Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Nearing Summer’s End: Cedar Point, August

Wednesday, August 7, I took the day off for a last-minute end-of-summer trip to Cedar Point with Kelsey and her friend Joan. Above is the new Gatekeeper coaster over the park’s front entrance, shortly after we arrived at 11 a.m.

We’d driven through some hard rain on the way, but it had stopped by the time we arrived. The girls went on MaxAir (not for me, thanks: my tolerance for too much multidirectional motion – particularly hardcore spinning – has, sadly, lessened significantly over the past few years), while I went for the Wicked Twister coaster nearby.

Then we got in the line for Raptor – the queue sign advertised more than an hour’s wait, but we figured we were there, and the day would be full of waiting, so we got in line. About 20 minutes later, the rain returned and mostly shut down the park.

We decided to keep our spirits up and embrace the absurdity of enjoying the park while getting soaked, so we hit the Cedar Downs ride – Joan had never been on it, and being under cover, its operation was unaffected.

Through the no-sign-of-letting-up rain, we walked to the Matterhorn and waited in the open-air queue, getting wetter by the moment before our brief ride, laughing the whole time.

Next up? The Dodgem: Kelsey had never driven a bumper car. And we had a blast.

So now, it was nearing 1 p.m., and – this:

Blue skies. It was sunny and warm the entire rest of the day, and the rain had kept or driven away most of the crowds. We waited less than an hour for the most popular coasters – Top Thrill Dragster and Millennium Force – and walked on the brand-new Gatekeeper twice at the end of the night.

I love that Cedar Point has kept so much of the look and feel of its rides’ original eras, like the late-’70s Gemini:

– and amusement parks after sunset remain one of those joys I never get enough of:

I’ve been going to Cedar Point since I was excited just to ride those little cars that sit on a platform and circle endlessly beneath striped domes and colored light bulbs. We lived far enough away, though, that visits were once a year, at most – maybe twice during my high school and college years – so they were always special. I have summer memories there from every era of my life, with different friends and family and even solo, in sun and rain.

Dusk, when the lights start flickering on the midway and the air starts to cool, they all seem to flood back every time.

August 9, 2013 Posted by | Ohio, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Adieu, Demon Drop.

I can remember this commercial – and the very idea of a freefall ride – giving me stomachwillies when I was 12:

And now it’s going away.

This is one of those great rides where the real terror was in the anticipation: You’d wait in line at its base, winding back and forth while over and over and over, this 13-story steel thing just chugged and roared and people screamed. You’d get fastened into your seat and then wait a few agonizing minutes while each car shifted backward every minute or so, inching you closer to the tower itself. You’d finally scoot back into position, and then your gut would just go to water when the all-too-quick climb began.

At the top, a pause. A settling. A shift forward into emptiness – and then, just like everyone said, you counted in your head: One, two. three –

And then you fell.

At least once, you had to try the penny-on-the-knee trick, watching it seem to rise and then hover in place during descent.

I associate it with being a kid and turning old enough to go around the park with a friend, parent-free, and with high school visits, and, of course, with the summer before college.

Demon Drop was right near the entrance to Cedar Point, so it often earned last-ride-of-the-night status, and the trip over a bright midway and a dark surrounding lake, accompanied by summer wind, is something I can remember as easily as the smell of leaves in the fall.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, geek, Ohio, Travel | , , , | 4 Comments

Summer Skeeball: A Piece of 1989

I’ve been thinking about 1989 a lot lately.

My 20th high school reunion is coming up, for one thing. And we also just took a weekend road trip and stayed with one of the friends I made during my first week as a freshman at Bowling Green that same year. Besides the standard milestones of graduation and starting college, though, there are other events that year which have stuck with me, either because they marked small forks in a path that turned out to be major course corrections further down the road, or because they’ve just echoed in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.

This one involves a skeeball.

