A Little Man in a Hole and a Big Stinky Machine Do Not Roadwork Make...and Other Tales of Adventure
Bobby and I have been to PKD more times than I can remember. Our first date after the dance that brought us together was a band trip to King's Dominion. After that, the place had a special sentimentality to it, and we generally returned every year or two, usually around our anniversary. We have a lot of parks in our area, but PKD remained our perennial favorite (until we discovered Busch Gardens in Williamsburg) and certainly the best for rollercoasters.
Strangely, we haven't been in three years now. So it was time for a return with the bonus of showing our fellow coaster enthusiast friend one of our favorite parks.
Yesterday, I received one of the first signs that, mentally, I am getting old. Bobby too. Either that or we are turning into Elves. Every corner we rounded, looking for familiar landmarks to hearken us back to those heady days in high school where getting turned loose for a day in a theme park was the high point of a year, we sort of fell back with a disappointed, "Oh," because it seems that things have changed in the last ten years and we didn't like it, dammit!
We were continually observed saying, "It's changed here. And not for the better." All we needed were canes to wave at passing children to complete the image of disgruntled old people stuck in the past. And dentures.
There used to be a store called The Elephant's Trunk and our friend Will--having a collection of miniature elephants that (last I asked, three years ago) exceeded four hundred--went into almost a half-dozen times while we were there the first time, driving us all crazy.
The Elephant's Trunk is gone.
Part of the park used to be themed after the movie Wayne's World, complete with a restaurant called Stan Nikita's. Stan Nikita's is now a '50s-style diner and a place called something like "Barry's Sodas." A flippin' soda shop? What kind of horseshit is that??
They've even torn down the TVs over the queue for The Hurler, where Wayne used to warn embarking riders in true campy Mike-Myer's style to "watch out for flying objects...including HURL!" Probably because the kids who go to PKD these days--if they even bother to ride dinosaurs like The Hurler--don't know what Wayne's World is; in fact, probably think that Austin Powers is an old movie and Mike Myers is for fuddy-duddies their parents' age.
But the biggest disappointment was The Outer Limits: Flight of Fear, which--since 1996 when it opened and I first rode it--has gone no lower than second place on my list of all-time favorite coasters. In it's day, Flight of Fear was cutting-edge: It was the first magnetic linear induction launch coaster in the US. The experience--from beginning to end--was state of the art. The coaster is housed completely indoors. To begin the experience, riders line up inside a hangar lined by television monitors telling a story of an alien spacecraft recovered a la Area 51; in a bad public relations move, the public has been invited inside to see the craft. You--the rider--are that public. At the center of the hangar is a flying saucer, and as the line snakes around, you climb up inside of it, where you can hear the roar of the coaster launching.
At no point do you see the track; in fact, until a few minutes before you are "launched" and in the final section of the queue, you do not even see the coaster at all, and the ride is set up so that riders embark and disembark in different rooms, so the train that arrives at the station is ominously empty. The ride accelerates from 0 to 54 mph (86.4 kph) in four seconds down a dark tunnel and into a room lit only by flashing strobelights as you tumble along a ball of track that you cannot see.
It was a very intense ride--one of only three at PKD rated as a "5: Intense Thrill Ride"--and rumors flew around its opening that if riders stuck out an arm at a certain point on the track, that it would be hacked off or that too-tall riders had been decapitated...all the stuff of urban legend, surely, but the ride had an ominous feel to it nonetheless, and after being hurtled into a dark room with steel bars whizzing by on all sides, logic ceases to be much of a consolation. Better is curling into as much of a fetal position as the restraints will allow and willing it to be over without incident.
For several years, it remained one of the few rides with the power to actually frighten me. I am consoled by physics on coasters and the feeling of centrifugal force holding me into the seat during inversions (I like to pick up my hands during loops for just this reason) but Flight of Fear had one inversion where the coaster would brake then roll slowly over, leaving no mistake: If you weren't tied down, you were falling out.
My sister-in-law had been on the PKD site to check out the coasters on the off-chance that she would have been able to go with us, and when Bobby and I queried her about it (because it is fun, admittedly, to take Erin on scary rides and we were really looking forward to putting her on Flight of Fear), she said that Flight of Fear wasn't on the website at all.
