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Support for this American life comes from Sitka Salmon shares a community supported fishery delivering traceable wild Alaskan seafood since 2011, ordering recipes and more about their small boat fleet at Sitka. Salmon shares dot com. Use code TEFL for a special discount. From the BBC, Chicago, it's this American Life, I'm IRA Glass. Okay, so we're going through the gate here into the pipe. Yeah, we're going. This is this is our morning. It's the morning walk into the park.
It's everybody else split up into their different sections and get the park open and we'll start putting out prizes and get ready.
An amusement park in Kansas City, Missouri, called Worlds of Fun. What we going to be spending the entire hour today at amusement parks? Well, it's five minutes before opening. And I'm walking with Cole Lindbergh, who's 25, with permanently most hair and the cheerful vibe of the Bosom Buddies era, Tom Hanks.
He's coming to this park since he was a little kid and started working here as a summer job at 14 and then basically just never left. It became his real jobs.
Eleven years later, he is a full time year round employee. I love amusement parks.
Any time my family would go on vacation, we'd schedule it around an amusement park. Because I love roller coasters. I love to meet parks. I mean, I've walked this pathway that we're taking right now. I've walked it thousands and thousands and thousands of times.
When he was little, his family had season passes here and they would come a lot. He traveled to any new roller coaster to try it out, daydreamed about a job where he would design parks and build roller coasters. And when his dad drove him here at the age of 14 for a job interview, he wore a suit to that interview just sitting inside the park's offices. Would you utilitarian picture the principal's office at a public high school? Even that was exciting.
I remember being like kind of like, oh, wow, this is the inner sanctum. You know, this is the inner working. This is where all the cool stuff happens. And then, you know, the first time actually getting in the uniform, actually working in the park. I mean, I remember it to me. It was like, wow, this is this is kind of surreal. You know, I'm actually working in an amusement park now.
And to me, that was kind of like, awesome. You know, I was so excited about this.
Meeting that enthusiasm would diminish over time. But what's incredible about cool is that even after a decade here. Even after becoming an adult and working 60, 70 hour weeks every week, all summer. Even with the pressure in his current job of running a whole department and hitting financial targets and buying all the supplies and hiring and supervising over 100 young people, he is still pretty psyched about working at an amusement park. And it is not a glamour job. The Department Co.
runs the games department. It runs a fund is 32 games that you'd see at any carnival or midway. We get, you know, three softball's to try to throw them into a milk can or you throw beanbags at Target to shoot darts, to knock over a stack of cups.
Nobody comes to an amusement park for the games. Cole himself never went to an amusement park for the games, but he's an extrovert and he has filled the department with extroverts like Mallory Park is barely open, hardly any customers here at all. When Cole stops by her game on his morning rounds, Mallory loves talking on the bike.
Mallory does a good job. Hey, let's go. Go for. Try to get people to play.
Heidi. One challenge today for first. Forty seconds on the clock. And you could be walking away with some surprises. This is exactly how coal trains kids talk on the mike. Don't stop. Get a flow. Have fun. If you have fun, that's what's gonna sell the game. Watching Cole run the games department at Worlds, as fun as watching somebody who was raised here and who completely, thoroughly mastered everything.
It's rare to witness somebody so happily great at any job.
All right, let's gather round, guys. These are still people in cash controlling.
I know it's the first shift meeting of the day. About 30 teenagers and college kids mill around a big tree for the shift started.
All right, guys, listen up. Out. Let's do this. Here we go. Quiet, please. Real quick. Real quick. Here we go. Today is Saturday. Oh, today is a busy day. Today is the day that we have a very good day because there are going to be a lot of people playing games. And today, of course, is one of my favorite days. This season is a second round of the Sweet 16 tournament.
Let's take a look. I'm going to hold this up a little higher, OK? We've got one of the guys.
Sam holds up a poster board with tournament brackets on it like any sports tournament. Sweet 16 tournament puts the kids in all 32 games in the park against each other in Paris in a four week competition to make the most money last week. Half the games were eliminated post era, letting the remaining games know who they're competing with today.
Pegg's fury bullpen versus goblet toss alliances. Now we go any further. Could this possibly be a precursor for today? Yesterday, the number one game in the park was Scale Africa.
OK. Skell Africa is the scale game where they guess your weight or age. And it's in the Africa part of the park.
Hence scale Africa number four. And it's no surprise it's number one and always makes tons of money. No. All the games in the park are grouped together into four different teams. They call games, one games, two games, three in games four. And these four teams games one through four compete against each other all summer long, like teams at summer camp on a three month long color war.
Most other amusement parks don't go this far. Make things interesting for the workers. This park was a fun zone by a company called Cedar Fair that owns eleven amusement parks and six water parks. And Cole knows the guys who run the games departments at the other parks, and some of them do competitions like this between the employees.
But I don't think they do it to the extent of what we do. I mean, we every year I talk about, you know, we had the Deathmatch tournament, we had the Sweet 16 tournament a couple of years ago. We did a thing called Toss the Boss. And basically what happened was, is that every single day I'd pull a game out of the hat. And if that game was the number one game in the park for that day, then that section would get to throw me in the pond.
The pond is not a good looking pond. It's gross. And, you know, it smells. And the deal was, is that if you are the number going in the park, you get to throw me in the pond.
