The First Aid Department had a tradition of throwing an end-of-season party in late August that was held after hours at the Park. Most years this was a fairly tame affair where you brought a pot-luck dish and hung around smoking cigarettes in the sticky summer evening, waiting until you figured you could duck out and head up to Highland Lakes or wherever the parties were before everyone went back to college. But you know there's always one year. One year that is so completely different from the utter mundane of tradition that you don't think anyone- even yourself given the passage of time- would believe that you didn't just make this shit up to tell a funny story.
But first we must start with Frank. Or Frankie. Frank was in his mid-forties, had been an EMT for about three years, and was enjoying his first summer working at the Park. He was a pretty colorful character, had been from Brooklyn or something, and had a whole gaggle of kids. The Bosses loved him, so they called him Frankie and gave him all the cush assignments. He never spent time down in the rings of Dante's hell that were Motor World. But Frank was a cool cat, so you didn't spite him for his fortune of getting assigned to the MR-10 (Mobile Rescue-10, an electric golf cart retrofitted with a litter and light bar) or the ambulance jobs. Frank worked hard, and he played hard. For the end of season party, he signed on to bring the refreshments.
The Bosses had worked out a deal with security on this particular year to let us throw our party a little later at night than usual, and let us park down at the dumpsters behind the gates. I brought little egg rolls. Frank brought several cases of beer and a few bottles of tequila. The whole thing started off innocently enough- some beers, some snacks, some spilled beers and snacks. Frank started pouring shots and daring the youngsters (that's me) to go shot-for-shot with him. The Bosses, who had also been drinking, wholeheartedly approved, and started announcing that "Reverend Frankie" was going to save our souls with his holy water. Much drinking and many drinking games ensued, with liquor flowing from urinal bottles and drunken EMTs slipping and falling all over the orange-painted concrete floor.
Frank grinned a mischievous smile, exposing his missing eyetooth on the left. He matter-of-factly stated it was time to take the MR-10 and Cushman (another retro-fitted bone wagon for unfortunate patrons) up to the wave pool for a swim. It was probably 10:30 at night. The Bosses approved.
Doug and Frank fired up the vehicles. The Bosses seat belted themselves in. The rest of us dumped black duffel bags loaded with life-saving equipment out of the vehicles and into the parking lot. We loaded the rest of the beer onto a stretcher and fastened it down with backboard straps.
We packed ourselves into the trailer of the Cushman, and grabbed onto whatever we could as Frank tore out of the base area, up the concrete ramp, and onto the cobbles in front of the lodge. It was pitch-dark, save for the lights of the vehicles, as we swerved leftward up the hill towards Water World. We narrowly missed sliding into the chain-link fence at the Bumper Boats as we veered off the macadam and into the grass. Tony took a tumble off the back of the MR-10, and rolled into the evening dew-covered lawn that led into the gully before Roaring Springs. We didn't wait for him. "You're gonna hafta hike your ass up the hill," Frank yelled, joyously drunken as he recovered the Cushman from swerving around him, speeding onward to the top of the hill.
The MR-10 slid to a stop on the asphalt patio in front of the Tiki Bar. The Cushman was not far behind. When the drivers killed the engines, the silence of a Vernon Night back in the mid-nineties prevailed. No Bob Marley discs on repeat mode blaring from the Tiki Bar. The usual multi-lingual chorus of voices around the Wave Pool Snack Bar was absent. The white shadow of the back wall of the Wave Pool lie ahead, and once my eyes adjusted, I could make out the silhouette of the “ACTION PARK” logo facing out into the dark, still water.
The Bosses waded into the shallow end. Tony made it to the top of the hill and started helping us unload the beers. Frankie ran to the end of the concrete sidewalk alongside the pool, and started climbing up the ladder to the top of the Wave Pool wall. From the top, it was probably a 20 foot drop into the water below. The Reverend jumped.
A series of hollers and “whoops!” followed as EMTs ran toward the ladder and made the ascent to the top deck. What followed can only be described as the absurdity that comes with the suspension of your own mortality, as drunken EMTs dove into the 12-foot-deep water. No lifeguards, no security, not a sober soul in Water World.
The rest of the night was a blur. Spilled food slicking the first aid floor. Wet clothes. A ride home from Shelley. I awoke to my alarm at 7:30 in the morning with a dried mouth, head pounding, but still unbelievably drunk. A knock at the door- Shelley had offered to come pick me up for work (this I somehow remembered). I got dressed, but couldn’t find my white sneakers (First Aid regulation) anywhere, so I put on my water sandals- it was Sunday, so the Bosses wouldn’t be in anyway.
When we got to work that morning, First Aid was a disaster. Doug was already there, mopping. I got bathroom detail. As I cleaned, I vomited. 8:30 am. The Park was opening in 30 minutes and there was still food on the floor, beer cans stacked on the treatment tables and counters, and staff either hungover or still drunk.
I came out of the bathroom and went into the back room, where the kitchenette was. It was under the spare gurney that I spotted my white sneakers, still damp and stinking like beer, soles caked with salsa dip. It seems I had left my shoes at work and went home barefoot. That was the last time I drank Tequila- it was 1995.