I recently spoke about how I have lost my edge as a roller coaster and amusement park enthusiast. I don’t know if it’s an inner ear thing or just plain age. It could be that becoming a father took away that desire to put my life and my lunch on the line in an effort to get the adrenaline flowing. I don’t know even know if I still have what it takes to stand in line for a ride that takes you straight up into the stratosphere and then plunges you head first into the ground like Mel Gibson’s career. Maybe I should just relegate myself to riding the train around the park and yell at kids for walking fast past me.
Last weekend, my wife had the spontaneous notion to just up and go to Kennywood. I reeled back in terror, not because she wanted to go to an amusement park but, because she decided to just do it as a spur of the moment thing. We don’t do well with spontaneity. We tried it once on vacation a few years ago when we decided to take the last day of our trip to Myrtle Beach and drive up to the Outer Banks to see the lighthouses. We didn’t realize we would end up in a Post Apocalyptic Pool Hall At the End Of the Outer Banks. It just seems that every time we try to do something on a whim ,we end up causing a rift in the space time continuum. Bad things happen. However, we realized that summer is flying by and our three year old should get to see Kennywood this year. So, I packed up our World Ending Survival Kits and got ready for a little spontaneity. To even out the odds of riding and babysitting, we included my wife’s niece on the trip and headed out.
First off, we picked the hottest day of the century to go to the park. Everywhere little red mercury thermometers were saying, “’Eff this! It’s too damn hot.” The high temperature was listed to be 93 but the heat index probably put it over 103. Now, why can’t they just say it’s 103? I don’t care what the temperature is and then what it feels like. Either tell me what the temperature is or tell me what the temperature feels like, but don’t say both. Pick one and stick with it. It’s the same with wind chill. Just say it’s the worse number in terms of hot or cold. It makes my life easier. I’m standing in my bedroom toggling between fashion choices. “Well, it’s 93 out there so let’s go with boxers. But, it feels like it 103, so maybe I should go with briefs.” Tell you what, that’s how we should report the weather. “Ladies in gentlemen, the temperature is going to be over 100 degrees. Better go with wet suit.”
Secondly, my daughter has no fear. I mean she will run at top speed towards a brick wall expecting the brick wall to move. The first words out of her mouth, upon exiting the Family Truckster and seeing the Phantom’s Revenge plummeting towards the parking lot with screaming and yelling passengers on it, was “I want to ride that roller coaster.” I informed her that she was still too small for it and she rebuffed my comments and said, “But, I’m a big girl.” Kids. We decided to start off small and rode the carousel. She got a kick out of riding the horses and felt that was all the prep work she would need and started picking out all the spin and puke worthy rides to try next. I told her we needed to get some lunch first but she was adamant about living on the edge. Of course, wanting to eat and then ride spin and puke rides was pretty close to living on the edge for me.
With park food, you cannot go wrong if you get Potato Patch fries. I don’t care how hot it is outside, you can find the will to scarf down those awesome fries with cheese. One great addition to the Food and Beverage department was the presence of forks. While it’s nice to get knuckles deep into a basket of cheese fries, it just makes it easier when dealing with a little one. Midway through lunch, my wife had to take her to the Sierra Mist Misting Station to get cooled off a bit. Did I mention it was hot? That was pretty much the theme of the day. “It’s hot!” It was the kind of heat that negated the effects of drinking four or five soft drinks in a row. I would have done better with water but a medium Pepsi or Mountain Dew was $2.39 and a 16 ounce bottle of water, in the vending machine, was $3.00. I was hot but not that hot, yet.
Next up was the Turtles. This was another one of my favorite rides as a kid. It simply goes around in a circle and every so often goes over a hill. Not too thrilling, to say the least, but that whole grumpy man / inner ear thing was making me a little queasy. That and the fact that the seats were made of reflective metal had me wishing I’d worn longer shorts but the effects of the heat on the outside of my legs was nothing compared to the heat that was generated within the confines of my clothing. The relative humidity of my shorts was somewhere around 110%. Any longer on the length of the material in my short legs would have had me looking for that wet suit. Still, the little one got such a kick out of these rides.
After I regained my equilibrium we headed over to the Lost Kennywood section of the park and my wife, niece, and daughter decided to forgo the long line for the Pittsburgh Plunge and just stand in the observation area to catch the splash down from the boats. Me, I opted to stay as dry as possible since I was the human purse. I had to carry everything in my pockets, cell phone, keys, camera and wallet. I was like a cat. I did not want to get wet. Regardless of how hot it was, I maintained my “stay dry if at all possible” policy.
That’s another thing I’ve grown out of in my years. Water rides. I used to love rides like the Raging Rapids and Log Jammer. On a hot day I found comfort in just getting completely drenched on a water ride in order to cool off from the heat. But, in my curmudgeon years, I’ve stayed away from water as if I was a Mogwai. It may not be all about age. The one thing that used to drive me nuts as an Amusement Park employee was when a soaking wet guest would reach into their sock and pull out a folded stack of money. They would peel the dollar bills away from each other, discard the hitchhiking lint, and hand me a few ones to play my game. I wanted to put on a biohazard suit and use tongs to take their money. Things worsened when you got their wet money and you put in the stack of money you had in your apron and then the wetness transferred to the rest of the stack. It just felt dirty. It would be like handing a twenty to a stripper and asking for change. Besides being impolite, it’s a little on the eww side. I don’t think I want the ones you just pulled out of your crotch. It’s nothing against you personally. I support single moms working their way through medical school. Not that I know anything about that.