So finally, one day, the game that he picked from the hat that day tried the hardest and actually became the number one game in the park for the day. And. Of course, they made a video about this because, you know, the present day America Cope went, it told his peers, his colleagues, the guys who run the games departments out, the other parks, all about what happened.
I go and I tell the other about this. I showed a picture, you know, like, oh, there's me all soaking wet. And I mean, I kind of got laughed at, you know, like, why would you ever do that? And to me, in my mind, I was just like, why would you not do that? You know, why would you not want to get people excited about working in the game that they're in?
At least they may try. They may do a little bit more. And if I can get a little bit more out of them, we're good. Even if the game only makes a little bit more money, also, it's more fun for the kids. Exactly. It's all about more fun.
All right. So there's a lot of people in the park today. Now, I have composed a song about today which I now want to sing for you. And you can all sing along.
OK, Saturday. It's Saturday. Saturday. Saturday. Saturday night. Saturday. OK.
Today, I don't feel like riding in rides. I just want to play all the games that I really like playing mom ball when a giant frog or a big basketball yesterday.
I don't feel like riding a ride. Just playing games.
Good day, guys, everybody wants to get it on our radio show, we go to amusement parks all over the country. We see stuff backstage that we had no idea was going on like that song. We are Jonathan Goldstein story about moving to the Jersey Shore for a summer when he was 16. And we hear your stories. We asked you to call in with your amusement park stories and you told some great ones.
Today Show was recorded a first broadcast a few years ago when you could attend amusement parks without wearing a facemask or taking precautions to avoid a deadly and deeply contagious coronavirus. Let us return to those happy days, shall we? It's summer. It's hot, but spend an hour at a really fun place at a safe social distance. In fact, the safest imaginable that is over the radio. Let's ride the rides. Let's gorge out on terrible, great food together for an hour.
Cue the roller coaster sound. Now.
Gameboy groza. Following Cole Lindbergh around on his early morning tour of words, a fun park. I learned a couple of things. First of all, people play the games because they want to win the prizes. And so an important part of his job is actually guessing what prizes are going to excite people.
He kind of just go, it is what it is. Oh, gosh, sure. In the lemer, you gonna see what a lemur is? Yeah, people love these. This is a lemur. People play for this all the time.
This is one of our number one prizes, freedom of thought.
It's a fluorescent colored monkey the size of a teddy bear with huge eyes and a super long tail. When they put it into the dart game, the dart game became when it was popular, games in the park doubled its business.
I also learned the code invents games like Angry Birds, right. We ran a corner and I see why, he asked.
What we're looking at right now is a giant slingshot with with a launcher that you launch, basically beanbags at pigs. And we we built this.
So you got permission from the Angry Birds people?
Well, this turns out to be kind of an awkward question. Cole points out that this slingshot game is not actually called Angry Birds.
It's called Pigs of Fury. Pigs of Fury. So now this is one of our number one games. It's people love shooting and giant slingshot before they go out to Kansas City to meet Cole.
I watched his YouTube videos online. Yes, he has YouTube videos and I heartily recommend them. They are shot, directed and starring Cole. They are low tech. They're low budget. In this one, he was a Viking helmet and fake mustache and wire rimmed glasses, and he's walking through a video arcade. Those are his echoey footsteps that you're hearing. Next, he's inside what looks like, you know, this autumn, arcade machines with a mechanical car that picks up prices.
This one is big enough for a person to stand inside.
And Cole is inside it surrounded by huge stuffed animals. And he wraps when you come in.
Okay, I'm gonna stop the video right there.
When he says a bear, a dog and a giant monkey, then we have three quick shots of stuffed animal prizes. A bear, a dog and a giant monkey.
As the video continues, the teenagers on his staff join him. And they're all dancing around and they're hitting whack a mole moles on the beat and everything that they do in this video is so deeply uncool that, you know, that they must really like and trust each other.
And their total commitment to what they're doing actually flips the dirtiness and makes it kind of cool.
There are over a dozen videos all set in the amusement park with the stuffed animal prize is always playing surprisingly central roles like the sci fi special effects movie they made, where a mysterious ray from outer space hits the stuffed animal prizes all come to life seeking vengeance.
Keyline attacked me. I was in my teens and I knew would be fierce.
Semi normal video of the bunch is a training video. This one opens on call. He's in a suit and tie in front of a bookcase reading a book. He looks up, startled, as if the camera surprised him. Hello. How are you? I was just reading.
Welcome to the World of Fun Games Training Video. My name is Cole. I'll be taking you on this wonderful journey.
Here, when he says wonderful journey, he bugs at the camera with this gesture that communicates the idea. I know this is completely ridiculous.
In fact, the entire video seems to be making fun of the idea of training videos, while at the same time it is a training video explaining how to sign in, how to use the till card, how to stock prices.
I saw these videos and all I could think of was these people really love their jobs. And I thought about Michael Scott, the fictional boss on the office.
I'd say that there is a lot of Michael Scott in this job. I say there's a lot of Michael Scott in me. Probably I do silly things that everybody looks at me later. So why did he do that? Why did why was it deemed necessary for called a dress up wearing a big beard and a raincoat and tell everyone he lived downtown under the bridge and he was there to motivational speaker today. Hi, everybody.
I'm frilled wordage, as you know, and like God talking to you. What went through his thought process?
