For Sunday, after waking, and cat-feeding, we woke earlier than we had from the napping the previous day, but still at a comfortable, civilized hour. We wanted to get to Seaside Heights again, another tradition, particularly to try out the rides on the pier we missed last time, and it seemed sensible to try setting out the first full day in case the weather turned horrible or something else kept us from going. In fact, the weather was threatening to be really nasty: a bit cool, threatening rain, and rather windy.
But first: food. And we went to what's proving to be our favorite hoagie shop, Jersey Mike's, where we split a giant veggie (or giant cheese, depending on how you want to view the important ingredients; the key thing is, no meat) and nachos and Fritos, snacks we don't get enough anymore now that we're trying seriously to lose weight. (I'd even that day had the slightly disappointing WiiFit pronouncement that I'd gained over two pounds on Saturday, but fluctuations will happen particularly when I didn't exercise.) It all tasted quite good, and we were nearly alone in the shop right up until the time we somehow finally had enough time looking into each other's eyes and figured we should get one last drink and maybe go to the bathroom before heading Shoreward. That's when a mob came in to order things, so we were glad not to be working the counter.
As mentioned it was a slightly cool, quite overcast, windy, ready-to-rain sort of day, so of course the traffic to the Shore this Labor Day weekend was negligible and light. And, for Labor Day Weekend shore Traffic, it was; there were stretches as much as ten miles away from Seaside Heights where traffic was flowing. Between our late start and long lunch and then the traffic it looked unlikely we'd get there before 3 pm, which when you consider on our first visit we'd already been there for hours and were strolling off the pier to find snacks for lunch that shows how late we'd gotten going.
Parking there is handled by the elegant method of people with plastic buckets taking some flat charge in exchange for some space for the rest of the day or night. The going rate looked to be ten dollars; I'd thought it was five dollars last year, but then last year was a midsummer Wednesday rather than a Labor Day Weekend day so the prevailing rate may vary. I pulled into a lot that was getting near full, with two rows of cars parked on either edge and a line in the center forming. The woman with the bucket said to hold on, she'd check, and got into consultation with a guy with a money belt. The verdict was they had space, yes. Also I should leave my key on the driver's side mat, with the window half-open, so that if they have to move the car they can. Er ... huh? We parked, but I felt awfully uncomfortable about leaving my car, keys and all, with strangers and nothing but the receipt tag for my wallet to connect me to it again. I did take a picture of the lot, though, so we'd have a chance at finding it if we lost track again. Neatly, the lot was opposite the post office, which would be easily found on the street maps, although we had no trouble finding the lot later when we were ready to leave. It just felt really weird, like I should maybe have been more suspicious of it all.
Last year we spent our long wonderful day primarily at Casino Pier; this time, we went to the other, Funtown Pier, which had the very large attractions of two roller coasters we'd missed last year. It would also be a different experience since on a Sunday we couldn't get the unlimited-ride bracelets (they're not for sale) and would have to buy books of tickets for rides. All the ones we found interesting were six or seven tickets each, too. We estimated 65 tickets as being about right for what we expected to ride, and matching pretty well the sale prices given to books of 25 and of 40 tickets. However, when we found a ticket booth ... it wasn't open and it warned that the Sky Coaster ride, where you get strapped into a harness and flung out towards the sea, wasn't in operation when it clearly was and some poor insane person was on it. It also warned that Arctic Circle wasn't running even though we caught it moving. A booth that was actually open, though, and that had a different list of rides not in operation that day, had a clerk who was really thrown by our request for 65 tickets. This is what happens when PhDs try to have fun. It went better when bunny_hugger clarified that it was a book of 25 and a book of 40 together.
Something we didn't really pay attention to last year was that the rides here are more oriented towards kids and families, with things like the Spongebob Squarepants ride, or a little scenic railroad around a Jurassic Park-ish setting, or a Balloon Ferris Wheel that goes up nearly four feet. That's an exaggeration, but the little Log Flume they have, which was closed, was very much a children's ride, consisting as it did of a track about fifteen feet by ten feet, with a single lift and drop of maybe three feet. Calling it a Log Flume seems to overstate it; it's more of a Twig Flume. But it's probably appropriate for kids. We also were intrigued by an oval-track car ride because the backdrop for it sported an Esso logo, and we tried to identify where the ride was built to have that feature. The correct approach was to look at the control box, which had a plaque from the Italian company which manufactured it, one line of which charmingly read, ``Via IV Novembre 20''.
The first ride we went on was dubbed the Spider, as a reflection of how it had seven spokes from the main, central, axis, which you understand as ... well, anyway, and on the end of each arm is two cars and I don't really get the name either. The point is, the ride has the central axle spin, while raising and lowering each of the spokes, and the cars themselves are allowed to spin on the end of their side of the spoke. I'm not sure if they spin freely or if some mechanism encourages them. Either way this was a lot of fun, combining rising and falling with sharply changing spin rates for a ride dizzying without being nauseating. Great little ride.
