Ocala’s Odd Jobs

Expert clean-up is often required in the aftermath of a crime scene, especially since 80 percent of the time, it involves a death.

These occupations may be unusual—how many of us earn a paycheck cleaning up a crime scene?—but somebody has to do them. Discover five of Ocala’s most unusual jobs and the people who gladly work them day after day.

‘A Smell You Never Forget’
Crime Scene/Accident Cleanup

One thing you never see on CSI is the clean up. But in real life, once the investigative work is done, the bodies removed, and the scene cleared, someone has to deal with the aftermath.

In Ocala and surrounding areas, this is when Accident Cleaners—the husband-and-wife team of Dan and Crystal Pinkston—goes to work. Dan is also an Ocala firefighter, while Crystal, who previously owned a janitorial service, manages and operates the company. Dan started Accident Cleaners 10 years ago after recognizing the local need for such a business.

“As a firefighter, I’d be at a scene and the homeowner would ask, ‘Who’s going to clean up this mess?’” he recalls. “The police, fire department, and medical examiner’s office won’t. Twenty or 30 years ago, funeral homes used to do it, but back then we weren’t concerned with blood-borne pathogens.”

Although Ocala is its main market, Accident Cleaners travels anywhere within a three-hour radius of our city and handles residential, commercial, and industrial crime/accident scenes.

Eighty percent of the time, the scene involves a death. Other cases involve attempted suicide, a serious accident, or a hoarding situation in which no one died but there is still a scene to be cleaned. Some cases involve two scenes in one, such as a hoarder who dies and the body isn’t discovered for weeks. In this case, not only are there filth and accumulated materials to contend with, but also the issue of human decay.

“Decomposition is the worst,” says Dan. “That’s a smell you will never forget.”

As professionally trained bio-recovery technicians, Dan and Crystal wear attire resembling full hazardous materials (“hazmat”) suits, with full face respirators, gloves, and booties over their shoes. They are double gloved for additional safety and to minimize cross-contamination.

“We’re covered from head to toe, but even though we’re fully suited, there’s still a level of danger,” says Crystal. “You have to be careful not to get stuck from carpet tacks, needles, or anything at the scene.”

As they clean and sanitize using commercial products and machines specifically made for the task, they also remove porous materials that can’t be cleaned. These items are “red-bagged” or boxed for disposal according to Florida Department of Health regulations.

“You can’t disinfect carpet if there’s blood in it,” explains Dan. “The protein in blood soaks through and an odor will always remain.”

“This isn’t your typical janitorial business,” notes Crystal. “It’s actual restoration of the scene to the condition before the event occurred.”

Depending on the extent of the scene, their job can take anywhere from three hours to five days to complete. As a firefighter, Dan is accustomed to seeing horrible images and Crystal is a NOVA-trained crisis responder. But that doesn’t mean the incidents don’t affect them.

“We’re prepared emotionally and physically to deal with many different types of scenes,” says Crystal, “but anything involving children is hard.”

“You’re seeing people at their worst,” notes Dan. “But this is also one of the most rewarding things about our work because we’re helping people. Nobody wants to clean up after something has happened to a family member.”

“The sooner the cleaning can start,” Crystal agrees, “the sooner the people involved can get on with their lives and the healing process.”

‘Through The Grieving Process’
Funeral Home Hair Styling

The first funeral I ever attended was for an elderly family friend. I was barely 10, but to this day I remember looking into the casket at a person I didn’t recognize, thanks to a strange hairdo and a tremendous amount of brilliant blue eye shadow.

If Laura Burgoon had been in charge, that disturbing scenario would never have occurred. In addition to her clients at Salon 209, Laura works with Roberts Funeral Homes in Ocala to provide hair styling services at the family’s request.

The tools of Laura’s trade remain the same, whether she’s working on a client at the funeral home or in her salon.

A resident of Ocala since 1983, Laura earned her barber stylist license, which is tougher to get than a cosmetology license, in 1980. Along with Danielle Johnson, she has co-owned Salon 209 in Ocala since 2008.

“I’ve been through the grieving process a few times myself with family and friends,” says Laura. “I’ve seen some ghastly hair and makeup jobs and that makes the process even harder. I saw the need for this service and I like helping people in this way.”

Laura has provided the service off and on for the past 30 years, and has worked with Roberts Funeral Homes for the past six. The funeral home only calls her if the family requests a stylist, although the service is offered to everyone. Most people don’t realize that real hair stylists do this job.

The demand fluctuates. Sometimes, Laura has five or six clients per week, or weeks may pass before she’s needed.

“It’s always helpful if the family provides a recent photograph of their loved one so I know how their hair was styled,” she says. “If I don’t have a photo, I try to give a modern style depending on the person’s age.”

If necessary, Laura will color and cut the hair before styling it, and pricing is comparable to regular salon services. There’s no difference in the process or products used except in regard to color. She’ll go one shade darker because hair will absorb color differently. If the person has lost hair due to illness or died in an accident, Laura may have to strategically style their hair to cover flaws or injuries.

