Where memories are made

While I was enjoying a 90-minute commute home (ugh — Note to self: Never leave before 6:22 p.m.), I was thinking about how I can never find a good neighborhood fair or amusement park in the area. Sure, there’s the Fairfax County Fair and Six Flags, but both are quite a hike away and I’d hate to go it alone. And who wants to get on rinky-dink street-fair Ferris wheels and such?

I got to thinking about my dozens of trips to Kennywood Park, just outside of Pittsburgh. And my inner child put down her scissors and got a craving for a frozen lemonade and a funnel cake with strawberries. 😉

Kennywood was a rite of passage, growing up. Every June, we had a school picnic there. And there were other special events — like Italian Day and EMS Day and whatnot, so you would want to go to see your “peeps” or your family’s colleagues or whomever the day was honoring. I just loved the special days, particularly at the end of the season, when there would be parades and fireworks.

Not that I am a “joiner,” mind you — I hate parades. But that’s when the lines for the rides were gloriously short, assuming the rides you wanted were still open. I am pretty sure they shut down everything along the parade route, but I always headed on down to Lost Kennywood (where rides that were once retired were restored to their former glory), which was out-of-the-way enough that you could escape from the throngs of people for a few moments.

Kennywood Day for school was kind of on par with going to a dance — you had to be asked by the “right” friends and wear the “right” outfits. Oh, god, I won’t forget eighth grade year (1988), when four of us wore these GOD-AWFUL tie-dyed shirts, spandex pants and huge-ass leather hip belts. Holy crap, we looked like a bunch of rock-star BEES (yellow and black — what the HELL were we THINKING?!?!). Seriously, I think that was back when Stryper was popular — SCARY!!!

That was about the time when it was “totally uncool” to go to the park with your family — if you were seen with an adult, like, GAH. I mean, we all started smoking when we were 11 — going to Kennywood sans parental units meant that we could smoke all we wanted to. Because, you know, we had high aspirations like that at 14. But we had some “older” friends (like, a grade level or two higher), which made us “cool.” And we thought everybody wanted to hang with us or be us.

Yeah, we were severely delusional.

And the weird part? I never had a better time there than when I was with my mom. Neither one of us had much interest in riding — we used to joke that they should have had an Eat-All-Day pass instead of a Ride-All-Day pass. The fries down here at Five Guys are reminiscent of the fries from the Potato Patch at the park, only the Potato Patch has better toppings. Seriously, you are from western Pennsylvania if you eat gravy and seasoned salt on your fries. And, if you go back again during the season, you need to get the cheese fries. And the hot dog on a stick. And …

Yes, it’s all about the food — it’s a wonder our fat asses even FIT into the damn rides! 😉

I was thinking about where I would rather be as I was riding the brake around the Beltway tonight — the Beltway being a 60-plus-mile circle around the metro area where you either go 2 mph or you go 85 mph, bumper-to-bumper. No in-betweens. Anyway, having an outing or an adventure right now appeals to me like you would not believe, so that explains the dreaming out loud.

In any event, I don’t love roller coasters. It’s not the speed that gets me but, rather, the combination of velocity and heights. But rides like the Turtle, where you are in an open car and fly around a racecar-like track with only minor bumps, make me squeal with joy. I remember when my buzzy-bee friends and I were on the ride, no one else was on it with us (I believe we scared everyone away), and we got the ride operator to max out the speed. I swear, we rode it for a good 40 minutes at top velocity, and I was never happier. No seatbelts or any kind of safety device — you’re just supposed to hang on to the center bar in an open-top, turtle-shaped car. And I don’t remember even bothering to hold on — I just loved the feel of the wind and my hair dancing around my shoulders.

I had no fear — I knew I would be safe. It’s a feeling I mourn, time and again — now, every move matters, and there are no guarantees. Not that there ever were, but I had more important things to worry about back then (like boys and clothess). Oh wait, not much has changed, when you look at it that way! LOL.

The thing with your Kennywoods of the world is that they make you nostalgic at 4 years old. You stand in reverence of these rides that were constructed the year your grandparents were born. You admire the old-fashioned font on the menu boards. You know that, later in life, you will wish you could find a candy apple as sweet as the one that you are wearing all over your face at the time. The parks seem so big to you when you’re knee-high to Kenny the Kangaroo, who hops around the park in his hot mascot uniform, greeting children and asking if they’re having fun. It made you feel like such a big deal to sit on his knee and tell him about your favorite ride in Kiddieland. And the walk to the car seemed sooooooooo long, to your tired little legs. You would learn, in time, to conserve some energy for the hike to the parking lot. But, when you’re still small enough to be carried (by your equally exhausted mother), it makes perfect sense to throw all your energy into enjoying this wild, wonderful experience that gives you the best day of your life — at the time, anyway. 😉

In any event, those were also the days when my family and I would just hop in the car and find amusement parks and fairs and such. We often went to Kennywood’s sister park Idlewild in Ligonier, Pa.; to Ohio to Geauga Lake (and Sea World and Cedar Point, of course!); to Lake Erie (I know there was something cool up there but can’t remember what) — oh, it was Conneaut Lake Park.

Conneaut closed for a number of years but is back in business. I particularly loved the ride (in its glory days — I don’t know if it’s still operational in its original form) The Scrambler. You see variations of these everywhere — it’s a bunch of cars that are picked up and whirled around in the air. The ride frightens the shit out of me, but at Conneaut, they put it indoors. The lights were off and rock music blared from the speakers as neon lights encircled you. It’s kind of like riding the Space Mountain Coaster in Orlando. In fact, that is probably one coaster ride that I remember fondly — because it’s in the dark. I love the dark — there’s something magical and mysterious about it.

And, not to say that I didn’t scream my little head off on the coasters or any other rides. But, I miss the days of being terrified and thrilled, all at the same time, as I gaped at the majesty of some of these rides. I admit that I often chickened out and that I insisted on going to the parks in uneven-numbered groups of friends so that I could sit out if the fear got the better of me.

My favorite thing to do at Kennywood, as a kid, was to go into this awesome cinema house they used to have (and oh, how I wished it had resurfaced in Lost Kennywood!) — I guess you’d call it IMAX these days. Everything was surrounding you — the movies had you flying over canyons and soaring over oceans and catapulting over waterfalls and even riding roller coasters from the comfort of your seat. I loved the thrill, and nary a hair was out of place when all was said and done. 😉

Anyway, riding the Beltway simply doesn’t compare aesthetically to the sights, sounds and smells of an amusement park come alive for the summer season. But it’s nice to close my eyes and escape while I’m jamming on the brakes and waiting for traffic to break so that I can drive just as fast as my favorite rides used to take me. …

On iTunes: Melissa Manchester, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”

One Lonely Response to Where memories are made

  1. Pratt :

    *sigh* I’m not allowed to ride on rollercoasters anymore due to my heart condition.

    I dance a lot like that guy from the Six Flags commercial.

    a cool local place for me is http://www.dorneypark.com