Friday, August 31, 2012

The Paradigm of Playland

Another Labor Day has landed putting some of us—possibly just me—in a reflective mood.

For me, Labor Day is an occasion to take a wistful look back to consider some of the past summer’s defining moments.

Like the time I filled the old green cooler with ice to take to a BBQ, but neglected to include the beer.

Or waking up early one hot Saturday to ride out to Jones Beach and forgetting to put on my bathing suit.

You know…those kinds of defining moments, the ones that seem to pop up much more frequently these days.

But looking back, there was one real summer defining moment that occurred this past July when Z and I took a stroll through the old, local amusement park nearby. The place I wrote about last year.

A Playland pilgrimage is just something we have to do, at least once every summer…plus it was fireworks night, which makes it all the better.

Of course we don’t do the rides or anything anymore; just stroll and people watch.

But this year our options were kind of limited in that department because I was kind of surprised at how empty the place was, especially for a nice mid-summer night….and, again, like I said, a fireworks night to boot.

You may recall from my story last year that I’ve always been a big Playland fan. But this time there was something different. This time, for the first time, it struck me…maybe this place has had its run…maybe it is time to move on.

Times change.

People change.

And time changes people.

I guess it’s a lot of things.

The economy, confusing pricing, the influx of bigger more elaborate parks fairly close by.

Not sure.

If you’re local, there’s no charge to get in and walk around, but you still have to go to the booth and show an ID in order to get a wrist band that shows you’re legit, even if you’re wearing a pink Izod shirt with the collar popped up.

Especially if you’re wearing a pink Izod shirt with the collar popped up….

So maybe even that little annoyance deters some folks.

All I know is my first thought was…this is not the Playland of my youth.

No crowds, no lines, no wait, no nothing….

Which for some is a good thing.

Not so much the county that runs the joint.

I guess that’s why there’s been a lot of discussion on whether or not to close the place or turn it into something more profitable.

Hey, how about a casino!

That always seems to do the trick….

Actually, most everyone knows there is an actual “Casino” on the premises, which is now a skating rink most of the time. Back in the day, you could actually dance to the sound of Big Bands in the “Casino”—I mean if you were actually born back then. By the time  I was a kid, the only thing you could boogie to was the sound of pin ball machines and the only thing you could hope to gamble on was whether or not you could get that little wooden skee-ball thing in the top spot or not. If you did, and did it enough times, you collected prize tickets and got to take home a nifty rubber frog, or something similar, yet equally as nice.

Good times!

And they were good times.

Playland was a place you looked forward to going all year long. Hearing that little bell and train whistle as your dad’s car rolled down the hill towards the parking lot, past the colorful array of flowers, got your heart pounding.  Seeing that big spinning Ferris wheel awakening with light in the early evening sky was enough to send you jumping out of the car before it even settled into a parking spot.

How many times would you ride that Dragon Coaster tonight?

Would you hold onto the rail like a sissy for dear life or boldly wave your arms over your head as you took that 50 foot plunge…or was it only 20?

Forget the coaster, what about “The Wild Mouse”. That thing actually threw people out of the car as it cut the corners on two wheels, or so the legend went.

Before the big fire in the mid 60’s you could spend an hour running around the old Fun House; that is if you could manage to make your way past that scary thing laughing at you from the top of the ticket booth.

Or casually stroll through the Magic Carpet ride, where various vampires in coffins liked to sit up and hiss at you. The girls would shriek and the guys showed their cool by merely laughing and pointing—at the girls and the ghouls—but quickened their pace just the same.

In between rides we would fill our bellies with hot dogs, lemonade and cotton candy, hoping against hope that’s where it would all stay, especially after a few turns on the “Tilt a Whirl” or “Over the Top”, the closest thing we had to space travel back then.

I could go on with this forever, from the helicopters, ponies and Caterpillar in Kiddie Land…to The Whip, The Derby Racer, Laff in the Dark, Bumper Cars…even the “Old Mill, which was known for its own brand of special thrills.

This was the Playland I remembered from the 60’s and 70’s as I walked down its disappointingly empty midway on a perfect 21st century summer night.  And for a lot of you who go back to the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, there’s an even a richer history to absorb.

Still, the one thing that didn’t disappoint was the look on the faces that did show up that night. Wide eyed and crazed on adrenaline and sugar; happy faces running from ride to ride without a plan other than to keep the endless supply of fun coming.

And then it struck me again…or re-struck me…or un-struck me…Playland hadn’t really changed at all.

So what if it was a somewhat less than full house?

The excitement generated by those happy faces alone—faces slicing through decades—was enough to fill a thousand amusement parks, night after night.

I said it last year and I’ll say it again. Playland is not about making money; it never was and it never should be. The paradigm of Playland is unique in and of itself that way.

It’s about the transcendent joy on the faces of those that do come and spend their hard earned dollars.  The wonder and awe that a simple hometown place called an eye sore and a money pit by some can generate and sustain, not only for a summer, but for generations of summers, past, present and hopefully still to come.

So what if I have to spend a few extra tax dollars to sustain that; I’m happy to do it.

It’s kind of nice to know some of my money is going towards filling folks with wonder and awe, for all the right reasons…at least for a change.

It’s the paradigm of Playland.

It has to be.

No ifs ands or buts about it……


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