Wind in Your Face: By the Bay on the Kemah Boardwalk by Jarrod L. Perez

Bradford and 2nd St.
Kemah, TX 77565

April 2004–These last few weeks at work have been very windy, cold and mainly uneventful. I can’t wait for it to warm up because that’s when the people and money start flowing in. I work off of commission, so if nobody is around to buy what I have to sell, then I don’t make any money. It’s as simple as that. My contractor still insists that I drive all the way out there and try to sell something. But with the weather like this I’m put off by that idea. I am a caricature artist. I draw funny interpretations of men, women and children. The site I can be found at most frequently is none other than the fun-filled family attraction known as the Kemah Boardwalk.

The first time I came to this leisurely place was to work. I heard very little about it, but now that it’s been around a while it has commercials all over the TV. Most people native to Houston , or who have been here for a while, have all heard of Kemah , Texas . Kemah, an Indian word meaning “wind in the face,” is a small town on the edge of the water on Galveston Bay , about 30 or so miles from Houston . It is home to the 3rd largest fleet of recreational boats in America , and is often referred to as “the gateway to the bay. (Kemah History).” My father used to take me to Kemah with him to buy shrimp every once and a while when I was younger. The part where the boardwalk stands used to be a public boardwalk- where families and others would carry on with fishing and crabbing. It turns out Tilman Fertitta, CEO of Landry’s Development, bought that piece of Kemah and established a series of restaurants along the boardwalk (A History of Our Success). They entitled the place “Kemah Boardwalk,” and it became host to many interesting activities aimed at couples, families, and anybody else in search of some innocent fun.

Landry’s is a restaurant company that’s growing into a successful, nationwide seafood chain, much like Red Lobster (A History of Our Success), so it was only natural to feature seven of their “famous” places, including “Aquarium” and “Joes’s Crab Shack.” I first came to the Kemah Boardwalk to work, as I am an entertainer and thrive on public spots like these. I was impressed. This place seemed like the perfect getaway for any family or couple who wants to relax for the day. Carnival-like games and gift shops are situated around every restaurant, along with rides at the far end by the water. There’s even a dinky little train that tours the boardwalk, complete with miniature railroad crossing signals at every sidewalk intersection. You can see the great, colorful Ferris wheel from highway 146 even when you’re just passing by. There’s a stage on location for concerts and even an area that blasts water tens of feet into the air for anybody, especially the children, to run and play in. To top it all off there’s a hotel on location, the Kemah Inn, for any of those who wish to extend their stay. I was very impressed. The owner is very smart and has created a very profitable venture. As a matter of fact, it’s winning tourism over the River Walk in San Antonio , the Alamo, and Space Center Houston ( Barrington ), and it’s only getting started, as the Boardwalk is soon to open 2 new restaurants, and 4 new rides in the rides section Spring 2004.

The place is very clean. I heard that workers pressure wash the boardwalk and cobblestone pathways every morning of every day they are open. The gardens are tended to just as often, as well, with different flower and foliage arrangements sprucing things up every month or two. As you walk along, there’s even strategically placed “rock speakers” blaring out music to set the mood. It used to be no name jazz elevator music, and then it’s changed to Beach Boys and 80s hits for the summer, and then to holiday hits for Christmas. When I first arrived to work, as I said, I was very impressed. Everything was presentable and organized way beyond what I was used to working around (mainly Six Flags Astroworld). We were positioned right on the boardwalk, so the salty sea air invigorated your senses as soon as you set foot on the deck. Over time, this pleasant vision faded out.

I always give out the advice: “Work where you don’t like going, because over time you will start to dislike, even hate where you work.” And the saying goes for the Kemah Boardwalk, no less. But my dislike is not from the sheer idea that I report there to work every weekend. It actually stems from a whole bunch of aspects that dig under my skin every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I guess my real problem with the boardwalk comes from the way the management treats our contracting caricature company. It’s just knowing how we get treated for what we do that makes the idea of patronizing the Kemah Boardwalk a party-pooping experience. Walking around, checking out all the shops, and seeing all the decorations just fills me with the feeling of how fake the company is to the public, and what the Kemah Boardwalk really is: a multi-million dollar company making more off its middle-class patrons. But it’s not that, because that’s just how business is. Actually, I see Landry’s as a multi-million dollar company that uses companies, like my contractor’s, to make more money, but by providing as little benefits possible in return.

