Today has been shit. What was I thinking? Theme parks are fun and fast paced. I love it! Sure. I miss working an attraction. Kind of true. I definitely did not lie to the interviewer, but for fuck’s sake, I feel like I’m getting my ass handed to me today. I’m not going back to retail though. I’ll gladly trade that hell for this one. Even if I have to wear this heat retaining, heavy, polyester, “Lion Tamer” costume. Honestly though, it makes my ass look great.
“Can you tell me the proper way to load a row of guests?”
Shit. My trainer is looking at me and I haven’t paid attention to a word she’s said. I can’t focus when my own sweat threatens to drown me.
“Um…I’m not sure. Can you go over it again?” I am the worst.
She’s sweating too. We’re all sweating here at The Lion’s Den. You would think they’d be more conscious of the weather when designing these “costumes”, but apparently it’s all aesthetic and no mercy here. I guess real lion tamers don’t look clean and well made up in real life. So, sweat stains it is.
“And when you’ve checked all of the restraints, you give your loading partner the ‘Go’ signal and the operators will send the car.”
I missed the first half of that. I am the absolute worst. It’s not that Kelly’s a bad trainer. There is just a lot to take in. It feels like information overload. Standing on this large cavernous roller coaster platform designed to look like the inside of a circus tent was a lot. It was not an air conditioned counter behind a cash register; it was stifling air that smelled of sunscreen from the sun-drenched guests who stood waiting at the gates to be allowed onto the lion shaped cars. The color choices were vibrant to say the least. The striped tent flaps were a neon blue and magenta. The standard red and white tent was reserved for the flagship attraction, Galaxy Realm’s pride and joy. At least that’s what I’ve gathered from the attitudes of the attraction’s employees. Stuck up, is the phrase that comes to mind. But I’ll take our white blouses and khaki slacks tucked into black boots over their red jacketed suits of sweat. It doesn’t always pay to be the ring leader. I guess they’re ring “masters”. Whatever.
“Let’s take a break.”
Yes. Oh Yes. AC! Kelly waves an employee down to come relieve us from this awful loading position. As she approaches, I recognize her from the locker room and I want to look away. Not because this employee is hard to look at, it’s the opposite. She’s tall, taller than me anyways. She walks with confidence. Her hair is short, blond, and cropped. And her smile is mischievous, and I want to know what kind of trouble she can cause. She’s beautiful, but I dn’t want to call her that. Handsome, feels more appropriate. Suddenly, I remember how sweaty I am. Kelly and the woman exchange a few words and we’re free. I walk away too quickly to catch her name, but it’s for the better.
We make our way to the portable building that serves as our breakroom. The path there consists of multiple side doors that lead you to the back of house area where the real magic happens. While the building’s ornamentation was crafted to look like a circus tent, it is still just a three-story building underneath the paint and fabric. We go down one more staircase and exit out a back door and into the direct sunlight, but as I walk into the trailer, the cool air hits my moist skin and the relief is instant. I put my heavy dark curls up into a passable bun to cool off my neck.
The space itself is dingy, and furnished with items that looked like they were picked up from an abandoned high school, or garage sale. But I like it. It’s welcoming in its own sweat soaked way. I take in the full room as I walk in. This morning it was packed with employees waiting on their morning brief. Now, I can see the walls covered in memories. There is a cork board littered with photographs from past events. I already recognize some of the faces. No names yet. I groan internally, because the pictures remind me of my high school days. On another wall is a board decorated to look like a circus tent and above it is a scroll with the words “Lion Tamer of the Month” printed on it. I can’t help but smile at the amount of creativity put into it. This wasn’t something hidden in a corner collecting dust. It was acknowledged.
“Is this the newbie?” It was a woman’s voice. She sounded playful and childlike. In a good way. I remembered this voice from the morning brief. She was a talker. I spin around to face her. She’s short like me, with wild curly brown hair, and eyes to match. She wore her costume baggy.
“Me?” I point to my chest.
“Yes you, silly.” She’s close and I can’t help but step back a bit. “Do you do hugs?”
“Um I-“ I don’t get to finish before she’s throwing herself at my still sticky body.
“Welcome to the team. I’m Abi. I’m weird. We’re all kind of weird, but you’ll learn that fast.”
Normally my preferred level of physical contact is none but this was…nice, albeit a little smelly.
“Kelly is a great trainer so you’re in good hands. All of her trainees have been successful.”
“Thank you.” Kelly’s voice is small and she’s bashful. Her ponytail bobs as she acknowledges Abi’s compliment.
Kelly and I make our way back to a small room designated for training. It was quiet in here. She didn’t turn the lights on, which made the room dangerously relaxing. We sit at the small desk with two folding chairs. Garage sale probably. This room is so small; it was probably meant to be a closet. The floor in here is carpet, versus the laminate throughout the rest of the trailer. It has a musk, like old wet shoes, but it’s tolerable. I look out the window. I could see the show building that housed the Ringmaster’s Training ride. It was fascinating to see what it all looked like behind the facades you see in the front of house areas of the park. Galaxy Realm lived up to its name. It was the largest theme park in North America and it drew global attention. When I tell people I took a job here, they picture something grander than a minimum wage summer job. Maybe it’s the costumes.
