austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

This is my street and I'm never gonna leave it

Disaster Transport is an old, little-loved indoor roller coaster at Cedar Point. Once, according to legend and bunny_hugger, it was a whole show, with a narrative whose backstory one got in the queue, with lights and sounds and ride events, and even custom uniforms for the ride staff to add to the atmosphere. This was long, long ago. Many of the props still exist, but all the events are gone, the sound effects are gone, all the things which would make it come to life are gone, victims of neglect. Cedar Point has neglected the ride for years, some seasons even leaving it by the side of the road, failing to work up even the energy to finish writing ``FREE TO GOOD HOME'' on a piece of cardboard. The crowds have sensed this neglect, and allowed the ride to fall into invisibility. It's allowed its quiet, technically continued, existence, and only rarely does a full month go by without someone checking on the Disaster Transport staff to ask if they've starved to death or something.

This Saturday, its ride queue was estimated at over an hour.

We knew the park was packed; we had seen the evidence in the long unstoppable line of people leaving, disgusted, after having been in the park all days and gotten no closer to a ride than waving angrily at people who'd given up on the ride queue. We had figured right away that there wasn't any point going for any of the roller coasters, and that any of the popular rides, such as the new WindSeeker elevated swing was pointless. We would be content to take in the atmosphere, the wonderful spirit of wandering around a night-shrouded park in the midst of a generally happy crowd. Still, we hadn't imagined that the lines would be so enormous that even Disaster Transport would enjoy an imitation of popularity.

The settings were worth plenty of study. It seemed like any patch of bare grass was now decorated with a skeleton or a zombie or a representation of ghosts stumbling around. Some displays even tried to set scenes with Ohio-area ghost stories, such as arising from the Ashtabula Train Disaster.

And there were the walk-through areas, such as Blood on the Bayou, visited the night before. In the area which ordinarily is the Frontier Trail, with various buildings relocated from Ohio history, was the Mechanical Screamworks, presenting a Vaguely Steampunk walkway with such things as a brass-painted swan or an airship made of parts we couldn't quite identify. The airship's gondola looked like a repurposed monorail car, but bunny_hugger could think of no monorail ride which had run there in any reasonably recent past. (Some research would find there indeed had been a monorail, a half-century ago, but its cars looked nothing like this one.) It was no cheap prop, either: knocking on it produced a satisfyingly sound echo, followed by a performer dressed as a Crazy Steampunk Inventor running up to us and crying, ``DON'T TOUCH MY AIRSHIP!''. Much of the area is like that, with steampunkish props and performers running up to threaten the audience with the menace of a new re-envisioning of Sherlock Holmes.

For all my silliness, though, there was something sublime deserving of mention. Atop one building was set up a green laser, with a complicated signal splitter, so as to produce a many-threaded ribbon of light. It shone through trees, and through the abundant artificial fog --- the artificial fog not just hid performers but threatened to hide the night --- produced this dazzling, beautiful, burst of light. It was gorgeous to watch looking back towards the laser, and it was no less amazing to stand underneath the laser and look outward at the receding lines and spots. It was beautiful, and hypnotic, and no less wondrous for being the sort of thing you could have made an entire plotless 1970s science fiction special-effects-movie from.

One of the other decorations --- one which bunny_hugger hadn't paid much attention to, sa she'd seen it before --- was a graveyard of lost rides. After all, they can't keep everything around, and they had monuments to Jumbo Jet (a long-gone roller coaster, apparently, not particularly impressive but advertised heavily because in 1978 there weren't all that many roller coasters around), or the sky car ride (marked with a fallen, rusty car), the dark ride Earthquake (one of many rides based on the San Francisco Earthquake, and a relocation from the short-lived Freedomland USA park), or the Pirate Ride (another Freedomland refugee), remarkable for having a name generic in a way which wouldn't be tolerated anymore. Most of the gravestones tried to capture the ride's spirit, for example the Fun House one by being upside-down, or a wild mouse ride having rats on the statue.

There wasn't any point going to the haunted-house attractions, as the lines were even more insanely long than those for roller coasters. But we did think we could take in the performance shows instead. One we did catch Saturday night was a rather pleasant magic-and-dance show, with a particularly nice running bit of business featuring one magician not able to get any of his tricks to come out quite right, the sort of gimmick which has always worked for me.

Despite the enormous lines for everything we wanted to eat, and were certain there was no point going to the Midway Market. Besides, we had something bigger to try.

One small disappointment of my previous visit to Cedar Point had been that the stand selling Cheese On A Stick was closed. This trip we'd correct my failure to eat Cheese On A Stick. bunny_hugger needed a bit of time to find it; there are only a few stands selling it, inexplicably scattered across the map, but one of them is near Disaster Transport and happily it was open. It too had an impressive line, but, the line wasn't longer than our determination.

Cheese On A Stick is a tube of cheese, yes, on a stick for decent handling, wrapped up in batter and fried. It is inexplicably not available everywhere and at all times. This is fantastic. I don't know how good you imagine it to be, but it's better than that. I'm still licking my lips to savor bits of flavor. And it wasn't even the only incredibly great thing we had to eat that night.

