Dock of the Bay
Volume VII Number 7
February 18-24, 1999
Falling for Work: Job Hunting at Six Flags
photo by Mark Burns Michael Pearson of Vienna, Va., plunges from a facade.
"I break my toe every year, and it's always the same one," says Bill Leaman, 30, a real estate man from Crofton. "But fingers and toes don't count in this business; you have too many extra."
Leaman's not talking about the rough-and-tumble world of real estate. For six years he's plummeted from buildings, crashed through windows, swashbuckled, braved banner swings and done all the "normal stage gags" for fun and extra money at Adventure World - though he's most adept at the high fall.
He and a couple dozen other people - ranging from 19 to 38 years old - are striving for a spot among the crew of 11 in the Batman Thrill Spectacular. The pyrotechnic, partially enclosed, 2,500-seat stage show is part of the all-new six-acre Gotham City section sprouting up on the back side of the amusement park formerly known as Adventure World. Batman's Gotham City is but one product of a $40 million renovation that's come with Six Flags' recent takeover of the park.
Auditions have drawn in daredevils from as far away as Pittsburgh. Some have come for the fun of motorcycle stunts like power slides, jumps, wheelies and 360-degree turns. Others prefer the adrenaline-spiked joy of hurtling off a 22-foot wall into a patch of padding sunk into the stage floor. More than a few find it pleasurable to pummel one another with a hail of thrown punches while drawing the audience into their choreographed ruse. And there are certainly some vying to open up the throttle on that neat-o Batmobile hot rod. But most want to do a little bit of everything five times a day and seven days a week this summer.
"It doesn't matter what role I get, as long as I get to jump around and do the falls," says Michael Pearson, 20, of Vienna, Virginia. "ARMY" is emblazoned across the chest of his shirt, but he didn't serve. "I just filled out the little card to get the T-shirt," he notes.
Pearson's a veteran of the park's other stunt shows - the Western Show, which remains, and the Pirate Show, which is retired (perhaps to be resurrected once the park is settled in under its new identity). He's among several making the crossover from the other stunt venues.
Most, like Pearson and Leaman, have at least two years' experience, but there are a few novices who envision a novel way to exploit their physical talents. "I thought it would be something different I could do," says Jaye Paul, a 21 year-old from Alexandria with a background in gymnastics. He does it well; the rookie's acrobatics impress even the vets, and he picks up falling and fighting in no time.
The auditions begin in the saloon of the old west section. Despite the images Hollywood might offer, 20 stuntmen and - lumped together in a saloon are a pretty tame bunch. No sugar glass bottles shatter over skulls, and no bodies careen through breakaway railings.
Instead they take to the stage and read from the script before a silent audience of their peers. In the background is a row of tables strewn with motorcycle helmets and bags of protective gear. Obviously, this first audition is merely a formality for those who crave spills and thrills.
"I'm not so much into the acting," confesses Pearson, whose tastes favor stage fighting. Nonetheless, he and most everyone else ham it up before flipping and flopping about the stage to prove their acrobatic prowess.
Allison Hall - mother of two, high school Spanish teacher and brown belt from Baltimore - cavorts across the stage with flips and cartwheels. "I just thought it'd be so cool to do this over the summer," she said.
Next, bodies fly. "Gravity works in my favor," jokes Leaman about his relative bulk. He's perched atop a porch roof on the set of the Western stunt show, preparing for a skillfull dive to the three-foot-thick pad waiting nearly 10 feet below. Sure, it's a small fall compared to what the Batman stunt show demands, but hey - it's only an audition.
One by one stuntmen and one of the late arrival stuntwomen plummet from perch to pad.
On to the pounding. A few more hopefuls trickle in, and everyone doubles up. Spars ensue in the mulch spread before the Western set. Enthusiastic thuds resound as body after body follows the lead of left hooks into the dirt.
"This is the best part," attests Pearson. "The greatest satisfaction you can get is somebody's reaction when they 'ooh' and 'gasp' at what you're doing."
Partnered with Pearson is David McCoy, 19, of Bowie, also with two years' experience and the crowd favorite to win the Joker spot. A transplant at the age of 18 from the parent park in Oklahoma, he started on tech crew and made the shift into stunts after friends urged him.
"I just sort of fell into it," he says. "It's a whole new world." Even today, he only auditioned on a whim at a friend's invitation.
Leaman spars with Tom Maddalena, 38, of Springfield, still uniformed in his FedEX outfit - complete with the empty pouch for his electronic tracker. He made the switch to stunts after the high dive venue he worked at was canceled. The transition, says Maddalena, was a natural one. "The springboard is very similar to the high fall." Except, of course, that landing on your back instead of your head is an asset here. What role is he gunning for? "Naturally, whatever has the high fall."
