Monday, August 13, 2012

Last night I took a walk in the dark, a swinging place called Palisades Park

Well, it’s always good to have it reinforced that, just as 60 is the new 40, and 70 is the new 50, adulthood is the new childhood.

Of course, we’ve pretty much known that for years.

When I was growing up, there was a pretty clear point of demarcation between dressing like a grownup and dressing like a kid. Grownups – which was pretty much everyone over the age of 21 -  dressed like extras on Perry Mason, or like June and Ward Cleaver or like Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower.  The men wore grey suits, ties, and fedoras; the women wore sheathes, stocking, high heels, a broach or pearls, and a hat.

Kids wore shorts, tee-shirts, and Keds (summer);  “school clothes” or “Sunday clothes” (the rest of the year). Except when they were out playing. Then they wore snowsuits and galoshes.

Even back then, of course, adults played, too. Women at play wore cotton skirts and blouses. Men wore high-waisted pants and polo shirts buttoned up to the neck. Even at a distance, you could spot the grownup men at the beach: they were the ones wearing black socks and beat up versions of their work shoes with their bathing trunks. Kids were barefoot. Or wore Keds.

Not these days!

The pan-age, pan-gender uniform at this point in time is shorts and tee-shirts (summer); jeans and sweaters (winter). Everyone wears sneakers, although probably something a lot pricier than Keds. Oh, yes, and everyone from infancy to dotage, male and female alike, has at least one baseball cap. (I’m embarrassed to admit how many I have. Off the top of my head: 4 variations on a Red Sox theme; one New England Revolution (MLS/soccer); a bespoke cap with Banshee* embroidered on it; one Black Dog cap (for when I sit for my dog nephew, Jack); one from Jack’s Country Store in Ocean Park, Washington; Obama 2008 (have to dust that one off); and an orange cap with a blue S on it that I got to wear to a Syracuse basketball game a few years back).

Yet another manifestation of the Peter Panning of society is apparently happening in the world of amusement parks.

As The Wall Street Journal reported the other day, the joyful world of the amusement park is now targeting the adult demographic.
Parks are responding with more adult-friendly offerings. Their goal is to entice grown-up fans—who don't have an early bedtime, curfew or school year—to spend more time, and hopefully more money, at the parks.
Some amusement parks are offering more nighttime events, concerts, dance parties and beer gardens. At least one chain's gift shops are selling more items for grown-ups such as home décor and jewelry. Some resorts attached to the parks have upgraded their spa menus and facilities. And parks are also upgrading their food offerings.
Although I wouldn’t want to be on a roller coaster sitting in fronts of someone who’d just gone a few rounds in the beer garden, why not?

Why should kids have all the fun?

Especially when you consider that amusement parks over the years have gone more upscale (with a commensurate uptick in prices), and are in general nicer venues. (Kids being capable of overlooking the tawdry in pursuit of fun more easily than at least some adults.)
Per capita guest spending ranged up to about $76 in 2011, including admission fees. The average general admission price for 71 U.S. parks is about $50, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.)
Hey, $76 per capita is a night out.

And forget general inflation, those numbers are mind-boggling to me. I’m guessing that, in my entire childhood, the entire amount spent on annual trips to an amusement park for a family of 7 didn’t total $76. We just weren’t big spenders, and, frankly, there wasn’t all that much to big spend on in the amusement parks of my youth. Rides cost a quarter; you went on a couple (Tilt-a-Whirl, Merry-go-round); you went home.

The two that I had the most experience with were White City in Shrewsbury, just outside of Worcester, and Paragon Park, at Nantasket Beach.

White City was a seedy little nothing of an amusement park. It wasn’t a day-trip destination; it was an afternoon out when my mother’s friend Jane – who drove, while my mother didn’t – felt like hitting the road. So we’d pile into Jane’s two-tone green clunker and away we went.

At White City, I had what was my worst amusement park experience.

I fell in the barrel of fun (hah!), and was lying there in a heap in the middle while the barrel rolled around, on the verge of tears, when a nice “big boy” (i.e., someone a couple of years older than I) pulled me out. (I forgot to ask whether he was a parochial schooler or a pub, although, naturally, my assumption was that a nice boy would be a Catholic school student.) My last time in a barrel of fun, that’s for sure.

Paragon Park was part of our annual trip to the beach. After spending most of the day on the sand and in the water, we got to go on a couple of rides – never, alas, the Wild Mouse – before we bought our LeHage’s salt water taffy (“Oh, so good…”) and headed back to Worcester.

When the song “Palisades Park” was popular in the early sixties – the title of this post is the first line of that song – we used to substitute “Paragon” for “Palisades.” Which seemed fitting, given that the singer, Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon, was a local boy. Of course, Boom Boom grew up on the North Shore of Boston, and Paragon Park was on the South Shore. Still, we knew that if life were fair, he would have been singing about Paragon Park, not Palisades Park in New Jersey. Both Parks are now, alas, closed, but Paragon Park outlived Palisades Park by more than a decade. (White City was long gone before either.  It was torn down to make way for a strip mall and movie theater.)
The seediest amusement park I went to as a kid was Whalom Park, in Lunenberg, Massachusetts, which was the kind of place that, say, the Junior Catholic Daughters of America, which was some kind of youth spinout of the Knights of Columbus, might go for a summer outing. Even as a kid completely enamored of amusement parks, Whalom seemed cruddy to me. Even cruddier than White City.

Perhaps my perception of Whalom is influenced by the fact that I was never there on a sunny day, while at Paragon Park, it was always sunny. (No way my father would have driven all the way from Worcester to Nantasket Beach – a two hour (minimum) trip -  unless there  was nary a cloud in the sky.)

In any case, despite its general aura of cruddiness, Whalom survived until 2000.
The only really nice amusement park I went to as a kid – and by then I was in late high school – was Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire, which was incredibly spruce and pleasant. I haven’t been there in years, but I remember that it barely seemed like an amusement park, it was that nice. There was nothing that was falling apart, nothing skeevy, and the people who worked there weren’t at all carney-bummish.

As a young adult, I also made it to Disneyland for the first time. A decade late, perhaps, but a wonderful experience. Well worth the money. And talk about clean…There was almost a staff member following every “guest” around with a dustpan and a broom. And, certainly, it was the most expensive amusement park I’d ever been to.

I haven’t had a lot of amusement park experiences as a grown up: A second trek to Disneyland.  A swing through Universal when I was at a user group a while back. A few treks to the Topsfield Fair – does that count? All enjoyable.

So, given the opportunity, while it’s not on my bucket list, I’d be happy to go to an amusement park, with or without a kid in tow.

“Fun for all ages,” indeed.
*Girl gang I’m a member of.

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