And I've run out with a squirt gun all the time. I got my big super soaker and on busy days, I'll take the super soaker and fill it up with ice water and I'll sneak around the corner. Isn't there a whole stand there?
And I'll just go up just so I'd spray across the whole group. You know, that's what makes it fun. They're going to remember Phil Bridges more than, you know, like anything else throughout the day. And so if they're talking about did you get to see what cold it was, his shift, meaning even if they say that was stupid or that was not funny. They're still going to be talking about it. And that's still going to get them happy about this, John.
So does it work in practice after all? If you think about it, amusement park jobs are not on their face.
Very fun. You know, taking tickets, strapping people into rides, convincing passers by to throw three balls into a cab. Well, the senator that he visited turned out to be one of the busiest, hottest days of the summer. It was a concert at the park which brought in thousands of extra people.
And of course, this was sweet 16 round two, which did seem to matter to the kids before the shift. And a couple of the other kids from Games three pulled Cole aside and crowded close to kids. Some other teams couldn't see.
So this is you have a secret weapon that is going to secret where there's a secret weapon and shooting Indiana guards. So that is that you made the costume and made the costume is awesome because we have a game with bananas that's in Sweet 16. You somebody running around in this costume to try to sell it kind of big and it's kind of graphics. Didn't mean I would like to be like. Did you just go buy fabric? No, I've had this fabric head, for example, and it's going to look like the bananas in my instead.
I like plums like that is more than exciting. People are really stopping taking pictures. Oh, me too.
Meanwhile, guys, in games four, we're doing great in Sweet 16.
All their games had survived the first round games. One was eliminated completely in the first round, a sweet 16 as four games to Max and Oksana pulling a double shift, helping to break the record for how much has ever been made ever in their two games, their not so secret strategy. All right.
So strobe light. Strobe light. You want to block lights out there?
Max and his team would dominate or setting up at a game called Rollerball, which is one of the order of games in the park. Basically, it's just skee ball. But as you get points, it moves a little wooden pig, which is in a race with all the other riders. This does make any sense. It actually doesn't matter. Here's what you need to know. Games, too, is hoping to turn this creaky 16 year old game, Rollerball, which never does well, do a crazy dance party they called Techno Ball Maxon.
Dominika brought in a disco ball. They brought in lighting here. And Dominic is explaining to Max how he wants to set it all up.
Yeah, we're gonna put a light on that toy chest. It's gonna put a light on that boxer shining at the disco ball. Disco ball is going to be moving. It's all dark in here. We want to walk on it. Big wall. What am I stepping on? Lights. Maybe it will be too much for half an hour before the park open.
Hayley and Claire had gotten to work early and we're down in games three by scale Africa.
And we want to set at the most prices that we could make the piles extravagant, do a lot of flash like and that is a lot of time. So we came out here early.
So just describe looking here. There's a pyramid here of turtles and there's Panda's lions.
There's gonna be one of tigers just gonna be each pyramid has over 100 stuffed animals in it, which is bigger than I think you're probably imagining. It's like nearly waist high. And so there are four big pastel colored piles of plush toys right in the middle of the walkway looking so, so easy to win.
Basically, every graslie guy, every day, every prize we got. Yeah, we're throwing it out here. We go big or go home. We really want to win.
We brought in streamers, balloons, energy drinks. We got a whole bunch and they got a whole bunch of gator aid. We brought in food for everyone. Energize. Get pumped up and hold a we really want to win.
We lost Deathmatch very painful battle years ago. I was lead of games three. This was my section.
Cole gets just as excited as the kids do.
When you get him talking about all the fun things that he did back when he was Haley and Kyra's age, working here, running games three dressed like his team with dresses pirates for the guessing game, and they'd be out of the scale and they do guessing pirates.
Ga your age, we are, you know, stuff like that. 2004 came around. We dominate. We beat everyone. It was awesome. And I saw him.
It is still so alive for him. They dominated in 2004 by tricking out one of the games with music and all kinds of commotion and turning it into a party, doubling its take for the day lights.
We brought my fog machine in from home because at the time I was in high school, I had a band and people flocked to it and we destroyed games too. We destroyed them that year. It was the happiest I've been because in 2003 we had gotten so close to winning and I just kept on saying two dozen four year games three would bring the Sweet 16 back 2004. And we did. We won. And I was really happy. Late morning, when I check back at games, three pyramids, a plush toys look pretty much exactly as big as they had earlier that morning.
Things were slow to use the business. One of the supervisors, Sarah, was standing on the roof of this little hut.
My guess is she's sitting on the roof and she also gets a hundred guesses.
My guess is, Lemon, I allowed myself to take a bathroom break. Thirty two guys walking by. You guys want to come play my game? Help me out. Get me off this bad to play. I can guess your age, mate.
This is a technique that I recognize from a thousand public radio pledge drives, and it was working about it solely for her as it works for us.
Strangers just don't care if some girl on the roof gets to take a bathroom break.
I'm stuck here. Get on the plane. To help me out. Hey, thanks for the welcome. You should come. I dare you. I can feel it. It sounds a bit weird. We had been, but we really had the softest turtles in town. You should feel what? They're really soft.
After a while, the Sarah switch technique and finally manage to rustle up a crowd through the simple tactic of making a series of insanely terrible guesses.
