The movie The Way Way Back is about to hit theaters, and so far it’s the summer movie I’m most excited to see. I’m not one for the big summer blockbusters (Superman? meh) and this looks quirky and funny and poignant. It is written by Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, who also wrote the screenplay for The Descendants, but (randomly) I’ve been a fan of this duo since their days doing improv at The Groundlings. It also stars Rob Corddry, Steve Carrell. Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph. And the plot revolves around a teen who works at a water park, which is nostalgic for me.
When I was in high school, the most coveted summer job was to be a lifeguard at Water Mania, our local water park. I remember friends’ older siblings getting jobs there. I would see them at the park, tan and in their red swimsuits, up on a chair above the rest of the park, and I would think to myself, I want to do that. I was so set on someday becoming a Water Mania lifeguard that I joined the swim team my freshman year of high school, despite being a horrible swimmer and averse to all sports in general. I worked hard at learning to swim well enough that I could take and pass a lifeguard certification course. Once I turned 16 and had a license to drive and a permit to work, I was at Water Mania filling out a job application. A few weeks later, I donned my very own red swimsuit. Bear in mind, this was in the early 90’s, during the Baywatch heyday. I thought I was Nicole Eggert in my red swimsuit and matching red life preserver.
There were various levels of status even for the lifeguards at the park. As a beginner, you were usually relegated to standing next to a remote waterslide. This was a boring job, but it was great for tanning – which in my mind, was a job perk equal to a 401k. I was a bit tanorexic in those days, so getting paid to indulge in sun-bathing was a dream come true. Of course, the one-piece meant that I had a perpetual oreo tan going on, with tan on top and bottom and a pastey white mid-section. But we developed all sorts of poses and swimsuit adjustments to insure even tans on our shoulders and legs.
Once you had a bit more tenure, you could be promoted to guarding the wave pool or the lazy river – two of the more popular attractions at the park. But if you’d really worked your way up, the ultimate post was to guard the wave machine. The wave machine was this revolutionary new ride that created the perfect way for surfing. These are now featured all over the place, including cruise ships, but in 1991 this was quite the attraction. Of course the ride saw it’s fair shares of European tourists, but on occasion, pro surfers would pay us a visit to practice their skills. And guarding this ride meant that you could flirt with pro surfers. Which, next to getting a tan, was a serious perk of the job for a 16-year-old girl.
By my second summer, I’d moved my way up the ladder at Water Mania and was stationed at the wave machine. Incidentally, the wave machine was also stationed next to the DJ, which made the spot feel even more cool. The song of that summer was Radiohead’s Creep, and that became my anthem. When I was standing guard and the guitars cranked out in the chorus, I felt like there was no place I would rather be than right there, in that moment. The music was blaring, the cute boys were plentiful, and the sun was shining. I loved my job. As silly as it sounds, being in that spot at that time made me feel invincible . . . like I could achieve anything. (Of course, that might have been the teenage hormones.)
Eventually I graduated high school and went off to college, trading my days at Water Mania for more resume-building jobs. But I still have fond memories of those summers at the park . . . the sun on my shoulders, the excitement of my first love, and the feeling that the whole world was stretched out in front of you, ready to be conquered.
This post was sponsored by The Way Way Back, which opens in theaters July 5th. For more information about the film, visit their website or the official facebook page.