As a child, I adored Cedar Point, our local amusement park, and eagerly awaited my trip there each summer. I could think of no better place in the world. On the way there, I aggravated my parents the entire hour-long drive from Toledo to Sandusky.
“Are we there yet?” I asked, every ten seconds. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
Once inside the park, I floated, transfixed by its exhilarating rides and kaleidoscopic arcades, by the soft cotton candy that warmed in my mouth on the way to the very bottom of my stomach. Twisting, whirling and gliding, I soared through crisp, periwinkle skies, in the hopes that I might reach the moon. It was a day of amazing fun, one that more than made up for all the unbearable sacrifices that I made to get there: getting good grades in school, obeying my teachers somewhat, abstaining from yelling at the top of my lungs right in the middle of church service.
The year that I turned 10, however, I decided that my annual day at Cedar Point was not enough. There was too much excitement to be had – not even a week was sufficient. Inspired by the fact that Willy Wonka had his own Chocolate Factory and that the Munchkins woke up each morning in Emerald City, I saw no reason why I couldn’t have Cedar Point every day. When my parents refused my well-negotiated offer to live there permanently (“Seriously Mom, I’ll give you five dollars if you leave me here”), it became clear that my only recourse was to bring the mountain to Mohammed. I was going to build my own amusement park.
I didn’t think it would be difficult. I had been there enough times to recreate the things I loved the most. With just a little creativity, I figured that a scaled down version of Cedar Point would be up and running in my front yard in no more than a week. I patterned my roller coasters after those at Cedar Point, but each with a slight twist designed to separate us from all competitors. Demon Drop was one of my favorites there, a box-shaped, metal contraption that crawled 131 feet into the sky, hung in the air for a few seconds, then plunged to a bone-curdling finale. At the bottom of the drop, the box curved into a horizontal slide, in order to slow momentum. Otherwise, people would have died.
It was a scary ride, but not as scary as the Jason Drop. My ingenious twist was to eliminate the curve – a brilliant addition that took the ride to a higher level. An amateur might have used stuffed animals as test dummies, but I needed feedback and support, a focus group that could talk back. Since I was the youngest child and the only one still at home, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find anyone to experiment with. But, as is often the case when great men pursue grand dreams, fate intervened. My sister Tammy and her husband Keith moved in with my parents, fresh off Keith’s honorable discharge from the Coast Guard. They had two impressionable children, Tai, then seven, and Justin, then five. Tai and Justin were eager to participate in anything their uncle conjured up. Tai was first to volunteer.
I found a large cardboard box, knotted a rope through one side, and then threaded it through the other. I placed the box at the edge of a pocket within a tree in front of my house, eight feet off the ground, next to my neighbor’s cement driveway. I told Tai to sit in the box, and once she did, I stepped back and pushed the box out of the tree. It fell, as designed, straight to the ground. Tai landed with a thud, fell over and cried, “My back! My back!,” then began crying so hard, she could hardly breathe. I rushed over to shut her up.
Tragically, my mother heard her wails and rushed outside asking, “What happened? What happened?” Tai, in an unprecedented display of selfishness, snitched on me.
And I got a whuppin’.
Shaken but not stirred, I began inventing my next ride, undeterred by the near-paralysis of my niece. It was time for a safer creation: a water ride designed to cool those who languished in the humid Toledo sun. I pulled out my small, portable pool, which was much too small for me then, but just right for my nephew Justin. After filling the pool with water, I placed it at the bottom of the border between our front yard and the neighbor’s driveway. It was a cement incline, about a foot wide, accented by a brief but steep drop to the sidewalk.
My blue skateboard rested at the top of the border. When Justin, at my instruction, sat on it, I pushed him down the incline. He slid down, slipped off the skateboard and fell face first into two feet of water. I thought he had hit his face on the concrete. I was unaware that he couldn’t swim. He lay flat for two seconds, then rose and staggered into the house, drenched and choking. Surprisingly, he snitched on me, just like his turncoat sister.
And once again, I got a whuppin’.
Sensitive to the reluctant air in my surroundings, I gave the rides a rest and concentrated on the park’s other attractions. Cedar Point had amphitheaters, parades, food and countless other amenities to entertain all ages, sizes and temperaments. Likewise, I wanted my park to be so accommodating that people would never want to go home. I decided, first of all, that we needed a barber.
Using Justin as my model, I planned to customize haircuts that would be world-renowned. Paris, London and New York would applaud my innovative styles. My mother and aunt Lenora were both popular beauticians, so I convinced myself that revolutionary hairstyling techniques were in my genetic makeup. I grabbed a pair of shiny metal scissors, and went to work on Justin’s head as the spirit moved me. It was artistry, pure and simple, and I could hardly wait to see my family’s response. After they noticed the wonders I’d worked with Justin’s hair, they’d have no choice but to invest in my multi-million dollar plans.
I ushered Justin downstairs and displayed him to my mother and sister.
“Look what I did,” I said, my bony chest stuck out with pride.