First, there is a dad who looks like he's 42 and in fact is 42. Sarah Guest is 25, then a grandmother who was standing there with kids and grandkids. Sarah Rachel gets through this woman's age on a whiteboard.
This could be really wrong. I get the feeling it's really wrong, but that's OK. We'll see you guys like this. Maybe I. I guess you're 37. It does really get me off. Congratulations. You got any bragging, right?
Sarah privately confirm for me that she did intentionally take a dive. We're just fine with Cole because it turns out it doesn't matter if the kids guessed right. The game cost five dollars to play. The prizes cost less than five dollars. Sara can be wrong with every single guest and they'd still make a nice profit. In fact, it's good to lose because people carrying prizes around the park are walking.
Advertisement for all the games cow's journey. Summertime employees like Sarah, two full time year round boss happened in a couple of steps. He said there's a kind of nerdy kid in high school in a small town.
It was nice to come to a place where his personality was rewarded.
I couldn't wait till the summer because when it was summertime, I get to come to Worldfund and work with people that are just like me and enjoy our whole summer together.
It's actually used that in his senior year at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. He got a phone call offering him the job of games manager and he dropped out of school to take it.
It's it's probably one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. But I said, okay, this opportunity is probably going to come along once in a lifetime, as you'd imagine.
It hasn't been such a popular decision with family.
So, I mean, I have a full year left. I'm I'm like one full year of college left. It comes up when you least expect it. It comes up when they are like, oh, no, you're working real hard.
But getting back to school or my grandmother now before you know, I pass on, you need to make sure you completed college with grandma all the time.
And I get a lot from the girlfriend, too. When are you going to finish? Because she just graduated college. His girlfriend of pretty serious. They just moved in together. They met in games back in 2006, though. She moved on from games.
I get that all the time, just like. We're not gonna be together forever if you don't finish college. I get it a lot.
How often will it come up?
Once a week. Maybe. Maybe once every two weeks. Depending on the week. I don't know. I don't know. Lots of very accomplished people don't have college degrees. I know Steve Jobs. But Steve Jobs. He changed the world. You know, I'm just a lowly little games manager in a small mid-sized park in Kansas City.
Who wants to play some games? By midday, down in games three. That is Dustin, he's wearing the full body banana suit that Hailie handmade for him, which looks amazing, but it is 94 degrees, which is sapping everybody's energy and business is slow.
Oh, all right. You guys have a great day, though. As the day wears on, people slowly migrate from the rides to the games. And by nightfall, when it cools off the guys and games to finally get techno by working, Max and Oksana are covered from head to toe in glow lights, cold round a corner. Together we see them in the distance and there's a crowd of three dozen people surrounding the game. It's fantastic.
Oh, my goodness. Oh, let's go look at Techno Ball. Look at this.
No, it's six of your staff. And two, three other guys all dancing in a big circle. It four other guys all dancing in a Sahgal techno music. And how many people are actually playing? Zero. Hey, Dominic. Hey, Dom.
That's Dominic, the team leader here at games, too.
Oh, look, DOBs, although I'm embarrassed, I don't know how many people are playing the game. I mean, a lot of tension. Yeah. Wait, why are we turning that into gameplay?
Polls suggest maybe they should dance inside the game instead of on the walkway in front of the game so people would be pulled into play.
Dom does not want to do this and listen to what a good Boskell is. His firm is very nice about it.
You're so close. I know you're so close to his attention. I just detected it. But then you didn't have anybody out here talking to them saying, hey, why are you playing the game? I know I was hoping that they would realize that they're not going to realize that, you know, that you better than anyone. You should know that they're not going to be like, oh.
It looks fine. I mean, all the lights. It's not going to deny the awesomeness, but I am going to say that than. I really think the day of parties are not going to help me.
When I walk down to check on games three, it is 10, 30 at night. Claire has been here for 13 hours since I saw her setting up pyramids of plush before the gates open to the park. These pyramids out raggedy piles, maybe half their original size, which means that they did great.
They got lots of people to play. They probably given away five hundred prizes for wrong guesses. And Claire has that exactly the kind of day the coach wants for all the kids. Did you have fun today? Yes, I had a lot of fun. I can. I had no idea what time it was until about 20 minutes ago when I checked. It just didn't occur to me that I needed to check the time because there's going by so fast.
Yeah. When when did you take your first break? Today. I haven't taken a break. Wow. Yeah, I guess I'm gonna do it. This is Claire's third year here. He's 18, going to Missouri state in the fall to study nursing. And she tells me what a lot of kids here tell me. She wouldn't keep coming back to work. It wasn't fun if not for.
Definitely not. I don't think any other boss would do like the rally days, the death match, a sweet 16, the toss, the boss, just all the fun stuff that we do that keeps us going through the season and just keeps this job exciting every day.
Sam, one of the leaders for Games four has been in for three summers, and he also says the call is the reason that he keeps coming back.
Honestly, no one else could do a better job. He was made to do this. It's funny, like watching him do something like sing a goofy song for you guys in the morning. You can imagine high school students and college students sort of rolling their eyes at somebody doing that, but nobody does know. It's weird. It's almost like that's that's the thing to do. Whatever Cole does is the thing to be doing at that moment. And we just we just all feel like that was the right move.
Do you remember what it was like the first time you saw one of his videos?
