The Hot Air Balloon Pilot

Mike England has been flying hot air balloons with Hot Air Expeditions for 16 years.

Imagine drifting smoothly and quietly through a clear blue sky, the cool breeze blowing wisps of hair across your face, gazing at the Earth from a wicker basket.

That fantasy is a reality – every day, in fact – for hot air balloon pilot Mike England. England loves seeing thrilled, awe-struck passengers, whether it’s those who are afraid of heights or couples renewing their vows at a 7,000-foot elevation.

What began as a hobby developed into a career when England moved to Arizona. Now, working for Phoenix-based Hot Air Expeditions, the largest hot-air balloon tour operation in the country, England has spent some 5,000 hours cruising through the air in balloons that can typically fit 250,000 basketballs.

Age: 64
Graduated from: University of Illinois, Bachelor’s degree in agriculture
Flying balloons for: 32 years; as a living for 16 years
Previous jobs: Farm business analyst at University of Illinois; real estate agent
Price per balloon ride: $195 per person; varies for different parts of the country

How does one “pick up” hot air ballooning? It started rather impulsively as a hobby. I had a friend whose brother-in-law flew hot air balloons, and he needed some land to take off from. I had the land, so I asked to go along for the ride. I bought his balloon when he sold it for a bigger one.

Where did you store it? In my garage. It was just about the size of a small pickup truck, and the wicker basket was about 40×40 inches. Back then, I thought that was big.

Size of balloons you’re flying now: Four times that size. The basket is 10 feet long and five feet wide, and holds 10 to 14 people. The balloon itself [called the envelope] is 250,000 cubic feet – meaning it can fit 250,000 basketballs.

Inflating the hot air balloon.

What does your job entail? I inflate the balloon with two other people using inflator bands and heat it with large propane burners. That brings the envelope up, and we fly through the air for an hour or so before landing and packing up the balloon.

You deflate and re-inflate the balloons every day? Yes. Heat and sunlight deteriorate the fabric faster than anything else, so they’re stored inside. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to inflate them again.

On my first (and only) hot air balloon ride, we landed with the basket on its side, and crawled out. Is that normal? Usually, we land with the basket upright and climb out over the side. If it’s windy, we’ll drag on the ground a little. If it’s very windy, we’ll land so the basket is on its side and then crawl out.

What makes Hot Air Expeditions unique? At the landing site, we have a full breakfast [with the passengers on the balloon ride] with linens, china, and traditional champagne. We also have a ceremony at the landing site, where we present certificates as mementos and do the balloonist’s prayer.

The balloonist’s prayer? It was supposedly started by an Irish priest years ago, when he found out how beautiful it was.

The balloonist’s prayer, via BalloonFiesta.com: May the winds welcome you with softness. May the sun bless you with its warm hands. May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

WATCH:

How many flights have you piloted? About 5,000.

What time of year is ideal for flights? Year-round, we do sunrise flights in the early morning. In addition, from the end of October until the end of March, we also do sunset flights.

Something people don’t know about your job: We get quite a few people who say they’re scared of heights, but when in the balloon, they have no idea how high up they are. It’s like floating on air, something you’ve never experienced before.

How high up do you go? It varies from several feet to 7,000 feet. The altitude is our steering wheel; we utilize the winds available to us to decide what’s a suitable landing site.

What do you use to gauge winds? Weather forecasts. We also physically go outside in the morning and launch a helium balloon to see what happens. Typically, though, we have good weather in Arizona, so we don’t have to cancel many flights.

Smooth sailing.

Best part of your job: Seeing the happiness on passengers’ faces. We’ve done engagements and weddings flying over the most beautiful part of the Sonoran Desert.

Most challenging part of your job: Mother Nature’s winds.

Has anyone fallen out of the balloon while you’ve been piloting? No.

Items you bring on each flight: An altimeter, a radio that communicates with a crew on the ground, a hat, and gloves for handling deflation ropes.

Most memorable flight: A couple came out for their anniversary and was hoping to have someone who could renew their vows in the air. The qualified people they had found didn’t want to go in the balloon. Then, as we were getting into the balloon, another passenger volunteered to do it – he was an ordained minister. That’s never happened before.

