My Favorite Job
At 46 years of age, I think I can finally say that I have established my career. I have been holding this job for over fifteen years, have gotten higher certifications, and constantly learn new things on the job. And I do enjoy it. It is also fitting, that I am “paying back” the reason that I am alive today, medical research.
Fifteen years at a job is quite a milestone for me. I have had more than a dozen jobs in my lifetime but prior to this, held my last two jobs five and six years respectively. Before that I was lucky to see the first anniversaries, and before that, it all depended on what month of the year it was.
While my current job is great, and great to have one, I did have another job that was probably my favorite, working at an amusement park. I worked at Dorney Park for two years. My first year was as a game attendant, but it was my second year after graduating high school that rocked as a ride operator. The the pay stank ($2.35 an hour – $1.00 under minimum wage) and the hours were horrible (some days worked from noon until midnight), from a social angle, it was the best job in the world.
As luck would have it, just as in school, I ended up being the last one picked to assign to a ride. It could be because of my short stature or perhaps that I always stood quiet, but I almost always got picked last for things. I was assigned to “The Sea Dragon”. I had not idea what that was, but as we left the personnel building to head into the partk, a surreal feeling came over me.
I had grown up in this park as a young child. Dorney Park was still one of the original “free” parks, the kind of park that Grandma and Grandpa could take you, and not be charged to sit on a park bench to watch their grandchildren enjoy rides. In fact, at Dorney, a public road actually stretched and wound through the park with several crossing locations. You got on rides with either a ride bracelet or a fixed amount of tickets. As a child, I had been on every ride in the park, though I may not have known their names. I was going to be going behind the walls of one of the most fun places I had ever known.
The Sea Dragon took quite awhile to get to as it was in the upper end of the park up a hill. It was a newer expanded section of the park and two of the newest and coolest rides stood on this hill, The Flying Dutchman (a roller coaster similar to a Wild Mouse ride) and the Sea Dragon. The Sea Dragon resembled a pirate ship and simply just rocked back and forth like a playground swing. It just turns out that it packed a little more force on the abdomen and depending on where you sat, the forces doubled. Plus, even more cool, it blasted music which really helped to make my day go quickly. Okay, so it was early 80′s music, but between the music and the experience of the ride, I was operating one of the best rides in the park.
I have never had a job where I got to interact with so many people, having so much fun. The Sea Dragon constantly had a long line, a lot of times due to repeat riders. It was not uncommon to have conversations with people waiting for their turn on the next ride. And there was another reaction that I had not prepared for, girls were talking to me en mass. I did not resemble Quasimoto by any means, but I was a fairly shy guy and was not known to start conversations. I had developed friendships with other park employees, but it definitely caught me off guard to have so many girls talking to me. Reflecting back, I know it was not me, it was the ride. It was the easiest way to get the furthest, highest, and fastest seats (on the ends). Hey, I had self esteem issues. What did I care? I had some really nice looking girls talking to me!
But there was one girl that was different. Like a scene straight from the movie “Grease” only I am in no way as sharp looking as Travolta, and we were no were near the ocean, and I know nothing about fixing cars, something special had grown. And that is where that story will end until another post, whereas I want to continue on, why an amusement park ride operator was my favorite job.
As I was saying, I got to meet alot of people. But unlike my current job, as an amusement park employee, we were not stacked on top of each other, or cooped up inside an office. And because all of our work areas were different, different rides produce different results, when we spent time together, we had a lot to talk about.
There were three main things that we liked to do once our work day was over and the park was closed. Either go see Rocky Horror (over and over again), party, or ride a couple of rides. None of the three produced great results, but lots of memories. With no parental supervision, I was never missed late at night to do as I wanted, and I was never left out.
After the park was closed, we had roughly about a half an hour before security would do their sweep of the park, so we always had time for one or two nightcaps of rides. Which would have probably been okay had we just ridden the rides like normal patrons. But nooooooo, we found new ways to make them exciting. It is amazing we never made the newspapers due to some horrific accident.
One thing we used to like to do was bet “you can’t make me puke”. This is where people put up or shut up. All you had to do was outlast the ride operator without puking. The Sea Dragon had a break release which could extend the ride quite considerably. But with momentum reducing each swing, the effects also lessened, so my ride was usually not challenged. The ride to challenge intestinal fortitude was called the Monster, an octopus like ride that went around in circles, as did the cars, and the arms would go up and down. There were two clutches, one to spin the ride (the cars spun on their own), and the other clutch raised and dropped the arms. But being an older ride, you could “pop” the clutch meaning you could shotput someone when the arm was at its lowest point thrusting the people into the air until it reached the top of the arc. I lasted just under 45 minutes, but lost the bet. Then of course there was Iceberg “rugby”. This was an indoor “teacup” ride but as the ride was moving, we were tossing around Nerf footballs. Ahhh, good times. I did not say they were smart.