I do. I remember seeing it. And I was like, that's my boss. And he just made that video. And it was so cool because I went and even just on, my friends are like like who's this guy is like, that's my boss. That's so weird, because a lot of people would say, well, it's an amusement park.
You know, you're great at working at an amusement park.
That doesn't mean, by the way, that he is seen by his bosses as some kind of superstar. He gets respect. Sure. Nobody likes him. His immediate boss, Matt, thinks that there's nobody better at games in any of the 11 amusement parks owned by their parent company. Cedar Fair was working at one of the smallest of the 11 parks. So other games managers, bigger parks bring in way more money than Cole does. And games in the grand scheme of things is actually the smallest revenue producer at most amusement parks.
The biggest money in an amusement park comes from ticket sales. Then his food and he buys food, then merch, and then bringing up the rear his games. What Cole does has less effect on the company's bottom line than lots of people in the company.
And as much as Cole loves this job. He cannot but wonder. How long can a person do this job? So the one thing that I always say is, I mean, I'm 25 now. I started here when I was 14. And the weird thing is, is that I'm getting older, but everybody else in the department staying the same age.
Don't to set the tape right there. Yes, I know. Matthew McConaughey is confused, causing the film, too. But but the thing the thing I'm wondering for you is dig deep.
Do you feel like somehow accidentally in this job, you got stuck in high school, you got stuck at fifteen. Like there's a part of you where you're still back there.
I like working on the park with the kids. Absolutely. 100 percent. The goofball part. The goofball part. The part where you get to act their age instead of your age. Yes. Does that make me sound bad? I mean, I'm still a manager. I'm still overseeing 100 people that work for me, you know? But at the same time, you know, 10 years from now, I mean, I don't think I could still be a goofball.
I think that just kind of get creepy.
Oh. I mean, you're thirty five and you work with a bunch of high schoolers and a gate. Is that creepy. Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know. Do you worry that you'll never be happier in any job than you are in this one. Yes, absolutely. That's a weird fate to know that you're in the best job you may ever have at 25. Especially when it's a job that, you know, in your heart came last.
We first broadcast the story in 2011. Coal is now solidly in his 30s. He left his job awards to fund years ago, work for a while in sales at a toy company. Travel a little, giving motivational talks about being a boss and an amusement park. Mario works in sales at a tech company, and he's a dad which he loves, really, really loves coastal crazy about amusement parks. He actually helped set up an alumni association for his old staff at the Games Department, worked out a deal with words of fun to how old games kids to go back to the park and work a shift in games.
Relive the glory. His latest project is figuring out how he can go the roller coaster in his backyard. Coming up, cronies float in the air. Scary things happen on rides and bold steps forward for paintball targets everywhere.
Our hour of amusement parks continues in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.
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It's July. It's hot. We want to go someplace fun here on the radio. Subways, lots of us, me included, would never visit today because of Corona virus. Today's show is a rerun recorded before all that. We've arrived at Act two of our program, Act two great adventures.
Well, we asked you, our listeners, to call in with your amusement park stories. Nearly 300 of you did. And one of our producers, Jane Marie, listen to all of those voicemail messages. She joins me now. Hey, Jane. Hey. So, Jane, trends, patterns. What can you tell me?
Carnies. Oh, yeah. There's like creepy Carneys and hot Kearneys and Carneys that people married and a bunch of people called and told stories about Kearneys like making the ride go too fast or keeping them on the ride to Monaco. Yeah.
These two calls that I'm going to play are from Barry Silver and Penny Delaney Coffin. And they had the same exact, like crazy HURNEY story. Only they happened years apart and in different cities. But it's fun to imagine they're talking about the same guy.
My amusement park story involves the Gravitron. Yeah. Oh, and let me interrupt, Rockit, because the Gravitron that was like the most popular ride people talked about in the phone calls, huh? That's the one where it's a cylinder and you climb in it and you put your back up against the inside wall of this elevator.
Right. And it spins around in the four drops out. Yep. And you're like stuck to the wall.
There was a carny there and he was waving us all in and we had purchased tickets. And I guess our first sign that this is gonna be an interesting ride was when he said no to the tickets we offered him and just kind of waved us in. I was working for The World of Wonder Sideshow. Last month I had made friends with the Carani who is running the Gravitron, and he started up the ride and the music was blaring. And I remember it was Motley Crew's Dr.
Feelgood. Anyway, he gave me a private showing where I'm riding and started this thing. Music blasting And the lights were going and we were spinning around in the centrifugal force was pushing us up against the wall. And the next thing I know, this Carnie steps out from behind his operating box and comes out into the centrifuge and proceed to pull himself up in places, feet on the spinning wall and walk over the riders step by step with his body completely horizontal to the earth.
He's standing on the wall next to me, surfing inside of the Gravitron. That's right. The ride operator left the control panel to start surfing the inside parallel to the ground. The force was holding his feet against the wall and it was just the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. Best experience of my life.
So I know because because you told me right before we sat down that a lot of the stories that people couldn't tell were love stories, tons of love stories or like like stories, you know, like summer flings, romance, his first kisses.
There were people that lost their virginity on rides.
You don't do that. But then there were the proposals. There were a lot of people proposing at amusement parks, some more successfully than others.
