longing to be amusement park trash
I was reading Love, Curiosity, Freckles and Doubt this morning and she was talking about roller coasters. I love roller coasters. I really do. I love amusement parks. I love everything about them. I love getting my scaredy-cat friends on roller coasters. Having moved around so much as a kid I’ve been to many different amusement parks.
Because amusement parks have been sort of the constant thing in my life, I’ve learned a lot about myself in them. My mother is a big roller coaster fan as well, so we always went to whatever park was closest every summer. Through amusement parks I’ve learned to face my fears, I’ve increased my skill at games, I’ve made friends, I’ve looked for love, I’ve decided what kind of girlfriend I want to be. I never went to summer camp. Instead, I went to the park.
Apparently the first park I went to was called Dorney Park in PA. My parents would take me there on weekends when I was three or something, and I was terrified of this large stone statue of a dragon or something when you first entered. My mother says that I would clutch their hands in fear as we entered and I’d chant to myself, “It’s just a rock. It’s just a rock. It’s just a rock.” I guess after that initial fear of being eaten by a stone dragon, the rides were a piece of cake for me. It had a carousel that my mother would put me on. Ten years later we were at an amusement park in Connecticut called Quassy, and in the park was the carousel from Dorney Park– they had moved it. I rode the carousel for my mom for old time’s sake.
My next big memory of an amusement park was when we lived in Troy, Michigan. We’d drive up to Canada and take a ferry to Boblo Island. I really don’t remember the park at all, but I remember taking the ferry, and thinking to myself, “The whole island is a park!” That’s a huge concept to a five year old.
For some amusement parks, I only know their names: King’s Dominion, Knotts Berry Farm, Six Flags Mid America– I know I rode the roller coaster in National Lampoon’s Vacation– it’s called the Giant, I believe.
For the past thirteen years we’ve always lived in a city right next to an amusement park.
When I was in the fifth grade I asked a friend to ask a boy if he would “go” with me. He said that he wasn’t sure and he thought that he might be leaving the country soon. My friend kicked him in the shin and he decided to go steady with me. He was my first “boyfriend.” His name was Matt. All I remember was that he lived in a huge house that I never got to see. In any event, after we had been together for one week it was decided that all of the kids had to kiss at recess that day. I didn’t want my first kiss to be with a bunch of other kids and with still more staring and pointing, so I said no. I was called a “prude” by this bitch named Heather in my class.
So, Matt asked if I’d go to Six Flags with him and kiss him and hold his hand in the Time Tunnel. My mother said I couldn’t go to Six Flags by myself. Three days later he had his friend break up with me, because he “didn’t think I was cute anymore.”
Worse than getting stuck on a roller coaster, huh?
When I was a kid I always wanted to grow up to be one of those couples that hugs and kisses and leans on each other in the line for a ride. I thought that was terribly romantic. They waited for hours to ride this ride. They’re exhausted, they’re thirsty, they’re hungry, but they have their love. As he plays with her bikini strings, she holds her sweaty face up to the fan and even though they don’t even look at each other, you can tell by his hand on her waist and their matching Mickey Mouse tattoos that they are in love.
Well, because girls mature faster than boys my first attempt at this type of coupling was met with disaster. I had a friend come and visit me and we went to the amusement park in town. I was fourteen. Tiffany was playing on the overhead television, promoting her upcoming concert at the park. I wondered if he remembered that this was the song that was playing the first time we danced. I searched his eyes. He was staring at the girl in the bikini with the boy around her waist. Ah! He longs to be one of those couples, too! Yes! I will finally find love in the Tidal Wave line! I turned to him and reached up to put my hand on his shoulder. I looked at him. He looked at me.
“Is something the matter?” he asked.
“Not at all,” I answered.
“And the heart forgives, the heart forgets,” Tiffany sang.
“Hmm?” I leaned towards him.
“You’re holding up the line.”
I turned around and walked the distance between me and where the line had moved. Boy of My Affection jumped onto the line division bars and walked the rest of the way.
“I’m tall,” he said, once he reached me. I put my hand on his knee, which was by my eye. “Yes, you are,” I replied.
Love at the Park would just have to wait for me.
And it did. I was finally old enough, and I went with a boyfriend to an amusement park. I saw other couples holding each other, their hair frizzed from humidity, their stares vacant as they think about other things. I leaned my head back onto the shoulder of the boy I was with.
Until I saw I had leaned my head on his brother.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
It’s hard to be a romantic couple when you go to amusement parks in packs. I don’t think I’ve ever gone with a group smaller than three.
I tried hugging another boy in line. “I’m tired,” I whispered, and leaned in.
“Do you not want to wait in the line? Because we could go,” he said.
“No, I just want you to hold me.”
“Are you serious?”
I tried kissing his neck.
“It’s three hundred and twelve degrees, Pam. Let’s kiss later, okay?”
But I found one. Oh, I found one where you can be romantic and everything is beautiful and you’re scared just enough that you want to hold the person next to you. It’s in Las Vegas. It’s on top of the Stratosphere. It’s called the Big Shot. It’s terrifying, and terrifying enough that the boy you’re with grabs your hand without even realizing it. The view is gorgeous. It’s windy and sometimes rather chilly– perfect for snuggling. To get onto the ride you have to ride up this terribly cramped elevator where you have to snuggle against your significant other to be “polite to the other riders” so they have room. They sell pictures of the two of you on the ride.
It’s like a honeymoon in a hydraulic lift. Perfection.
Amusement parks offer so much. There’s food, there’s music, games, rides, people, face painting, lemon ice, water rides, giant stuffed animals that you imagine your significant other winning for you, laughs, friends, and that nice top-of-the-shoulder-sunburn. You can see many different stereotypical and slightly offensive “worlds”. You can get your name spray painted on a t-shirt.
Las Vegas offers the same thing, and they have keno.
I’ve found my perfect park.