Ah, the Wheels. This was our colloquialism for a special place I will not name here, a decrepit cesspool of a water park that lies just outside city limits. And by we, I’m referring the privileged souls among the human race who were singled out to have a really great time at a really tough joint.
First of all, let me make it clear just how truly degraded that place is. Yes- if they ever find this, I’ll lose all hope of a reference from the old goat who captains the ship. But it’s a pirate ship, as you shall see, and I’m thoroughly in the right. Hilariously so.
Let me take you on a tour, as a faithful ex-employee. My love and my contempt should balance, rendering me the most objective guide you could ask for. If your standards are higher than that, look somewhere else. Good luck. Most of us lived in terror for years afterwards, the cap’n himself haunting our sporadic sleep. It’s just that I’ve decided that this will be part of my healing process.
No one seems to realise, as they walk innocently through the front gate, just what sort of danger they’re putting themselves in. They pay exorbitant fees for a chance to ride the go-carts we barely keep kicking. I mean, each one of those deadly vehicles is on its last legs. Our mechanic- who gets the world’s biggest kick out of telling dirty jokes to us kids- is the only one who has no fear of the boss. As a result, he does as little work as possible keeping the miserable things alive.
If you make it through the go-carts- with which incidentally, you nearly killed the guy collecting tickets- you might just head up to the water slide for a cool-down. It’s a good thing they keep lifeguards up there, or you might drown in the malnourished two-inch-wide trickle that washes you down to the pool below. Actually, this part of the park is probably the safest. It’s also the most proud environmental accomplishment of the management: you could barely fill an inflatable pool with the water that’s used on the attraction.
Now you find yourself getting hungry. You proceed downward to the concession area, in behind the ticket booth. The boss-
Hold on a moment. Let’s talk about the boss. And let’s talk about his henchman. Our boss was the guy who also owned- still owns- the Wheels. We called him the Lion, and a lion he was. Built like a tank atop a pair of fragile stilts- the scrawniest leg of chicken you ever saw- the Lion was most fearsome when drunk. And he was most drunk when working. And he worked every hour of the day. Sometimes he took a quick drive up the road to his favorite diner for a whiskey- but you always knew he’d be back the moment you goofed off. Stomping around like the predator he truly was, the Lion brought the Law to us. I only looked him in the eye a few times, so great was the power of that enormous greying mane.
The Lion’s sidekick was a funny little character we’re going to call Moe. Moe had been running the rival concession stand for some time when he finally decided to call it quits and join the competition. The Lion tossed Moe around like a wee hyena, a minor threat on the Wheels savannah. Moe tried to toss us around, too, but it’s hard to pull that off when you get to watch a guy get his dignity smeared all over the inside of the administrative office day in and day out.
So you were headed for the concessions area. Little do you know, the Lion has smoked like a big old train all over that pizza you’re eating. And we purchased it early in the morning. It was the same pizza you could have eaten eight hours ago.
You walk out of the stand with an uneasy feeling in your gut, but you brush it off. It’s a hot day, after all. In fact, it’s time for some more water fun! You move to the next good thing coming: the bumper boats. This isn’t a big deal- yes, the pool is as full of spilt gasoline as water, but it will only turn into a blazing inferno if you ignite it. I mean, you’d need to be running something with ignition to run that sort of risk. Something like a bumper boat, if you see what I’m saying.
But you’re still alive and well, in spite of everything. Well, it’s time for the Big One: our very own gravity-powered, muscle-propelled roller coaster! Yes, it operates on gravity alone, requiring only the ergonomically uncertain thrust of a lone coaster operator to get you going. When you get to the bottom, a large plank will be raised under your cart to decelerate it sufficiently for a full stop. Is this foolproof? Go on with you, it’s not like anyone’s ever been given radical whiplash by an inexperienced brake operator. Well, in any case, it’s not like anyone’s ever failed to make it all the way around the coaster, then fallen prey to the next oncoming coaster cart, the occupants of both carts being banged up pretty thoroughly. Okay, maybe I’d better stop.
Believe you me, the absurdity of the whole setup was a never-ending source of cheer to we of the deranged employee base. Deranged, because we had to face day after day of trying to cope with the insane dereliction of health and safety standards. Cheerful, because we got to hang out all day watching people risk their wellbeing for a good time.
Shucks, I’ve really painted this place in a negative light. You should know that I have many pleasant memories rooted in the Wheels. I did want you to get a sense of the place, though, and I suppose you have. Next time you visit this park- fictitious though I must insist it is- think about just what your ticket is buying you. I’d rather be the one watching, though, if that’s alright with you.
[Editing note: Oops! The first posting of this article contained real names. My goof. Please don’t tell the Lion.]