Who decided long ago we have to wait for the third time to be the charm?

    Months before COVID-19 hit, my wife and I decided we'd buy a personal watercraft (PWC) this spring. Even with this dreadful pandemic, we stuck to our plan and bought one last week. With the summer calendar almost entirely bereft of any organized events or activities that might involve large groups of people and fun times all around, we simply felt the need to buy something that might boost the enjoyment meter even more than usual when we're at the lake this summer.

    It's not our first foray into the PWC world. Years ago we purchased a 2004 Polaris. It was relatively new, had low hours of use, and was pretty. A few frustrating years later, however, my wife and I vowed that if we ever journeyed down a similar road again, it would be on a brand-new machine, not a used one.

    Oh, the euphoria of that first ride...

    The Polaris possessed turbo power. And on that first evening when we put it in the water, my grin was a mile wide. It was midweek so the lake was quiet. The water down the channel was like glass, so I let her rip. I squeezed the throttle, and when I really squeezed so the turbo would kick in...it kicked in. I glanced at the speedometer and the number I saw almost by reflex made me let up on the throttle. I didn't want to die on that first ride, after all.

    A guy could never go nearly that fast on the lake on a busy weekend. You'd hit some wake and go soaring through the air, you in one direction and your PWC in another.

    But we never had the chance to be that reckless, anyway. The turbo never worked again. Then the battery started to mysteriously drain down to nothing, even when the PWC was hoisted on its lift with the canvas cover on. So we started the tradition of removing the battery after almost every use and hooking it up to a trickle charger until our next ride.

    When constantly charging the battery no longer did the trick, the trips to central Minnesota and northern Minnesota commenced, Polaris in tow. A certain PWC dealership was the "absolute best," we were told, and after two costly trips there - or was it three? - we had a machine that sometimes started and sometimes didn't. And even when it did start, rarely would it top 35 miles per hour. Further north, where a mechanic "who could fix anything" presented us an eye-popping bill and told us he'd done "everything I can," we were left with a machine that sometimes started and sometimes didn't, and when it did, it rarely topped 35 miles per hour.

    If you’re familiar with my personality at all and know how every now and then it fails to perfectly mesh with my lovely bride’s enduring quirks, you know this eventually became a major stressor on our otherwise blissful union. Arriving at the lake on a Friday for a weekend of fun and fellowship, the happiness and/or rage meter for the entire weekend was going to be determined by what happened when my wife or I - usually my wife - peeled the cover off the PWC, lowered it from the lift, hopped on, and turned the key. Far too many of those weekends were ragers, but not in the fun "that weekend was a total rager!" way.

    Then, a tiny ray of hope. A friend who knows more about engines in one skin cell than I do in my entire body said it certainly couldn't hurt to add some stabilizer to the fuel. What a simple idea, and it certainly couldn't make things worse. And for a brief period, there was noticeable improvement. It started more than it didn't. And even if it didn't go as fast as we wanted, at least it was going.

    But it was a short-lived respite. The PWC's final days with us were spent watching my wife, when it did start, putt-putting back and forth in front of the dock, with a concerning amount of smoke coming from the exhaust. This would go on for several minutes, as she periodically and tentatively squeezed the throttle. It would either rev up and she'd go on a ride and hope she’d make it back, or it would die, and she'd hop off and swim it back to the dock.

    We sold it to yet another person convinced he could fix it. Not long after, he posted a picture of himself riding it, with that familiar, mile-wide grin.

    He never posted another picture. He never again referred to that Polaris. Because, I bet, not long after his first ride, that PWC wiped the smile right off his face.