Theme Park World (1999)
Ever the go-getter, my interest was piqued by a recent newspaper ad I came across looking to hire a manager for a theme park. The place was its own island, the Lost Kingdom, and it was dinosaur themed. Of course, I immediately had terrible thoughts of Jurassic Park, in particular the bit where Newman from Seinfeld gets torn up by peacock dinosaurs, having just had his face melted off. I’m a bit of a Newman really, but I thought I’d apply.
Why not? I had nowt to lose, and in any case I was still waiting to hear back on second interviews for several lion taming roles – I had to do something with my degree after all. And wouldn’t you know it, the Theme Park national manager Mr. Terrywogan got back to me almost straight away with a call to interview.I took the ferry out to Lost Kingdom at once. But I had some misgivings – first of all, I usually wear a sharp suit to interviews, one that I purloined from Lidl. But on this occasion I decided to wear a dinosaur baseball cap, khaki archaeologists overalls, a devastating socks & sandals combos and tribal face paint. I thought this would help me convey an image of being “hip” and “down”, qualities no doubt important for a theme park supremo.
My second misgiving was that the waves of the ocean, combined with the few pints of Dutch courage I’d put away that morning, combined to give me some awfully non-compliant guts. Nonetheless, I had to press on and impress Mr. Terrywogan, because I thought a theme park could be a good laugh to run and anyway I was on my final warning with the dole.
“Here’s the suss, Burkey” the portly tanned man in the three-piece double-breasted ivory suit said as he took me into his office and gave me a strong, two-armed handshake, gold bullion dancing and jangling all about. “We need you to build us a theme park.”
“It sounds very good, Mr. Terrywogan. And I can do it. I’ve been on loads of rollercoasters, and my favourite is the teacups. I was once a school prefect as well, so I can handle children, give them a few slaps even,” I countered, ready to explain the finer details on my CV and especially my weaknesses. Employers loved asking about weaknesses and I had lots of them that I was prepared to talk about for days on end.
“Not a goer I’m afraid Burkey, too many sensitive parents about nowadays. Nah, in the old days you could smack the children around and make them buy the plasters from you, but it ain’t really on now. And please, call me Archie. Now, shall we step outside?”
I was thrilled to be hired of course, though I began to smell a rat when he brought me out to a massive plot of land where there was a crumbling gate, some dirt paths, acres of grass and not much else. There was some rather makeshift looking fences protecting the plot of land, fences that I suspect had been erected by, ah, amateur labourers.
“Do you… do you own all this land, Archie?” His eyes narrowed.
“It’s the council’s problem now. Do you understand me? It’s the council’s problem.”
“Yes Archie,” I lied, nodding sagely. I didn’t want to rock the boat, so I thought it best to keep quiet about the whole thing. It was that kind of sharp thinking that made me a fortune when I had that 2 week stint in Goldman Sachs.
“Listen, you’ll have 50 large to build a theme park for us. Get the punters in, a load of snotty kids really, but they’re loaded some of ‘em. Come by boat ‘n’ all they do. They need a friendly face waiting to fleece them. Overload the cheap, off-brand pop with ice and pump rainwater into the ice creams, that sort of thing. Can you do it?”
I sort of thought that this was an impossible task, since I’d been on the Formula Rossa roller-coaster in Abu Dhabi and I remember reading that that one cost quite a bit more than fifty thou to produce. But that’s what I was hired to do. No way was I gonna let the guys down.
“Yeah Archie. I can well do it. You leave it to me,” then I quickly whipped around behind me to see who said that, who could possibly have made that outlandish remark on my behalf. He fixed me a smile from ear to ear.
“Goody gumdrops. Look, you won’t be alone. I know you’re a bit of an amateur at this, so I’ll get the Scot in to help you. He knows what it’s all about. Never stops reminding you actually, so maybe do yourself a favour and listen to him because I certainly don’t. I’m just the geezer with the dosh.”
“Well, take it easy Burkey, but remember – if you do my money, the sea is no distance. Keep that in mind Burkey, the sea is no distance”. He narrowed his eyes once more and walked off, looking all around him.
Tired, I crept off to my new office. But no sooner had I sat in my luxury brown leather chair and elected to take my usual afternoon nap, was I interrupted by the Scot. He was a limbless, black ant kind of creature, and by God did he not leave me alone.
He nagged at me about the park being closed to visitors, it not having any rides or shops or sideshows, there being no staff to maintain the park and therefore no patrol areas for them, and not even any toilets for the visitors. It was a real red flag for me, you know, getting all of this thrown at me in the first day. I eventually drowned my advisor out, had my nap then set off to work.
50,000 dollary-doos wasn’t a massive amount of bank, but luckily the rides were all of such poor quality and the staff so lowly paid that it didn’t much matter. And building the park was so easily done and intuitive – I used my mouse for everything: creating paths and ride queues all around the park, setting employee patrol areas, even making vast tracks for the Go-Karting and River Rapids that contravened all sorts of health and safety standards (the black ant tried to intervene at this point, but I worked him over).
But the best was the rollercoasters, which did cost a pretty penny. But what loops we had! I don’t think any children fell out either, which was positive, and it only went on fire and had to be repaired twice. Meanwhile, my scientists were hard at work researching new items to build, though I had to pretend to be as excited as the ant about being able to implement new rocks.
The challenges the ant set me to win Golden Tickets and Golden Keys were good fun, and I was making money for me and Archie hand over fist – a bit too easily by the end to be honest. Probably the most fun I had was actually getting down on the ground and walking around the vast masses of terror that I had constructed for the children. The children that I fleeced… no, that the theme park company had fleeced.
But after all, it was their money to spend. “Get the fat ones in, they love the steak restaurants,” Archie had said. “And balloons, sell them balloons Burkey. It’s just air, you sell them air you can sell them anything.”
Eighteen months later, Archie came in to see me. I had seen him on the news only a few weeks previous to that, although he tried to cover his face. I’d have done the same honestly, I hate flashing cameras.
“Have you lost weight, Archie? Only you seem to be missing a bulge by your hip.”
“Never mind about that Burkey. We’re in the money, old son! You’ve quadrupled our initial outlay!”
“Great!” I cried, secretly trying to figure out what an outlay was.
“How about heading on to one of our other parks? We have a few other sites as well. I call them sites, you’d probably have to call them allotments. Or clearing grounds really. We have sites themed for Halloween, Garden and Space. D’you fancy it?”
How could I say no? I called the black ant in and told him we were moving on. Of course, I took my little black bible with me, the one full of ways to rig sideshows and with the contact details of over 100 Chinese gift suppliers, all producing the highest-quality, lowest-priced gear in the Hangzhou region for us to sell on to the visitors at three times the recommended price. I gleefully left behind a park of 300+ starving, parched, sickened, impoverished children and set my sights towards providing the same wonderful experience for the next batch of lucky sods.
13 August 2018