Though we got away with our shenanigans after hours, during park hours that was another story. Some of us were just doomed to get into trouble, and others, like me, were just plain misunerstood. For instance, I had one of the coolest rides in the Sea Dragon. That also meant I had some of the longest lines. So on busy days, I was ordered to make sure all seats were filled before starting the ride. But people wanted to sit furthest out from the middle, and those front two seats on each side nearly always sat empty because there was no rush. One particular day, and it was busy, with supervision watching activity, I was adhering to the “no empty seats” rule. Then a couple of intoxicated riders gave me a hard time about not getting to wait until the next ride, and started cussing me out. I had enough and told them to get out of line and off my ride. My only problem was I did not do it through security, so techincally I was in the wrong and I would be punished for it. But the funny thing about my personality, if I feel I have done nothing wrong, and I know you are going to need me when all of the other college kids leave for school, well, I got pretty ornary.
The park was not going to fire me, and I knew that because in a few weeks, manpower would be so short, and I was one of the few people who knew how to operate all of the rides. But that did not stop management from punishing me. I would be assigned to less pleasant rides to operate, and to retaliate against them for doing it, I would intentionally screw up more so that I would not be put back on that ride. Eventually, they would have to put me back home on the Sea Dragon. But management was intent on making me crumble.
The first ride for punishment was twelve hours of turning door handles on the Paratrooper, a kind of ferris wheel. But when I complained of my hands hurting the next day, management decided to put me on the Sky Ride. Of course I got bored by the end of the night, and actually convinced riders to let me send their stuffed animals up on cars following them. I got caught doing that, so the following day I was sent to Tot Spot, the kiddie area rides. A person can only handle so much of the electronic horn buzzing and so, in spite of the park deciding to stay open later that evening, I shut down Tot Spot at the park’s advertised closing time. Come on really, what toddlers should be out past 10:00pm anyway? Then it was off to the Glass House, a see through maze, and all I had to do was sit there. I had enough, I gave my notice. When they realized that I did not care that I was going to lose my end of season bonus, management backpedaled because as I said, they were going to be understaffed the two Fall weekends when college kids left for school. I was asked what it would take to convince me to stay, and then it hit me, Thunder Creek Mountain, the park’s ultimate log flume. It was either that, or I was going home.
Now you would think after all that, I would manage to stay out of trouble. But working at Dorney Park was always fun, and that was not going to change. Let me tell you about TCM. Log flumes + females wearing white = jackpot. There is a reason the drinking age is 21 and not 17, because teenagers can really be stupid, unfocused, and have poor judgement. But we were creative. There was a tower at the top of the climbing hill, an observatory tower to make sure all the boats were properly spaced and the ride operating perfectly. I mentioned to make sure that the boats were properly spaced. Well, if they were not the safe distance between each other, around a couple of turns and under a bridge, was a brake that could be used to stop the next boat and create the safe distance needed. But a neat little trick for a perverted little mind like I had, was that you could pump the button, hence pumping the brake, and guess what would happen? Water would come shooting up over the side of the boat. So if the water fall did not get you, I was going to get you. I mentioned the white shirted guests right? Well, I never heard a complaint out of my co-workers down at the loading station, nor from management. Until one time, a guest thought the ride had come to a stop and panicked at the rush of water over the side of the boat and jumped out of the boat. I panicked and let go of the break button, and the boat sailed off on its own without the passenger because she jumped out. I had some explaining to do. After a lot of discussion, it was agreed that it would be best if I went back to the Sea Dragon as there had been no behavioral issue with me except for a rude guest.
After Dorney Park closed for the season, during maintenance/cleaning, a fire started with a grill located next to the wooden carousel. Nearly one third of the park went up in flames and with it, my childhood memories and the memories of 1983. I went to the park to pick up my bonus for working until the end of the season, and saw the devastation. I have only been back to the park a couple of times in the past 25 years because it is just not the same. Now it is no different than all the other big amusement parks with a water park. And grandparents have to pay to watch their grandchildren laugh and have fun even if they do not ride the rides.