I’m not the sort to be overly sentimental. And, truth be told, I tend to count amongst the living-dead those not yet retired who frequently reminisce about days gone by, especially high school days. Relishing past glories too often is to give up on present aspirations and celebrations. It’s kind of like listening to classic rock from back in the day and nothing else. Look, Dude, try some Jimmy Eat World or Linkin Park. Yes, Eddie Van Halen was cool, emphasis on was. High school was not the pinnacle of my time on planet earth. If it was yours, well, sorry. Really, move on.
Thomas Wolfe exposed the reality that most of us face at some point in our lives, that you can’t go home again. Change, the animating factor in life, turns the most rose-coloured glasses another color, or dark, depending upon your experience when returning to the home of your youth.
Moving away from the little world we created in our youth imprisons and freezes it. It finds a special place in our hearts and minds. But it remains static within us while each passing hour we are away life chips away at the real world and turns it into something strange and almost surreal. Buildings age and roads become pot-hole riddled in our absence. So too do people. (Yes, I do mean they age and become pot-hole riddled.) What was new becomes old. What was big we find small upon returning. Life, as they say, happens and moves ever forward. But that world of our youth is frozen in our minds like the glass snow-bound scene that sat on grandma’s shelf inside the curio cabinet.
If, by chance, everything stays as it was we find we have changed. Those barns, that house, those country roads may match perfectly to your memories of them when you return. But the woman who lives in that house still, who seemed old then and is old now, is tragically out of place and incongruent when you speak to her. In the years of your absence she has remained as static as the houses and barns and roads. You have changed. And that has changed everything.
I came to terms with these things years ago. So, when my fourteen year old daughter, Madison, and I went to Cincinnati for a family reunion my expectations were not overly sentimental, romantic or heightened in any way. I was, however, excited for my daughter. She was meeting a lot of her family for the first time.
I knew my brothers would be the same characters they were from childhood, just older and fatter. They didn’t disappoint. And my cousins and aunts and uncles were in a similar state of decay as the rest of us. But that mattered not to Madison. To her they were all new. She didn’t see them as the skinny little kids that I remembered, or the bicycle riding lunatics of the neighborhood, or the smart-assed brat that was always smirking and laughing. (Actually, that last one she did. Jeffrey has never changed, in spite of age. He’s still a smart-assed kid who is always laughing. And good for him!) She only saw the group. The family. And she also saw to it that I lived up to my promise of The Beast.
The Beast came into our world, Madison’s and mine, years ago via the History Channel. They ran a show on the world’s fastest, most reckless, most dangerous, most out of control, all wooden roller coasters and The Beast at King’s Island amusement park in Cincinnati won. Of course I had to smile and say - with just a trace of arrogance, I’m sure: “I’ve ridden that dozens of times.”
“Really?” asked Madison. “So, when we go to Cincinnati we’re going to ride it, right? I love roller coasters.”
We decided the last full day we were to spend in Cincinnati that we would go to the park, just the two of us. (That’s called “Mistake Number One” on my part.) We began the day with a fun ride on the Racer, the original all wooden coaster at the park. It beat the hell out of me. I’m not lying. It was fun, kind of like two-a-day football practices in the middle of August are fun. But I quickly adjusted and got over it. I can still suck it up when I have to.
A couple of rides later we found ourselves in line for a ride that we couldn’t see or even gage by the reactions of people coming off of it (they were put off away from the entrance). It looked like Area 51 and as we inched our way through the line we went inside an air conditioned warehouse with an incredibly cheesy video playing on several monitors. It was your basic 2am sci-fi flick on the local access cable station. (It was also “Mistake Number Two”.)
Then we walked into a flying saucer and at the last moment we were fed into some roller coaster cars, locked in tight, and thrown at 80+ miles per hour into blackness. I kid you not. We looped up and around, over and under, and cork-screwed our way into the pitch black all for fun. At that point I would have gladly thrown up but I hadn’t eaten anything so I simply got to feel nauseous as I exited the car and wobbled down the ramp towards the exit, which was displaying my horror-ridden mid-ride face to everyone on a beautiful high-res monitor. The only reason I didn’t sue was that mine was one of many photos and all were equally salacious.
