We heard a brief snippet of the announcement come over the attendant’s walkie-talkie as we waited to board the Zoo Train. In a moment, I was back at my high school summer job… a hostess at Marine World, Africa USA.
It was a dream job for me. I was outside all day, working with the guests at the shows, around animals, and able to eat pretzels and soft-serve for my lunch. My uniform… shorts, a cute shirt and espadrilles, ended up giving me the weirdest tan lines that didn’t really go away for years afterwards. This, though, was more like a badge of honor… how could anyone not envy my job?
My favorite shift to get was the first one of the day. Arriving before the park was open, it felt like I had it all to myself. The paths were perfectly clean and everything was quiet but for the call of the animals now and then.
When this was combined with a shift at the dolphin show my day was perfect. There I would say hello to my dolphin friends and they would follow me around the arena as I prepared it for the show. We had a fun game of tag where I would go in one direction along the tank and they would chase me until they could splash me with water, then I would turn and go the other way and they would try to repeat it.
I even enjoyed working in the information booth… a shift that for some reason the other hosts felt was the worst. I liked answering questions for the guests and welcoming them as soon as they walked in the front gates. The
only part of the job I hated was when a child would become lost and be brought to us to care for. Being with the poor, scared child wasn’t the part I disliked; I appreciated the chance to try to reassure them and make them feel better. It was only when the parents arrived that my anxiety would peak.
If the parents found them quickly all was fine. But for some reason, the longer it had been the angrier they were with the child when they finally found them. After being with the scared child for a while, it was almost impossible for me to watch quietly while the parents yelled at them for disappearing.
Now, of course, as a parent I understand better. For one thing, although my daughter was never a runner, I have seen plenty of other children who are. Warning after warning makes no difference… and it is only after getting truly lost that the child learns the lesson about staying close to their parent. I also learned, in that info booth, how easily it can happen. So while my daughter doesn’t enjoy hearing my directions every time we go somewhere crowded, I still remind her of what to do if we are separated.
This article by wikihow provides excellent suggestion for keeping children safe at amusement parks, which from the sound of it the parents of the lost zoo child did well. And I like to think that when they found him, rather than yelling, he got a huge hug.