Waving the Flag on Six Flags

It was more than a mid-life crisis that drove me there last year.  I took a trip to the Six Flags amusement park near me for several reasons. For starters, I wanted to celebrate the end of the summer season and the end of a particularly challenging season in my life. Also, I dreamt that I was enjoying myself in a large swimming pool with tall, twist-filled water slides that generated much fun and laughter. It was the second dream I had in a week that showed me in a large pool with people laughing and cheering.  My quickest and easiest interpretation of this dream was this, “Go to Six Flags!” So I went.

Thunderstorms were predicted for the afternoon. So, I did not take the time to coordinate with friends or family. I would go alone. Instead, I decided to pack the Sunday newspaper, my journal, a towel, a hairbrush and some snacks. I planned to arrive early, when the park first opened, so I could beat the after-church crowd to the rides. I planned to get on all the water slides and roller-coasters I could stand, then rest at the big wave pool for a couple hours readings and writing, and I would leave fully satisfied.

There were no lines for the Calypso Cannonballs, slow water slides with just enough twists and drops to get you going. I grabbed a big yellow tube, marched up the wooden stairs, grabbed the sides of the slide and gave myself a good push. Weeeeeeeeee! I plunged into the cool waters at the bottom and felt refreshed. Next!

I found a prime seat under an umbrella at Hurricane Bay, billed as “one of the largest wave pools in the country.” I stretched out on a lounge chair, flipped open the park map and marked the rides I would try. The sounds of amusement park music – old Broadway standards and jingles, patriotic marching band music – and the music of laughter and delighted chatter washed over me as the scents of hotdogs, popcorn, and sugar, and the bright colors all around lifted me to renewed heights of delight.

But before long, I would realize why grown folks don’t take trips to these amusement parks except to oblige the young folks in our care. These parks are for them! The season for us to enjoy these delights is gone.  While, on the one hand I had grown smart enough to know that by getting ahead of the crowds, I could avoid the long waits in lines for the rides. On the other hand, climbing long flights of stairs in a single bound left me gasping for air before I could even get on the rides. I waved kids ahead of me, as I leaned on the rail catching my breath.

I loved standing above the tree-tops, a thrill I don’t remember fully appreciating as a kid, but after what seemed like a ten second thrill down the water slide, I considered the climb hardly worth it.  One water slide pumped my heart so fast, I decided against braving the roller coasters I had loved as a girl. On the Whistlestop Whirlybirds ride I did as the conductor asked, “Lift your arms and flap like a bird!” Yaaaaaaaaaay! We laughed and obliged. The conductor reminded us that we could upgrade our daily ticket for a season pass and I realized I was being pitched at every turn and opportunity at this park. I was wholly unaware of these tricks when I was a kid. My awareness of this now put a damper on the fun.

Meanwhile, I could not help but analyze the opportunities of the young people working at the park. Did they know what they were learning in these jobs and how they might leverage that learning in their future pursuits? I wanted to chat with them about this.

I left the park just as thunder began to clap, signaling the onset of showers and lightning. I left realizing there’s a reason adults get our thrills on cruises, at island resorts, and closer to home at restaurants and live theater. There’s a reason we delight in fine art and enriching education offered at museums instead of amusement parks. My season for rollercoaster rides is over – and I’m cool with that.

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