I'm not even sure how to begin describing this photograph. A longer explanation follows, but I don't know where to begin. This photograph is for Doug. With his funeral approaching, it was my personal way of remembering him.
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I started in the Rides Department at Kings Island in 2005. I wanted to work there so much that exactly on my 16th birthday, my mom drove me to the park for a job interview. I had hoped for a position on "The Beast" crew and luckily got the last spot. I've since worked seven seasons at the park, and despite all the hours I've spent there, I can remember my first day very clearly.
I was nervous and really shy. After being shown around and trained at the first basic positions, it was finally time for a break. I was sent with another associate who was also having his first day: Doug Apple. I remember sitting in "Oscar's” at a booth eating a cheeseburger. Doug and I hadn't said much to each other. I remember being intimidated by him, thinking he was a supervisor because of his white polo shirt. He wasn't, his real uniform just hadn't come in yet. He was as green as me. I don’t remember who forced a conversation first, but we didn't say much else aside from discussing our schools and uniform situations. From that first impression, I figured Doug was as quiet as me. As that summer went on though, both of us really opened up. We seemed to run in separate circles, Doug being four years older, but Doug was one of the people everyone loved to work with, he always did his part and always liked to have fun. That summer I made a lot of new friends and Doug Apple was certainly one of them. From that first day in "Oscar's" though, I had no idea just how great a friend Doug was going to become.
My next season with Doug started on our training day. That summer went on as normal with some new faces and some familiar ones. One day Doug didn't show up for work, which was out of character for him. Our manager, Kristen, informed our crew that Doug was currently on his way to receive a kidney transplant and brought a huge card for us all to sign. Doug also received a pancreas transplant and as a result of his surgery, missed the rest of that second season. Doug had Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a form of kidney disease, in addition to diabetes.
Fortunately, he recovered well and was back for the 2007 season, the year I became the Assistant Supervisor of The Beast - a position Doug probably would have beaten me to, had he not missed the majority of the previous season. Despite me now being Doug's boss, we bonded. Doug was one of the best associates and kept my low-level-seasonal-management ego in check. That summer we became best friends and by the end of the season, Doug was promoted to Assistant Supervisor after I became the Head Supervisor.
That fall, I started college at Ohio University, where I was lonely, depressed and couldn't wait for Kings Island to start back up. One of the people that got me through that awful freshman year of college was Doug. We'd talk for hours on the phone. Sometimes he would give me updates on his health situation, but more often that not, he was more interested in talking about my problems. We eventually found out that in the upcoming season we'd be supervisors on “The Beast” together with our friend Steve.
The summer of 2008 was my favorite at Kings Island. Doug, Steve and I had a great crew and good times. Doug and I both had a love for Hulk Hogan and his "Real American" persona, so much so that Doug and Steve bought American flag lapel pins for our entire crew. We convinced the maintenance team to put up an American flag on the ride that still stands today. We had "western night," where we wore cowboy hats and sheriff badges and made sure our crew always got one last ride on The Beast at the end of the night. We took a lot of pride in the job our team did and worked hard to achieve our status as the park’s top crew. By the next season, I became Head Supervisor of The Crypt, Doug was promoted to Head Supervisor of the Log Flume and Steven became Head Supervisor of The Beast.
Even after we were placed on different crews, Doug and I remained best friends. When we weren't at Kings Island, we took trips to Cedar Point, attended countless Reds games, or simply grabbed some McDonalds (Mickey Skee's as Doug liked to call it) where we'd talk about girls, politics and whatever else was on our mind.
That summer of 2009 is when Doug started having the first signs of rejection for his transplanted kidney. He'd have to take days off for biopsies. As scary as that must've been for him, he didn't show any fear. He was always more concerned about the people around him and how they were doing.
In the summer of 2010, I was promoted to Area Manager, a goal Doug had always encouraged me to achieve. That summer, we went to more Reds games than ever and he was always up for cheering on Scott Rolen, a player that we always teased Doug for resembling. Doug bought me shots and helped give me a mostly unforgettable 21st birthday. Doug was still having issues with his kidney, but he always kept a positive attitude.
The 2011 season was our seventh together at the park. It went by too fast. We didn't make it to as many Reds games together and both worked more often. We still, however, always found time for "Mickey Skees" to enjoy a coke and fries with friends after work. Doug was on dialysis three times a week at this point. The last Reds game Doug and I planned to go to, we missed. I fell asleep after a class, by the time I woke up we ended up just hanging out and going to The Diner. I remember driving around screaming the lyrics to 80's songs together that night. As the season ended, Doug and I would still have our weekly phone conversations and hang out regularly to watch our favorite TV show: “Sons of Anarchy.”
