Taking a bite out of the real world

Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory, due out Nov. 15, details Dr. Mickey Hess’ trials and tribulations as he tried to “make it” as a professor.  That meant working some interesting part-time jobs, such as an ice cream man (right).By Allie Ward

An instructor of English by day and, at one time, a ball-pit monitor by night, Dr. Mickey Hess has had some interesting part-time jobs, to say the least.

“As of today, I am certified to teach college, operate an ice cream truck and maintain a pit filled with plastic multicolored balls,” Hess says in his 2003 book, Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory.

A new, revised “reinvention” of Big Wheel, whose title refers to a Simpsons episode, is being formally released by Garrett County Press on Nov. 15. It details Hess’ transition into adulthood and the financial struggles he encountered along the way. During the summers, when school was out, Hess had to find part-time jobs to support himself.

“I tried to get a few jobs that I didn’t get,” he said. “An ice deliverer, a doorman.”

Those may not have worked out, but Hess did end up working some diverse jobs. He’s driven a Freezee pops truck, acted as a haunted house character and waited tables in a restaurant, to name a few.

“It was fun [being an ice cream man] but I was pretty bad at it,” he said.

At first, as a young, part-time instructor, Hess wasn’t concerned about becoming a full-time professor, which he has been for three years in the English Department at Rider. He explains in the book that he never wanted a job to define him as a person.

“To me, accepting a full-time job means accepting that teaching is what I do and I am no longer working toward anything,” Hess writes.

The part-time vs. full-time professor idea is something he reflects on in Big Wheel.

“I had been teaching college part-time for a few years when I [first] wrote the book and, in one semester, I would teach at five different schools and have to commute 20 or 30 miles,” Hess said. “You would get whatever times of the day they gave you.”

The fact that colleges are hiring more and more part-time staff got Hess thinking: maybe being a professor had lost some of its prestige.

He uses an analogy in the book to describe it: “You can’t leave your doctor’s office and see him two hours later making sandwiches at the place down the street.”

A similar meeting actually happened while Hess was employed at Action World, an indoor amusement park located in a mall. A student who also worked at the mall came in and recognized his professor.

“It was more funny than awkward,” Hess said.

For students in college today, Big Wheel’s message is relatable.

“[The book] is about that moment right after you graduate college when it hits you that you’re not in school anymore and you’re expected to support yourself,” he said.

Whether it is teaching as an esteemed professor or serving up Freezee pops to kids, do what you love and have fun with life, Hess advises.

Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory is available for sale on Amazon.com and will be in bookstores Nov. 15. The first chapter is also available for free on the publisher’s Web site at www.gcpress.com/bigwheel/wheelsample.html.

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