My name is mentorship. And in May, my boyfriend proposed to me on a roller coaster. We were on a viper. He said, Will you marry me? He popped open the ring box and the ring fell out of the box and down into the pit of vipers. It was pretty awful. I started trying to get the right operator to stop the car. The director of operations at the park assembled a team of about 20 people and they searched for the ring for hours.
And that happened in May. So the kicker here is that that ring was actually my grandmother's ring and they're actually still searching for it. We have yet to find it. So I called Natasha actually to see if they'd found it yet. And she said that the park had called her recently and said they found her ring, but it wasn't hers.
It was another engagement ring. Really?
Well, it's good to know that her fiancee wasn't the only dummy.
Right. And then we got a bunch of scary calls. So this is a scary one. Wendy in Austin, Texas, She and her friend went to the fair and they were getting on a roller coaster. It was like one of those medium sized fair roller coasters where there's one big drop and then I loop de loop. And as she was getting on, she was like fussing around with her purse.
I reached up to pull the harness down over me, lock above my head, and I have nothing holding me into this coaster. So I look over in horror as the Akani guy with that was running the right looks at me and he pushes the button to go and the sting starts to blow. And I'm telling him, wait, wait, wait. I don't have a seat. But he doesn't stop.
So I now so now she's like going up the hill. So she said you turned to her friend and she just decided to wrap her arms and legs around her friend. I know. And so they go down the hill and then they go through the loop Delu. So she's upside down.
I now just like he under her friend as tight as I can to stay inside the ride. And what really got scary is we whipped around the corners. I almost got thrown out. But I didn't.
She said that she had whiplash for a week and that she was too young to realize that she panicked to sued them. Mm hmm. So there's another story from this woman, Susan. Her three year old wanted to go to the fair, but it was super late at night. And so they humor them and they're like, sure, we'll take you. But they figured he would fall asleep on the way there. But he did. And he stayed awake.
So I said, OK, I'll take you in for one ride on the Ferris wheel and then we'll go back to the car has been denoon put his shoes on because we didn't think he'd make it there. So we took him to the Ferris wheel and he kept pointing to the scrambler saying that he wanted to go on the scrambler. And I said, no, no, no. And we got off the ride. I held the change for the person behind me to come out.
And when I turned back around, he was gone. He could not find him anywhere. And as we're looking around and we have a whole group looking for this little three year old boy I looked at and he was inside the gate of the scrambler and the scrambler was going. His head was just at the car level and the carny woman stopped the ride and she stopped it in time. She walked over, picked him up, handed him to me.
She didn't say a word. And I took him and he said she was really scary. And they said that woman was an angel. And so I will never bad mouth Akani again.
I'm glad we finally have some unequivocally pro koine material in this story. Me too. Hi.
Hi. And my story takes place in Disneyland. And I was really excited to go on the haunted house ride. I'll see court. Anyways, the door opens and you are let into a room and the door opens and the dark, empty room. And there is a person, a little little person who was in the room already. And I thought it was part of a haunted house. So I started screaming and he was looking at me because I was screaming and he was screaming at me.
We are both, you know, each other. And then we both realized that it was not part of the haunted house and that we just waiting in line with each other and we tend to like nothing happened. And finally, there were the puke stories, a lot of people caught in that pier. And as the story more than tense, I was on the right and I puke.
Yeah. I was on a ride and I puked or I was on a ride and I got puked on. Well, I don't know who that was or anything had like a twist.
Was it a surprise plot twist?
The one that stands out for me is this lady was on that ocean motion ride. You know, that's like a big boat that swings back and forth and basically just goes up and down. Yeah, the swings. It's a Capernaum. And so she was at the highest part of the boat and she saw the guy on the other end of the boat start puking. And so then she was like swinging down at you.
And did you see the there. I love it.
I could see in slow motion this line of vomit coming towards me and it hit her. But two seconds later, it spotter's the entire right side of my body.
Nowhere to go. You can't get off the boat.
Jean Marie, she used to be a producer here these days. She is the host of the podcast The Dream Show we really like. It's about multi-level marketing schemes and the people who get caught up in them. What I didn't do on my summer vacation. You know, sometimes somebody ends up in an amusement park who really has no business there at all. It was not but the thrill at the thrills that the amusement park offers as a teenager. Jonathan Goldstein spent a summer working at an amusement park, one that was situated right on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey.
It is your typical amusement park on the beach.
There's a boardwalk. Three wooden piers with roller coasters and a Ferris wheel and lots of dropped popcorn and hot dog buns with the seagulls to eat. It's been 29 years since Jonathan went to work at Wildwood. And he always wanted to go back. And so we sent him along with one of our producers, Jonathan Mann. He VAA quick note to listeners, this story has nothing explicit in it, but it does make reference to the existence of sex, as does this warning.
The smell of garbage is really bringing it all back in a rush. Maybe. Maybe I could bring back a bag with some salt water taffy. After a whole religious rebirth that I won't go into here, the summer of my 16th year found me seriously considering Yeshiva Rabbinical School for the fall.
My rabbi suggests that I spend the summer at this religious camp just to give me a better idea of what was to come. But my best friend Evans said that summer camp was for suckers and religious camp was even worse. And then if I came with him to Wildwood, he personally make sure I had a good time. I'll get you elde really good. He wrote like a blood oath in my 1986 high school yearbook. That's elde as in the letter L.
. And getting elde seemed important, especially if I was going to be giving my life over to the Torah, a text that placed greater emphasis on getting seed as in circumcised.