The building remains; they simply shut the gate and erased it from the map. PKD coasters have an annoying habit of being state-of-the-art and dismally short rides or long rides and what one might nicely call "old school." Those with high thrill ratings--Hypersonic XLC, Volcano, and Shockwave--seem to last less than a blink. Those that are long enough are the old-fashioned woodies and the Anaconda, which is an old corkscrew coaster. Flight of Fear was more than two minutes long, state-of-the-art, and thrilling; it was the best ride in the park.
I went on Google to find out why it had closed and found no answers. Even on the coaster boards, people were clueless. Some believe that it is being re-themed; others that it is being removed entirely. My cynical mind wonders if the jarring intensity of the ride hurt enough
And very disappointing.
We tried to make the best of it, visiting other rides instead. They have a new coaster themed after the movie The Italian Job, but it is a "family coaster" and--while it was fun--is not something that I would wait an hour for or even list as particularly memorable. We did all the classic coasters and some thrill rides in between. The line for Volcano was too long and, frankly, the ride is not worth it. We waited on line for Hypersonic XLC for about an hour-and-a-half and all agreed that it also was not worth it.
We wanted our Outer Limits, dammit!
Around noon, we all decided that we were hungry and because food in PKD is generally shabby and horribly overpriced, decided to find the little oasis we'd found outside the park the last time we visited, and the day really began to go downhill.
Last time we'd been to PKD, we'd ventured outside the park for lunch and found a little town teeming with little fast food dives. We set out to find it again...and it had disappeared. We took every conceivable major road in the area for miles, found farms and lumberyards, but not a single eatery. Coming back, we saw that there was a Subway at the truck stop across from the park; I think we all had our thoughts on finding a place to sit down for forty-five minutes and eat in, but Subway was better than lukewarm pizza at four bucks a slice. So we followed the signs to Subway and...nothing.
There was nothing there. Leading us to conclude that it was an invisible Subway.
A little ticked but in good spirits about it, we returned to the park and our subpar food options.
At which point, I was summarily strip-searched at the gate.
Well, it wasn't quite that bad. Coming in, I'd had no problems coming through the metal detectors, but coming back the second time, I got some chirpy bitch with--as we call it--Hat, Stick, and a Badge Syndrome who apparently thought it necessary that I removed my belt and jewelry before coming through the metal detector. I'm sorry, but I have a problem with taking off items of clothing to come into a bloody theme park and, to me, something that holds my shorts up is an item of clothing.
"This is bloody ridiculous," I told her, at which point I was ignored so I added, "Do you think I have an Uzi in my shorts??"
She chirped back, "You could have a pocketknife."
Which fueled the fire because I don't like it even implied that I make a habit of trying to sneak weapons into a bloody theme park, for Eru's sake, not to mention the fact that I like my shorts snug and it was extremely clear that I didn't have anything in my pockets. I even turned out my pockets to show her, but no, she insisted upon the stripping. That gray, wrinkled thing that lives between her ears must have died back in the '80s.
I have no problem with walking through a metal detector (after removing keys, cell phones, et cetera) and having my bag searched, but it is a bit too far for me when I am told to remove articles of my clothing before entering a stupid theme park. Perhaps, like they do at the stadium, they should invest in a few metal-detecting wands and it would be abundantly clear--sans strippage--that my belt buckle and possibly my silver pendant were setting off the detectors. (Which, strangely, they didn't do the first time. Either that or the nice man there didn't get some power trip off of showing his "authority" to random strangers to prove to himself that his life as a PKD security guard isn't wholly pathetic and realized that I couldn't fit anything--even a pocket knife--into my pockets without it being seen and didn't see the point in holding up the queue and humiliating a paying guest in order to prove it.)
That was the point where the day turned from "Average" to "Crappage."
Then we sought food. We even found a Subway in the park...with six-inch subs for $6 a pop (drinks and chips separate, of course) and no vegetarian sub on the menu. Sure, they would have probably made one for me...but I wasn't paying a dollar an inch for a sprinkling of limp lettuce, a trickle of mayonaise, and a few wilted vegetables.
