Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Let me take you where the action is

For the first time in over 20 years, I spent a sunny afternoon at the Caribbean Water Adventure located at Knight’s Action Park. I was under the impression, thanks to their jingle (“it’s so neat to meet your baby where the action is”), that it had degraded into some sort of sleazy singles park where baby boomers gather to engage in mating rituals while being hurled about in flumes of water. But it’s actually a fun place for kids, and save for a few of our fellow patrons, fairly wholesome and clean.

Since I went to the park with my kids, my main objective was to serve as guardian rather than to partake in the aquatic adventure myself. This afforded me a good opportunity to engage in some “people watching”, which isn’t the same thing as “girl watching”, just in case any of you are wondering and happen to be my wife.

Stripped of their regular attire, it’s not as easy to place people socio-economically as it is when they are strolling about downtown or at the mall. The principles of egalitarianism are much more in play when everyone is half naked and dripping wet. Luckily, I was still able to stereotype people based on their behavior or physical appearance.

One guy looked as if he had stayed up all night cooking-up meth so that he could make enough money to provide his family a day of fun in the sun, proving that you can operate on the wrong side of the law, have rotten teeth, and still be a good dad.

Another guy, who looked to be in his mid-twenties, was clearly suffering the unfortunate effects of a childhood marked by little in the way of athletic achievement. From what I could gather, he was timing himself by clicking off one-hundredths of seconds in his head as he careened down the big slide. At the end of each run, he would rise from the water and pump his fist in triumph of what must have been another record performance. And I got to witness it all.

Most of the adults that I observed were parents, and although I probably shouldn’t have been, I was surprised by how many of them had tattoos. Some were fairly tastefully done but many others looked as if they were scratched on by the arty guy over in the next cell block. Prison culture, as celebrated every Saturday night on MSNBC, is clearly making its way into the mainstream, or at least onto the Lazy River.

Hair styles, which can often serve as a cultural indicator, are rendered unidentifiable in a water park milieu where even the most stylish cut is rendered a matted muss. Still, there were some telltale signs into certain people’s backgrounds based on their coiffures – especially those with tails.

The tail, for those of you unfamiliar with this particular hairstyle, is a relative of the mullet, although the length in back is limited to fewer strands of hair which are often worn braided. Originally favored by new wave musicians such as the Thompson Twins, it was later adopted in rural areas where it allowed the wearer to exhibit a hint of counterculturalism without endorsing the full hippie ethos. The tail borders on extinction in most areas of the country except for parts of West Virginia where it thrives thanks to a grassroots conservation effort and a commitment to decades-old fashion trends.

There were no tails on the employees, most of whom appeared to be high school students lucky enough to land a summer job basking in the sun. I’m sure that they’re the sons and daughters of wheeler-dealer politicians or powerful amusement park lobbyists. Apparently water park lifeguard isn’t a job that Americans don’t want to do because I didn’t see a single employee who looked as if they might be in need of a green card.

Speaking of lifeguards, I don’t trust them. In my experience, they’re all glitz and no action. A baby beluga could turn up in the pool at the bottom of the water slide and it would escape the lifeguard’s notice until a parent pointed it out as a possible hazard. Even then, it would probably only warrant a toot of his whistle and a barely audible warning of “no whales on the slides, gawsh.”

I’ve come to this anti-lifeguard bias after observing the girl on duty during my kids’ swim lessons spend entire sessions picking at toe jam and talking to her boyfriend. Rarely did it occur to her to scan the water for sunken children. Once during play time, my younger daughter became separated from her flotation noodle and her rudimentary swimming skills were just barely up to the task of keeping her head above water. It wasn’t until I saw fit to mention the potential tragedy at hand that the pool staff finally took heed. Can you imagine Pamela Anderson’s character on Baywatch needing to be prompted before springing into action? She would spring all over the place and the swimmers under her watch and us viewers were better off for it.*

Since I wouldn't trust the lifeguards, I spent most of my people watching time watching my kids. Despite oppressive heat, they never tired of climbing the hill and sliding back down. What made this feat even more amazing was that just hours before, in our air conditioned basement, they couldn't muster the energy to pick up the sofa cushions that they had used to build a fort. There's clearly something magical about this water park.

*I’ve never actually seen an episode of Baywatch, my familiarity with Ms. Anderson is mainly through her work on anti-KFC billboards, but from what I understand she was as diligent and buoyant as a lifeguard could be.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dan,

One need not watch an entire episode of "Baywatch" to be totally entertained and get the message of each and every show. All you need to do is watch the intro where the lifeguards are running in slow motion. It has probably caused many teenage boys in the U.S. to realize just how far along they have come in their pubescent stage.

The 26th Man said...

As a former Knight's "lifeguard" herself, Mrs. 26th Man has regaled me with many assorted (a sordid?) tales from her employment there while in high school.

I don't think any of them involved actually guarding lives.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Anon,

Interesting. I've heard that David Hasselhoff had a similar affect on Germans of both sexes.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Jeff,

You married a lifeguard? Right on!

Dan

UMRBlog said...

It could be what you are observing is actually a combination screening/training issue. The lifesaving course was much more arduous in the 50's 60's and early 70's than it is now. Also the recertification process was almost as hard as getting the original card.

A youngster had to be really motivated to pass the test. This is not a case where the test has been watered down to avoid gender bias. The course and card have virtually always been unisex. It's just less taxing now and that may show up in the motivation.

This may sound like an "old fart" comment, but the syllabi will bear me out.

Your intuitive and experiential view may be measurably accurate. I suppose the only way to measure that would be incident/rescues per capita and we probably don't have that data.

And, no, I'm gong anywhere near that bouyancy comment.

UMRBlog said...

Uh, that should have been, "Not Going Anywhere Near"....

Ben Hogan wrote that, on days when your fingers feel fat, you should drink Ginger Ale. Going out to seek a six pack.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

UMRBlog,

You seem to know a bit about this. But even if a kid is highly trained in the rescue and recovery aspects of lifeguarding, how to you test their attentiveness?

Thanks for commenting,
Dan