Kelly was talking again.
“Take some time and read the Policies and Procedures manual.” She hands me the large heavy binder that houses all of the material that I need to know. I want to groan but I know it’s necessary.
“I know it’s a lot of info but I’m confident you’ll get it.” Kelly has this way of making you feel confident you could. Even if you feel like a hot mess. She sat in the room with me as I read. I could see her organizing paperwork on the other side of the table. I really want to soak in the material. No one jumps into something wanting to suck at it. And I am not one for half-assing.
As I am reading I can hear a heated conversation about Star Wars happening in the breakroom. I’m not sure what they’re discussing but I can hear snippets here and there. Familiar names. James would enjoy this. Thinking about my boyfriend suddenly made my stomach churn. It’s just the heat Brooke.
A voice breaks the conversation. It’s a laugh, a deep hearty cackle coming from a woman. Without seeing her I know she’s probably making elaborate hand gestures. I couldn’t help but lean my chair back so I could peek out the door. She had just walked in and was standing proudly with her hands on her hips. She had vibrant red hair that cascaded down her back and wild eyes that said adventure. You couldn’t help but be drawn to her. She lit up the room.
“Is it that hard to imagine a female Jedi emergence?”
“I could get on board with that idea.” I call out. Kelly chuckled from her side of the table.
“Oh, is this the fresh blood? I think I have a new favorite. What’s your name? I can’t see your name tag from here.” She bends over and puts her hand over her brow as if trying to spot something from miles away.
“It looks like Broke from here.”
“Aren’t we all.”
After our exchange, she walks into what I am assuming is the management office. She wasn’t at the meeting this morning but that’s not strange. Theme park hours aren’t exactly nine to five.
I drop my chair back on the floor and look over at Kelly who is still busy with her paperwork.
“Who was that?”
She giggles. “That’s Mary Anne. She’s one of your Team Leaders. She’s very…spirited.”
“Ready to go back out and maybe try some of the basic positions?”
On our way out to the entrance we take a long route that wraps around the unseen parts of the building, through a fabricated forest, and down a beaten path that was obviously only used by employees. On the other side, we enter a forgotten part of the attraction’s queue and we walk the remaining length of the queue to the entrance. The handsome woman from before is there, she’s greeting the guests as they enter. I slow my pace slightly and fall behind Kelly. She doesn’t notice.
“Are you here to release me?” She sees us approaching.
“We are not here to release you.” As Kelly gets closer she throws an arm around her shoulders and pulls her close.
“You could just take my place for the rest of the day. She’s got to do every position in this set.”
Having her refer to me offhandedly caught me off guard. I couldn’t explain why. And she wasn’t wrong. I had to do the four positions in her set. The positions are divided into small groups of four. They’re called rotation sets because you rotate from position to position throughout your shift. Based on the current time, we could just take her place. I wanted to give her what she wanted. I wanted to make an impression.
“It’s better than sitting around in that room for the rest of the day.” I chime in.
“She’s right Kelly.”
“Are you sure you’re comfortable?”
“With the basic stuff? Yeah.”
“Alright, you’re getting what you want. Make sure you see Mary Anne for a task though. I’m not getting in trouble for letting you go free.”
As she unwraps herself from Kelly and I catch a glimpse of her nametag. Andrea. As she passes me she puts a hand on my shoulder, smiles down at me, and walks away. I felt small to her. I shake off the feeling.
The rest of the day went by as swiftly as it could. The speed of molasses to be exact. I regretted my decision to appease Andrea. I didn’t feel the sweet kiss of cold air for almost two hours. Instead it was sunlight’s bitter kiss that burned my tawny skin for the rest of the day. As we finished up the day in our little training alcove I couldn’t help but feel a sense of hope. Like this might not all be an awful sweaty mess. While Kelly put together the paperwork I needed to sign, I watched the movement in the rest of the breakroom. There was an afternoon briefing much like the morning’s. There were employees piled onto the old couches and the ones who were not so brave, chose the plastic chairs instead. This meeting was delivered by Mary Anne and another Team Leader who had just come in for the day. He was still buttoning up his shirt and putting on his belt. He was tall and towered over the other employees. He was incredibly handsome and the costume made him even more so with his trimmed beard and clean cut dark hair.
“Hey, who’s the tall one?”
“Mateo. He’s an absolute sweetheart. Here’s what I need you to sign for today.”
After all of the paperwork is signed I’m finally free to go. I waste no time hoofing it to the locker rooms near the employee entrance. It is a long grueling walk. I watch with mild envy as the other employees leave in small groups. Even Kelly stayed behind to chat with a friend. But this is what it’s like being new. It’ll change, I reassure myself. Either way, I have to give this job up once the fall semester starts.
