Bill Certain (1953 - 2004) was the head electrician for Bell's Amusement Park in Tulsa OK when I worked there in 1992 at 15 years old. I only knew Bill for a few months. If he were around today, he may not even remember me. But he had a life long influence.
The release of Roger Water's album Dark Side of the Moon Redux has me reminiscing of Bill today.
Working under Bill, I explored many secret nooks and crannies of the park. The concealed maintenance rooms of the larger attractions, the secret rooms and passages of the Phantasmagoria haunted house, the back alleys, workshops and storehouses. I felt privileged like a magician's apprentice, gaining access to all the places where my teenage peers working at the park could not. I saw how the magic taken for granted by park goers operated on the shoulders of a small team of awesome, regular people invisible to customers and even most employees.
And center to all that magic was Bill. Sharp dry sense of humor. Stoic calm and quiet demeanor. We were both weird. We were both nerds. He taught me perseverance when tasks feel impossible. He taught me to tell the difference between the work rules that matter, or the work rules that should be ruthlessly ignored. Most importantly, how to get away with ignoring bad rules while retaining integrity. He tried to teach me ego doesn't matter. I was too young to learn that lesson.
When Robert Bell caught me filling my water jug with Tang from the maintenance workshop cooler, instead of paying for water or soda from the concession stand where a purchase would be deducted from my paycheck, Robert Bell had one of his drunken infantile shouting fits at me. If I had learned from Bill, I would have shrugged, turned my back and gone back to my business. Not like Robert Bell would even remember it the next day. No, I had to stand up for myself when it didn't matter.
The Great Robert Bell, director in the John Birch society, the man who single-handedly defeated OSHA oversight over amusement parks in the Supreme Court, the man who claims credit for defeating the Woman's Equal Rights Constitutional Amendment! Being sworn at by some nerdy teenager nobody! The look on his face when I told that abusive alcoholic jerk where to stick his Tang and his job!
Bill Certain, in his subdued way, gently suggested I could have handled that situation more diplomatically by just ignoring it.
The next day was my last day at Bell's. My shouting match with The Man was gossip among everybody working at the park. People who didn't like me were tracking me down to rub it in my face. People that did like me were coming by to have a laugh with me about it. I'd never been fired before, I wasn't sure how to feel about it. I just went about my last day, carrying around a ladder and replacing dead light bulbs on all the rides. For the last time, I would climb up and down the Zingo roller coaster track on bulb duty. So I took my time with it.
A few months before, I'd helped Bill install new PA amps and speakers into the Himalaya. Bell's wanted their Himalaya to be louder than any ride the traveling fair would bring. The PA on that ride was fit for a concert. While we worked, Bill and I debated which of Pink Floyd's songs was their best. We agreed on Great Gig in the Sky. Bill convinced me of it.
On my last day at Bell's, Bill said he had a parting gift. He rode off on that yellow maintenance cart, fired up the Himalaya PA to Tulsa State Fair volume levels, and played Great Gig in the Sky. Without anybody's permission, against the rules of the job, probably breaking sound ordinances. The last act of shared rebellion.
That was the last time I saw Bill, and I can rarely hear Great Gig in the Sky without thinking of him and Bell's. Rest in peace my old friend.