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6 Circles of Hell

(By popular demand, here is the editorial about my worst job ever–ride operator at a Six Flags amusement park. As this editorial has nothing to do with Japan at all, it will probably be moved to Outpost Nine in the immediate future. Also, this is Part 1 of 3.)

Work sucks. That’s pretty much a given. The vast majority of us probably wouldn’t work if there was some way to just magically make money while sitting on the couch and watching Knight Rider reruns all day long. Unfortunately, there isn’t, at least not that I know of. Sometimes, you get lucky and you land a job that you actually like and don’t mind working. That’s awesome. But then, at least once in your life, you get a job that doesn’t just suck–no, it transcends the very concept of suck, bringing a whole new level of pain and suffering into your life. For me, this Job of Divine Suckosity was a ride operator at Six Flags, Marine World* in Vallejo, Ca one summer.

*Apparently, the park has since been renamed “Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.” New name, same brand of crap, I imagine.

But Az, you say, aren’t amusement parks places of fun and happiness? How could a job there bring so much misery and suffering? Grab a Snickers, because I’m about to educate you, and yes, you’re not going to be going anywhere for a while.

I worked in an area near the bay. A long, long time ago this place used to be called Marine World Africa USA and was mainly an animal theme park. There was a stadium near the bay which featured a dolphin show. However animals just ain’t what they used to be because the park wasn’t doing too well, especially with Great America not too far away. So Six Flags came in and began introducing more rides and roller coasters. Flipper and his pals were given das boot for a Batman Water Show. There were about three carnival-type rides behind the Batman show, and it was this area to which I was assigned.

You know though, however much I might complain about being a ride operator, it could have been worse. At least I wasn’t Batman. This wasn’t the Adam West Batman either, with the blue and gray pajamas and the drawn-on eyebrows. (Seriously, go take a look–we complain about nipples on the Schumacher Batsuit, but West had drawn on eyebrows. Holy Maybelline, classic Batman is a Japanese girl!) We’re talking Post-Burton Batman. Heavy, black rubber. I imagine this would be hot in any situation, but try to picture wearing this suit in a hot summer day in the California valley…Yeah.

There were three shows–11AM, 2PM, and 5PM–something like that. There’s one part in the show where Batman exits the stage and Bruce Wayne debuts. While Bruce is on stage Batman has to cross over to the other side of the stadium, which meant that he would run behind the stadium, which was right in front of one of the rides I regularly operated. As the day went on, you could see it taking its toll on poor Batman.

11AM Show
Kids: Hey look, it’s Batman!
Batman: Hey kids! I’m Batman. Remember, always stand for truth and justice, and eat your vegetables!
Kids: Cool, thanks Batman!
Me: Man, Bats sounds a lot like Superman these days…
Batman: Okay, I’m off to fight evil! See you again kids!

2PM Show
Kids: Hey look, it’s Batman!
Batman: (running considerably slower) Hey kids. I’m Batman. I’d love to talk, but I gotta run, Gotham needs saving and all.
Kids: Wow! Good luck Batman! Kick some ass!
Batman: Yeah, sure, bye-bye now.

5PM Show
Kids: Hey look, it’s Batman!
Batman: (Dragging what’s left of his oven-cooked remains behind the stage.) Yeah, yeah, I’m Batman, shut the fuck up and get out of my way.
Me: Okay, THAT’S the Batman I know.

The other problem with the Batman show was that it featured a soundtrack that sounded like 1960’s Batman meets porn. “It’s BAAAAAAAAAATMAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNN! WA-NA-NA-NA-NA-BOW-CHIKA-WOW-WOW!” I was subjected to this musical turd twice a day, six days a week, and I can safely say that had this not been just a summer job, at some point I would have stolen the Batman suit, and while wearing it, gone on a rampage at Six Flags headquarters, leaving a trail of blood and despair behind me until (if) I was finally stopped.

In this area, there were three rides that we were assigned to. By far the best was the train. It was a simple little tram that ran along the perimeter of the bay. The driver pretty much just pushed the lever forward to move the train. The second man sat in the back and made sure nobody started throwing things, projecting any bodily fluids or randomly breaking out into musical numbers. And that’s about it. There were no safety harnesses or anything like that, and the train pretty much loaded itself. The only real obstacle was that sometimes ducks would cross the train tracks, so the driver would have to stop the train and wait for them to clear out so that we didn’t cause irreparable psychological harm to all the kiddies by mangling Huey, Dewey and Louie. The park even gave us a water gun to help get the duckies moving. And c’mon, how great was this? Just sit on a train as it circled around the bay, with the breeze keeping you cool in the summer, and occasionally you get to super-soak a duck. Fucking awesome.

The second ride was the “Around the World” Ferris Wheel. If Lionel Hutz was still around, he’d sue Six Flags for fraudulent advertising because this was a pathetic little ferris wheel. “Around the Cul de Sac” would have been far more appropriate. This “ride” wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just tedious. As we had to load each car one at a time, it took forever to load and unload. The actual “riding” portion was only two to three revolutions, so all in all, it just wasn’t worth it. The ferris wheel always had a decent sized line though. I guess for the kids who couldn’t handle the big boy roller coasters and the parents who were getting tired of having their intestines turned inside out. For us ride operators, aside from the tediousness, there wasn’t much to hate about it. No unwanted body fluid spills (usually), no safety restrictions or harnesses, just load em up and send em round.

