Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Remembering That Amusement Park to My North

Two weeks ago, I told you about a couple of horrific visits to Six Flags Great Adventure.   Loused up completely by some girl.   Well, this ends better.   And it wasn't completely loused by some girl.

Ah, Rye Playland.   That Westchester County-run amusement park that was to the north of Mount Vernon, New York, where I spent my childhood.  I have not been back there in years.   I've heard that people get killed there now.   But the memories from my younger days were much nicer and sweeter.

Living in Los Angeles, I can tell you that it's a very common and almost routine happenstance for a family to simply and spontaneously pop down to Disneyland for the day.    Nothing to do with the kiddies?  Hey, let's take a hundred dollars or five out of the bank and go down to see Mickey Mouse.  Sure, it's expensive, but it's comforting to know that there is a major and historic amusement park right in your backyard.

Such fortune didn't exist for my family when I was a kid.  Growing up in Mount Vernon, New York, we had nothing on par with the Magic Kingdom.  Our theme park options were few and far between.  You waited for every June when the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on 10th Avenue had their annual feast.  A couple of clunky rides and lots of arcade games.  You'd take a chance on that new Ford Mustang, knowing fully well that the Monsignor would be driving it the very next week. 

We heard stories about this great amusement park down in New Jersey, just past the George Washington Bridge.  Palisades Park with the world's largest salt water pool, which my parents were convinced was nothing more than one big petri dish of bacteria.  Somehow, I coerced Dad to take me there once, fighting through the litany of his usual excuses.

"It's too hot/too cold."

"It's too far."

"It's too crowded."

Given those restrictions, I guess my summer amusement should have been confined to a temperature-controlled closet in the hallway.

But, okay, we did have one option nearby.  Rye Playland.   A throwback to the old county fairs of days gone by.  In its non-updated and borderline antiquated state, Playland could be embraced as delightfully retro.   Or simply old as the hills.

Nevertheless, it's what we had to work with in Westchester County.   You looked forward to that summer night where the family would troop up to Playland. 

Less fun for those of us in smaller families.  Being sibling-less, our outings to Rye were a little less intense on the fun side.  Me, Mom, Dad.  Woo hoo.  Looking back, I can now affirm that the only way to enjoy an amusement park is with a group.   A large, large group.  That does not translate to an only child with his two non-ride-participating parents.

My mother was always more worried about her hair and it getting blown askew on some ride that would whip the rest of us into a frenzy.  Forget the fact that her coiff was already hardened into a helmet-like mold thanks to liberal doses of Caryl Richards Hard-to-Hold Just Wonderful Hair Spray.   She was worried that she'd get off a ride looking one iota less pristine than when she got on.  Besides, you couldn't smoke on any of them.

My father?  His Army experience in Japan was more than enough thrills for his lifetime.  He preferred life on terra firma. 

"You go on.  I'll wave."

And that he did.

I'd whisk by.


Whisk by.




And again.


Riding these conveyances solo, I longed for another kid.  Any kid.  Please.  It got so that, after hearing one year that we were headed to Playland that Friday night, I asked my parents if they could have a foster child in the house by the end of the week. 

That did not get a laugh.

As a result of this solitude, I never got adventurous in my Playland ride choices.   I pretty much kept to the kiddie section.   If it went fast, okay.  If it went up and down, no.  If it went fast and up and down, absolutely no.  The only exception was the Caterpillar ride.  Because it covers you with that imitation Persian rug for part of the trip, you couldn't really tell when you were going fast or moving up and down.  The lack of a visual made the ride palatable for me. 

Except I could never see my father waving when I rode it.

When the prospect of another Playland visitation came up and the annual foster child plea went unanswered, I floated the notion of allowing me to take a friend with us.  One of my buddies "up the block."  A schoolmate.

"What are you kidding?  We're not made of money.  We can't be taking all of Mount Vernon."


One kid.  That's not "all of Mount Vernon."  I never could understand the dismissal of this concept.  Except my parents countered that none of their parents had invited me to Playland either.


Suddenly, I thought that similar discussions were being held in the homes of countless friends and chums all over town.

"What are you kidding? We're not made of money. We can't be taking all of Mount Vernon."

So, there I would be in Rye one more time.

Whisk by.


Whisk by.




Eventually, the family outings to Rye Playland stopped.  Or were mercy-killed.  Luckily, I got older and branched out to other social realms.  And, my Rye Playland excursion took on completely different and unchartered dimensions.

I was 13 and there was this girl.

Wasn't there always?

I've written about my very first girlfriend here before, but this portion of the tale has never been elaborated upon.  For all intents and purposes, this was our first "date."  Or was it?  A debate for the ages.

She had been in my Sunday School for about five years.  As I got older, so did she and, as is always the case with hormones, she got a lot less "yucky" with the passage of time.  By the time she was 12, I was ready to go out for the requisite blood test and the new living room sofa.  As fate would have it, we would get to spend a lot of time together that year.  We were both in confirmation class and spent two hours every Saturday morning reciting the Apostle's Creed together.  In the process of becoming official Christians, I was inwardly becoming quite horny.  If this is what growing up was all about, I'd like to take the class twice, thank you very much.

