Palisades Amusement Park had to be one of Kenny’s
favorite places in all the world. During the summer, whenever he
little spare change, he’d hop on the Public Service trolley and ride
Palisade Park. Nobody ever really called it Palisades Amusement
and Kenny’s grandma even called it “Polisade Park.” His parents allowed him to go on any of the rides,
his mother forbade him going to the pool. Every mother
crowded pools harbored Infantile Paralysis, so Kenny never go to enjoy
the artificial waves and water falls in Palisades’ salt-water
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.
was no different from the rest. Kenny would enjoy the rides, but
the pool. After transferring at Nungessers, the trolley dropped
right in front of the park entrance, but Kenny didn’t enter the park
through the front gate, though, because that required a ticket.
scooted around to the back of the park where it overlooked the Hudson River. His friend, Wayne,
showed him the gate that the maintenance men used to gain access to
huge “PALISADES AMUSEMENT PARK” sign that faced the river.
gate was chained, Kenny was able to squeeze through.
Entry was a little more hazardous this time
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
customers. Once safely across no-man’s land, Kenny ran to the
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
table inside the kiosk. When a sufficient number of patrons had
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
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
mental bets, contenting himself to watch the behavior of the
After a while, Kenny could identify individual mice, and could predict
their behavior – meandering or streaking – but never their choice of
Behind him was the Scenic Railway, a roller
second – in Kenny’s mind – only to the Cyclone at Coney Island.
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
assessment was rather suspect. The Scenic Railway was an
ride, so Kenny rarely rode it. He preferred to save his money
and listen to the steady “tick, tick, tick” as the car climbed the
hill of the Scenic Railway, and then watch the gyrations of the
whitewashed wooden web work as the car traversed the track. At
he found the sway and vibration of the strings of lights that lined
track – many missing a number of bulbs – fascinating.
After watching a few cycles of the Scenic
Kenny loped to the Dodge ‘Em’s to do battle against the
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
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
perhaps because of girl pilots – made few sparks. Before the
ended, he had selected several candidate cars.
When the bell rang, indicating the end of the
Kenny tensed nervously, eyes swiveling between the best cars. As
chain came down, admitting the new batch of customers, Kenny sprang
his first choice, but was cut off by a bigger, redheaded kid.
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
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
steering mechanism. Without the stop, Kenny knew that he could
car to go completely backwards. This feature not only allowed
extricate himself from big pile-ups, but also to plough backwards into
bell rang and the cars were off in a cascade of sparks. Kenny’s
victim would be the kid who had taken “his” car. By circulating
the center of the oval floor and by – easily – avoiding the attempts
collisions by some girls, Kenny gained on his unsuspecting
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
trailed Kenny for almost a lap, perhaps two car lengths behind.
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
floor, accelerator pedal mashed full down. Kenny’s car hit the
straight on. The impact compressed the cushioning springs of the
crash bar, and spit Kenny’s car straight backwards into Howdy with
unanticipated force. Howdy’s head snapped forward as though he
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
car straight backwards, quickly gobbling up the space between his car
and Howdy’s. Kenny’s car hit Howdy’s another stout shot and
the wheel and drove away contentedly. The ride attendant eyed
His next target was a pair of girls who couldn’t
to get their car to go in the intended direction. Their sawing
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,
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
out straight, simultaneously propelling himself back to the seat and
increasing the car’s forward momentum. The impact was
great, catapulting the girls into the crash wall. Unfortunately,
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
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
bowl stood, and climbed the stairs to the rim. He felt the
structure shake as the motorcycles circled the bowl. From the
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
floor, and as they gained speed, to progressively climb the sides of
cylinder. Ultimately they circled the cylinder as though
During the warm-up, anyone could watch free of
charge, so Kenny stuck around to see the action. The announcer,
to drum up business, bragged that the riders would “…puh fawm dis
feat widout even touchin’ da handow bahs.” Everyone watched and
for one of the riders to either fall to the bottom of the bowl or
right out of the open top, but that never happened. After a few
minutes, Kenny concluded that the actual show was probably not worth
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
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
Simple in concept, the ride consisted of about
eight cars, each suspended from an overhead arm by two long
rest, the cars were a few feet from the ground, but as he ride
the cars swung out on the cables by centrifugal force so that they
into the air. Each car had an open cockpit in front of a large,
”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
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,
had strived to achieve the ultimate Flying Scooter goal: getting the
to go backwards. On previous visits, he had deftly handled the
airfoil, making the car first swing wide on its cables and then
down toward the central pylon of the ride. The dive turned the
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
oscillate the car in and out along its direction of travel, hoping to
increase the swing on each oscillation. For several
car gained amplitude, swinging alternately ever closer and then ever
further from the pylon. Then, much to Kenny’s displeasure, it
into a steady rhythm, the car’s forces failing to further defy
At the top of one of the swings, instead of
the front airfoil to the left – the normal procedure to initiate the
downward swing – Kenny centered the blade. Slowly, the car
slide toward the central pylon, but as it did, Kenny sensed that the
continued to rotate against the direction of travel. Eventually,
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
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
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
the exit, he heard, “And don’t come back!”
Slowing his pace, Kenny trotted to the
another of his favorites. The motorboats floated in a canal that
a circuitous course surrounding a central island where the boats were
stored and serviced. Because the canal was narrower than the
the boats, the boats could not be turned around, so they all traveled
the same direction. Water in the canal was even dirtier then the
in Mussolini’s Bathtub, so Kenny could only guess its depth.
Each boat looked like a runabout with two seats,
wide enough for three riders. The rider in the middle of he
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
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
off, getting the feel of the steering after a few nerfs of the edges
the canal. Behind him, the nuns moved away from the boarding
more tentatively. He thought to himself that he was glad that he
trapped behind them.
Within just a few minutes, Kenny was priding himself
on his ability to navigate the narrow, serpentine canal at speed
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.
movable gates at the side canal, but they were set back a few inches
from the bank of the main canal.
previous experience, Kenny knew that the canal was wider than the
of the boat at that point. By carefully maneuvering – taking
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
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
of boats that had become lodged together. Seeing his chance,
gauged the current and steered for the left side of the canal, nerfing
the edge as he did. Then, at precisely the right moment,
the boat’s wheel full over to the right. The boat came about
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
Kenny was able to get the stern of the boat to swing around as the
slowly scraped along the gates of the side canal. Finally, the
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
in a futile attempt to successfully navigate the canal. They
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
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
canal, so without slackening speed, Kenny moved his boat to the
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
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
helplessly as the wall of putrid water descended upon them.
drop of the glop fell on Kenny.
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
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, kid?” the
attendant yelled, as he reached for Kenny’s boat with his boat
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
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
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
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
dirty habits, Kenny thought.