Monday, June 2, 2014

Let's Pack This Joint

Weekends are the theme-park equivalent of prime time TV. Concert weekends are prime time juiced. Six Flags has to have at least 1,000 employees on any given summer weekend -- and still we're understaffed. Thus from time to time, a poster would go up in the backroom informing us of a "mandatory work day." That meant everybody was required to show up, including your humble servant, even though I didn't have an assigned section -- or shift.

I operated as a "swimmer," my unofficial slang for somebody working in Pool, where new hires went instead of a regular shift. I found it both lucrative and flexible. I could nearly set my own hours because several games sections were always looking for at least one or two workers on any given day. I usually got Britannia, but I could pull a few shifts in a stretch in Old Chicago, an occasional one by the Ninja rollercoaster, or in Spanish Backstreet babysitting arcades if I wanted a breather. And people always needed somebody to fill in for them. I could work for three or four different people over the course of one week.

On concert nights, guests would jam the games in lines multiple bodies deep and just keep on coming. At times I would have to remind myself of the appearance checklist outside wardrobe, which mandated clean grooming, no gum and at the bottom, in capital letters: "BIG SMILE!" I had trouble doing it when pushed to the max.

As I wrote in my journal on July 31, 1990:
Saturday was a pain in the rear. We had Belinda Carlisle out at SF and, as usual, it was a mandatory work day -- and also, as usual, it was crowded. The day didn't start off so bad (I was working 2-10) when I started at Ring-A-Thing, but when I came back from break and went to King's Knights -- whoa. People just kept buying balls -- and buying -- and winning -- and buying. I think I told Bones [one of the forepeople], "Get me out of here!" They did, but I went to Highland Hoops.
Highland Hoops was that game where people won more often than a lot of us thought they should. The premise was easy: throw a hula hoop around a stuffed bear on a raised platform that's only slightly smaller than the hoop. If the hoop lands flat on the table under the platform, you're a winner. The physics of the game were supposed to make it hard for the hoop to land flat, but I suspected the bears actually helped straighten out the hoop, cutting the house edge.
All three sides were open at once and people just kept on buying hoops and winning bears and buying more hoops -- ack! I was getting worn to a frazzle, and when that happens, I get plenty ticked off. I don't do a lot of things I should do, like telling people, "Thanks for playing," or "Sorry you didn't win," or the things you're supposed to say when running a game. I was talking, yes, but under my breath so at least I could say some of the things I wanted to say and release them from my lips.
Welcome back to the grit of my scoundrel youth. But I found guests would walk up to a game with giant stuffed animals ("plush" in Six-Flags-ese) hanging from any mountable position, and still they would ask, "What do I win?"
When the smoke cleared and the damage lay among us -- 10:00 pm -- people just didn't want to leave. [This was known as a "soft close".] And we had to still keep taking money and giving away bears. Strange. The park can close and some of the rides can close, but we can't. I kept telling people who came up to play we were closed (which I wasn't really supposed to do, but I was so tired) and wished everyone would just clear out so I could leave. I must've looked like a genuine jackass, but at that time I didn't really care. Service Superstar I'm not, but so is about 85% of SF's employees. They're mostly black tags like me or foremen (oops -- I mean forePEOPLE), and I feel fine with that.
The next day, after giving away about 260 bears at Highland Hoops, they modified the game to make it harder to win. They ditched the giant bears and replaced them with small tigers that wouldn't improve the flight path of the hoop. Problem solved -- until the next concert night.

Other workers told me about the worst-ever concert experience: New Kids on The Block. The park sold out and stopped admitting guests. Lines everywhere. Games constantly busy. Rides constantly busy. Hours to thin the crowds out after closing. And who knows how many bears given away.

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