I’m not sure how the conversation started, but my sons and I thought back to all the amusement park that we had ever ridden. Of course, when you speak of amusement park rides, you also conjure up images of roller coasters. Tall, scary fast roller coasters. They wanted to know what was the scariest roller coaster I had ever been on. I thought long and hard and finally recalled the Blue Streak at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.
Way back in 1975, I went to Cedar Point with Jim Harmon because he had gone there with his family when they lived in Indiana. He told me about what a great amusement park it was. And, it was within driving distance from Chicago. We really enjoyed all the rides (I was much, much younger then). However, I only remembered one ride: The Blue Streak. It was the most wicked roller coaster I had ever ridden. Jim warned me in advance of the big drop at the beginning, but even with advance warning, I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to experience. Back then, the only safety feature was a bar that we pulled back over our laps. So, when we went down that first drop, I actually felt myself floating off the seat and I clung to the safety bar for dear life! Then there were a whole series of little dips that actually caused me to be airborne many times during the rest of the ride. From then on I compared all roller coasters to the Blue Streak, which had become my gold standard.
So, I told my sons about the best roller coaster in the world. They suggested we go to Cedar Point to check it out. Since I keep becoming more and more like my father, I follow many of my sons’ suggestions. We went to Cedar Point in 2004 for the first time, but the Blue Streak was no longer the most exciting roller coaster at Cedar Point. In fact, Cedar Point became the roller coaster capital of the world. There were so many roller coasters that we didn’t have time to go on all of them in one day. Yes, the lines for the main attractions like the Millennium Force and the Top Thrill Dragster were more than two hours long!
Well, we loved all the roller coasters! But just for old time’s sake, I suggested that we ride the Blue Streak so they could experience firsthand what I had described to them. They were not as thrilled. Of course, after riding all the other roller coasters, the Blue Streak was anticlimactic. They were like, “Dad! What a boring roller coaster.”
When we went on the Blue streak again last week, after I insisted–actually, begged–, They said they couldn’t believe how the Blue Streak could have been the main attraction at Cedar Point. I told them, “Just wait until you have your own children and you tell them about the rides today. They will be surprised at how boring these roller coasters are. They’ll have something way faster and scarier.” I don’t think I entirely convinced them. But roller coasters just keep getting higher and longer and faster and scarier all the time.
Check out some of the roller coaster world records at Wikipedia:
Who actually believes the world will end in 2012? Certainly not the Mayans. Sure their calendar ends on December 21, 2012. But did they predict the end of the world? Of course, not! The Mayans did not perceive time as linear, as we do, but rather as circular. Their calendar just happens to end on December 21, 2012. Uh oh, that’s 12-21-12. But let’s not read too much into the numerology, right? Because the Maya calendar is way different from ours. Perhaps, two-thousand years ago some Mayan astronomer calculating the calendar decided that he had done enough work and decided to leave some work for future generations of Mayan astronomers. So, who didn’t continue with the calendar? Probably some slacker Maya. And now many people are panicking.
Now that I think of it, our calendar always ends on December 31, but no one ever panics. Why? Because we know it starts all over again. However, we do celebrate the end of the old year and greet the coming of the new year. At least we hope so. In case the world ends at midnight on December 31, we certainly won’t feel too much pain. Maybe this tradition started as a fear of the world ending at the end of the calendar year.
But we love to scare ourselves. So some people subscribe to every “it’s the end of the world theory” that comes along. Remember Y2K? Here, again, there was a lack of calculation and foresight on behalf of computer engineers. Many people feared the end of the world would come on December 31, 1999. Why? Because all of the computers in the world calculated the date only until 12-31-99. At midnight of 12-31-99, the calendar “advance” to the next mathematically logical date, 01-01-00! But the computers wouldn’t know that 00 was supposed to mean the year 2000. They would instead “advance” backwards in time to 1900, which is the only logical mathematical step. Hence, the Y2K scare! Many people truly believed that at that precise moment there would be power outages, planes falling out of the sky, and nuclear power plants melting down. So many people bought their Y2K water bottles, emergency Y2K food rations to help them survive the imminent disaster, Y2K generators, and Y2K gasoline cans filled with beaucoup gasoline in preparation for the end of the world. But it was all for naught!
