austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

You make me laugh and you make me smile

[ Sorry I'm late; visiting in Maine, and had Zardoz to watch. It seems to be under satisfactory control. ]

For Friday we planned to visit the Crossroads Village, in Genesee County, so that we could see what the place looked like in the summer and during daylight, not to mention maybe see just how the Venetian Swings worked. And after that we might get to Kokomo's and a fine family amusement center, consisting of an arcade, a miniature golf course, some small rides, and a steel roller coaster named The Serpent.

And, what do you know, that's just about what we managed. Oh, we set out perhaps a little later than would be ideal, but since the Village was relatively small we didn't think we were in danger of missing too much. We did have to decide whether to take the antique railroad --- in winter dressed up to wander around lighted scenes --- or the paddle wheel boat which meanders around the lake, or maybe both. We went for the boat, which neither of us had been on before.

The boat spends the better part of an hour wandering the length of the lake which, in the middle of the park, is a nice, attractive, reasonably quiet spot. We secured a pair of seats --- plastic free-standing ones --- near the railing, and adjacent to a family which had one kid who took my pleasant acknowledgement of his existence as encouragement to talk more. I did my best not to be too reserved or shy through this, and managed a bit of nonsensical patter with him before he lost interest in me and wandered around the whole deck.

It might sound dull to sit on a boat, going nowhere in particular, on a warm Friday afternoon; but such things are a matter of the company you're with, and there are times when the thing to do is sit holding hands and watching for where the surface of the lake has been smoothed out by the passing of the boat. The boat also added an extra loop in its path so as to get a better view of the passing train, which we'd probably never see in the winter.

As an historical village the various buildings, pulled together from over Michigan, are inhabited by park workers who try to various extents to explain the place in-character. That's a level of performance/recreation authenticity that I'm never really sure how to respond to. I felt roughly comfortable talking with the person in the garage (where the first example of a car in the building's hometown had been built) and even noticed oddities in the painting of the ceiling which prompted an explanation. The village had moved one wall, changing its orientation, to make for a better layout and the ceiling's painting showed off the old layout.

Others felt more awkward, such as the old family house whose docent pretended to be the absent family's housekeeper. It added a level of personal intrusion to my wandering in and taking photographs of things which looked interesting, such as the oddly-shaped piano. (The odd shape was apparently to make it more easily fit onto a horse-drawn wagon, for transportation out to places like tiny Michigan villages.) Similarly the one-room schoolhouse --- allegedly in use as recently as 1963 --- had a teacher who struggled to talk to us in-character, although it was easier for me when she accepted that it'd be too confusing to try explaining why there was a hornet's nest hanging in the middle of the classroom without saying anything inauthentic. (It would serve as example for biology lessons, and was itself relocated from another building which a few years ago had a hornet problem.)

As we approached the carousel, an antique with the virtue of running at the correct speed of roughly 80 miles per hour, there was a horrible-looking sign at the Venetian Swings, one that announced the ride was closed. Oh, it said only closed until 3:30 (or whatnot), but could we take that to mean the ride was closed only for a little while or might it be closed for the day and this sign just what they had available?

We made the best of things, taking a ride on the carousel, which we had to ourselves. And after a while --- including some time spent looking at a 1920s children's ride consisting of model cars running in circles --- we found that the swings had reopened. This was how we got the chance to have the ride explained to us, and to start swinging, and discover just how they work and how fun they can be. Though the Venetian Swings attendant explained the history of that ride in such a way as to confuse us about its origins, he did give us a fascinating tip which checked out, at least according to the documents inside the carousel house. It turns out the Ferris wheel they had at Crossroad Village had in its past a brief career at Lake Lansing park. It was there after Lake Lansing had a going amusement park, but still, it had been in bunny_hugger's future backyard.

The Ferris wheel --- which has had at minimum five owners, although they couldn't seem to trace its origins back to the factory --- is a relatively small one, but it has the same virtue the carousel there has of going fast. We had a lovely ride, and got a grand view of the Venetian Swings from above.

We also took in another ride on the carousel, and paid attention now to the explanatory plaques and documentation hanging around the inner walls of the carousel housing. They had besides newspaper clippings explaining (as best as 1983 newspapers could understand) the history of the carousel, but more interestingly, a circa 1930 price sheet from Denzel explaining just what you'd pay if you wanted a carousel or wheel or shooting targets or many other props, some of which were strikingly affordable, really. The advertising materials also asserted that any of the rides could be set up in under an hour, with the carousel being a rare exception in needing three people but under two hours total to assemble. I have trouble believing this, even though the market would have demanded rides that were easy to set up. It's just, you know, I need more than an hour simply to move all the clutter out of my bedroom so I can start cleaning it; it's impossible to imagine setting up a Ferris wheel in that same time.

