I don't like amusement parks. Party pooper, spoilsport. I basically had fun with them as a kid, but even as a young adult, the traffic, crowds, lines, noise and kitchiness was never my thing. Especially the crowds and lines. Especially the lines.
So it was more out of obligation than enthusiasm that I went along with a trip to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk today for Dave's company's annual summer "picnic." If nothing else, the fact that a Silicon Valley company still does this is remarkable -- a throwback to the plentiful times of yore. Plus, I like meeting his coworkers, the amusement park should be fun for the kids. We planned to bail by 2pm, so, it all appeared bearable.
The one thing that's changed since the last time we went to the Boardwalk is that now I have a kid who is just barely tall enough to go on some of the good rides. Gabriel is exactly 48" tall and maybe with shoes and good posture could pass on the many rides that demand a minimum 50" height. It's supposed to be about the kids, but I've never been good at that. For me, actually going on a cool ride could inject some brightness into this chore.
It happened that where we had to pick up our wristbands for all-day free rides was on the opposite end of a whole kiddie-ride section, which we didn't find until after lunch. So we were closest to the more grownup rides, a few of which Gabriel qualified for in height.
Why not start big then? Gabriel was up for "Double Shot," a free-fall type ride, the sort of which didn't exist when I was a kid. Now we're talking. Dave had no interest and Julian was too short even if he'd have wanted to, so it was just me and Mr. Firstborn.
And it was total fun! Brief, and not nearly as scary as I expected, but it was still really fun. I suspect this one is tame as free-fall rides go. I had to yell a little, but Gabriel was cool as a cucumber. Later he said it was the funnest ride of the day.
I've gotten a lot braver in my old age. At least at this relatively dinky (but historic) boardwalk, I was ready for the big rides. Gabriel didn't qualify for some, and didn't want to do some that he did. After Double Shot, I was ready to take on Fire Ballz and Giant Dipper (an old wooden roller coaster!), but, no takers. Double Shot was the first, and most challenging one, we did.
Then it was on to the merry-go-round, that Katrina insisted upon. She was a poor citizen waiting; complaining, whining and then screaming about wanting to ride while we were on line.
Dave and I both expected that given her often timid or hesitant (ok, resistant) reaction to new things, we thought she'd freak out once the ride got going, but she loved it. This proved to be a theme throughout the day: she laughed and wasn't at all fearful on any rides. (And was obnoxious and impatient waiting for them.)
This old merry-go-round actually had a ring dispenser to reach for, and a clown's mouth to try to throw it into. Gabriel was able to reach the ring, but hitting the clown's mouth was tough.
This "JetCopter" ride is one of the few with a maximum height -- which meant Katrina would have to go with a brother instead of a parent. No problem! Gabriel was all too happy to take care of her.
We rode the Sky Glider to the other side of the park, where the boys did a Rock'n'Roll car ride that went around fast, then backward. I was still a little queasy from the merry-go-round (not the free-fall ride!). I'm somewhat susceptible to motion sickness; I wouldn't dare go on one of those teacup-spinning rides. This looked like fun though, I wished I'd done it. Ah, what I won't do for the photo.
We went to Dave's company's lunch, which had over 400 people signed up. They had a Hawaiian band playing and a hula dancer, who gave a short lesson. I couldn't pass that up! I learned some of the arm motions to represent things like "beautiful day" and "ocean" in hula. It was total fun -- I do miss dancing!
After lunch there was the obligatory raffle. Somehow we wound up with two tickets (it really should have been one per family), so Gabriel and Julian listened to the raffle call-out and minded the numbers on our two tickets. And Gabriel's number came up!
Or rather, the number of the ticket he was holding came up. He/we won a digital camera! I felt bad, but he took it well when we explained that he won a family prize, not just one for him. We'll find a way to share it and rotate ownership.
