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MY SUMMER AS A RENT-A-COP
By Joe Albanese

 

Amusement parks are only amusing to its employees in an ironic sense. My summer working there a s security guard in the summer of 2016 could be summed up by that. I had just landed a job at Target. I applied for Asset Protection and cashier, but working in the refrigerators and freezers was all they had available, so I took it. Eight hours in artificial freezing conditions for every day by myself was not as I envisioned, and cabin fever was starting to get the best of me. A friend of mine said he needed a ride to apply for a job at Clementon Park, the closest amusement park to our town, so like any good friend I gave him one, and like anyone trying to improve himself, I applied there for a job as a security guard. For better or worse, fate decided I should get the job, and my friend would not.
            The park had not yet opened for the summer season, but solitude in the Target freezers was starting to drive me insane, so I quit that job, knowing I had another one all lined up. I filled out all the employment forms and took a urine test on site. A stunning 70% of the people at orientation managed to pass the drug test, including myself, so around 30% of the positions Clementon Park filled needed to be refilled. I’m no genius, but openly discussing your drug- fueled adventures in front of Human Resources before a pop urine test is not a smart move. Those 30% learned that that day.
            Those of us who did pass were told we’d receive a phone call a week before the park opened to get our work schedules. For me, that phone call never came. The first time I called HR to see if something was wrong or if the just missed me by mistake, I got only voicemail. The next time, I left a message. Nothing. I called again. Another voicemail. Another message. The park opened a couple days later. Still, no phone call. I was worried now. I had given up my job at Target, albeit a shitty one, to work at Clementon Park and now I didn’t know if I actually was ever going to work there.
            Wait -- let me back up. First I need to explain why this job was so important to me.
            I took a year off after high school – not knowing what I wanted to do with my life combined with depression and anxiety decided that for me. Call it an existential crisis. But after figuring that all out I decided to wanted to work in law enforcement, and thus began schooling at Camden County College in 20013. I knew I had to work as well, so I began searching for jobs in security and loss prevention for experience. It’s not exactly the same field, but I figured after getting my Bachelor’s Degree, security experience may set me apart from other applicants when applying at local, state, or federal agencies.
            As I know all too well now, security jobs are not easy to come by. TV and movies make fun of security jobs as easy, less than high school educated jobs anyone can get. I’d have my Bachelor’s Degree by now if that were true. I even got certified in first-aid and CPR/AED just to have something on my resume that might help me get one of those jobs. I read loss prevention books so I had knowledge of the area. I did more weight/less reps at the gym so I’d appear bigger when applying at bars and clubs to be a bouncer. For years, I tried to land a security or loss prevention job and got notta, so when Clementon Park finally gave me an opportunity, I jumped, leaving Target by the wayside. When I quit Target, I was told I could never be hired back because I quit so soon. But I had learned by then I need to take the security job. So now every time I see a job posting for Target Asset Protection, I know I can’t even apply. One less way for me to get something to count as an internship and get my degree. Looking out for my future may have actually fucked up my future something good.
            After two failed phone calls to HR I decided to go in person to finally get some answers – did I have a job or not? I asked for HR and was told he was not in that day. I explained who I was and was told to wait a minute. That minute passed and the HR worker magically appeared.
Umm... Okay?
            Finally, he said he got my messages (thanks for not calling back by the way) and I was connected with a security manager who told me I had been on the schedule and never showed up for work, like I was supposed to know. So, they took me off the schedule. They decided it was not my fault and told me when my first day would be – finally I was going to start working and this godforsaken amusement park.
            My first day of work came a day early, as another guard called out. So despite not sleeping the night before, I was off. Security duties at Clementon Park were one of eight: front gate, front gate Splash entrance, Shipwreck Bay, the group/catering areas, back gate, water park/dry park roamers, and night guard. Throughout the summer, I would dabble in each of these. My first few weeks I was thrown right in the thick of it. The front gate – the Show. Duties were simple enough. Make sure no one jumped lines, entered without a pass, and check coolers for alcohol (outside alcohol is prohibited). This would usually result in guests going back to their cars and killing the six-pack there and coming back right before it kicked in. Since I didn’t witness it, I had to let them in and wait for them to make a drunken stupor later on. (This is probably similar to the open container law. I’d rather have a driver sip on a beer over a twenty minute car ride than down it in a minute and then get in the car so it all hits at once. But that’s just me). Mostly I was there to stamp hands. If someone leaves the park with the possibility of returning, BAM, you get a stamp. Then I would check people reentering the park for the stamp and let them in. Guests would exit and reenter the park at a rapid pace at the front gate, so it was nonstop checking, stamping, check coolers, oh you need a stamp? BAM. It was chaotic at times, but the faster pace, the faster the time goes by. Oh shit someone needs a stamp. BAM – uh oh, out of ink.
