austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

There's no place I'd rather be

Monday bunny_hugger and I got up late because we were to go to Dorney Park. Maybe that needs context.

I don't know that I've ever been to Dorney Park, but their advertisements to ``Let's do Dorney, and Wildwater Kingdom too!'' have been ringing in my head almost more often than ``Everyone come join the fun / at the Greater Westchester County Fair'' have, if you can imagine such a thing. But it's a park not too far from me, and my sister and her husband invited us to go with them (they have season passes to all the area parks). The catch: they wouldn't be able to leave before 5:00, when his work ended. They assured us this would be plenty of time to get to the park and ride all the roller coasters and some other things. bunny_hugger and I were worried --- we'd have maybe four and a half hours, and we're people who could spend that much time on a kiddie coaster and some interesting statues --- but my attempts to reassure my brother-in-law that we trusted his judgement about how much time we needed just made him worry that we didn't trust his judgement.

But it gave us the chance to sleep in, and to eat a relaxed breakfast at Jersey Mike's, and to drive up towards their apartment. We had what looked like about an hour to spare, too, so we stopped at the Rutgers campus and I walked bunny_hugger around, pointing out stuff that's different from how it used to be, or spots of campus legend, or things of actual historic content like the spot of the first Rutgers-Princeton football game or the cannon outside Old Queen's with the confusing history. Or the old campus where you could tell all the buildings were for liberal arts or humanities departments because they had ``ENGINEERING'' or ``CHEMISTRY'' or other such hard sciences carved into the building names.

I overestimated the time we had, or underestimated how far it was from Rutgers to my sister's apartment, and she called out of concern we might be hopelessly lost. We weren't, but we started to feel lost as the last steps in Google Maps's directions seemed to describe roads that we never actually reached. They were farther than the maps suggested, somehow, but with just that extra faith we arrived in time to set my sister's dogs into short-lived panics over the existence of these strangers.

The dogs were soon pacified between the reassurance of their people that we were not villains, and the dogs' faint memories of meeting me a dozen-plus times before, and the doggie treats handed to us to give to the dogs and thus assure their lifelong love, at least until they forgot us again. We stretched out and waited for the conclusion of my brother-in-law's workday. (He works at home, but they have a constant instant messaging thing going so there's no cheating. Or at least not much cheating.)

We did fumble one question driving to Dorney Park: who was driving? I had made the assumption my brother-in-law would, since he has a new and quite comfortable-looking car he's in love with and while I certainly like my car, it's a subcompact. I wouldn't swear to its ability to fit four people for any time. Particularly since my brother-in-law, not a small person, would have to be in back (my sister gets horribly carsick if not in front). But I did realize it was kind of a jerk move on my part to assume he'd drive us to an amusement park we wanted to see, and said, we'll try out my car. Some quick moving of stuff to the trunk area later and what do you know, we all fit well enough that my brother-in-law wasn't complaining.

We got to Dorney Park, while bunny_hugger talked of the stories she had gathered about Action Park --- a New Jersey institution which has long fascinated her because, well, just Google it and you'll see --- with my sister, who'd been and avoided going into traction as a result --- and bunny_hugger was almost instantly enchanted by how it looks like a miniature, alternate-world version of Cedar Point. Cedar Point's corporate overlords took over Dorney Park a couple years back, and in-between tearing out everything that suggests the park, established 1884, is more than six years old has been transferring the Cedar Point livery to as much Dorney Park stuff as they can manage.

We bought tickets (my sister and her husband went right through the gates) and strolled toward Talon, following their suggested course to hit all the roller coasters and such rides as might look appealing, when the rain moved in. Not just rain, but thunder and lightning. Everything was shut down other than the carnival game pavillions like the one we huddled underneath. We'd picked Monday to go to Dorney so that in case of inclement weather we would have Thursday as backup, but now, to have just entered the park and get the first of multiple floods ...

My brother-in-law's iPhone asserted the storm was not a large one and would soon pass, and it did at that. But with lingering distant thunder the roller coasters were closed, and the line outside Talon formed with us in front --- and chatting nicely with the attendant serving as gatekeeper and answerer of the question, ``when will it be open?'' --- and every person in the world in back, we decided to try a different approach. We'd go to the carousel first, and then go to the back of the park, and trust that we'd spend enough time on that for the weather to let things move again.

The carousel at Dorney Park has a particular history for bunny_hugger; it used to be at Cedar Point and was one of those which fueled her interest. It was removed something like fifteen years ago to Dorney to replace a carousel lost in a fire, and she's been separated from that old friend since. She shared some of the history and legacy of the carousel, including of the haunted horse (a replica, actually, as the original was kept at Cedar Point's museum), which I believe my sister and brother-in-law found interesting.

