My first real job, and by real I mean the kind where you have to file taxes and have working papers if you are 15 and all that, was at an amusement park. Here in southern California, you can’t spit without hitting someone who worked at Disney, or Knott’s Berry or Universal or what have you when they were a kid, but they are not anything like the my place of teenaged employment and it’s not polite to spit anyway.
I worked in a very small, family owned amusement park. How much amusement anyone ever got out of it is debatable but it is the park that my grandmother would take me to when I was just a wee ickle girl. It’s been there forever and in fact, used to be the home of one of the oldest roller coasters and merry-go-rounds in the US. I think the roller coaster is now gone. It was pretty sketchy safety-wise when I was a kid; I hate to imagine what it would be like now. When I worked there I liked to get in a little early and watch the building and safety crews run their daily tests on the rickety old thing. First they would walk the length of the track, up and down the hills. Then they would run the cars, empty, a few times. Then, every morning, at least one guy would have to ride the rollercoaster. I think they took turns. I don’t know how they felt about it but I can remember watching a big, burly guy in a maintenance uniform sitting in the front car, legs stretched out, riding round and round the track. I was always a little bit jealous.
The park was pretty small. I know that over the years it has grown, but only slightly. There are now bigger and better and far more technologically advanced rides. There is a water park taking up valuable parking spaces and I think there are even some big pavilions that house fancy shows but when I was there, well…small town amusements. One rollercoaster, a scrambler, a tilt-a-whirl…the stuff you can find on any midway really. But it was a fairly cheap and entertaining day out. And in the summer, during the season, just after Memorial Day, the tiny park was jam packed with people.
I got my job because I knew someone else who worked there. She worked in the ice-cream stand but I started out in the picnic area. It wasn’t a pretty job and I didn’t like it at all. My first day was spent washing the nastiest pots and pans I had ever seen and cleaning out a sink trap that actually made me cry. My second day was spent serving greasy pork to people at a company event. It was early in the season and the park was only open on weekends. I had decided that the next weekend, my second, would also be my last.
I came to work that second weekend and I was given a uniform shirt. The first weekend I had only been required to wear blue shorts and a white shirt. The shirt was quickly ruined but I guess you have to prove your mettle before receiving a uniform. I got mine the day I planned to quit. I went up to the picnic area and was just getting up my nerve to give notice when they told me they needed me to help out in the pizza stand. I ended up working there for several more years.
The park has been on my mind lately but I am not sure why. Maybe it’s the tiny scars on my wrists that I see when driving that make me remember that one bad day with the deep fryer. Maybe it’s the chilly weather that makes me think of the 500-degree pizza ovens. I haven’t been back to the park since I left and I don’t exactly miss it. I met a lot of people there and all kinds of people. The food staff was mainly high school girls, the management was mainly college boys and the rides operators were mainly…well, I guess it wouldn’t be too far off to call them carnies. It was a weird job but a perfect one at fifteen. We worked hard and we had fun. What more could you ask for? Oh, right…money.
The other day I said that if I wrote my autobiography I would call it, oops but I have always wanted to write a book about the park and the people who worked there and call it Small Amusements.