Amusement Parks – Whatever Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stranger

I’ve been thinking about roller coasters and amusement parks a lot lately. One, because someone was killed by a roller coaster recently. James. E. Young, of East Canton, OH, died after getting smacked in the head by one of the trains of the Raptor, apparently while trying to retrieve a lost cell phone from a fenced, restricted area. Use the Google machine to learn more about this. Wow. This is not high on the list of ways I want to die, that’s for sure. If a roller coaster needs to be involved in my demise somehow, I would like to hope that I would at least be riding the coaster when it happens. And that the grisly incident is captured on the ride’s automatic cameras for children to see. Not that I’m picky or anything. But I digress..

I’ve also been thinking about roller coasters because one of my former co-workers, Dom, has posted some blogs on WordPress about Cedar Point They are very interesting, check them out and follow his blog if you haven’t already!

I love roller coasters. I will ride nearly all manner of roller coasters – wooden, metal, inverted, stand-up, you name it. Some of the newer incarnations, particularly “floorless” roller coasters like the Raptor, make me a bit queasy. But I am certainly not a wimp when it comes to thrill seeking at Cedar Point, or the numerous other amusement/theme parks I have visited during my lifetime. It all started at Cedar Point in 1976 when I was about 4, when the Sky Slide tried to maim me.

I was too short to ride anything but the spinny carnival-style rides and the wide assortment of lame rides in what Cedar Point used to call “Kiddieland.” Yup. Revolving around on an merry-go-round style axis atop a car with a fun horn, or a replica of an animal. Since the coolest roller coasters were still not available to me, I sought my thrill-seeking on the Sky Slide. Described thusly in Wikipedia:

“A Fun Slide. It featured a huge cyan-colored fiberglass slide located just west of the Main Arcade. Guests had to sit on a burlap mat while sliding down. There were two long steep drops followed by a short dip, and the slide had 15 “lanes” for riders.”

The Sky Slide

Even though the slide was fiberglass, it must have had some hot parts – I managed to burn my forearm on the slide during my descent, necessitating a trip to First Aid for burn treatment. Was I deterred? Hell no! I was treated then set out to ride the most extreme rides available to a person who was not yet the coveted 48 inches tall. I have no idea how tall I was at age 4, though I know I was always taller than the other kids. A couple of roller coasters I was probably able to ride included the Cedar Creek Mine Ride and the Blue Streak, the latter of which has greeted visitors as they enter the park since the ’60s.

The next time I visited Cedar Point was 1978, when “The Gemini” opened and I turned 6. This was a wooden racing coaster, with a red train and blue train “racing” each other during each ride. It was marketed as the highest, tallest, and steepest roller coaster in the world, though all three claims were later debunked. Nonetheless, it was still a pretty bad-ass coaster in an amusement park that was easy for a family from the Flint area to visit in roughly a four-hour drive. Now that I, the youngest kid in the family had grown to at least 48 inches tall, it was decreed that we were all going to ride this monster. My older brother helped “encourage” me to ride in true big brother style, which I will leave to the reader’s imagination. I was terrified! I may have outgrown the kiddie rides (though not the cute little horns on the cars), but I didn’t think I was quite ready for the Twin Tracks of Terror that was the Gemini. But I was determined and didn’t want to deprive another family member of riding by making them sit on a bench with me. I waited in what seemed like an endless line in unforgiving sun. My stomach was in knots. My memory is pretty fuzzy at this point about all of these details, of course, but eventually I rode the Gemini. “Click, click, click,” as the train ascended the first hill of 125.3 feet. “Click, click, click” as it continued to what would certainly be my doom and all of the other riders. Then…the drop. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure I screamed as the train ascended and descended the multiple hills and navigated the helices and turns. Then bam, the ride was done. And I was ready to ride again! In true competitive form, my brother and I liked riding in opposite cars – one in the red, one in the blue – sometimes the red would “win,” sometimes the blue. And even though the lines were longer, we wanted to ride in the front seats every time.

31210 CEDAR OOFGG-09
The Gemini, Cedar Point.

The Gemini proved to be a gateway drug of sorts as it paved the way for me riding the more extreme rides, starting with the Corkscrew, which makes you go upside down. This was the ’70s, when rides were decidedly lame by today’s standards. Gotta love technology and the competitive spirit driving amusement parks across the world and nation as they constantly tried to one-up each other in terms of height, speed, building materials used, and train type.