Thoughts on Balloon Boy: That was a ridiculous situation. There was no chance that there was ever a person in that thing. If you actually saw the size of it, you knew it was clearly a hoax.

What’s still on your bucket list? I haven’t skydived yet.

Ready for takeoff!

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
Mike England discusses the highs and lows of flying.

1. It’s a very unique job, and only a handful of people fly large balloons throughout the country. Experience is key; fly with another qualified pilot who will give you the opportunity to learn.

2. The job is not one for the meek and unadventurous. It’s a challenging experience, and you must be willing to learn and want to give a great experience to other people.

3. Flying balloons is also physically challenging. You’re launching and deflating with a rope that you’re pulling in.

Check out Hot Air Expeditions on Twitter at @BalloonsAZ, its Facebook page, and its YouTube channel. All photos courtesy of Hot Air Expeditions.

PLUS: For more in-the-air No Joe Schmos, check out the roller coaster engineer and the bull rider!

Foodie Friday: The Pizza Chef

New York-style pizza has a thin, crackery crust with ingredients spread across the top. Photo: ecryptical.blogspot.com

As the general manager at Santullo’s Eatery in Chicago, Ill., Jeremy Kniola tosses pizza pies, schmoozes with customers, and figures out how to rake in more dough (we don’t mean the flour-y kind).

Santullo’s serves up slices of New York-style thin-crust pizza to set itself apart from the crowd of deep-dish eateries that line the streets of Chicago’s Wicker Park. And if customers complain about that, the staff simply recommends they go elsewhere. Below, Kniola talks about the mystery behind the pizzeria’s name, his scarring experience with Domino’s, and his unabiding love for omelettes and Arrested Development.

Age: 34
Graduated from: Didn’t attend college
In the pizza business for: 2 ½ years; many years in the restaurant business
Previous jobs: Table waiter; coffee shop manager

Growing up in the restaurant business, did you feel as though a career in the food industry was inevitable? As a kid, I wanted to be a rock star; I played bass. But my dad ran a restaurant in the early 60s, and I worked there through high school, waiting tables and cooking. Then I got into the management side of things and stepped my way up, which I really enjoyed.

What do you do all day at Santullo’s? I take care of finances, inventories, and marketing – but I don’t just sit in my office. I’m also on the floor, talking to customers to see what they want, and working shifts and making pizzas. I’m also working on a new menu to attract more customers while still keeping the musical, artsy feel of the place.

The Santullo's storefront. Photo: santullos.com

What will the new menu include? Vegan and vegetarian pizza options and a pasta menu, which our regulars have been asking for.

How would you describe a slice from Santullo’s? It’s New York-style instead of the traditional Chicago deep-dish. Our thin crust has a cracker feel, so it can’t hold a lot of weight, but we’re always trying new things that make us different from our competitors.

Like what? Our Hawaiian pizza isn’t just pineapple and ham – we also mix in barbecue sauce and bacon. A lot of our creations are generated by customer feedback.

Do you get backlash for serving New York-style slices in Chicago? On occasion, but in those cases, we suggest [other pizzerias] to those people. You can’t satisfy everyone.

Besides the crust thickness factor, how does New York-style differ from Chicago-style pizza? With New York-style, the ingredients are spread evenly across the top. With Chicago-style, the ingredients are in the middle of the pizza, and it has a lot more bread.

Something people don’t know about your job: Making pizza doesn’t take long to learn, but it does take a long time to perfect. People think we just toss out pizzas, but we need to make sure the weight is distributed equally on the dough with a nice circular edge. It can get thin and tear very easily.

Photo: recipes.howstuffworks.com

Do you spin the dough on your fingertips? That would rip it. It should land on your knuckles after tossing it in the air.

Best part of your job: Working with my friends. We’re all musicians or artists who also enjoy food – and we don’t dread coming to work. I actually come in on my days off.

Most challenging part of your job: With food prices rising, we have to figure out where to spend money that will be most effective for bringing in customers.

Do you ever get sick of pizza? No. I don’t eat it every day – I also try different things on our menu, like sandwiches and salads.

