The morning sun felt like a warm blanket on his skin and like knives in his eyes. He scratched the itchy collar of the bright green coveralls he got in the mail the week before, having completely neglected his normal habit of washing every new uniform ten times over. You know, to wear it in a little. The rumbling of the bus’s engine jostled him awake long enough to take a prolonged sip of coffee, staving off another jerk-filled nap against the rattling window. Outside, miles of emptiness, plain beige hills and brush rolled on forever and ever under a shining sun and a bright blue sky. A duffel bag belonging to him shifted alongside the overhead luggage of the other passengers, all dressed in the same uniform.
Looking outside as an old radio tower passed by, he thought it weird that he had to come stay for orientation at the new amusement park he got the cleanup job at, but it sure as hell beat the hole in the wall apartment in the city. Maybe here I'll finally get some hot water , he thought, finishing the paper cup of coffee before gently setting it down between his work boots to prevent it from rolling around. The man next to him, a tall, tan fella with a wispy moustache and long hair listening to screechy guitar solos through a set of old headphones, must have noticed that he woke up finally. He took off his headphones and turned to face him, a relaxed smile forming across his face.
“'Sup dude, you were out for a while there, thought you were like, dead,” he laughed, voice thick with languor like the air was thick with the smell of sunscreen. He hummed back groggily. Too early to talk still.
“I've been so bored this whole time,” he continued, flashing the tiny screen of the mp3 player he was listening to, displaying the name of some metal band. “Been through this bad boy like, three times. And it's a long album.”
“Mhm,” he managed a reply, feeling the caffeine slowly start to take effect and the other man's voice start to become bearable.
“So anyways like, you ever been to this place?” he asked.
“Potential Park! Now that's a cool as hell name. ‘Cause it's like, potential energy that like rollercoasters have, y’know? Makes sense cause it's supposed to be like… ALL coasters,” he rambled, using his hands to emulate the motion of a rollercoaster.
“Probably not, didn't it just open?”
“Well like yeah, but maybe you've like seen pictures of it or something.”
“Just a couple in the mail with the uniform. Not sure why it’s all the way out here though.”
“Oh yeah, me too. Guess there’s no room like, in the city.”
He considered rebutting this guy’s optimism with incredulity about how they were all to commute from their city locations to this middle of nowhere theme park, but decided against it. It would probably be another dead-end thing and the place would close after a month because nobody knows where it is and nobody cares. He dreaded the thought of having to put a suit back on and pretend he had data entry experience in front of some stuffy, deathly-pale yuppie only to get rejected in two weeks because the position was already filled by the manager’s son by the time he got there or whatever.
“So where ya from?” the guy next to him asked.
He snapped back from his desolate prediction of the future, the guy next to him still wanted to talk despite his bristly mood.
“Uhh… the city,” he replied, assuming he would be as well.
“Oh you’re actually from here, cool. I’m from Fresno, had to get the hell outta there y’know?” he laughed.
“And come somewhere hotter and more desolate?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. He’d been to Fresno once, didn’t much like it, but here wasn’t much better.
“Pfft, at least it’s not Phoenix,” he held out his hand to him. “I’m Luis.”
“Mateo, Matt’s fine.” He shook his hand, joltingly cold and dry. Luis grinned, happy with having learned his name. Matt turned his head to look out the window while Luis started to talk about the band he was listening to, believing that he was paying attention. Matt watched the hills roll by until he saw it, a twisting nest of multicolored steel settled in a flat spot amongst the empty landscape, Potential Park.
“Aw sweet!” Luis said, interrupting himself from his dissertation on the thrash stylings of Goatskull’s latest LP, leaning over Matt in the seat to get a closer look. The park stuck out from everything else around it: colorful, complex tracks of coasters arcing and weaving apart and together in a delicately choreographed motion. Beyond the fence planted into the dirt around the perimeter, well-manicured gardens and crystal clear water artfully decorated the ground. He imagined the nightmare it must have been to get all that water all the way out here.
“Must be like, a ton of pipes or pumps or whatever,” Luis mused, as if he could read Matt’s mind.
“Or a water tower,” he added.
“Oh yeah! Maybe that too.”
“Looks like this is our stop.”
It was still early in the morning, but the sun was already working on heating the pavement to approximately 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Matt and Luis stood shoulder to shoulder amongst the crowds of new employees, sweat starting to form under their uniform ballcaps.
“Ok. Hear me out,” Luis began, gesturing to a group of employees closer to the gate. “Blue guys got the hardhats right? Reds and greens don’t, and we know green is cleanup ‘cause like, we’re green.”
“Uh huh,” Matt replied.
“Blue’s gotta be construction worker then.”
“They don’t have those orange vests. You gotta wear those if you’re a construction worker.”
“Ugh, you’re right.”
“I think blue is plumbing. Gotta be with all this water.”
“But like, that’s so specific…”
A hand clapped Matt on the shoulder, making him jump. Whipping around, a gargantuan man in a green jumpsuit grinned from beneath a bushy, rust-colored beard.
“107 and 108! Or as my sheet says… Mateo Vin and Luis Moreno!” he bellowed, gruff voice carrying above the crowd. He stuck out a meaty hand to Matt, almost crushing his digits to dust as he shook the living daylights out of it.
“I’m Ted, your boss. Welcome to orientation weekend!”
“Glad to be here dude!” Luis said, grinning. He seemed to take Ted’s handshake like no problem, unlike Matt, who winced from the lightning sparking through his wrist as he regained feeling in his fingertips.
“Glad to have ya,” Ted replied, “it’s a big place here, needs lotsa folks on the ground. Lucky for you guys though, once you’re all set up at your rooms, today you get to know the place!”
Luis’s face lit up like a city skyline on 4th of July. Matt’s eyebrows raised up as Ted forked over a map and two tickets to him and Luis.
“You got any questions before I turn you fellas loose?”
“Yeah, a couple,” Matt replied. Luis started shifting in his work boots, itching to run off into the park before the other guys got first place in line.
“Who are the guys in the other jumpsuits?”
“Oh! They’re other employees, blue is maintenance, red is security. Us in the green,” Ted replied, heartily banging his chest so hard Matt swore he heard it thump like a wooden barrel, “we’re custodians!”
“Gotcha. And we’re staying at the building on the west end?”
“Sounds good then.”
“See you around fellas!”
Luis grabbed Matt’s shoulder the second Ted walked off, carrying him along as he ran for the entrance.
“C’mon, let’s go get the front seats!” he shouted, lanky legs pulling himself effortlessly across the pavement. Luis neglected to ask if Matt even liked rollercoasters, to Matt’s chagrin of course, because he did not.