Our next park, that Sunday, was Conneaut Lake Park. But on thinking it over and how I want to organize all this trip report, well ... It's so hard to believe that I intend to skip over it, to report on Waldameer and our drive home, before returning to Conneaut Lake Park because it is surely the crown jewel of our experience and it will make everything after a sorry anticlimax. It deserves this special attention. I promise.
After we left Conneaut Lake Park we were desperately short on gas, and we stopped at a Sheetz, which we'd been seeing all over the area. I'd been reluctant to use one, not because they're apparently the great corporate rivals to Wawa (look it up!), but because the name sounds to me like a seven-year-old trying to get a cuss word past his parents, and their advertising (eg, a loyalty card for buying ``all your Sheetz'') doesn't make me any less suspicious. But the low fuel light was on, and we were way out in the middle of nowhere in western Pennsylvania, and I couldn't take the chance. My car seems to have survived the mild indignity.
It was about an hour northward to the edge of Lake Erie, and the satellite navigator started giving really wonky-sounding directions so we got to following the signs for Waldameer instead. These signs then petered out, or maybe we just missed one, and we felt perfectly lost. So we got to listening to the satellite navigator again and it told us to keep going straight, past the parking lot for the park. So something in the Pennsylvania triangle causes all sense of direction to go mad; good to know for future reference. The parking lot had no charge, by the way, meaning we had a perfect streak: eight amusement parks (if you count Tuscora, which was closed for rain) and we didn't have to pay to park in any of them. (Kennywood has paid parking, closer to the front, but there are free lots.) This felt triumphant.
But we were going in ... not actually the front gate, which might be what the satellite navigator was going for. This was a side entrance, so again we had the sense of sneaking into an amusement park; we also managed to get rock star parking, one row back from the gate. Near enough for easy, convenient trips back to the car, in case we needed any, although except for bringing a souvenir copy of the park map back we didn't need to.
Waldameer lets you wander into it without paying, making it superficially like Conneaut Lake or Knobels, but really much closer in spirit to amusement piers like Seaside Heights or Wildwood. To get on rides, you either scan a ``Wally Card'' preloaded with credits or a wristband. This felt shockingly corporate after the haze of weird and local and homegrown stuff we'd been through the last several days. It felt all the more bizarre after our Conneaut Lake Park trip. Even more bizarrely to us was that the park doesn't take cash for anything. You can pay by Wally Card or by credit/debit card, but money? No. Not even to buy snacks. It's a weird experience and I guess it makes life easier for them and their cashiers, and maybe limits pilfering from the tills, but I'm not comfortable with it.
Waldameer hasn't got an antique carousel, the first park we'd visited since Lakemont without one. It used to have one, but sold it off when in the late 80s the carousel market went crazy and it got to be incredibly profitable to sell off antique carousels. This is a common pattern to doomed parks, that they sell off the antique carousel and, usually, replace it with a fiberglass replica, and it typically marks the park's last couple years of existence because by the time they're selling off the carousel they're financially unsustainable and the carousel money is good for a couple years of operations before they have to give up.
But the park's still here. It used the money from the carousel sale to finance a water park, which is crazy popular (water parks are to me stunningly popular, since they don't appeal so much to me), and which apparently gave them enough attendance and revenues to keep the park going. And to keep regenerating it, too: the park looks healthy, revived, well-maintained and thriving.
So Waldameer seems to be that weird exceptional (unique?) park that actually managed the trick of turning the sale of its crown jewels into long-term survival. You never see that. Pennsylvania parks are a weird breed.
Trivia: The famous gossip columnist was born Walter Winchel; it was mistakenly put as Winchell on a theater marquee and he kept the extra `l'. Source: Know-it-All, A J Jacobs.
Currently Reading: Americanos: Latin America's Struggle For Independence, John Charles Chasteen. I didn't expect it to open with Alexander Humbolt.
PS: Feynman Online Physics, pointing to a great physics resource.