Like I said last Thursday, Heather and I went to Kennywood. We had a good time. Rode some rides. Managed to avoid sunburn. Probably ate more overpriced junk than was smart or reasonable. At the end of the day we had our picture taken:
Then we went home. Heather finished college, we got married, had 3 kids, I began and ended my first career and embarked on a new one. Then we went back to Kennywood:
Turns out my last visit was in 1995, not 1994. Still. Nineteen is a lot of years. Those years were very good for my brain, but exceedingly unkind to my body. And despite the supposed growth in maturity that comes with age, I still managed to eat more overpriced junk than was smart or reasonable. Again.
It was fun, in a hurry-up-and-have-fun kind of way. The day ended like this:
But that’s how they always end, isn’t it? Even when you’re young. Walking and standing on asphalt for eight hours, only stopping for brief periods to sit on a bench and eat sugar-infused starch fried in lard is not something humans have been bred forNot yet, anyway. We’re certainly working on it.. And it shows.
But we can’t start at the end of the day. That doesn’t make any sense. The first ride of the day was this:
I stole that shot from Google Image search. The coaster is tucked in behind some games and walls, making shots like this hard to get.
Are there other coasters like the racer? I’ve never heard of one, but then it’s been 19 years since my last rollercoaster ride so I can’t pretend to be an expertAccording to Wikipedia, there are 14 race-style rollercoasters, which are a sub-type of “Dual Track” style coaster.. It seems like an obvious trick: Put a couple of tracks side-by-side. You can get twice as many riders through the coaster, without any of the engineering problems that come with making trains longer. From a pure guests-throughput point of view, it’s basically like having two coasters for the real-estate footprint of one.
The ride was built in 1927. That’s pretty old for something that’s designed to absorb thousands of pounds of force a couple of hundred times a day. And is made of wood.
Calvin Coolidge was president when the Racer welcomed its first batch of riders. The stock market crash was two years away. It had been running for twelve years when World War II finally took off.
My second ride of the day was this thing:
No big deal. Used to ride stuff like this all the time. They’re good for cleansing the palette between coasters. The lines are short and the motion is kind of steady and relaxing. Sure, it turns you a little bit upside-down once it gets going, but it’s smooth and breezy. Cools you off and lifts you up so you can get a high-angle view of the place.
All of that was true in 1995. But something has changed. When I disembarked from this thing on Friday I felt horrible. Not nauseous. Not dizzy. My stomach was fine. But my head was convinced I’d just been in stand-in for General Zod’s face in Man of Steel. I didn’t want to look up. Strange headache. Weakness.
I don’t know what these 19 years of aging has done to me, but apparently they killed the part of my brain that enjoyed spinning rides. In fact, I get mildly uneasy just looking at the picture above. It really was that bad.
At least I can still ride coasters.
My middle daughter. Esther photobombs all pictures, even ones in which she is the only subject. This was taken in line for the Old Mill, which is hasn’t been called the Old Mill in years, and even then it wasn’t actually named Old Mill.
It’s your typical kitchy spook ride. You get in a little boat and the current carries you through the course of blinder walls that make each little vignette seem like its own little world. Lots of animatronic skeletons rocking back and forth, drinking hooch and grinning at guests. Some of them had a “hayseed yokel” vibe, while other scenes leaned more towards “pirate”. I was never sure if the thematic disconnect was deliberate, or the result of a ride that had been tinkered with one too many times over the years.
At any rate, the skellies seemed to have a good time despite being dead. Even kids could laugh at these guys. It was a good mid-day ride. Get out of the sun and into a cool dim tunnel where things were quiet.
The name changed over the years. In the 80’s the name was changed to Hardheaded Harold’s Horrendously Humorous Haunted Hideaway, but everyone still called it Old Mill. Because obviously. Then in the 90’s it changed back to Old Mill.
But sometime in the last 19 years someone desecrated the thing. It’s now Garfield branded. There are actual billboard-sized Garfield strips on the tunnel walls, illuminated by blacklights. They are every bit as funny as regular Garfield strips. (Well, the good ones are.) And while the old ride also wasn’t funny, the old ride wasn’t based on a comic and didn’t ask you to read anything before you didn’t laugh. It was content to be mundane and ordinary in a contemplative, quiet sort of way.
Now it’s all orange and purple and glowing and garish and ugly and cheap. You wear 3D glasses for crying out loud. 3D glasses. For a boat ride. I’m sure Disney has a boat ride where you wear 3D glasses and there’s a laser show and actors and holographic projections and it all ends with a live dance number and it’s brilliant. But this is not that. This a ride where you put on 3D glasses so you can sit in the dark and squint at terrible Garfield strips that are to cat humor what Kafka is to cat humor.
So now I’m that guy. The old guy who doesn’t like the new stuff. The old thing sucked, but I liked it because it was my old thing. A quarter century from now my kids will shake their heads and wonder who ruined the classic Garfield ride with boring skeletons. “Old Mill?” That’s like, the most generic name ever! Nobody will remember that!
Like most non-Disney theme parks, Kennywood has a real estate problem. They got land when it was affordable and placed their park close to the city. In 1898 the whole ubiquitous automobile thing hadn’t happened yet, so your customers were locals and they only stayed a couple of hours. It was more like going to the movies, or the lake. A hundred years later, the population is tenfold, people come from far off, and they stay all day. You want your park to be as large as possible. But in those same hundred years all the real estate has been devoured.
So Kennywood is perched along the MonongahelaMo-non-ga-hey-la. Yes, it’s as unwieldy as it looks. Locals just call it the ‘mon’. along with a bunch of heavy industrial infrastructure. So not only is the surrounding land not for sale, it is also very, very ugly. They’ve done a great job at obscuring this from within the park. Trees and fences hide the worst of it. About the only time you can see the neighbors is when you’re at the top of a coaster, and there are usually better things vying for your attention at that point.
Still, if you ride the train and you look for a gap in the trees, you can see a slice of the mile-long edifice of metal and concrete that glares at Kennywood from across the river. It looks like the sort of place Gordon Freeman might go to murder a bunch of Combine. Grim and joyless, but also kind of exotic and compelling.
But that just makes the park seem more inviting by comparison. It’s a good way to spend a day, and I’m very sorry it took me two decades to find my way back here.
But it always ends with sore feet and a craving for food that doesn’t begin trying to kill you the moment you swallow it. Not a bad way to start the summer.
 Not yet, anyway. We’re certainly working on it.
 According to Wikipedia, there are 14 race-style rollercoasters, which are a sub-type of “Dual Track” style coaster.
 Mo-non-ga-hey-la. Yes, it’s as unwieldy as it looks. Locals just call it the ‘mon’.
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