My Favorite Jobs: Part 1 – Golf Carts Can’t Fly

My Favorite Jobs: Part 1 – Golf Carts Can’t Fly

I really enjoy my job.  No matter how much I complain sometimes, I really do enjoy what I do.  After 17 years, it still motivates and challenges me on a daily basis.  I’ve actually been pretty lucky over the years.  I’ve had my fair share of interesting gigs – I’ve laid natural gas pipe, I’ve worked as a nurse’s assistant in an elderly care home, I’ve even drilled custom bowling balls – and still I’ve always found a way to enjoy each stop along the way.  But the two best jobs I ever had, by far, were the ones that I had when I was in college – campus “security guard”, and pizza delivery/night manager at Mazzio’s Pizza.

After working from the day I turned 13 (I really wanted extra spending money), I decided during my first semester of college that I would take a break.  Being away from home for the first time at the University of Miami, I wanted to fully enjoy the college experience.  There was just one problem – the “college experience” didn’t work so well when you had no income.  My basic needs were taken care of, but I soon found myself selling off my old CD’s for late night Taco Bell money.  It was not my proudest moment, and I sold hundreds of CD’s that I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to today – but would have proudly displayed on the shelves of the media room if I still owned them.

I quickly decided that I needed to get a job.  For some reason, unknown to me now, I never went to look for a “real” job off campus.  Perhaps it was due to the fact that I had sold my car when I started college.  (That was another decision that I had to rectify – I’m not sure what logic my parents and I were following on that one.)  Instead, I applied for a job through the campus work program, and landed a position with the Public Safety Department.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the UM campus in Miami – it’s beautiful.  It is centered around Lake Osceola, and the vast majority of the campus is enclosed.  No through streets = no traffic.  When you lived on campus, you walked, skated, or rode your bike to class.  With no through streets, you couldn’t really drive easily from point A to point B on campus.  Late at night, either after a party on frat row or a long study session at the library – you were going to have to walk back to your dorm room.  For many a young coed, this was not the most appealing of circumstances.  Solution?  The Public Safety Department.

Here is how it worked.  Anyone could call the Public Safety Department and request an escort on campus.  The officer on duty would dispatch a security guard to his or her location in a golf cart.  That guard would then give them a ride to wherever they needed to go.  I was the guard driving the golf cart.  We got all types of calls.  Football players looking for a ride back to the athletic dorm.  Sorority girls looking for a ride home from Frat Row.  Random people – too drunk, stoned, or lazy to make their way back home on foot.  Take a minute to let your mind wander down the path of all the fun and/or trouble that could result from having the keys to a golf cart and free reign of the campus while you were in college.  Got a good mental picture?  It was even better.

A few of my friends worked the carts with me.  We covered two shifts, and I always took the late shift – from 10:00PM until 2:00AM.  The first shift would end at midnight, so I would hang out with the guys for a few hours, then have the carts to myself for a few hours.  It was the best of both worlds.

I enjoyed the time I would have to myself.  I’m a night person, so having the late shift to myself was perfect for me.  In between running escorts, I would drive around campus, listening to music, and enjoying the warm night air.  I would sometimes park my cart in the breezeway in front of the library and write.  I put a lot of songs and poetry on paper during those nights.  (For the record – yes I still have everything I wrote back then – some of it good, some of it horribly bad.  And no – I haven’t decided if any of it will ever grace the pages of this blog).  I still love warm summer nights – they always remind me of Miami.

The real fun, however, was usually had on the first shift.  When we were all on duty, we would generally find something to amuse ourselves with during downtime.  One favorite past time was watching movies.  For a time, I could walk in to the Specs Music across the street from campus and tell you exactly what movies where new that week – they were the only ones that we hadn’t managed to watch yet.  We consumed some quality cinema during that time – “The Toxic Avenger”, “Flatliners”, “Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters”, “This is Spinal Tap” – but my personal favorite will always be “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”.  That’s a post for another time.

We also spent a fair amount of time in the University Center playing pinball and/or Cyberball.  I don’t remember why we started playing pinball, but it soon became an obsession.  This was about the time that electronics really began to be incorporated into pinball machines, so the center was filled with them.  Our games of choice were “The Addams Family” and “Lethal Weapon 3” (thanks to the latter, I still think there is a multi-ball about to start every time I hear “Everybody Dance Now”).    We could play pinball for hours, barring the unwelcome interruption of actually having to go and perform our jobs.

