Tuesday, May 31, 2005

a theme park where the theme is "suck"

Over the Delaware and through the Jersey woods, to Six Flags Great Adventure we rode. To ride the newest World's Tallest and Fastest Roller Coaster - Kingda Ka.

One small problem with that goal - you gotta contend with Six Flags Great Adventure.

It is really a prime example of what happens when a theme park gets way too big for it's britches. The park's core, designed approximately 35 years ago, is a charming mix of shops, restaurants and boardwalk-style games. The decor is reminiscent of Candy Land, with sconces resembling ice cream cones and gum drops on the building facades. It is situated next to a lovely lake, that they use for a water skiing show. Ferris wheel. Carousel. Fully-grown trees offering shade. It harkens back to a kinder era.

The place has many roller coasters, most of which have been built in the past decade. It's obvious they spent some money on them, as they have all the latest styles - linear launch modes, suspended looping twisting coasters, twisters. They have expanded the park to accomodate these new large coasters, and seem to add a new ride every couple of years.

It all sounds pretty good. Or, potentially, pretty good. But for every Alpha, there must be an Omega. Every Everest has a Death Valley, every rose has its thorn, and every Kurt has his Courtney. Six Flags Great Adventure has more errors than Galludet University's baseball team and more flaws than 3 dollar pants at Marshall's Clearance Rack.

First - with all of the new construction, there are parts of the park that are off limits. I can understand blocking off a section around a ride that's getting demolished, but, they also closed off the adjoining walkway - thereby forcing a 20 minute walk-around when it would have ordinarily a 5 minute walk at worst. In another section, a fake paintball game blocks a walkway connecting park sections, forcing yet another long walk-around. Even the brand-new section, featuring the new Kingda Ka, has rather narrow walkways, with barely enough room to hold 8 adults wide. In theme park world, that's next to nothing. Bad, bad theme park feng shui.

Second - I know theme parks don't attract only med school students and suburban high school teachers, but DAMN there were some ugly fat hateful people there. One of the advantages of being a theme park halfway between Philadelphia and New York City is the ability to draw from a population pool of nearly 25 million people within a 90 minute drive. However, it seems only the people with missing chromosomes and bad body piercings were able to attend. The line for The Chiller was full of gangbangers and the women who love them. The midway area near the Great American Scream Machine featured large, flabby women screaming "oh no you DI' INT!!" to other large, flabby women when expressing disbelief in either the other large, flabby women riding the ride or even attempting to squeeze their gargantuan pooh banks into the ride's cars.

What is it about theme parks attracting the fat and ugly? I have to admit, that after a Saturday night full of seafood and Jaegermeister, I was feeling less-than-perfect at the park. Not looking nor acting my normal gorgeous self. After spending a day being surrounded by folks that the men's and women's grooming magazines have yet to attract, I felt downright loving and pithy. Five-foot-tall Jersey boys wearing New Jersey Nets hats, bandanas and jerseys. 400 pound women in tank tops. Greased-back crew cuts on mongloid pizza cooks still bitter they failed their Sopranos' audition. More fake bling than a Chinese street vendor. People with more tattoos than job prospects.

The scariest site I saw was of a disgustingly fat woman, walking by the log flum ride, walking with two other pure examples of delicate femininity, wearing a black lace top - I swear, it was a low-cut black lace wifebeater - with these two deflated, sprawling, sagging airbags that may have once upon a time been human breasts, hanging under her armpits, with two large, black Iron Crosses tattoo'd where there used to be cleavage. Happy Valley, this wasn't. Her fat demonic offspring ran in front of her, rushing to the log flume for his monthly bath, and probably, secretly, hoping to reclaim his birthright as the Satanic spawn described in the Book of Revelations.

Theme park rides are designed for people UP TO, not over, 6'3", 260 pounds. Europeans seem to be the best coaster designers - Intamin, AG comes to mind - and Europeans are usually smaller than us hearty Yanks. Anyone above that weight limit stresses the bolts, servos, gears, wheels, bearings and inborn sensibilities of any college-educated person who has to see these biped cows squeeze into size 6 spandex shorts. It looked like somebody was trying to smuggle a Bhudda under a camisole.

