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July 22nd, 2005

Money to Burn

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
So I’m watching this guy set himself on fire and jump off a five story high platform, and I’m thinking: How do people get on these career paths?
Oh, I understand how someone can end up doing something different than what they planned. I was going to be a novelist, after all. Sadly, the median income for a writer is well below the poverty level, which means even “successful” writers often hold other jobs. I became a security guard, factory worker, jail officer, and finally emergency dispatcher, without planning anything more than paying bills.
But I never set myself on fire. Well, not on purpose.
The place was Indiana Beach, Indiana’s largest amusement park, which boasts the state’s longest suspension bridge, none of which is really saying all that much. I’ve learned many things there: For instance, I’ve discovered that riding a roller coaster backward gives me symptoms very similar to a severe stomach flu. I’ve also learned that – given a hot enough day – even someone as cheap as me will pay a buck seventy-five for a bottle of water.
Anyway, every time I go there I like to watch the water show, which consists of people braver that I doing things that would generate 911 calls anywhere else. Jumping and diving – even while burning – is no big whoop by Hollywood movie standards, but it’s pretty cool as a live performances go.
Which brings me back to that moment when I started wondering how you end up in a job like that. First of all, what did the ad in the paper look like?
“Wanted: Person to do crazy things for low pay, large probability of serious injury –“
Hm. Come to think of it, they were probably swarmed by applicants. There’s something about doing stupid, dangerous stunts that really attracts the normally intelligent. And the unintelligent, of course.
Now, I’ve noticed there are three kinds of employees at places like Indiana Beach. There are, of course, the kids out of school for summer, trying to make some bucks for important things, like college and extra loud speakers. These young people are generally pretty good employees, because the true deadbeats never applied for the jobs to begin with. Most of them even look normal, which is more than I can say for many of the customers. They chew a lot of gum, though. I wonder if the gum at Indiana Beach costs as much as the bottled water?
Second are the year-round regulars, such as management and maintenance people. They tend to be older people, and when it comes to maintenance, some of them are down right grizzled old-timer types. That’s fine with me: I want the guy who’s tightening the nuts on the Cornball Express to have plenty of experience.
The last thing I want to see, while waiting on a ride, is some kid who looks like he’s still working on counting to ten climbing up the side of a roller coaster, telling his companion, “Dude, I turned up my new amps until my tongue stud started to vibrate and it was, like, bitchin’. Hey, what does this do?”
So as long as he’s not missing too many fingers or toes, I don’t care if the maintenance guy is using a walker to make his way up the Hoosier Hurricane.
Then there’s that third group, the ones who put on the water show four or five times a day, seven days a week. They appear to be in their early twenties or so, and they also appear to like their jobs. Why not? They get to ride around in boats and jet skis, water ski, swim around and generally have a good time. Of course, there’s also that whole getting set on fire thing, but to rambunctious young men and women like that, a little flame is just gravy.
I don’t know how it’ll look on a resume, though. “2002-2005: spent summers burning up the lake at Indiana Beach. Duties included make onlookers scream and applaud, and holding my breath.”
It’s a life experience, though, and may prepare them for a later career as … um … heck, I don’t know. There aren’t many openings for movie stunt people. All I know is, they went looking for a summer job, and found one that will actually give them stories to tell, come winter. I suppose how they got there isn’t all that important, but they should consider themselves lucky. Like them, many people will be asking themselves, “How did I end up here?” but those people will be sitting in a cubicle, cleaning toilets, or going on lockdown for the night.
At least the guy who was in flames on the jet ski was close to the lake, instead of being fifty feet above the closest water supply. In fact, he dove the whole jet ski underwater to put himself out, probably on the instruction of management people who didn’t want an expensive watercraft to be damaged. This reminds me of some training fires I’ve been to, where I’d sometimes find myself shielding the fire department’s camera with my body. Hey, my hair will grow back, but that camera’s expensive!
By the way, let me make this clear: Those guys at Indiana Beach put on protective clothing so they can set themselves on fire; I put on protective clothing to avoid getting set on fire. Big difference.
And I don’t pay near as much for bottled water.

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