Six Flags Great Adventure
June 20, 1999
"Drive me to the edge of nowhere...and sing again,"
-- Todd Terry/Mark Jordan, "Taxi Taxi"
We were coming off a week's worth of amusement between the two of us, Julie, my co-editor at Ape Culture, and me...amusement involving Coney Island, historical homes in Hyde Park, Liev Schreiber reading new David Foster Wallace at Joe's Pub, Mars 2112 and Ozzfest. This whirlwind of fundom was primarily set in motion because of the fact that I had just made the procrastinated decision to end my four-year run in the magical city of Yonkers for the more pastoral and less NYC-distracting surroundings of Lancaster, PA. Planning to get some serious work done, I do intend to crack down, shape up my first book of poems and get started on the second...all among the Amish-strewn countryside.
But before I sequester myself, sacrificing my modest social life to finally become a serious, studious and generally funless person churning out brilliant Ape Culture articles about James Brooks and poems about cows, I wanted to have some fun first. First Fun, that was my motto. Part of my itinerary, it was decided, would include Six Flags Great Adventure, a destination included for two reasons. First of all, Julie and I, both having been raised in St. Louis and both having made pilgrimages out to Six Flags Over Mid-America in Eureka, Missouri, both were itchin' for some nostalgic excitement.
The second reason we decided to make the 1½-hour drive into the wild country of New Jersey was because John Waite was slated to play a concert there and as he is a member of Ape Culture's highly selective and elite Celebrity Crush Haiku page, we decided to check him out, as it were. Along for the rides: Molly, the Architect, and one of her roommates, Kelly. Everybody woke up late and, subsequently, we didn't arrive at the park until 4 p.m.
Walking around, I noticed that none of us had the zoom zoom, run-from-ride-to-ride energy we once had and, also, the park seemed so unexpectedly small. Didn't walking from the Haunted Hotel to the Limb Twister seem like a never-ending journey when you were a kid? So, not only has our inner ear and sense of balance become very perilous with age, thereby rendering us incapable of withstanding the world's vast array of tilt-a-whirls six times in a row (which explains why we don't stand in the middle of a room and spin in a circle until we keel over anymore), but now our concept of Time itself has changed. Standing in line for 30 minutes to an hour is the same difference to a 13-year old kid, standing in line doing NOTHING? Oh, the horror! Sometimes you move up really far and fast in the line, other times step by microscopic step.
Much like life. And how many of us, if we knew this, would have said screw that, ducked under the long and winding chain maze and eschewed all pathetic time-tunnel rides for a life of sure-to-be loop-de-loops and the occasional relaxing log flume splash? Life's lessons about waiting itself are learned at Six Flags and then mercilessly beaten into you in the working, adult world: you will get to the end of the line eventually; cutting in line is only fun when you do it with a friend; and it is more fun to ride in the front of the coaster, but you won't die if you sit in the middle. In fact, the difference is probably negligible. Get over it.
An eight-hour working day is, likewise, a lot of standing in one place, seemingly going nowhere with people you would never hang out with in any other circumstances (like that couple you keep passing in line...the two who are wearing matching Hawaiian shirts...Ed. note: couples should never never dress alike in public unless it's Halloween and they're costumed àla Sonny & Cher), and don't forget the agonizing boredom: "But at least the line is moving fast," alias "at least the afternoon is moving fast and we can all go home soon." Oh, what a thrill.
But you will get a thrill if you choose your rides wisely. We chose ride #45: Batman, The Ride, "an inverted, outside looping steel roller coaster;" #41: Batman & Robin, The Chiller, "a dual track linear induction looping steel roller coaster" (this one was exceptional in that it took off at warp speed, hurling you out of the building without your stomach, quite possibly without your soul itself, but never fear...you would be going backwards warp speed to pick it right back up); and #72: Skull Mountain, "a completely lame indoor waste of thrill-lessness." So entertained were we by the park pamphlet's parlance in describing the various rides that we invented a game (as we were waiting in line and after we tired of admiring the cacophony of graffiti and the bold, daring statement that is a penny stuck into chewed gum) of guessing whether the adjacent ride was actually a horizontal pendulum spinning circular ride or a horizontal vertical bouncing rotation ride or maybe a circular rotation spinning turbulent death ride.