For some reason, I'll never be able to look at Pillsbury's cookie dough tubes the same way again.

Third - The park is dirty, and could easily be cleaned. When ya get to a theme park at 10:20AM, ya don't expect to see overflowing trashcans, but damn, if that's not what ya get at Six Flags, Great Adventure. Great first impression - trashcans overflowing into the bushes and flowers around the front gate.

Don't even get me started on the bathrooms. Apparently, people in New Jersey either don't know how, or can't be bothered, to aim. Suffice it to say, the bathroom scene in Trainspotting when Ewan McGregor dives into a toilet seems a little less disturbing.

Fourth - I had no idea it was so hard to be a roller coaster mechanic. Obviously, an advanced degree in complex Euclidian geometry and Newtonian Physics are needed to make sure wheels stay on a track. I didn't realize that a knowledge of quantum mechanics was required to be a mechanic. I'm sure they have to have basic ideas on hydraulics, machinery, collision avoidance - but shouldn't they work on the rides after hours?

I'm not talking about life-and-death type repairs, mind you. The whole day was marred with Cletus and Earl, who, if those aren't their names, then they should be - as they took their damned sweet time checking over the rides.

Cletus and Earl were watching the Great American Scream Machine - as the coaster goes through the first series of loops, it hits a flat stretch and a braking system is activated. For testing purposes, the ride is closed and the cars are emptied. On that flat stretch, the brakes were too strong, stopping the car. Apparently, Cletus and Earl were BAFFLED by this, and the idea of adjusting the brakes, or, adding weight to the car (where more weight would equal more momentum. Basic physics folks, try to keep up) were shocking to them. So, when the empty train hit the flat part, and the overactive brakes kicked in...the car came to a stop. So, either Cletus or Earl - couldn't tell, but it was one of them - had to walk up an access stairway, roughly 8 stories up, and push the train free. He then walked back down the steps; they launched another train, and forgot to adjust the brakes, thereby repeating the cycle.

And sadly, Stephen Hawking is the one who's dying...

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE PARK - the park is filling up well-past-comfortable levels of New Jerseyians. The park simply was not prepared to handle the massive amount of people who would (shockingly!) visit a convenient theme park located with a 90 minute drive of 20 million folks with the world's newest fastest and tallest roller coaster on a lovely day. I can't see why anybody would go to a theme park on a 79 degree, sunny day. Which leads me to...

Fifth - if you're going to run a theme park, don't run out of drinking water. And, if you do, don't have your little peon employees snap at the customer when it's clearly the park, and not the customers', fault. I wanted a small bottled water - don't have the nerve to serve me a large water and charge me the exaggerated price. YOUR fault you ran out of stuff, not the consumers. Not cool. Which leads me to...

Sixth - if you're going to clear-cut the old-growth forest to make room for a new ride, thereby getting rid of the natural shade, how about supplying some? Direct sunlight, high sun angle - and you've got 1000's of feet of line out of shade. To quote Homer Simpson, S-M-R-T. That leads me to...

Seventh - if you're going to have lines with time estimates at the ride's gates, make them at least somewhat accurate. This leads me to Major Problem # 1 with SF-GA - The line at the Superman ride said two hours. We entered the line at 3:15pm, as the park was being examined by Cletus and Earl. Multiple coasters were shut down, and the lines became ridiculous all over. However, Superman, one of the few coasters that remained open, was running on ONE train. It took almost 8 minutes to load the train, launch it, let it ride, then disembark, and repeat. The train holds 32 people. The mental midgets who ran the ride allowed empty seats, not asking for single riders and double riders and those who just didn't care anymore if they wanted to ride, at least making the trip that much more bearable. One one loop, they let 7 empty seats on the train - and there were about 800 people in line.

Trust me on the numbers. I had time to count.

At the two hour mark, we were still not halfway to the station. People in line, who were either tired, sun-baked, thirsty and/or desperately in need of urination, were leaving and rejoining the line. It was an informal group rule to allow folks to do this - after all, we were in this together. Of course, SF's Security Guards could let no amount of common sense go unpunished. I watched at least three occasions where SF's Geshtapo berated young children and their parents for allowing them to go pee in a bathroom. One guard even got in the face of a 12 year old girl near us, telling her he could have her thrown out for this evil transgression. Bear in mind, we'd been in line for 3 hours in a 2 hour wait. Instead of apologizing for their lack of management and math skills, the Six Flags' vendors came through and gave us lemonade...at full price, and the ice was mostly melted, to boot.

