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From the Midway: Amy, Terry and me

Monday, February 22, 2010

Former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has recently thrown his hat back into the Iowa political ring. At this point you may be expecting a fairly, perhaps witty, critique of the Governor's political motivations or his record as Governor of the great state of Iowa.

But alas, I would like to share with you the story of the time I met Governor Branstad. As I recall the year was 1990 and it was opening day at Arnolds Park. I was once again working the Skee-Ball joint.

The Skee-Ball joint and I were old friends at this point in my life. I had logged many hours handing out change and giving teddy bears away and with a start of a new season, opening day at the Park was always an event. On that day I was given a trainee and her name was Amy Nelson. Amy and I were familiar; she was two grades behind me in high school.

This was one of her first days working at the Park and the poor girl got stuck working with me. Amy at the time was a shy girl at the tender age of 14. I often think if she knew how events of that day would unfold she may have never gotten out of bed.

I was instructing Amy of the finer points of working at the Skee-Ball game, how to hand out quarters, give out prizes, and most important was learning to duck when a wayward (made of wood mind you) Skee-Ball would come flying at your head by some patrons.

The final goal of Amy's training consisted of telling her how part of her job was to call out to people walking by to enter and play the game, just like any good carnival barker does.

The thought of having to do this just mortified Amy. I can remember her saying that she didn't think she could do something like that. I guess in hindsight that is why she got stuck with me. It was soon she would learn just how easy it was to call people in to your game.

At the time I was still a few months shy of turning 18 and was starting my third season at the Park and one thing I was good at was bringing people into my game. I didn't have the problem of being shy. I could tip a crowd with the best of them.

I was trying to assure Amy that anybody could call people in. There are many techniques to use but I found the direct approach the most beneficial. Amy still wasn't convinced that she could come out of her shell. In frustration I said, "Look, it's easy, I'll get the next person who walks by to play the game."

At this point Governor Branstad and his entourage came walking in front of my game. Branstad was the honored guest at the Park that day. Back then the Park always made a big to-do on opening day. In fact one year we had two guys who were dressed in a pig and a bear suit jump out of a airplane and skydive onto the waiting crowd only to be handed the key to the city by the Mayor of Arnolds Park. But that's a story for another time.

After the opening ceremonies, Branstad was taking a tour of the Park when by chance his path crossed in front of me. As soon as I spotted Branstad it was time for me to put my money where my mouth was. I told Amy how easy it was to call people in and challenged her I could get the next person who walked by into playing my game. It was just by chance that Branstad walked in front of my game at that exact moment.

When I saw the governor I turned back to Amy and said, "Watch this."

"Hey, Terry!" I screamed.

He lifted his head up and glanced in my direction. At that point I knew I had him.

"Come play my game," I said, and motioned for him to come over.

He politely said no thanks, and kept walking.

I replied "Come on, it's only a quarter, you can afford a quarter can't you?"

Challenging a man's ability to afford something is a strong motivation for them to spend their cash.

But Branstad was a tough nut to crack.

He pointed to his watch and indicated he was short on time.

I bellowed back, "Just come and play my game, it will give me a story I can tell my grandkids someday. I'll tell them how I got the Governor to play Skee-ball."

Well, at this point Branstad was painted into a corner and he had no more outs. He quickly realized that he was now going to have to shell out a quarter to shut this kid up.

He dug deep down in his pants pocket and stepped towards one of the Skee-Ball machines and dropped the quarter in. At this time a bunch of reporters jumped onto the other Skee-Ball machines and started snapping off pictures of the Governor playing Skee-Ball. Those boys sure knew a good photo-op when they saw one.

He quickly threw the balls up the ramp and only scored 140 points.

He came over and shook my hand and thanked me for the game while the reporters took a few more pictures. He then left to continue the rest of his tour of the Park.

I turned around and said to Amy, "That's how you do that."

As I looked at Amy she was standing with her back to me with her head faced down cradled in her hands.

I told her that everyone is gone and she could turn around now. Expecting her to still be mortified she then looked up at me with wide-eyed expression and almost in shock said, "I can't believe you just got the Governor to play Skee-Ball. I can't believe it." All in a days work at the Park.

Amy soon came out of her shell that day and became a great Park employee. Once she was out of that shell she found a confidence that she never knew before. Over the next few years she worked directly with the customers at the Park.

She worked past her fear of the public and was for a time one of the first faces people would see while entering the Park. She became a part of the office staff and in later years went to college to become a police officer and trained with the Arnolds Park Police Department.

Amy learned two lessons that day. First, never work with Mike unless you have to. The other was that once in a while you have to make your voice heard.

Because if you just stand there being quiet, an opportunity of a lifetime can walk right by you.

Mike Leckband
From the Midway