By the time it was 6:30, my comrades got in line for a vertical circular spinning rotation sick-making ride. I begged off to go buy a jacket because it was starting to rain and it had been a bright, bright sun-shiny day back in New York City/Westchester so I wasn't Jeremiah-Johnson prepared for cold, rainy weather. But everyone knew I was really wussing out of the vertical circular spinning rotation sick-making ride. What can I say? I don't mind being jerked around. It's the spinning.
I ran about in the rain, finally wandering into the Great Frontier where I found shelter in the local teepee. There I bartered like Sacajawea for a monikerless, hooded, 90% polyester acrylic blend made from, I'm guessing, the Monsanto Nation or a little Dow tribe adept in the art of sewing polymers.
Thereafter, it was 7 p.m. and time for John Waite's show.
Now, I've seen three Six Flags concerts. I saw Buck Owens because I was with my parents and they promised me food. I saw Eddie Money because I knew some of his songs and I saw Mister Mister because they were there. The highlight of that show was when Richard Page lifted up his white shirt and we all got a look-see at his armpits. The other girls squealed but it was hardly a horizontal pendulum bouncing thrill ride.
I met up again with Molly, Kelly and Julie who had obviously been to the same trading post I had because she was wearing a similar hooded polyester acrylic blend. Molly told us we looked like sand people or ewoks...something that was wrong and Julie corrected her and said Jawas...but then later Julie said we looked more like old Obi Wan (as played by Alec Guiness, not Ewen MacGregor).
A very tuckered and bedraggled bunch, we entered a very strange, largely mosh-pit looking concert venue. It was raining. A pathetically small but devoted number of folks were gathered in front of the stage so no, the concert hadn't been cancelled yet. But it was indeed raining, which is, I suppose my fault. Ever since I was a child, I have brought rain to Six Flags. Many of my Six Flags childhood memories are of my friends and/or siblings and me all huddled under the hanging potted flowers, cursing the sky.
I can't tell you what a somber day it was in our part of the world. In the stack of days, this was not a day decked out for general amusement. It was a slow, cloudy, drizzly, listless day. A bull from an illegal rodeo was running loose in Queens. He was eventually murdered in the street. A woman living in an apartment along Central Park began dumping her money, her jewelry and herself out of the window. While she hung by her hands from a ledge, EMS gathered on the ground. She eventually let go (telling us, by the way, that jewelry, cash and Central Park digs do not a Life make...yes, Dad, you're usually right) and Stephen King was hit by a mini-van when its driver was distracted by her pet Rottweiler. He was banged-up, in "condition: serious" at a Maine hospital. When the stage lights came up on a tiny, scattered crowd, they literally caught a wall of rain. This exchange was going to be a hard one.
John Waite came out pressed in black and white, leading with his biggest hits first: "Missing You," "When I See You Smile," and "Change" (which I liked the best of the three). He sang from his solo catalogue: "Saturday Night," and the agitated "Encircled." He sang a cover of "Whenever She Comes Around" and "Act of Love," "Straight To Your Heart," "How Did I Get By Without You," and "When You Were Mine". The more lyrical gems included "In Dreams" (with the memorable "sunshine knocking on my window") and "Downtown," full of pathos and urban scenery. The most passionate and energetic tunes, however, turned out to be of the era Babys, in order of my preference: "Back On My Feet Again," "Isn't It Time," "Head First," and "Midnight Rendezvous."
But I can't argue with her...the man had it all on Poise. I would say this is the singular most striking element about him. And the bottom line: we needed the rain. John Waite did a good night's work. In difficult circumstances, we got to see what he was made of. He's obviously not a witch. Had we been given a good and peaceful day, no bad news, no rain...I don't know: years from now we would probably be calling up the day June 20, 1999 and the law enforcement of memory would be telling us, "move along folks, nothing to see here."
So if you must blame the rain on somebody, blame it on me. I'll just be over here encircling some butter in a churn (in a general circular, rotation, spinning motion) or putting some barn back on its feet again, diving head first into some genre poetry. Yes, I have much work to do. But I promise, it will be a real act of love.
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