Sunday, June 26, 2022

the bump

Before Disneyland and Disney World and even Great Adventure (and before they were absorbed under the Six Flags masthead), amusement parks with rides were exclusive to the seashore resorts... as far as I was concerned. Look, I lived a sheltered life, I suppose. I only got to see amusement park rides at temporary school fairs or on those dangerous-looking trucks that would roam my neighborhood on weekends and summer afternoons. But, if I wanted to experience real, live amusement park rides, I would have to wait for a day trip or an extended weekend stay in Atlantic City. My father, not one to travel, would occasionally (and often begrudgingly) take our family to Atlantic City. My mom, my brother and I would love to go. My dad didn't care what his family wanted and when he finally relented, he acted as though he had just donated a kidney.

I loved going to Atlantic City, specifically for the famous Boardwalk. There were games of chance and soft-serve ice cream cones and salt water taffy and arcades. Yeah, there was the beach and the ocean, but those I could have done without. The real draw was the (now long-gone) Million Dollar Pier, jam packed with rides set up much too close to each other, damning all fire safety precautions. Walkways between rides were strewn with a tangled mess of heavy electrical cables. This was long before the days of "lawsuits at the drop of a hat." You tripped and your kneecap became embedded with a zillion splinters? Get up and keep walking... and be careful next time! 

My brother loved the bumper cars. As an adolescent, he honed his future driving abilities on those compact, exposed electricity-powered little death traps. Being too small to ride, as determined by an official-looking sign at the entrance to the ride, I was relegated to watch through a chain-link fence as my brother deftly guided his vehicle through the clumps of other cars, avoiding bumps while delivering same to defenseless fellow riders. With my fingers curled around the fencing, I'd marvel as my brother would weave around the slick floor, slamming randomly into other cars, only to make a clean getaway before a retaliatory blow could be received. It was all in fun, though, and riders would laugh as they exited at the ride's conclusion.

If you've ever ridden the bumper cars, you always remember that one guy, right? The guy who gets stuck in a corner, next to some non-operating vehicles, unable to free himself. While other riders race and bump and laugh, this poor guy just rumbles back and forth for most of the ride's allotted time, until he is finally spotted by the ride operator who frees him and, while standing on the rear bumper, guides him back to the entrance, arriving just as the power shuts off and the ride is over. Three tickets! Wasted!

My brother and a couple of his friends devised a plan when they rode the bumper cars. A plan to enhance their own fun. Once situated in their cars, my brother and his friends would select a rider and target him to ruin his ride. They'd chase after him and taking turns pinning him in a corner, trapping him for the entire ride, denying him the fun of racing around the floor and bumping into other riders. One evening, after picking their cars, my brother and three of his friends pointed to one guy and pegged him as their victim. They didn't know him. They had no connection to him. They just looked around and pointed. The power surged through the vehicles and the ride began. The plan was enacted. The ride floor was dimly lit, bathed in blacklight, distorting any details of other rider's faces. But they zeroed in on their target and they pinned this guy in a corner. My brother first, then each of his friends — one at a time. Their "victim" said nothing, but his anger was apparent from his body language. He was hunched over the steering wheel and bobbed his shoulders each time his vehicle was rammed with a confining bump. My brother and his friends were giddy and gleeful as their underhanded plan unfolded. In the darkness, they could hear a few frustrated exhales, but most were drowned out by the loud Top 40 hits that were piped in through the tinny speakers mounted at the floor's corners. The ride ended. The power stopped, bright lights came up and my brother and his friends got out of their vehicles and made their way to the exit. Their chests were puffed out and they laughed in their achievement.

Until, they saw the guy they pinned.

He rose from his tiny car.... and he kept on rising. With the bright lights on, they saw this guy stood well over six feet tall. He was wearing a tank top and he had muscles. Big muscles. His muscles had muscles. And he was not happy. Not. At. All. He pointed an angry finger at my brother and his friends and hollered "YOU!" and the look on his face revealed his displeasure with three little punks ruining his ride and making him waste three tickets.

This happened easily fifty years ago. I think they are still running.

No comments:

Post a Comment