I started working with my dad doing brick mason work, when I was maybe 12 or 13, we did some jobs up in north Jersey together, and then did a couple of summers working with him once I lived in Florida.  But my first real job was working at the now defunct, and disappeared, Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Panama City Beach, Florida.   I THINK it was 1993, it could have been 1992.  The only real marker I have for when it was is I worked there the last year that the ride the Bayern Kurve, and the year before they did a big remodel.   It was my first real interaction with the public, which made me quickly learn that when I have jobs dealing with the general public, I typically LOVE the times before and after work, but hated the actual work part, where I had to deal with…. ugh…. people.   AND In the amusement park jobs, when you have to deal with… double ugh…. kids. 

I only worked one summer there, and I don’t know if it was official policy, but new workers got to do a lot of the the kiddy rides.   So my days were pretty painful putting up with little shithea…. I mean kids… running wild at an amusement park.  So the ride I probably dealt with the most was …


Junior Hot Rods –  Even thought the name would make you think it was super cool… it was one of those little 4 seat cars with 4 steering wheels that went around on a track. While parents stood by me yelling “OH LOOK JUNIOR, YOU’RE REALLY DRIVING” to their little idio… I mean kids.   I found this picture on Google from 1987 of a kid on the ride… which is a great picture because just like half the kids I dealt with, they were short enough to ride, but were clearly too big for the ride.  LUCKILY in the 5 or 6 years since this picture was taken, the seat belt systems WERE upgraded to nylon straps with little buckle ends.

So if I have any really good stories about this ride, it’s a perfect reason why you shouldn’t trust your kids in the hands of amusement park ride operators…  Most nights when we got out of work, we would go down to the arcade.  Usually either the great Funland, or there was one called Fun City as well.  I think there was another one… but we usually went to either of those places and played video games until they closed down.  Well one night I must have gone on a Coke bender at the arcade… I mean Coca Cola, not cocaine.   And when I got home, I couldn’t sleep, so I came back into work, and was put on Junior Hot Rods having been awake for probably 28-30 hours.   And I remember sitting on my stool, sending kids off to drive in a car at super high speeds… and hearing someone say “Having a long day?”  and I said “Yeah does it show?” and I turn and look and it was my friend’s dad… who had died the previous year.  That was probably my first legit hallucination… because after a few blinks and a head shake, there wasn’t anyone there.  So that was who was in charge of your kids safety back in the day.   The only upside to this ride, that GENERALLY, this was the kiddy ride that I had that kids were most well behaved on… Maybe it’s because they had steering wheels to keep them too preoccupied to be little jerkfaces.


Mini Enterprise – I am fairly certain that was the name of them, kids could ride on these little helicopters or I think they were dragons, and they’d go in circles, and up and down.   For some reason kids LOVED to be little shitheads on this ride, and I guess it was probably because when you’re a kid and you see these helicopters and dragons and shit, you’re probably like “AWWW HELL YEAH, THAT RIDE LOOKS BALLIN’ AS FUUUUUUCK” and you beg your parents to spend the tickets for the ride, and the reality of it is, you just sit there as the ride goes in circles like 5 feet high.  If I had a ride that kids would try to hang out of, or piss themselves on, or go all actin’ a fool on, it was this thing.  If I went in and “M/E” was next to my name on the Rides board… I always thought about quitting my job and becoming a bum for the rest of my life.   The only one that was as bad as this was the Train.  I remember one time there was this little peckerhead on the ride, and he had unbuckled himself and was standing in his helicopter, I kept telling him to sit down, then he tried opening the little door, and as the ride was coming to a stop he jumped out and was sprinting around the ride  “NO RUNNING!” I yelled as he was coming up to me, and at the time I wore this big G-Shock watch, and he came sprinting past me, and WHACK, ran forehead first into my wristwatch.  and he went flying like a pro wrestler that just got clotheslined and started crying.  His parents gasped and yelped out “OH MY GOD!!!”

Now in my defense, I didn’t punch the kid, nor did I intentionally line my wrist up with his forehead, or anything like that… but I certainly didn’t avoid the kid.  But I thought for sure the kids parents were going to beat the piss out of me, but then when their kid got up and headed towards them I heard his mom go “You are SO clumsy!!!” So I guess they thought he just slipped and fell, instead of dead on sprinting into someone that was yelling at them to not to run.   Other than that though, most of the time it was just sopping up puddles of piss in the little copters.