By mid-August 1989, high school was two full months in the rear-view mirror. My best friend Adam and I were getting ready for our move to BGSU while our other closest friends were taking off for various parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania. It had also been five weeks since I’d watched my then-girlfriend pass through the Akron-Canton Airport security checkpoint to catch her plane home to Germany.

I’m pretty much an 18-year-old in an emotional blender, whirling around these weird weeks between everything I’ve ever known and whatever’s waiting in college.

So the girl down the street and I decided summer would be best wrapped up and celebrated with a day at Cedar Point. Amusement parks and fairs, especially at night, are among my favorite places in the world.

The day before the trip, she backed out.

I stuck to the plan, though, and, for the first time in my life, went to an amusement park for a day flying solo. And having grown up within a couple hours of Cedar Point (in fact, I’d already been there once that summer, just after graduation), there was pretty much nothing new waiting for me, so I set out to make it just a relaxing day of riding – mostly coasters – and people-watching.

And this turns out to be fun: I ride coasters; I walk around; I make pretentiously-voiced observations in my notebook because, you know, that’s what I do. Midafternoon, when the sun’s high and I’m getting a headache, I just stretch out and take a nap on a bench, listening to the bumper cars and the Wildcat coaster, and am surprisingly refreshed afterward.

So a little later, toward dinnertime, I think, I’m in line for the old wooden Blue Streak (where, just one summer but seemingly a lifetime later, I will spot Trent Reznor and chat for a minute), and there’s a girl behind me in line who’s making eye contact as the queue winds back and forth.

Now, mind you: Spending a summer evening with girls you’d meet at an amusment park was one of those unrealized ideal daydreams for me. It never happened, of course, because actually talking to a girl I’d never met just didn’t happen in my world.

But now, there’s this brunette and her friend in line, back and forth, back and forth, and there’s a smile now, and then, good God, she just said a quiet, “Hello,” when we passed that last time!

Simple manners? Just filling the awkward space? More? I have No. Freaking. Clue.

After the ride, I kind of dawdle in the general vicinity and see if they’ll catch up to me or anything, but they don’t.

Oh, well. With that boldness which only comes with an absolute certainty that I’ll never see them again, I resolve to speak up if our paths do cross once more.

And then they do.

It’s after sunset now, and the moon is rising over the lake, which reaches the horizon in almost all directions, and the girl from the Blue Streak line greets me like she knows me: “Hey – where’d you go?”

And just like that, Nicole (that’s her) and Markie (her friend) and I are hanging out and laughing and taking on the Demon Drop and stopping on the midway to marvel at the awesome lunar eclipse that’s unfolding overhead. (Yes, seriously: Aug. 17, 1989.)

We talked a little bit about summer ending and heading to college in a couple weeks, but mostly we just wandered and rode and enjoyed ourselves.

Under the fluorescent lights of an arcade, we wound up playing a few games of skeeball – which I’ve always loved – and I won a cheap stuffed starfish barely bigger than my hand, and of course, it belonged to them.

And then, this happened: The skeeball machine I was playing spat out an extra ball. A tenth ball, there in the chute.

Now that, I said, is a souvenir. And as they laughed and nodded, I grabbed it and stuck it in my backpack and we speedwalked out onto the midway.

They dubbed me the Thieving Poet.

We stayed late, and then said goodbye, and that was it.

I kept that skeeball for years, and pretty quickly it became a personal symbol of more than just that Cedar Point trip.

All through college, in my dorm rooms and apartments, it sat on my desks, a wooden lightning rod for memory and a reminder of that summer between endings and beginnings, of energy and possibility and small, random things that matter. It inspired a short story during one of my creative writing courses – one a particularly feisty professor actually liked – and years later, I wrote it into what is probably my favorite scene in Crossing Decembers.

The skeeball is no longer in my possession. Hasn’t been for more than 15 years now, and if you read the book, you can probably figure out where it went.

Besides: I’m never really going to lose it.

August 13, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, Fiction, Games, geek, Ohio, writing | , , , | 7 Comments


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