A Barrel of Fun

Beth, who was sitting in an armchair in her mother’s living room and looking at her phone shortly after lunch on Tuesday, gasped quietly.

I looked up from the couch, where I was reading the newspaper, and asked why. “A room may have opened in the Breakers,” she said. We’d been in Wheeling a couple days and we were headed for Cedar Point the next day. The Hotel Breakers is the oldest hotel associated with the park. The original portion dates back to 1905, with larger modern wings, and it’s where Beth’s family stayed during her childhood trips to the park. When Beth and I visited Cedar Point in college she fantasized about us staying there together, though of course at the time it was out of the question financially. The next time we came to Cedar Point was much later, the summer Noah was five and June was an infant and that time we stayed in a cottage right on the lake.

There had been no vacancies at the Breakers when Beth made our reservations for this year’s trip, but she’d been checking online every day and within minutes of seeing the vacancy, she’d cancelled our original reservation and made a new one. Afterward, she was all smiles. She really wanted to stay in that hotel.

We had a pleasant stay in Wheeling. In various combinations, we attended an outdoor concert at Oglebay Park and rode the paddle boats and played miniature golf there as well. We swam in the pool at Beth’s aunt Carole’s condo and in our hotel pool.

YaYa and two of her three sisters played the customized Monopoly game (Sisters-opoly) that Noah made for them. All the properties and good luck/bad luck cards are based on significant places and memorable experiences in their lives. It was fun listening to them play, arguing anew over whether or not one of them avoided her turn doing the dishes back in the 1950s and hearing about the teasing Jenny (the youngest sister) endured as a child for believing the pimento grew in the olive.

As they played we listened to the CD of Noah’s band camp concert. Noah put it on shuffle and occasionally made people guess which of the three age groups was playing.  Not to be outdone by her brother’s performance, June sang songs from Oliver! for YaYa on several occasions during our stay.

Each kid had an individual sleepover with YaYa, June on Monday night and Noah on Tuesday. June was indignant on Monday evening when we didn’t leave right after dinner, but instead stayed during what she thought would be her private time with YaYa (the Sisters-opoly game was still in progress and Noah was playing).  When we left, twenty-five minutes after June had her bath and gone to bed, she came down the stairs in her shark pajamas saying, “I just wanted to see you leave.” But we left her with YaYa until lunch the next day and they had a lot of fun so she was appeased.

It so happened that when Beth, June, and I were leaving YaYa’s after dinner the next night (when Noah was staying behind for his sleepover), he was upstairs reading. As we left he came down the stairs to say, “I just wanted to see you leave.” Who knows? It may become a catchphrase in our family.

Oberlin, OH: Wednesday Afternoon

The next morning we set out for Cedar Point with a pit stop in Oberlin, Beth’s and my alma mater.

We arrived around lunchtime, in a heavy downpour.  This seemed appropriate as it rains and snows a lot in Oberlin, because of the moist air from nearby Lake Erie. Most of the restaurants from our era have closed in the twenty-four years since I graduated from college so we ate at a very nice organic restaurant with a good selection of vegetarian entrees. There were a lot of professorial-looking people eating there and the wait staff consisted of impossibly young people we were forced to admit were probably students.  (Were we ever that young? I don’t think we were.)

After lunch we took the kids to Gisbon’s bakery, which we were glad to see was still in business. I got a whole-wheat doughnut, one of my favorite college day treats, and a buckeye for later.  Beth bought a t-shirt at the bookstore and then we took the kids on a walking tour of dorms, co-ops, and one apartment building where we lived in college. We took Noah’s picture in front of Noah Hall, the dorm where Beth I and met my first day of college, and after which we named him.  So June wouldn’t feel left out, we took her picture under the Memorial Arch where I think I remember having the discussion (about a year into our relationship) in which we jokingly decided that if we ever had a daughter we’d give her Beth’s and my middle names (traditional names in both our families) for her first and middle names, which is, of course, exactly what we did eighteen years later.

Cedar Point, Sandusky, OH: Wednesday afternoon to Friday morning

It was late afternoon when we got to the hotel. I remembered the lobby with its stained glass windows and chandeliers from walking through it on previous visits and I had a strong association of nursing June on its benches.  In the first floor corridors there are old-time black and white photos of people on the beach, riding long-gone rides, and quite of few of different people posing in a barrel with the words “Barrel of Fun” painted on it.

We unpacked and relaxed for a while in one of the several swimming pools and hot tubs.  Noah and I wanted to go swim in the lake and June didn’t, so we left her with Beth and he and I waded into the calm and pleasantly cool waters of the lake.

There are a number of restaurants in the Breakers and if Beth and I had our way, we’d have eaten in the Japanese one, but it seemed more likely we’d find something everyone would eat at Perkins, so we ate there.  The service was quite slow, so it was past June’s bedtime when we finished and we headed up to our room.

