When I was a teen, every Friday night my best friend and I used to be dropped off at the local amusement park and ride the rides til late into the night; exciting thrill rides like the Tilt A Whirl, stomach churning rides like the Spider, high in the sky rides like the Ferris Wheel, and funny/scary rides like the House of Horror.  I still can’t get the image of the evil man sawing the girl in half…tame by today’s standards because there really was no blood and guts showing, but scary enough to be etched in my memory none-the-less.  (Without digressing, it would be interesting to know if today’s spate of horror movies leave the same indelible nightmare etched into children’s brains…)

Driving the little cars on the Turnpike ride was awesome, especially in my early teens.  Keeping the car straight on the twisty “road”, over bridges and under tunnels, was a harbinger of the days when I would be able to get my real driver’s license.  However, at that point I quickly learned that there are no bumpers on the side of the real roads in real life and one must keep the car centered or a pedestrian or telephone pole could be taken out. I also learned I had to drive faster than on the amusement park ride lest a line of cars pile up behind me, honking and gesturing…

Our favorite ride was the roller coaster the Wildcat. I can still remember the nervousness in my stomach, the dread, and the excitement as the car started up that first steep hill. It was probably only a few seconds, but the anticipation was interminable. Then the “whoosh”  down that first hill which set the car in motion for the twists and turns to come. Because this was the age before seat belts were mandatory, flinging out of the car during an enormous turn on the tracks really did make the ride seem to be death defying. (Truth be known, people occasionally did fall out and die, but, as teens, we were immortal and nothing like that could happen to us.)  By the time we reached that final hill on the Wildcat, the laughter and excitement falsely camouflaged any nervousness of what was to come…until it came!  Going down that final steep hill, where gravity seemed optional and your stomach literally moved up into your throat, was the greatest feeling ever! It was such a “rush” in our innocent teen lives, that as the ride was over, we’d run over, get in line, and do it again and again and again until my cheeks were hurting so much from laughing that we’d stop to snack on some cotton candy or a snow cone.

Oh… the years have changed things. Recently I took my two youngest children to a “family” amusement park, (i.e. not Six Flags, from which my daughter is banned for life…buy my book for the details!)  The park was quaint with its refurbished candy store and carousel. with antique horses.  Even the popcorn stand that looked like a huge box of popcorn had been freshly painted, and the familiar smell of popcorn filled the air.  Street lamps guided the way on the walkways, and beautifully colored flowers grew in abundance.  A nice, comfortable, enjoyable family park.  Until you looked at the rides….the roller coasters were HUGE, with the tracks going on forever and circling 360 degree upside down!  With rider’s legs dangling loose!  Gravity pulling at hair until riders looked like they were cartoon people afraid of a ghost! With shrieks so continuous and loud I had doubt that any rider would ever be able to speak again! And there rides named the Boomerang!  The  Wipeout!  The Cannonball and the Corkscrew; each ride bigger and better and faster and turnier and more stomach churning than the next.  I was excited to find a familiar ride, The Wildcat, and I ran towards it with longing and anticipation based on my childhood memories.  But this Wildcat was the grandpappy of Wildcats, where the one I rode when I was younger could only compare now as the Wild Kitty.

I know times have changed in many, many ways, but I mourned the loss of the family amusement park the most, possibly because it was such a large, happy part of my childhood.  I was happy on this date, however, to learn that they still served cotton candy and snow cones, which I ate in abundance while I watched my children happily, (and crazily) ride the rides, making their own childhood memories.



To read more about our life, here is a link to my book:

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:


Comments on: "They Ain’t Like they Used to Be!" (30)

  1. I was musing on this other day as a commercial for our area Amazement Park showed off it’s new coasters. Human lust for thrills and chills seems to have no satiation. I have a much simpler appetite…but I just can’t do the spinning things anymore. 🙂

  2. I wonder how much it cost to get in when you were young, too? The local amusement park here is around $60 per person just to get in! You are not allowed to bring in any food or drinks, and of course they charge a ton for that as well. It makes me sad that things have changed so much, and now it is not even an affordable family activity that can be done several times throughout the season.

    • It used to cost $5 to ride all night, (Friday night special). OR they sold ride tickets for 25 cents each. I hated going with my parents when I was little because they would only spend $1 and I had to choose 4 rides, an impossible task for a little one amongst lot of fun kiddo rides!

  3. I love amusement parks and thought that the ticket lady had the best job in the world!

  4. I followed the link back to “Her PTSD caused MY PTSD” That’s when i remembered reading something (and I can’t find the article) about someone who was having success at treating people who were unable to process short term memories into long term memories.

    The person got to thinking about PTSD and has had success using the same techineques. If/ when I find the article I will get back to you, but I am forgetful and wanted to at least if you this much.

    • Thank you so much. We have had great success using pet therapy during her counseling sessions. Not only is the dog soothing for her, but she can also demonstrate on the dog what abuse was done to her so she doesn’t have to really “talk” about it.

