It’s Shark Week. And that means it’s time to be fascinated with ferocious finned fish (alliteration, yo!). Sharks are all the rage these days. They are this year’s Greek yogurt. “Sharknado” was a sensation and Shark Week on Discovery Channel is breaking ratings records. Folks be lovin’ their sharks.
It’s also summer and for many that means going on family vacation. Of course, a popular tourist destination is Orlando, Florida with its plethora of gaudy theme parks and attractions. As I recently watched yet another commercial for Shark Week, I was reminded of a particular story that involves both sharks and Orlando. So it’s uber-topical. I shall now tell you that story.
The year was 2006. Big Momma’s House 2 had us cracking up at the cinema, Justin Timberlake brought sexy back (if he didn’t do it first, I was planning on bringing it back later that year), and we were introduced to the delightful offspring of everyone’s favourite mulleted musician with an achy, breaky heart (and we all knew that young lady would grow up to be a wholesome role model).
It’s a long story but I had vouchers for a free cruise that I needed to use before they expired. So I did what any guy with a serious girlfriend would do – I invited my old buddy The Dentist for a 4-day Caribbean cruise. The ship was leaving from Cape Canaveral so we stayed a couple of nights in Orlando before the cruise. The whole cruise experience is another story for another time. But I will say that The Dentist and I are such dipshits that we were literally high-fiving when we finally got on the ship because we were amazed that we had managed to successfully plan and execute the trip to that point without screwing something up. You know, because going on a cruise is only something that millions of people do every year.
Let’s rewind to the previous day in Orlando where we were shacked up in the Bates Motel on a stretch of highway that can only be described as “well traveled.” For those who haven’t been to Orlando, it’s actually quite the hole. It’s not all Mickey Mouse ears and enchanted kingdoms. Outside of the theme park district it’s a wasteland of stripmalls, ghetto gas stations, and seedy motels. We weren’t about to lounge around the swamp they called a pool all day, so we decided to head to one of Orlando’s theme parks. Of course, us being us, we got sucked into some kind of shady discount voucher thing for Universal Studios by the hotel receptionist who was in cahoots with a local taxi driver. I can’t recall all of the details but I think it was some kind of scam where the taxi driver paid the hotel guy for the referral, we received a nominal discount on park passes, and then the taxi driver long-hauled the crap out of us driving to-and-from Universal Studios which, he would have you believe, is on the other side of the state. It very well could be. Either way, those cab fares were out of this world. Our naivety notwithstanding, we made it to Universal Studios.
Now let me tell you about Universal Studios. When you are a guy in your mid-20s, Universal Studios is NOT a good time. And if you are a guy in your mid-20s who hates lineups, Universal Studios is REALLY NOT a good time. Here is a brief description of every attraction at Universal Studios:
-get in the queue
-twiddle your thumbs for an hour (this was the pre-smart phone era so we had to rely on our conversational skills to pass the time – and there’s only so many times The Dentist and I can talk about how awesome the Buffalo Bills’ backup running back was on Joe Montana Sports Talk Football for Sega Genesis)
-experience a 5-minute attraction that tries to put you in the world of a movie that was popular 10 years ago
-be completely underwhelmed
The only legitimately cool attraction was the Men In Black one in which you got to shoot a laser at alien targets and compete against a rival vehicle. I can’t wait for the R.I.P.D. ride. It will be totally original.
The award for most unintentionally funny attraction was Twister. As you wait in line, the star of the movie, Bill Pullman or Paxton (I never remember and there’s no possible way to find out which one was in Twister), gives you a taste of what’s to come by describing the power of a tornado on screens mounted throughout the entry way. Actually, he doesn’t so much describe a tornado as he just provides tornado metaphor after metaphor, each more ridiculous than the last. I’m paraphrasing something I heard 7 years ago but it went something like this, “A tornado. The mother of all winds. A mighty gale. A tenacious blast of nature. An unthinkable force. An unearthly tempest. A demon beast.”
We lost it on demon beast. Really? A demon beast? C’mon Pullman/Paxton – I expect more from the President of the U.S. in Independence Day/The pilot of Apollo 13. So then you enter a room that looks like an absurdly fake movie set of a farm and they turn on some fans for a minute or two. Terrible.
By the time we went on 4 or 5 of these things, it was already well into the afternoon. We decided to go one one final ride – Jaws. This ride held a special place with The Dentist and me because growing up we were big fans of the movie Mallrats which makes several references to the Jaws ride at Universal Studios.
We wanted to see what it was all about. Clearly, this was the most popular ride in the park. The queue was absolutely packed and it was indicating a wait time of at least 90 minutes.
Undeterred, we waited it out. And it was soooooooo worth it. Not because it was the most amazing ride ever, but because of the very unique series of events that took place during our particular ride. I want to do this story justice so I have to set the stage. As you get closer to the front of the line, you start to see and hear what happens during the ride. Guests are loaded onto mini tour boats that are “operated” by a guide at the front of the boat who takes the guests on a scenic tour of a small harbour made to look like the town featured in the movie Jaws. There were a few boats running in succession and it was clear that the guides were sticking quite rigidly to the same script. You could hear the guides say the exact same thing to start and finish each tour. Word-for-word. I’ve always wondered how the staff at these types of attractions can keep their sanity. I understand that they are mostly budding actors accepting poor wages to flex their dramatic chops, but I can’t imagine how demoralizing it would be to recite the same 5-minute script over and over and over. Think about it – even if your favourite movie was say, Scent of a Woman, and I told you I would pay you to recite the courtroom speech 100 times every day, after a week you would be loopy. “Oooh-ahhh” would lose all meaning.
