The Walt Disney Company makes something in the neighborhood of 6 billion dollars a year from their theme parks.
Six Flags Magic Mountain nets 42 million from roller coasters.
Sea World generates about 180 million from fish.
What kind of incredible aberration in the human genome makes this remotely possible?
Am I the only person in the world who finds waiting in lines for hours to get on insipid rides that bore me, make me nauseous and are over far too quickly, a fate worse than death? Am I the only guy who finds rubbing elbows on the promenade with Bubba, Lorna, Dufus and Fatso plus their ten thousand relatives, a bad LSD trip that can’t be over too soon?
My grandparents – my father’s parents – who’s idea of parenting was to pack their kids off to prep school as soon as possible – has decided that taking their grandsons – my brother and me; 7 and 8 respectively – to the North Haven Fair would a grandparently thing to do. I also think my grandfather has decided if he can kill us off it will save my father some child support. Since he is supporting my father, it is a win-win. Ten minutes in he decides to off us by putting us on some ride that zigs and zags and spins like a bat out of amusement park hell. The car, made for four adults is more than big enough for two children. Zig goes the ride – zag goes my brother and I, smashing around like bowling pins. Zag goes the car – zig goes my brother and I, our heads crashing together like coconuts. We seek refuge on the floor of the car. The ride operator, no longer seeing us and thinking it might be a good idea not to be arrested for manslaughter, stops the ride. We stumble as we get off. Since we aren’t dead yet, my grandfather promptly spends 40 dollars so my brother and I can take a ride in an open doored helicopter. I think he bribes the pilot to do loop-de-loops.
Still, we lived.
Annoyed that we still live, my grandparents takes my brother and me to the New York World’s Fair. In my grandfather’s further attempt to kill us, we are forced to go on It’s a Small World After All (look it up on You Tube). That we survive that earns my grandfather’s grudging respect. From that day forward he will only seek to kill us with my grandmother’s cooking.
I equate amusement parks – and world fairs – with death.
I am 17 and I am with friends at Riverside Park in Springfield, Massachusetts. It is a cold and rainy night but I don’t care because girls (!) from our high school are there and I am in the process of falling in love with the beauteous, red haired Kristin Pardee. We get on the tilt-a-whirl together – how romantic! We tilt – we whirl. It’s raining and we are soaking wet but we don’t care. It’s magic. This is the beginning of a life together. One twirly-whirly later, I’m not so sure. Two twirly-whirlies and our life together ends as hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy and soda meet motion. I puke in my lap.
I associate amusement parks with vomit.
Three parent-child interludes.
My daughter is 8 and on spring break. She pleads with me to take her and a friend to Disneyland. (The only thing I ever liked on The Wonderful World of Disney was – seriously – Texas John Slaughter, you did what he ordered and if you didn’t, you died.). We drive to Anaheim. I pay ten dollars to park. I pay one hundred and twenty to enter the magic kingdom. Oh, God. Humans in Mickey suits. Tinkerbelle and Goofy. And all around us hemming us in is what seems like the entire population of Hong Kong. Who knew the Chinese celebrated spring break? Two hours later we’ve finally been on the Indiana Jones ride. Not as good as the movie. Two hours after that, we’ve finally been on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Not as good as the movie. An hour after that, tired of standing in lines, we’re sitting in a small theatre taking in The Country Bears Jamboree. There is a reason that there is no one else there. On the way home, my lovely daughter solemnly tells me that “Disneyland wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.” I feel like it’s my fault.
There is no beer at Disneyland.
To make amends six years later I take my daughter and the same friend to Magic Mountain north of LA., a place, she tells me, famous for earth vibrating rides with names like Apocalypse, Scream, Viper and Goliath. We dive right in on Goliath which hits speeds of 75 miles of hours as it hurtles down into a tunnel and creates 14 G’s on the body as it bottoms out. And that’s just the beginning. It twirls, it whirls, it zigs, it zags, it falls, it climbs. Suddenly and at high speed. People throw their hands above their heads and scream in delight. They take a picture as you get to the end. In the picture I am a pale, glistening green. I spend the rest of the day walking through the lines with my sweet dates, getting to a ride, walking across the ride car, and waiting on the other side until they finish the ride. Some fun!
