod comes to me. Even a baby swims underneath momma. Unbelievable! I already got my money’s worth. All too soon they tire of me before I do them, and the dance is done.

Back on board we spend hours trying to figure out where the three humpbacks are heading. Triangulating their likely next move back up and down the coast, I jump in time after time, all to no avail. They could care less, and we aren’t allowed to boat within 100 yards of them. Every time I get into the water and go as fast as I can in dive gear, they are long gone. No matter how I feel, they absolutely, positively do not give it even a tiny (let alone whale-sized) thought that would indicate they ever fantasized about diving with me.

The trip is about to end, and I gave it my best shot. C’est la vie.

Suddenly I realize there is just the slightest chance we could intersect, but not if I take the time to put my gear back on. What the hell — I’m going to die someday anyway! I jump in with just my snorkel and mask, and swim as fast as my all-too-short arms and legs will let me.

Looking down, I was suddenly 30 feet over one of the three humpbacks. I was paralyzed with reverence, and then finally relaxed. Underwater they are the same beautiful blue-green as the ocean, not the black color you would expect. I look into the eye of the beast, knowing it could flip its tail and it would be all over. Luckily, it doesn’t. It just stares back. I can even see the striation of its skin, and I can see the other two whales. And suddenly the fantasy became reality. The vision was worth a million bucks.

Honestly, it was spiritual. It was priceless. It was the best return on investment I’ve ever had. I managed, in Kauai, to turn 500 bucks into a million in just five hours.

Pete likes to use quotes. Never, never, never give up! (Winston Churchill) What seems unattainable today might well become reality tomorrow. (Me)

Thanks Pete!

Robert L. Brenna Jr. is a partner in the Rochester law firm of Brenna, Brenna & Boyce PLLC, which his father founded. He was recently named a Fellow in the Litigation Counsel of America. Brenna is the past president of the New York State Academy of Trial Lawyers and hosts a Sunday morning radio program, “The Brenna, Brenna & Boyce Law Forum,” on WHAM 1180 AM at 8 a.m., online at www.wham1180.com. The text of this commentary can be found on the firm’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/BrennaBoycelaw.

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