Most popular pizza: Margherita, which includes fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil.
Your favorite pizza: Great White, which includes provolone and mozzarella cheese, red onions, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, and olive oil.
Type of oven used: Two older-model electric stoves.

Where does the name “Santullo” come from? It’s a mystery! It’s supposed to be a family thing, but there’s nobody named Santullo here. We have more fun coming up with concepts and telling people stories than knowing where it really came from.

Are you Italian? No. There are Italian people here, but not me.

Most despised corporate pizza chain: Domino’s. I had a bad childhood experience – let’s just say [the pizza] came back up.

What is it about pizza that unites all Americans? It’s traditional, like the cheeseburger or hot dog. You can have it as a quick lunch, a snack at a game, or over a movie with your family on a Friday night.

Your comfort food: Omelettes. I was raised to eat something right away in the morning.

Breakfast pizza. Photo: thekitchn.com

Have you tried making a breakfast pizza? We’ve done a few as specials, with eggs and tomato sauce.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Opening more Santullo’s locations in the Chicago area and beyond.

If you could star in any TV show, it would be: Arrested Development.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
1. Start from the bottom: take a job waiting tables or shadowing a chef. I washed dishes and waited tables to understand as much as possible about the business.

2. Look to see what your competitors are doing to get ideas, but be as original as possible. Do things your own way to separate yourself from the crowd.

3. Keep an open mind and find people you can work with. The last thing you want to do is fight at work.

Follow Santullo’s Eatery on Twitter at @SantullosPizza.

Hungry for more? Click here for more Foodie Fridays on No Joe Schmo, including a master fudge maker and professional competitive eater.

Great Balls of Fire: The Glass Blower

Rene Steinke is fascinated by how much glass has changed the world, from telescopes and microscopes to Intel chips.

“I have ADD bad, and glass blowing is the only thing that makes me focus,” Rene Steinke says between breaths. He’s working on a masterpiece as we speak. “It really channels all my energy.”

Steinke, a self-described 30-year-old child, spends his days teaching classes at Rainbow Glass and working in his dream factory in downtown Sacramento, Calif. (it’s half glass blowing studio, half skateboarding rink).

Growing up, Steinke worked at a pizzeria, where he burned himself more on the pizza oven than he does now on balls of molten glass. But pursuing his passion comes at a cost: his financial struggles force him to build all his equipment from junkyard scraps.

Age: 30
Based in: Sacramento, Calif.
Graduated from: Nowhere; I’m a high school dropout who found something I loved
In the business for: 15 years
Previous jobs: Pizza delivery man; construction worker

How did you transition from remodeling roofs to blowing glass? At age 15, someone at the construction site I was working at offered me an opportunity to help out at a glass blowing studio after work. The studio’s owners noticed I picked up [glass blowing] quickly and wasn’t afraid, and they offered me a job on the spot. I quit my construction job and started working there instead.

This multi-colored vessel features a large hand-blown marble in the center.

Without a formal education, what sort of training did you receive for blowing glass? I studied at the Corning Center for the Fine Arts in Corning, NY, under a famous Venetian glass blower. That opened my eyes to how glass blowing works.

Briefly explain the process of glass blowing. A ceramic crucible inside the 70-lb. kiln heats up to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit, melting the glass inside it. I take a steel pipe – a hollow blowpipe – and gather a ball of molten glass on the end. I blow into the pipe to shape the glass, let it cool, and dip it back into the furnace. Then I break the glass off the blowpipe and leave it in the oven to cool until the end of the day.

Do you coax the glass into certain shapes only using your breath? With the help of metal tools, like tweezers, and cherry wood blocks.

How close can you get to the glass without burning yourself? You never actually touch the glass, but you can use wet newspaper to shape it. Working on a large piece might require someone else to hold up a paddle or piece of wood as a heat shield.

Did you love fire as a little kid? Yes. I think fire is a wonderful thing. [Editor’s note: via email, Steinke’s mother stated that he wanted to be an arsonist or firefighter as a child.]

Steinke teaches student Gabriel Dart, 15, how to start the shape of a piece.

