Thursday, August 28, 2014

Working at a tourist attraction (Part 1?)

My very first job after high school was at Marineland of Florida.   Not the new and improved Marineland they've built where tourists can have a "Dolphin Experience", but the old Marineland that was built in 1938 as a movie studio.  Old movies like Tarzan and Creature from the Black Lagoon were filmed there.  I haven't been back since they bulldozed the original Marineland and honestly, I don't think I want to.  I believe a real piece of old Florida history and culture is gone and replaced by a smooth, sanitized, padded edges kind of thing and it's very sad.   According to one travel site, it's not the same.  This guy definitely doesn't sugar coat it.

Ok, enough of that maudlin bullshit.

Like I said, my first job after high school was at Marineland.  I started calling around to unusual places looking for jobs that sounded fun.  The nice lady on the phone told me they had two diver spots open.  I had just finished my open water dive certification.  I remember saying "I'll take it.  When do I start?" and she told me that I needed to come down to see them first.  "It was worth a try, right?"  She laughed and set up an appointment for me to meet the operations manager and chief diver.

It takes a special kind of stupid to work a job like that.  You have to love animals, which I do.  You have to love the ocean, ok, got that covered.  You have to be able to tolerate some fairly extreme conditions at times, check.  You have to be able to do physically grueling labor, underwater, at least a few hours a day.  Wait, what?

Yours truly, circa 1991.
Hauling around the fish food.
Here's what they don't tell you.  You are not only going to do shows for the tourists, as a diver you are also going to do any and all maintenance that requires somebody in the water.  Let me tell you what folks, a 50 year old million+ gallon salt water aquarium built on the beach requires a lot of maintenance.  You are also going to be chewed on by everything that lives in the ocean.  EVERYTHING.  Dolphins are going to bounce you around like a beach ball.  In the winter, the tanks aren't heated so you're diving in 48 degree water.  Oh yeah, you're going to be paid minimum wage.

I loved it.  It was the best job I ever had.  I was in the best shape of my life.  Swimming with dolphins for a living is kryptonite to the ladies, but that's a story for another day.

One of the shows I did four times a day was to feed the fish in the big tank for the tourists.  I have been bitten, gnawed, chewed, spindled, folded and mutilated by pretty much every species that lives in that region of the Atlantic Ocean.  I have been bitten by sharks.  I almost lost a finger tip to a big snapper.  A large tarpon clamped down my hand and forearm halfway to the elbow and started shaking me back and forth.  A moray eel tried to eat my face. (thankfully he only got a mouthful of mask, regulator and fist)  I got pinned to the bottom and holes poked in my bicep by a very large, overly enthusiastic sawfish named Seymour.  We were always so scraped up and bruised that once, a cashier at a grocery store asked me and another diver if we had been in a car accident.

The hands-down, no competition kings of biting in that tank were the turtles.  We had four in the tank.  Three greens and a hawksbill.  The greens were all large, about 5-6 feet in length.  Big enough to ride around.  The hawksbill was smaller, maybe 2 feet from head to tail.  We affectionately named him Little Shit.  The turtles' problem isn't that they're malicious like a wasp or spider.  Their problem is that they're stupid.  Very very stupid.  Sea turtles are the retards of the ocean and Little Shit was their king.  These animals are so dumb, they had to evolve retractable eyeballs because they like to get high eating the stinging parts of jellyfish.

One day, I'm doing my thing, feeding the fish and waving at the kids watching through the glass.  It's the first show of the day.  I head back down to the bottom at the center of the tank to get more fish food (smaller, deader fish) and all of the sudden it felt like somebody shot me in the side of the head.
I'm coming for your delicious fleshy bits.
Searing pain and a loud CRUNCH!!

Little Shit had bitten my ear.

Not only did he bite it, he bit off a piece.  He took a notch out of the cartilage at the top of my ear.

The thing about head injuries is that they bleed.  A lot.  I'm swimming to the ladder, leaving a trail of blood behind me.  All I can hear is small fish CLICK CLICK CLACK CLICK as they are snapping at my bloody ear.  All I can think about it that I need to get out of here quick before something bigger takes interest.

I managed to haul myself and my gear up the ladder and over the wall one handed while I tried to stop the bleeding with the other.  At this point I'm bleeding everywhere.  Blood is running down my arm, my face, my neck.  It's dripping off my elbow and chin.   I look like a horror movie.  No big deal.  I just need to get to first aid and get patched up.

There's one small problem.  There are about a dozen kids with their parents that want their picture taken with the moron that feeds sharks every day.  I've still got to get out of my gear before heading down to first aid.  I'm doing my best to keep that side of my head hidden and my hand pressed down hard on my ear.

That's when one of them sees the blood.

"MOMMY! THAT MAN IS BLEEDING!" the kid shrieked.

Oh shit.  Here we go.  About half of them recoiled in horror and the other half became very concerned for my well being.  A couple wanted to know what got me.

I assured them I was fine, we get bit all the time, it looks worse than it really is, blah blah blah.  I promise that I will take pictures with them all after my next show but I need to get this thing patched up.

Meanwhile, in my head I'm wondering how the hell I am still conscious given all the blood everywhere.

So I get my gear put away and head downstairs to the first aid station.

The chief diver asked me why I wasn't in the tank doing some maintenance that needed to be done.  I just kind of looked at him like "do I normally walk around inside in a soaked wetsuit?  You think maybe something is amiss?"  I just turned my head and moved my hand.  He got really pale and told me to get my ass to the aid station.

Keep in mind, I still haven't seen the damage, only the blood.

Thankfully, the lovely and talented Danielle was working in the announcers booth and came over to patch me up.  I would have needed stitches, except that damn turtle ate the piece necessary to stitch it up.   Dani bandaged me up several times that day.  Before and after every show, she would glop on antibacterial medicine re-bandage me and send me out into the world to try not to get a staph infection right next door to from my brain.

My ear healed.  Pretty quickly really.  That's the advantage to having so much blood flow in the area.  It heals fast.  There's a scar and if you feel the top of my right ear, you can feel the notch in the cartilage.
I miss these bumper stickers



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