WILDWOOD — Mark DiStefano once rarely spoke. Now, he’s one smooth talker.
That’s what working one of the Boardwalk’s most iconic jobs can do for a person.
DiStefano, 25, is the assistant manager for games at Morey’s Piers. He started at Morey’s seven years ago as a game operator.
He staffed a booth and enticed people strolling by on the Boardwalk to put their money down to shoot water from a pistol into a clown’s mouth, sink baskets or toss a ring around a bottle.
The prize for winning one of these games? The stuffed animals that dangle tantalizingly from the booth.
“It’s a quintessential experience,” DiStefano said. “People come here for the rides, but this is that huge add-on. If these (booths) weren’t here, you’d be missing out on a lot. It’s a great thing for the whole family. A lot of the kids can’t do some of the rides because of some of the requirements, but every kid can play a game.”
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Game operator is the perfect job for someone seeking to break out of their shell.
“We look for those social people,” DiStefano said. “When I first started, I wasn’t like that. I was one of the quietest people you would ever meet. I didn’t say anything in high school to anybody. I started here when I was 18, and I was really introverted.”
DiStefano is anything but shy now, greeting customers and workers at Morey’s with a smile on a recent steamy day.
“Once you’re on a game, you have to adapt,” he said. “It’s like throwing you in the deep end of a pool.”
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DiStefano stepped back into the water gun booth last Tuesday to show how it’s done. That booth is one of Morey’s most popular games. It’s right at the pier entrance and elevated, so the operator lords over the Boardwalk.
DiStefano spotted people walking by and said things like, “Always a winner, always a prize,” and, “I’ve got a big elephant with your name on it.”
The words came out of his mouth fast and furious. His goal is to treat each customer and each potential customer like they’re his long-lost friend.
“My dad at dinner always tells me to slow down when I talk,” DiStefano said with a laugh. “He’s like, ‘Slow down. I can’t understand you. You’re going way too fast.’”
Taped inside each Morey’s game booth is a piece of paper with a list of phrases for each game operator to say.
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They include: “Water gun fun, you gotta be in it to win,” and, “No small prizes, no surprises.”
“We really want to focus on fun here,” DiStefano said. “Games are fun. We want (the operators) to have fun.”
Deborah Park, of Cincinnati, is working her first summer at Morey’s as a game operator. She works the water pistol game with a go-to saying of, “Any prize, any size.”
“When I first came here, I was really scared to do it,” the 20-year-old said. “I’ve been learning a lot about boldness.”
A game operator’s job does not end when people sit down to play. There’s still plenty to do.
At the water gun booth, the operator kicks a block near the floor to start each pistol.
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The operator counts down — 3, 2, 1 — to start the game and pushes a button to activate the guns (always push the button on 2 to have the guns ready to work when the countdown is finished).
A bell rings and the action is underway.
The games bring out the competitor in just about everyone.
“I’ve seen my fair share of dads beating their kids,” DiStefano said.
Some vacationers believe the games are rigged so the customers can’t win.
Not so, says DiStefano.
“They’re all winnable,” he said. “I want to get that out there. There’s a big misconception. Every game is winnable.”
In the words of a good game operator, all one has to do is step up, step in and get ready to win.