            Here’s where the park and security need to step up their game big time. At the beginning of the summer, stamps were done with exactly that – a stamp with the Clementon Park logo. It was easy to spot and difficult to replicate. BUT... the ink would dry out so fast in the hot summer sun you’d have to refill it so often and I guess the park got tired of that expense. Next came the black lights. BAM. Smack ‘em on the fist with a black light stamp when they left, then check it under the black light when they returned. Less easy to spot, more difficult to replicate. I could accept that... but the dumb black lights never worked. So here I am having to get an inch away from everyone’s fist to see the stamp with my naked eye. And with the frustration the guests went through during this, it was not safe to have my face near their fists.
            So, after a couple weeks, the black lights were gone, god bless’em. So now let’s drop to bare minimum security – a pen. Not a special pen, a regular old black felt tip pen you can get for fifty cents at the CVS across the street. So now we’re marking everyone’s fist with an “A”, an “X”, or whatever else we felt like that day. Eventually it just became X’s. How many people just marked their own fists to get in the park without paying? Who knows. But chances are they figured it out pretty easily. It was frustrating from a security standpoint, but a joy for me at times as I would often mark kids’ hands with smiley faces, hearts, or whatever else they wanted so long as it was easy. I’m not exactly Van Gogh.
            After a few weeks, I made my home working in the catering and group location near the back of the part. I’d just stand at the entrance of the picnic area and make sure those coming through had wristbands saying they were part of an established group. “No wristband, can’t come through here.” During the week there was only one or two small groups, and mostly they spent time in the actual park. So 80% of the job was standing around in the sun working on my farmer’s tan. Most people would dream of this as their job, but not me. As someone with severe anxiety and crippling depression, being alone with my thoughts for that long is a dangerous and scary place to be. Suddenly I was back in the freezers at Target, just with the opposite temperature extreme.
            The weekends were better. Much busier with much more larger groups. More wrists to check, so the thoughts of whatever dwindled from my crazy, crazy mind. Occasionally several groups would come in with different privileges – different types of catering, or the root cause of fun, alcohol. The job got a little more difficult with this as keeping track of which color wristband allowed for what as thirty people passed by you required an eagle’s eye. Of course when someone sees someone else with something they don’t have, they want it and want it bad.
            “What do you mean they get alcohol and I don’t?”
            “Well, sir, their group package included it and yours did not. It would be unfair if you got alcohol without paying for it.”
            Sounds reasonable to you and I, but to them you’d think it is the stupidest explanation they’ve heard in their entire lives. You get the idea of how to deal with unreasonable people with more experience.
            Working the back gate was a combination of the chaos of the front gate and the suicidal boredom of the group area. The mornings were hectic. Groups and schools would arrive on buses around the time the park opened and the few hours after. As the back gate guard, it was my duty to check in all these buses – how many, which group they were with, and at what time their group would be leaving the park. Often, most of the buses would how up at once, a long line of them stretching through the whole parking lot. Having to work both the back gate and run through the parking lot to get the information on each bus was not a simple task. Those first few hours of the day at the back gate you’d never stop rushing, not even enough time to take a sip of water. Somehow, I and the other guards always made due, keeping track of everything. Then the groups would enter the park, and the boredom began once more. Other than groups, no one really entered through the back gate other than employees. And as I knew a good deal of the employees by their names or faces, it was easy to know who was allowed to come and go as they pleased. Their Clementon Park shirts were a dead giveaway as well. So after the initial bus rush of the early hours, the rest of the day at the back gate you would just stand there and occasionally sign for packages.
            At the end of the day the groups would leave, crossing their names off as they left. It was also the duty of the back guard gate to close off the gate as the train ride passed. Make sure no damsels in distress were stuck on the track as the train passed or they’d be a pancake. We were also required to wave to the train passengers as it passed by. Sometimes enthusiasm was put into my wave and I’d try out different Miss America wave techniques. The train would pass by once every ten minutes or so, so my waves got less and less enthusiastic as the day passed. Once my supervisor caught me accidentally forgetting to wave and got chewed out. I believe a guest was complaining to me about something, but I got chewed out anyway.
            Oh yeah, my supervisors. I’m shaking my fist just thinking about them.
            Any part of my job that was enjoyable was immediately negated by my supervisors. There’s a good chance my hatred of this job was because of them. Whatever their skill set was, I can assure you it was not managing people. Maybe I was just spoiled by my previous supervisors at other jobs who at least held some idea. I had two supervisors at Clementon Park, both males in their early 20’s. Most of the time when criticizing someone, I can be nice and say “at least they tried,” but not these two. I’ve already explained the debacle of my initial hiring, but things only got worse from there. After finally being hired, my two supervisors never put me on the schedule. So I had no idea when I’d be working until the end of my shift the day before. Whenever making plans with friends or family, I had to say I would not know if I was available until 12 hours beforehand. That’s if I was lucky. Sometimes I’d get a call the day of and be told I was working that day. I can understand if someone called out and it was last minute, but most of the time this was not the case. And when I didn’t have to come in, they wouldn’t tell me until I got there. Park rained out... you’d think they’d call and say the park was closed, you don’t have to come in. Nope. I had to call them or show up to the park and find out on my own. Everyone else got schedules and phone calls, why not this guy? It wasn’t until the end of July that I was finally put on the schedule. Hooray! One problem down, many more to go.
