“Pssst, hey kid,” I heard from behind me, scaring me half to death. “Jumpy today, aren’t we?” he barbed, before stepping out of a shadowed kiosk and revealing himself to not be a brutal murderer but merely an amusement park employee.
“I guess,” I acknowledged. “But I’m just looking for the ride’s exit,” I added, trying to get out of any potential conversation or transaction.
“I’ll bet you are,” he answered with a concerning amount of sinister bravado in his voice. “How’d you like the ride?”
“Is it this way?” I reiterated, accentuating my strides away from him.
“Actually, no. You’ll have to come through here. They built these things to dictate how you move after the ride. It’s kind of like the coasters, designed down to the inch. When they want you to feel it in your stomach, you do. When they want you to scream, they know how to make it so you do. When they want you to exit through the gift shop, you exit through the gift shop.”
Begrudgingly, I turned, just wanting to get out of there as fast as I could. I retraced my steps and tried to keep my head down as I passed this ominous corral sherpa, avoiding an invitation to any further interaction, now that I was on my way.
I slowed down, unsure. There was a measure to his tone that suggested I not totally blow past it. He sensed the hook had caught. “We’re selling back photos of our patrons on the ride and yours is a real doozy.”
“LOOK,” I said, clearly too loud and giving away too much. I drew near to the kiosk and the man behind it and in an adjusted hushed voice told him “I didn’t do the ride. I got on and chickened out and am just trying to get the hell out of here before my friends find out.”
“Ay, there’s the rub,” the man volleyed back at me, taking on my reduced tone. “I know an opt out when I see one. Remember, I told you they build these things to control your every move. I am offering you a chance to buy the picture of you getting off the ride, so that it will never see the light of day. For $20, I will delete the jpeg file right now. No one will ever know.”
“But if you don’t want to buy it back, there are video screens throughout the park that broadcast photos of all of the opt outs. A sort of wall of shame.”
My anger quickly bubbled to a full boil.
“It’s devious, I’ll admit. And when the park began tinkering with the idea, I was sure it would never work. Never catch on. But oh, how I was wrong. The wall of shame is one of our most popular current attractions. People love it.”
I considered not paying, letting my righteous indignation be my compass. But then I thought about everyone on the field trip seeing the photo. Prom season was around the corner and I wasn’t sure I could absorb this kind of a public relations nightmare.
“Hey kid,” the man interrupted my decision turned nightmare avalanche of a thought process, “you should pay. And quick. I’ve seen nicer guys than you lose way more than twenty bucks.”
I considered that twenty bucks meant I’d have to forgo the Dippin’ Dots and a few rounds of skee-ball and a soda for the bus ride home. And I remembered what the guy had told me, about the park controlling every move, as I counted out twenty dollars and slipped away to anonymity.