Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer Jobs and Character Building

It’s August. Already summer is winding down. The Back-to-School sales are in full force. Pretty soon we’ll be packing up all our daughter’s worldly possessions and taking them and her to UNC Greensboro for her sophomore year of college.

LIke a good many college students, she had a summer job. She worked at a beach resort hotel, cleaning rooms. It was a lot of hard work for not much money, providing the experience that builds character and motivates a lackluster student into hitting the books. Because no one ever wants to do a job like that again. Ever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about summer jobs lately, especially since I’ve just finished Joyland by Stephen King. It’s the story of a young man taking a job at a small amusement park in a beach town in North Carolina. The fun house is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young woman who was murdered there four years earlier.

“We sell fun,” the proprietor of the Joyland likes to say. 

It reminded me of the job I held for the last few weeks of the season at Kings Island in 1976. It was a bit more upscale than Joyland, with fancy roller coasters, fountains and a replica of the Eiffel Tower one third the size of the one in Paris. And it’s still going strong, though changes have been made.

But it was hard work. I was assigned to “Les Taxis,” a ride in which patrons drove cars with lawn mower motors around a track. If you were as tall as the Yogi Bear sign at the entrance to the ride, you could drive, a cool thing for a ten year old who was itching to get behind the wheel of a real car.

Along with putting people in the cars and hopping on the running board to guide each car to a stop, part of my job was telling kids they weren’t tall enough to drive. We had a piece of red tape on a post to make sure. 

There was a reason for that. Below a certain height it was possible for a kid’s teeth to get knocked out if they were hit from behind.

I remember my uniform was a checked blue dress with a ruffle at the bottom and puffy sleeves. Employees were not allowed to walk down the main drag of the park during their work day. (International Street). Instead we used an “Employees Only” passageway behind the stores on International Street to get to the canteen for our breaks. 

There was a hierarchy among the workers. The Litter Gitters were on the bottom, then food service then the rides workers. And among the rides group, the ones at the top of the heap worked on the roller coaster--at the time it was the Twin Racer. 

Performers in the park's live shows would come to the canteen too, but we did not consider them as true employees. They sat apart from us, wearing their costumes, which were form fitting suits of red, white and blue satin. It was the country’s Bicentennial and the show had a patriotic theme. They were not sun burnt and sweaty like we were. They had a future in show biz, or at least that’s what they thought. We were just trying to make a few bucks before going back to school. Our future had nothing to do with what we were doing at Kings Island.

Reading Joyland brought back memories of that summer. The hard work, the camaraderie among the employees, the annoying patrons. We were supposed to refer to them as guests, but a lot of them I wouldn’t invite into my home. Or park as it were.

Here’s a link showing the retired rides at Kings Island. Sad to say, Les Taxis is one of them. 
Summer jobs like that build character. And I suppose a bit of mine was built that summer.
When I sold fun.

Judy Nichols is the author of several mysteries available on Amazon.