            In order to clock in everyday, you had to punch in your social security number then use your thumb print. Of course for me, my supervisors never put me in the system, so I could not clock in this way. They said they would clock me in on their own every day. So I had to rely on unreliable people to make sure my hours were right and I got paid right every pay check. I’m no math wiz, so figuring out minimum wage multiplied by 10-40 hours per week... minus taxes... close enough? I’d like to say this was eventually remedied, but once a week that entire summer I did the math.
            Our hours were not evenly distributed either. Some of us would get 10 hours per week, others would get close to 40. Some of the white guards chalked it up to race – our two supervisors were black. I could see their argument as most of the black guards got the easier shifts and longer hours, but a couple white guards were given the same privileges. I thought of it as more of an in-crowd problem. The guards that the supervisors were friends with or closer to got more and better hours. They’d also be the ones hanging out in the air-conditioned trailers while the rest of us worked. I’ll call it immaturity. When I was young, I probably would have given my friends preferential treatment as well.
            Supervisors providing back up or help was usually nonexistent. If a guest had a complaint and wanted to talk to my supervisor, I’d radio and explain to them the situation at hand. This was usually greeted with the supervisor explaining the rule to me. Hello, I know the rule, the guest wants to hear it from you. It gave me the feeling of being alone with no backup. Any problem was not our problem, it was my problem. I wasn’t thrilled with the management in other departments well for similar, nonprofessional reasons.
            One day working the back gate I had a run in with the head of loss prevention. When a guest leaves the park, they are asked if they plan to return. Even if it is a maybe, they get stamped or marked or whatever we’re using that day. So, a man and his grandson were leaving the park and I asked if they wanted to get stamped. They said no thanks. I knew these two well. They had season passes and came a couple days a week. You got to know the season pass holders. A couple minutes after they left the loss prevention manager came by to see how things were. The old man and his grandson returned because his grandson, no more than 5 years old had to use the bathroom. I let them back in even though they had no stamp. The loss prevention manager came after with verbal blow after verbal blow because I didn’t do my job. I explained that I knew these two well and had just seen them leave a couple minutes earlier. Is the technicality of not having a stamp worth ruining the relationship with a guest who’s little grandson needs to pee? Would you return to a business that treats you so poorly?
            How ‘bout working on that potential loss, dumbass?
            Later that same day the park lost power and had to close, so this same loss prevention manager came to the back gate to hand out free passes to guests leaving. That’s fine... but he was puffing away on a lit cigarette while doing it, not two feet away from the guests. “Here, have a free pass and some second hand smoke.” I even asked if he wanted me to hand them out to spare them the smoke and he said no. And I’m the jackass for trying to keep a relationship with a guest. I learned that summer how important people skills were to management and supervisory positions.
            One of the good things, whether by design or by accident I’m not sure, was the occasional variety in duties. It’s good to have employees work enough on one thing so they master it, but also good to switch it up a bit to avoid boredom and the lackadaisical effort of just going through the motions. Working at either entrance to Splash World or Shipwreck Bay inside Splash World was almost identical to each other. The duty that took up the most amount of time was checking guests bags and coolers for outside food. Food and drinks that were brought in were allowed in the dry park, but were not allowed in the water park. This rule confused the guests, and to be honest it made no sense to me as well. The point of the rule is so no food or drinks get in the water, but food and drinks are sold in the water park. Is there really a difference about which kind of food get in the water? But guests would enter and exit the water park at a steady pace which always kept me busy. It was easy but menial.
            This is probably where I ran into the most drama with guests. I self-analyze often because of my anxiety, so I know myself pretty well. I’m not threatening, and I’m not intimidating. Any attempt to be on my part comes off really ironical and would just be an embarrassment to me and my family. So I don’t even try. But this probably has worked out in my favor. I usually greet hostility like the Mahatma, with peace and love and the occasional snide sarcastic remark. Angry guests would complains, then complains some more, and then yell and use profanities. I would just let them, and stay polite. Eventually they would tire themselves out and just give in. I’m good at taking verbal abuse – I put masochism under “Job Skills” on employment applications. I dare you to find something else more useful for working in customer service.
