Wednesday, May 11, 2011

There's Only One . . . Lagoon {part 3}

Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory. –Franklin Pierce Adams

The last two Wednesdays have been filled with memories of my first job at a local amusement park called Lagoon. Today is the last installment. As a quick recap, my first two summers there, I worked as a ride operator. The next two years {winters and summers} I worked in the Rides Office as an employee supervisor, doing scheduling and other fun stuff. After my second summer in the office, I requested to become a Ride Area Supervisor, which was a lateral move so I got to keep my parking spot :wink:.

The park was divided into four areas and four supervisors were assigned to each area. I was a supervisor in area 2 which was affectionately known as Kiddie Land because there were 10 children's rides in the area. There was also a haunted house and the big wooden Roller Coaster, making 12 rides in all. I was a little disappointed to be assigned to Kiddie Land, but it turns out that that area has the least guest complaints of any of the areas because the patrons are children and instead of yelling at the employees for having to wait in line too long or because somebody cut in front of them in line, they do all their complaining to their parents :rofl:. It works out nicely because the kids are worn out after a day in the sun and the parents are worn out from a day wrangling their little kids in the sun and so they all go home early, which means that Kiddie Land gets to close early too.

This 5th and final summer was undoubtedly my favorite of my years at Lagoon. The three other supervisors and I rotated shifts and responsibilities. Our days were divided into two shift and two of us were always on duty; one would work the Roller Coaster and the other would "rove" the area. The other supervisors kind of deferred to me in a lot of things because at the ripe old age of 20, I was the oldest of the group and had been a supervisor for two years already, where this was the first year for all of them. This meant that I had opening roving shift a lot of the time because they didn't really care for it. I had to be in two hours before the park opened and would spend those two hours doing safety checks on every ride in my area, except for the Roller Coaster, which was under the supervision of the other Area Lead. As the ride operators came in and did their safety checks, they would call the Ride Office which would then page me to their ride so I could verify that they were ready to open. The rides in my area started opening at 11:00 and by noon everything was open and I got to go to lunch. A relief operator would take the place of the supervisor on the ride who would take my place roving in the area. After lunch, my afternoon consisted of giving bathroom breaks to employees who had already had their lunch and couldn't hold it 'till shift's end, refilling water bottles and moving from shaded bench to shaded bench while I monitored the employees in my area. It really was the best job ever.

One of the rides in my area was an old-fashioned carousel. It turned 100 years old that summer and in honor of that, it was refinished. All of the animals were hand-carved masterpieces and each was given a beautiful new paint job. While the wooden figures were in the art department getting make-overs, they stripped down the wooden floor and refinished it. The exterior of the ride was given a new paint job and she was all spiffied up for her big birthday. The Carousel is one of my favorite rides and is still in operation nearly 20 years later. Here's a bit of trivia I learned about Carousels and Merry-Go-Rounds: a Carousel has a variety of animals on it, while a Merry-Go-Round only has horses.

I have so many fun memories of this summer. Like the morning I had to fish a dead rat out of one of the little {cement} ponds underneath a kiddie ride. The ride was called Red Baron and consisted of a ring of sea planes connected to a center pole. The planes went round and round over this little pool of water that was no more than 6" deep and the kids could make their planes go up and down. When I came in to do my safety checks, there old Templeton was, floating in the pond. I have to say at this point that I highly doubt that he drowned in between the time that the maintenance men did their checks around 7:00 am and when I got there, shortly after 9:00 am. I'm pretty sure he drowned in the middle of the night when it was dark and quiet and there were no humans around. In any case, I called my supervisor, who got a pond skimmer from the water park and a plastic bag from a food cart and we fished Templeton out and tossed him in the trash but not before we had someone snap a photo of the three of us, me holding up the clear plastic bag with the dead rat. Oh, and don't worry. The ponds are drained and cleaned out every Sunday night with plenty of bleach.

Another day I won't forget was one relatively quiet afternoon when I got a page that there was a fire in the storage room in Terroride, the haunted house in my area. As I ran across the park, I went over procedure for a fire in my head. When I got there, I was dismayed to find that the ride operator was still sending cars loaded with people into the ride. I shouted at her to stop sending cars, grabbed the little metal clip-board from her station and smashed the glass on the fire extinguisher box on the wall just inside the entrance to the ride {come on, now. Admit it. You've always wanted to smash out the glass on a fire extinguisher box too}. I pulled the fire extinguisher from its case and dashed around the corner to the storage room. I threw back the sliding door, eyes wide with panic and fire extinguisher at the ready and there stood my supervisor {the same one who helped me fish Templeton out of the pond}, who put his hands up in front of himself in a protective gesture and said, don't shoot! With him was the park manager of the day and a little bag of goodies to present to me, as they were making me the Rides Supervisor of the Week :lol:. The following Thursday at our Area Lead meeting, we were all reminded that on the ring of keys we wore on our belts each shift there was a key to unlock the fire extinguisher boxes and would we please use the key rather than breaking the glass :rofl:.

