austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

I've got a simulated sunshine standing underneath the neon sign

Our Wednesday plan --- and one of the centerpieces for the week --- was visiting Michigan's Adventure, an amusement park which goes back to the 50s and tries to piggyback on the good public reputation enjoyed by Muskegon, Michigan. (Well, I know I've heard of Muskegon often enough, but can't say why.)

The trip would take us pretty far to the western side of the Lower Peninsula, making my first real chance to see that side of the state, unless you count the long nighttime drive back from Chicago to Lansing last November, when the state looked pretty dark. It wouldn't be too long a drive, though, not compared to Cedar Point, and bunny_hugger said she used to go there just to ride her favorite rides (there are a half-dozen roller coasters) and look for other things to do the rest of the day. We'd end up spending a full day there, uncharacteristically finding ourselves unable to just hurry on through.

The park, she told me, opened originally as a petting zoo, which started to attract carnival midway-type rides and let the petting side of things slip away, ultimately to putting in a roller coaster in the late 70s for the real excitement and kind of tumbling into being a regional amusement park big enough to be bought up by Cedar Fair. It's got a sizable water-ride section, to the point that apparently locals think of it more as a water park, and as a result we brought along bathing suits and were fully prepared to use them.

The ride that commands attention right away from the amusement park is Shivering Timbers, a wooden roller coaster 125 feet tall and running approximately the length of Indiana. It's snuggled up against the parking lot so the parking process is accompanied by those happy terrified screams; the roller coaster is consistently rated one of the top in the world. And it's not overrated: besides the classical wooden design, it's also of the out-and-back style, taking you out on several hills until you've crossed over the horizon from the starting lift hill and coming back by a similar process; it goes to the classical definition of a roller coaster.

It also features a tiny stretch of something I was introduced to by a Popeye cartoon (``King Of The Mardis Gras''), and that might as well be my signature in designing coasters for Roller Coaster Tycoon: ``trick track''. This is one of those things so easy and appealing I don't see why it's not the go-to trick for anyone needing to juice their roller coasters a little. The idea of trick track is one side and then the other of the tracks rises, for a little waving motion in the path that gives a brief but convincing illusion that the car is trying to throw you out of it. It, apparently, used to be a common track element but fell out of favor after the 1920s; this is the first roller coaster I've ridden which actually had it. I want more.

Another of the wooden roller coasters is the Wolverine Wildcat, which faked me out by having a tunnel which it sure looked like marked the end of the ride, just before the station, so I set up with my camera to try catching the moment of the car rolling through, and missing it entirely. The tunnel is used at the start of the ride, just before the real lift hill; so, while I got some appealing photographs of the ride in different points, I didn't get any good tunnel shots. The ride was based on the extremely highly regarded Phoenix, of Knoebels Amusement Park, but you can see while riding it why it's not really in contention for a best-wooden-roller-coaster ride, even if you don't have the Shivering Timbers ride to compare it to.

A really sweet coaster --- it was the one we closed the day with --- is the Zach's Zoomer, designed as a family coaster and opened in 1994, which is probably why the logo is teal and magenta. It's another wooden coaster, and it's rated as an American Coaster Enthusiasts ``Coaster Classic'' because it uses a lap bar, has bench seats, and doesn't seat belt people into the ride, the way roller coasters were made back when concussions were regarded as the fun part of amusement rides. I don't know just how to describe what makes it so enjoyable, but it's got this playfulness to it.

I shouldn't give the impression all we did was ride roller coasters. For one thing we also enjoyed kettle corn, a large bag which we shared while sitting on a bench and listening to a poor woman working one of the target-shooting contests try in vein to get anyone, anyone at all, to step right up and play a round. I'd never had the experience of working carnival games, so I never had to try promoting such a ride to a quietly yet determinedly uninterested audience. I felt bad for her.

One of the carnival games that did eventually get players --- and set just outside the Mad Mouse (a wild mouse ride), so we had a couple chances to see it --- was the Money Ball basketball game. The gimmick there was simply shooting as many three-point shots as possible in ... call it forty seconds, with increasingly impressive National Basketball Association-themed prizes given for better scores. The first person we saw playing managed to shoot for a total of only one point, sufficiently low that he didn't even rate Clippers gear. Another person hit enough baskets to earn a pennant, and someone even got a score of 11 points, although we missed that; we just saw the daily high total reporting that.

Something else we tried was the Go-Kart Races, our chance to drive extremely loud gasoline-powered miniature cars around and around and around and around and find that it's only barely able for one driver to overtake another. I managed, very briefly, to get ahead of the person who started in front of me --- and for a fraction of the track ahead of the next person --- but I swiftly fell back to my starting order location, only partly because I bumped off the tires marking the inner track and bumped into another car. I think the problem is you can, if you're willing to steer aggressively, drive the whole loop with the gas pedal at maximum, so if all the cars have the same capacity there's not going to be much change in the order once the drivers have figured that out. On my part too the great length of my legs meant I could really naturally fit a foot over the brake pedal, not so much over the gas pedal, but I don't think that was too big a problem once I found just hitting the gas pedal worked fine enough.