Cyberball was a four player, head to head, football game played with robots.  A bit like Madden in rudimentary form, we played it constantly.  I pumped a lot of money in to that game, and developed the rather annoying habit of humming the theme to “Winnie the Pooh” whenever I was playing.  Don’t ask me why – all I know is that it annoyed whomever I happened to be playing, so I kept it up.  A few years ago, I found Cyberball on a “Midway Arcade Treasures” release for PS2.  I shared it with my son and he really enjoyed playing it with me for a few weeks.  I can’t help but think that vindicated my obsession with the game – if only bit.

When we weren’t playing games or watching movies, we were taking full advantage of having access to a fleet of golf carts, and a wide-open campus to use as our personal playground.  It was not unusual to find us holding time trial races or obstacle course runs at all hours of the night.  We would lay out a course and race against the clock and/or each other.  We would pick a random destination and see who could find the quickest route to get there.  We treated the carts and the campus roughly and I’m actually quite surprised that we never ran over anyone.

One night we decided to try a little off-roading on one of the carts.  Just in front of the Stanford Residential College was the intramural field.  We generally tried not to ride across it too much – tracks on the field would lead to questions, which would lead to unemployment.  This night, however, we noticed a large pile of sand at one end of the field.  I’m not sure why it was there, but it called to us like a siren.   We decided to see if we could use the sand as a ramp, and get a golf cart airborne.

I don’t claim that we were thinking straight that night, but I know that we were NOT drunk.  Yet somehow in our minds, we went through the following logic:
1.    Get the cart up to full speed
2.    Race up the sand pile
3.    Launch the cart through the air
4.    Tell people about our genius for years to come

Makes perfect sense, right? What could go wrong?

With our plan firmly in mind, off we went.  We lined up the cart for our rendezvous with greatness.  Two of my friends waited by the “ramp” and two of us drove the cart.  We floored the gas pedal, and were soon hurtling towards our destiny at a brisk 9 MPH.  With the wind whipping through our hair, we hit the pile of sand full speed, ran gracefully up the side of the incline – and came grinding to a stop.

Here’s an insight for you.  There’s a good reason you never saw Evel Knievel performing stunts on the beach.  Turns out that sand is not the best material for constructing a ramp.  It’s too…well…it’s just too “sandy”.  You know that feeling you get when you try to run on the beach – the sand sapping your momentum?  Well, it turns out that it does the same thing to a golf cart.  We came barreling to a stop, no nearer to campus immortality than the crazy guy who tried to bum a slushy from everyone in front of the 7-Eleven.

As we sat there, slowly realizing that our plan might not have been as carefully thought out as we had hoped, the cart began to slide backwards down the mound of sand.  If you’ve ridden in a golf cart modified to seat 4 people, you know that there is a lip to rest your feet on, just above the back fender.  Well – as we slid down the sand, that lip buried itself a good 4 inches into the turf of the intramural field.  We were stuck.  No problem, I thought – we’ll just drive back up the sand pile and un-bury the fender.  I jammed my foot down on the gas, and sent up a rooster tail of sand a good 8ft in to the air.  We didn’t move an inch.

Golf carts are heavy – don’t let anyone tell you different.  Even with four of us, it took 20 sweat-filled minutes to extricate the golf cart from the turf, and off of the sand pile.  When we were done, it looked like someone had tried to chip out of a sand hazard on the back nine of Pebble Beach, with a backhoe.  There was sand flung for 25 feet in every direction and the simple sand mound we started with looked more like the mashed potato sculpture Richard Dryfess built at the dinner table in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.

Needless to say, we had to do some landscaping, but we managed to get everything back in to some semblance of order.  No one ever said a word to us, so we assume no one was ever the wiser.  It was the end of our cart jumping days – but we still found ways to employ the carts that could best be described as “outside of the approved and recommended use”.

Yes – I was very lucky to have worked for the Public Safety Department at UM.  I got to spend my nights outside enjoying the beautiful Miami weather.  I got to spend time with my friends, hanging out and causing trouble.  I got to do unplanned landscaping on the intramural field.  I got work on lowering my best time from the Richter Library, around Lake Osceola, and to McDonald Tower, to under 2 minutes.  I got to escort more than a few drunken coeds back to their dorms.  And – I got paid to do all of it.  It was a great job – one of the best.

Coming soon in part 2 of “My Favorite Jobs” – learn how I survived delivering pizza for Mazzio’s, and how I discovered exactly which fruits make great pizza toppings (pineapple), and which ones don’t (watermelon).

* Author’s Note – It’s very possible that I have some of my facts wrong in this story.  In some cases, I may have misremembered the details – either to make it sound a lot cooler than it was, or just because I’m getting older and my memory banks are full.  (Let’s face it, I have a hard time remembering what I had for lunch last week – much less what I did in college).  If my version of events doesn’t match your recollection – I apologize.  I guess it’s a good thing that you don’t live in my head – it would only confuse you.

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