Working at an Amusement Park

I really liked This American Life's Amusement Park episode. I spent four summers of my teenage life working at an amusement park, so this was something I could certainly relate to. There's something special about working at these parks that, even years later, I've never fully been able to wrap my head around.

(from Steve Snodgrass on Flickr)

As far as jobs go, amusement park jobs look awful on paper. When I worked as a ride operator, I earned minimum wage (if I remember it was something like $5.25 an hour at the time). We usually worked 60 or more hours per week, and got 1 day off every week. "Open-to-close" or "OC" was a term that everyone knew. We worked many of those shifts.

Since we were classified as "seasonal employees" under Ohio law, we weren't entitled to overtime, benefits, or anything else you might expect from full-time employment. If you worked hard maybe you'd get promoted, earn $8 or $10 per hour, and get to manage a team of people.

Despite all that, so many people genuinely loved working at the park. I don't think it had to do with the work itself, which was incredibly boring and repetitive. It certainly wasn't dealing with customers, most of whom were fine, but enough of whom were demanding, offensive, and obnoxious. No, I think it was the fact that going into work was like going and hanging out with a big group of friends. It was the social aspect of it all.

I always thought turnover at the park was relatively low, all things considered. The stories on This American Life reminded me that it's probably the same story at every amusement park in America, and it has more to do with the people you work with than the work you do.