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The Search for Intelligent Life at Great America

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Nobody who works at Great America ever says much. Bugs Bunny isn't allowed to talk. And neither is Yosemite Sam or Foghorn Leghorn. The people who work the gyros spit can't talk. There's only one spokesman for the entire place, and even she's not allowed to speak when Whitney Houston sings the national anthem just before the park opens.

When Houston's voice blares over the tinny speakers, everything at Great America has to stop. The ticket takers pause in the middle of ripping up tickets and salute the flag. The members of the security crew take their hats off and place them over their hearts. Even the maintenance crew freeze in the act of sweeping and place their hands over the tops of their brooms, and stare reverently at Old Glory.

Two weeks ago when Houston sang, all voices stopped in midsentence. All except for one booming voice.

"He did what? He did what? Well, fuck him!" The voice belonged to a husky man in a Bears hat, a flannel shirt, and combat boots who was at a pay phone outside the park, holding the receiver in one hand and the hand of his young child in the other.

"He said he was supposed to be here at ten o'clock," the man bellowed. "I don't appreciate that because he goddamn said that he was gonna be here at ten. Well, he can hug my nuts!" The man slammed down the phone.

Foghorn Leghorn stared out at him blankly and then turned to look at the flag.

Once Houston's done, they let you into the park.

My friend and I asked a freckle-faced girl in a yellow shirt why Foghorn Leghorn doesn't talk.

"The characters can't talk," she snapped. "They're not allowed to."

Why not?

"Because it's written in the park policy."

Why not?

"Because the characters aren't supposed to have a specific sex. If you hear Bugs Bunny talking like a girl, that ruins everything."

Foghorn Leghorn, the seven-foot rooster, didn't have much to add.

"Do you mind the park's policy?"

Foghorn Leghorn shrugged his or her shoulders.

"Does it bother you that you're not allowed to speak?"

Foghorn Leghorn shook his or her beak from side to side.

"Are you a vegetarian?"

Foghorn Leghorn walked away, webbed feet slapping against the pavement.

"It's a great job. You get to meet all sorts of interesting people. It's the greatest summer job you can have," bubbled one of the fast-food workers as the girl working the fry machine behind him mouthed the words: "Help me! I'm trapped here! I hate this job! I hate it I hate it I hate it!"

We asked her to speak up.

She said she couldn't. "I'm not allowed to say anything," she whispered.

Overhead the American Eagle was rumbling down the tracks, zipping up, down, and around, whipping its passengers into frenzied screaming, laughing, and puking.

"Urrrrp! Blahhhhh!" A pimply teenager in a T-shirt that read, "Bo Knows Your Mother" spewed in technicolor on the sidewalk by the concession stands. Four workers in Burger King outfits rushed to the scene and began spreading a kitty-litter-like substance.

"I usually don't have to clean up more than one or two throw-ups a week," said Joe, a teenager with a pencil-thin mustache and halitosis. "Usually we take turns. Wouldn't be fair if one guy had to clean up all the throw-ups."

What do you use to clean up the mess?

"We use stuff called 'Oil-Out.'"

Do you guys have a name for yourselves?

"Some guys call us the barf squad."

Is that something you're proud of?

"I don't think I should be talking to you."

If you go behind all the rides, past a sign that says "Keep Out," you come to an area called "Backstage." This is where they fix the electronic parts of the rides and repair the large "plush" stuffed animals that you can win in the arcade.

"I can't tell you directly how much they cost," grumbled a curly-haired woman with glasses, indicating the humongous cow that sat on her lap. "I can just give you an idea."

Do they cost about 50 bucks?

"Cows cost a lot more than 50 dollars."

Do they cost about 75 bucks?

"Cows cost a lot more than that."

A hundred?

"I can't get any more specific than that. I'm sorry."

Things are pretty expensive at Great America. A one-day pass costs $21.50 if you're an "adult" over the age of ten. Parking costs 5 bucks, and when you add in the price of food and a souvenir, it's hard to believe that anyone could get away with spending less than 50 bucks a day. You're not allowed to bring your lunch or a can of pop into the park, but they sell canned beverages inside. They'd like you to spend all your money inside.

"Anything you want to find out, you can find out from us," snarled the public-relations spokeswoman who nabbed us after having been informed that we'd been talking to members of the crew. "The people here have their jobs to do, and we'd prefer that you didn't interfere. All right? Have we got that all squared away?"

Her assistant led us around. She'd be able to answer all our official questions. She could tell us what to take pictures of and what not to take pictures of. She could tell us who to talk to and who not to talk to.

Why can't the characters talk?

"Because they're characters."

So?

"So, characters don't talk."

Bugs Bunny talks.

"Not our Bugs Bunny."

Why not?

"It's policy."

Why can't you bring anything into the park?

"I don't know. It's policy."

Why is it policy?

"I couldn't tell you that."

When we left the park, Foghorn Leghorn wasn't any more helpful.

Do you believe in American values?

Foghorn Leghorn nodded its head.

Do you believe in the principle of free speech?

Foghorn Leghorn nodded again.

Do you feel your First Amendment fights are being violated?

Foghorn Leghorn flipped us the bird.

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