The wheel did at least give riders a nice bird’s eye view over the park. Not that there was much to see. Actually, I take that back. There was at least one bonus attraction that came with the ferris wheel. It was located next to a sea otter habitat, and at the top of the wheel, riders could look down into the habitat. On certain nights…when the moon was out and there was a certain hint of magic in the air, there was a very special show at Six Flags Marine World. I was operating the wheel, with a young girl as my second/backup. As I was rotating the ride, in one car, a mother was trying to cover the eyes of a young boy who seemed very excited.

Mother: (As the wheel is going by.) How many more iterations of this ride are there?
Me: Well, one or two.
Mother: Can you perhaps make it a bit shorter?
Me: Is there a problem?
Boy: The sea otters are loving each other!
Me, Girl: ……..?
Mother: It’s quite inappropriate for children. (Her car goes up to a point where conversation is now impossible.)
Girl: Do you suppose that boy meant the sea otters were having sex with each other?
Me: That’s what it looks like.
(Their car reaches the top again.)
Boy: Yeah! Go boy, go! Jump! Jump!
Me: What the fu-…
Girl: Man, I wanna see some sea otter sex!
Me: Well, just get on the wheel then. I’m not stopping you.
Girl: Sweet. Gonna see me some otter sex.
(The car comes back again.)
Mother: Is this ride almost finished?
Me: One more spin ma’am. Sorry about that.
Boy: All right, one more spin! Sea otter porn is so cool! I hope they’re still doing it!
Mother: Quiet you.
(Their car reaches the apex.)
Boy: Aw man! They’re sleeping now.
Girl: Damn, that was fast!
Me: C’mon, cut the man a break. He’s had a hard day doing tricks for people. Let him sleep. Let him sleep.
(The car comes back–time to unload.)
Me: Thank you for riding, and I’m very sorry about the extra show.
Mother: No no, I guess it’s just a part of nature, right?
Boy: Mom, can we come back tomorrow? And ride this ride?
Mother: Even if we did come back tomorrow, there’s no guarantee that THAT will happen again.
Boy: Aw, why not?
Me: (quietly) I agree with the kid.

The third and final ride, the pain-bringer, was the Starfish. A carnival ride, it’s a big disc that just spins around while gyrating on an axis. It was for this reason that we lovingly nicknamed the Starfish the “Puke-O-Matic 9000.” Given the wave movements and the rotations, that alone would be enough to have those with weak stomachs feeling a bit uneasy. But remember that this is a theme park–people have been shoveling funnel cakes and synthesized hot dogs and hamburgers and horse troughs of Diet Coke down their gullets. Their stomachs are already screaming, “Man, what the FUCK are you doing to me?! If you want to kill me, just drive a knife through me, spare me the slow and agonizing death!” And THEN they get on a ride that was designed to specifically induce vomit … stomachs are more than happy to oblige, and out comes the happy spew.

One of the MANY hidden job descriptions of an amusement park ride operator is that if a guest on your ride vomits … yeah, you’re the one who gets to clean it up.

Despite having other rides with fantastic drops, twists, turns, and Kobayashi Maneuvers, the Starfish had the reputation of being THE puke-ride in the park. Despite that, my whole first month, I never had to deal with any barf incidents. This was by no means a coincidence–I got really good at watching people’s faces as the ride went through its spins and gyrations. If I saw someone with even a HINT of puffer face, I stopped the ride and got them off immediately. You might think that this is interrupting the good fun of the other passengers, but I ask you which is more important–a three minute interruption in your ride, or hot acidic chunk of half-digested funnel cake smacking you in the face and ruining your summer polo shirt. I rest my case.

My Barf Sense was excellent. It got me through the whole first month and a half with zero incidents. But then one day, karma would come back and give me a swift punt right to the ass.

I came in to work one day for the afternoon closing shift, relieving some girl before me. I stood at the controls as she finished this iteration of the ride. As I stood there, I noticed something suspect in the corner of the ride area.

Me: Hey, what’s that over there?
Her: Over where?
Me: Right there on the left. In the corner, don’t you see?
Her: (pointing) Right there?
Me: Yeah, that’s it. What is that?
Girl : I dunno.
Me: Isn’t that…that looks like…isn’t that…a puddle of vomit?
Girl: Yeah, probably. (ride finishes) Well, I’m off-work now, catch ya later! (leaves)
Me: You bitch.

But wait, there’s more! On that very ride she finished, not one, not two, but THREE people got off and vomited. One of them got right off the ride and hurled immediately, this time in the right corner. One guy, bless his good heart, tried to vomit into a nearby trash can, but was only half-successful. One person got quite a ways down the parkway before finally just spewing right in the middle of it. So I’ve been at work for a grand total of five minutes, and aside from the normal suckitude of standing in 100+ degree heat to operate this ride, now I’ve got to clean up four separate puddles of puke. This job sucks monkey ass.