And what happened when the year 2000 began? Absolutely nothing! A lot of scared, confused, and drunk people realized they had panicked for nothing. But everyone loved the adrenaline rush of being scared. Why do we love to scare ourselves? Why do we enjoy that sudden rush of adrenalin? Sigmund Freud said we all have this death drive (todestrieb) that makes us want to die. Well, not all us really want to die, but we don’t mind experiencing death precariously through fictional characters in movies or experiences that simulate near death. We achieve this great sense of accomplishment at having survived this harrowing pseudo-near-death experience.
That’s why roller coasters are so popular. People ride them, scream their heads off during the whole ride, stagger off the platform, and then run to get back in line. That’s why we like scary movies like Paranormal Activity. Everyone–myself included–went to see it because the buzz was that this was a really scary movie. This was a low-budget, no expensive special effects type of movie, like The Blair Witch Project. You could just feel the suspense in the air. The scary part was when the bedroom door mysteriously moved about an inch. All the females in the theater screamed and all the males jumped when they heard all the screaming. But everyone enjoyed being scared throughout the movie.
And speaking of 2012, I also saw the movie 2012. Since everyone is worrying about the impending end of the world in 2012, why not capitalize on this fear. Give the people what they want. The movie theater was packed when I went to see it with my sons. We were forced to sit in the front row because we got there a few minutes before the movie started, which was great for watching all these buildings fall on top of us. Other than the allusion to the end of the Mayan calendar, this movie had absolutely nothing to do with the Mayas! We witnessed one cataclysmic disaster after the other until the protagonists finally survive in the end. Ironically, the premise of the movie hinges on the total destruction of Planet Earth, but will we go see a movie where everyone dies in the end? All the destruction considered, there was a huge adrenalin rush for everyone as they nearly died, followed by a happy ending. We all brushed off the imaginary dust of ourselves and slowly headed back to the real world to anxiously await the real 2012!
Speaking of airplanes, I don’t really like to fly.
The past few years or so–going on about twenty-five years now, if you want to know the truth–I have gone on driving vacations. I really have no desire to fly if I don’t have to. I would fly if the right opportunity came along. All I have to do is forget my last flight from Palm Springs, California, to Chicago back in 1979. Whew! What a flight!
I remember waiting in line to board the plane and just by chance I was standing behind the two flight attendants for our flight. I expressed some of my concerns about flying, such as looking out the windows and watching the wings flex up and down during the flight. I also mentioned how I didn’t like when an airplane would hit an air pocket it lose altitude suddenly. The flight attendants reassured me that that was normal during a lot of flights. When we boarded the plane I sat directly behind the flight attendants. I asked them to hold my hand if we hit an air pocket. They just laughed, but I was serious. They told me not to worry about a thing.
Anyway, we were flying what seemed a normal, uneventful flight, except when I looked out and saw the wings flexing up and down over the Grand Canyon. The flight attendants smiled at me and reassured me that the wings were designed to flex during flight. They probably thought I was a big baby. Later, we hit an air pocket and the plane fell a little. I tried to show the flight attendants that I wasn’t scared even a little bit during that slight loss of altitude. They just smiled at me again.
Suddenly, the plane started bouncing and the pilot announced that we should all put on our seatbelts. The flight attendants sat down in front of me, put on their seatbelts, and told me not to worry about a thing. Wow, did we ever hit some turbulence! The plane shook like the Millenium Falcon when it reached warp speed. Everyone on the plane remained calm, including me. Then we hit a major air pocket. The plane started falling and it felt like a roller coaster descending the first big drop. But it kept falling for much longer than a roller coaster. I wanted to show the flight attendants how calm I could be during this air pocket. Suddenly, both flight attendants started screaming. That’s when I began to worry and I looked out the window to see if the wings were still attached to the plane. I thought, if these two seasoned flight attendants are screaming like this, surely we will crash. I tapped one of them on the shoulder and asked her, “Does that mean you won’t hold my hand?” They were so embarrassed when they remembered that I was sitting behind them.
Well, needless to say, we landed safely in Chicago, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. And that was the last time I flew. But I’m not afraid to fly. Not really.
I’m often amazed at what my sons can talk me into doing for them, but when I really think about it, I’m not really all that surprised. My father used to ask me for suggestions for things to do when he would pick up my brothers and me for visitation. I always suggested things that sounded wild and farfetched to my father, but for some reason he always took us wherever I suggested. I once suggested going camping even though I never thought my father would take us. But he did! And now, because of that, I take my sons wherever they want to go. In such instances, I realize once again that I’ve become my father.