By now, they were starting to close the park, so we bid farewell and reassured the carousel attendants that under no circumstances should they slow the ride down to the dull norm of carousels. I think we also put in a good word for fast Ferris wheels. We did stop back at the cider mill, but they were cleaning up for the day and didn't seem open to selling any fresh squeezings; too bad. I don't think we were quite the last people out of the park, but it was close.

So we started driving towards Kokomo's, with the expectation that we might eat somewhere along the way. By the time we started getting really hungry we were fairly near the turnoff for Frankenmuth, a German ethnic enclave which at some point in the past decided to make a full-bore tourist attraction of their German-ness and have subsequently built their town up to be the model of slightly overdone German Tourist Attraction. We decided to at least go into town and see if we might find anything, fully aware that the vegetarian options in a town devoted to German food, music, architecture, and dress might well be limited to fudge and smaller wursts.

Still, we drove in, perhaps optimistically, and found parking on a small street nearby a cheese shop. We wandered the streets, in the general direction of some huge hotels-turned-restaurants which offered the prospect of enormous and hearty meals, almost all of them based heavily on their meat content. Still, we ventured into one, made up of about fourteen separate restaurants with their own little menus, and went to the roof garden, which was inside on the first floor and just a step or two up from the level of the main room. It also turns out to be quite possible to eat vegetarian in a German restaurant, although I'll admit that I did it by asking the ham not be included in a ham-and-cheese pretzel-bunned sandwich. On the other hand, try telling me that melted cheese in a pretzel bun is a bad menu choice. Yeah.

The rest rooms for the restaurant were underneath, down a long maze of rooms first from the main level and then in the level underneath. We navigated that, first so that we could wash up, and second so that we could browse the many little shops making up the lower level. There was no shortage of candy --- some of it authentically German, some of it loose candy such as we had got at Michigan's Adventure, and of some of it Oh! Henry bars --- underneath, nor any shortage of fudges and cakes, but somehow we exited without actually buying any of it.

As we wandered back to the car and tried to learn if anything about the town explained when it went from being simply a place there were a lot of Germans to one selling its German-ness to the tourist trade (it must have been before the early 60s, based on the dates given some landmarks like the historical museum, but we don't really know) we neared the cheese shop we'd been interested in. And some folks leaving the shop told us that we just had to go there ... well, that's quite the endorsement, isn't it?

We were awfully tempted with cheeses and cheese-related snacks there, not least because they offered a couple of free samples that we didn't take excessive advantage of. (Besides, we'd eaten.) Some of the cheese spreads mixing in as they did flavors I didn't find leaping immediately to mind, such as horse radish, made me aware there were flavor traditions local to the area which hadn't penetrated the Appalachians, or else I eat even more provincially than I imagined I did. Others were just clearly differences in mass marketing: I'd never seen bags of Burger King brand onion ring chips, but here they were, right beside the TGIFriday's bags of ... whatever.

I did stifle a laugh at the wedges of cheddar, shaped like Michigan (both peninsulas), with the proud sticker proclaiming they were Made In Wisconsin, though.

Still, onward and over toward Kokomo's, and some more amusement for the day. If we had unlimited time we might have made a day of this, too, although we were getting there already in the evening and decided to buy ``three attractions'' --- we figured this to be two rides each on the roller coaster and then one round of miniature golf, which would fit our timing and our temperments just right. We also noticed that the pizza place in the main building was open and seemed to be doing just fine, although a pie and a half were left unattended at empty tables, which implies a certain lack of faith in the taste of the ordered pizzas.

The Snake isn't a large coaster --- it would fit comfortably on an amusement pier --- but it's a sweet little thing, with the sort of helixes and dipping back into itself that make for a satisfying trip. It also commands an impressive view of the cornfields all around, at the peak even giving a fair glimpse at the city off in the distance. You don't tend to get that sense of being high up around nothing in the middle of an amusement park proper; it makes the ride feel taller than it actually is.

Miniature golf, now ... this got off to a slightly awkward start as I'd chosen a green ball and discovered in the twilight that I couldn't see it against the green carpeting. With a trade for that, we were ready to leap into action.

