I had liked everything that had come out of The Emerald City so far, so it was an obvious choice of destination when everything went pear-shaped whilst working in California. After a non-stop two days on the Greyhound bus, during which time I was befriended by a racist redneck who was planning to join a cult in Oregon, I reached my destination.
All of the hostels were booked, so I set off up Aurora Avenue with the intention of finding a cheap motel. The only one with vacancies was a small, cockroach-infested drive-in. They did have a cheap weekly rate though, so I took a room. The next day I set about finding a job. I only had one month left on my work visa, so it proved tricky trying to talk potential employers into hiring me. Money was tight and after two days of searching the only place that had offered me a job was the Fun Forest fair beneath the Space Needle.
Earning the equivalent of £3 an hour, I had to operate the same ride for over 10 hours in the hot sun. People say that Seattle is all rain, but in the summer it is hot. Not only did I have to contend with hundreds of bratty American kids trying to sneak on my ride without a ticket, but I also had to endure continuous harassment from middle-aged single-parent fathers, whose kids were only six years younger than me. My journey home consisted of walking 20 minutes to the bus stop, which was opposite a strip joint called Deja Vu. My regular bus stop buddies included skate kids smoking copious amounts of weed, hookers pulling over cars to negotiate a price and drunken homeless people begging for money. They soon became the least of my worries when I started working with Dave.
Dave seemed nice enough at first. True he had a king mullet, spoke like a redneck and could often be seen re-selling ride tickets for half price back to customers who were queuing for his ride, but he seemed okay. That was until he started talking about the reason he was in prison in the first place. That’s right. The fair was used by the local penitentiary as a day release work programme for convicts. Dave assured me that he was only in for producing and supplying crystal meth and added that he would be more than happy to employ me as a dealer once he was free – in seven days.
From that point on I tried to avoid conversation with the ever-happy drug baron and I managed to lie about where I was living when he asked me. As time drew near to his release I started to freak out but, luckily, just before that day arrived he walked off a ride while it was in full operation. That wouldn’t have been so bad, except for the fact that he’d kicked hell out of the controls first, so that it couldn’t be stopped without cutting off all the power. This of course meant that he had to go back inside for a few months and was no longer allowed out on work release.
Things, it seemed, would now be less stressful and, apart from the time I was quickly pulled off working a ride with another convict with no explanation (later finding out he was in for rape), things became a lot calmer. I found myself placed on a number of different rides, mainly with local gangster kids and petty criminals who had only committed ‘minor’ offences like GBH.
After four weeks of hanging out with my prison pals – most of whom felt so bad for my current state of poverty and diet of peanut butter sandwiches, that they brought me their prison food in the morning so that I could get some fruit in my diet – I had finally done my time. I had earned enough money to leave the fair and could wave these caring cons goodbye.
I was going to finish my travelling before going back home to start my degree. Before my manager gave me my final paycheque, he looked me in the eye and said: ‘Make sure you do well in school, kid, so you never have to come and work here again.’ It was probably the best advice anyone has ever given me.
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