After we got our first taste of wine and cardboard wafer, our German-speaking pastor decided to treat the whole class of 12 confirmants (?) to a day at Rye Playland.  This would be sweet.  An outing we could share together.  And sanctioned by the clergy, for Pete's sake.  How good would this be?

Not as good as I thought.  All of a sudden, there was somebody else.  Another girl in the class who latched onto the love of my life.  Hello?  Where were you all year?  You didn't show any interest in being pals with my friend while we were drilling down on the Gospels.  Now you're looking to get chummy?  Just when I'm looking to have a nifty ride buddy on "Laugh in the Dark."

I needed a strategy fast. 

All day, I made myself imminently available to my little friend.  If she was standing in a spot, I would immediately stand alongside her.  Even if it meant knocking over this thirteen-year-old Rhoda Morgenstern who was in my way.  If my friend moved to another spot, I followed her.  Oh, Rhoda, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to bump you like that.

Rides were trickier.  Most of them sat two comfortably.  I wanted to make sure I was always the companion.  This took some careful manipulation as we stood in line to board our appointed conveyance.  While everybody was anticipating the sheer exhileration of a thrill ride, I was busy working like a scientific engineer to make sure she and I would be traveling together.  Once I screwed up and wound up on the Caterpillar with not my "date," but the interloping Rhoda.

"Isn't this fun?"

Yeah, who asked you?

Since this was a church group, I was morally limited to just what I could think and do about this whole situation.  I could have pushed the other chick into the Long Island Sound.  Wait.  What is that, Pastor?  The Fifth Commandment?

"Thou shalt not kill."

Oh, right.

I would, however, get some divine intervention a little later in the day.  Thanks to my innate ability not to listen closely to instructions. 

The Pastor announced we would stop for lunch.  Bring out the sandwiches you all brought.

Er, sandwich??  Did I miss the memo??

I was lunchless.

Suddenly, the intrusion of this other girl took second place to my hunger pains.  I guess I could have bummed a few coins off the Pastor and buy a hot dog.  But, I didn't want to call atention to myself.  As if being a complete pest wasn't enough of a red flag.

As everybody ate at the picnic table, I quietly sat and waited for them to finish.  Except my "girlfriend" noticed that I wasn't eating.

"Didn't you bring a sandwich?"

How sheepish a look could I conjure up in the next ten seconds?

Um, no, shucks, I forgot.

"Hey, have half of mine."


That was the best half-of-a-bologna-sandwich I ever had.  This relatively innocuous gesture melted me to the ground right there in the middle of Rye Playland.

For the rest of the day, though, we were inseparable.  And hence my "date" began.  When two people share a book of ride tickets, well, that can get pretty darn serious.

Move the calendar up six years.  Another Playland trek.  This time, I'm with a group of college friends, including my roommate and best friend at the time.  And, yep, there's a girl in the mix that I'm really interested in.  Times had changed.  Hormones had not.  Suddenly, I'm back working the same strategic maneuvers I had attempted when I was 13.  Calculating how lines would work so I would wind up on a ride with my very special buddy.  With this co-ed crowd, the ploys were a little harder to work.  Others had the same design, damnit.

With me hopelessly yearning for some quality time on a ride with the girl of my dreams, our contingent moved off to the famed Dragon Coaster.   This would be our next ride.

Um, the Dragon Coaster?

This was the big ride at Rye Playland.  While tame today, this was a fairly intense roller coaster and, for a while during the ride, you are actually zooming up and down inside a dragon's stomach.  My friends zipped over to join the line.

Er, I don't do roller coasters.  I really, really don't do roller coasters.

The voice of my would-be wife in my mind was heard.

"Don't you want to go on this?  With me?"

I was being played.  I didn't give a shit.  I would go on the Dragon Coaster.

Of course, as we waited amidst all the distant screams of patrons already on the ride, my stomach fluids were making equally sharp turns.  What I wouldn't do for love.  I dreaded it all, but I needed to put on my game face.  This would be fun.

I think.

As well as God had intervened in my love life six years earlier, on this day, He apparently had taken the day off.  Because, somehow, I messed up my seat calculations.  When it was time for board the Dragon Coaster, my ride buddy college roommate.

He wanted to be on this ride even less than I did.  And now we were heading to certain doom together. 

The next two minutes scared the pellets out of us.  As we entered into the belly of the Dragon, we said our goodbyes.

Moments later, we exited the Dragon, a lot more worse for wear.  I looked over at my roommate. 

"What happened to your sunglasses?"

They had obviously flown off his head somewhere between the Dragon's spleen and gall bladder.

It would not be on that day, but I did eventually connect with the girl in question.  But, that would be my last time on the Dragon Coaster.   And there would be very few excursions for up to that main amusement park of Westchester County. 

Dinner last night:  Sausage and peppers at the Hollywood Bowl.

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