Most kids grow out of the pyro phase. I’ve always done extreme activities, like skateboarding and snowboarding – and I’ve always loved art. So I found this extreme art form, where I had an instant love for the process and the medium. I have bad ADD [attention deficit disorder], and this is the only thing that makes me focus.

Do you still find time to skate and snowboard? I have a warehouse in downtown Sacramento with a half-pipe and a glass blowing studio.

Best part of the job: Making something beautiful without touching it with your hands.

Most challenging part of the job: It’s very physically demanding work and difficult to learn. You keep stumbling over yourself until you figure it out, but that’s why I enjoy it so much.

It must be tough to keep the hot glass intact. If you let a piece go below 1,000 degrees, you risk breaking what you’re working on. The glass is moving all the time; you’re constantly chasing this weird, morphing piece, trying to control something that doesn’t want to be controlled.

Any serious injuries? Only cuts from the glass, not burns. When I worked at a pizzeria, I burnt myself more on the damn pizza oven than I have ever burned myself on glass. And now, I’m working with three to four times the amount of heat.

Steinke created this glass bicycle for the annual Amgen Tour of California. It features working parts, complete with rolling wheels.

How would you describe your style? I’m really into using nature, particularly sea life. I’m working on a product line of functional sea life art that’s half sculpted and half blown, like seahorse flower vases.

Your favorite project: I was the lead glass blower for a project in the Davis Public Library in Davis, Calif., which consisted of 32 pieces of glass suspended from the skylight in a reverse pyramid.

Common myths about the profession: People ask whether sucking inward will burn my lungs out. The answer: no, it won’t.

Biggest setback: Figuring out how to make money and survive. But I overcame that by scrounging – I built all my equipment from junkyard pieces. If I see metal in an alley, I’ll pull over and pick it up.

Pricing for your work: They range for $50 to $10,000, based on the time it took me, amount of glass used, and how much I love the piece.

If you could be reincarnated into someone dead or alive, who would it be? Let’s go with Tony Hawk.

Learn more about the process:

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
Interested in blowing glass? Rene Steinke offers some advice.
1. Remember that you fail your way to success.

2. Attend a reputable training program. Two schools that offer great ones are the Corning Center for the Fine Arts and the Pilchuck Glass School.

3. Travel abroad and learn from as many mentors as you can. There are a million ways to blow glass – don’t get stuck in just one.

PLUS: For more artsy No Joe Schmos, check out the tattoo artist, the filmmaker and film editor couple, and the permanent makeup artist.

All photos courtesy of Darby Patterson.

7 LinkedIn Tips For Recent Grads

Photo: flickr.com / nan palmero

With 100 million members in over 200 countries, LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network. It offers great opportunities to network, seek recommendations, and connect with people in your industry — that is, if you use it correctly.

Simple changes like adding relevant keywords to your profile can boost traffic, which means a higher likelihood of potential employers viewing your site. So instead of tweeting about unemployment and checking in at home on foursquare every day, use these 7 quick tips to optimize your job hunt.

1. Write a specific profile heading. Think of your LinkedIn title like a first impression — it’s your first opportunity to grab viewers. “Marketing grad from XYZ University, Seeking Opportunity in XYZ” is more engaging than simply “Recent graduate.” But beware of LinkedIn’s 10 most overused buzzwords, including innovative, motivated, team player, and problem solver.

2. Strengthen your profile with applications. If you have a blog, add the WordPress app, which will stream posts to your profile. Other apps: books you’re reading (Amazon Reading List), huddle workspaces, where you’re traveling (TripIt), and PDFs of your work.

3. Fill out 100% of your profile, including interests and background. Once you do so, LinkedIn generates jobs you may be interested in based on companies’ postings. Sign up to get email alerts about these openings, which is quicker and easier than scouring LinkedIn.

Photo: Getty Images

4. Customize each message when requesting LinkedIn recommendations. Give a bit of context as to why you’re asking him/her for a recommendation (ex: you reported to them directly for two years). Include a bit of subtle flattery, such as “I really value your opinion,” and offer to write them a rec in return.

