We make the trek to the Great America Wait Land, where the heat, crowds and desperation exceed the immigrant surge at Ellis Island.
Early on, my youngest son purchases blue cotton candy in Sam’s Club quantity. If we keep it airtight in a Ziploc, this snack will easily feed my great-great grandchildren.
My oldest rides an upside-down rollercoaster with my husband. They return, my son skipping, Dad bowlegged and grimacing. “They should call that thing the vasectomy ride.”
To give Dad a break, my oldest talks me into a rollercoaster. Thankfully, my primal screams are masked by the roar of the speeding tracks. I stagger out of the car, disoriented, about forty years older.
Of course, my son wants to hop right back on.
Instead, the Swiss Family Robinson heads toward the water ride. We wobble onto the rotating platform and stumble into a canoe. The kids settle in front, adults scrunch in back. I glance toward the ride’s summit, where we will plunge several hundred feet, be drenched like Poseidon extras and create a rogue wave that reverses the northeasterly current in Lake Michigan.
As we ride, the boat slants like a see-saw, whamming against the narrow canals.
“Our weight’s making the hull scrape the bottom,” my husband says. “Quick. Lighten the load. Toss that cotton candy.”
I snort. “The parking stub weighs more.”
“Then pitch your purse.”
“Nay, Captain Ahab.”
He’s silent, eyeing me.
“Toss me overboard, fella.” I nod at the kids. “And deal with those two alone.”
Panic registers in Ahab’s eyes. Not one Moby Dick, but two. Best not to make the first mate angry.
We mariners absorb the climatic splash like a cheap paper towel. Dripping, we exit. People stare. Water rides offer that special opportunity to prance around a theme park with plastered hair, raccoon eyes and frizzy ends. That’s when we women run into our old boyfriends who once thought we were cover girl beauties.
Meanwhile, with the slick determination of a pool hustler, my youngest cleans up at the side attractions. First score: a red stuffed dog so large, that we pay admission for it. His second score is a wolf-logo basketball which he almost bounces into the spinning tea cup ride.
The tea cup operator gives me a dirty look and shouts, “They radioed me from the water ride. Warned me you were in the vicinity.”
“Oh,” I say. “The giant red dog tip you off?”
“No. They said look for a miserable soaked woman with blue cotton candy.”
“That describes about 90 per cent of the moms here.”
By three o’clock, Great America is packed. My husband and oldest want one final ride on the Ragin’ Bull. I glance at the sign. “The waiting time from this point is 45 minutes.” I cross out ‘45 minutes’ and substitute the word ‘hopeless.’
We limp back to the van. Dad hobbles like a cowhand from a three-day cattle drive. I’m nursing a third-degree sunburn and have a welt on my leg from the canoe. Cotton candy residue makes my skin sticky, and the dog’s stuffing coats me. Yep. Jarred, tarred and feathered.
While we’re shell-shocked zombies, my children bubble with volcanic energy. They review their winnings like they’ve just come from a Vegas casino and ask:
“What was your favorite ride, Dad?”
“The ride home.”