So we had tasteless pizza at $4 a slice and chocolate chip cookies because--aside from chips and cheese and fries--that was the only vegetarian food I could find in the park. In the year 2006, they still haven't grasped the idea that there are people in the world who don't eat meat? And that we can give up our tree hugging and leave the hippie commune long enough to even do what normal people do??
We finished the rides that we wanted to do after that and managed to have a good time. Because we weren't shelling out another twenty-five bucks for two people to eat an inadequate and subpar meal, we decided to stop at Cracker Barrel on the way home and had a delicious supper and a great server. It's sad when the best part of your day might just be the supper you had at a Cracker Barrel off the interstate.
We were all tired by this point and wanted our home and our beds. Luckily, we were making great time, and we were less than an hour away from home. It was 9:30 p.m. Then...we reached the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
For the uninitiated into Maryland-DC-Virginia traffic, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge takes Interstate-95 across the Potomac River and has been under construction for...well, longer than I can remember. Our region is famous for biting off more roadwork projects than it can chew and will labor for years on things and--if they finish at all--there is no evidence of progress once they're done. Our area ranks as one of the worst in the US for traffic and aggressive drivers because our highway system sucks and their attempts to "improve" it only make it worse.
About a mile before the bridge, we hit traffic. And proceeded to sit for another hour and forty minutes, moving no faster than a crawl, burning our gas and breathing exhaust and staring at the back of the same stupid tractor trailer...only to discover that they had closed Interstate-95 for roadwork and had used the bridge to funnel traffic onto a detour.
Funny, though, there wasn't a single sign of any work being done on the closed section of the highway.
By now, it was eleven o'clock, I'd been awake and either driving or on my feet for the better part of sixteen hours, and my eyelids were drooping shut. We were all slap-happy. We sat for a long time at the part of the highway leading onto the bridge where there are about a dozen unfinished overpasses, ramps flying into nothing. We decided that much of what goes on in Virginia is invisible. That's why we couldn't find the restaurants and Subway before; they were all invisible! Maybe the gate guard thought that I was from Viriginia and had not only an invisble pocketknife but also an invisble AK-47 and five invisible grenades stuffed into my shorts with all intentions of demolishing the overrated Volcano ride. Really, the relentless building at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is finished...it's just invisible! All of those overpasses really stretched over us and invisible cars were racing along in a mode of perfect efficiency. The new span of the bridge that has been coming into halting existence since Hector was a pup is really finished too...but it's only open for invisible cars since it is, in itself, invisible.
The "roadwork" that shut down I-95: Invisible! Maryland must have borrowed invisble Virginia road crews to finish it and that's what contributed to the (mistaken) impression that they'd closed the road and held up traffic for nothing.
Usually, the modus operandi for roadwork in Maryland goes something like this: You reach a back-up and, slowly, the lanes begin to squeeze traffic into one or two lanes. Either an idiot has gotten into an accident or there's roadwork going on. Look for bright orange signs: that means roadwork. Of course, you are never informed via the electronic announcement signs over the highway to choose an alternate route, say, a few miles before hitting the backup. That would ruin the fun of plugging as many travelers into as small a space as possible for the span of several hours and also make use of the electronic signs as more than vehicles for propaganda about saving gas by driving slowly. Now once you come upon the roadwork, it won't usually be obvious that anything is going on, aside from the orange cones and maybe a police officer or two with lights on. The road will be closed for miles for one of two purposes: Either a single man is digging in a hole while his comrades stand around and lean on their shovels to watch and make sure that he digs just right. (And the digging guy is always the smallest of the group.) Or someone is driving a big stinky machine down one of the blocked lanes very slowly, making a lot of noise and stinky steam but no visible progress on whatever it is the machine is supposed to be working.
To add insult to injury, when we were a mile from our exit to home, the lanes constricted upon us again: more roadwork. And--true to form--a single guy was crouching in the midst of the two blocked lanes while his comrades stood around him in a loose circle. He appeared to be welding the asphalt.
Potter flipped out and said, "Those other guys are just standing there, picking their asses! And you don't weld fucking asphalt!"
We were home by midnight.