5. Research all details about people and companies, and use that information to your advantage. If you notice that your interviewer studied abroad in Japan and you minored in Japanese culture, make sure to slip that into your conversation. Also use this info to know what you shouldn’t ask. For example, if the company’s profile page discusses its mission, don’t waste an interview question on that.

6. Join groups related to your professional interests and affiliations. A great place to start is your college or university’s LinkedIn group, and then search for relevant industry groups, says Gen-Y expert Lindsey Pollak. Group membership grants access to message boards, job postings, and new connections. Need inspiration? Check the “Groups You May Like” tab.

7. Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn’s co-founder, recommends using the site to do “small goods” for others. In other words: congratulate contacts when they update their job info or “like” articles shared by your connections. It’s a simple, one-click way to network; your connections are likely to give you feedback in return.

Has LinkedIn ever helped you find a job or landed you one? Comment below, and your story could be featured in the next No Joe Schmo advice blog!

PLUS>> Check out other job-hunting tips from No Joe Schmo, such as rules for finding a job on Twitter and questions to ask at the end of every interview.

Foodie Friday: The Master Fudge Maker

Mmm, we can never say no to fudge.

Even though she doesn’t quite have a sweet tooth, Karla Bayon eats fudge every day. For her job, she has to.

Bayon is the master fudge maker at Calico Cottage, Inc., a family-owned business that’s been churning out rich, creamy chocolate for almost 50 years. From red velvet to chipotle corn, she’s constantly toying with new flavors, decorating fudge, and coming up with novelty ideas, like fudge pizza.

As summer winds down, it’s out with the watermelon sherbet and in with the apple pie. Below, Bayon dishes on her favorite mix-in, weight gain associated with the job, and the weirdest flavor she’s ever seen.

Age: 53
Graduated from: Suffolk Community College, Associate’s degree with emphasis on psychology
In the fudge industry for: Almost 5 years
Previous jobs: Stay-at-home mom; manager and baker at Reinwald’s Bakery in Huntington, NY

In one sentence, what do you do all day? In a nutshell, I develop new recipes and play with food.

What made you decide to pursue a career in baking? I didn’t intend to be in the food industry, but it’s funny where life takes you. After my husband had a tragic accident, I took a temporary job at Reinwald’s, a local bakery, and ended up staying there for 18 years. Then I took a job at Calico Cottage that evolved into the master fudge maker position.

Red velvet fudge is one of the most successful flavors.

Did you have an “aha” moment? My son was graduating college, and he was so excited about starting his life. To see his excitement to start a whole new journey – I felt like I was missing something. I was middle-aged and felt like it was time for me to get back some of that excitement.

Where do you draw inspiration for new fudge flavors? It could be in the spice aisle or vegetable aisle of the grocery store. Lately, I’ve been trying to get into Tex-Mex fudge flavors.

How does Calico Cottage decide which flavors to produce? Recently, a few employees got together to brainstorm, and we came up with over 600 ideas. We take a few flavors at a time and work with those – sometimes they work beautifully, sometimes we put them on hold, and sometimes they tank.

Flavor that worked beautifully: Red velvet.
Flavor that tanked: Oriental, with noodles and wasabi.

How do you judge what qualifies as “good” fudge? It has to be visually appealing. One flavor I thought would be a success was French toast, but it wasn’t working visually, so we put it on hold. Fudge also has to be creamy and delicious – you want to bite into it and taste exactly what it’s supposed to be.

Fudge-covered marshmallow pops for the December holidays.

Do you offer special seasonal flavors? Around the fall, we have apple pie and pumpkin pie flavors, and at Christmas, we have eggnog and cranberry nut. For the summer, we’ll have watermelon and sherbet fudge.

Most popular flavor: Chocolate walnut. You can’t go wrong with chocolate and nuts.

Your favorite flavor: Cappuccino. I love coffee.

Strangest flavor: Sauerkraut fudge. I also once saw garlic fudge at a garlic festival out west.

Something people don’t know about your job: There are no boundaries; what you think can’t work sometimes surprisingly does.

Little-known fudge fact: Fudge tends to get soggy if you put in crispy things, like pretzels. [Click here for more little-known fudge facts.]

