They boarded a yellow school bus in a Crenshaw Boulevard parking lot, and after a jostling 45-minute ride, they were wearing colorful, eye-catching uniforms, selling T-shirts and frozen bananas, encouraging players at game booths and frying french fries at Magic Mountain.
Many of them had searched fruitlessly for work before landing $4.25-an-hour summer jobs at the theme park through a program organized by Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter.
Despite the long bus ride and the undesirable shifts--Wednesday through Sunday, 2-10 p.m.--many of the 55 Crenshaw-area teen-agers say they like their jobs because they are meeting people and because the experience will open doors.
Almas Harris, 17, said he had struck out in his job search at neighborhood auto supply stores and fast-food outlets. In the stuffy kitchen of a food stand at Magic Mountain, he fed burger patties and buns into a cooker. At the other end of the cooker, Janasha Bayard, 16, her hands in plastic bags, slapped the patties onto lettuce-covered buns.
'Better Than So-So'
"It's all right--it's better than so-so," Almas said of his job, his rap tape on his boom box competing with the sizzle of deep-fat fryers and the slam of cash register drawers. "My feet don't hurt until I get to the locker room."
The program, which started a week and a half ago, took three months to organize, said Charles Rosseau, an assistant deputy to Galanter. Applications were distributed to Crenshaw-area parks and to community organizations, he said. Arranging transportation over the hill to the park in Valencia was the biggest hurdle, he said.
Each student pays $4 a day for the ride north at 12:30 p.m. and the ride back around 10:45 p.m. Galanter's office has contributed $600 to help cover the costs of leasing the bus, Rosseau said.
Six Flags Magic Mountain personnel manager Gary Vien said the amusement park is always on the lookout for employees--"hosts" and "hostesses," as Magic Mountain likes to call them--because the teen-age labor pool is small.
3,200 Summer Workers
The park, which draws 3.1 million thrill-seekers a year, has 3,200 summer employees, more than double the number during the off-season. About three-fourths of the employees are ages 16 to 20, and about 60% of the employees live in the Santa Clarita Valley, Vien said.
"The kids need jobs, and we need responsible hosts and hostesses," Vien said. "It's really a great marriage."
Magic Mountain, working with the Los Angeles County Regional Occupational Program and First Break, a program of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Los Angeles Unified School District, also has busloads of employees riding in from the San Fernando Valley, central Los Angeles and the Glendale area.
Other Southern California theme parks are also shipping in students to work. Universal Studios Hollywood has hired 277 high school students from the Glendale area and from the Montebello and Lynwood school districts through the Regional Occupational Program, officials said. Disneyland has about a dozen students coming from the Compton School District, said Disneyland spokesman Bob Roth.
The Crenshaw-area students at Magic Mountain went through 5-minute interviews at Galanter's Crenshaw office or at the park to get the jobs. Eighty-five students applied for the 55 openings, Vien said.
Last Wednesday shortly after noon, the hired students began converging on the Boys Market parking lot at Rodeo Road and Crenshaw Boulevard to catch the Magic Mountain-bound bus. In a scene reminiscent of the first day of school, many of the teen-agers were dropped off by parents or relatives.
Cheryl Williams was as excited as her daughter Kujuana was. "It should be educational and entertaining," she said. "It would be fascinating for me, being around all that noise all the time and meeting people all the time."
Kujuana, 17, calling herself a little shy, said that by working game booths all summer she wanted to learn how to talk to people more easily and to "be more open and learn how to be independent."
On the non-air-conditioned bus, the students snoozed, bantered and sang along to rap songs and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."
About half of the group had started work the previous week, so they trotted off to their stations when the bus pulled up to the employee entrance. Kujuana and the other half of the teen-agers were led through an 8-hour orientation that covered W-4 forms, medical forms, uniforms, ID tags and where to pin them on the uniforms, a safety test and instructions on acceptable fingernail polish colors (white, coral, berry, pink and various shades of red, but nothing that clashes with the uniform).
In the 85-degree heat, Mary Sheriod, dressed in pumpkin orange shorts and an orange and white shirt, was doing brisk sales of chocolate- and nut-covered frozen bananas. She said she is taking geometry at Crenshaw High School, gets out of class 10 minutes early, at 12:20 p.m., and then dashes to catch the 12:30 bus to work.
She figures she can do her homework after work--at about 11:30 p.m. "Once I get home, I'm not all that tired. If you're having fun, you're not tired," she said.
With her earnings, she said she wanted to join the employee credit union and buy school supplies.
Several of the students said they didn't mind working weekends because they're paid $6 an hour on Saturdays and because, as Michael Stewart said, "I'd rather work than get into trouble."
Michael, who wants to become a police officer and is saving his money for a car and car insurance, said he wanted to get people-interaction from the job. He said he's getting it, taking orders and working the cash register at Waterfront, a food stand near the Tidal Wave and Aqua Stream rides.
Milton Guinses, a Dorsey High School senior, was chatting up the customers who were trying to win stuffed animals at Shoot the Hoop.
"I'm not going to instigate anything, but if you miss this, you gotta walk home," he said to a man who was nervously aiming a basketball while his girlfriend watched.
The man missed the basket. "The 405 (freeway) is that way," Milton said.
"Your sweetheart back there, she wants a doll, don't you?" he said to another couple.
Milton later said "the PR work" is what he likes about the job. He said he was taking two summer school courses and was planning to play in a summer basketball league, when he heard about the Magic Mountain jobs. "It was a better opportunity to get me in touch with people and focus on social skills and communication skills," said the 17-year-old, who wants to be an electrical engineer. He dropped one course and the basketball plans.
The job will "look good on my record," he said. It will show that "I was out there, that I know how to deal with people and talk to all races, black people and white people."
His father, V.G. Guinses, executive director of the Crenshaw-area SEY YES (Save Every Youngster Youth Enterprise Society), agreed. "It gives youngsters a chance to get out of the neighborhood and work with all races, to see that people outside the neighborhood are human beings just like (they) are."
Milton said his only reservation was the bright yellow shirt and blue shorts--"loud colors"--he has to wear. "I used to say, 'You'll never catch me in something like that.' Now I'm in the same thing."