The final test is a small obstacle course of cones to swerve through aboard one of the show villain's dirtbikes. No wheelies or power slides this early in the game. After the ones who can prove control of the bike, the day which began at 11am is wrapped up by 3:30pm.
Anybody who couldn't make it out today has a second chance to throw themselves into the show on February 26. Shortly thereafter, the final roster is cast in time for two and a half weeks of intense rehearsals before the May debut.
Today's agenda was a mild one, just enough to give an idea what the actors are capable of. Handling the Batmobile and companion motorcycle is reserved for later, since neither have stand-ins.
"We're ready to go," assures Jason Leyva, Six Flags America's entertainment manager. He started out as a stuntman in the Western Show at the Oklahoma City park and shows no shame for his prejudiced perspective: "This is going to be the biggest, most exciting thing in the theme park."
- Mark Burns
'Geo-Tubes' at 104: Can Giant Hot Dogs Save the Bay?
Site 104 in the Chesapeake Bay is beginning to sound as conspiratorial as Area 51, that secret base where the government keeps experimental aircraft and who knows what else.
Here in the Bay, the government officials at work are the Maryland Port Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other bureaucrats who seem determined to dump 18 million cubic yards of Baltimore Harbor muck in a four-mile stretch of water near Kent Island called Site 104.
The opposition - local residents, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and state legislators - assert that open-water dumping is a bad idea because, when carried in the current, the spoils will pollute the water and kill vegetation and oysters.
We don't know how things will turn out; public hearings will be held next month in Annapolis, Kent Island and Chestertown to further air the issue. But with sentiments hardening on both sides, it appears that compromises may be needed. And one compromise that may surface soon is the use of Geo-Tubes.
Geo-Tubes, or geo-textile tubes, are huge plastic encasements that could be hundreds of feet long in which the silt and mud would be pumped. They would look like giant stuffed socks or, if you prefer, the biggest hot dogs you've ever seen. Then, when they are dumped overboard, the dredge materials do not flow away and pollute.
Instead, they have a positive effect, serving as underwater mountains for oysters or, possibly, for protecting eroding shorelines. Geo-tubes are not new; the technology was developed in Holland, where protecting the shoreline is a near-religious pursuit. They're already being used in the Chesapeake on a smaller scale as a vastly cheaper alternative to hauling in rocks to protect shoreline. They're used around the country for flood protection.
Bill Goldsborough, a Chesapeake Bay Foundation fisheries expert, says the geo-tubes ought to be considered. "The idea is to make beneficial use of the dredge material. This could be a nice marriage," he said, referring to the abundance of spoils and the need for oyster habitat.
"We'd be creating hills on which you plant oyster shells; you're trying to mimic the way oyster reefs used to grow in the Bay until we flattened them out," he said. Goldsborough observed that the economy would be appealing. The Army Corps has suggested paying $1 per yard of the spoils - that's $18 million - to mitigate the potential harm of the open-water dumping. With geo-tubes, money would be spent to help bring back a valuable commodity in the Bay.
Of course, the geo-tube plan would take some engineering know-how, unlike what we saw in Los Angeles a few years ago. In that Army Corps of Engineers project, the goal was dumping geo-tubes full of contaminated waste from Marina del Rey channel into Los Angeles harbor.
But an embarrassing problem slowed things down: Try as they might, workers at first couldn't budge the heavy "hot dogs" off the barges and into the harbor.
Bay Life: Les Kinsolving's Radio Free-For-All
The silver syllables assemble in shapely, stentorian sentences.
It's Les Kinsolving, broadcasting After Hours in the Nation's Most Colorful Legislature live from Annapolis.
You've tuned your dial to 680AM WCBM. Better still, you've chanced into Pusser's Landing Restaurant some winter Wednesday night, where from 7 to 10pm talk-show host Les Kinsolving alternately holds forth and trifles with Maryland's lawmakers.
What you hear may curl your hair - unless you're a talk radio devotee or have been listening in on the taped conversations of Monica Lewinski, who's one of Kinsolving's favorite subjects.
"Every broadcast of his reads like the Starr Report," says Marlin Fitzwater, who - as press secretary to Presidents Reagan and Bush - is a member of a special class: "presidential press secretaries for the last 25 years [who] can regale their audiences with Les Kinsolving stories."
You know just what Fitzwater means if you tuned in CNN for the press conference following President Clinton's acquittal by the Senate last Friday on the two charges on which he had been impeached. "Has the president ever played golf - or would he accept an invitation to play golf - with O.J. Simpson?" Kinsolving demanded. Presidential Press Secretary Joe Lockhart rolled his eyes.