What flavors are you working on now? I’ve been combining savory and sweet, so I’m working on a mango coconut with peppercorn, and also a chipotle corn with a nice crunch factor. But my job isn’t just developing flavors – it’s also decorating and coming up with novelty ideas.

These fudge wreaths are the holiday version of the "fudge flats" that Bayon developed.

Like what? I just came up with a “fudge flat,” which is kind of like fudge pizza. The crust is made of yogurt-covered pretzels, and it has a layer of fudge on top with nuts or raisins.

Do you have a sweet tooth? I’m developing one more and more every day. That’s why I like to work with savory flavors, too.

Do you eat fudge every day? Yes, but it’s very rich. If I keep it up, they’re going to have to put a “wide load” sign on me.

Have you gained weight since taking the job at Calico Cottage? At least 10 pounds. Typically, I try to eat light – like yogurt and fruit for breakfast and salad for lunch. That way, I won’t feel so bad when I take a bite of fudge.

Milk or dark chocolate? Milk. But our Mexican dark chocolate, which is dark chocolate with cinnamon, is very good, too.

Candy or plain? Nuts, like almonds or hazelnuts. I love crunch and texture in fudge.

Favorite dessert? Ice cream with hot fudge sauce. I also find a lot of inspiration in ice creams that are pushing the envelope.

Dream job in college: Radio broadcasting. But not long after graduating, I got married and had a kid. Life happens.

Fudge-covered apples for Halloween.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
The fudge master serves up some advice for recent grads: Go with your passion and do what you love. I ask my son all the time: are you happy with what you do? That affects every aspect of your life: personal and professional.

Check out more than fudge 150 recipes and learn to decorate fudge yourself! All photos courtesy of Calico Cottage/Lynn Misiak.

PLUS: Got a sweet tooth? Check out other dessert-themed Foodie Fridays, like the Cold Stone Creamery taste master and fortune cookie writer.

The Alligator Wrestler

Tim Williams with a tiny alligator at Gatorland. Hatchlings are often 7 to 8 inches long.

Tim Williams works with 800-lb. alligators every day, but the hardest part of his job is working with people.

“People get so caught up in emotion,” he says. “But alligators always think that life is good.” The gator expert is Gatorland’s dean of gator wrestling, coaching the newbies on how to clench a gator’s jaw and gently tickle its stomach. He often works 16-hour days at the “alligator capital of the world,” which is the oldest state park in Central Florida.

Inside its gaping gator mouth entrance, the wildlife preserve’s 110 acres are devoted to educational shows, train rides and a splash park, and zip lines gliding over gators and crocs. And although it’s less than 10 miles from SeaWorld Orlando, Williams prides Gatorland on the best compliment he’s ever received: “All the other parks around here run on electrical impulse, but [Gatorland] runs on a heartbeat.”

Title: Dean of Gator Wrestling and Director of Media Relations, Gatorland
Age: 62
Graduated from: University of Florida, degree in biology
In the business for: 37 years
Salary: Between $60,000 and $80,000. But I’d do this for free.
Previous jobs: Army ranger in Vietnam; rattlesnake venom extractor; police officer

Did you always know you wanted to work with alligators?I’ve always loved the outdoors. My dad had a radio show about fishing, and at one time, my mom was the longest continuous Girl Scout. She was a scout and/or a leader for 47 years.

This rare white gator at Gatorland's White Gator Swamp is named Trezo Je, meaning "‘treasure's eye."

How did that lead to gators? My hero growing up was alligator expert Ross Allen. After selling Ross some rattlesnakes – which were my first love, before gators – I started working for him at the Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, doing venom extractions from the snakes. During one gator show, a guy broke his back, so I filled in for him.

Your college mascot also happened to be a gator. Yes, but [University of Florida] didn’t offer a major in gator wrestling, unfortunately.

Do you still wrestle gators on a regular basis? Not anymore. I’ve reached an age where I can get down on the alligators, but can’t get back up without help.

So what do you do now at Gatorland? I coach others how to wrestle gators, and I’m a mouthpiece for the company.

Working hours: It depends, but often 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. I help companies that come to film at Gatorland, like National Geographic, Discovery, and BBC.