Apart from my hang ups about getting wet at the amusement park it’s not just about me getting wet. In fact, if it pours down rain, I welcome the relief from the heat. It’s the water in the park that I don’t care for experiencing. It’s that poorly chlorinated water that smells of minerals and sweat that gags me. The water from wet rides consist of whatever base water is in the ride plus all the dirt, grime, sweat and possibly other bodily fluids it collects as it drips off the passengers onto the floor of the ride. It gets stomped around by their shoes and then falls back into the water and then gets recycled back into the ride, ready to splash the next guest. Standing in line for a ride along with tens of others who reek of "wet guest" is not exactly a lot of fun. I am just as to blame as I stand there with the crotch pot set to simmer. I should have chosen briefs for this.
After The Petri Dish Plunge, my wife took her niece to go try out the new ride while I braved the wilds of Kiddieland with my daughter. Now, I fully expected to find myself in the middle of my worst nightmare. I was all set to be amid a sea of rotten children, pushing and shoving their way around the rides. I was prepared to stand in long lines and watch as my little angel turned into a devil as she sometimes [read: often] becomes impatient. What I wasn’t ready for was the exact opposite. She was tickled to ride and was a perfect little doll. The ride operators were courteous and helpful. The other kids were very polite and while there was a little excitement over getting into the gates, they all pretty much took turns. There were no Altamont or Riverfront Stadium reenactments, anywhere. The only time it even got a little scary was the revelation that I would have to ride the S.S. Kenny with my kid. I thought the S.S. Kenny was supposed to be a kiddie version of the Pirate Ship. However, that was a miscalculation. The Pirate Ship only goes back and forth. This was more like the Cosmic Chaos as The S.S. Kenny goes back and forth and then spins around as it sails. I might as well have been on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Once my wife returned to tag me out, I booked it for the front of the park to ride the new coaster, The Skyrocket. The wait was almost an hour long, but I was willing to tough it out along with the other park water soaked guests. EW. I then noticed something a little amiss. Up ahead of me was this little whelp of guy holding an infant. Couldn’t have been more than a few months old. Beyond thinking, “Hey, get that kid under some cover, it’s hot and sunny out here,” I couldn’t help but wonder how this guy was going to pull this off when he got to the deck. There’s no way in all of Zelienople that they are going to let that kid ride and I didn’t see any mother around, either. Once we got up to the deck I saw the master plan. Momma was riding two cars ahead of him and when her car came back in, he was ready to get on after handing the baby over to her. Made more sense to me after witnessing it. Still, they handed off an infant over a gap in the floor which made me cringe a little. Yet, that all went away as I got ready to try out a new coaster. In all, the ride lasted just over a minute and was pretty neat, save the hour wait.
By now, the late afternoon sun was blazing over the park’s horizon and was still very hot. My wife snuck in another splash down cleansing and an hour long wait for the indoor coaster called The Exterminator while I rode The Whip and the Carousel with the munchkin. We stopped for some pizza and then I was back to Kiddieland while my wife rode the Aero 360 with her niece. Until now, we both looked at that ride like it was enough to make us yack. She rode it twice, though, loving it. I was still enjoying being a proud parent and wearing that badge of honor as my little one continued to ride her heart out on the miniature rides. Unfortunately, another spin and puke called the Dizzy Dynamo. It was a bit like a Tilt-A-Whirl but I felt more like it was a Tilt-A-Hurl. She got to ride the mini Turtles and a few more rides before my wife got back.
We decided to ride the carousel and the Paratrooper before getting ice cream. I was all set to spray the crowd on the Paratrooper while my daughter giggled and laughed all throughout the ride. As we stood in line for ice cream the flood gates opened over the park. It had been threatening to rain since before sunset and now we were caught inside the park. We all hopped up on the covered porch surrounding the cafeteria and ate our ice cream before dodging the raindrops back to the van.
That’s when it happened. We had one more ride to go on and it was the car ride home. This little angel, this perfect child, this kid who spent the better part of seven hours riding her but off didn’t make it out of the parking lot before crashing. So, I guess I can still find enjoyment and excitement at the amusement park at my age without having to wear black socks up to my knees or shake my fist at the “damn kids” who whiz past me heading for the roller coaster queues. I just have to spend some time watching my kid enjoy the hell out of riding the rides. I don’t have to worry about my tubes going all wonky or fear that my Potato Patch fries might make a reappearance. I kind of like it that way. I still like that car ride at the end of the day. That’s still my favorite. By the way, I need a shower. I've got some serious "wet guest" funk going on with my person. Should have worn a wet suit.