  5. Not long ago I went to the local county fair with my adult son and I realized I was no longer enamored of the high, twisty rides so I chose “The Octopus” which had cars on long arms. The cars spun, the arms went up and down and the also went around. Very tame to my son’s standards but, I almost had a heart attack! I screamed so loud my voice was raspy for a week. I realized that as I age my tolerance for thrills has certainly diminished! Now I would be perfectly content of the Merry-Go-Round. He, on the other hand went of the loopy 360 degree coasters with nary a blink!

  6. Nothing stays the same. I remember doing things by myself that I wouldn’t let my own children do. Now that I’m a grandmother… Well it is tough to think about the increase in population and that means everybody – more bodies.

    I’m not big on crowds anymore. And the expense of even local carnivals makes my eyes cross. I think I really like those commercials that promote family game night and even just playing in the back yard together. And the neighborhood get together – that’s also something that could be enjoyable. Another thing to look into is activities promoted by your local grocer and volunteer fire stations. While I haven’t done it myself I think sleep overs in a museum would be a cool thing too.

    Everyone is able to enjoy music, dancing and fun animated movies in our own homes. And the popcorn and snacks are easier on the wallet too.

    Thanks for the reminder of the rides….I used to go to the New Jersey shore with friends. And just last month spent a week close to the board walk in Ocean City, MD.

    Be well and thanks for stopping by my place.
    Oh…sanity…it’s just a tad over-rated. 🙂
    But if you need to stay sane…I wish you all the best!

  7. I’ve lived my life backwards. When I was a kid, I stayed off those scary rides. Then a few years ago, a cousin dragged me to an amusement park and onto one of those dangling-leg-hair-standing-up rides. After my initial, “This is it! I’m going to die!” I had a ball! I rode every ride at the park that day. The heck with sitting around watching the kids.

  8. I must admit that riding a carousel is about my speed now (they never lose their charm for me). My favorite speed thrill was galloping my pony up the hill going home, and I have the same wonderful memories you do of the fair.

  9. As time moves on…we discover the bigger everything, alas I think that bigger doesn’t always mean better…wonderful post, loved reading it and thanks for sharing!

  10. Thanks for the momentary return to childhood. During my teen years *sigh* my Mom was the “reride” cashier for the roller coaster at Elitch Gardens in Denver. This meant that I got to ride for free all the time. I got to the point where I could ride from start to finish with my eyes closed and hands and arms held high. No more!! The ferris wheel, at least at the top, is too much for my enfeebled elderlyness anymore. I tried riding the Wild Mouse with my grandkids a couple of years ago. *SIGH*

    Also followed the link. Oh, my. I can’t begin to imagine what your daughter – and you – go through.

  11. Oh my, you just took me on a journey way back to my teen years. I loved going to the amusement parks in Cedar Falls and Des Moines, Iowa. The roller coaster was so fun…but my favorite ride was the merry-go-round! My cousin, Judy, and I rode over and over and over! Thanks for sharing!

  12. The images you have described are just lovely and remind me of the longing I often had for such things to be easily available in Australia. If you live on the Gold Coast, you can go to the amusement parks, but they cost a mint. There is nothing like you describe in Sydney though, and when there was, it was so far away that you had to do a day trip and could only do it once in a blue moon. There was nothing like the Friday night activities you describe for teens, and still isn’t. I often wonder if more innocent and affordable fun was provided, would they get themselves into less trouble? Yeah, probably.
    Nice post 🙂

  13. The latest rides scare the —— out of me 🙂

  14. Hi – really great post – you recently commented on my new blog, so I wanted to check out yours and really enjoyed reading this amusement park post. I was trying to get in touch to personally thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog (still very much in its infancy) but couldn’t find any details.

  15. I can so relate to this experience. When I was four or five I went to an amusement park with my family and had my little heart set on going on the biggest, scariest ride there, the Viper. With multiple upside down loops it had a strict height requirement, which I missed by about an inch. I was so upset my dad lifted my up just a bit as I passed by the operator to get on the ride. My parents were certain I would end up being terrified and never want to go on a roller coaster again. They were wrong. I loved the thrill and always went for the scariest rides at the amusement parks throughout my childhood and teenage years.
    Those days are done for me now. My equilibrium is so shot I get dizzy on the teacups now! The twirl-a-whorl is the worst, though. And my kids can’t get enough of it, and some of them are small enough that I need to go on with them. Last time I was at a park I was pregnant, so couldn’t go on the big rides. That was fine with me. I stayed with the baby and watched her excitement and glee.
    I think as an adult I get enough adrenaline rushing through my system just keeping my kids safe that I don’t need any artificial way to stimulate that rush. I’m happy to live vicariously through my kids at the amusement park.

  16. I remember fondly the old amusement parks being a place of happiness until the sun went down. I feel it’s all too complicated now and takes away from the simple fun of it all.

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