A truly hilarious family moment came when I sent the boys to fetch ice cream, which came in two forms: an ice cream sandwich, or a packaged ice cream cone. "Get me a Drumstick," Dave said, referring to the Nestle brand Drumstick pre-packaged ice cream cone. Gabriel returned right away with his frozen loot, but Julian took long enough that I went to go investigate.
I found Julian carefully making his way back to our table with a most curious load in his hands: a packaged ice cream cone in one palm, with a leg of sloppy, sticky barbecue chicken perched precariously on top, with the cone acting as a makeshift plate and barely held in place with his slippery fingers tenuously holding the protruding bone. It was quite the scene.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! I cried in horror, observing the chicken with no plate, and barbecue sauce all over his hands and the cone package, ready to slide right to the ground. Julian had turned down chicken at lunch, did he change his mind?
He looked at me with wide eyes and said, "Dad asked for a drumstick!"
On top of it, when we opened the ice cream cone that had done double-duty as a plate, it had melted beyond usability from the hot barbecue on top of it. Laughing, I went back to get Julian a fresh cone. How was he supposed to know about Nestle's branding of the term "Drumstick" ?!
After lunch, my appetite for upside-down rides had declined, but that was OK, we went in search of a kiddie roller coaster. What we found was a whole kiddie-ride section we hadn't, but should have, known existed. Everyone met the height limits at every ride here.
So we went on the Sea Serpent, a tame little roller coaster for little kids. I was miffed to see so many adults and teenagers on. I mean really, come on! Some adults were so large that they couldn't share a car with another person, and some boys so tall that their knees were sticking out of the car. Go to the big rides, wimps!
Speaking of wimps, Julian opted out, but amused himself with playing gate-man for the exit gate while the rested of us waited on line. We got super-lucky with the cutoff of groups, so Gabriel and I got first choice of cars, and of course we took the first one. Katrina and Dave rode right behind us. We weren't sure how she'd do, and I heard her screaming a few times, but Dave said later she did that because she thought she was supposed to, and she laughed through the whole thing.
Interesting; she overall is -- well, acts -- more fearful than her brothers. But when fun makes her forget the act, she's more welcoming of rides than Julian was at her age.
It was well past our intended departure time of 2pm, lines were all very long by now, and it was so crowded we couldn't all walk together. Given our recent miscommunication that resulted in accidentally leaving Gabriel behind at home one evening, Dave and I made sure to take note who was watching who, which meant "who's got Katrina" and "who's got the boys." The only way to make it through crowds efficiently was for Dave to carry Katrina on his shoulders, the boys to follow him, and for me to bring up the rear to watch the whole group. But this isn't exactly relaxed or leisurely together.
So we did one more ride, then it was time to scoot home anyway for swim lessons. The boys and my last hurrah was Space Race, a bumper car ride that the boys were tall enough to do. They'd been disappointed that neither was tall enough for the grownup bumper cars we first went by, so this was a nice find.
Meantime, Dave took Katrina on a kiddie mini-freefall ride. Dave said that was plenty for him, and that Katrina loved it.
I was floored at how much traffic there was as we made our way back to the car. Are all these people leaving the beach now?! No, Dave pointed out -- they're arriving. Unlike the Atlantic beaches my family frequented in my childhood, there's morning gloom to contend with here on the Left Coast. A security guard told me that the local weather service predicts to the minute what time the fog will lift; today the sun actually broke at 1:51pm. I actually prefer the overcastness, it's not so hot and sunny and bothersome to the eyes. And makes for better pictures. The sun is definitely better if your destination is the beach though, which must have been where the westbound hordes were going.
I stand by my general objection to amusement parks. Not my thing. Overall, the logistics, traffic, parking, crowds, lines, noise, hecticness, crowds, lines, crowds, lines, crowds, lines, lines, and lines are so not my deal. But, the two minutes actually spent on the rides more than redeemed the experience today. I'm shocked (and delighted) I'm saying this, but we all had a really good time today.