In contrast, the "grown-up" rides all required some amount of brainpower — absentmindedly hitting one switch at the wrong moment could wreck the whole operation. There's the Splash Party (short version: you get in a car, ride up a hill, ride down the hill, get uncomfortably wet, exit the ride). And who could forget the mysterious Spazzatorium — three circular rigs of whirling cars, only enhanced by a darkened sphere, strobe light, and mid-'90s electronica soundtrack (let's just say I heard enough Crystal Method to last a lifetime in those two summers). On these rides, the long lines meant you were always busy doing something. As a bonus, you spent most of your time in a booth, somewhat removed from the visitors. And, perhaps best of all for someone with an almost pathological hatred of heat and humidity, many of the larger rides placed operators in shade or near something that gave off a good breeze.

And the guests? (Never customers, by the way; people spending their days in the park are always guests.) Well, they didn't always like following the rules.

I'll be fair here. I get it: people are just there to have a good time. They don't need to get lectured on conduct by a bunch of snotty college freshmen. That said, when someone tells you to exit to your left, if you then proceed to immediately exit to your right, you can't be surprised or upset when someone loudly repeats the directions.

But at some point I became keenly aware that I was looking into a mirror: that for all my gestures toward big-city sophistication, I really wasn't any different from these folks eagerly asking to stay on the roller coaster for another ride. How was the way my friends and I yelled "Tastes great!" and "Less filling!" at opposite ends of the pirate ship's pendulum swing any different from the various cracks about how wet people got on the Splash Party?

None of this led to any real changes in my life or newfound self-awareness, but as I mentioned before, I was 19.

All ride names have been changed to protect the innocent.

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