The Train – Now let me tell you, if you’re ever at an amusement park, and they have one of these trains, go up to the person driving it and offer them a hug, a bunch of cash, or sexual favors, or SOMETHING, because that person is more than likely experiencing the worst day of their lives.  This is the Train where I worked…


Now let me explain just a bit of the misery behind the Train… first off, it is a kiddy ride that adults can ride…. which also means little shithead teenagers can ride.   It’s also slow moving, so nobody’s restrained in it… which means little shithead teenagers think it’s fun to hang off of, or jump off and run away, or jump off and walk beside.  It’s so retarded.  I swear.   Then you spend the whole night behind the exhaust… that smoke stack is really the exhaust pipe… it’s blowing right there at face-level.  Then you’re also sitting on this metal framed, no suspension having diesel powered ride, that vibrates more than your mom’s sock drawer.  ALSO If you’re doing long shifts on this thing, you have to refuel it halfway through the night, and again at the end of the night…. and we had this terrible hand pump diesel pump that always lost it’s prime and you would have to pump and pump for so long that JUST when you’re about to give up because you’re sure the main tank is empty, it starts spitting diesel all over the place.  Then not to mention at night you store it in this tunnel, that’s just about the same length as the train, and is built on a curve where you can’t see the back of the train, so you back in and think you have it right, so you walk back and nope,  can’t close the back doors of the tunnel, so you walk back up, pull forward.  And you get the back doors closed but now the damned cow catcher is sticking out the front of the tunnel.  Now when you move this stupid thing, there’s no graceful way of doing it, so you go back and open the back doors so you don’t lurch the back of the train through the doors, and you keep repeating this until the train fits between the two sets of doors.

Now that is ONLY the things that you deal with every single day of running the train.  IF you’re working a train such as this one, that goes up and down hills on the way around the park, you also have to deal with “sanding” the tracks.  If it’s drizzling, or even just foggy, or even just humid enough to make surfaces moist… that train is going to get stuck going up the hills.   This will also happen if the grass is too long and hangs over the tracks. So if you KNEW it was foggy, or drizzly and that chances were you would get stuck, you would have to go out every other trip, or maybe you could get two trips in, and take a bag full of sand, and line the rails going up the hills, even if it’s ever so slight hill.  This would involve first telling everyone at the train station that they were going to have to wait before they could go on because you had to sand the tracks, which got you ALL kinds of shit ass attitude from people.  And it’s like “It’s just a stupid little train ride, this is literally the lamest ride an adult can go on, and you’re crying about it”… then you go out with your bag of sand and hit all the hills and go back and get the people who are all now super pissed at you for doing your job,

The worst was one time I was out with a full train, and halfway through it started to rain, and I KNEW I was fucked with the big hill that was coming, so as soon as I cleared the turn I just put the hammer down and tried to get enough speed to slide up the hill, and ALMOST got it…. but started sliding back down the hill… so I had to stop the train and let everyone know we had to walk back to the station.  JESUS CHRIST, you’d think I just told this train load of buttholes that they were going to have to push the train back to the station.  Almost every time I operated the train I would fantasize about the fumes killing me in the tunnel, and just have a ghost train blast through the station.  MAN FUCK THAT TRAIN!

Now adult rides for the most part were pretty fun.  

The Bayern Kurve was probably my favorite ride to work on, it was fun enough that people were happy to ride it, it was simple one directional thing, so there was no confusion, and there was the two-fer aspect of it didn’t LOOK real exciting, and it was a quick ride, so you never had the stress of long lines.   That and nobody got sick on it.   But it was basically a bobsled inspired ride.  It was one of my favorites to ride on a day off too.  Because I liked it so much, I almost NEVER got into work to see “B/K” by my name.  LAAAAAAAME.

The Musik Express was sort of the Bayern Kurve’s annoying brother.  It was the same idea, basically, but it would go backwards as well.  The thing that really sucked about it, was the cars went ALL the way around, so you would have to hike the full circle checking that people were secure, and to unlock the cars when it was done.  Which doesn’t sound bad, but the walkway was wood with little raised wood strips for walking on, and by the end of the night, those little wooden strips would have the bottom of your feet bruised.  AND it was hugely popular, so there was always a giant line, and people would get mad at the wait.  There are however three stories that stick out with this monstrosity.

