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Monday, May 2, 2016

From the Midway : Who said you can't home again?

Monday, July 6, 2009

The other week I had some time off. I spent my vacation puttering around the home, camping out with some friends, and of course, spending one day with my mother.

The other major thing I did was something I've been putting off for far to long. For you regular readers of this column you may know that I once worked at Arnolds Park Amusement Park for several years when I was younger.

Working at the Park was hard and rewarding and so much fun. I can't ever remember my first time being at the Park. To me it was always there.

I was in my mid-teens when I first started working at the Park, well not in any official way but I hung around one of the old arcades so much that I was put to work.

I would watch the cash register whenever the attendants would sneak off to have a beer or some other mind-altering activities that they did. My skill at handing out change and unjaming quarters from a video game blossomed and soon I had free reign of the place.

That was a historic time for the Park. No, not me being able to fix a Skee-Ball machine, but it was the summer of 1988 and the Park itself was closed and undergoing a massive renovation.

The only thing that was open to the public was an arcade, music store and the Saltwater Taffy stand. I only lived two blocks from the Park and needless to say I spent a lot of time down there.

I was only 15 at the time and was not old enough to do any of the manual labor jobs.

The next year though I graduated from Park Brat to a Park Rat. A Park Brat is a kid that has nothing better to do than to hang out at the park and bug the employees.

A Park Rat is an employee or term that describes the local population. That summer I still never actually worked for the Park itself. I worked for the company that owned the video games and Skee-Ball joint that was located at the Park.

I was hired because the management of that company got to know me during the season before. It was an exciting time to work at the Park. By now the Park was completely remodeled and expanded. During that season of 1989 I was quickly promoted to being the manager in charge of the Arcade and Skee-Ball joint.

The Skee-Ball joint consisted of 10 machines with ticket dispensers I might add, and was located on the Midway section of the Park next to the rest of the games. It was its own complete entity. The Arcade was located up the hill a little way and housed about 30 video games.

I saw a lot of action that year but sadly the Arcade was going the way of the dinosaurs and by the time the next season rolled around they were no longer as popular as they once were and the Arcade was closed.

That company that I worked for also decided to also sell the Skee-Ball machines to the Park and when the Park bought those machines I got a call from the Park manager that winter and was asked to come and maintain those machines. That was when I became the Games Assistant Manager and my employment for the park was finally legitimized.

Over the next seven years I worked my way up to the Games Manager. I learned how to operate all the rides, worked concerts and saw many great performers over those years, some I even had a chance to run the spotlights for the shows. I also did every thing from mowing the yards to picking up garbage, to cleaning the bathrooms.

I was even part of the off-season maintenance crew. During the winter months we would redo rides or paint fences or any other job that needed done. Eventually I knew that Park inside and out. I ended my career at the Park as the Personnel Director.

I was in charge of hiring most of the summer employees and scheduling, plus ordering all the teddy bears for the games, staffing concerts, and making sure that we had people staffed for special events like weddings and company picnics.

It was a tough and very stressful time in my life, doing all that and also trying to attend college at the same time. Not to mention being young and at the party headquarters that is the Iowa Great Lakes.

I still to this day joke about that's the reason I went bald when I was 22. I pulled all my hair it out.

Sadly I had to part ways with the Park in the fall of 1996. I suffered from two things at that time. A personal injury and a new boss. He had only been there a few months and with over eight years of experience I suddenly didn't know how things worked at the Park.

Let's just say for the record that we did not see eye to eye on many things. In the end he won out, not on any matter of policy, but the fact that he was a relative of the owner. So feeling not welcomed any longer I left the Park, my love, my home.

For me it was really hard to bear. I wasn't the only one to go, many good people that made the Park what it was during that time period were eventually forced out. It is my opinion that it was the actions of those individuals that almost caused the permanent closure of the Park. Thank god for the town's people who rallied to save the Park or else there would be a string of condos there right now.

I must add that it is also my opinion that those people responsible for the near destruction of the Park weren't bad people and I know they did try their best, but they just did not belong in that business.

Since that time I left the Park I only have been back there a few times. But for the past few years I've been waiting to take pictures of the place to start a photo essay of the Park. Since I worked there for so long I thought I could bring a unique perspective to the subject matter.

I've tried several times in the past couple of years to go back but every time I pulled into the parking lot many of those old feeling of disappointment and betrayal and bitterness would comeback to me and I would leave before I even got one shot off.

It took me until last Wednesday before I could finally walk through the place. I did take some nice pictures and I hope to get back there again to take several more over the next couple of years.

The Park has given me a lot in my life and I still love the place and want to give back as much as I can. It still amazes me how much that place has affected my life. In fact that is why this column is named, "From the Midway."

(Photo)
It was on that Midway at the Park that I developed from a boy to a man and it gave me a point of view of life that most don't see - that Arnolds Park will always feel like home to me.

Mike Leckband
From the Midway