Mostly, she works on women, but she is sometimes requested to style a man’s hair. Although the staff at the funeral home typically does makeup application, Laura can also handle this request as well as manicures.

While she doesn’t personally know the people she’s working on, Laura admits the job can be emotional, as when she recently did the hair and makeup for a teenage girl.

“The hardest part is working on a young person because I have children,” she says. “In those cases, I do my job, then go home and hug my kids.”

‘Forty Squirrels In One Day’
Wildlife Rehabilitation

When your daily responsibilities involve thawing frozen mice, you’d better love your job. Fortunately, Joanne Zeliff, wildlife manager at Silver Springs attraction, is crazy about hers.

A New Jersey native, Joanne moved to Ocala in 1980 and was hired at Silver Springs that same year. The lifelong animal lover was working as a dog groomer but was passionate about exotics and wanted a career centered around them. She applied five times before being hired for a wildlife keeper position, which almost always went to male employees in those days. Joanne has been wildlife manager since 2004.

There’s nothing “typical” about working with wildlife. Joanne sees all kinds of critters in her line of work.

In this line of work, there’s no such thing as a “typical” day. The only guarantee is that the work will involve animals.

Joanne checks on all the animals before the park opens and checks in with the 16 different keepers on staff. She works with the technician on routine health care and with the veterinarian on specific cases. When it comes to rehab, Joanne works closely with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Area residents also bring injured and orphaned birds and animals in for help.

“If there’s a storm, we know we’ll get animals the next day,” says Joanne, noting that baby birds and squirrels are often blown out of their nests. “The year we had the hurricanes [Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne in 2004], we got 40 squirrels in one day. We bottle-feed them, then wean and release them.”

Although the goal is to rehabilitate the animals and discharge them back into the wild, this isn’t always possible.

During a walk though the bird area, Joanne points out a noble-looking barred owl that lost an eye and part of a wing after a group of children attacked him with rocks and sticks. The owl is now a permanent park resident. A young sand hill crane will also be staying at the park for life due to a serious wing injury. With animals like these, Silver Springs applies for permits with the state so they can keep them.

“We never display rehab animals unless they’re permanent residents,” Joanne urges. “You want them to be wild.”

When feeding the birds and reptiles, the park goes through plenty of frozen rats and mice. (Florida is home to numerous rodent breeders, thanks to the state’s many reptile owners.) Keepers thaw the mice in hot water before feeding them to their charges.

“If a bird isn’t drinking enough, we’ll inject some water into the mouse,” says Joanne. “We can also inject medicine for the bird into the mouse. With a gibbon [ape], we just give them a cupcake and put medication in the frosting. They love those.”

Although she often works 11-hour days, Joanne wouldn’t want to do anything else. One of the highlights of her job is seeing the new babies born, but she also appreciates the critters she’s known for years. The park’s popular giraffes are approaching 30 years old, and she hand-raised both of them.

“The neat part,” Joanne says, “is building a relationship with the animals.”

‘A Good Job On Every Horse’
Mane and Tail Braiding

Most people have no idea horses have their own beauticians, yet for Lynne Rothert, braiding manes and tails has been a career for more than two decades.

Someone has to make those neat braids on horses performing every weekend, and in most cases—particularly at prominent shows—that person isn’t the rider or owner but braiders like Lynne. Braiders build up clientele much like stylists at a salon.

“Sure, anyone can do a braid, but to be good, it takes skill and practice,” notes Lynne. “You have to be patient and consistent so you turn out a good job on every horse.”

At smaller shows, some people secure braids with rubber bands, but Lynne says this is a “no-no” on the A circuit. She uses coarse, durable rug yarn, which is woven through each braid and then tied tightly under and around the folded braid.

For braiders, working all night is not uncommon. Show horses often have to be braided and ready to compete early in the morning.

“It’s hard on your fingers,” she says, holding up hands that reveal small cuts and scars and are starting to show signs of arthritis.

Braiders work at night and usually all night long so the horses are ready for their classes the next day. When the equestrian competition HITS Ocala is in town, Lynne typically arrives at the show grounds about 10pm and works straight through, often for 12 or 13 hours.

Every braiding job is slightly different because the animals’ necks and manes vary. An average horse with standard hunter braids ends up with about 35 braids. Ponies, even though they have shorter necks, tend to have thicker manes, so they’ll often have more than 35. Making the braids lay properly on a horse with a thick, crested neck is another challenge.

“You want symmetry, a straight top and bottom line of braids down the neck,” Lynne notes.

She wets the mane down with a vinegar/water mixture and sometimes uses a product called Quick Braid to add a bit of stickiness.

Tails are done in a French braid ending with a pinwheel pattern or with the end of the braid wrapped around the tail’s base. Lynne frequently attaches tail extensions, as many owners like to make the tail fuller and longer. Unlike human hair extensions that can be left in for weeks, horse tail extensions are taken out after every show.

Originally from Connecticut, Lynne moved to Ocala in 1985. Working in a farm office, she began body clipping horses for extra money, and shortly after started braiding full-time.