My contractor signed a contract stating he would pay a certain percentage at the end of every week, a percentage of money from sales. In return, the Boardwalk agrees to take care of many of our business needs, such as a presentable and maintained kiosk, and a working phone line for communication and credit card orders. Over time, though, we’ve had many problems obtaining items such as these, while we have never failed to be on time with our percentage payments. Imagine going to work in the hot sun, and the Boardwalk still hasn’t put up the giant tarp that usually stays over your head to block out the sun. You can ask and ask for it, but the management is slow to respond. However, if you are late with your percentage check, your contract will be terminated immediately, and your company will lose. When I think about the Kemah Boardwalk, and see the flashy, happy commercials and I walk around and see the restaurants, and people having fun and laughing I think about poor business management and business handling capabilities; how this big business is making money off of smaller ones with little in return.

Even when you set foot on the Boardwalk, you can pick up this negative vibe from employees that work the games and shops scattered about. Most of the place is run by neighborhood kids trying to hold down a job. As you walk around you might actually catch one or two sulking or frowning because their job isn’t all that. Kemah Boardwalk is actually modeled after Six Flags when it comes to employee management, and that philosophy goes: the employee is expendable. Even if the job is just an after school job, I think it’s silly how management treats these kids like dirt. It’s like they wait for them to mess up, just so they can fire them and put the next applicant to work. Even the attitude projected by the managers doesn’t help. Though I don’t work for the Boardwalk directly, I still have supervisors telling me “Tuck that shirt in!” or “Spit that gum out!” No “Hello, how are you doing?” kind of friendly, morale-boosting talk, even if I am a respectable adult and the others are silly teeny-boppers. You are only addressed when there’s a problem. It’s such a drag talking with some of these kids as you stroll about. The first words you will probably hear when you talk to them are how their job sucks or how bad they want to go home. There are workers that will say they are content with their job, and rarely will you meet somebody that’s bragging about how much money he ripped off the game he worked that day.

It’s the little things that pester me. This past summer, there were problems with the “rock speaker” system, so at given times the volume would change from peaceful mellow background music to a distorted loudness you would have to raise your voice to talk over. Not only that, the Beach Boys got old very fast. It was funny, though, when the CD started skipping. My co-workers and I would crack up laughing because of the stuttering effect of the messed up disc that was playing and how it would echo through the premises. I remember one week this summer when a tropical storm came through, and the Boardwalk was underwater for a day or so. The next following weeks the near-by sewer reeked of raw sewage from a backed up toilet drain pipe. Literally for weeks, there was this horrible funk in the air.

Also, when you do set foot on the Boardwalk, you can’t help but notice something else. When I first started, a year and a half ago, seeing a cat or two was good for a quick laugh. Now, cats are all over the place. Wild ones, at that. Rumor has it that they’re there to keep the rodent population down, but every time you glance at the foliage you see a small feline hiding amongst the leaves. Their population is getting bigger every month, as the cats are spotted more and more frequently. The weekend is not complete without hearing one of the guests gasp at the sight of a wild cat scurrying by. The cats are so frequent now that I’ve even seen one on the 3rd floor of the parking garage!

It’s funny because the commercials sell the place as this fun innocent location to take the family, but when you know what really goes on there, it’s depressing. Many of the games are “difficult“, much like carnival games, such as the “High Striker,” which you must hit dead center to score anything to receive a prize. Solid “milk bottles” make knocking them over with a bean-bag almost impossible Even though I don’t have a problem with that, I overhear that many of the patrons do. On top of that, the employees have crummy attitudes, cats are abundant, and at times there are foul smells in the air. If you cut all that out of the picture, fix the business management problems, cut down the cat population, and find a way to keep your employees happy, then I’d say the Kemah Boardwalk would be a really nice place to take your loved one or your family, and it’s image would live up to the commercial. Well, okay, the cats can stay.

Map:

style=”color:#0000FF;text-align:left”>View Larger Map</a></small>

Links

Kemah Boardwalk

Kemah History

Landry’s Development Philosophy

Fun with Caricatures

Feral Cats in Seabrook

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