The first of the roller coasters we went on was called simply Looping Coaster, and outside it was a sign which clearly was meant to rotate between several panels identifying the maker and information about the ride's specifics, like maximum accelerations and such. The sign is divided into many horizontal lines, but the lines are stuck out of synch and no longer rotating so that you can almost make out much of all the different signs that would be displayed. It's charming, it is. This coaster, a six-ticket ride, has a fairly small footprint but manages to pack a loop-the-loop in its space, which is remarkable. bunny_hugger thought it was the smallest loop-the-loop she'd seen. Maybe it is.
We also noticed spare cars were covered by a tarp and wondered what color they were and what names they sported, since the cars in service had individual names. Also really hard to overlook was that the ride entrance had painted yellow dots inside rectangles clearly indicating where people were expected to stand, but there was a fence with gate doors intersecting those spots. Apparently some new safety measure was retrofitted in since the last painting.
The Looping Coaster has a fairly straightforward track, with one big climb, a big drop into the loop-the-loop, and then a rise again for dropping spirals on the opposite sides of the track. I really like the drop --- well, I'm clearly a drop fan --- and the feed into the very tight loop is mighty fun. I kept wanting to wave to the people on the pier --- I'm also an inveterate waver on rides --- but the signs warn about putting hands outside the car, and the support structures for the ride ... are surely not so close that ordinary waving would be threatening, but I didn't want to risk it either. It's a fine ride.
The Arctic Circle ride is one of the Himalaya-type rides, that is, that big spinning table where the cars go up and down on the spinning table as enormously loud music plays. And you go forward for a while, then turn around and come back. This one has a polar theme, as the name suggests, so that there are paintings of polar bears and penguins and icebergs and the like around, and the centerpiece of the ride is a big crystal that looks like it's meant to be a giant chip of ice or possibly a spare prop from the original Star Trek. That's a fine ride, although we were a bit confused getting on since the ride exit could not have looked more like the entrance even if it had a sign reading ``RIDE ENTRANCE HERE'' flashing converging lights toward it. When you put up twin statues of polar bears someplace you expect people are supposed to go there, don't you? (The decor also features penguins, which are not Arctic.)
We did some walking around before going to the other roller coaster --- a wild mouse, more rectangular in layout than the wild mouse on the other pier --- in part to see if there were other adult-sized rides we were interested in, and in part to pick up salt water taffy. She got a pound box of the longer cylinders; I got a pound box of the ones with about the cross-section of a quarter. Mixed flavors all over, of course, and we would end up trying clumsily to take some out and eat without getting molten taffy all over us throughout the rest of the day.
While we did have plans to get to the wild mouse, which featured the image of a mouse on the entrance scene who looked more terrified than anything else, we did have a slightly untidy problem facing us for after the ride: quite a few tickets and not really any rides on that pier that seemed to merit their full use. The solution: buy one more free ticket and ride the Looping Coaster again. That was the most sensible thing to do, of course, and it was around this that I noticed the remaining tickets we had all had the same serial number. bunny_hugger, who had been keeping the tickets in her pocket by virtue of her having a back pocket, had noticed long before when it was unnecessarily hard to rip off the correct number of tickets for the various rides. The wristband method of unlimited rides is definitely easier.
The wild mouse on this pier had the sort of cars I think of as log flume style, since while it had seat belts the only seat was the padding on the bottom and there wasn't any cushion between the front and back. (There's only seating for one person across.) Instead of a tight twists underneath the boustrophedon track that builds the wild mouse concept it instead drops (yeah) and rises a couple times going back and forth the long way before coming to its exit. I think it was fun, although not as good as the one on Casino Pier, which provides a much better illusion of being ready to whack your head on a piece of supporting steel.
And as per the plan, we went back to the Looping Coaster for another ride, and by chance and bunny_hugger's generally grand timing we were again right up front of the cars. This time I did more paying attention to the looping part, including looking as high as I could to take in as much of the loop as possible. We didn't get a better view of the color or name of the spare cars, and I managed to miss how close the track takes us to the Arctic Circle before veering off again, but the rides are little and sweet and fun and looking across the car to the somewhat roaring surf below, well, it's grand.
Trivia: As Napoleon's soldiers moved in to Moscow in 1812, they found that the locals refused to accept payment in the load of counterfeit Russian bank notes which had been brought with them. The banknotes had to be burned. Source: The Age of Napoleon, Will and Ariel Durant.
Currently Reading: Venus Equilateral, George O Smith. Ah, that strange hard-science-fiction frisson: on the one hand, I feel as if I've been going through a minor course in power transmission and the challenges of long-distance communications. On the other hand, it's in the service (largely) of finding a way to send messages to spaceships in interplanetary space, which has since the time of writing been solved through the technologies of the ``radio'' and the ``antenna''. And on yet another hand, the characters, all bright young engineers able to whip up anything they've thought of, identify a faster-than-light signal as travelling at the speed of light squared, and it takes them a half-dozen stories before a retcon is hastily patched onto this. John W Campbell, you've done it again.