To get a sense of what the Jaws ride is supposed to be like, watch the video below shot by someone who had a typical experience on the ride (note: this is not my video):
It looks like a mildly fun romp. Credit to the guide in the video – he’s pretty enthusiastic. Maybe it’s his first day on the job. One YouTube commenter even wonders how these guides can do something so redundant. Wouldn’t they crack at some point? The answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes.’ And The Dentist and I got to witness it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take a video (and I would give anything to see it again), so I’ll have to paint you a picture in words. When it was finally our turn for the ride, we were seated right at the front of the boat. Our guide was a waifish man in his early 20s who looked like he just took a bump of booger sugar. He was bounding back-and-forth from port to starboard and rocking the boat as one last family of four was loaded into the rear seats.
As soon as the last person was seated he was off like a shot, hammering through the first part of his script over the intercom so quickly that it sounded like gibberish. The Dentist raised an eyebrow and gave me a nudge – what’s up with this guy? As soon as he was done with the introductory portion of the tour, it became apparent that he was going off-script.
“Alright now folks, you’ll notice that this steering wheel has a hhhhhhhhell of a lot of play to it” [he then cranked the wheel in the opposite direction that the boat was turning and let it spin] “In fact, sometimes it feels like I’m not even actually steering this boat!”
The Dentist and I started to laugh. I glanced at some of the people sitting behind us and they didn’t seem to clue in that the guide was goofing around. Perhaps he was just making one subtle “inside” joke.
Then the guide picked up the gun. “Don’t worry folks, we’re fully protected from a shark attack with this hilariously fake grenade launcher!!!” Then he pointed the gun at everyone’s faces. That confirmed it. This guy had totally gone rogue!
“Hey gang, wouldn’t it be weird if there was an emergency transmission from Gordon on Amity 3?” Just at that moment a message was transmitted over the boat’s radio “Mayday! Mayday! This is Gordon on Amity 3! We’re being attacked by a shark! No! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!” As the message was being transmitted, the guide perfectly lip synced the entire message. He then switched to his part, “Amity 6 to base – did you get that transmission? It sounds like Amity 3 is in trouble!” Then he lip synced the response from base while making that “talky-talky” motion with his hand and looking annoyed. By this point, The Dentist and I were in tears.
I looked back again at the other passengers and there was a mixture of kids who had no idea what was happening, confused people who hadn’t clued in yet, and one visibly infuriated man who didn’t pay hundreds of dollars to have his family witness some punk desecrate the legend of Jaws.
Then we passed by the supposedly sinking Amity 3. “Oh look, everyone – the Amity 3 is sinking. I guess we have to assume that a shark is responsible for the wreck, even though that’s preposterous. And all of the people on that boat? Dead. Sucks to be them.”
Soon after, the dorsal fin of a shark was seen poking out of the water across the bay. “Oh my god folks! A blue triangular piece of plastic!”
Despite going off-script, the guide continued to recite his real lines and lip synced every radio transmission as well. When instructed by base to use the grenade launcher, he scooped it up and said, “Oh this old thing?” He pointed it straight in the air, pulled the trigger, and then pointed to a spot in the water behind him where the grenade was about to land (which was obviously a timed “explosion” in the water rather than an actual projectile being launched from the gun). Then he twirled the gun around his finger, reloaded with one hand by doing that pump-action move that Schwarzenegger always does, then shot it again behind his back towards another area of the water where the next explosion when off. The Dentist and I were on the floor. It was spectacular. This guy had the timing of everything down to the microsecond.
At some point the fuming patriarch at the rear of the boat ordered him to “Stop screwing around, pal!” and without missing a beat the guide said, “Sir, I’m doing my very best to protect us! Also, we might have to use your daughter as bait!”
Finally, it was time for the dramatic finale when Jaws pops out of the water. “Looks like we made it!” declared the guide as he stepped up onto the side of the boat, grabbed a pole with one hand, and leaned waaaaaaay over of side of the boat with the grenade launcher in his other hand. “We’re going to try to get off at that fishing dock over there.” As he said this he pointed the grenade launcher at a specific spot in the water and just at that moment, Jaws leaped out of the water with its mouth agape, directly in line with the awaiting barrel of the gun such that Jaws nearly swallowed it. Without even looking at the shark, the guide stared at us with a hilariously blank expressed and yelled, “Bang! Right in the fucking face.”
That was game, set, and match. The Dentist and I were laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe. It was absolutely perfect.
Shortly after, the “dead Jaws” floated to the surface, appearing all rancid and bloated. “Ewwww, look at that. He somehow rotted out in the course of 4 seconds.” At this point, the boat was coming into the dock. “Well, looks like we’re all done here folks. Hope you enjoyed the last 5 minutes as much as I’ve enjoyed it all seven thousand times I’ve done it this summer.”
As soon as the boat docked, the pissed off dad was looking for someone to yell at. However, someone was a step ahead of him. They must have been keeping tabs on our guide because a supervisor of some sort forcibly removed him from the boat. As The Dentist and I made our way to the exit, we caught a glimpse of the unphased guide getting reamed out by a handful of higher-ups. I don’t imagine he was long for Universal Studios after that.
Although I wouldn’t say Universal Studios was my cup of tea, that ride-gone-awry made it totally worthwhile. Years later, The Dentist and I still make reference to those glorious 5 minutes when we witnessed a Universal Studios employee utterly lose his marbles.