Summer in Shabby Land

by Cami Buckman, Staff Writer

While most Aztecs probably spent their summers sleeping in until the early afternoon hours or soaking in some sun, I spent my summer working as a ride operator at a shabby amusement park.

As a child, do you remember the excitement you would feel when waiting in line for the bumper cars, or maybe the Tilt-A-Whirl?

Do you also remember wondering why the ride operators seemed so dull and blasé when to you, a theme park seemed like the greatest place in the entire world?

Well, that was me — not the giddy child, but the lifeless employee. However, if I’m going to be completely honest, I only worked as a ride operator for a week and a half. In my defense, just one week working there was enough to ruin any summer. Allow me to explain.

For obvious reasons, I will not reveal the name of this amusement park.

However, for all intents and purposes, I will refer to this place as Shabby Land.

Shabby Land is one of those places that reside along a freeway, the type of place that obnoxiously displays on a giant marquee the names of the children who poorly decided to have their birthday parties there.

Basically, Shabby Land is a carnival that unfortunately does not pack up and leave after one month.

“Why even apply to work at a place like Shabby Land?” you may ask.

Well, about a month and a half into summer, I had pretty much given up on the job search.

Businesses were not returning my calls, and interviews kept falling through.

In my last desperate attempt to find some work before returning to San Diego, I saw on an online job posting that Shabby Land was hiring. So, I applied thinking that working as a ride operator wouldn’t be so bad. Boy, was I wrong.

Right off the bat, I should have seen the two red flags vigorously waving in my face.

On the Tuesday morning interview I had with a manager, I saw no guests in Shabby Land.

I repeat, absolutely no guests.

To my surprise, Shabby Land was open for business and had been for two previous hours.

Who would want to work in an amusement park that the public didn’t even want to attend? (Apparently, I did.)

If that flag wasn’t big enough, I should have seen the second one when a manager asked me: “Would occasionally working on your feet for 10 hours be a problem?”

Instead of running away and abandoning the interview right then and there, I bit my tongue and with a forced smile said, “No, that won’t be a problem.”

Second, the Shabby Land uniforms were absolutely atrocious.

If I wanted to wear an oversized, unwashed red polo with tan pants, I would apply to work at Target. As if I wasn’t already a fool for agreeing to become as a carnie, I definitely looked the part.

Third, telling a child they’re too small, or too tall, to go on a ride is basically the same as wearing a sign around my neck saying, “Hey! I hate children, and I hate fun. Sorry I am ruining your day!”

On top of me basically being Shabby Land’s version of the Grinch, I learned that parents will do anything to get their children on a ride.

To the dad that whispered into his toddler’s ear to stand on her tiptoes as I measured her, I still cannot let your daughter on the ride.

To the mom that insisted her 14-year-old son could ride the attractions in “Kiddie Land,” I still cannot let your grown son on the ride.

Lastly, to the mom that tried to distract me while her 3-year-old snuck into a seat on “Flying Animals,” I applaud your creativity, but I still cannot let your daughter on the ride.

As much as I loved saying, “Please stay seated with your seat belts fastened until the ride comes to a complete stop” hundreds of times per day, Shabby Land was not for me.

After a week of looking like a bozo in a red polo, standing for hours in the blazing heat and making little kids cry, I decided to officially quit a few days later.

However, even in all of my misery while working as a ride operator at Shabby Land, I did learn one thing: I definitely know where I will not be working next summer.

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