If you were a kid in the Capital Region at any point over the last 50 years or so then you are most likely familiar with Hoffman’s Playland in Latham. Hoffman’s is a bit of a landmark in this area, especially for those citizens who have ever fallen in with the under 10 crowd. A family owned amusement park with carnival-type rides, a video arcade, and enough fried/cheesy/sugary food to power an army of tweens in the battle to make texting our sole form of communication, this place is unique. If you haven’t been there you are truly missing out. I have so many memories that begin with my family’s minivan pulling into the parking lot and me promptly getting freaked out by the huge clown staring down at me from the flashing sign letting me know I had indeed arrived at Hoffman’s Playland. One of these memories may center around a hit-less season of little league and a promise of a book of tickets to Hoffman’s if I concentrated really hard and got just one hit. Bribery does amazing things for batting averages, apparently.
Fast-forward about 8 years, and you would find me right back at Hoffman’s. However, this time I am the goofy looking 16 year old sitting behind the controls of the caterpillar ride, or the helicopters, or even the dreaded boats (never give 3 year-olds free and unlimited access to bells). I spent 5 full summers working as a ride operator, and by the time I left I could run them all with my eyes closed (but I NEVER did Mr. Hoffman, I swear!). And not only did I work there, but so, it seemed, did half of the teenage population of the Latham-Troy-Cohoes area. To this day it is nearly impossible to go anywhere in Latham without being able to find someone that spent at least one season working at “the Playland.” We had a lot of fun, we learned the virtues of smiling even on 95 degree August scorchers, and I especially understood the importance of becoming friends with the girls who worked in food service! In my opinion, Hoffman’s was and still is the perfect summer job. We worked 5-hour shifts that didn’t begin until 12:00pm, got to look really cool driving the train (my personal specialty and also how I met my wife – a story for another time), and a select few of us were even taught the important life skill of being able to jump on and off of a moving carousel without falling. Of course my first attempt at this involved being knocked on my butt by a passing pole while trying to look cool and impress the much older girl who was training me. It didn’t work.
Now that I’m all grown up and summers seem to speed by much more quickly than they used to, I still enjoy going back to Hoffman’s every now and then. The owners treated me very well both during and after my tenure as a ride operator, and I enjoy stopping in to say hello. Additionally, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I love a good spin on the tilt-a-whirl, and, really, who doesn’t enjoy the violence veiled in fun that is the bumper cars? This place is American tradition through and through, a huge part of my own personal history, and I truly hope it continues to stand the test of time.
Meanwhile, right now I enjoy taking my 4 year-old nephew on the rides, and perhaps someday I’ll have my own kids to regale with stories about how I was just too big to fit into the striped conductor overalls when I drove the train, but they still made me wear the goofy hat anyway.