A Gondola Getaway, and the Ones that Got Away
In the evening light after a very warm day in Long Beach, Naples Island was full of families with kids splashing in Alamitos Bay and others embarking out in the sunset on paddle boards, one girl chatting on her cell with no fear of the consequences of falling off the wobbly craft.
We had a 6 pm rendezvous with a gondolier named Jeff, one of 12 men who provide the manpower behind Gondola Getaway, a fleet of 12 authentic Venetian gondolas who ply the canals of Naples and Treasure islands from 11 am till midnight seven days a week. It’s quite the romantic interlude, our gondolier silently doing j-turns with one paddle as the big black wooden craft glides by multimillion dollar homes that line the network of canals in Naples.
Beside many of these houses are Duffy Electric boats, 22-footers with tables in the middle that silently run at around the canals. Jeff said that these crafts are popular because the speed limit is 3 mph, making it hard to use a large outboard.
I asked Jeff about the many proposals he has witnessed in these gondolas. I was mostly interested in the times when it wasn’t a yes. “One guy wanted to ask her in front of his family, so he rented two gondolas, one for them and the other with her family and friends in another boat,” said Jeff. “She said, ‘we’ve been through this, it’s still a no!’ but it’s still about five ‘no’s’ to thousands of yeses.” Another man got on his knees and the boat started to tip, and the ring got knocked into the water. Later he hired divers to try and find it, I guess it was an expensive diamond.” Another man bailed out of the gondola after the no, leaving his despondent girlfriend all alone for the rest of the journey.
Jeff was born and raised here and told us that Naples Island is a hotbed for water polo and swimming. Many of the gondoliers are water polo players, he said. “Some of the boats use two oars,but that’s like training wheels.” Jeff, like many of the experienced rowers uses the traditional one oar.
Like so many of the locals we’ve met in Long Beach, Jeff agreed that the cleaned up city is going through a resurgence. He cited the lofts and condos that were built downtown, and rents that are much lower than in LA, a one bedroom apartment can be rented for $1000 here. He said that crime is not a problem in most areas, and that he loves living in his home town. Another man we met at the Boathouse on the Bay told us that “Long Beach is our little secret. I love it here!”