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Kenny & Palisades Amusement Park

by I.M. Daytona Pitman

Palisades Amusement Park had to be one of Kenny’s favorite places in all the world.  During the summer, whenever he had a little spare change, he’d hop on the Public Service trolley and ride to Palisade Park.  Nobody ever really called it Palisades Amusement Park, and Kenny’s grandma even called it “Polisade Park.” His parents allowed him to go on any of the rides, but his mother forbade him going to the pool.   Every mother knew that crowded pools harbored Infantile Paralysis, so Kenny never go to enjoy the artificial waves and water falls in Palisades’ salt-water pool.  Instead, he swam each summer in the North Street Pool, affectionately known as Mussolini’s Bathtub, where underwater visibility was measured in inches.  It was just as well.

Today was no different from the rest.  Kenny would enjoy the rides, but avoid the pool.  After transferring at Nungessers, the trolley dropped him off right in front of the park entrance, but Kenny didn’t enter the park through the front gate, though, because that required a ticket.  He scooted around to the back of the park where it overlooked the Hudson River.  His friend, Wayne, has showed him the gate that the maintenance men used to gain access to the huge “PALISADES AMUSEMENT PARK” sign that faced the river.  Though the gate was chained, Kenny was able to squeeze through.

Entry was a little more hazardous this time because the old Bobsled ride had burned down, leaving a large stretch of open ground for him to traverse before losing himself among the park’s paying customers.  Once safely across no-man’s land, Kenny ran to the mouse kiosk in the center of the park, just in front of the Tunnel of Love, and slightly downhill from the Dodge ‘Em’s.

Patrons stood around the kiosk and put their nickels opposite one of the fifty holes in the perimeter of the circular table inside the kiosk.  When a sufficient number of patrons had plopped down their nickels, the kiosk attendant put a small cage in the center of the table and released one of the mice from the cage.  Once released, the mouse either meandered around the table and eventually disappeared down one of the holes, or it streaked for a hole and vanished in an instant.  The show was certainly worth a nickel, but Kenny only made mental bets, contenting himself to watch the behavior of the mouse.  After a while, Kenny could identify individual mice, and could predict their behavior – meandering or streaking – but never their choice of holes.

Behind him was the Scenic Railway, a roller coaster second – in Kenny’s mind – only to the Cyclone at Coney Island.  Of course, Kenny had only ever been on those two roller coasters (except for the kiddy ones, which he didn’t brag about), so the validity of his assessment was rather suspect.  The Scenic Railway was an expensive ride, so Kenny rarely rode it.  He preferred to save his money and watch and listen to the steady “tick, tick, tick” as the car climbed the first hill of the Scenic Railway, and then watch the gyrations of the massive, whitewashed wooden web work as the car traversed the track.  At night, he found the sway and vibration of the strings of lights that lined the track – many missing a number of bulbs – fascinating.

After watching a few cycles of the Scenic Railway, Kenny loped to the Dodge ‘Em’s to do battle against the uninitiated.  His father had showed him how to increase the impact of a bumper-car collision, and Kenny had learned his lesson well.

Waiting in line in front of the slick steel floor and the overhead electric grid, Kenny studied the cars.  He immediately rejected cars that produced massive sparks from their overhead electrical pickup; he knew that sparks meant poor contact, which makes the car slow.  He watched which cars were fast, and which, while slow – perhaps because of girl pilots – made few sparks.  Before the ride ended, he had selected several candidate cars.

When the bell rang, indicating the end of the ride, Kenny tensed nervously, eyes swiveling between the best cars.  As the chain came down, admitting the new batch of customers, Kenny sprang for his first choice, but was cut off by a bigger, redheaded kid.  Thus thwarted, he ran to his fallback car, nearly knocking down an old lady as he jumped in.

As his first task, Kenny turned the steering wheel leftward, and continued turning until he could ascertain that he had found one of the more desirable bumper cars, one that had no stop on the steering mechanism.  Without the stop, Kenny knew that he could get the car to go completely backwards.  This feature not only allowed him to extricate himself from big pile-ups, but also to plough backwards into unwary quarry.

The bell rang and the cars were off in a cascade of sparks.  Kenny’s first victim would be the kid who had taken “his” car.  By circulating near the center of the oval floor and by – easily – avoiding the attempts at collisions by some girls, Kenny gained on his unsuspecting adversary.  Kenny swung into the mainstream right behind the big kid, whom he now thought of as “Howdy Doody” because of his red hair and freckles.