Around midafternoon, having a headache, I channel my grandfather and pay an extra sixty bucks to put the girls on the parachute plunge in an attempt to kill them. They love it and want to do it again. I say yes but only if we can leave after. They say no. We stay.
There is no beer at Magic Mountain.
There is also no beer at –
Leggo-land! For his seventh birthday and at his request, I take the chip off the old block son north to Carlsbad. I’m expecting Leggoland to be horrible. It’s worse. Children are bored and irritated. Adults wander around in a brain cramped stupor. How many ways can you assemble little blocks? The highlight of the day is when we take the leggo-luge which is a raft in a moderately bubbling stream bordered – yes – by Leggo happily smiling creatures. I get drenched and go around with wet jockey’s the rest of the day. The only thing my son likes at Leggoland is – yes – the Leggo-coaster. To celebrate we go on it a dozen times.
I associate amusement parks with no beer.
Last but not least.
I am in Key West visiting my dear friend, Terry. Terry is an ex-football star, now a Top Gun pilot who enjoys landing jets on aircraft carriers in raging seas in the middle of the night. That kind of guy. Everything I am not. Terry asks if I would like to out to the base and try… the simulator!
The simulator, it turns out, is a computer enhanced cockpit that simulates the experience of landings on ships. It was designed to put pilots into disastrous situations so they could practice getting out of them Before they had it, pilots had to practice their disasters in real aircraft. Pilots proved to be cheap and replaceable. Jets did not.
We meet Terry’s friend, call name Spidey, at the base. Terry’s call name is Brick. They actually refer to one another by their calls names and as a token of friendship and affection they give me one – Numbnuts.
They take turns in the simulator practicing disasters, each of them programming the computer to make the disasters more and more disastrous for the other. These are the kind of guys who, when dealing with disaster, chuckle and say “you fucker”. Or they giggle and say “asshole”.
When dealing with disaster, I go into a fetal position and scream – “Oh, God!”
And then it’s my turn. And as I climb into the cockpit I realize that this is the most expensive, most realistic, most terrifying amusement park ride ever made. Leave it to the military! It smells of sweat and ammo and jet fuel. It’s cramped and tight, especially when you buckle in and when the canopy comes down, it’s dark and claustrophobic and far too realistic.
You’re off, says Terry.
The scream of a jet engine fills the cockpit and everything begins to sway and buck. The controls and a computer generated screen are in front of me. It’s as if I am in a fighter jet!
Let’s fly around for a while, says Terry.
Let’s, I say.
We do that for a while. Not well.
Call the ball, says Terry.
The ball it turns out is a computer generated beacon that the pilot uses to find the carrier. When he sees it, he “calls the ball” – meaning he tells the swabbies on the carrier that he’s coming in.
I see the ball. It disappears to the left. I turn to the left. I see the ball. It disappears to the right. I turn to the right. I see no ball.
You’re upside down, says Terry.
Sorry, I say.
I’m sweating. The jet engine is sweating. The aircraft is swaying and bucking. And sweating.
We find the ball. We’re coming in.
Are we having fun yet!? yells Terry.
I chuckle. Asshole, I say. Numbnuts my ass. Maybe I’ll be a Top Gun pilot in my spare time.
A horn starts blaring. The jet engines are screaming, deafening. All at once the cockpit jerks and stops and everything goes black. There is complete and total silence.
What happened, I ask.
You crashed into the side of the ship, says Terry.
What does that mean, I ask.
You’re dead, Terry says.
To celebrate we go out and have multiple beers.
There are beers in the Navy.