Here’s a summary of some of my other amusement park jaunts and their trials and tribulations throughout my childhood, years are all approximate:

1979: “Great America,” in Gurnee, IL, now known as Six Flags Great America. Relatively uneventful. Unsure the name of the ride, but it must have been one that takes riders upside-down because of the shoulder restraints, which I am gripping to death-like in the photo below, as I still do when I ride coasters. Old habits die hard. The whole park seemed to have a “Looney Tunes” theme which, being that I was a Bugs Bunny fan, I really enjoyed. I believe my brother acquired a Tasmanian Devil sun visor on this trip, which was probably paired with a tank top and short shorts, being that it was the late ’70s. Don’t get my husband Mike started on this topic, he is still traumatized by short shorts and tube socks. He said, “You always worried you were exposing your…” Ahem. Anyway, My main souvenir was a very classy yellow sun visor with yellow plastic in the brim, perfect for seeing the world through urine-colored toxic plastic. I believe that visor met its maker a short time later after the plastic parts melted in a hot car. This may have been part of the trip my family took into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Wisconsin, where we got to see the real town of Osh Kosh, you know, overall city?

Me on a roller coaster at “Great America” in Gurnee, IL, approximately 7 years old.
Yes, the yellow visor was real…

1980: King’s Island, Cincinnati: Rode “The Beast” and took a photo while on top of the hill. Sorry, I can’t locate said photo, but here is another photo of this beastly coaster, which was supposed to surpass the Gemini in every way:

The Beast, King’s Island. It’s the wooden ride in the back, not the one with the loops, as The Beast did not go upside-down.

Yes, this was way bigger, faster and taller than the Gemini, but it didn’t have the nostalgic charm of the racing trains. Though the tunnels were really, really cool. Since I’m kind of scared of the dark, this just adds to my whole enjoyment of a roller coaster for reasons I can’t really explain. As Dave Chappelle said when he played Rick James, “Adrenaline is a hell of a drug.” OK, so he really said “cocaine,” but the sentiment is essentially the same. The adrenaline generated by your own scared body on a roller coaster is an addictive substance indeed. Anyway, this trip to King’s Island was part of our family’s vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The biggest memories for me from this trip include eating at Long John Silvers for the first time and getting a chuckle out of the nautically themed signs in the restaurant (restrooms for “buoys” and “gulls”), and being able to be in two states at the same time – North Carolina and Tennessee. A not so pleasant memory involved me getting head lice at one of the places we stayed in Gatlinburg, TN. For reasons completely unrelated to the whole head lice incident, I still try to avoid this city to this day. And I still try to bring my own pillow when I have to stay in motels/hotels. Get a good map if you visit the Smokies, unless you like blatant disregard of zoning laws, tons of tourists, and even more tacky businesses designed solely for taking your hard-earned money. I’m not kidding about this. Even one of the Mexican cantinas charges for each refill of chips they bring while you’re munching on chips and salsa. While I am sure there are enough people abusing the free chips privilege to require such a policy, it also reinforces my notion that this town is designed to take your money. Please don’t let all of this dissuade you from that lifelong dream of visiting Dollywood or the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” museum, however.

1981: Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL (or vicinity). Surprisingly, not much impressive about the “Happiest Place On Earth.” Or just Florida? Most enduring memory of the day was spending more than an hour searching for our car in the parking lot, which to this day, still makes me think of ‘The Simpsons” when they visited “Itchy and Scratchy Land.” My mom thinks we were probably in the “Goofy” lot. EPCOT center was being built at this time, and I still think I probably would have enjoyed that more than the rest of the park. I was kind of a dork. I don’t want to sound like I didn’t appreciate the experience of visiting Disney World when a lot of kids probably never had the chance, but it just didn’t impress me. I was not a huge Disney fan growing up, I was definitely more of a Looney Tunes kind of girl, as I mentioned before. Bugs Bunny could kick Mickey Mouse’s ass any day of the week. What really impressed me was “Wet ‘N Wild,” a Florida water park I had visited earlier in the trip with my cousins James and David. I had never been to a water park before – it was a veritable playground with chlorinated water instead of that nasty salt water at Daytona Beach that was probably teeming with sharks. There was an enclosed water slide (another thing that makes me think of “The Simpsons” when Homer got stuck in one of those), a wave pool, and even more water slides.  It’s easy to laugh about the racy name “Wet ‘N Wild” now, but this a more innocent time. It was also the early ’80s, before waterpark/hotel combinations were even dreamed up of being a thing. Other highlights of the trip not related to roller coasters (Disney World’s collection of coasters pales compared to Cedar Point) included seeing my first alligator, taking a boat ride in the Everglades, riding around in my aunt’s boyfriend’s pick-up truck bed and getting insanely sunburned, seeing the movie “Caveman” in a theater, and eating my first (and last) corn dog. Speaking of hot dogs, and to digress a little, my dad always told us to NEVER eat hot dogs at Cedar Point because Ohio’s meat quality standards were not on the same par as Michigan’s. Maybe he was just being biased because he hated the Ohio State University football team so much, but as I learned on a trip in 1995, perhaps there was some truth to his statement (more on that later). This brings to mind another childhood memory of my dad having a “Woody is a Pecker” bumper sticker on his yellow van with blue shag carpet on the floor AND walls. This referred, of course, to former Ohio State University football coach Woody Hayes. Yes, my dad was that much of a U of M fan, just in case the van’s color scheme didn’t make that point clear enough. When I was precocious enough to ask what the bumper sticker meant, he just said it was like “Woody Woodpecker.” I did not inquire further.