Over Christmas break of 2011, Doug had to undergo emergency surgery to have his kidney and pancreas removed. The only time I saw him after that surgery was when we were finally able to grab dinner together with our friend Ryan. Doug had lost a lot of weight and had obviously been through a lot. True to his character, however, he didn't let it get him down in any way. We enthusiastically talked about the latest Kings Island news and our beloved Cincinnati Reds. Doug, Ryan and I ended the night by making plans to go to a Blue Jackets game against the Ducks on February 12th. As I put it on the calendar in my phone, Doug and I exchanged our usual handshake and then we parted ways.
The next morning Doug's sister, Colleen, called me and asked what Doug had eaten the night before. Doug had been admitted to the hospital due to low blood sugar and was unconscious. She kept me informed on his condition throughout the week and he seemed to be improving by the weekend with the possibility of being able to have visitors soon. Doug went into cardiac arrest the morning of February 2nd and had to be placed on a ventilator. That night, a group of us went up to Kettering to visit. It was hard seeing Doug in that hospital bed, but he had always been tough and never once let his illness get him down. Doug came from a great family, many of whom were gathered there with his Kings Island family. I left that night worried about what was going to happen, but knew how Doug was - he always came through.
I needed to clear my head and that's where the thought for this photograph came. In 2010, when I moved out of my parents’ house and into my own apartment, Doug donated a framed poster of the 1990 World Series Reds to our wall. I was supposed to give it back to him when he got better and had a place of his own.
At the top of the poster is a shot of the Cincinnati Skyline from that year.
The next day, February 3rd, 2012, Doug passed away. He was 26.
Doug had touched so many people in his life. The word that kept coming to everyone's mind was "genuine." Doug was a genuinely good person. He supported and cared for everyone around him. That night, a small group of his friends decided to go to "Crossroads," the bar next to Kings Island. Through word of mouth and impromptu decisions, the entire dining room of the bar was quickly filled with friends, a small sample of all those who knew Doug.We shared stories and gathered for support at the same place that all of us had shared a beer after work with Doug before.
My friend Tyler summed up the whole situation and the experience of camaraderie that comes from working at Kings Island best in an excerpt of some words he prepared to remember Doug:
“Doug touched so many of us in such a short amount of time and His passing has brought so many old faces back together over the last few days to grieve with one another, share stories, and most importantly: to celebrate his life. It is a reminder to us that life is precious, and we have to make the very most of the time we have. That’s something I think Doug knew all along.”I was devastated at the news of Doug's death, but seeing all those people come together and knowing it had been because of Doug's life and who he was, put me at ease. The next few days were tough. I tried to keep my mind off of what had happened and the funeral coming up. I went back to work on Monday, but it all started catching up to me. That night, I skipped class and went back to the Covington waterfront. I shot the same photo for Doug, this time alone.
I jumped over a barrier that read "Steps Closed" and lined up the camera as best I could to make it like the Reds poster. The sun was setting and the skyline had changed since the original photograph from 1990. Old Riverfront Stadium was gone and in its place is now Great American Ballpark - where Doug and I saw many games together and had many good times.
The visitation came Wednesday. The card we all signed for Doug in 2006 was there, along with Red's ticket stubs from my 21st birthday, Doug's Kings Island supervisor jacket and many of his other personal items. It was tough seeing him like that, but incredible to see all those who loved him come out to say their goodbyes. The next day at his funeral, I was honored to be a pall-bearer, representing Doug's Kings Island family. Everything was a celebration of Doug's life; so many people loved him. He came from a wonderful family, was a loved cousin and uncle, a camp counselor for children with diabetes, a great co-worker and for me, not just a best friend, but a brother. Even after he passed away, Doug kept giving through organ and tissue donation.
When I got home from the funeral and I was finally alone, reality settled in. Doug was gone. I'd never get to sit with him at a Reds game again, share a beer after work or call him on the phone when I needed to talk. That night, I could barely hold myself together. Even today as I type this, I was supposed to be with him at that Blue Jackets game. As I talked to others who knew Doug and got together with our "guys night" crew the next evening, I was happy. I am honored to have known Doug and to have been able to call him one of my best friends and my brother. Doug is one of the greatest people I will ever know and it’s always been clear to me how he was loved by so many.
I'll never forget Doug and the above photograph, number two in this project series, is dedicated to him.
I love you Doug.