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emp with space needle

After spending four wonderful years meeting, greeting and celebrating the history of rock ‘n roll with about 500,000 amazed guests, I was caught up in a big layoff at Seattle, Washington’s Experience Music Project. This was a real bummer, as I was a super-dedicated, Charter Employee, having helped open the museum to the public in Summer 2000. I swear, if you cut me, I would have bled EMP!

Superstar award 010

Experience Music Project 2nd Quarter 2000 Super Star Award Winner. Me!

My being laid off wasn’t at all about my job performance. I received several department awards for beyond-the-call-of-duty customer service. Some of my co-workers even referred to me as EMP’s mascot. — It’s just that the financial picture had changed in the world, and at EMP, and therefore, experienced, higher-paid workers were axed. So in April of 2004, I found myself job hunting.

funk blast creative commons

I’d had only had one problem at EMP. I was too scared to get on the huge motion platform ride, “Funk Blast”, which I often operated (from the safety of the control room), because I get motion sickness, I’m a coward, and I generally like to keep my feet on solid ground. This made it a little difficult when visitors would ask what the ride was like. Having no personal experience, I could only rattle off the official description we were given. I usually left out the salient fact that I was afraid to ride the thing. — Although when kids would say they were afraid to ride it, and other kids started making fun of them, I would say, “That’s OK. I won’t ride it, and I’ve operated it a thousand times!” That usually made the child feel better.


Heck: I have trouble just riding in a car (I don’t drive). Buses can be a problem. I get a little queasy and panicky. It’s funny, because I can boogie-board like crazy, while enjoying the heck out of it. (Except for the time when a huge sea lion started chasing me. I found out just how fast I can paddle!) Perhaps I have no trouble with boogie boarding, because I’m in control when I’m engaged in that admittedly daredevil activity.

seattle center sign

Back to my job search: Having spent four years in the fabulous space that is Seattle Center, I decided to search for my new job right there, where I was so comfortable. I sent out resumes to several Seattle Center attractions. I received immediate responses from interested human resources departments. So I scheduled some interviews.


My first stop was the Seattle Children’s Museum,  located in the Center House (now referred to as the Armory). I had worked with countless children in the Education Department of EMP; and I loved it. Although nothing at the Children’s Museum knocked me off my feet, after having worked at the high-tech, interactive EMP, I did enjoy seeing what the Children’s Museum had to offer in the way of fun and educational visitor activities. However, when the two very kind supervisors I met with asked what I was paid at EMP, and what I was hoping to be paid, and I told them, they said, “Gosh, we make less than that, and we’re supervisors”. So I crossed that venue off my list.

seattle science center

Next stop: The following day, I had an interview at the Seattle Science Center, which was built in conjunction with the Seattle World’s Fair, the “Century 21 Exposition”. After blowing away another interviewer with my experience and attitude vis-a-vis customer service, I was escorted around the center, shown the various exhibits, and told what my duties would be. The first thing I noticed was how dilapidated the entire space looked. Things were in need of refreshing and renewing. I don’t know what it’s like now; but the Science Center I saw in 2004 was not looking very Century 21.


Yes, they are what you think they are. And there are more than several.

And then, I was shown cages full of extremely repulsive, giant hissing cockroaches, and informed that I would be responsible for their care and feeding! I responded with, “Thank you, but I don’t think so”. — I didn’t stick around long enough to ask what I would be paid. Because it didn’t matter. No amount would be large enough. — I wonder if they gave the cockroaches names?

space needle creative commons

Well, I had one last possibility. I had sent a resume to Seattle’s iconic Space Needle, because I heard through the grapevine that they needed to add a guide to their fine staff. I knew I could do that. I just knew it! I had an interview with a “suit” in a nice office just down the street from the Space Needle. I was asked to relate my customer service experience. I told the man of the awards which were bestowed upon me at EMP, and shared a couple of quick anecdotes. I could tell right away, I had made a really good impression on this man. He telephoned his guest services supervisor and said he was sending over a prospect for the Space Needle Guide position. And right in front of me, he said, “I think we have a winner here”.


I rode my bicycle to the Space Needle. Yes, I travel in style, people. After entering the Needle’s Pavilion, I met with “Joy” near the SpaceBase Gift Shop, which was chock full of Space Needle snow globes, Space Needle salt and pepper shakers, kits to build a Space Needle from celery stalks and a potato, Space Needle flashlights…. We sat on a little bench, and dove right into the interview. I dropped a few names of EMP supervisors she could contact, and told her one or two of  my better EMP stories. Right away, she said, “Well, you sound like the person we are looking for, Randy”. She explained my duties, which simply revolved around helping folks have a good time. – Hey, that’s what I do! She said, “Well, let’s go fill out the paperwork, Mr. Space Needle Guide”. I quickly responded with, “Well, before we do that, could we go up to the observation deck, where I would be working, so I can get the lay of the land?” Saying, “Of course, great idea”, Joy led me to the elevator.

space needle elevator gov photo

When we got on, I noted that only a thin pane of glass was stopping me from falling out of the strange, golden pod of an elevator, and being killed. — Not a good feeling. And I started worrying about what would happen if all seven of its suspension cables were to snap while we were trapped inside. — When we finally got to the top, after a white-knuckle ride, I was experiencing some disorientation. I was trying hard to take in my surroundings. But I was having difficulty concentrating. I was scared.

space needle view from deck creative commons

I find this photo to be very frightening.

Joy took me outside onto the observation deck, and started reciting more of my duties, including having to point out various Seattle landmarks and reciting factoids about them. I thought it ironic that, atop the most amazing building in Seattle, an official Seattle City landmark, a guide’s job was to talk about other buildings! — But then, I pretty much stopped thinking at all, and started simply reacting. Here I was, 520 feet off the ground. Way, way too high for me. I guess the weather gods thought it would be fun to make the wind blow at least 20 mph that day, as I could feel the Needle swaying. Also, I could actually sense the whole thing rotating, with me on it! — Way too much motion on the platform. Then, a helicopter went by! I thought for sure it was going to crash into us.

space needle observation deck creative commons

I felt like I was going to lose my lunch or pass out, have a panic attack, a dizzy spell, or all of the above. I tried to hide my discomfort and terror, and I think I did a pretty good job. Joy remarked, “Wow, isn’t this fabulous?  I love my job.” She cheerfully asked, “Well, Randy, what do you think?” I said, quietly, “I think you’d better get me to the elevator.”


I did two things: After I bid adeau to Joy, I literally got down and kissed the ground. And then, I landed a desk job at an insurance company. On the first floor.

Fun Space Needle Fact: Plans to build a stork’s nest atop the Needle were canceled when it was learned that storks could not live in Seattle’s climate and would migrate to warmer areas. — Plus they don’t like to be whipped by the wind while perched upon a huge, rotating, swaying “tree”.

The Needle is also known as the “400 Day Wonder”, due to how rapidly it was constructed. — I’ll admit it seems to have done OK for 50+ years….

Please see my blog story, Boogie Boarding As A Metaphor For Getting Out And Doing It (Again): https://randybowlestories.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/boogie-boarding-as-a-metaphor-for-getting-out-and-doing-it-again/