This really narrows it down, doesn’t it?

1981: King’s Island, Cincinnati, OH (or vicinity) – Visited on a day when temperatures were 114 degrees. Though my memory is a bit fuzzy, I wound up passing out in a seating area, and spent a good deal of the day in First Aid.

1982: Cedar Point: Took a Girl Scout bus trip to Cedar Point, which is how I learned that buses make me extremely carsick. Attempted to ride something, don’t remember what, and threw up afterwards. Spent a good deal of the day in First Aid dry-heaving and drinking Gatorade. My mom, who also came along on the trip, did not keep vigil at my side. I probably insisted that she not do that, or she decided she wasn’t going to let a sick kid ruin her day. Whatever scenario, it was consensual on both of our parts. I do not question her parenting here. Children of my generation were not coddled.

1984: King’s Island: Rode one of the first “stand-up” coasters called the Cobra. Relatively uneventful trip, no carsickness, heat exhaustion, or trips to First Aid.

The King Cobra, King’s Island.

1985: Took another bus trip to Cedar Point, but this time, I was prepared for the whole carsickness thing. I took Dramamine, which helped me nap for a good portion of the four-hour trip there (still living in Flint area). Turned out that Dramamine was a waste of a good nap. On that day It was very cold and rained nearly all day long and most of the cool rides were closed. Watched lots of IMAX movies at the Cedar Point theater – is that even still a thing? I also hung around in lots of souvenir shops, and took in lost of dolphin shows. Yes, they used to have an “Oceana” exhibit at Cedar Point, until they decided to get out of the animal exploitation business. They also had a wild animal safari exhibit called “Jungle Larry.”

1986: Took bus trip with middle school band. Turned out to be a fun time, and I got a cool pair of purple and blue sunglasses. No vomiting, no First Aid, no carsickness. Rode a crazy water ride called “Thunder Canyon” for the first time, which simulated a wild ride down a river, and of course, soaked you with nasty Cedar Point “water” in process. More about that “water” later…

1988: Visited Bob-Lo Island in the middle of the Detroit River (on the Canadian side). Boat trip down the river was required. Great weather, fun trip with friends. Rides very lame compared to Cedar Point standards. But getting there was half the fun- they had DJs and dance floors on the boats, and if you were 19, you could drink. But alas, the park closed in 1993, and I never had a chance to revisit the park when I was legal drinking age 😦

Bob-Lo Island boat dock

1990: Cedar Point again with friends Wendy and Bill, to celebrate mine and Wendy’s graduation from high school. Got to ride the Magnum XL 200 for the first time, which by today’s standards, is kind of like “Junior Millennium Force.” To this day it’s still one of my favorite rides. It looks super cool when it’s all lit-up at night, and it’s just a great classic coaster – not too extreme, but not too wussy, either. Smooth as silk, the trains just glide on the track like…fill in the blank with your off color phrase of choice.  Attending Cedar Point with one guy and another female had its funny moments. One of which was when some worker, probably someone trying to get a poor sap to visit his booth, said “Two girls and a dude.” Uh, duh? Is this the best you got? We just moved on… Attending Cedar Point as a threesome meant that one person always ended up either sitting by him or herself or sitting with a stranger, but we somehow managed to make it work out. Since we were all 17/18, our levels of endurance were nearly endless. We stayed at Cedar Point until the workers practically had to kick us out – riding and re-riding our favorite rides for no other reason than that it was much, much more fun in the dark. Only real negative of the day was that I stupidly decided to “break in” a new pair of Nike shoes and got some nasty, nasty blisters. Otherwise, a fun, fun trip. And since I drove, no carsickness. Can’t quite explain that one…

Clockwise from left – Bill, myself, and Wendy near the Cedar Point gate. Before automatic cameras on rides and cell phone cameras became commonplace, Cedar Point would have photographers stalking the park entrance and getting photos of groups as they walked in. They would sell said photos to you later as a negative inside a tiny plastic photo viewer. This was one of those photos – special thanks to Mike for managing to scan it in!