The veteran commentator, Fitzwater notes, gets around: "Les is an extra-hard worker who's become almost a legend in D.C. circles. He shows up everywhere: the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, the Maryland legislature."
Here in Maryland, Monica has been temporarily displaced by Gov. Parris Glendening's call for legislation banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
"Should a big organization be forced by the sodomy lobby to hire big buggers?" Kinsolving shouts live and on the air.
It's not for nothing the veteran commentator calls his weeknight three hours on the air Uninhibited Radio.
Kinsolving's contents run mainly to sex, especially the kinds he disapproves of. There's not much he'd rather do than cast his nicely tied verbal lassos around a bit of alternative sexual behavior.
So the governor's legislative intentions delight Kinsolving, shooting his rhetoric up the scales of impropriety like an elevator climbing the Sears Tower.
In Glendening's first press conference of the year, Kinsolving pressed the governor on the scope of his anti-discrimination initiative.
WCBM: How many sexual orientations, Governor? Is it just confined to homosexuality and bisexuality - or is it the other sexual orientations?
Gov., why would you discriminate against anyone?
WCBM: Well, if I owned a shoe store, I don't think I would want to employ Dick Morris. Would you?
Now, former presidential advisor Dick Morris' "tendency to suck toes" is the ground floor of Kinsolving's gleeful effort to reduce the governor's proposal to absurdity. Rhetorically rising, Kinsolving has morticians forced to hire necrophiliac embalmers, Maryland's horse racing industry saddled with practitioners of bestiality and our schools and scout troops staffed with pedophiles and sadomasochists.
Yes, listeners, Gov. Glendening has made Les Kinsolving a happy man.
"Les seems to take great pleasure in making people, particularly those from the Democratic party, squirm in their seats," notes the governor's press secretary, Ray Feldman, mildly.
Indeed, throwing a chicken into the foxes' den is surely the second delight of Les Kinsolving's life.
"If you voluntarily go on his show and don't expect to hear some outrageous things, you haven't done your homework," says Feldman who, with his boss the governor, has spent plenty of time in Kinsolving's hot seat.
Yet each Wednesday evening from January till April, willing legislators allow the man in the red blazer to put them in just that position. They appear in panels of four, two Democrats and two Republicans. Typically, two or three panels will be grilled in an evening. The program is a mix of Kinsolving's pungent comments, presentations by the guest legislators, questions from the live audience, calls from the listening audience and commercial breaks.
"Live from Pusser's, we try to deal with issues that are of interest and amusement. We don't deal with a great many heavy and bulky issues like long discussions of the budget," Kinsolving explains.
Cringing, a panel who joined Kinsolving early in this year's legislative session seemed to be wondering what they were doing here.
"I didn't know what was going to happen," confessed Democratic Del. John Arnick of Baltimore County. Arnick's bill to take hand-held telephones out of the hands of drivers made him the entree of that evening's After Hours show.
Arnick's was just the kind of proposal to raise the ire of talk-radio listeners, who by and large share Kinsolving's conviction that government is as assiduous as Wile E. Coyote in its plans to get the best of you. The phone lines simmered and boiled.
"Now they're going to find another way to put a monkey on our backs," steamed a caller about the Maryland General Assembly. "Restricting cell phones and more and more baloney laws. By the time you people are done, the state will be empty."
Jim from Edgewater chimed in: "As soon as they get elected, they're looking at what rights they can take away."
As Arnick tried to argue with a woman caller, Kinsolving's grin broadened.
"Oh yes," Kinsolving agreed in an interview. "Part of the fun is getting listeners involved and their emotions hot. If I were independently wealthy, I'd pay to do this."
Part of the reason Kinsolving finds his job rewarding is interaction with an audience.
"I'm devoted to my audience," he says, "even those who chew me up, like hostile Jim in East Baltimore who calls at least once a week to say 'you made an ass of yourself again.'"
Another part is showmanship. Kinsolving is as much an actor as a commentator and holds membership in both the screen actors and the radio announcers unions. His voice is a well-tuned instrument, playing up and down the scales as he reads his questions. (It is his custom to write his questions ahead of time. "If you write them, you're more articulate. You don't hunt for words, and it's easier to control your emotions," he says.) Clearly, Kinsolving loves to hear himself talk, and when his prose is flowing, he'll gladly talk right over a guest or caller.
"I think it's important for people to remember he's primarily entertainment," notes Fitzwater.
Yet another part of Kinsolving's purpose is principle.
"My goal is to tell the truth as God gives me the ability to see it. You must ask the questions you feel should be asked and can't be guided by the predominance of opinion," Kinsolving told New Bay Times.