And so I went to Wildwood. And now I was back. How close did you live to the pier?
I mean, as you've seen getting here, my my sense of direction isn't my forte, man. It's like the whole summer I was just like floating around and I got a jar of formaldehyde.
The plan was to go down and get jobs. It was what a lot of teenagers in my town did. Evans older brother had done it years earlier and had arranged a job for Evan, handing out darts to Patsy's eager to pop balloons on the boardwalk.
And I was supposed to get a job, too. But on our fourth night, they're still without work. I sat on the edge of my bed and felt that sense of being a failure. This feeling would eventually become a staple in my life, something I'd grow comfortable with in bars, gyms, offices and bedrooms. But just then, the feeling was strange and new. And I didn't quite know what to do with it. We lived in a coed boarding house run by a woman with a face like a clenched fist named Mrs.
D.. I spent my days hanging out at Evans Balloon Stand, where his boss finally became so tired of having me around that he pulled some strings to get me a job working as a change boy at an arcade. If you walk down the boardwalk, there was a point where it looked like the fun had come to an end.
My arcade was just a few yards past that.
Do you remember where? Here. Yeah. I'm thinking I'm pregnant. Like, I think. I mean, if anything, maybe that little shack right over there was the arcade where there's roller coaster going over it now. It's sort of like the little house that Alvy Singer grew up in and Annie Hall.
You've still got pizza parlors, games with unwinnable prizes and the vague threat to violence about to erupt. In other words, Wildwood hadn't changed much. Back then, everything looked like 1986. Now, 1987, though, as it turns out, the arcade I worked at is long gone.
Even at the time, all the other arcades were carpeted in air condition. But mine was like an outhouse with all the oldest skanky est games, other joysticks, having had the joy jerked right out of them years earlier. On the Fourth of July, I remember watching the fireworks through a little crack in the wall right above the Donkey Kong machine.
I felt like a young Tony Montana just having come to America, except the only person I wanted to kill was myself.
Being a human change machine is just one of the jobs that seems only to exist on the boardwalk, like the guy who's paid to dance in front of the T-shirt shop to draw customers. Or the girl who blows bubbles all day outside a souvenir store.
Yeah. That's my job. I take my cue from there. That's your whole job is just blowing bubbles and silent laser trying to laser in people's eyes.
Of course, the bubble girl tells me she is from Bulgaria. The Bulgarian bubble girl is very young, looking like first time away from home, young. And as she explains to me her work responsibilities, she is approached by a man who turns out to be her boss. He plans a big kiss on her cheek as though marking his territory. Is it a good summer?
All right. All right. This boardwalk's getting bad and nighttime's is boring. His bad people stabbing people and shooting people. You go to bars all the boardwalk where the shooting is down in the waters under the boardwalk.
What goes on under the boardwalk? Sex. Drugs. I park on any of my store and you can see underneath the here and you catch him all the time down there. They go right down the steps. I don't need the verbal sex under the boardwalk. Man Yeah. Yeah, I do.
Yep. All right. See you later. Boy, it was creepy. My old boss, Mike, was creepy, too. Mike always wore sunglasses and a red skintight bathing suit that for some reason I could never quite fathom. Always appeared to be wet. My friend Evan said that it was unwholesome how Mike's arms were so short. He's like a T-Rex, Evan said the first time Mike paid me. He had to get all crooked to get his wallet out.
Most of the time I was in the arcade all by myself, and hardly anyone ever came in, just little kids who sat on the ancient skeeball machines asking for free games. Those old skeeball machines haven't really changed.
Now, my technique used to be I kind of do a sort of bank shot, like there was this kind of sweet spot that I would hit on the right bank. That was really close, wasn't it? You've got the lowest amount of points you can get. Like my son that I'm taking. You've got the lowest one. Ahead. That little beer cozy is going to be mine no longer on my hand had to be so frigid when I'm drinking a Budweiser.
Mike was an alcoholic, and he left me to open and close the place most of the time. Sometimes he would stagger in in the middle of the afternoon and lay down on the lopsided pool table once comfortably spread out. He'd ask me to cover him from head to toe with the stuffed animals for skeeball so he could sleep without getting caught by the old woman who ran the pier. Every time I put Mike to bed.
I became more and more convinced that Yeshivot was the place for me when he wasn't goofing off drunk. Mike was furthering Evan's work of trying to get me elde. He would invite Nancy. The 19 year old redhead who ran the water square game next door over so he could tell her about how she should diverge. Analyze me. Nancy was a Jersey girl who wore low backed shirts that showed off a large, complicated dragon tattoo. She told me it was a Chinese wind God and then an old bike.
Her boyfriend had given it to her. It started at her neck and slithered all the way down into her pants to blow across the tundra in the afternoon when business was slow. Nancy would come by and tell me about how Mike had just been over pleading on my behalf and how she tried to explain to him that we was just friends, right? Oh, yeah. I'd say swallowing back the hard lump of foul tasting, virgin tears congealing in my throat the best.
Listen to this music, do you feel like you're going around like the corner and you're going to see, like Joe Pecci beating someone to death with a baseball bat? It's all I could think about. It's a song called Wildwood Days. You hear it? Wildwood Days and Wildwood Nights.