The next morning we were lined up to enter the park by 8:45 a.m. People staying at the any of the hotels associated with park can enter at 9:00; everyone else is admitted at 10:00.  We split up until lunchtime.  Beth took June to the kiddie rides and carnival games at which they won a blue stuffed dog. Noah and I headed straight for the Iron Dragon, a moderately big hanging coaster that travels over a lagoon.  Part of the reason we came to Cedar Point this year was that on a band field trip to Hershey Park this spring, Noah discovered he liked roller coasters and we thought he might be at a good age to appreciate some of the big-kid rides for the first time.

Noah liked the Iron Dragon and it’s about my speed, too, so we rode it twice, and then went in search of a wooden coaster.  After a longish walk to all three and a well-considered visual inspection, we decided to start with the smallest one, the Blue Streak. I was glad we did because at 75 feet and 40 mph it ended up being a little much for Noah, who declined (rather forcibly) to ride it a second time.

After that it was hard for him to choose a ride.  He wanted to go on the mine ride but he was apprehensive so we rode the antique cars and the swings while he mulled it over.  Finally, after texting Beth to get its statistics for height and speed (she had an app for that on her phone), and finding out it was only half as tall as the Blue Streak and approximately as fast, we rode it.  It was pretty tame and he seemed happy to have done it.  There was a man sitting in the front seat, who screamed, “Oh my God!” at every little dip, presumably in jest; it was actaully really funny and helped break the tension. Noah would have liked to do the mine ride again, but by then it was time to meet Beth and June and have lunch.

We rode a few rides everyone wanted to do (the sky tram, the Ferris wheel, and the train that travels through various tableaux of skeletons engaged in activities such as playing in bands, making moonshine, sawing lumber, and shooting one another—it’s a sentimental favorite from Beth’s childhood and June loved it).  Next June rode the bumper cars and she and I rode the Woodstock Express, which is quite a respectable starter coaster with cars that look like a train.  In line she asked me, “Do you think I can handle this?”

I’d been wondering just that, hesitated just a moment, and said yes.  “What do you think?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said with confidence and I decided I didn’t need to say anything about how it was okay to get out of line.  Earlier at the Iron Dragon I’d witnessed a mother trying to force her weeping nine- or ten-year-old daughter onto the ride so I wanted to be careful about not pushing the kids past their limits, but June was grinning and ready and she was smiling all through the ride.

Next we visited Soak City, the water park just next to the main amusement park.  We went down waterslides, clambered on a path of lily pads, and floated down a river on inner tubes. We only stayed an hour because it was time for dinner by that point.

The Magnum goes right over part of the water park. I rode this coaster the week after I graduated from college, at which time it was the biggest coaster in the world.  It’s still one of the bigger ones in the park, though it doesn’t go upside down or have the cars hanging off the sides of the track or anything crazy like that. It’s just a very big coaster, with graceful, clean lines.  To my regret, I could never ride it now. But every now and then I would point it out to the kids and say something like, “Let’s all take a moment to admire the Magnum,” and remind them I’d ridden it in my glory days.

We ate in the park, and after June had a chance to jump on the Spoopy moon bounce we split up again. It was past June’s bedtime, so I was taking her back to the hotel, while Beth and Noah were planning to stay until the park closed at ten. June didn’t know I’d been considering letting her stay up and watch the nightly 9:30 firework show but around seven when the kids and I were sitting at a picnic table waiting for Beth to come back with burritos she put her new stuffed dog on the table and used it as a pillow and I couldn’t see keeping her up another three hours. She did perk up a little after eating so on the way back to the hotel, we detoured briefly to the beach where she collected seagull feathers and we relaxed in the chaise lounges.  She couldn’t believe I wasn’t hurrying her off to bed, but it was a lovely evening and we could see the bigger rides all lit up in different colors from the beach, and I wasn’t quit ready to end my day either.

Meanwhile, back at the park, Noah surprised Beth (and later me when I found out) by riding the Windseeker, a swing ride that goes up 300 feet in the air.  It is far from the most terrifying ride in the park, which has plenty of enormous coasters, including one that sends you hurtling to the ground at a 90-degree angle at 120 mph.  (Our family name for this one is the Paperclip, because that’s what it looks like, a giant paperclip standing up on end.) But it was intimidating enough. Beth says she checked his seat belt three times and was quite anxious until he returned to Earth. He says it’s not scary at all. Apparently he is more scared by fast drops and I am more scared by the idea of being that high up with no structure underneath me, but as he rode the Blue Streak and I did not ride the Windseeker, I think Noah qualified as the bravest one in the family on this trip, though his sister is close on his heels.

Around ten, I looked out the hotel window and stared at the cars sweeping up and down the big coasters in the dark, feeling a little sad both that my youth was behind me and that our trip was almost over as well.

Friday morning we visited the hotel gift shop where I bought a t-shirt that says “Cedar Point, America’s Roller Coast” and we strolled on the beach before hitting the road.  But after an intervening day of tennis practice, housework and errands, Sunday found us at the Montgomery County Fair where we spent all afternoon riding a Ferris wheel, a little coaster, swings and other rides all over again, because even though we did have a barrel of fun on our trip, we weren’t quite ready for the fun to end.