Normally, the Starfish is a one-operator ride. Sometimes though, we’re afforded a back-up, and this day I happened to have one. Seeing as how none of the barf was actually on the ride itself, we couldn’t close it down for clean-up. One of us would have to stay and operate the ride, while the other would go and clean up the spew. I played paper-rock-scissors with the back-up, and seeing as how I lost, I was forced to stay behind and continue operating the Starfish. No, that’s not a typo, the winner was the one who went to clean up the vomit. That’s just how bad operating the Starfish was.

The two puke puddles near the ride were easy enough. We had a solution we called “kitty litter,” which I think was just sawdust or something. It dried the vomit out, which let us sweep it up later. The garbage can incident was harder, as half of that puke was actually streaming down the can. Mr. Backup has to get some napkins and water and actually clean that off by hand. Theoretically, the parkway vomit should have been easy too. Theoretically.

But there’s something you have to understand first. The parkway is made of gravel. And this is the hottest part of a 100+ degree day. And the Parkway Puddle was the last incident that Mr. Backup got around to. Summer gravel is basically a frying pan–and then you had the vomit, the remains of some sugary synthesized gooey crap, chewed and sent down a digestive tract, where the stomach acids just began to break it all down until the Starfish send it, in its half broken-down state, rushing back up, where it was allowed to be COOKED AGAIN on the gravel for at least 10 minutes.

I shouldn’t have to tell you that this was the nastiest thing to have ever existed in the history of time.

Mr. Backup goes out to take care of it and as he closes in on it the stench nearly knocks him the fuck out. I’m not even joking about that, he staggered backwards as if he’d been hit by a Level 2 Corkscrew Blow or something. The stench was just that powerful. He motions to me–“C’mere, you gotta see this, this is a real ham-and-cheeser!” FUCK YOU I’m not going out there, that shit nearly killed you, and now you want me to experience it too? Fuck that shit son.

Mr. Back-Up comes back to the Starfish. His intention was to let the kitty litter soak up the puke for awhile before going out to sweep it up, but as it turns out, he didn’t have to sweep it up at all. All the people walking on the parkway, oblivious to the rancid puddle of regurgitated crap and sawdust beneath them, walked right through it, kicking it around to the point where it was just scattered about everywhere on the parkway. I dunno, maybe it’s a good thing people aren’t looking down when they walk? I think it wouldn’t hurt to look sometimes though, especially when it means avoiding nasty shit on the sidewalk.

Me and Mr. Backup watched this with a certain sense of poetic awe.

Backup: Look at em. Just walking right through the nasty ass spew.
Me: I guess ignorance really is bliss.
Backup: Oh man, look at that guy! He’s got a nice pair of Nike’s on! Even with the kitty litter I wouldn’t want to subject my Nike’s to that shit.
Me: And there’s a woman with heels. But why the fuck are you wearing heels to an amusement park anyway?
Backup: Oh no, wait, no, look at this–it’s a woman with a baby stroller–and she’s heading right for it!
Me: C’mon, look down, make a turn, stop, something, anything, for the baby man! For the baby!
Backup: No, she’s going straight, she’s gonna!
(The woman pushes the baby stroller right through the parkway vomit.)
Both: OH! NO! Not the baby! Oh!

The ‘Fish did have one redeeming quality. During the last part of the ride, it returns level to the ground, and just goes into a power spin before finishing. This power spin, essentially, is one huge fan. Now, the ride is programmed automatically–all we operators do is push the “Go” button, and keep our foot on a pedal designed to stop the ride if there’s no pressure on it. We found however that if we took our foot off for a split second and replaced it, we could switch the controls into manual. During the power-spin, it was easy enough to pull this trick to get the ride into manual, and then spin the ride for an extra minute or two for a pleasant cooling effect. Now, I know that in essence, this is subjecting 40 people to unnecessary centrifugal G-forces just so I can stay a few degrees cooler in the sun. I know, and I don’t give a flying fuck. It’s really flippin’ hot, and if I have to use you for my personal air conditioner, then I will. Nothing personal.

Most people didn’t even notice the extra length in time. Some people did, and thought it was awesome. Only a handful were suspicious about it.

Guest: (woozy) Man, that final part seemed longer than usual.
Me: Really? Huh, that’s weird.
Guest: You guys haven’t done anything to the ride, have you?
Me: Nope, it’s all automated. We just push the button.
Guest: Man…I’m feeling kinda loopy…
Me: We’re not really equipped to handle vomits here, ma’am, but if you’d like to stumble over to the Looney Tunes Seaport, the suckers–uh, I mean, the staff there would be happy to clean up your vomit or anything else that may emerge forcefully from your body.
Kids: Hey look, it’s Batman! Hi Batman!
Batman: Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on, you insolent little shit pieces.
Me: Man, only 5 o’clock? I’ve still got 6 hours left on this shift.

As this is getting long, I’m going to stop here for Part 1. I have yet to cover what really made this job suck–stupid people. You can look forward to that in the next installment. Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel.

Categories: Gaijin Smash
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