This spring, Ms. Rose and I spent a week on the road enjoying the spring, annoying friends, tormenting small children, photographing behinds and hanging from ziplines. This is a summary published as a public service to help stamp out insomnia wherever it occurs. You can thank me later.
So there was work stress. (I’ll describe some of the details of that elsewhere.) At the peak of this came an offer from the Maryland sailors (well, they haven’t really been that since the arrival of their bouncing baby borg, but they’ll always be “the sailors” to us) that we went to Croatia with. We received an email that said, in effect
Why don’t you come and visit?
I strongly suspect that they’re still kicking themselves for saying that. Because there was, as mentioned above, work stress that would be good to flee from. So we said ‘sure’ (they probably said ‘damn’) and on a fine Thursday afternoon we piled into the red car with clothes, trail mix, caffeine-in-a-can and Emily and headed south. (Well, not directly south — that way is kinda wet and all, but that general direction.) We left behind some phlox, a pile of dirty underwear (well, that part was just me) and a mostly empty fruit bowl (mainly an issue because of a diminutive Portuguese woman). Thursday evening we crossed the border (“Where are you going?” asked the border guard. “How do you know these people?” Unasked was the question “And what were they thinking?”) with a small crisis having to do with locked doors and malfunctioning windows, but still made decent time to Syracuse (Mattydale, really) where there were burgers and milk shakes in metal cans and some moderately scary other diners. From there, south again to beautiful Scranton where there was not a massive pile of bananas (we looked) but was a massive pile of road work and a hotel that all the mapping web sites said was someplace that it wasn’t. (The soundtrack to the arrival also had no bananas but that’s because I filled it with Frank Zappa and Liz Phair instead.)
That was Thursday. Friday was, unfortunately, another fine day (more on that in a bit) and we were back on the road towards chocolate and roller coasters with a short stopover in bumblebee town (where I did not see any bumblebees of any sort — not the flying type or the vehicular type).
It’s often true that coaster parks have reasonable crowds if school hasn’t finished yet. For example, one spring a few years ago Ms. Rose and I were at a park just east of Buffalo (NY) at this time of year and it was great. I remember on one ride Ms. Rose and I were in the first row with someone in the back row and no one in between. The Friday that I’m talking about wasn’t like that.
For one thing, the weather was great: sunny and warm but not too warm. Sunny is nice because how can you get painful sunburns without it? And when it’s cloudy it sometimes rains. And when it rains — especially if there’s lightning in the forecast — they sometimes shut down rides. Theme park crowds are thinner if the weather is, shall we say, ‘threatening’ but no worse. Cold. Gray. Bad enough that people look out the window and say “let’s not go to the park today. let’s wait for another day.” That didn’t happen — it was too nice a day. It would have been significantly better if the parents’ committee or the teachers’ association or whatever had decided that little Irving and/or young Imogen would be traumatized by slight dampness or risked a chill due to, er, a chill or courted pneumonia due to… but I can’t think of any other vaguely cute verbal-constructs-that-aren’t-metaphors. Because it wasn’t and they didn’t.
In fact, on that day every music class from every high school in the state of Pennsylvania (or so it seemed) had a class trip planned. And since the weather was good they all came. Which meant that there were line-ups from hell. (Aside: Ms. Rose and I are used to being among the oldest people in a theme park. That day we were older than most of the chaperones.)
Now, line-ups suck but they can have the odd redeeming feature. The operative word here is ‘can’: some years ago I remember standing in line on a stinking hot day where the line snaked across long, long distances of bare concrete with small bits of purely symbolic shade every so often to remind you (as if you could have forgotten) that you’d have a painful sunburn before you got to the front. Clearly sadism is carefully nurtured at Theme Park Executive School. (Aside: someone I gamed with some years ago played the game ‘roller coaster tycoon’ and took considerable pleasure in designing virtual theme parks with a single bathroom. I believe she went on to become a clinical psychologist — make of that what you will.)
But the line-ups at Hershey Park (Have I even mentioned that’s where we were? It’s one of two parks that we like in eastern PA, even if some bean counter in a suit decided that they’d make more money if they threw away the blank.) aren’t uniformly wonderful or anything, but most of them aren’t that bad.
That day, the line-ups were… odd. Not bad odd, particularly (well, bad in that they were long but not bad bad if you know what I mean) — just odd. How were they odd, I can hear you asking. Well, remember when I said that every music class in eastern PA was there? Well, there was singing. (Spotted on more than one T-shirt: “We put the SING in Wyalusing.”) Not continuous or anything, but sometimes they would just burst into song for no apparent reason. Sometimes in line-ups you get (usually awful) canned music. Or spongebob. Live music? Not so much.
Also, many of the chaperones clearly didn’t really do the theme park thing — many of them were there in generic street clothes and many of them didn’t do line-ups. Which meant that we got more line-up ‘interaction’ than usual.
I mean, usually we peoplewatch (Teenaged boys acting like… teenaged boys. Teenaged girls with frightening shoes. Mennonite kids in hats and knapsacks. Things like that.) Most trips I try to pick a theme or at least the most entertaining sighting of the day. That day, though, it was more interactive (I’ve used that word before but I can’t think of a better one) than usual. In one line-up there was the lone girl who explained how worried she was about getting through the line in time to meet her friends — she scurried off when the ride malfunctioned (so did we; we never did manage to ride that one). In another we were behind a group of about six kids from a small town that I’d never heard of (which was okay — they’d never heard of where I live either). A relevant thing, though, was the fact that that particular ride seated people four to a row. A couple of the boys in their group were proposing a strategy for their group to handle this; I don’t remember the details. Two of the girls, though, pointed to me and Ms. Rose: “We’re going to ride with them.”
And that’s how I learned that I’m slightly less annoying than a teenaged boy.