For those of you who don’t know me too well- you might not be aware that I spent the summers of 2011 and 2012 working as a Ride Operator at an amusement park in Shakopee, Minnesota called Valleyfair. The reason this is currently relevant is because apparently they’re building some enormous ride that everyone is jacking off over.
A lot of you seemed to think my post on Facebook about Valleyfair trending was a joke. It was not a joke. (It sort of was, but keeping in tone) In fact, I had a nightmare last night about working at Valleyfair again. In the dream the “Swings Ride” (which at the time I think was known as Charlie Brown’s Wind Up) broke down and people fell off their swings onto the ground. I was riding the ride with my extremely overweight friend. The operator didn’t properly “balance” the weight so we broke the entire thing. It was a very optimistic dream filled with love.
Anyway, since it has been a few years and I don’t live with the perpetual fear that I might end up working there again, I decided to share a few nuggets about Valleyfair that are etched into my memory forever and regularly give me nightmares. For those of you who also worked at Valleyfair- feel free to send me your horror stories and maybe I’ll make a compilation of the aggregated “Best Of.”
This is all true to the best of my memory. Any inaccuracies are simply due to time passed. Also anything about death is just me being morbid.
GETTING YELLED AT FOR SITTING
At Valleyfair sitting is not okay. It is an indication of laziness and a lack of professionalism. On one specific “ride” (Snoopy’s Bounce House) we also had a fitness challenge.(Not a real one, but one you realized in your hours of forced introspection.) This ride was in direct sunlight for the majority of the day, with no shade and no wind. The summer I worked in this section was one of the hottest summers in Minnesota and at one point our humidity index was worse than the rainforest.
“Operating” the bounce house was really not operating anything. It was just setting a stopwatch and making sure the kids didn’t kill each other. In order to watch the kids you had to crouch down and look through the door while they had the time of their lives (idiots.) Notice a key word in that sentence- crouch… Not sit. Kneeling was also acceptable. But if your ass touched the ground… You were as good as dead.
You might be thinking “Okay, what’s so bad about that?” And I thought the same thing at the beginning. But I need you to imagine what it would feel like to hold that position for up to 2 hours (4 hours if your Team Lead was a dickwad, we’ll get to that later) in direct sunlight on a black, rubber surface while wearing oversized MENS khaki shorts and an enormous, not breathable blue MENS polyester button up. You start sweating immediately, then your sweat drips onto the rubber and makes it slippery. (I am a sweaty woman, I play sports.) Your thighs start shaking, but if you kneel your knees start burning and you have to choose which pain is easier to tolerate.
I used to give up and sit, but my supervisor always found me and threatened to write me up.
VINDICTIVE TEAM LEADS
In any area, the Team Lead position was highly coveted. You chose which ride everyone in your area was at and for how long they were there. It was a complicated position so far as juggling the grid and making sure everyone got a break, you also had to train other employees on new rides to make sure they understood how to operate it. You were basically the manager of your area.
If your Team Lead didn’t like you, you were absolutely fucked. They’d leave you at your ride for hours, give you the worst break timing, and be stringent on all dress code rules. You’d ended up quitting, getting fired, or dying.
I wasn’t qualified for the Team Lead position (which I will explain in the next story) so I had to really fight to stay on the good side of whichever Lead I was placed with. I really didn’t experience any issues with my Leads except for one time, where a Temporary Lead who I thought I was cool with asked me which ride I wanted to close at. Closing at a ride was important because you wanted to choose one that wouldn’t be too crowded and also one that you hadn’t already been stuck at all day. In addition, most people had their favorites and least favorites for one reason or another so you wanted to steer clear of your least favorite because you knew you were stuck.
This Team Lead knew I’d been stuck on the Frog Hopper “Kite Eating Tree” all day and had a hellish experience with a little girl riding over and over again. It was a joke that everyone gave me shit for- I was DONE with the Frog Hopper and would do anything to avoid it. I obviously didn’t mind getting placed there at least once per day, but the days when I spent hours at it really fucking irked me. I told the Team Lead I would literally go anywhere but there and be completely happy. Guess where she put me for the last 2 hours of the day? Thanks, bitch.
GETTING SHIT FOR MY MENTAL HEALTH RESTRICTION
During my first season at Valleyfair I worked “normal” hours. Normal hours at Valleyfair are anywhere from 60 to 80 hour weeks with one day off if you’re lucky. They often times force you to O-C which means work from open to close, and on the late nights that means being at the park from 8:30 am to 11:00 pm. (I think one year they actually stayed open to midnight but I could be wrong.)
“How do they get away with this?” You might be asking
“Aren’t there labor laws in place for this sort of thing?” You might also inquire.
Yes, there are labor laws. But no, they do not apply in some ways to seasonal employment. Don’t worry though- we got one half hour break, which was ferociously enforced using a swiping system. If you worked one of those insane 12-hour shifts you got two half hour breaks. I think.
