Amusement Park Lessons

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family

Getting to work at ten in the morning to go stand in what I charitably referred to as the Hut for eight hour stretches was probably not how most people envisioned their summer but when you live in Santa Cruz for as long as I have, working at the Beach Boardwalk seems almost like a rite of passage. This is our Disneyland – part carnival, part amusement park and right on the water. When I was hired, they gave us an overview of the park in case anyone asked. It was originally built as a special events venue in 1909 but burnt down only a few years later. The mini golf course used to be an indoor swimming pool, and the park itself has been around for over a century. I already knew the history. I grew up here, so the Boardwalk was a constant in my life since before I could remember.

In summers, we went more than once a week. We learned to stand as straight as we could so we could be tall enough to get onto the ‘big kid’ rides and to slouch down when the younger kids from the daycare wanted us to partner with them on the rides we were too old for. We played laser tag and mini golf on weekends and video games in the casino arcade when school was cancelled. Our junior year prom was held at the adjoining venue hall. Still, even though I knew the Boardwalk was quintessential Santa Cruz and that most people had probably worked there in some capacity at one point or another, I had never considered that I would be one of them.

I grew up in this place, but I still felt like I was seeing it through different eyes when I came in for my first day of work. I had grown up here, and yet I was unbelievably nervous. What in my life had ever prepared me to operate a game? I had spent years at this place and when they told me I was working at Pong, I was afraid to ask where that was. I was afraid to be wrong, to have a rude customer, to get bored, to hate it. I had grown up at this park but I had never worked anywhere.

The Fourth of July at an amusement park isn’t patriotic in any way – it’s a madhouse. I worked morning shifts pretty much exclusively and I knew it was bad when the adults all seemed to be clutching beer cans even before opening. This was my first weekend and I was terrified. On the Saturday, a man with two small children screamed that he would report me to my supervisor because he didn’t like the prize he won. On Sunday, I was in the Hut, as people swarmed, shoving money through the open windows as I tried to explain that it was one at a time.

I wasn’t having fun on the rides with my friends anymore. I was suddenly responsible for others in a way I had never been before. I helped a little girl find her mother again. I cheered for people when they won games and comforted them when they lost. In my interview, the hiring director had asked me what my definition of success was and I told her that it was trying your hardest. Even when you failed, you had to learn and keep going. At the Boardwalk, you keep going. I learned that even though you aren’t prepared for everything in life, you will never learn how to do it until you try.

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