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Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: Bureaucrats scuttled the boat, but not the dream

Arrgghh. Bad news today, mateys.

Humor-impaired pirates have harpooned Spokane’s beloved nautical automobile – LaBoata.

Remember LaBoata?

That’s the 1994 Chrysler LeBaron convertible Tim Lorentz encased inside the fiberglass shell of a 1976 Apollo tri-hull boat to create the most see-worthy ride in town.

But Lorentz reports that the Washington Department of Licensing won’t renew the tabs, claiming his half-car/ half-watercraft is too irregular for the road.

“I never would have fathomed that this would happen,” said a crestfallen Lorentz, who removed the boat half from LaBoata last week.

“LaBoata has become iconic to Spokane. It’s such a happy thing. People smile and wave.”

Nobody appreciates LaBoata more than this sailor.

It’s been almost a year since Lorentz took me on LaBoata’s coming-out party, and the memories are still as fresh as the flying salmon at Pike Street Market.

As Lorentz’s “little buddy,” I parked in the passenger seat sporting an orange life jacket and white sailor hat.

Lorentz manned the wheel, a yachting cap affixed to his head. He wore a Navy dress jacket trimmed with at least a yardarm of regal gold.

Thar she blows!

We cruised Manito Park, stopping every now and then to ask a befuddled pedestrian for directions to the duck pond boat ramp.

Here’s what makes LaBoata so cool.

The Apollo shell fits over the Chrysler body tighter than a mermaid’s coconut bra. All but the tires and wheels are hidden, which gives the illusion of an actual boat floating down the asphalt.

The astonished looks we evoked added to our wacky fun.

We pulled into Sonic Drive-In for floats.

We stopped at the window in a drive-through pharmacy.

“Got any drug samples?” I asked a pharmacist.

We did so much cackling and hollering that it’s a wonder we weren’t pulled over by some constipated cop and taken to the nearest psych ward.

Throughout the trip, Lorentz had the stereo cranking a loud and appropriate soundtrack. We’re talking tunes like “Sea Cruise,” “Rock the Boat” and, of course, the “Gilligan’s Island” theme.

Lorentz said life with LaBoata the last 11 months produced more of the same.

Like when Lorentz performed a wedding ceremony for a couple. “As acting captain of the USS LaBoata,” he told them, “I pronounce you man and wife.”

Then Lorentz let the newlyweds use his Frankenbarge as their getaway car.

LaBoata was also a crowd pleaser at the Car d’Lane car show in Coeur d’Alene, he said.

Lorentz even took LaBoata to a vacation Bible school.

“I don’t know how many souls have been saved thanks to LaBoata,” quipped the skipper.

LaBoata sprung a leak last March, said Lorentz, when he received a letter from the state telling him his tabs would not be renewed. (Lorentz has heard from sources that his car was “turned in” by a Washington State Patrol trooper who obviously didn’t have enough real work to do.)

A subsequent trip to a local licensing bureau didn’t get Lorentz anywhere. A less-than-sympathetic worker told him his boat/car modification violated a number of standards, he said.

Shiver me timbers.

So the guy put a boat on a car? Big deal.

It’s not like he’s doing anything unholy, like crossbreeding Presbyterians with pit bulls.

Plus you’d think that with the current budget mess we’re in that the state would be willing to sell tabs to car thieves.

“I’ve never been pulled over. It has lights. It has insurance. And I always observe the wake zones,” grouses Lorentz.

“Can’t we work something out?”

Much like the captain of the Titanic, Lorentz is willing to keep fighting this iceberg.

He plans to visit a Washington State Patrol office this week to see if anything can be done.

I don’t know why not. This is a good guy. Lorentz teaches high school at the Spokane Skills Center, for crying out loud.

If turning on the ol’ charm doesn’t work, however, Lorentz has come up with an alternate plan. And that is to put LaBoata back together and cast off with me for Olympia where we will demand a governor’s pardon.

“It’s a continuing saga,” said Lorentz. “I need to start keeping a captain’s log.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at

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