Once my oldest son suggested that I take them to Skatopia for our summer vacation. Of course, I had never heard of Skatopia. Have you? Besides, it sounds like a made up name anyway. Well, I partly planted the idea of Skatopia in them when I bought them the Tony Hawk video game as a Christmas present. There’s a little film clip of Skatopia in the video game. They showed me the clip, but I said that didn’t mean Skatopia existed. I wanted to know where Skatopia was geographically, but they didn’t know. Later, they told me they saw Skatopia on the cable TV show Viva La Bam starring none other than Bam Margera. My sons are really into skateboarding and they have all kinds of skateboards so I’ve taken them to several skateboard parks in Colorado, Arizona, and Illinois. However, they don’t actually skateboard once we get there. They are too intimidated by all the good skateboarders. Anyway, they asked me again to take to Skatopia when school was over. I still didn’t believe such a place even existed, so I said to them, “Okay, find their website and then I’ll believe you!” I was sure they wouldn’t have a website. That’s the funny thing about me, though. I really don’t believe that anything exists unless it has a website. I was really surprised when my sons called me over to the computer and yelled in unison, “See! There’s a Skatopia!” Okay, where is it? It was in this little town named Rutland in the southeast corner of rural Ohio.
Well, when I go on vacation with my sons, I don’t just go to one place. I try to cram in as many sites and activities as possible. So the plan was that we would go to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, first. Cedar Point is famous for all of its roller coasters. I remember going there years before with my friend Jim Harmon. For some strange reason, I can no longer ride on amusement park rides without getting nauseous. However, I can ride roller coasters all day long and not get sick. Perhaps because the roller coaster ride resembles my driving. Anyway, since we were in Ohio, I told them I wanted to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even if they didn’t like idea. That trip was for me. After all, wasn’t I taking them to Skatopia? But once we got there and they saw all the musical exhibits, they loved the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And as long as we were in Cleveland we went to a Cleveland Indians baseball game who just happened to be in town for our visit. For some fortunate reason, whenever I’m on vacation I’m extremely lucky with timing. We also went to the children’s museum there before heading out to Skatopia in Rutland.
As I was driving south in Ohio, I saw signs for a the Football Hall of Fame in Canton. This was so fortunate! But, alas, my sons were too tired to go to another museum and soon fell asleep. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I got to Rutland, but there were no signs for Skatopia. I stopped at a pizza parlor to ask if anyone knew where Skatopia was. Yes, they did! And they gave me directions, but it was already dark and I had to drive on a gravel road for miles before I got there. Just when I finally beginning to believe that Skatopia actually existed, the road ended and there was nothing but trees in front of me. I thought for sure that we would all die victims to the hatchet murderer you always hear about in Chicago. Suddenly, I wished I was back home in Chicago where I know how to deal with muggers and drive-by shootings. As I was driving around, I saw a man walking in the dark. He looked kind of dirty and he was drinking beer out of a bottle. He also had the remainder of the twelve-pack in a brown paper bag under his arm. I asked him if he knew where Skatopia was and he said that’s exactly where he was going. I don’t know what possessed me at that precise moment, but I told him we were going there, too, and I offered him a ride. I’m so used to doing these types of things when I’m by myself, but this was the first time I ever did anything like this with my sons. Needless to say, we all arrived safely at Skatopia.
Everyone there greeted us cheerfully even though it was already 11:00 p.m. They showed us around even though it was too dark to see very much. I really liked the skateboard museum they had. This museum consisted of skateboards from every era since their invention to the present day. They were hanging on the walls, from the ceiling, stacked up in the corner. There were skateboards everywhere! I even saw a skateboard like the one I had in the 1960s! Skatopia was a very appropriate name for this museum and the rest of the place. Whenever they traveled, they bought whatever skateboards they saw at yard sales and antique shops. I was truly impressed.
It was late and we were all tired, so they offered to let us stay on their land for the night. Unfortunately, we didn’t have tents and sleeping bags, so we went to a nearby motel. We returned the next day and spent most of the day there. They taught my sons some tricks on the skateboard. Yes, I actually saw my sons skateboarding! Even I tried skateboarding. But I kept falling down. Then I remembered why I stopped skateboarding as a kid. I was amazed by how many people stopped by because their kids wanted to see Skatopia. We got to see half-pipe where Bam Margera filmed his show. They were so happy that we had visited them that they sold us the very same skateboard that Bam Margera used for the video for a mere $60. All in all, we all had fun and still recall that summer vacation fondly.