(photo @ mcgruff-tid.com)
When I was in college, a group of my friends and I had begun working during the summers at a local amusement park known as American Adventures. Located off Highway 41 in Marietta, Georgia, American Adventures was the red headed step child of the Six Flags theme park family. It was the type of amusement park that you see in horror movies or in B rolls for work safety videos. American Adventures (or AA, as it was ironically called) wasn't terribly impressive, but it had enough going on that it couldn't be mistaken for a poorly constructed county fair.
The theme park itself stood in the shadow of one of Georgia's greatest landmark's, The Big Chicken, which was a KFC with a gigantic robotic chicken head stuck on top of it. If you needed to give directions somewhere in Marietta or had a hankering for some early onset diabetes, The Big Chicken would always be part of the conversation.
Hang a left at the bucket of gravy, then buy larger pants.
Maybe it was because American Adventures was close to this landmark and people ended up there by accident, but somehow our amusement park managed to pull in quite a few customers every summer. Very few of these patrons, however, ever seemed to fit the definition of being "amused." The employees were also not a group to be commiserated with; in fact, they were often just as difficult to deal with as the people that were paying to walk through the gate.
To say that I worked with an eclectic cast of characters was a bit of an understatement. I was fortunate to have my best friend, Joe, working with me for part of the time. Otherwise, it was like a cast of characters out of a poorly made independent film about angst driven young adults.
First there was my boss and long time friend, Jimmy. Now right there, when I combined the words "boss" and "friend", you should realize that we had a problem. It was very hard to take someone seriously that I had once pantsed in front a girl he was talking to and (after gaining access to his AOL Instant Messenger password) set his profile and away message to imply that he was a repressed child molester.
Jimmy didn't help matters by being absolutely terrible at his job. He showed up every day, but he rarely if ever worked at the go kart track where we were stationed. We could usually find him baling pine straw, picking up golf balls from the miniature golf course, or hiding in the laser tag area. He also took his frustrations out on us by giving anyone that recently ticked him off a really crappy schedule, particularly me.
However, I can't honestly say in good faith that this was completely Jimmy's fault. Here is an example of the rage cycle that would inevitably lead to one of our conflicts:
-A bunch of us would be at Jimmy's house in the evening.
-I would set Jimmy's clock 2 hours ahead, knowing that he had to open the next morning.
-Jimmy would show up to work before the cleaning crew got there.
-I now had to work closing shifts for the rest of the month.
At least Jimmy had his choice of parking spaces that morning.
Despite all of this, Jimmy was still a good person and a fun guy to be around after work hours. As far as the other employees, matters of character were a complete crap shoot.
One of the people I worked with was also named Joe, except that unlike my best friend, he had absolutely no people skills at all. Before the customers tore out onto the track at 10 mph, we were required to give a speech on safety procedures. This speech was pretty straight forward, but Joe had his own idea of what its proper delivery should be:
Actual Speech: Welcome to American Adventures! Please listen to the following instructions.
Joe's Translation: ALRIGHT YA'LL SHUT THE #### UP AND LISTEN!
Actual Speech: The gas pedal is on your right, the break pedal is on your left.
Joe's Translations: IF YA'LL DON'T KNOW WHICH PEDAL IS WHICH, YOU RETARDED!
Actual Speech: Please refrain from swerving or bumping into other drivers.
Joe's Translation: AIN'T NOBODY ####ING CRASHING INTO EACH OTHER OUT THERE, OR I WILL GET OUT THERE AND #### YOU UP MYSELF!
Despite Joe's rough exterior, we did discover that he had a soft side. On Father's Day, Joe informed us of his excitement about being taken out by his girlfriend and his son. This news was a little unsettling since Joe was only 17, but hey, kids, make mistakes, right?
"So Joe, how old is your son?" we asked.
I did the math on that one and was simultaneously repulsed and admittedly, a little impressed. When I was between the ages of 11-12, the most game that I had was getting through Mario Brothers without using the warp whistle.
Next we had Antwan. Antwan was actually a pretty cool guy. He was a dependable worker, a fun guy to hang out with, and he had a good sense of humor that helped pass the time when things were slow.
One day I tested this sense of humor beyond a line that should never have been crossed. I made a "your mom" joke directed towards him. Now when I make a "mom" joke towards anyone, it is always in the rhetorical sense; I don't actually mean for the joke to be directed at someone's actual mother. In this situation, I was completely unprepared for two things:
1.) In some parts of black culture, "your mom" jokes are never funny or acceptable.
2.) Antwan had an heretofore unforeseen anger management issue.
In case you haven't figure it out by the context of the story yet, Antwan was black and currently very upset with me. After multiple threats of physical violence and a recommendation by another coworker that I leave and let Antwan cool off, things were fine. With Antwan, things were simple: Don't make mom jokes.
This joke would have gotten me killed.
With Charlie, however, things were more complicated.
Charlie was a bit odd. I don't mean that in a "what a wacky sense of humor" type of way. I mean that in a "I thought Charlie was mentally challenged when I first met him" type of way. He actually turned out to be a pretty smart guy and often ended up being a better boss than Jimmy. Things at the track always ran smoothly when Charlie was there; it was his attempts at humor that could be a little off putting.
One day, Charlie decided to try and trick me into eating a laxative. This is a perfectly normal and awesome prank; get the person to eat it inside of an offered candy bar, crush it up into their water cup, etc. Charlie, however, went in a completely different direction with his attempted trickery.
"Hey Nick," he whispered to me.
"Take this. It'll get you messed up, man," he said as he attempted to press a strange looking pill into my hand.
"No thanks, I don't do that type of stuff."
"C'mon, it's only 50 milligrams," he said as I continued to shove the pill back towards him.
Yeah, 50 milligrams of explosive dumps
As I continued to refuse Charlie's faux drug pushing, he eventually relented and admitted that he simply wanted to make me poop a lot.
Finally, there was Michael. Michael was completely normal. We got along perfectly fine and he didn't have any weird quirks at all. That's why I was completely shocked one day when he ran me over with a go kart. Another time, he sprayed me with gasoline because he "thought it would be funny." Michael later admitted that a girl we worked with that he liked actually liked me, which had mildly ticked him off.
It was fortunate that we talked before Michael saw me in the parking lot
I told him that not only was I not interested in her, but that if he was willing to wait 3-4 weeks, she would have a crush on him, too. She'd had a crush on nearly every guy that worked there. One time Joe (the one who was my best friend and did not impregnate a girl as a preteen) gave her a ride to an employee after party. When he came over to pick her up, he walked into her house to discover that the girl's father wanted to talk to him about his "intentions" with his daughter. She had apparently told her dad that Joe was her boyfriend, which was a total surprise to him. I'm not sure if this advice comforted him or not, but he never ran me over with a go kart again, so there's that at least.
It was a painful, tiring, and sometimes dangerous job (particularly when we took off the speed governors and had demolition derbies around the race track after hours). We always came home smelling like the gasoline fumes which probably contributed to some of our odd behavior. This wasn't half as bad, however, as our customers. That will have to be a story told another day...
Hopefully I can remember the
stories after all those demolition derby crashes.