On Monday this week, I was reminded once again that my youth is beating a hasty retreat before the advancing forces of middle age.
When I was growing up in Saunders Station, Pa., one of the highlights of the year was the annual pilgrimage to Kennywood Park, the self-professed roller coaster capital of the world. With perennial favorites like the Jackrabbit, the Thunderbolt, and the Racer, it was the place to go. Even all-out losers like Melvin Fenwick, the boy who got his underpants caught in the Velcro of his shoes in sixth grade and whom it took three teachers seven minutes to set him loose -- yes, even he went to Kennywood.
I haven't been to Kennywood since perhaps the first year I was married to Natasha, but I still have fond memories of the many summer hours I spent there, including on rides like the Enterprise, which turned me upside-down and relied on centrifugal force to keep me there. Just reminiscing about these rides has me looking forward to this August, when we hope to make the journey from Iowa to Pittsburgh and I expect to initiate Evangeline and possibly Rachel into these sacred mysteries.
Alas, the events of Monday suggest that I may not handle them as well as I once did.
On Monday, Natasha's Aunt Beatrice took the four of us on a visit to the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, N.J. There she treated the girls to a ride on a helicopter, and bought $100 worth of tickets for the rides, which included a carousel, a roller coaster or two, and the other sort of Tilt-and-Whirl amusements you would expect to find at a tourist trap marring an otherwise pleasant beach. (Though to be honest, the casinos were far worse.)
The four of us -- Aunt B sat this one out, having fared poorly with the kiddie roller coaster she went on with Rachel -- went on a ride that goes along a circular track, spinning the cars wildly in one direction and then another. I've been on many such rides in my youth, and always enjoyed it.
The first time the car changed its spin, I felt my stomach heave viciously. The soft pretzel I had eaten a piece of an hour earlier began to clamor for fresh air. I closed my eyes, shutting out all sight of the wildly careening landscape, and tried to imagine myself astride a giant snail, sitting on a lawnchair reading the newspaper, stuck at a traffic light -- anything that didn't involve motion. I imagined that this exercise would help, and I suppose it did, marginally.
When the ride finished, I climbed out of the car, and took hold of the railing to steady myself. The world was still, and so was I, and all was well. The pretzel repeated its request for fresh air and a view of the outside world, but my resolve held. I walked with my family to a three-dimensional maze of tunnels, steps and slides, a giant Habitrail for children who think they are hamsters, and watched my children disappear into its labyrinthine corridors. All was steady.
And then, five minutes later, Aunt B clapped her hands and walked toward the maze. The pretzel made its request, the motion carried, and the unprecedented happened: I threw up after an amusement park ride.
I haven't given up hope for a Kennywood visit this August, but I will say this: When the girls finished off the evening with a ride on the carousel, I stood on the ground and watched.