            One time a woman, mid-forties I’d say, came through the Splash World entrance, and like all guests I asked to see inside her bag. You’d think I asked for her first born. She was not happy. She claimed she was a cop in Clementon and she asked to see a warrant and lectured me on how the Constitution required me to have one and she just went on and on. I could have spoken up, told her the different between public law enforcement and rules to a private business, but I doubt it would be sufficient for her and she would have yelled and I would have yelled and blows would be exchanged and that’s no fun. Instead I let her get it out of her system and she said she was going to be nice and let me check anyway. Lucky me. She did tire herself out. Crisis averted. I don’t know if she really was a cop, but for everyone else’s safety I sure hope not.
            This was also the area I did most of my child rearing. The park never announced lost children over the loud speaker. I’m not sure of the reason, but I’d assume A) there were so many lost children they’d have to make announcements every five minutes, and B) any potential perverts in the park would know there is an unsupervised child somewhere about and would also get their name and description. So lost children would be handled as follows: give it to a guard and walk them around until they found the parent or guardian. Or if it was parent, walk around with the parent and help them locate their child. This could take upwards to an hour. Whenever there was a lost child situation, you’d contact either the dry park or water park roamer depending on where you were and that security guard would handle it. But a lot of the time the roamer was too busy with other duties or a lost child of their own. There were A LOT. So we would get the leftovers. I became somewhat decent with kids this way. Many times they’d be crying and I’d have to comfort them and tell them it was all right. I’d get down on a knew to be eye level so they’d feel more comfortable with me, a technique I learned while getting certified in first-aid. They’d be scared, but I would help them. Hold their hand, talk and joke, try to make them feel safe. I’ve held many jobs and had many duties, but nothing was as rewarding as meeting a small, scared child bawling their eyes out and making them smile and feel safe. Do that a dozen times a day and try not to feel good about yourself.
            This is also the place I got to spend time with other employees and security guards. I was able to build working relationships with them and that makes work easier when you know the people are have to rely on. My supervisors were no good, but my fellow guards were on point. We could handle situations better on our own than with the assistance of a supervisor. It was also good knowing they had my back and I felt good knowing I had theirs as well. This was true with other employees that weren’t guards. Here I spent a lot of time with the life guards. We held different positions, but were both there for safety. Many of us became friends. I can honestly say I don’t know if I would have survived the entire summer had I not had such great coworkers. I’m thankful for them to this day.
            The big stuff that I or the other guards couldn’t do alone, or shouldn’t do alone, we dealt with in small groups – putting on other duties on the back burner until the situation was resolved. Occasionally we’d have to kick people out of the park. Some rules are not meant to be broken. People would often lose items over a fence and hop the fence to retrieve it. That’s a no-no. We all remember that person who hopped the fence at Six Flags and got their head kicked off by an inverted roller coaster. It’s for the guests’ safety. They’d throw up an excuse – there was no employee around to get it for me. Yeah but there were plenty of employees who saw you hop the fence, so...
            People were not pleased when they got kicked out. There’d be cursing and sometimes pushing. This is why it was good to have backup. I didn’t trust my supervisors particularly, but the other guards were reliable if we had to throw down. One of the scariest experience was when the roller coast broke down. It didn’t crash like it did years earlier, it just stopped... at the top of it’s largest hill. So myself and another guard had to climb the stairs in the hot sun and retrieve the guests stuck up them. I’m not terrified of heights, but they aren’t my friend either. This was not in the job description.
            And so the summer went by like that. In the last month, the night guard quit so we rotated night guard duties. Ten solid hours of sitting in a guard shack watching bad late night tv on basic cable. I read. I should have practiced writing so this writing piece would have been slightly better. Once every two hours you’d walk the park, check to make sure no one was there except the large amount of skunks who are actually quite friendly. Amusement parks have a natural creepy vibe to them, so imagine wandering around one by yourself in the middle of the night. No thank you, sir. I’ll take the annoying guests during the day.
            At the end of the summer most guards quit or were fired. I believe I was the only guard to both start and end the summer working there. One of the supervisors’ buddies, who got caught earlier that summer sleeping on the job, was promoted.
            I’m shaking my fist again.
            But those supervisors sure loved me at the end of the summer when there were no other guards. Then I’d get all the hours. 10-12 hours a day for weeks.
            And then the summer was over.
            I have a lot of memories from that summer – some bad, some good, but I remember it well. At the beginning, I thought that job was amusing ironically, but after reminiscing, I think I mean it, it was pretty damn amusing.

 

 

author

Joe Albanese is a writer of poetry and prose. Recently he had a nonfiction piece published in the Fall 2016 edition of Sheepshead Review and has a poem set to be published in 2017 in Calliope. Joe continues to write poetry and shorter prose while looking for a publisher for his first novel and working on his second novel.

 

 

 

 

 

     
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