The gadfly has a long and honorable history in journalism, and it's a tradition Kinsolving is glad to continue. "We are an alternative media. An informed populace is America's greatest security; an informed Democracy without a free media is a contradiction in terms," he aphorizes.
Which brings Les Kinsolving to another of the truths he holds as self-evident: the media's business is keeping secrets.
"Big media conceals secrets and censors, as they did in the case of John Kennedy, bedding down a Mafia girlfriend. All the media were in the tank. They knew what he was up to and covered up to everlasting shame."
Big media would have gotten away with it again with Bill Clifton, Kinsolving believes, were it not for the likes of him:
"Talk radio and the Internet. Those are the only two media the left wing has not come to dominate," says Kinsolving, who takes his opinions online at www.wcbm.com/shows/les.asp.
State, County to Help Clean up Big Dam Problem
If you're looking for firewood, now's the time to get it. You might not even have to work hard for it.
Tons and tons of driftwood are waiting, free for the taking, on beaches throughout Chesapeake Country, especially in Anne Arundel County. Right where tides and current dropped it after dams were opened to release the pent-up waters of January's rain-swollen Susquehanna River.
"Other than January of '96, this is probably more debris than we've seen on the river than any time in the last 10 years," said Michael Wood, spokesman for PECO Energy Co. of Philadelphia, which generates electricity at a series of dams, culminating in the Conowingo, along the Bay's mother river the Susquehanna.
So much has accumulated that Maryland Department of Natural Resources - which first wrote off the flotilla of wood and man-made debris coming down from New York and Pennsylvania as "a seasonal event, nowhere near the amount of debris of 1996" - has agreed to pick up at least part of the bill for clean-up of the flotsam.
"Secretary Griffin has pledged to reimburse Anne Arundel County for the time spent assisting communities with the clean-up," said department spokesman Richard McIntire. The secretary's Feb. 11 pledge is a change of position. A week earlier, a spokesperson said the department had no money for assistance with shoreline clean-ups.
For the county's part, "The Owens administration is certainly committed to mitigating PECO's mess," says county spokesman Andrew Carpenter. "We're committed to doing the heavy lifting, providing trucks and labor, and DNR has agreed to pay for it."
The flow of whole trees, logs, construction materials and just about every other kind of trash you can imagine into the Chesapeake Bay is a rite of early spring brought on by rising waters in the Susquehanna River, which stretches north into New York. But only in extraordinarily wet years like 1996 and now '99 do state and county join together to help Bay dwellers and communities pick up all those heavy sticks.
So we can't tell you yet who'll be picking up when and where. "The whole plan," says Carpenter, is being put together as we talk."
The plan came together spontaneously, according to Del. Richard D'Amato's legislative aid David Corbin, when DNR Secretary John Griffin joined a mother and son armed with a collection of beached debris in the Annapolis Democrat's office.
"We've been working on a two-part strategy with DNR and the county to clean up this trash and with the federal regulatory agency to make sure it doesn't happen again," Corbin said.
Even county and state help doesn't mean Bayfront communities and property owners can expect the windfall of wood and the unsightly trash to leave as easily as it came. What the tides brought in, somebody's going to have to sweat to take away. If you're seeking free wood, maybe that somebody is you.
Way Downstream ...
In Kent County, Maryland Department of Natural Resources has sprung into action to save the state's largest surviving colony of tiger salamanders. DNR wants to spend about $300,000 to buy 130 acres. But most of the salamanders already have disappeared ...
In Virginia, the ruckus over garbage has spurred some tangible results: A multi-state crackdown by state police and environmental officials led to the stopping of 3,700 trucks hauling garbage and generated 4,100 violations ...
Ohio Gov. Robert Taft (R) is either a conservationist or a tightwad. Rather than buying new stationery, Taft is crossing out the name of his predecessor, George Voinovich (R), and then writing his letters ...
Our Creature Feature this week comes to us from the shores of Lake Erie with a porcine tale that we might not have believed had we not read it in the Los Angeles Times and other reputable journals.
Our pig's name is Lulu, and she just received the Trooper Award from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for an act of heroism.
In August 1997, a motorist noticed the 150-pound potbellied Lulu lying in the street, her four feet in the air. Had poor Lulu had wandered unsupervised into traffic and become road-kill barbecue?
In truth, Lulu was performing her "dead piggy trick" to alert someone that her owner, JoAnn Altsman, was having a heart attack in her mobile home. The motorist called the police, Lulu's mother survived, and Lulu will forever be known for her feat with her feet. But you may not want her at your dinner table: When Lulu got her award, she belched.
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Volume VII Number 7
February 18-24, 1999
New Bay Times
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