1995, Cedar Point. This time Mike and I took our friends Michelle and Terry. A few years earlier Michelle was unable to attend Cedar Point with Bill, Wendy and I because she was having a brain tumor removed. I’m not making that up. Michelle decided to make a dramatic announcement as she and I ascended the first hill of the “Mean Streak,” a notoriously jarring, jerky wooden coaster that lived up to its name and could eat the Gemini for brunch. “Have I ever told you that I hate this ride?” Turns out she was not a huge roller coaster fan. Live and learn. Speaking of learning, this is when I learned that “floorless” coasters like the Raptor (that leave your legs dangling) upset my stomach. My husband says I can’t handle G-forces. There went my dreams of being a fighter pilot 🙂 Alas, a much more kind consequence than being killed… I also learned that maybe Dad’s warning us about Ohio’s meat quality could be true. Terry, another friend who accompanied us on the trip decided to order a hot dog, which was as bright red as a jawbreaker. Hmmm….good thing he had an iron stomach for handling multiple rides on the Raptor with my husband, Mike. Another learning experience occurred while we were in line for a ride, which I believe may have been the Mantis. We overheard a conversation between a grizzled-looking guy who appeared to be in his late 30s or early 40s and a couple of younger guys standing near him in line. He was commenting on the fashion trend, particularly among younger men, of exposing underwear along with saggy jeans. The older guy told the younger guys that according to prison lore, this showed other prisoners that you were “available.” He spoke with some authority, like perhaps he’d actually done some time. This is one of the most interesting things about Cedar Point. What better way to endure the boredom of waiting in line than by figuring out where people are from by reading their T-shirts and listening in on their conversations? Well, in this electronic age, people will simply bury their faces in their phones/devices, ignoring all opportunities for precious people watching. Not me, I still enjoy people watching. Anyway, back to the Mantis. This ride used to be a stand-up coaster which has since been converted to a suspended coaster, which means G-forces. Ugh.  A thunderstorm early in the day cleared away most of the normal crowds which meant shorter than usual lines for the rides.

2000: Visited Cedar Point with just my husband, Mike. We figured since we both had (nearly) the same ride tolerance, we would have a good time. Rode the Millennium Force for the first time. A ride camera on the Millennium Force captured a great photo of Mike and I, both with our arms up and looking like total roller coaster warriors. But we were probably wise to when the photos were being shot and posed a little…the photo exists somewhere in my house, I think, and as soon as I get around organizing all of my snapshots, I will share the photo here! Uh, don’t hold your breath waiting for that, BTW. On this trip we had fantastic weather and there was no vomiting by me or by Mike. We decided to check out one of Cedar Point’s many watering holes and we tried Mike’s Hard Lemonade for the first time ever (and unlike the corn dog, it wasn’t the last time).  After this trip I decided that I no longer wanted to ride any of the water rides. It’s funny – as of this point on my multiple amusement park excursions I endured day-long vomiting, first degree burns, heat exhaustion and abject terror when riding the Gemini – but water rides proved to be straw breaking my back. I guess I just suddenly decided I’d had enough of smelling like a drowned rat after getting out of water rides (more on those later). Everyone has a breaking point, and water rides were it for me. Though I will say Cedar Point’s decision to put their “swings” ride next to a lot of their water rides was a wise choice. It allows one to air dry to a certain extent. Are those swings still open? I’m way too lazy to check right now. Other than that, the “water” in the water rides is only a reasonable facsimile to water. It probably should not be ingested, smelled, or should it make any kind of contact with skin or clothing. Perhaps I’m just too much of a germophobe for my own good. Anyone remember when Lisa Simpson had to drink the “water” during a Duff Gardens ride, only to experience severe hallucinations? I’m positive Cedar Point’s “water” has nearly the same effects, only not nearly as fun. Unless you call dystentery fun. To each their own…

2004: Visited Cedar Point with a few friends, including one who had just defended his thesis. This group of people had riders of all different ride tolerance, but everyone was good spirited if someone wanted to “sit out” a ride. I sat out the water rides and held onto people’s belongings. Later in the day we decided to ride Woodstock Express, a kiddie ride that can also be ridden by adults. I think the maximum height was like seven feet? Perhaps to counteract that experience, I also rode the then brand-new “Top Thrill Dragster,” which essentially just zips you up a vertical axis really, really, fast and releases you down even faster. There were numerous media reports about problems with the ride. Trooper of a friend Dave rode it with me anyway and got some bruising from the restraints. His fault for being too skinny. I believe in true Catholic boy fashion he did the sign of the cross before the ride took off (if he reads this, maybe he will confirm or deny). This was the last time I visited an amusement park. Which one will I visit next? Will it be Cedar Point? Not likely, it’s pretty much run its course for me, and the thought of standing in long lines just isn’t appealing anymore.  Husband Mike and I are eyeing Busch Gardens Williamsburg, VA. Selling point? They have an “Oktoberfest” section. Ride on!

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