Amusement parks showcase a cross section of humanity that I really like. I like tube tops, fanny packs cinching stomachs, the constant input of food and the output — meaty splat (RIP DFW) — birds snatching crumbs, boyfriends clutching girlfriends, sunburned good old boys. My dad and I totally fit in the Kentucky amusement park scene, in the sense that nothing you could see there would be surprising.
Why did we like roller coasters? We were living lives largely devoid of thrill, excepting of course the Sunday Times crossword for him or the Sunday comics for me. Dad’s crazy days were long over — this was, after all, the man who got kicked out of a frat for painting his room black in homage to the Rolling Stones. And I was beginning to suspect, even as a youth, that my crazy days were limited to rolling over the cat with my tricycle or attempting to run away on a rocking chair with a block of cheese for sustenance. I was quite content.
This year we went on our pilgrimage in late August. I was just coming off a month-long battle with tonsillitis and various other maladies. We got there, rode one “coaster,” and, much like my freshman year prom date, I got overheated and had to take a break.
Sitting in the shade with silence, we watched as an older woman, wearing a floral smock belted with a fanny pack, veiny legs sticking out in the way old lady legs do, so comfortingly, sausaged into clingy black orthopedic sandals, bounded across the way saying with this sweet purity — Popcorn man! Popcorn man! Meanwhile this dude is all screaming into the mic trying to get somebody to play his tard game to win this giant stuffed lizard — which, come on, I totally want.
Then this popcorn elder sits down alone and starts muttering “I got the popcorn.” She’s not even eating it — just kind of muttering, so delighted, tossing little stale kernels to the birds and, you know, how did this come to be? Why has this woman come to be here alone and how is she so happy? Will I be so old and so decrepit and so joyful, I hope? I think I already mutter? Will you still love me, when I’m 64?
My childhood conception of events is so hazy — I wonder if I have some kind of brain disease creeping up already. I don’t remember important moments, birthdays, dates; even happy days are forgotten and not repressed. When I think back to the early days at the amusement park I seem to remember it being twice as large. I know this is normal — but I also remember a zoo, huge fields full of flowers, rides that defy laws of physics and invention.
One year, my dad and I took a picture at one of those old-timey picture booths — the thing where they dress you up as old flappers and prostitutes and take a digital photo, put it in sepia, then sell it for 40 bucks? My recollection of that day, I must have been 14 or so, was that the experience was so awesome.
My young mind registered this event as epic and beautiful. Like, completely unaware that a father and daughter wouldn’t be posing together in slut attire at a 20s pub — and oblivious to the anachronism of my nerd camp woven bracelets, oblivious to how my dad looks infinitely uncomfortable in his jacket with too long sleeves and tard hat. Shitty sepia. That picture is a gleeful embarrassment — epic and beautiful, like a recitation of the Canterbury Tales prologue you do in your bathroom in costume and post on YouTube.
We tried to ride the Beast — world’s tallest wooden coaster. I was looking up to read all these authentic signs that say things like “watch out for the beast” and “warning: beast” and got a killer dizzy spell. We tried to wait it out for an hour or so — but it soon became clear that I wasn’t the right age for this shit. I’m not sure if I was too old or too young — but I knew I wanted a nap, a popsicle and a Depends.