At 7:25, we finally reached the platform. From our vantage point, we could see where various rides were shutdown, tested, and restarted. We were two trains away from finally riding this damned thing. Of course...they shut it down for maintenance. No estimated time for repair. We waited 15 minutes longer before leaving for a last shot chance on Kingda Ka.

Of course...that line was closed.

We managed to get on the Great American Scream Machine, of which it is none of the above, and cut our losses. Of course, in line for the Scream Machine...Superman reopened.

We had planned on 2 rides, Superman and Kingda Ka, with over 7 hours remaining in the day. We got on neither. Apparently, you need to schedule a week to ride these two.

What bothers me about Six Flags-Great Adventure, was the complete and utter lack of empathy or customer service that the staff related to the patrons. Having a crush of people is one thing - but not making sure lines are moving, rides are working, and kids aren't getting harassed when they need to urinate. I wouldn't be nearly as mad if the park did the little things right when the big things go wrong. In the normal world, when a business makes a mistake, it goes out of it's way to make the customer feel better. "Sorry we botched the time estimate - here's a free lemonade."

And, here's what REALLY galls me - my friend Gina, a recent transplant to DC from Jersey, after recounting my SF-GA experience to her, said that it's typical SF-GA behavior. The place gets dirty, the rides are always broken, and the water in the log flume becomes...oily during the course of the summer.

There are about a dozen theme parks within a two-hour drive of Six Flags. Granted, most don't have as many rides - BUT AT LEAST THEY WORK!!! I challenge all of the billionaires lining up to buy a stake of the Washington Nationals to please divert some of that cash into a REAL theme park in the area. George Soros, you liberal Republican-hating machine - you don't have a chance of getting on the winning ownership group. Take that 400 mill and build a theme park that works. PLEASE!!

So, chalk this up to a lousy day at the park. Six Flags, the Anti-Busch Gardens! Come to Six Flags, Great Adventure, and Leave Your Standards at Home! Six Flags - At Least Our Shows Aren't Broken. Six Flags - We're Closer than Kennywood!

However, The Cletus and Earl Follies sounds pretty good.

And Kennywood and Dorney Park seem better and better.

- out

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

mangia mangia

Besides being Italian for "eat," it is also a term used in India to put glass shards and other sharp items on the string for their kite fighting competitions. Mangia is used to ruin the other kite's string, or the kite itself.

No wonder my two Indian coworkers shuddered when I told them "mangia! mangia!" when presenting them home made cookies.

Cookies of the week:

cranberry walnut
white chocolate hazelnut caramel
chocolate chip A (white chocolate/chocolate swirled chips)
chocolate chip B (caramel / chocolate swirled chips )

+ surprisingly delicious low-carb peanut butter/chocolate brownies.

- Mr. Fields.

H2 Update

I parked on the top floor of the Largo parking garage today. Plenty of spaces on the level. Open space next to mine. H2 man was a couple of cars behind me. He parked in an empty space with plenty of open spaces around him.

Humans are so adaptable. See how they learn, and make changes according to the environment. Such a smart lil' thing!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Riding on the Metro-o-o-o-oh

Every week or so, the DCPost does at least one chat session about commuting on the Metro system - a tangled web of train and bus routes that theoretcially get you from point A to point B in a relatively safe, efficient manner. The DC Metrorail system has only been in place for 30-ish years - the design of the trains emotes a certain 1970s Disney World - monorail vibe, and the orange, brown and yellow train interiors simply SCREAMS "post-`60s design hangover." But, the trains themselves are graffiti-free, kept pretty clean, and homeless people are kept to a minium.

Except everybody on these chats is just BITTER - spittin' bile over some slight that they believe the Lords of the Rails perpetuated on them, individually, to make them late for some event - either getting to work, going home from work, or making them woefully late for a Nationals' game. The questions are fairly repetitive in nature - "When will the Potomac Avenue stop get it's elevator repaired?" "Why can't Metro keep the escalator at Braddock Road working?" "What's up with the crowds at the Metro Center?" "Who's that cute Asian girl who gets on at McPherson Square?"