No one liked this- but many people willingly put up with it. The people who didn’t put up with it, quit. I think I did it for the first two or three months of my first season but I started to go insane. I had a preexisting condition that was exacerbated by the long hours and mental strain. At one point I completely broke down in the middle of a shift and had to go see my nurse practitioner from high school. (Mental breakdowns in the middle of a shift happened more than once, not just to me.)
She was horrified, to say the least, and wrote a note to my management restricting me to 40 hours per week. Granted, 40 hours is a HUGE cut compared to what I was working… But I would not have made it through the summer without some restrictions.
I was frequently picked on by other employees for this. People hated me for leaving earlier than them, for having an extra day off (wow, two days off is almost like a normal weekend?), for not ever having to O-C, for sleeping regularly… ETC. I just wanted to be alive, and I didn’t think this job was worth dying for… (And the only way to collect your bonus of 1 extra dollar per hour on a minimum wage rate of 6.75 was by finishing out your contractual obligation… So that was another huge incentive.)
Technically, isn’t this workplace harassment?
A MANIPULATIVE “STUDY ABROAD” PROGRAM
One of the best experiences I had at Valleyfair was getting to know the international students who came from all over the world for a “Study Abroad” experience. Valleyfair markets itself as a language immersion program with the opportunity to make friends, memories, etc… have fun.
What this program REALLY is, is a way to exploit cheap labor and make people feel indebted to VF. During my first year there were several people in my area from Bulgaria, my second year there were more people from China. Many of them did not speak much English and had a hard time learning the manuals/instructions for how to operate the ride. They also had a hard time communicating with the rude and impatient guests. They were thrown into, what I imagine, must be a terrifying and traumatizing situation. It was for me! It MUST have been for them.
On a few occasions they would fire the international employees, leaving them essentially trapped in Valleyfair housing (they call the housing dorms, but it was really more similar to a prison) without a job in a foreign country. I remember one person was fired then went on to get a job at McDonalds and bragged to all of us how much better it was working there. At McDonalds.
I made some really cool friends from China. I miss them- if you’re reading this I hope you all are doing well and never come back to Valleyfair! I still have this ornament they gave me, it’s hanging in my room in Minnesota, along with my burnt Valleyfair nametag.
I sort of understand why amusement parks have grooming requirements. At least, I understand why they require you to wear a uniform and nametag etc. Valleyfair had very strict policies that were enforced so stringently it was astounding. I actually managed to find one for Cedar Point, which is owned by the same company, and as far as I can tell it is identical to the one I received. See below:
Some highlights, for those who don’t wanna read the above:
- The specificity of the male haircut. (Also, no ‘extreme’ hairstyle)
- Women can only pin hair back with a ‘plain barrette’
- No facial hair, unless it’s a mustache that does not extend below or beyond the corners of the mouth or below the upper lip.
- Sideburns may not extend past the bottom of the ear.
- Female nails should be no greater than ¼ inch length beyond fingertips
- Only nail polishes that are ‘complementary to an employee’s skin color’ are permitted
- Visible tattoos are strictly prohibited (unless you cover them with makeup or bandages, I remember one guy had huge ankle tattoos he used medical wrap to cover, he looked like a wounded soldier in the civil war…)
- One ring per hand is permitted- no thumb rings.
- Heavy and/or beaded necklaces, dangling bracelets, fabric/fiber jewelry, as well as any body piercing (with the exception of TWO EARRINGS THE SIZE OF A DIME PER LOWER EARLOBE) are not in keeping with the Cedar Fair image and are therefore not permitted…
I want to let you know- regarding that last bullet- that I got my cartilage pierced at the beginning of my second season, and spent the entire time hiding it from my supervisor. He saw it on several occasions and told me to take it out- and told me that I would be written up for wearing it. But I spent 30 bucks on that stupid piercing and really didn’t want it to close up. I put a bandaid over it a few times, even though that’s also against the rules. Whatever, either way it’s gone now.
Take from all of this what you will. I don’t know how many people will read this, but for those of you who wonder what it was REALLY like to have a summer job at an amusement park… It’s nothing like Adventureland. It’s like this. You spend your long, lonely, days figuring out how you can make time go by faster so that you don’t have to deal with the monotony of hating your life with such a burning passion that you contemplate throwing yourself in front of the slow moving rockets on Snoopy’s Rocket Express, but are afraid to do so because you might survive and end up getting written up or fired, making that extra dollar per hour you work so hard for, futile.
I’ve had shitty jobs in Los Angeles. I’ve had emotionally abusive bosses and ridiculous hours. But the worst job I have ever had was Valleyfair. I don’t know why anyone would choose to spend their summer there. I don’t know why anyone would choose to build a career there. I frankly wish this place didn’t exist anymore, because it used to be my favorite place to go as a child/teen and now every time I think of it I want to vomit all over the nearest human being. Cheers friends!
Damn, I sure looked cute though.