This last memory I want to share with you is really quite an experience. In each area there is a back-up generator in the rare case of a power outage. The generators are started every Sunday evening and run for 10 minutes to make sure they are working properly. The supervisor who checks the generator is also responsible for making sure that the gas tank is full. I didn't work many Sundays; I felt like it was important for me to do Sunday-type things on Sunday so I made an arrangement with the other supervisors. This arrangement involved me working a double-shift nearly every Saturday so that I could have Sundays off. They seemed quite fine with the arrangement. And whoever worked those Sundays did an excellent job with the checks on the generator, because one stormy Saturday night the power went out and it fell to me, the roving supervisor on duty, to get the generator started. I'd only done it once or twice, but was relieved to have it start right away.

All of the ride operators had been trained on what to do in a power outage and as the supervisor of 12 rides, it was up to me to trust them to do as they'd been trained because I had my own procedures to follow. My first stop was at the kiddie coaster, Puff the 'Lil Fire Dragon, to make sure that the train wasn't stuck on the lift. Once the train leaves the lift, the ride is run by gravity, but if the power goes out while the train is going up the lift, the kids would be stuck hanging there until someone with the key and the training could let them down. All was well when I got there, so my next stop was the Terroride. In my opinion, the place is even creepier with the lights on and if the power goes out, the back-up defaults to a weak lighting system hooked up to the generator. Super creepy. It is a safety hazard to have people wandering around back there in the low light, so the operators on duty walk through reminding the people in each car to stay seated and they push the car closest to the exit out. Then you repeat the circuit until all the cars are out. Once that is done, it is on to the big wooden Roller Coaster.

As the power went out on a busy night, there were two trains running. Generally, while one train is running the course, the other is in the station being loaded for the next ride. As it leaves the station and heads up the lift, the other train is coming into the station for unloading and reloading. There are proximity sensors in the station which do not allow the trains to get too close to each other. If the train coming into the station gets too close to the train leaving, the proximity sensor will override the computer and stop both trains so that there isn't a collision. When the power went out, so did the braking system and the proximity sensors {although they shouldn't have}. The lift stopped with a train on it and the train coming into the station did not stop, but coasted through and headed up the lift, bumping the train that had stopped there.

It was a long process to evacuate each of the 48 people aboard these two trains. Their lap bars had to be manually released with a little key by an employee. They then had to be escorted down a walkway next to the track by two employees {who were over the age of 18}; one in front of them and one in back. Once they were back in the station we had to take down their names and addresses for legal purposes before they could leave. This process was begun before I got to the ride by the supervisor on duty at the ride as well as the operators on duty and the park managers whose protocol was to help out at this particular ride in a power failure. That night is one of the most vivid memories I have of working at the park. It is all sort-of travelogue-ish written out like this, but it was an adrenaline rush, to say the least.

Working at Lagoon really was the best job I ever had. The smell of sunblock always makes me smile because sunblock was a staple during those summers. When I go back to play, I look at all the locked gates that block access to the inner workings of the park and remember that I used to hold keys to those locks. There is a distinct smell of french fries and funnel cakes in Carousel Plaza, the food pavillion adjacent to my old area, Kiddie Land and that smell makes me homesick for those days filled with great friends, my first taste of independence and leadership. Two of my siblings also worked there. My brother, who is five years younger than me started working there my first year as an office supervisor. He worked there for five seasons and was a supervisor his last two summers. My sister, who is 10 years younger, worked there for three summers and was a crew lead {in between crew operator and supervisor} her last year. She was offered a try-out for an office supervisor position twice, which she turned down. She loved working out on the park too much.

Working at an amusement park like this one has a shelf-life. You can only move up the ladder so far before you hit a dead-end in the availability of positions to be promoted into. And so at the end of my 5th summer I decided it was time to move on to other things. I think about that job often. No other job has ever been so much fun. Of course, there were some unpleasant things about the job, but the good far outweighed the bad. If I could go back and re-live a part of my life, I think it would be those golden days at the amusement park.

Read more:
Part 1
Part 2


Nancy Near Philadelphia said...

I have so enjoyed reading this series, Elizabeth. I grew up near Willow Grove Park in Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. In the early years, John Philip Sousa used to play there. My husband (of nearly 44 years) and I went on our first date there. I think I mentioned to you earlier the Michener book, "The Fires of Spring," a good chunk of which is set in Willow Grove Park; I believe you would enjoy it. I like your blog in general; this series has been wonderful.

Jen said...

I too enjoyed the series. Thanks for sharing!

RazakFamily said...

Agreed....Lagoon ROCKS!!!!

Nancy, Near Philadelphia said...

I have so enjoyed reading this series, Elizabeth. I grew up near Willow Grove Park in Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. In the early years, John Philip Sousa used to play there. My husband (of nearly 44 years) and I went on our first date there. I think I mentioned to you earlier the Michener book, "The Fires of Spring," a good chunk of which is set in Willow Grove Park; I believe you would enjoy it. I like your blog in general; this series has been wonderful.

Jill said...

You are forgetting, Our other little sister did end up working there, too. But she hated it more than she loved it, I think. I also think she did only 2 summers. But I can't remember. It was after I'd quit.

But, for me, it really was the best job ever. I can't wait to go work there as a "school-mom" for all the honor roll field trips when our kids are big enough (all in school) that I can do that. Plus, I hear you still get discount tickets for your family for working as a "school-mom." Awesome!

I still think of it, often. But my hubby tends to roll his eyes. He didn't work there, so doesn't quite understand. Actually, most people who learn of my employment there are suprised or skeptical of it being the best job ever. But, as I said, they just don't understand.