You see, bunny_hugger noticed that at some of Cedar Point's food stalls --- ones not yet given over to franchises, and so given names like ``Hot Potato'' or the ``Hungry Friar'' and decorated with mid-70s three-dimensional artwork signs --- they were selling fries with garlic sauce. Their fries are ordinarily good, she told me, but the garlic sauce was another outstanding new level of goodness. The garlic sauce fries apparently aren't always available, which is terrible. I could go a long time eating Cheese On A Stick with Garlic Fries and stay happy, if doughier.

Although the crowds were overflowing, we found decent attractions. For example, in the first floor of the ballroom the arcade and arcade museum offered us not just pinballs but also a couple of mechanical attraction games, plus ancient yet proper video games. I tried out Lunar Lander, and found that I was completely unable to land with anything less than a catastrophic explosion, however easy a level I might be on and however slowly I was moving at the time of impact. Too bad.

We spotted the doors to the ballroom open, and also saw that there were not any signs clearly warning that we the ordinary public were forbidden to be there, so, we sauntered up. This gave us a good view of the Kiddy Kingdom --- and rides like the Roto Whip, a Whip with just the spinning-around part, no straight part --- but gave us a better look at the mysteries of this interior. Most of the ballroom was empty, actually, but there were a healthy number of tables laid out and signs directing performers around. Costume parts and makeup filled the tables. So that's where the steampunk tinkerers got their crazy-eye goggles.

And for all that, we got on some rides too. Most notable would be the Kiddy Kingdom Carousel, which bunny_hugger had been worried about. We saw it on Friday night, but the ride was closed then, and the paint job was --- well, it had been painted. The ride was in need of painting, certainly, but the worrisome thing was the new paint looked so smooth and slick and seamless and glossy that it was hard not to suspect the mounts might have been replaced with fiberglass replicas. bunny_hugger hadn't heard of any such exchange, but, it's imaginable that they might have replaced the historic mounts, after all. The ride was closed on Friday night, so we couldn't check, but on Saturday bunny_hugger was able to set her hands on them, and knock, and hear the wood within. They were the old animals; they were just repainted to look unreal, surely some kind of ambiguous comment about the nature of restoration.

(Actually, we might have checked Friday: though the rides were not operating, and the lights were off, the ride gates were unlocked. But we chickened out of trying. We did notice, though, that many of the Kiddie Kingdom rides had unlocked gates, so, clearly, it was some kind of trap.)

And for all the crowds, we still found the time to get on some real proper roller coasters. One is the Corkscrew, a mid-70s ride right over the midway which just flips the passengers upside-down several times, which was plenty in the mid-70s. We had the delight of getting on this ride with a really reasonable wait. And I had an expected extra bonus: although I certainly buckled my seat belt, somehow, it came undone and I only noticed just as the ride was beginning. I had my corkscrew ride protected by lap bar alone. When I was a teen this thought would have left me quaking with terror, but bunny_hugger has built up my resistance to such worries. (And the seat belts are probably not needed anyway; Cedar Park management contracted a severe case of Put Seatbelts On Stuff a couple years ago, apparently, and the ride operated for decades with just the lap bar.)

Wonderful as getting any roller coaster in might be, we managed to score a really impressive roller coaster, the racing twin-coaster Gemini, which was running both tracks all day, and this toward the end of the night. We rode the track we hadn't ridden last time I visited, and bunny_hugger was able to set off one of those little park-culture traditions of clapping hands with the people in the other train, on the long slow climb (and in another relatively slow part of the ride when the tracks are just near enough together), and made the race gleeful. Our train won.

The line for Gemini was sufficiently short and reasonable that we ran back around the queue and got on again. This time, I was on the inside seat, and I tried to get hand-slapping going, but it wasn't as boisterous this time. Perhaps they sensed my non-midwestern origins. I also tried ``paddling'' on the lift hill, imitating something I saw some doing on the first ride, and a few people were a bit amused, at least. Our train won again, although on a technicality; both trains were braked ahead of the station, giving the last runs of the night the chance to start, and ours was a little faster into the station from that standing start. Still, we have got a perfect record of winning in racing coasters, so far.

So not only were we at the park on a day so crowded that a Rally to Restore Sanity broke out, but we got several really good roller coaster rides in.

Back at our hotel room home we found no end of problems with connections over bunny_hugger's Mifi, and my iPad wasn't doing well in keeping any kind of connectivity. Belatedly we realized what we were seeing. The mass of people in so small a place was crashing the cell phone networks of our respective data-transmitting devices. We could intermittently get through to Twitter or Facebook, and read a shadow of how many, many, many people were there, and how very long they waited for rides. We had formed our strategy almost perfectly. We did great.

Trivia: In its earliest decades, New York City's Central Park had a ``Keep Off The Grass'' restriction, effective only on Sundays (when about a quarter of all the park's visitors came). Source: Sunday: A History Of The First Day From Babylonia To The Super Bowl, Craig Harline.

Currently Reading: Woodhouse: A Life, Robert McCrum.


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