Still, I did finish the race moving up one position, for a moral victory, although I achieved that by moving to the outside and merging ahead of the correct driver on the final lap as we were coming back into the station. I also managed to get more grit in my face than I would have guessed from the ride; not for the first time I considered how nice it would be to have a pair of sunglasses here.

bunny_hugger finished the race in last place, but that doesn't reflect on any driving failure on her part, as she started in last place too.

We took advantage of the little railroad --- which didn't quite get close enough to anything to rate being called a scenic railroad, although it got some views of Shivering Timbers not otherwise available --- to get over from the main amusement park strip to the main water park strip (and also to get to the Thunderhawk suspended looping coaster). This was done only after some serious thought, because we judged it not likely that we'd have time to get back to the parking lot, get our bathing suits, return, and change, if we went across just now, what with the park having closing hours that day. We decided to go over, though, without changing, meaning that my new bathing suit would go without its proving-out until ... sometime later.

Ultimately we spent the whole day there, riding all but the kiddie roller coasters, and a comfortable bundle of other rides. The lone major disappointment: as we got in, one of the park's wandering photograph-taking folks took a picture and gave us a receipt so that if we later wanted a print we could pick it up. This was on our heads --- very lightly --- during the day, since we only have a few pictures of us together at amusement parks and bunny_hugger has a fine Michigan's Adventure picture frame eagerly waiting for a picture to put in it.

But as the park closed we found the photo booth and they found that they had no idea where our picture was. They seemed to be missing some photo memory cards; for that matter, they weren't too sure just who had photographed us. We had no memory whatsoever of our photographer's name, assuming that he had one; they seemed to think he was one of a pair of twins, which I'm sure would not have confused us further still. They sadly gave up on finding the old picture and asked if we'd want a new one, but the creeping evening light was so inherently gloomier than the cheerful early afternoon one that we decided against it.

I poked around in the gift shop some, with a vague idea of picking up something for my niece. They have a lot of amusing merchandise-with-names to enjoy, but her parents chose to give her a name which I never realized had faded from popularity outside our family until I started looking for these things. I'm afraid she's going to grow up never having a refrigerator magnet, key chain, or little snow globe with her name emblazoned on it, unless the name makes a big comeback sometime in her life.

Adjoined to the gift shop, though, is Peppermint Patty's Candy Shop, the name of which highlights the fundamental problem with trying to patch the licensed Peanuts characters to anything too specifically: Once you get past the source of her name, what has Peppermint Patty's character got to do with names? You can pretty much sell Pig-Pen Vacuum Cleaners, Schroeder pianos, and Linus Blankets and after that the characters can be assigned at random to whatever you're looking at. And vacuum cleaners aren't big amusement park souvenir sellers.

Still, they had loose candy in plastic bins just ready for bagging, and you know, we get loose candy so very rarely and it's not all that obscenely overpriced and ... long story short, we went around and around the island several times picking up samples of, on my part, pretty much everything not too gummi-textured or worm-shaped, which should show how my candy purchasing goes. bunny_hugger picked up, I believe, a modest quarter-pound; I came in at just over a pound of candy, and we ended up nibbling from this stash for the rest of my visit (and, indeed, a few days after I got home, on my side). She hadn't had coke-bottle candies in years; I don't remember when I had them last.

To eat, bunny_hugger had preloaded her navigation device with several potential restaurants. One, a Chinese buffet I'd heard much about, sounded great but since we'd spent all day at the park we would have about ten minutes to drive there, order, and eat, before they closed. She also had a Pizza Hut or equivalent restaurant, which would be safe in case nothing worked, but we decided on the third, with the curious name of the 360 Grill, possibly the 360 Degree Grill. It seemed like a combination bar-restaurant and whether they might have vegetarian choices seemed, well, they would be sure to have something, wouldn't they?

It turned out they were a great choice. I forget just what we'd had as the appetizer, but with the pizza entree we ended up feeling very satisfied. It also inhibited my eating candy on the drive home, lest I chase the taste of dinner out of my mouth with something as mundane as chocolate.

On the other hand I did end up eating some candy, on the drive and back home.

Trivia: As the available production process could not produce the perfectly round chocolate-covered caramels desired, the still quite edible ``duds'' were marketed starting in 1928 as Milk Duds. Source: Sweets: A History Of Temptation, Tim Richardson.

Currently Reading: The Med Series, Murray Leinster.

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