Friday, August 19, 2005

Incredible Kennywood

Kennywood Park! For around 100 years, it has been the place to go at least once during the summer season for thousands of folks in the Pittsburgh area. I loved it as a child. I hated it as an adolescent. As a young adult, I started to like it again. Now, as a thirtysomething, I have a love/hate relationship with the park.

I have never been a crowd person. Throngs of people drive me nuts -- they are smelly and noisy, and generally just interfere with my ability to have fun. But once in a while I have to give in to my family and let them enjoy a visit to Kennywood.

The last couple of times we went, I will admit, I had fun. Not so a few years ago when I went on the giant metal swing ride while wearing soaking wet shorts. The metal edge of the swing seat ripped the moist fabric of my shorts, which in recent years would have been termed a "wardrobe malfunction", and I got to go home early. I took the family to Kennywood today, and managed to get a greasy hole poked in the sleeve of my t-shirt while helping my younger son off of a ride. What is it about that place? The rides keep trying to rip my clothes off. Perhaps I was violating some kind of dress code. Compared to hundreds of young (and not so young) ladies in the park, I could have been considered overdressed in my t-shirt, half-pants, and tennis shoes.

Our uniform attire (and I do mean UNIFORM) attracted a lot of attention, most of it positive. There is always the fear that everyone is going to think that you are some kind of geek squad when everyone in your group wears identical shirts based on a family of movie characters. If anyone did, they said nothing to us. It felt good to put smiles on people's faces.

This day was for the children, not for the parents. Because of that, we only went on one roller coaster...the munchkin-sized one in Kiddieland. Other rides made of up for the lack of coaster thrills. And who doesn't love water rides? People who were in the park at the same time that we were, apparently, since there was hardly any wait for the three splash fests -- which is perfect if you enjoy riding them over and over again. I could have spend all day taking the Pittsburg Plunge. The one time I tried to do that was when my wet shorts ripped, so I opted to stop at one turn per ride.

The nice thing about taking small children to an amusement park is that I have a good excuse not to go on any of the gut-wrenching, vomit-inducing rides. Kids are too little to meet to height requirement. Hence I missed out on the Pitt Fall, a.k.a. the Falling Sofa of Death. I took a turn on that torture device a couple of years ago and it took two ride operators to squeeze my gut into the restraining devices. The poor man next to me screamed like a little girl the whole time, and he was a full-sized macho specimen with a really hot girlfriend. That "ride" can do terrible things to a man. Avoid it at all costs.

We also skipped the Pirate ship, which is the only amusement ride that ever actually made me vomit. That was 18 years ago but the memory lingers. There is no danger of such a thing happening on the Railroad, the Auto Race or the Merry-Go-Round. Thank you, Kennywood, for preserving those timeless classics that sooth a weary rider's stomach.

The Paratrooper was fun but it would be even more fun if my waist were about eight inches smaller. That restraining bar was designed for a very svelte person. We missed out on most of the other classic rides, but you can only fit in so much during the day -- especially when you take a couple of hours off to let the little ones go nuts in Kiddieland. Another reason for a sour-stomached parent to be grateful.

The Old Mill, a.k.a. the Haunted Hideaway, is no more...and yet, it is still there. This ride has been around forever, and get a name change every few years. This time it not only has a new name, but it has a new theme, and you need 3D glasses to properly enjoy the ride. It is now called GARFIELD'S NIGHTMARE. Yes, that Garfield. It was kind of fun, especially for the kids, but adults might need more than a passing familiarity with Garfield to be able to appreciate the humor on display.

The day was capped off with a performance by a most amazing troupe of stage performers called the Kenya Safari Acrobats. From mid-air twirls and somersaults to the human pyramid, these fellows put on an incredible show. My favorite part involved fire. They took turns jumping through fiery hoops, then one of them ate fire off of a torch, then another guy came out and breathed fire in all directions. Finally, the strong man of the troupe (the one who supports the entire human pyramid) came out. "Oh, no, he's going to do it, isn't he?" I though to myself. Oh, yuck. He did. He shoved the burning torch down the front of his pants and twirled it around parts that the audience was not privy to seeing. I hope these acrobats have an exceptional insurance policy!

It was nice to have a day off from everything else and to get away from home without driving halfway across the country. The wife and kids are exhausted, and so am I. Good night!

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