He approached Howdy Doody from the left rear, but at the last possible second the target nerfed a slower car and Kenny only accomplished a glancing blow.  Now Howdy Doody was on to him, and trailed Kenny for almost a lap, perhaps two car lengths behind.  He didn’t realize that Kenny was setting him up.

Racing toward the end of the oval, Kenny didn’t turn, as Howdy expected him to do, but drove straight for the end of the floor, accelerator pedal mashed full down.  Kenny’s car hit the end wall straight on.  The impact compressed the cushioning springs of the wall’s crash bar, and spit Kenny’s car straight backwards into Howdy with unanticipated force.  Howdy’s head snapped forward as though he was a real puppet.  Before Howdy had had a chance to recover, Kenny had whipped the wheel of his car a sufficient number of turns to propel his car straight backwards, quickly gobbling up the space between his car and Howdy’s.  Kenny’s car hit Howdy’s another stout shot and Kenny spun the wheel and drove away contentedly.  The ride attendant eyed him disapprovingly.

His next target was a pair of girls who couldn’t seem to get their car to go in the intended direction.  Their sawing at the steering wheel and repeated mashing of the “go” pedal were a poignant demonstration of the “uncertain-about-the-concept” syndrome, and Kenny had the cure.  Circling the track once, with a wary eye on Howdy, who was half a lap behind, Kenny took aim on the helpless pair. 

As he approached the girls’ slow-moving car, Kenny slid forward in the seat.  Then, just before impact, he kicked his legs out straight, simultaneously propelling himself back to the seat and increasing the car’s forward momentum.  The impact was satisfyingly great, catapulting the girls into the crash wall.  Unfortunately, it was also the last straw for the attendant, who rang the bell and walked directly to Kenny, telling him not to come back.  Kenny took it in stride, as his was the usual finish to his bumper-car rides.

The roar of the motorcycles announced to him that the Bowl of Death was warming up, so Kenny ran up the hill to where the bowl stood, and climbed the stairs to the rim.  He felt the entire structure shake as the motorcycles circled the bowl.  From the rim, Kenny could look directly into the bowl, which consisted of a wooden cylinder whose base was coved into the floor below by successively shallower banking.  This allowed the riders to start by circling the floor, and as they gained speed, to progressively climb the sides of the cylinder.  Ultimately they circled the cylinder as though suspended in air.

During the warm-up, anyone could watch free of charge, so Kenny stuck around to see the action.  The announcer, trying to drum up business, bragged that the riders would “…puh fawm dis amazin’ feat widout even touchin’ da handow bahs.”  Everyone watched and waited for one of the riders to either fall to the bottom of the bowl or shoot right out of the open top, but that never happened.  After a few minutes, Kenny concluded that the actual show was probably not worth the cost of admission, and trotted over to the Flying Scooters.

The Flying Scooters were the first of the non-kiddy rides that Kenny had ever been allowed to go on by himself.  A few years earlier, Kenny’s dad had taken him on he ride, and showed him how to move the airfoil on the front of the car.  Then he turned Kenny loose on his own. 

Simple in concept, the ride consisted of about eight cars, each suspended from an overhead arm by two long cables.  At rest, the cars were a few feet from the ground, but as he ride started, the cars swung out on the cables by centrifugal force so that they rose into the air.  Each car had an open cockpit in front of a large, fixed ”tail” much like the tail of a plane, and in front of the cockpit was another airfoil that could be pivoted.  The rider could move the forward airfoil left and right, thus changing the path of the car as it swung around the circle on its cables.

From the time of his first independent ride, Kenny had strived to achieve the ultimate Flying Scooter goal: getting the car to go backwards.  On previous visits, he had deftly handled the front airfoil, making the car first swing wide on its cables and then swooping down toward the central pylon of the ride.  The dive turned the car nearly at right angles to the direction of travel, but never quite turning past the elusive halfway point, the point of no return.

Today Kenny planned a new strategy.  He would oscillate the car in and out along its direction of travel, hoping to increase the swing on each oscillation.  For several oscillations, the car gained amplitude, swinging alternately ever closer and then ever further from the pylon.  Then, much to Kenny’s displeasure, it settled into a steady rhythm, the car’s forces failing to further defy gravity.

At the top of one of the swings, instead of turning the front airfoil to the left – the normal procedure to initiate the downward swing – Kenny centered the blade.  Slowly, the car started to slide toward the central pylon, but as it did, Kenny sensed that the car continued to rotate against the direction of travel.  Eventually, the car achieved an attitude of facing at right angles to the direction of travel.  Then, just as Kenny started to move the blade to the left, as he had always done before, the car abruptly snapped backwards as the supporting cables crossed each other.  He had done it!