“For a number of years, I had a camper and would be gone to shows all summer,” says Lynne, who tired of the gypsy lifestyle. She still travels to shows but no longer for months at a time.

Lynne loves the freedom of being self-employed and the opportunity to travel, and although she hasn’t owned a horse for years, braiding is the perfect way to keep them in her life.

Lynne spends an average of one hour on a mane and tail, with a going rate of $50 for the former and $30 for a latter. Braiders are responsible for their own expenses, including supplies and travel costs.

Lynne admits she looks like a “bag lady” with her yarn, spray bottle, and supplies attached to her belt. Dressed in jeans and sturdy walking shoes, she’ll wear layers, depending on the weather. Since braiding with gloves on is virtually impossible, Lynne’s hands are uncovered even when the temperature drops below 30 degrees. Barns are often dim and shadowy, so she wears a headlamp strapped to her forehead for extra light. At 5 foot 8 inches, Lynne isn’t short, but she totes along a step ladder so her arms aren’t always reaching up.

“I have a friend who calls this ‘factory work’ because we’re doing the same thing over and over,” Lynn observes. “We work in the middle of the night and on weekends. We’re in the elements.”

‘People Ask If I’m Looking For Bombs’
Parking Enforcement

In a perfect world, Debbie Craig wouldn’t have a job. That’s because ideally, nobody would park illegally or stay over the time limit.

Just don’t call Debbie a meter maid. She’s actually a park ranger with the City of Ocala Recreation and Parks Department, but downtown parking enforcement is the bulk of her job.

Debbie’s day begins at 8am. She clocks in, does any necessary paperwork, and loads her cooler with plenty of water and Diet Coke. She drives to the chamber parking lot, leaves her city truck there, and hits the pavement.

Debbie writes an average of 10 tickets per day on her downtown beat.

She wears a required uniform polo shirt and khaki Bermuda shorts, thick socks, hiking boots, and sunglasses. Sunscreen is a must, though she still has a “farmer’s tan.” The floppy brim hat isn’t part of her official uniform but helps keep the sun off her face and neck. On a wide belt she carries a two-way radio, and she always has a pocket full of coins in case someone needs change for a dollar to feed the meters.

Starting at Northeast 2nd Street, Debbie uses a chalk stick to mark the driver’s side rear tire of each parked car, and records the times in a small notebook. She walks at least five miles per day as she monitors six parking lots and patrols the entire downtown area within three blocks of the Square.

“Sometimes people ask if I’m looking for bombs,” says Debbie as she chalks a tire.

If she finds an illegally parked vehicle or expired meter, she creates a ticket using a cell phone-sized computerized ticket writer and printer attached to her belt. She places the printed ticket in an envelope, also carried in a pouch on her belt, and leaves it under the windshield.

“If I’m in the middle of writing a ticket and someone comes back to their vehicle, I’ll delete the ticket,” says Debbie, who has worked for the City of Ocala since 2006. “I’ve only have three or four run-ins with someone really getting mad.”

An average day involves about 10 tickets but can be as many as 20 or as few as one. Debbie writes warnings, too, usually for little-known parking rules. For example, you can’t park southbound in a northbound lane, and when parking in a metered spot, your vehicle must face the meter. You can’t back in.

In between her chalk times, Debbie patrols one or two of the 14 city parks within five miles of the downtown square, rotating between parks through the week. She also does ranger programs for children and assists with parking for downtown events, such as Light Up Ocala during the holidays.

Born in Portland, but raised in Miami, Debbie considers herself a Florida girl. She’s sold real estate, worked as a bartender, and supervised a roofing company, but prefers her present job. She gets plenty of exercise at work, but as the mother of identical twin daughters, she’s in for more activity once she heads home.

“The city has been very good to me,” says Debbie with her trademark smile. “I love my job and I love being outside all day.”

“Even in August?” I have to ask.

“Yes,” Debbie assures me. “I’d rather be out here doing my job than stuck in an office.”

Think Ocala has some unusual occupations? Check out the following jobs found around the country. They just go to show there’s something for everyone.

Potato Chip Inspector—Responsible for overseeing assembly line after chips are fried, looking for overcooked or clumped-together chips that must be discarded. This would probably cure you from eating potato chips for life.

Professional Twitterer—Some major businesses and celebrities are actually hiring Twitter “correspondents” to build stronger followings and respond to fans/customers. Only in America could this be a real job.

Flavorist—Works for a research lab to develop new flavors for food manufacturers, including those making soft drinks, cereal, and baked goods. This position requires extensive knowledge of chemical compounds and five years of post-degree training. Hey, someone has to come up with the next Dr Pepper.

College Student Personal Assistant—Times have certainly changed since I was in school! Some well-to-do college students are hiring individuals to help them with everyday tasks and responsibilities. Isn’t that part of what going to college is all about?

Sources: recent-articles.com, businesspundit.com, employmentspot.com

Posted in Ocala Style Features

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