A local temperature of eighty-six degrees Fahrenheit, a UV index of seven, the sounds of a wave pool and waterslides coming alive with over-chlorinated, frog-invested water, and the constant hum of patrons outside the gate all began my morning in a typical state. Another eight hour day of pretending to be a hero, while actually spending the majority of my time treating bee stings or explaining to the overly-giddy, know-it-all-parents just exactly why they cannot take their infant down with them in their lap on a slide that drops off into water much to deep for them.
Welcome to paradise, I thought as I mounted lifeguard chair beside my least favorite attraction in the park: The Kiddy Pool, home to the largest population of illegally water-winged children imaginable and two-feet-deep water that is heated more by urination than anything else. It was going to be an unfortunate start to the day.
Eleven o’clock hit, our sponsored radio service that played a total of ten pre-decade songs hummed to a start, and the gate opened allowing the obnoxious patrons to enter. I lowered my sunglasses over my eyes, attempting to appear more intimidating, therefore, prevent social interaction. However, my plan lasted for approximately five minutes until I heard the words, “Excuse me, ma’m” approaching from behind me.
What could possibly be wrong already? I wondered, as I turned to face her with my pasted on customer service smile and my hand lifting the rescue tube to a position that may or may not actually be able to support a small, unconscious child.
“What can I do for you?” I asked in a friendly, informed tone.
The woman, who I would have placed in her mid-fifties had a bleached blonde bob framing her face that was caked with far too much makeup for a waterpark visit. She pushed back her large sunglasses and pursed her bright red lips, seeming more annoyed than concerned. “Are you aware that you have wild turkeys wading around near the lazy river?” she inquired rudely.
Inside my head, I released a loud groan that was very near close to audible. The turkey incident had happened once before, considering the water park was surrounded by fields and quiet hiking trails that supported a great deal of wild life. The lifeguard who had been notified was not perceived as one of our brightest bulbs and had simply answered the confused patron that if the birds themselves were not drowning, he could do nothing to help. Needless to say, a complaint was filed against him and he did not return.
“Oh dear,” I managed as I groped for my hand-held radio behind me. “I will get a maintenance worker on that right away for you.”
“Okay…thank you,” the woman answered in a hesitant voice, as if she was taken aback that I was not trained to deal with wild animals or that lifeguarding did not qualify as a form of pest control. She walked away appearing unsatisfied, yet too ignorant to do much else.
I, on the other hand, found my radio and called for a maintenance worker to head over to the lazy river. I put the radio down, waiting for a response, yet no typical, all-too energetic maintenance employee answered. In fact, I had still received no answer as the guard behind me in rotation came to take my place. As I rotated to the adventure walk position, in which small children transform into mini Tarzans in attempts to cross the slippery course without falling in, I could see why no answer had come in over the radio.
A bee hive, and a mighty one at that hung directly over the lifeguard stand that no longer contained a life guard. Standing on the chair instead was the timid, pre-pubescent maintenance employee, Ron who had obviously been dealt the short end of the straw by his coworkers gathered around him. Overseeing the entire situation was my nervous boss, who was glancing around constantly in attempts to appear friendly and not lose business.
As I approached, he looked met me with a forced grin, informing me that I would be skipping this station and rotating to the top of slides instead. Swallowing my yelp for joy, I nodded and continued my walk towards the stairs of the slides. Top of slides was my absolute favorite place to guard because it meant little to nothing could ever go wrong, or so I thought.
I took the previous guard’s place and gave the children waiting to ride the slide a thumbs up that they could go, making sure that they were properly seated in their inner tubes first. All was going smoothly, I was getting to skip a couple stations, and, to improve my situation that much more, a radio call had just come in announcing an accidental fecal release sighting in the kiddy pool, meaning that I would get to remain in my position for an extra rotation. Work was good.
Then, over the radio, my boss squawked out one of the most disheartening announcements that I had heard in some time. “Attention all guards, just a reminder that we are in the midst of World Cup, meaning that we will have a large amount of foreign patrons in the park today. Please remember to radio me with any problems and to treat these customers with respect.”
I had completely forgotten. It was World Cup week. Now for those who simply know the soccer tournament portion of this time, World Cup was an exciting, and enjoyable event. However, for any employee at our water park who was a returning staff member, they knew that World Cup week could only be comparable to the chaos which ensues throughout the movie Daddy Day Care or an episode of Andy Griffith in which Barney Fife is left in control of the jail.
For some odd, and every mysterious reason, my boss had implanted a tradition several years back that anyone participating in World Cup, citizens or not, would be given free admission into our park for the week. The result of this you might ask? Thousand upon thousands of foreign-speaking, non-logical, rule-breaking patrons running freely around the park, causing havoc nearly every where they go. The logic my boss had when he decided free admission for these people would be a good idea is something that will never be clear to me. It was only a matter of time, I knew, before admissions booths one, two, and three would be teeming with foreign soccer players wishing to get their small, blue VIP cards stamped. Families that would surely not know how to read any signs, and would surely bring in bags upon bags of outside, illegal foods along with their six plus small children that were sure to wear life jackets by themselves in the deepest areas of the wave pool. Oh, the joy.
As I sat here, pondering such horrors, an Indian family climbed the final set of stairs leading to the slides.
And so it begins, I muttered under my breath, as I smiled at them and gave the first man an okay to go down. After some hesitation and many phrases uttered to his companions in words I could not understand, he sat down in his tube, incorrectly of course.
Now, you must understand, that our waterpark had never been supplied with the finest inner tubes in the world, and that sitting anywhere on the tube other than directly in the middle would almost always result in the patron flipping out, and smacking his or her head on the slide. Knowing this, I desperately attempted to reach for the tube handle before the man went down. However, he escaped my reach, making it nearly two feet down the slide before the tube flipped and he was launched out.
I quickly told the next man in line not to go, and leaped to my feet to alert the guard at the bottom of slides to watch for the man who was on his way down, tubeless. I watched too, of course, but much to my dismay the man did not appear into the plunge pool. Nervously, I glanced to my left and spotted the man carrying his tube and walking back up the slide’s incline with extremely unsure footing.
Fear mixed with emotions of humor engulfed me, and I could barely whistle at him to go back down.
“You must go down the slide, sir!” I yelled to him, hoping he could understand my frantic hand motions.
He simply shook his head at me. “I fall out, I start over!” he shouted in broken English, and continued his climb up to the top. Certain at any moment he was bound to slip and be seriously injured, I turned back to my station to radio my supervisor. It was then, that I saw the most terrifying fact of my life. The man, the unintelligent, ignorant, non-English speaking man that I had warned not to go down the slide was gone and had obviously done the unthinkable deed to going down the slide.
I turned to face the man making his return climb again, and watched with panic as the second man going down in his tube collided with his companion. The possibilities of what could happen next flashed through my head in a matter of nanoseconds. Concussion, broken bones, spinal injury, paralysis, flipping over the slide wall and falling to a sudden death caused by an unforgiving concrete sidewalk. Oh, the horrible possibilities were endless.
However, none of my worst fears managed to become a reality, as the collision simply caused the first man to fall on top of the second, both slipping the rest of the way down the slide and safely entering the plunge pool at the bottom. The bottom of slides guard looked at them and then to me in disbelief. I sat down at my station, feeling faint and dizzy.
Needless to say, the incident is discussed as humorous now. Neither man had gotten hurt, and the image of them colliding could have very well have been something only seen in a comedy or cartoon. However, whenever World Cup week comes along at the water park these days, I vow to avoid top of slides with all my being.