Sunday, August 14, 2011

A few thoughts on the greatest place on earth ...

Nothing dekes me out like a collection of metal and wires jutting upward when I'm in the city of Shakopee, Minnesota. (Confidential to Jodi, who lives in Shakopee: HOW CAN YOU EVEN GO TO THE GROCERY STORE WITHOUT DETOURING TO VALLEYFAIR!?)

"IS THAT IT?!" I squealed, pointing out the car window.
"That's a power line," Rad-Attack-Ack-Ack said dismissively.
"IS THAT IT?!" I squealed.
"That's McDonalds."

It took me about three tries before I found the right organized tangle. Once I get it in my head, everything looks like Valleyfair: The greatest place on earth.

I must have been about 5 years old when I woke up one morning and my parents told us to get in the car for a big surprise. My mom had loaded up her special denim drawstring travel bag with black licorice, Lemonheads and car games. They were taking us to the amusement park for their anniversary.

I don't really remember much about that trip. Pista family lore has us kiddies on a mini coaster, easing over speed bumps and hills to a soundtrack of cat-like wailing. When the ride stopped it was revealed that Brother Pista was the culprit, not me. In the 30-plus years since that trip, this story has been used as a metaphor for something I don't quite understand. After that trip it took a few too many years for me to stop thinking every single day upon waking: "MAYBE WE'RE GOING TO VALLEYFAIR AGAIN TODAY!"

So Thursday was the big day. It's been years. I had a little flexibility in my schedule, there was no chance of rain, I had recently reevaluated some personal rules on tank tops, and I have a friend who has shown previous experience with thrill seeking.

"Did I ever tell you that I've jumped out of an airplane?" Rad-Attack-Ack-Ack says all the time every day.

I probably made almost-yearly trips to Valleyfair in my teens. I always imagined something very romantic would happen there. Probably under the influence of the scene from Golf N' Stuff in "Karate Kid." I'd meet a boy from Mounds View and we would fall in love on the Flume. Gasping and wet. Kiss upside down on the Viking Ship. Hold hands on the High Roller. Close out the night on the Enterprise, leaned back against him and tucked between his knees.

"His boner poking you in the back," Razdo would add later, when we walked past the ride.
"Right," I said. "He's wearing sweatpants."

It occurred to me before I left Duluth that maybe Radzo didn't believe I was actually going to make the trip. We are relatively new friends and she's a bit of a bullshitter. One time she told me she was on her way to pick me up to go to a carnival in Duluth. This ruse went on long enough for me to get excited about riding the Zipper. Then she told me she was kidding. She wasn't coming to get me. We weren't going to the carnival.

When I asked her on Wednesday she seemed stoked. Sent me a text message that said: "This time tomorrow we'll be feeding each other cotton candy."

She said she was taking half the day off.
But she also said she was going to come get me and we were going to go to that carnival.
She is pretty deadpan. Does she really want to bang Emma Stone, or is that all smoke and mirrors?

I was right. When I got to her house in Minneapolis she said she hadn't believed I was coming until I texted her from the mid-point of Hinckley.

I also never cheat at pool or Words With Friends or any other game of skill or luck.

We started with Steel Venom, a U-shaped ride that rips out of the loading zone at highway speeds then flanks up 90 degrees twisting until you are 180-plus feet in the air, your feet dangling. Then it drops down, backward to the other lift where the ride hitches to a halt so you're hanging face to asphalt ... then it runs through this choreography again.

This. Is. Terrifying. I found myself mumbling incoherently from blast off to finish. Just a harness away, I could hear her doing the same. We stumbled off the ride spent. While Rad-Attack-Ack-Ack imagined Pollack-ing some teenager's bikini top with Diet Coke, I casually made sure I hadn't left a colon-shaped stamp on the seat.

Steel Venom is truly the jewel of the park.

One of the park's lesser-star almost-thrill rides is Mad Mouse, which travels at a speed similar to your car past an elementary school. It is an elaborate mix of dips and sharp turns in a four-person vehicle, like a life-sized marble run.

It looks like a breeze, rolling calmly through the Tunnel of Love. Holding hands and cooing over the moon. But it's one of those rides where it is easy to imagine the car tipping off the track. At least I think that is what Radzo was thinking when she screamed:

"I don't trust this! I don't trust this!" the whole ride.

Wild Thing is probably considered the premier roller coaster. Toward the end of the ride, while whipping at 74 miles per hour through a tunnel, your friends at Valleyfair take a photograph of you that can be purchased.

I knew the flash was coming and I posed, arms in the air with a fright face.

I have quite a few unflattering angles (the whole right side of my body, for instance) but this one has proven to be the worst. The price of admission was worth it for that lesson. I will never again be caught in public wearing a tank top with my hands raised in the air. No way no how.

When you opt to be quickly shot nearly 300 feet in the air and then slowly eased back to earth, it can be just kind of meh and a waste of sweaty palms. On the other hand, when you are slowly raised to about 300 feet in the air, so high that you are closer to the moon than the trashy water park, so high you can see people in Rad-Attack-Ack-Ack's basement, with the intent of being dropped in a free fall situation. Well. That can be terrible.

"I'm over this," I said in the pause while we waited to drop.
"I don't like this," a little girl next to me said.
"This is not cool," I said.
"I want to get off of this thing," the girl said.

Then -- drop. No problem. These rides? All anticipation.

We decided to double back to Steel Venom. See if now that we'd built up a tolerance for the wickedness of amusement the ride would be more tolerable then when we'd prepared by being in a car.

It was even more terrifying. What the.

We ended up being repeat offenders on High Roller, the park's original roller coaster. A relaxing classic. A no frills oldie but a goodie. The moon was out. The weather was nice. There is a series of small hills that will wing you out of your seat, hang time on the homestretch.

We rode it three times.

"It's a nice night for the fair," we said 85 times in a row. Just four more times than Radzo tried to wrap a teenaged girl in a burka.


Jodi said...

Luckily, the grocery store is in the exact opposite direction of Valleyfair. Since I "summered" in Shakopee as a kid, I logged a lot of time at the VF, but as I grew up the charm kind of wore off.

My ex-brother-in-law (who is a roller coaster mechanic) drove me through the park once when it closed and dark out and it was scarier than any of the rides. Serious Scooby-Doo shit.

Christa said...

Oh man! That is the coolest. I was making a lot of fan fiction in my head about what happens there after dark.

Beret said...

Ah, ValleyFair. I'm so old I remember when the only thrill rides there were The High Roller (can't believe it's still standing), The Corkscrew (is that still there?), The Looping Starship (or the Puking Starship as we used to call it) and Wild Rails (what Mad Mouse used to be called I'm assuming?). Good times.

Christa said...

I remember that, too. All of those rides are still there. And yes, Wild Rails is now Mad Mouse.

The Flume changed, too. I think that was from that early batch of rides.