The chat hosts respond as best they can - Metro is woefully underfunded by the regional governments, that the system has tried in vain to propose to new lines in different parts of town, yes, some people have lousy Metro etiquette - or, Metroquette, as I'd propose.

Sadly, nobody seems to know about the cute Asian girl at McPherson Square. I only see the same scruffy mechanical engineer from the Pentagon City stop. And I hope he's not giving me the eye anymore.

As I first began my commuting opus to Crystal City last month, I marvelled at how effectively Metro can move thousands of people throughout the Nations' Capital. Trains arriving and departing every 5 to 10 minutes, not too shabby. Having formerly lived in such mass transportation hotspots like Boston and Chicago, where trains have been around since the Roosevelt Administration (Teddy, not Franklin), and most of the stations are woefully undersized and the rails are in only slightly better shape than George Wendt - those are cities that deserve to gripe about their mass transit systems.

Last week, however, I came up with my first real complaint about Metro - why oh why don't you have a bathroom ANYWHERE? It's bad enough that once the initial crush of rush hour traffic is done that they go on a 15 - 20 minutes per train schedule, but to not have a pisser, a spot-a-pot (a.k.a. a caibow for my Iowan friends) , a trough or even a dark corner - that's just mean. By the time my journey from DuPont Circle to Largo was over, it was almost 72 minutes of bladder torture. Every bump in the tracks between the Stadium/Armory and District Heights was like a stab in the spleen.

And now, this A.M. - again, at the Largo stop. I pulled my Vibe, Raider, into a parking space on the top floor, next to an open spot. There are dozens of open spaces near me. I open my door, and open my back seat door, attempting to fill my gym bag with all sorts of working-out goodies, like shoes. A man in a shiny new Hummer H2 starts to pull into the open spot next to me...where most of my open rear door and my arse are. I turn around and give him a look that says "I'll be done in a second."

He keeps pulling in to the spot...closer...closer...soon, I can feel the H2's air intake tugging on my pants leg. He guns his engine. Impatient, is he.

(do you have any idea how long it's been since I've been able to say I could feel the air from a hummer on my leg?)

I take this man and machine's passive-aggressiveness for an opportunity to give some active aggression. I get my torso out of my Vibe, Raider, and yell at him "Give me a second, would ya? Why don't you park somewhere else!" He lowers his passenger side window, and asks "what did you say???" I said, again "Either give me a second, or park somewhere else!" I continue with my packing.

He pulls in more. The H2 is about 3 inches from me. I can hear individual belts spinning in the engine. Gotta give them credit - the timing belt sounds good.

I slam my Vibe, Raider's rear door and start yelling at the guy. I walk over to the other side of my car, and finish my packing. At this point, it has taken him almost three minutes to park his SUV.

The idiot finally parks his Planet Raper, and walks by me saying "There was plenty of room." I asked him "Why didn't you park some place else? There are tons of spaces around here. You wasted your time and mine." He counters with "Why didn't YOU park someplace else? I'm going to be late." He starts walking closer to me while I'm in my car.

At this point, Radio Ray came back from hiatus...except not nice voice Radio Ray who did funny commercials, but Radio Ray who got fired for dropping the F-Bomb - twice - on one show...Radio Ray gets out of my Vibe, Raider, and into his face.

"Because, dumbass, I parked here first. Jesus, you've got the money to afford the Hummer but no common sense, shithead. You wasted a gallon of gas AND...(as I waited for Metrorail's distinctive 'ding-dong' to announce the departure of a train) *DING DONG* you just missed your train."

It was at that moment when I realized what he was. In Owings Mills, the guys who drive H2s are Baltimore Ravens and the guys who wish they were Baltimore Ravens. In Largo, the guys who drive H2s are about 5'4", 135lbs, and scared shitless because they just angered an obviously-unstable 32 year old, 5'9", 204 pound guy who physically dwarfed them. He hustled off for the elevator, muttering something.

There's a Metro garage camera system over there, one of those multiple camera set ups. I hope they got that on tape.

I was looking cute this morning :)

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