It’s the height of summer and I keep hearing catchy theme park jingles on the radio (“where the American family comes to play …”), which keeps me thinking about my very first, real, grown-up-with-a-paycheck-and-a-W2-form job: working at Funtown. (If you want to get technical, I worked for Fun Foods, which is a contracted vendor that did all the food service in the park.) It was the summer of 2010 – the three-month period after high school and before college, a classic American time for a kid to have a summer job.

Finding a job that summer wasn’t easy – we were only two years into recovery from the 2008 recession – but my friend had worked there the previous summer, and she helped snag me an interview. When I signed the last piece of paperwork and was officially hired, my brand-new boss, Rob, said to me, “Emily got you this job. But you are the one who has to keep it.” I’ve never forgotten that. A connection can get you only so far. Eventually you have to walk the walk.

I made slightly above Maine’s minimum wage at the time – around $7.60 an hour. It was frequently hard work – standing for hours on concrete (my lower back is aching just thinking about it; I’m definitely not 18 anymore); sweltering heat; pointless rules and regulations (I got chewed out by my manager for chewing gum). I developed a routine of packing six Oreos in my lunchbox and bringing $3 in cash to buy a frozen lemonade every lunch break, which, in addition to being a delicious treat, was dispensed from the juice cart by a very cute girl whom I never got up the courage to talk to.

I worked at several snack stands around the park, but I ended up at the ice cream cart, most often with LaToya; she was from Jamaica on a J-1 visa. She was so small that the uniform sweatshirt that she put on whenever the temperature dropped below 70 degrees hung almost to her knees (and it was a size medium). We were paired on the schedule so much because we worked very efficiently together and had a good division of labor going. She (from tropical Jamaica) tidied the patio, which was a slab of concrete that baked like a burner in the 90-degree sun, and I (from frozen Maine) was more than willing to stick my entire arm in the ice bucket to grab bottled sodas. We took turns cleaning up post-roller-coaster-ride vomit.

She told me about Jamaica – did you know that nobody actually says “ya mon” very much there (except when talking to tourists)? – and how whole towns could come to a halt when people gathered in bars to watch big soccer and track events. I was the first gay person she had ever met. Some of the questions I was prepared to answer (“Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure”). And others … I wasn’t (“So how do two women, you know…?” “Oh, look, we’re out of napkins! I had better go to the warehouse to get more!”). Once, the park had to shut down briefly because a skunk had been spotted on the premises, and LaToya was confused as to why there was such a big reaction over such a small animal. (Skunks are not native to Jamaica.)

I’ve heard people getting upset when immigrants don’t speak English; I don’t understand why. One of LaToya’s friends would stop by the ice cream cart almost every day and they would chat in Jamaican patois; the first time I heard it I was just stunned with how beautiful it sounded and how musically it flowed. She turned to me afterward and asked, “Did you understand any of that?” I had to admit that, other than a few words here and there, I could not. But that didn’t matter.

By the end of the summer, I had saved enough money that I could buy my own laptop to take to college with me and all my textbooks for freshman year to boot (and as many of you will discover in a few weeks, college textbooks do not come cheap). If I hadn’t spent so much on frozen lemonade, I probably could have afforded sophomore year’s as well. I haven’t been able to eat fried dough since – once you make the stuff, it loses a great deal of its charm – but I can still swirl a perfect soft-serve cone.

I didn’t go back the next summer. I found a different job (one that involved being inside, with air conditioning), and I have been gainfully employed ever since. But I have never forgotten the things I learned there, where the American family comes to play.

At Funtown Splashtown … USA!

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @mainemillennial