If I had a dollar for every time I said that between 1984 and 1988 - I would be considerably richer than I am today.
The summer after I turned 16 it was time to get a summer job and the small Mississippi town I grew up in didn't offer a lot of choices. I have always been one to dream big so I decided I wanted to work at Six Flags Over Georgia.
Cool. So I took the Amtrak train to Atlanta. One of my Mom's childhood friends picked me up and took me for an interview. I got the job. FABULOUS! Now, where in the heck am I going to stay. My Mom's friend lived too far from the park for that to work.
So my brilliant mother came up with an idea from her youth. She grew up in the Georgia Baptist Children's home in Atlanta. Most summers the 'orphans' (as they called themselves) went to visit with a family somewhere in Georgia.
So Mom whipped up a letter about her daughter wanting to work at Six Flags and was looking for a family that lived near Six Flags that would take on a boarder for the summer. I am serious. We sent the letter to several churches in the Six Flags area. We got one call. As we quickly discovered - it only takes one call.
The family I met and lived with for the next FIVE summers is my family. by choice. I am still in touch with them and their beautiful, talented kids. (they read this sometimes and I want them to know I LOVE THEM TO ABSOLUTE PIECES!)
Meeting them and having them in my life all these years has been the best benefit of those summers at SFOG.
But about the job. It was a real world case of Country Come to Town!
Small town girl meets big city kids.
They smoked, cussed, drank and had sex. Well maybe not all of them - but they were a lot more mature and sophisticated than I was.
I had crushes on all the guys and wanted to be like all the girls. Seriously.
And it was not all fun and games. We worked 8 hour shifts - often in the blazing hot Georgia sun on black asphalt. I worked rides - there was NO AC. I had the absolute best farmer's tan for years. I think I could still find tan lines from those summers! On Saturdays, we could deal with upwards of 40,000 guests in the park. Trust me - that's a lot of people. Concert nights were nothing less than controlled chaos and brought out ALL the freaks.
My Mom used to tell me when I was growing up, "Honey, you have to watch out for the weirdo's out there. They look just like you and me - but they are weird."
After my first concert night I called my Mom. "Mom, you are right. There are weirdos out there - but they don't look like me and you any longer!" Remember this was 1984. I saw kids with piercings in places most people hadn't even dreamed of piercing yet. I thought I was cutting edge then b/c I had one ear pierced twice. One chick had on a halter top of duct tape. wrapped in cones around her boobies. (imagine taking that OFF!)
Chains, spikes, colored hair, leather...
Oh yes, I got a lot of 'exposure' in my formative teenage years.
And then there were lost, snotty kids. Parents who did not want to follow park regulations - even when it was for their own kid's SAFETY! I saw first hand what happened when you put a kid on a ride they were not mature enough for. Broken teeth, bloody noses, vomiting, black eyes - you name it. I escorted my fair share of those to First Aide.
In spite of all the challenges, those were the very best summers of my entire life.
I grew up. I learned how to deal with the public - on a very large scale. I learned how to be a part of team and work with others. I learned responsibility - being the operator for one of those multimillion dollar rides is nothing to sneeze at. Not only are you responsible for the ride - but for the lives of the folks riding it. Their safety is your number one responsibility. And back then - we didn't have Start/Stop buttons. The coasters had hand breaks. You started and stopped those trains on skill. not computers.
I remember one day, a guest had caused a problem; I called in security. They were escorting Mr. Problem out of the park and he came at me physically. I was operating The Great American Scream Machine, a gigantic wooden coaster with two trains on. my supervisor was in my ear - "t_cole - concentrate on the trains. take care of the trains. security will take care of you." And they did - and I learned how to work under pressure.
I got to meet a few of the headliner acts that came through. Let's see, I guess the biggest was Duran Duran. I actually saw girls fainting and crying - like those old Beetles films. I was borderline hyperventilating myself. The operations director - also a friend - told me to leave the area. I looked him dead in the eye and said 'not on your life.' He laughed, let me stay and I got to meet the boys.
Also met Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, Richard Marx and Glass Tiger. Waved at President Jimmy Carter from the train. I know there were more - but they're not coming to me.
But the absolute very best part of the job was not the superstars met but the folks I worked with every day. We worked hard and we played harder. Not before nor since have I known a more energetic, fun-loving group of people.
It was hot. We were sweaty. The park was crowded and noisy. Best of all, we were immortal, hormonal teenagers working in an amusement park. It was a larger than life adventure for us every day. You can't bottle that.
Through the power of the internet and SFOG alumni groups on networking sites, I have recently been in touch with a few of these (once) teenage co-workers. It has been so rewarding to hear that for the most part, they remember it as fondly as I do.
You can't go back. Nor am I trying to. I started at SFOG when I was 16. My last summer I was 20. I went from being an awkward teenager to a worldy young adult in those years. Growing up at SFOG is a permanent part of me and my life's history. Those folks and our shared experiences play a part in who I am today.
and I wouldn't have it any other way...