Monday, June 23, 2008

Never Working a Day in his Life

It’s been nearly two weeks now since business came to a halt. But Kevin takes it in stride.

“Could be worse,” he says. “Look at all the other areas up north that are severely affected.”

Kevin (he gives only his first name) owns Jet Funn, a boat rental business on Fox Lake, about 40 miles northwest of Chicago. Part of a patchwork of lakes just south of the Wisconsin border known as the Chain O’ Lakes, Fox Lake has found itself inundated with water running
down from Wisconsin, the result of severe rain there earlier this month. The Daily Herald newspaper reported that the water level on the Chain O’ Lakes the other day reached two-and-a-half feet above “flood stage,” defined by the National Weather Service as the level at which water begins to impact people or property.

Now, Fox Lake is closed to boat traffic.

“It’s finally goin’ down,” remarks Kevin, standing some 75 feet away from where water surrounds his docks and nips away at his shoreline.

“So, it’s just goin’ down very slowly.”

Kevin, who’s 44, has worked at Jet Funn for 23 years now. He grew up in the area and has family down in St. Charles, a western suburb of Chicago. He generally doesn’t have time to go into the city this time of year, since he and his staff are so busy, but it doesn’t seem to bother him too much. “It’s nice here,” he says. “I like it up here.”

On this sunny Saturday afternoon, Kevin— who wears gray shorts, a light green T-shirt, and sandals, and sports a boyish face beneath short, straight hair that has started to gray— walks around with pliers and a metal coil in his hand, as country music plays somewhere nearby. His coworker Mandy works on a pontoon boat sitting on the ground in front of the rental office. Although there are no customers, they keep busy with other work, including cleaning boats, as they wait for the water level on the lake to drop.

Inside the office, three WaveRunners sit on the floor near a fiery-red-and-black fish named Spike— the office’s lone occupant for now. Seventeen clipboards hang from the wall behind the counter, all of them empty. “And then we got extra ones, too,” offers Kevin, “for when we really get rolling.”

Located several minutes’ walk from Fox Lake’s commuter train station, Jet Funn sees a lot of people come up from Chicago by train. On an average summer weekend, Kevin estimates the place will have maybe 30 or 40 rental contracts a day. A friend of his once counted a couple hundred people.

Nearby establishments include, down the road, boat-sales and sporting-goods places, and across the lake, the local chapter of the American Legion. Also on the Chain O’ Lakes sit restaurants, marinas, and bars. Otherwise, most of the area around here is residential. “There’s no such thing as, really, competition,” muses Kevin. “Plenty of water out here for everybody. Which is good.”

In all his years working here, he’s seen flooding like this five other times, including this past April. When asked whether being out of commission during this time adversely affects business, or whether sales later on will balance things out, he’s quick to answer: “It’ll never balance out.”

“You just make it work,” he says. “You have no control over the weather. That’s one thing we’ve learned, so we just try and keep ourselves busy. It’s hard.”

It’s one of the rare times this afternoon Kevin betrays frustration.

If you love the job you’re doing, he goes on, “you never work a day in your life.”

“I know so many people who get so frustrated, and they’re like, ‘Oh, God, I got to go to work,’ or ‘I hate my F-ing job.’ I’m like, ‘Well, then, don’t go.’ You know? You don’t have to go. You don’t have to do anything. All you do is, you have to like your job, and plus, you have to make money and pay your bills.”

“I love working here. It’s a lot of fun,” he adds. “Would I trade it for the world? No, I wouldn’t trade it. It just would be nice to have a day off every once in a while, but… that’s about it. That’s it.

“If you like the job you’re doing, you never work a day in your life.”

As he goes back to not working, with pliers and coil in hand, he looks forward to the day he can do so with customers again.

No comments: