How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kurdish Twist

I was a teenage ride-operator
By RYAN STEWART  |  July 27, 2012


"Today, you're going to the Diminutive Dinos."

That's my boss speaking to my 19-year-old self. And he's not giving me good news.

I walk out to a clearing where six big-eyed reptile faces stare back at me. It's entirely possible I'm grumbling audibly. Within about 10 minutes, a steady stream of young children will come by to ride in a dinosaur, where they can control the beast's elevation. My only Dino duties are to hit a start button and keep my foot on a pedal — and check everyone's safety straps, of course. I also have to yell at people for trying to cram too many kids into a dinosaur or jerking the elevation-control stick so as to make the entire machine shake. The kids yell, they run, they chase after the peacocks that wander the park's grounds, and they frequently request double-rides. They are, in a word, annoying. Parents glare at me as I joylessly usher the kids off the ride. The adults constantly allude to something called "Dragon Tales." I don't know what that is. I don't care. I don't need any of this; I'm a college student, dammit.

I worked at an amusement park (which shall remain nameless) for the summers of 1999 and 2000. I was clearly not cut out for food service due to my clumsiness and general distaste for moving quickly. I had a long history with the park as a youth, notably the wooden roller coaster and the pirate ship. So I thought it might be more fun than the usual mindless summer job.

The hours were long, but I didn't need to be in until a little before noon on most days. The routine of controlling each ride's go-round made the days go by more quickly. Most of my other friends worked, too, so I wasn't missing much by spending my afternoons in the Spazzatorium.

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So here I am, sitting at a console with a joystick, controlling the speed of a cylindrical, rotating room. It's called the Kurdish Twist. People stand inside the room and find themselves pressed against the wall by centrifugal force as the room rotates faster and faster. I will, at a certain point during the ride's duration, lower the floor to emphasize the effect. From the observation deck, people will — once per cycle — remark about the ride's resemblance to a top-loading washing machine. Frequently, someone will vomit on the ride. (Fun fact: because of the centrifugal effects, people are physically incapable of throwing up until the ride has slowed to a near stop.) Post-vomit, the ride has to be shut down for five minutes or so for cleaning; I have to hose it down myself. This was one my favorite rides when I was young, but now I associate it too closely with the smell of regurgitated hot dogs to ever ride it again.

Existence at the park ultimately swung entirely on the daily ride assignment. Kiddie rides were generally considered the bottom of the ladder; being sent to one of those often felt like punishment, even if that wasn't the case. Having to supervise a bunch of small children who aren't really having fun on rides that move slowly does very little to help pass the time: when children wanted to ride, other than ensuring everyone was successfully strapped in (usually the parents insisted on doing this for you), the actual "operation" often consisted of a single button push or pedal press. Those hours crawled.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , amusement parks, midsummer12
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