My sister screamed. My mother’s eyes became as large as bowling balls and she advanced towards me swiftly. I awaited her inevitable hug, ready to share in her celebration that her son was filled with such remarkable genius.
My mother grabbed me and shook me. “What did you do to his head?” she said. “What is wrong with you?”
Her voice sounded shrill and loud, like a cat under attack. It suddenly occurred to me that she was not excited about my latest endeavor. I looked at Justin’s head and was finally able to see what I had done through her eyes, instead of my own romantic vision.
I had cut a large, circular hole right through the middle of his hair.
I don’t remember if I got a whuppin’ that night. I just know that everything went black and, suddenly, I was being woken up for breakfast.
Struck down but not destroyed, I remained steadfast in my promotion of my partially completed masterpiece. Where my parents saw the mutilation and near-murder of two of their grandchildren, I saw a brilliant vision that had only the sky as its limit. I endorsed the park to my neighborhood friends and was surprised by their reluctance to participate.
“So let me get this straight. You want me to sit in that box, so you can push the box out of the tree, while I’m in it?”
“It’s not me pushing you,” I said. “You will transport out of the tree due to the exceptional craftsmanship of my engineers.”
“Okay, so anyway, you push me out of the tree and I land on cement.”
“Well, my staff and I are still working out the details of how the ride’s supposed to end…”
“Your staff? And I’m supposed to pay you five dollars for this?”
“Since you’re a good friend, I’ll let you in for three.”
“Man, you must be crazy.”
I opened my park on a Monday, and by Thursday – due to my niece and nephew’s “safety concerns”, my mom and sister’s lack of foresight and limited support from my so-called friends – I had to close it down. In addition, my dad confiscated my skateboard and swimming pool, and several of my friends began referring to me as “Crazy Jason” behind my back.
But I took it all in stride. I chased my dreams, and I almost achieved them. All I needed were resources, money, land, a realistic architectural plan, laborers and some semblance of an idea of what I was doing. Most of these assets, I finally realized, were far beyond my reach. After that summer, I left the amusement park magic to the folks at Cedar Point. But the experience returned me to them each time with a greater sense of wonder, delighted by the precious moments that I lived in their world of fun.
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Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.
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9.14.09 @ 9:46a
Hmm...I see some of these amusement park creation tendencies in my nieces and nephews. I can see that I'm going to have to be even more alert for "test drives" of rides in development when I babysit them!
9.14.09 @ 10:58a
When my brother was about 3, he had a rolling giraffe that couldn't steer (something like this. And we had a nearby hill. My friend Ross and I, purely motivated by wanting to give my brother a thrill, decided it would be a good idea to sit him on the giraffe and push it down the hill. "Ready to go for the ride of your life?" we would ask.
His mouth said, "uh"; his eyes said, "how do I tell him no and still get to play with my big brother?" We took that as a yes. The first time, we got the aim wrong and the giraffe veered off the sidewalk and stopped on the neighbor's lawn. "He didn't enjoy that enough," one of us said. So, back up the hill to try again.
Short story shorter, the giraffe wasn't designed to navigate, well, anything. It hit a crack in the pavement and stopped. My brother, on the other hand, did not stop. And that's how he broke his nose the first time before he was 5. (The second time wasn't at all my fault.)
9.14.09 @ 1:16p
You definitely needed some up-front money with this. So you could've bought the silence of your niece and nephew up-front and preserved your down-back.
9.14.09 @ 1:50p
I couldn't stop laughing. This reminds me of exploits of my 3 sibs and I. We were close in age from top to bottom (4.5 years between) and could cause lots of trouble with our endeavors. And, when things went wrong, you could always point as one of the others as the ring leader.
9.14.09 @ 7:50p
How did we not die when we were kids? Do you how many times I jumped from a hayloft into a pile of hay 12 ft. below, without first looking for a pitchfork or farm implement or somesuch? That's just the start of it.
And do you know how many times I skipped classes at Coldwater High School to go to Cedar Point?
Worth the whuppin' and the grounding both times.
9.15.09 @ 12:42p
Yes, amazing we didn't all die. We had a terraced back yard. My brother was an expert at swinging like Tarzan from the branch of an old pepper tree out over one of the terrace's retaining walls. After he fell a good 12 ft, he got both TLC and a whuppin. I spent days jumping off the back porch trying to fly like Wendy in Peter Pan--if I could just believe enough... We also sledded in mid to late summer when the wild oats were dry on the hillsides. A big piece of cardboard made a perfect sled for a wild ride down the hill. That was soon banned by parrents because a girl was badly cut by a broken bottle hidden in the weeds.
9.15.09 @ 2:52p
We used to stand up on our sleds while going down a steep hill. Looking back on it, it's a wonder someone didn't break his or her neck in the process.
9.16.09 @ 12:10a
I still have a scar on the back of my hand from an incident involving a toboggan running full speed through a briar patch. See, you *had* to head toward the briars when sledding on that hill, because otherwise you would have gone into the river. It was perfectly logical.
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