My producer, Jonathan and I walk down the boardwalk where we discover what's got to be the very worst job in Wildwood. Most stuff I do is just off the top of my head, whatever I can think of on the spot. This is Ducks' Bonus Junior. The sounds you hear are people shooting at him with guns. Dotts bonus. Junior is a human paintball target. He shuffles back and forth and eggs on the crowd while being splattered like a Jackson Pollock canvas.
You know, I'll I'll put it as blunt as I can because this is out is on my tax form. So I'm an entertainer, not the dancer icon. But basically I get suited up in a hockey gear and I get shot at all night. And that doesn't that it doesn't start to get to you a little bit. You dream about it. I love it. It's entertaining to me because this is one of the jobs that can be as creative as I want to be.
And, you know, it's just like, you know, web pages.
You know, when you go in, you can do whatever you want before duds, human paintball targets simply shuffled from side to side, holding a shield. Then one day, Dotts dropped his shield and began to moonwalk to Soulja Boy was to follow. He also invented shadow boxing at the paint balls and running towards the shooters. Is protected by a suit that looks like what you'd come up with if you tried to build a Michelin Man costume out of moist newspaper and epoxy glue.
People are armed with paintball guns. Yeah, that we provide because a lot of people try to, you know, they want to bring their own, but we don't allow just not going to happen.
So the suit that you're that you wear protects you from from any pain for the most part. Yeah. There's some weak spots, but, you know, I can't say where the weak spots are because I'm a lot of people find out, you know. And then it becomes a little dangerous. You know.
Before agreeing to talk with me, Dad wanted to finish his break with the woman who works next door at the old timey photo place. As it turns out, she's his wife.
We met on this very boardwalk. Dotts might spend his day getting fired at in a cage, but at least on his time off, he is someone to talk to, someone with whom to share the secret weak spots in his armor.
Back when I lived there, Wildwood had this reputation for being a big party town. People were supposed to be scoring like nuts on the boardwalk every night. And actually, they were the only real action I got that summer, though, was in the form of a single kiss. I later referred to it as the kiss that ruined my summer. It happened while I was out walking on the boardwalk. Late one night, I saw a group of older girls maybe in their early 20s, coming toward me.
One of them, a little ahead of the others, was sort of spinning with her arms stuck out and her long blonde hair all over the place, just as she got right up close to me. She grabbed the back of my neck and put her lips right on mine. I remember as she pulled back, I spastics, she grabbed onto her wrist. I didn't want her to leave. Her friends had to pry my fingers off one at a time.
As she stood there smiling at me, all stoned and airy. That night, back at the boardinghouse in our room, I spent the rest of the evening obsessing, as it might have been the last one I'd receive until I got married. That kiss pretty much felt like my swinging bachelorhood in Yeshiva.
I'd be the mysterious one with a past for the rest of the summer.
I couldn't pass a woman on the boardwalk without thinking that we should somehow be meeting in a kiss. That that's how life should really be.
It turned walking along the boardwalk into a relentless drizzle of small but horrible disappointments.
I didn't know it then, but that summer would prove the best one I'd have as a teenager, even though I was worked like an indentured servant, giving every penny of my earnings to Mrs. D, even though I made no friends and even though I only made it to the beach. But once, where I sat on a mildewy boarding house washcloth exhausted and pale, that whole summer felt like some big fat vacation just because I was 16 and away from my parents for the first time.
When I got back home, I didn't end up going to Shiva.
I didn't bring home any pen pals, money or happy romantic memories.
But I did bring back a pair of black pants covered in small white skulls.
They were really baggy and I had to wear them with 10 inch cuffs at the bottom. But when I showed up for my first day back at school, I thought I looked really punk rock. I fight like anyone who never BNL, but they were the pants of someone who got elde all summer long.
Jonathan Goldstein is the host of the podcast Heavyweight. Take it out on Spotify or wherever you get your podcast. There's a list of their best favorite episodes, just search heavyweight starter kit on Spotify.
A lot of winners today. Harder. Well, what would you say to get a guy like me to come over?
I don't know if I would call you in. You don't look like the type of guy that would spend money here. You know, he had three shots.
Was he saying that I'm too cool a customer or is he saying you're too cheap a you? You see men on the rollercoaster last night when I was feeling down, Bosnians said, you know how this feels that we let. Film is produced today by Jane Marie and me with Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Jonathan, and he barely supported Robyn Semien. It was a ship. And Nancy Updike, senior producer for today's show, is Julie Snyder. Production help on this rerun from Nora Gill, Kathryn Raimondo's Stone Nelson and Matt Tierney.
Special thanks, David. Bill Childs. Dave Althoff. Kim Martin. Jeff Pott's. Dave Dickerson. Amy Silverman. Lindsay Young at Maury's Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey. Original Music Scoring in Act one of our show by Dave Hill featuring Dave Hill on guitar. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PR X.
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I can't believe we weird. We had we really have the softest turtles in town. Feel what? They're really tough.
I'm IRA Glass Bag next week with more stories of this American ghost.
Next week on the podcast This American Life, Hannah Jaffe, while it spent years reporting in one middle school, she investigated the school's history from its beginning in the 60s to the present day, and she realized she could put a name to the unnamed force that so often gets in the way of improving our public schools.
That force is white parents and white parents can mess things up for everybody else and they don't even know it.
It's next week on the podcast on your local public radio station.