Sunday, September 14, 2014

One last ride

She sidled up to the chipmunk, as she had so many times over the last 10 seasons, and twisted around to look up. Her squint-eyed expression, a beacon of hoping beyond hope.

“Well? Am I there?”

“Sadly, my friend, you are not.”

It was June and we were at Hoffman's Playland. Ittybit was two inches shy of the line separating her from her intentioned ride – The Bumper Cars.

There are many things I wish I could give my children, but average height is genetically beyond my ability to provide. The chipmunk and I never saw eye-to-eye.

Deflated, but not destroyed, she skipped away from the only shady area in the place and headed for The Scrambler. That's her favorite, anyway: a pair of sardine cans attached to an arm that shuffles between four other cans until its passengers turn green.

She can't get enough.

Sad is the word that best describes emotions surrounding today's closing of this tea-cup-sized fun park after 62 years in business.

Although it had evolved over the years – growing from its original two mechanical rides to include more than 20 rides and attractions – Hoffman's Playland never really changed. It offered a warm pocket of nostalgia in a garment that you thought you had outgrown.

That's how it felt, to me anyway, the first time we brought Ittybit to Hoffman's when she was a tot.
I hadn't thought about the place since my parents brought me there. So it came as a surprise how perfectly perfectly it still fit. Not only could I scrunch in beside her on the Rock, Spin & Roll (a ride we had mistakenly referred to as the Spinning Dog Dishes), all 200-pounds of my husband could float high above the park in the Balloon Flight, as well.

I would have called it magical, too, had it not been for a different kind of revelation that Hoffman's made perfectly clear a few rides later. ...

Somewhere in the vastness of time – exactly where between the last ride of an intricate loop-the-loop roller coaster in college, and the first moment Hoffman's carousel started to turn while I held onto my infant equestrian, is unclear – I had become a victim of motion sickness.

As soon as the horizon shifted and the air pressure changed, my stomach started to churn.
Oh sure, the Tilt-a-Whirl seemed tame for the first few swings, but by the end of the ride I was regretting my morning coffee and not interested in lunch at all.

Eventually, my husband and I would wind up playing Rock, Paper, Scissors to see which one of us would have to go on the Rock, Spin & Roll.

The season I was pregnant, My father even gallantly offered to go on the bigger rides that his tiny granddaughter preferred. I'll never forget how scared I was as the two of them spun about seemingly miles overhead. I was left on the ground, finally reading the caution sign beyond “Pregnant Women” to where it had mentioned “Heart Patients.”

We all make mistakes.

People think the age difference between our children was planned for lofty, developmental purposes. But really we just wanted her to be tall enough to accompany her brother on the big-kid rides at Hoffman's.

This year, it paid off.

We visited the park one last time in September to say our goodbyes.

We wound around the park, taking turns on all their favorite rides. I stood at the fence holding a camera as they waited in line.

Finally, we made our way to the Bumper Cars. This time when she stood next to the chipmunk, he was the bearer of good news. Over the summer, she had grown the two necessary inches.

But at the gate, another sign delivered the bad news: The ride was closed.

She was deflated, but not destroyed. Our family tradition of height-restriction disappointments will continue.

We took one last spin on the Iron Railroad, thanked Hoffman's for a perfect childhood experience, and called it the end of an era.

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