Kennywood season is upon us and the Idler is pretty excited! Because I remember as a kid feeling sorry for the old folks who sat on the benches and watched everyone else ride, and now I think I am one! Remember your aunts who set the picnic table and worried about the potato salad spoiling when they could have been riding the Jackrabbit? The uncles who heaved big coolers of pop and beer around instead of having a go at the Racer? What was up with that? Then, after a picnic lunch, your uncle took your aunt for a ride in a rowboat. You could never have imagined them doing anything like that. And yet there they went, Uncle George manning the oars like he did it every day, puffing on a White Owl; Aunt Dorothy smiling but looking a little doubtful, shielding her eyes from the sun.
There used to be pony rides too. We always felt a little sorry for the animals on the hot days. And every day seemed to be hot at Kennywood. They used to oil the parking lot to keep the dust down. Can’t you still smell that stuff? Olfactory memories seem to last so long. The smell of cotton candy seemed to grab you as soon as you emerged from the tunnel, and popcorn too and whatever lubricant they used on the “Turnpike” cars.
Back in the day you just waltzed right into the park. You paid for each ride by buying tickets at a nearby booth which you handed over to the ride operators. The ticket sellers all seemed to the youthful Idler to be elderly ladies. It was 15 cents a ticket and the Pippin (now the Thunderbolt) cost 3. You could barely see them in there – there was a pretty tight screen in front – and they usually seemed a little grouchy, at least with us kids. You’d see them step out of their booths occasionally so as not to succumb to heat stroke.
A friend of ours was at a family Kennywood picnic one fateful day when the immutable laws of physics collided with the latest advancement in textile technology. The Rotor was a ride that illustrated the concept of centrifugal force. You and your fellow riders placed yourselves in a cylindrical chamber with your backs to the walls. Imagine a sort of giant soupcan. Then the can began to spin and as the speed increased, you felt yourself pinned to the wall. The floor beneath you was withdrawn but you stayed put because of centrifugal force! Unknown to the creators of the Rotor, there was another force at work keeping you “put” and that was friction. Our friend’s Aunt Sophie was wearing a dress made from the “miracle fabric” of the 60’s, Rayon. Rayon eliminated friction and as a result, when the floor dropped away from beneath Aunt Sophie, she went sliding down the wall, inch by inch, while her Rayon dress stayed put. First, her slip was showing, then, progressively more and more of Aunt Sophie was revealed to her fellow riders until she was left shrieking through billowing folds of Rayon and, as our correspondent described it, “thrashing around in her gutchies”.
Ah, memories. But there’s no more Rotor and there’s no more Rayon and very few red-faced aunties anymore. See you on the Thunderbolt!
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