  1. The Racist Accusation – When you would let people in the line, you’d count up to the number of cars, so let’s say there were 20 cars, you’d count as 20 people ran past you, then as they settled in up to 3 per car, you’d let in a second dose of people based on the empty number of cars, and keep doing this until the cars were full.  So one time I’m letting people in and there was a little black boy that was the cut off point.  We get the ride going, and there’s loud music blasting, and as I’m in the control booth, I see my supervisor Jim getting leaned into by an older black lady and he’s all wide eyed and talking to her.   Then as we let the people off, he comes up and says that the lady said you wouldn’t let her kid on because you’re racist.  I explained that the ride was full and he would have had to ride on the center tarp if I had let him on.  But there you go folks, people yelled racism about stupid shit back in 1993 too.
  2. One time the ride caught on fire…. and people were PISSED that we closed the ride for repairs.  BECAUSE OF A FIRE.  And it wasn’t even closed that long, they replaced the electric motor that had caught on fire.  Man people are such fuckfaces sometimes.
  3. If I was dishonest, I could have made a SHIT ton of money on this ride from all the wallets and money that fell out during the ride… I mean loose change and stuff you’d keep, just because nobody would know about 40 cents that fell out of their pocket.  But I remember finding a wallet, and I quick opened it to see if I could see the person on the ID, and I didn’t.  But they had $700 cash in the wallet (over $1,400 figuring for inflation) in it.  So I went down to the lost and found and when I turned it in, the guy who owned it just happened to walk up… the girl gave him the wallet and said “He just turned it in!” and the guy just looked at me, and left… not even a thanks or anything.  I wasn’t expecting money, but I don’t know how someone can have their wallet full of cash returned and not even smile, or act grateful.


Dante’s Inferno – This is probably the most iconic ride of the park, a lot of people would say the Starliner roller coaster, but that just looked like any coaster.  This was a giant Devil’s head that you had to walk into the mouth of. 

Once inside it was a Chance Trabant ride.  Which if you’ve never seen one, it’s sort of like that Musik Express, but it tilts on its side.  The feeling when you’re on it, even though you’re spinning, is more of a rising and falling feeling.  This is what the ride looked like in the light of day…

Dante’s Inferno was inside, air conditioned, and had a really intense laser and strobe light show, and a great stereo system.  While the air conditioning made the ride a blast to work on, it did have some downsides.   For instance, the amount of puke you had to clean really prepared me for parenthood.  You would EASILY have to shut the ride down 4 times per day to clean up the puke.  Now a few notable things I recall from this ride are…

  1.  One time we were unloading people and this one dude, I would say college aged, stood up when I unlocked the bar that holds you in the ride, and then he just fell face first off the ride.  “Great we killed another one” I said to the next person as I unlocked their thing and let them out.  WELL, turns out he WAS dead… well kinda… he had a heart attack.  Couldn’t have been more than 25 years old, and very athletic looking.  Had to shut the ride down until we could get someone to undead him.   Man people were PISSSSSSSED off that they couldn’t go on the ride while people worked on some dead guy.
  2. So the area that had the control panel was a little room, and there was a plexiglass window looking out at the ride, then to the right of that was just an open doorway.  There were three operators, one doing the music and lights, one doing the ride, and one who didn’t really have a official job, but when I was that person I would stand in the doorway and listen to the ride, and listen for people in distress.  So this one night I was standing in the doorway, and hear someone yelling “STOP THE RIDE, STOP THE RIDE, I’M GOING TO GET SICK” so I go inside and I say to the other two “Someone’s yelling that they’re si….” and before I could finish, it looked like someone took a 5 gallon bucket of chili and slung it across the plexiglass window.    I looked over and it was all over the floor where I was standing, I would have been soaked in barf had I not moved.   So we stop the ride and I go out to start unloading and someone’s RUNNING to the entrance door with a hand over her mouth… I point her to the actual exit, and grab the “Ride Is Closed for Maintenance” sign and went to open the door, and the door knob was COATED in puke… I’m pretty sure she at chili, it sure looked like it, and it felt like chunks of peppers on the door knob.  And it took SO LONG to clean up all of the spew, that management came in to check on why the ride wasn’t going… it was EVERYWHERE…. on the center section, on the roof of the operator room, the cars, the floor, the speakers, the shelves where lights and speakers were… the walls, the floors… IT WAS MIND BOGGLING. 