This miniature golf course did its best to actually be a respectable small golf course, proper: not only were the courses laid out in the shape of plausible golf courses, but there were different artificial grasses, a lighter path, a dark green rough, even some tan ``sand traps''. Add to that actual running water rivers on the sides of some of them and you have a course which could be regarded as a tiny version of a real golf course.

... Mostly. They still have some little tunnels to give the course its wormholes. One of these holes we found covered with a papier-mache rock; we lifted that and discovered the hole there ... no longer lead to any of the three output pipes underneath that hill. And that's how bunny_hugger lost her ball. We broke out of the course there and went to the main window, where clubs and balls are given and returned, and found nobody was there and we couldn't get any attention. So, reaching out, I found I could just reach the golf balls, and we swiped one and made our way back to the course.

Another point where this course went from being clever and often difficult to just plain inauthentic as a golf-course-in-small was one of the water-based holes. In this one the intended path is to hit your ball up the hill, so it could fall into the river, and from there be carried downstream onto a metal filter which would drop it off on a second part of the green. There's no question that's how it's supposed to work; what's left me stuck is how are we supposed to score that? Apparently we're not supposed to count it as a water hazard penalty if the ball doesn't stay in the water, but ... you know? It doesn't feel right, even if it's something I hadn't seen before.

The other phenomenally impossible shot was on a three-green spot. From the first green you had to hit to a spot on the rim where a small canal was dug, leading down the hill, and dropping onto the second green which had clearly in the past been the end of the hole --- there were two pin holes, filled in but unmistakably present --- but which was no longer the end of things. From the second green was another shot to another canal to lead to the third green and one of two (count 'em) holes present there. Par for this course, which cannot conceivably be done as a hole-in-one based on how the canals lead to each other, was three. My score: six. bunny_hugger's: six, by virtue of putting out. It just wasn't possible.

As often happens most of the holes offered two approaches, one for the player who wants to take unspectacular, undramatic, controlled shots, which was what I played; the other was for the player willing to take a chance at spectacular success or horrid misfirings, which bunny_hugger went in for. The weird thing is on the back nine, we managed to tie each other shot-for-shot, hole after hole, all the way, I think, to the sixteenth hole. It started getting a little creepy.

In all, though, this was a wierd and playful and creative miniature golf course despite its handful of insane holes. It far outclassws SwingTime back home, which doesn't ever ask that you shoot your ball directly into the water. I'd be glad to play it again.

When we returned to The Snake it was getting quite dark, and we were looking forward to riding it in the evening-lit sparkle after sunset. The ride was there. The attendants ... weren't. We didn't even have the prospect of thinking we might be in the wrong spot to account for this; possibly, we'd missed the closing of the ride for the night. As I started to get rather worried by this prospect, though, we saw the attendants coming off break and ambling over towards us. All was well, and we got our second roller coaster ride of the evening.

As fun as this all was we did have one closing disappointment. The center has a fortune-telling parrot doll which by reports could be amusingly near-interactive. Unfortunately this time around while the doll moved some and spat out a card, it didn't speak or do very much. Hopefully it was just going through a little malfunction and has gotten repaired; it'd be a shame if it were gone to wherever amusement park fortune-telling robots go.

On the drive back I remembered that not only had I brought my iPad but also I'd had the audio editions of several Doctor Who episodes loaded up on it. I'd intended to surprise her with the start of one episode --- The Monster of Peladon, one of a pair of episodes set on, er, Peladon and which she'd mentioned rather liking for various reasons --- although I managed to fumble the selecting of an episode, spoiling the surprise with the start of a wholly irrelevant episode and then starting up the sequel episode, The Curse of Peladon, instead. But we stuck with it and got to what sounded like pretty near the end of the serial by the time we got back home. All was looking pretty good for Satuday.

(These are the audio tracks from the episodes, with narrative added in order to cover gaps in understanding produced by not having the video available. To my tastes they over-narrate, but I'm very used to audio drama so perhaps am more confident in being able to infer what's on-screen than the perceived average listener would be.)

Trivia: Midway electronics did not actually build circuit boards for the Ms Pac-Man game; instead it built Pac-Man boards onto which were added the General Computers-made enhancement board which added the differences between the original game and this. Source: The Ultimate History Of Video Games, Steven L Kent.

Currently Reading: The Great SF Stories 4 (1942), Editors Isaac Asimov, Martin H Greenberg.

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