Originally published in the Business Section of the York Daily Record/Sunday News on Sunday, May 15, 2011.
By LAUREN BOYER
Daily Record/Sunday News
People sometimes tell me I’m a character. But they don’t know the half of it.
It was my first job title.
For two years, I signed autographs and frolicked around Hersheypark as a life-size mock-up of the Hershey Kiss, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and, yes, sometimes the York Peppermint Pattie.
It’s sort of creepy, if you think about it.
I, Lauren Boyer, secretly appear in hundreds of family photo albums.
I’ve possibly hugged your children, your wives, your grandparents and husbands — anyone who traveled to Hersheypark in the summers of 2003 and 2004.
I spent most of those months envious of friends who didn’t have to work. I coveted their time spent poolside and their leisurely visits to our hometown amusement park, where I slaved away roasting in a foam shell.
Looking back, I pooh-poohed the gig, which has since been knocked off my resume by arguably less fascinating endeavors, like college and journalism internships.
Nevertheless, each year, as teenagers everywhere apply for summer jobs, I can’t help but reminisce about my own and the priceless skills attained.
Take, for example, my firm grip. As a Hershey character, you shake so many hands that you’re practically a politician.
And you do it all wearing white, four-fingered gloves.
For an awkward, middle school wall flower, this was a dream come true — a chance to be someone else.
My window to the world was a mesh-covered hole. Invisible, I observed and took note of the best and worst that humanity — or at least Hersheypark — had to offer.
There were the pushy parents, rudely butting to the front of the line.
Kids on leashes. Kids who cried. Kids too big to be riding in strollers.
I entertained them with high-fives, thumbs up, peace signs, and the Macarena. I did anything but talk.
Silence is, afterall, the universal mascot mantra.
Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to say, “Hurry up and take the picture already.”
“Stop touching my butt.”
“Your kid is biting my finger.”
“I’m melting in here.”
A battery-powered fan inside the character’s hollow head made matters worse, pumping outside hot air into the thick, brown, long sleeve shirt and pants beneath.
I ponder those pants from time to time. Hershey, an equal opportunity employer, ensured that even the chunkiest of chocolate impersonators could squeeze into them.
It left people like me bunching, pinning and rubber-banding. I did anything to prevent those drawstring trousers from falling down and exposing my pale, human legs. Sometimes it failed. My apologies to guests who received a mascot-style mooning.
After 45 minutes outside, we rested for 15 minutes. I used this time wisely to pig out on chocolate. Call it cannabalism.
You can’t gain weight when you spend eight hours each day sweating. The problem is, so does everyone around you.
Thus, I developed tolerance — for the body odor of others. When shifts ended, we spritzed each costume’s interior with a scented sanitizer solution.
The concoction was often no match for the putrid smelling residue left by a few teenage co-workers, some of whom had yet to discover deodorant.
Despite the drawbacks, I often wonder what it would be like to go back. But I can’t. In the end, Hershey and I parted ways. It was more their decision than mine.
I went on to work other places: a coffee shop, a pizza parlor, a movie theater.
But it wasn’t the same. I missed the magic of dancing beneath the carousel lights. I missed the job that drew me out of my shell, helped me afford my first car at age 16 and taught me responsibility and how to play with others.
Seven years later, I haven’t forgotten that first job interview, that first paycheck, or the first time I got written-up for doing something stupid.
My time as a character built my character, and I’d do it all over again.