This week's Chicagoan: Clinton Shepherd, Navy Pier park operations manager | Chicagoans | Chicago Reader

This week's Chicagoan: Clinton Shepherd, Navy Pier park operations manager 

On life after setting the world record for longest Ferris-wheel ride

A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

"I'm now basically known as 'the Ferris-wheel guy.' Sometimes people want me to take a picture with 'em or sign a piece of paper. Some people know my whole name, which is weird. Probably about three or four times a month, a guest asks me to ride with them. Just to be friendly, I do it.

"The control tower, where we start and stop the Ferris wheel, that part is kind of easy. The hardest part is actually loading people on. We have to keep it balanced, because what comes down is helping pull the weight that's going up. We have to make sure that we're sending up the right number of gondolas and people.

"There's a lot of math involved, and on a busy day, you got people talking to you, asking you questions; it gets to be overwhelming. But myself and my staff, we do a great job of making sure we keep it under control. And the person in the control tower actually writes all the information down: 'Six gondolas up, four down.'

"If we don't keep it balanced, it goes off-balance, which means that the Ferris wheel itself balances itself out and corrects it, and it will shut down, and we have to reboot the system. It takes maybe about five, ten minutes. Usually people just think it's a part of the ride, like, 'Oh, it stopped so we can get a good view and take pictures.'

"How often does someone freak out? It happens on a daily basis. Usually they'll get in line and try to talk themselves into it, and then when it's time to board, they say, 'Nah, I don't want to do it.' More often we get kids who are forced to get on by their parents, kicking and screaming. We tell parents all the time, 'We'll give you your money back,' but they're like, 'No, he or she is going.' The ride is a little over seven minutes, and they'll come back down, still kicking and screaming.

"We get probably between two to six proposals a month. We've had some that literally were taking place at the same time in separate gondolas, right behind each other. I've had guys who have sent flowers here to decorate the inside of the gondola. Everything within reason, we let them do. We don't charge an extra fee for 'em. We usually stop it at the top to give them five minutes, enough time to pop the question, enjoy the moment. It's definitely nerve-wracking, like, 'Man, I hope she said yes.' Usually the guy will give us a thumbs-up on the way down.

"We had only one situation when a lady said no. It was very awkward. She was very upset. She got off, and she took off walking, and he took his time very slowly getting off. I didn't ask. I kind of knew. Since then, we haven't had anybody say no. Knock on wood."

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