As we walked back and noticed things like one ride so thoroughly removed --- only the queue and the cement base was left --- we couldn't say for sure what it ever had been (our guess was some kind of scrambler) we also saw roller coasters making their test runs, and then making runs with people. We'd be able to ride after all!

I figure to upload pictures later so I won't bother with descriptions of each and every ride we did take, but one deserves attention: what's presently called Thunderhawk, and which actually is a survivor of the park's long past. It was built in 1923 and is the classic wooden roller coaster of the kind you see in grainy silent movies from before the Great Depression, when men wore three-piece suits, ties, and hats to go to amusement parks. It also took away from Hersheypark's Comet the title of ``oldest roller coaster I've ridden, that I remember''. This one's a delight, pleasantly smooth and with several surprising and playful twists, plus a satisfying stretch where the track comes back underneath itself while going into the bunny hills. It's wonderful, especially after dark, and comfortably smooth in front or in back. (I'd jumped to the back seat for the first ride, despite bunny_hugger being really quite clear to anybody but myself that she was concerned about its roughness and wanted to ride up front first to gauge it.)

My sister and brother-in-law were perfectly correct about the four and a half hours we allotted being plenty to ride all the roller coasters and some of the other rides. There weren't long lines for anything, and according to them there never are, so it wasn't just the rain, the lateness of the hour and the Mondayness of the Monday working in our favor. This naturally may make one worry about the finances of the park, but my sister explained, all the waits and lines and enormous crowds are packed, with the sort of mob where one could walk from one side of Wildwater Kingdom to the other entirely on other, angrier, people's shoulders. So, I guess as long as the dry park comes near enough breaking even it's reasonably safe.

One ride we didn't go on, although it too was an old friend of bunny_hugger's. Back in the early 80s Great Adventure produced what always struck me as its greatest three-hour-ride-queue ride; they called it Freefall. That's the one where you go up in a cage six storeys (or whatever), wait a few seconds, and drop. That was bigger than Lightning Loops, if you can imagine. I did ride Freefall, a couple times, at Great Adventure, cleverly skipping the lines by waiting until the late 80s and the summer I worked at the park. It's fun but really not worth a three-hour queue.

But the novelty wore off and the very simple rides came down. Dorney has one of the survivors, named Demon Drop, itself a Cedar Point relocation. bunny_hugger had never ridden it in its old location, and now, with it in the new place ... she also declined to ride it. It's not roller-coasty enough for her. Nor my sister. However, the gift shop includes Demon Drop T-shirts, featuring a green dot and the rounded-triangle logo with ``We Recycle'' shown prominently. Either Dorney Park made a big marketable thing out of how they reused an old ride from another park or they're marketing to the hardcore amusement park fanbase there.

About the gift shop: I'd worn my Silver Beach carousel T-shirt, my first ride T-shirt, to the park. With some encouragement from bunny_hugger I bought my second ride shirt, and my first roller coaster ride shirt, a nice Thunderhawk pattern. I also picked up something almost strange for me, an actual piece of licensed marketing in T-shirt form. Of course it's Peanuts-based, a lovely tan shirt showing ``Charlie Brown ... then'', with a 1950-model Charlie Brown launching a kite, and ``... now'', on the back, showing a 2000-model Charlie Brown being terrorized by a dive-bombing kite. My kind of thing.

We did close out the park, plus some, and we drove back despite some good-natured ribbing of my un-thought-out collection of CDs in the trunk space. The few CDs I had were almost predictably ``guy who uses obscure Usenet reader to read obscure Usenet'' in their variety, including multiple They Might Be Giants, a Weird Al piece, Bill Cosby, and in a move towards coolness Richard Pryor and the Kinks. I thought I might have bunny_hugger's brother's CD in there, but no, it was safely back at home. Ah well.

Back at the apartment, the dogs had completely forgotten who we were until they remembered and were overjoyed to see us. We thanked my sister and brother-in-law for going with us; but we couldn't stay indefinitely, as they had to work in the morning. We stopped at a nearby diner that I think I must have, somehow, eaten at before even though it seems way out of the way for me to ever have eaten at, and got back home sufficiently late that bunny_hugger managed to be at my parents' house for a full day without seeing either of my parents.

Trivia: A military prison built in 1899 in the Staten Island off Argentina lasted three years before being damaged by storms, provoking riots and escapes. Source: Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, And A Vast Ocean Of A Million Stories, Simon Winchester.

Currently Reading: Alicia II, Robert Thurston. It's much quieter and more thoughtful than the cover, promising it's from the author of Battlestar Galactica (original) lead me to suspect. But it's also the bog-standard immortality-through-body-theft/mind-transplant and the underground-society-wanting-to-end-this-wrong story.

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