“What, precisely,” I asked, “was the point of that?”
“That was awesome!”
“You are a sick child.”
“Oh my God, that was so fun! Hey, dad, the line wasn’t too long ...”
“No. Keep moving.”
If you are looking back at your forties, heed these words: do not go from some crazy roller coaster ride that looks like Area 51 to another called “Invertigo”. That would be stupid. It would also be Mistake Number Three on my part. But the line was not long. The ride looked short. How bad could it be?
Going forward it wasn’t bad, cork-screwing and looping through the air with your feet just dangling there. Going backwards sucked ... the wind out of my lungs, some grey matter out of my ears. I’ve had concussions that were more pleasant.
“Please, let’s grab a burger and drink and sit for a while,” I said as we walked away from the ride.
“Man, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but okay, OLD MAN.”
(At this point it would have been nice to rant and shout a bunch of expletives at the child who is the caretaker of my genetic legacy. But, even though I will never be short-listed for parent of the year, I found that I didn’t have the stomach for it. In fact, I found myself downright complacent about paying $24 for two burgers and a large cola and happy to be firmly planted terra firma.)
I felt compelled to re-group and tackle the remainder of the day, to silence the doubt in my mind and make her eat those “old Man” words. Hateful, spiteful children must be punished, after all.
After lunch we made our way through a series of other ridiculous rides that tested the limits of my ability to cope. I forgot how much I struggle with heights when not in control. Sitting in a chair, feet dangling 240 feet above the ground while whirling around in circles, is not a good way for someone like me to spend two minutes of his life. Let me jump from a plane, parasail or hang-glide and I’m as cool as they come. But just sitting and swinging around ...
And finally we came to The Diamondback. A metal roller coaster that literally takes you two hundred and forty feet up in the air and drops you straight down. Free-fall. And then nearly does it again. The ride was actually fun. Having survived the previous rides made The Diamondback seem smooth. Metal roller coasters are like cheating in some ways. The mistake (Number Whatever at this point) was getting off of The Diamondback and thinking that it would be okay to walk a few yards next door and get on The Beast.
Officially, The Beast is the longest and fastest all wooden roller coaster in the world. It climbs up over a wooded park and careens down into the trees, cutting its own path for nearly three and a half minutes. Branches seem so close that you could reach out and touch them. And I’m betting squirrels and birds play games along the track. Squirrels are just evil enough to do it and birds, you know, just like the hilarity of it.
Unofficially, The Beast is an NFL linebacker hired to rough you up a bit before Vinnie and Guido come for their share. It’s riding down the old mine shaft in “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” except YOU are the special effect, flinging about, defying gravity and spending less time actually on the tracks than off. At the mid-way point, after flying through the woods, you come to a second large hill that can only be climbed part way with the coaster’s momentum. The coaster is pulled by chain the remainder of the way.
At the top, there below you, right down there in the trees, the tracks fall through the woods in a cork-screw manner, double looping in a wooden covered tunnel. All the while you are whipped about and slammed into the side of the cart that holds you, and then, for good measure, into the other side. But that’s only after you realize that the coaster actually wasn’t on the tracks for that last turn.
We exited The Beast. I was loopy. I’m not lying. I made it but I remembered it differently from when I was younger. Riding more than ten roller coasters in the space of 5 or 6 hours isn’t what it used to be. And the Beast is aptly named.
And then I turned to my kid and said, “You know, when I was younger ...”
But I could see the smirk on her face and I let the remainder of the air in my lungs flow out.
After some deliberation I have come to several conclusions, some amusement park rules to live by for those who too fondly remember days of yore. Pay attention: Do not take your fourteen year old, thrill seeking daughter to an amusement park by yourself. Do not ride anything that you cannot see where it goes and what it does. Do not for a moment believe something named “Invertigo” can be a good or fun thing. Do not ever try to convince yourself that dropping straight down from 240+ feet is going to be ok. Do not - EVER! - return home if there is a beast in your past, however fondly remembered.
in category Life