Lead me through the process of getting atop a gator. I get into the water, take the gator by its tail, and pull it into the sand pit in the middle of the moat. After positioning the gator safely, I jump on and let my knees sit on the ground. Then I put my hands to its neck, catch its mouth shut, and show the crowd – usually 300 to 800 people – the gator’s nostrils, ears, teeth, jaw, and belly scales. Then I’ll roll it over, put it to sleep, and wake it up again by lightly tickling its belly.

What shocked you the most about gators? How strong they are for their size. A fully-grown gator is 13 to 14 feet and weighs 800 pounds.

WATCH:

Have you ever been bitten? I took a good bite when I was working at the Alligator Farm, which is why I then went to work for sheriff’s office full-time. But I kept wrestling gators, doing shows, and teaching alligator safety to paramedics. I enjoyed being police officer, but when I got a call from Gatorland to help out, I moved to Orlando and have been there since.

Best part of the job: Working with one of the most incredible animals on Earth. It’s the alpha predator out here.

Most challenging part of the job: Working with people. People get so caught up in emotion. Alligators – and most animals, for that matter – always think that life is good.

With SeaWorld nearby, does Gatorland attract big crowds? We don’t try to be Disney. Gatorland is the oldest park in Central Florida, and we get about 400,000 people per year. We even have zip lines that go over alligators and crocodiles!

How do you unwind after a long day with the gators? Sitting on the dock and watching the sunset with a good glass of scotch and a cigar.

Visitors walk through Gatorland's gaping gator mouth entrance.

Alligator’s coolest trick: They can hold their breath for longer than 12 hours when it gets cold outside; their heart rate and respiration slow down. It’s also cool to watch an 800-lb. alligator move through the water, with just the tip of its nose and eyes sticking up, without make a ripple in the water whatsoever.

How do alligators reproduce? They can be very romantic, rubbing their faces and noses together. But if the female doesn’t like the male, she’ll bite him and swim off. Once they’ve mated in the water, the female builds the nest on shore, lays 20 to 45 eggs, and covers them up. After 65 days, she bites the nest open and pulls the babies out with her mouth. Out of 40, usually only three survive.

For many, alligator wrestling is terrifying. What are you scared of? My ex-wife’s attorney.

Attire for wrestling gators: Jeans, a safari-looking tee shirt, and water shoes. Never wear shorts, since the alligator’s hide gets rough.

Most embarrassing moment at work: Back when I was single, I was trying to impress some girls at a show. As I stepped over the fence into the arena, the entire inseam of my pants ripped out, from zipper to belt. I didn’t have another pair, so I had to go into my office and staple them together.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
The dean of gator wrestling shares his life philosophies.
1. You need a love of the animal, and you must want to share that love with other people.

2. Be patient with your career goals. If everything happened overnight, everyone would be perfectly happy and doing exactly what they wanted to do.

3. The only way to get keys to open doors in life is through education and experience. It’s okay to go after the money, but if that’s your only driving force, you might end up disappointed.

Follow Gatorland on Twitter at @Gatorland and check out its Facebook page & tips on foursquare! All photos courtesy of Gatorland/Joanna Moore.

No Joe Schmo’s Monthly Roundup

I can’t believe the summer is almost over! It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting at my kitchen table, listening to the soundtrack from The Social Network, and brainstorming the beginning stages for what would soon become No Joe Schmo.

In the two months since, the site has featured 36 cool and crazy jobs and six tips & advice articles. As August comes to a close, it’s time for the monthly roundup — a look at the top-shared and top-viewed posts within the past month.

> The Roller Coaster Engineer // Jeff Pike, VP of Sales & Design at Great Coasters International

  • Breaking all previous No Joe Schmo records, this post alone attracted more than 1,000 hits! So here are some more awesome coaster photos.

> 5 Rules For Finding a Job On Twitter

> The Die-Hard Dancer (Who Keeps Meryl Streep On Her Toes) // Warren Adams, Founder of Home4Dance.com

> Foodie Friday: The Cupcake Chef // Mia Bauer, Co-Founder of Crumbs Bake Shop

Which was your favorite? Who would you like to see a Q&A with in the future? Comment below!