The Log Flume was probably my favorite ride, and it was actually my savior probably.  One thing that made it nice was there were a LOT of work stations, loader, unloader, starter/kicker, hill worker, and ticket booth So you would go most nights and never really repeat a job.  The ticket booth was a breeze, you just sat there and checked arm bands, the best part was working on the big hill… for an hour at a time you would sit on top of the big hill and make sure things were running smooth… for most of the time, you could sit there and look out over the Gulf of Mexico, or watch all the traffic of people cruising the strip.   But it was just you, a phone, a view, and every 30-45 seconds, a log full of people getting ready for the big drop going past.   They were fun to mess with sometimes I’d go down a little and say like “You ready for the big drop?” then they all scream then say “Well this isn’t it, this is just a small one that leads to the big one…. then you hear “YOU LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEED” fade into the distance when they drop.  Or you could hide and jump out and scare them when they got to the top.  Best job in the whole park in my opinion.  

The reason I call the ride my savior was nobody really liked working it, and we were maybe a week or two out from the end of the season, and I was pretty well burned out on Kiddy Rides.  The one big shady policy they had was that you were paid $4.50 per hour (Minimum wage was $4.25) BUT they kept 50 cents per hour for a year end bonus check.  BUT if you quit or got fired, you didn’t get that check… I have NO IDEA how that was legal.   Well I was so burned out I went to the rides management and said “Look, nobody likes the log flume, and I don’t like kiddy rides, can you just put me on the log flume the rest of the season and other people can be spared the flume?  And they agreed!!! That last week or so was so nice coming in and seeing “L/F” next to my name.  Now that ride wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops.  

One time I was on the big hill and I was watching a storm roll in over the Gulf of Mexico, it was actually really neat to watch the lightning striking the gulf.  But it kept getting closer, and I’m on the tallest thing in probably a quarter mile.  I call down and say “Hey, storms getting close… are we shutting down?” and they said “Don’t worry, we’ll let you know when we close it down”.  So I’m watching the storm get closer, and the rain starts coming down so I put on my rain jacket, and I’m looking at the phone, and nothing…. I pick it up to make sure it’s not dead.  Nope, there’s a dial tone.  So as I’m standing there I suddenly feel the hairs on my arm standing on end… I think “Oh shit, I’m about to get hit” and I squat down as low as I can and look up at the sky just as lightning streaks all over above me, looked like the veins of an old lady’s legs.   I quickly flipped open the hook and eye lock on the phone’s box and stabbed my finger, just as the phone rang with my panicked manager saying “GET DOWN HERE!!!”…. by the time I got down in the pouring rain, my bleeding finger diluted with the rain water looked like I had been up there slicing open jugulars or something.

One time I had come back from a lunch break to the log flume, and saw Mitch, the main Ride Supervisor and our on staff medic sprinting up the log flume exit with a medical kit in hand.   The big drop hills had sensors at the top the boats would trigger, and ones at the bottom they would trigger, so that if the bottom wasn’t triggered, the hill would shut down, preventing the boats from crashing.  Well a boat got jammed JUST PAST the bottom sensors and another boat crashed into it an knocked out a kids teeth and broke his arm.  That was the only really major thing I remember having seen happen at the park while I was there.

There were some other random stories like walking up the exit ramp to the roller coaster and seeing about a 1 inch piece of hot dog roll down the ramp and past my feet…. then another.  “What the hell?” I thought… got to the top and someone puked up their hot dog chunks and a couple got away.    Then one time we got invited out to a party on the beach, we show up at the hotel room and walked in just as a guy chugged 4 bottles of wine back to back… we were 16, and I looked at my friends and was like “I bet someone’s going to die here tonight, we need to get out of here.”   And everyone, for once, agreed with my prudish ways.

It was a fun job, but not so fun that I would go back for another season… I wound up doing Summer School instead.  But I’m glad I worked there.  There’s a bit of a brotherhood with Miracle Strip workers all these years later.   But the biggest perk was some 20 years later when I became a dad, and one of my precious little daughters puked what felt like hot latex paint, and smelled like rotten formula, all over me… It didn’t even phase me, it was nothing like the room full of chili, or the Hotdog Derby Race.