When I was youngster a trip to the amusement park meant riding as many rides as possible, and the more motion the better. I could be spun, turned upside down, sent hurtling forward or backward or some combination of all of the above without suffering any ill-effects. Like Dirk Diggler, I could ride all day long, slowed only by a lack of riding partners or too much Coke. I felt this ability separated me from my more timid friends, and certainly from most of the adults I knew. Of all the paying customers at Worlds of Fun, my regional amusement park of choice in Kansas City, I knew I was the ride-ridin’est of them all.
Things have changed.
On Labor Day we went to the Minnesota State Fair. Linus, being 8, now approaches the “big” rides on the Midway with vigor. I say “big” because these rides absolutely pale in scale to the behemoths of my youth, and so naturally I appointed myself his co-pilot, to help ease him into the world of big-time amusement. I chuckled as he looked skeptically at the first ride we approached, the inexplicably-named “Fighter”, best described as a combination of aerial swings and the scrambler. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”, I asked him as we approached. He gave a solemn nod, and I made sure to check my position as we boarded the ride so as not to be in the path of his vomit, the appearance of which I calculated to be a 50/50 proposition.
But these rides today, they leave nothing to the imagination. All this ride did was spin us around and jerk us back and forth at extreme speeds and obtuse angles. And they played unforgivably bad American Idol reject music at Who concert decibel levels, on extremely shrill speakers with no bass that splits your eardrums. And, the sun was beating down on us relentlessly on a 90 degree, 90% humidity day. Plus I had just eaten a pork chop on a stick, a large Coke, and some deep-fried batter with something inside it.
Above all, it was the relentless spinning with no point or purpose that made me realize my mega-ride pride was a thing of the past. Back in the day I would have scoffed at this single-day assembly joke of a ride, but as we disembarked after a long 25 minutes, I realized a new era had arrived. Linus, to his credit, seemed unscathed and was eagerly searching for his next big-ride fix. I, on the other hand, wobbled over to Jane and Lily and shakily offered my best Roberto Duran impression.
My only other ride for the day was a go on an embarassingly lame roller coaster, which presented no problems for me and did restore some of my wounded pride. But it took the rest of the day for my head to stop throbbing and my internal gyroscope to right itself. It seems that moving forward and dropping, even at high rates of speed, are not a problem for me as a rider. But the spinning, the jerking around, the being upside down…that’s all for the kids. Rather than view it as weakness or the unflattering reality of age, I prefer to view it as a refinement of taste, sort of like moving from Mad Dog 20/20 to fine wine. I have no time now for the lesser amusements, and now will focus my efforts on the great roller coasters of our age.
That this is a decision born of necessity is quite beside the point, I think.