The ride slowed abruptly, causing Kenny’s car to snap around on its cables, and once again, face forward, after a few oscillations.  The reason for the abrupt cessation of the ride became apparent as the attendant strode over to Kenny’s car. 

“Get your ass outa that car, kid!”

Kenny hit the ground at a full run.  As he cleared the exit, he heard, “And don’t come back!”

Slowing his pace, Kenny trotted to the motorboats, another of his favorites.  The motorboats floated in a canal that traced a circuitous course surrounding a central island where the boats were stored and serviced.  Because the canal was narrower than the length of the boats, the boats could not be turned around, so they all traveled in the same direction.  Water in the canal was even dirtier then the water in Mussolini’s Bathtub, so Kenny could only guess its depth. 

Each boat looked like a runabout with two seats, each wide enough for three riders.  The rider in the middle of he front seat could control the speed and direction of the boat with a gas pedal and steering wheel. As Kenny stood in line for the ride, a group of six nuns joined the line right behind him.  Kenny thought of a riddle he heard at church: What’s black and white and black and white and black and white?  A nun falling down a flight of stairs.

When his turn came, Kenny climbed into the boat and took off, getting the feel of the steering after a few nerfs of the edges of the canal.  Behind him, the nuns moved away from the boarding area much more tentatively.  He thought to himself that he was glad that he wasn’t trapped behind them.

Within just a few minutes, Kenny was priding himself on his ability to navigate the narrow, serpentine canal at speed without hitting the edges.  The nuns fell further behind.  When he had cruised a little more than half the canal, he saw ahead the side canal where the boats could be shunted into the servicing and storage shop.  There were movable gates at the side canal, but they were set back a few inches from the bank of the main canal.

From previous experience, Kenny knew that the canal was wider than the length of the boat at that point.  By carefully maneuvering – taking into account the current in the canal caused by the propellers of all the boats – it was just possible to turn the boat around and go against traffic.  The most significant factor was the attention of the attendant.  If he was at another part of the canal, moving errant boats with his boat hook, Kenny had a chance.

Kenny quickly scanned the canal, sighting the attendant on the other side of the island, attempting to untangle a pair of boats that had become lodged together.  Seeing his chance, Kenny gauged the current and steered for the left side of the canal, nerfing the edge as he did.   Then, at precisely the right moment, he whipped the boat’s wheel full over to the right.  The boat came about slowly, finally sticking its nose into the extra few inches of the side canal, nudging the gates.  By keeping the wheel hard over and the power up, Kenny was able to get the stern of the boat to swing around as the nose slowly scraped along the gates of the side canal.  Finally, the nose came free, and Kenny centered the wheel as he headed “upstream.”

The nuns were laughing and giggling as their boat staggered from side to side in the canal, Mother Superior (Kenny guessed) frantically turning the wheel first one way and then the other in a futile attempt to successfully navigate the canal.  They were all oblivious to Kenny’s approaching boat until he was nearly on top of them.  Then, one of the nuns shrieked as she became aware that the boat ahead of them was no longer going in the same direction as hers.

As all the nuns turned to look at Kenny’s approaching boat, Kenny thought: Time to get even for all those Catechism Classes.  The nuns’ boat was sliding along one wall of the canal, so without slackening speed, Kenny moved his boat to the opposite wall, not knowing if there would actually be room for the two boats to pass each other.  Secretly, Kenny doubted it.  For an instant, it looked like the boats might make it, but suddenly they collided starboard to starboard.

The filthy water of the canal, trapped between the closing boats, erupted in a huge sheet as the boats collided, and the speed of Kenny’s boat caused the sheet of bile-green water to be deflected toward the nuns.  Screaming in unison, the six nuns watched helplessly as the wall of putrid water descended upon them.  Hardly a drop of the glop fell on Kenny.

To the sound of running footsteps, Kenny watched as one after another of the boats collided into the nuns’ boat and then into each other in a chain reaction.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, kid?” the attendant yelled, as he reached for Kenny’s boat with his boat hook.  More boats continued to accumulate in the blocked canal.

“I just got turned around,” Kenny feigned innocence. “I couldn’t help it.”

The attendant pulled Kenny’s boat back to the side of the canal and opened the gate into the service area, where he could maneuver Kenny’s boat out of the main canal to let the log jam clear.  Finally, the attendant told Kenny that he could follow the rest of the boats to the end of the canal.  Kenny feared that the half-dozen nuns were waiting for him at the exit, but when he got there, he found that he was wrong.  They probably went back to church to change their dirty habits, Kenny thought.



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