The Blue Streak
When I was seven years old my parents split-up. This wasn’t too unusual. It happens to a lot of kids. That’s not the point of this story, but it is important to note.
Without a lot of money, my mom would do her best to make our holidays and summers as fun as she could. One of our regular trips was down to a little town in Western Pennsylvania where my aunt, uncle, and cousins lived. Situated not far from the Joy ice cream cone factory, their house was an amazing place. A backyard forest on a hill, big rope swing, my uncle had a cool MG that we rode around in…in short, a magical land for some city kids.
One place we would go during the summer was an amusement park called Conneaut Lake Park. This was an old school kind of park, maybe a bit dilapidated, but it held a kind of charming magic. The beat down old carnie’s, the terrible games with twisted stuffed toys, a place where only kids can really miss the dirtier parts and only focus on the fantasy of a place where fun is the only point. Safety was not a part of the thought process.
It was here that my Uncle Web introduced me to my first roller coaster experience. Up to this point I’d had a passing desire to get on a roller coaster, but height had coerced with minor fears and I’d managed to avoid them thus far.
It was a simple deal - Uncle Web would ride with me. My first roller coaster ride with my stand-in dad. It was going to be amazing. In retrospect, I realize he never would have been so keen (or able to convince me) had we taken the toy train ride prior to riding the Blue Streak. All the broken and peeling wooden beams and jagged nails surely would have been a big turn off for me.
Of course, that’s not how my uncle’s mind works. I’ve never been able to confirm, but I think he was well aware of what we were getting into. Regardless, as I was blissfully unaware, we got in line.
Right around this time, my Aunt Leigh broke off conversation with my mom and joined us. She was super excited to ride a roller coaster with her husband, and why not? What could be more romantic?
Except for that made three.
Being a gracious young man, I moved to the queue for the car ahead of them. I was on my own, showing no fear outwardly, but quaking in my short shorts - those ones every kid had in the early 80’s. Then came the Streak cars. It took everything to not bolt.
The rickety car came trundling into the gatehouse as only an old beater rollercoaster train can. I watched the previous tenants of my car leave, laughing and loving life, and I moved to enter the car. Two things became apparent rather quickly: I was too small for this ride and there was no safety harness.
I don’t mean there was a lack of fancy modern age safety devices. I mean there was a bar nailed to the car in front of me and a wooden bench with no seatbelt, cushion, or anything else one might find in the milieu of “safety devices”.
And so began the ride of my life. With the continuous laughter of my aunt and uncle behind me, I gripped the rail with as much strength as my tiny body would allow. We began to rise…slowly. If we made it to the top of the hill, I might survive. I was somewhat hoping that would at least happen or we’d get stuck at the top. So long as we didn’t start rolling backward…that would mean a heart attack. I would not survive that.
Up we went - and then down. And then it happened.
I was a small child. Weight was not something I ever worried about though later in life I did learn my mother felt I could have maybe been heavier. I believe the medical term is “skin and bones” according to my Gram.
As we went down, gravity disappeared. The world pulled away from me, or perhaps I pulled away from the world, for the first time. And with it, so did the fear. I could feel like an astronaut, I could reach the stars! The laws of physics didn’t apply to me - I was a demigod, riding the undulating waves of the air and thrilling at the motion as it pulled me through its paces.
In all too short a time, the ride ended. My uncle smiled wondering how I felt since I hadn’t uttered a whoop or scream through the entirety of the ride. But the look on my face stopped his questioning. That day, I joined the ranks of the riders. On my own, unassisted and unhindered.
And I haven’t looked back since.
I saw a recent article about how the park is reopening, Blue Streak and all. I don’t think it would be the same. I’m no longer a young boy, my uncle is a little bit older, and, somehow, I think the Blue Streak is the one most suffering from getting soft in the middle.
But in a summer in the early 80’s, it was the world and a way away from it. It was an escape in an endless circle of track. It was a ship to the heavens. If just for a few minutes.