Thursday, June 13, 2013

Happy Friars, Uglies, and Frontiertowns: An Observational Commentary

I don't remember the name or location of the first roller coaster I ever rode, but there is a photo documenting it.  Or at least, I'm fairly certain this is my first ever ride on a roller coaster.

It's obvious by my expression, and that of my dad's, that this thrilling dragon ride was not for the faint of heart and was apparently a big draw for tourists from all over the country.  But one thing is for certain: it is a microcosm of many childhood vacations we took as a family.

As we grew older, the rides became taller, faster, more thrilling, and filled with far more flips and steep banks than we started with.  But, Mom was, far too often, behind a camera lens instead of in front of it, as Lensey, Dad, and I became thrill-seekers one monster coaster at a time.  Mom suffered from motion sickness any time a ride flipped upside-down, so when we visited parks like Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, Mom had to spend an awful lot of time watching us from the midway, or catching a show while we waited in line.

Theme parks were frequent vacation stops for the Edwards clan as I grew up.  We went to Opryland in Nashville, Kings Island in Cincinnati, Six Flags St. Louis, and Disney World.  The aforementioned Cedar Point was a stop more than once, and easily trumps all the others without much of a contest.

The first time we went to Cedar Point, I was in the 8th grade.  We stopped off in Columbus for a night on the way and went to a Columbus Clippers baseball game that was followed up by a random Village People (yes, those Village People) concert performed on a portable stage they set up just beyond second base.  We stayed for one or two songs and left promptly.

Again, a family photo minus Mom:

We made another trip a few years after that just before the start of my senior year of high school.  Lensey and Josh got engaged on the Ferris Wheel a few years later, and I've made 3 subsequent trips to Sandusky since, with Stan and motley collections of other friends.  So, Cedar Point has a special place in my heart for many different reasons.

On Monday, Stan and I decided to make our third trip to Cedar Point after I discovered a new ride had opened.  Our last trip, in August of 2009, was pretty successful altogether, but Maverick, which was under construction during our first trip together in 2006, was either not operational or had too long of a line to ride, and Gatekeeper, new to the park this year, was barely in the earliest stages of planning.  So, we had two new rides we had to try out.  Adrienne hates roller coasters (and theme parks, and people), so she, quite adamantly, gave me the okay to leave with Stan for a few days.

We arrived in Sandusky Monday evening, checked into the Sleep Inn, and walked about 40 yards to an Applebee's that shared the parking lot with our hotel.  We had dinner, a few drinks, met a few nice folks, and went back to the hotel to crash for the night.

We had paid extra for two Fast Lane passes that allowed us to cut to near the front of every line, so our longest wait was merely 25 minutes all day.  We should have been able to ride everything two or three times. But, despite the fact we spent little time waiting in line (with "the poors" as Stan so eloquently put it), we made several observations that have held true throughout virtually every trip either of us has ever made to a theme park.

1. Every theme park in the free world must have a "Frontiertown" or some variation.  You walk to a particular section of the park and every building is constructed to look like an old log cabin.  You'll find a waterwheel with a wooden chute designed for kids to sift for "jewels" and "gold."  Grown men will walk by wearing cowboy hats and fake Colt pistols strapped to their legs.  There will undoubtedly be fake stocks for a photo op, that any stereotypical tourist can't pass up:
Stan's ability to frighten young children was on full display while searching for a photographer as he yelled, "Hey, girls!" to a pair of 14-year-olds that just happened to be walking by.  But, we had to get this picture. 

There will be a "Thunder Canyon," or "Raging River" ride to help park-goers cool off during a steamy summer day.  You'll be able to take Old Tyme photos in period garb, or get custom-made leather straps if you feel so inclined.  It's as if park designers sit in a room, totally out of ideas, and say, "Well, we can do an Old West section."  And there will be one.  Disney, Cedar Point, Kings Island, Six Flags...They all have them.

2. No matter where you are, you will pass a food stand with a big picture of a Friar chowing on a huge turkey leg that can be purchased for $12.  I don't know why turkey legs are so popular at theme parks, because you don't see anyone scarfing one down anywhere else.  But, you can't go to any major amusement park without seeing one.  Cedar Point's version is called "The Happy Friar," and I'm sure it didn't disappoint.  We opted for the double-priced Chick-fil-A, however.

3. The people at theme parks almost seem to leave human decency at home.  I feel like there has to be a group of scientists sitting in an office somewhere watching closed-circuit television footage of the entire park conducting research on human behavior.  Or, maybe they're hiding in trees or riding the Tin Lizzies over and over, feverishly scribbling notes as they watch people walk by or wait in line for a ride.  The people you see at a theme park just aren't the same people you see in everyday life.  Maybe paying outrageous entrance fees and being in the hot sun all day gives people the right to forget how to dress properly.  Maybe it makes them forget that everyone else doesn't want to watch them make out with their scantily-clad, behemoth of a girlfriend for two hours.  Maybe they forget that Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are actually really terrible, and the furthest things possible from classics of literature.  Perhaps they also forget that black blue jeans cut off at the knee don't actually constitute comfortable shorts, and only add to the stench that hundreds of bodies crammed into turnstiles like cattle at a livestock sale can create.  In any event, theme parks are a people-watching gold mine, and might, alone, make it worth the price of admission.

4. Maybe it is just the cultural change between the North and South, but folks in northern Ohio are different.  Listening to their conversations in line is comic gold.  Watching them interact is like a sociological experiment in and of itself.  And, as Stan said many times, makes you wonder what "that gene pool" looks like.  Maybe folks up there just don't care about their appearance as much as we do down here, but the "uglies" were out in full force.  I don't think we saw one even remotely attractive person, male or female, the entire day.  And we can only hope that, as people passed us, they recognized we were far from home.  Don't get me wrong, I don't expect anyone to get up and dress to the nines as they prepare for a day out in the sweltering heat.  But, it made us wonder if they even glanced at a mirror before they left for the day.

Maybe I'm just not cut out for theme parks anymore.  Or, maybe we just had one too many Brewtuses at the bar the night before.  But, the two of us struggled throughout most of the day as we trudged through the park.  At the bottom of the first drop of each coaster, we both almost blacked out, and since we didn't have to wait long in line, had little time to recover between each ride.  So, by about 3:30, after riding everything we wanted to ride one time, we packed it in and headed back to Kentucky.  Four years ago, we would've probably ridden at least five of the coasters a second or third time.

Adrienne already told me that theme parks can sort of be mine and Stan's "thing" moving forward, but it will probably be a while before we go back.  I'm sure we will, but next time we'll make sure to cut our Applebee's trip a bit short, and maybe take a few more notes along the way. 

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