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bemusement parks

May 1, 2009

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been plagued by a strong aversion to any place aiming to harness a world of fun and adventure into a grand, paved, fenced-in and cleverly themed domain of lights and noise.  It all started rather innocently with a ride on the carousel at the Little Rock Zoo. My well-meaning mother shelled out a couple of bucks for my sister and I, who were three and five at the time, to take a spin. Our screams and expressions of terror were so acute that the operator shouted to my mother to ask whether he should shut the ride down long enough for us to get off. ( She passed and still feels guilty about it.)

Several years later, at a carnival on a New Jersey beach, we buckled into cages on what looked like a ferris wheel but ended up stopped, hanging upside down, many stories up. My aunt watched in agony as my sister, too small for the security bar to be very effective, hung on for dear life and screamed like it was flashing before her eyes; I was pretty sure she was going to hyperventilate her way to a coma. Later, as a young teenager on a choir trip, a friend and I rode an old wooden roller coaster in an old, tiny park in Oklahoma, and the safety bar unlocked. Nothing came of it but an exciting and popular story (and therefore one of my more fond theme park memories).

Fairs, carnivals. Six Flags over Georgia, Texas, Missouri. Worlds of Fun. Silver Dollar City. Adventure World. Through junior high and high school, I visited countless amusement parks with school groups and summer camps. We went to have Fun, but usually I just managed to get home with a sunburn and without something I’d lost (usually a camera or a tiny backpack purse). I played the Mom role, parking it on a bench and holding $5 drinks and bags and hats while my friends stood in line and waited to board giant machines with names like The Mind Eraser, Acrophobia, and Dive Bomber Alley. Watching, rather than riding, those spectacles was all the Fun I could handle. Even the Shoe Carnival is too much for me.


I don’t easily suffer from motion sickness, I’m not afraid the rides will throw me into oblivion, and I’ve grown adept at competing for shade. I try to see the family focus, the whimsy. Instead I see $8 hot dogs, really wet restrooms, and the earth standing still. Which is why, when I read this Shouts and Murmurs in The New Yorker a couple of weeks back, I laughed and laughed – and then had trouble sleeping.

As an adult, I’ve taken at least seven sets of 75+ summer campers to various theme parks, and last year I went with a three-month-old Jack in tow, but I don’t anticipate making this mistake voluntarily. I admire my friend Elizabeth, who says Disney’s Magic Kingdom really is magical and loves to visit it. My brother-in-law loves to take his family there once a year. Meanwhile, I’m the mean mom who intends to avoid that sort of vacation at all costs. (I’ll concede that I loved Tivoli Gardens, a sweet little park that opened in Copenhagen in 1843, but I don’t think an annual trip to Denmark is going to make it on our family calendar.)

My sister, who still remembers her Long Beach Island thrill ride as “perhaps the most terrified” she’s ever been, turned out to be a pretty adventurous gal who tolerates theme parks more willingly than I do. Maybe one day she’d like to assume the role of the cool aunt who takes Jack and his future siblings to those beacons of merriment?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. sus permalink
    May 1, 2009 9:24 pm

    chicken shapes! the neon darkness! tah!

  2. May 4, 2009 4:35 pm

    Oh ick. I don’t like them either, although there is a sweet, small one near where we live that is cheap; and the kids can hardly tell the difference from 6 Flags or wherever.

    That NYer item was hysterical!


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