As I pull up to my apartment I’m relieved to be home. The broken AC in my rickety old Kia Rio made for an awful ride home during the beginning of Florida summer. I slowly make my way up the three flights of stairs and open the door to my place where I am welcomed by the smell of cleaning products and my excited dog. He wiggles and waddles his little body over to me. I plop onto the floor of the foyer as the front door swings shut behind me. We sit on the floor together as he licks my face and I cover his long brown and white fur with pets.
He looks at me with pure joy. Lucky guy gets to just lay in here all day. I get up and drag myself to my bedroom on the other side of the small apartment. In here, my – our bed is centered, up against a teal wall with a grand window that looks out at a lake. James isn’t home. We’re hardly home together anymore. It’s for the better. Maybe. I throw myself onto the bed, laying there as the late afternoon sun blankets me. I think about cleaning the apartment, doing the dishes, walking Finn, all as I fade off.
This next day of training goes by much like the first one did. The only exception is that today I feel a bit more confident. I feel good, I feel fast. Kelly is praising me today. But it is still so god damn hot and before noon I am swimming in my own damn sweat. We sit in the breakroom while we cool off with popsicles. Mary Anne, the sweet soul, brought them in for the team. Kelly is on a couch, I’m on a nearby chair, and Mary Anne braves the floor. We make a small circle.
“They come off as hard asses but they warm up to you eventually.” Mary Anne has been giving me her own survival tips. But as she says this, I think about Abi and I’m not sure this applies to the entire team.
“They tend to forget that they were all once new.” Kelly chimes in. The statement is almost out of character for her.
Because I’m doing so much better than I expected to at this point, I’m on a high. I am ready to take my test and complete my training. Third day be damned. Thank you energy drinks for being my true savior today. I’m surprised the things still even work on me after all of the all-nighters I’ve pulled for school.
The day is here. After a few hours of reviewing, Kelly sits me down in our little room for the test. A comprehensive assortment of questions related to all that I’ve read and learned. I. Am. Ready. But the damn thing is one-hundred-twenty questions long. What the actual fuck?
Thirty minutes later I am done and handing my test to Kelly to be graded. She has me waiting in the breakroom. I sit there playing around on my phone, scrolling through newsfeed after newsfeed. I am still too new to start a conversation with anyone in the room. As I tune out their voices, a black boot taps my own and her voice pulls me back. Andrea.
“You’re quiet.” She has her hands on her hips and she’s looking down at me. I look up at her taken aback by her sudden presence in my space.
“We’ll have to change that. It’s not going to work here.” I’ve never heard that line before.
Andrea throws herself on the couch next to me. She is warm from the sun and smells like boy. I should elaborate, she smells like Axe Body Spray. I found this scent repulsive on men but on her…it was inviting. But instead of melting I turned into a solid state as she threw her arm around me the way she did to Kelly. It was too intimate for someone whose name I’ve never even said aloud. I wanted to say her same aloud.
“Brooke is a pretty name. It suits you.”
“How do you know it suits me?”
“Because you’re pretty.”
“Thanks.” I practically whimper out the response and it sounds like a question.
Suddenly Mateo pops his head out of the management office.
“Andrea Maria Peretti, are you cheating on me again.”
“Did you just make up a middle name for me?” She goes over to him and the paralysis subsides. Andrea Peretti. It was a pretty name. I wonder what kind of person she was.
I didn’t have time to dwell on that thought when Kelly comes over to me announcing that I scored a one-hundred percent on my test and was officially a part of the team.
“Yay.” A halfhearted response from Mateo and Andrea.
“So, does that mean I’m on my own now?” I try not to seem too excited. But I;
“Yup.” She nods, ponytail bobbing with her head.
“Where do you want her Mateo?”
“She can just take Andrea’s place. I’ll have her help me with projects.”
I know this part. I go to the dry erase board where they track everyone’s positions for the day. I find her name, erase it, and replace it with my own. It feels official.
Andrea’s rotation set was not the same one she had on my first day. This one was more intense. Each position had strong safety related responsibilities. I was making sure each individual guest met the height and health requirements, all restraints were secure, and that no one was running into the direct path of a moving roller coaster. Add the need to do all this within seconds, while wiping the unforgiving drops of sweat off your face, it was not what I was ready for. One guy seemed irritated that he had to keep correcting my mistakes, another woman seemed to enjoy showing me how much faster she was, and I felt invisible to everyone else. At this point I am missing the safety of Kelly’s presence.
I catch a glimpse of her in the coaster’s control room which sits above the platform in an air conditioned room. Kelly was up there with Andrea. I needed to shine. As I load the next car with guests I move fast, I am checking every restraint, every seat belt, and every height. I get to the last row at the same time as the guy checking the other side of the car. We both give the signal to “go” and I feel proud. Smug even.
A minute later, Mary Anne is crossing the platform to my position. She doesn’t have her usual vibrancy, instead her look is somber. My heart sinks.
“Hey Brooke, I heard you were having some trouble up here.”
I wouldn’t say I was having that much trouble.
“I got a call that a couple of your seats came back unbuckled. So, for the rest of the day we’re just going to move you to a slower paced rotation set.”