Looking For Amusement?

The tripadvisor website has come out with its ranking of the best amusement parks in the world.  Universal Studios Islands of Adventure — a park that the kids and I hit multiple times back in the ’90s, a few decades and no doubt a number of new attractions ago — got the number 1 ranking, and the Disney parks, both in the United States and abroad, fared well.

5e4b37fa-c64b-4b58-8521-659e3ee4bc00-large16x9_cedarpointnewcoasterBut as I scanned the list, I couldn’t help but notice an obvious omission:  Cedar Point, on the north coast of Ohio.  It’s not only not in the top 10, it’s not in the list of the top 25 parks in the world at all.  To find Cedar Point, you have to go to the ranking of parks just in the United States and click down to find “the Point” coming in at number 18.  It ranks behind parks I’ve never heard of, like “Santa’s Village” in Jefferson, New Hampshire, “Knoebels Amusement Resort” in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, and “Bay Beach Amusement Park” in Green Bay, Wisconsin — none of which look all that exciting, frankly, from the photos that accompany the rankings.

For most amusement park aficionados, and particularly roller coaster buffs, Cedar Point is one of the premier destinations in the world.  In fact, some people say it’s got the best collection of roller coasters and other thrill rides, anywhere.  If you go to Cedar Point on a fine, blue-sky summer day — and if you love coasters, it’s basically a requirement — you’ll see cars and RVs from across the country in the parking lot and hear every kind of language being spoken by visitors.  And many of those visitors will come back, year after year.  Can “Santa’s Village” say the same?

It all goes to show you that you should take rankings with a grain of salt, and exercise your own judgment based on your own interests.  Want to hang with elves?  “Santa’s Village” no doubt is right up your alley.  Want to experience the “It’s a Small World After All” ride until the annoying theme song is permanently seared into your brain?  Go the Disney route.  But if you want to go somewhere where there are great roller coasters, old and new, at every turn, and get your adrenaline supercharged as you rush along at 60 m.p.h. and do loops and circles and deal with serious g forces?  That’s where I’d go, and that means getting to the Point.

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The Newest Tallest, Fastest, and Longest

Designers are constantly pushing the envelope of roller coaster construction, so that pretty much every year there’s the announcement of a new “tallest, fastest, and longest” coaster.  This year, the honor goes to the Canada Wonderland theme park in Ontario, where the Yukon Striker coaster will be opening.  (Given the weather this winter, it’s probably going to be a few months before the grand opening, so coaster fanatics have got time to make their travel plans.)

maxresdefaultThe description of the Yukon Striker ride in the attached article sounds, well, pretty intense.  For one thing, it’s 3 minutes and 25 second long and covers more than a half mile of track.  The ride will reach top speeds of 80 miles per hour, has one drop of 245 feet — that’s more than two-thirds of a football field — and an underground tunnel that, according to the photo, opens in an amusement park lake.  The article states, somewhat breathlessly:  “At the top of the drop, you’ll be held for three seconds over the 90-degree drop before you drop down into the underwater tunnel, and there’ll even be a complete 360-degree loop for an extra adrenaline rush.”  (Like that will be needed!)

Oh yeah — the ride also has four different “inversions,” where riders are turned upside down before being turned right-side up.

The Yukon Striker won’t achieve the fastest speeds of any roller coaster in the world, an honor that’s currently held by a coaster in Abu Dhabi, but it will be the fastest “dive” coaster, “where there’s a straight vertical drop which sees riders facing down.”

I like roller coasters, and it’s interesting to read about the newest advances in coasters, but I really wonder whether we’re reaching the point where coasters are eclipsing normal human tolerances.  A more than three minute ride that jets you along at speeds faster than the speed limit on most highways, puts you through 360-degree loops, plunges you straight down into an amusement park lake, and then flips you over and back four times sounds like a lot more than my psyche — and stomach — can stand.  I also think that, in their zeal to be the highest, fastest, and longest, roller coaster designers are ignoring other creative design elements that make coasters exciting and interesting without torturing riders and exploring the limits of human endurance.

I’m sure there will always be thrill-seekers who want to ride the newest “tallest, fastest, and longest” coaster, but it will be interesting to see whether, after a ride or two, most visitors at the Canada Wonderland park pass on the Yukon Striker and try to find their amusement park fun somewhere else.

Theater In The Ground

Last night Kish and I joined Dr. Science and the GV Jogger at the Franklinton Playhouse for the world premiere performance of Dirt, a play by Creighton James.  Dirt tells the story of two brothers who return to the structure where they killed and buried their father, needing to dig up his remains to avoid their discovery when an immediately impending construction project requires tearing down the structure and excavating the area.  The two brothers clearly have been affected by the killing of their father, and let’s just say that, as the play progresses, they end up discovering a lot more than dear old Dad’s bones.

But the purpose of this post isn’t to discuss the curious psychological journeys of Rusty and Jimmy in Dirt, but rather to note what interesting and flexible performance space is afforded by the Franklinton Playhouse.  When we last visited the Playhouse, for a play featuring a debate between Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy about Christianity, the theater was configured so that patrons sat around a small, spartan, raised stage.  For Dirt, the former stage had been torn down and a completely different, much bigger and more elaborate stage and set had been constructed.  Instead of the former theater in the round, you might call the current configuration theater in the ground.  The stage and set included doors, windows, and an area where the characters could dig, patron seating on three different sides of the stage, and dirt — lots and lots of dirt.  (In fact, one of the “special thanks” in the program went out to Kurtz Bros. Mulch & Soils.)

Red Herring Productions, which is presenting Dirt as part of its ambitious, 10-play production schedule for 2019, tore down the prior stage and built, and then dirtied up, the current one in only 18 days.  That’s pretty impressive, but the fact that the theater itself could be so radically reconfigured is pretty impressive, too.  It makes you want to come to a future Red Herring performance of a different play, as much to see what the theater looks like as to watch what’s being portrayed on stage.

Dueling Pianos

Last night we had a mid-winter, get out of the house night on the town with family members. After dinner at the Tip Top, we Ubered down to the Big Bang Bar in the Arena District for a Dueling Pianos performance arranged by Sister Rocker. I wasn’t even aware of the place, but then the Arena District is full of surprises.

When Sister Rocker first suggested a trip to see Dueling Pianos, I initially thought it would be like Ferrante and Teicher, or perhaps cocktail lounge piano music. I could not have been more wrong! This was about as raucous as piano music (and a drum set) can get, with three guys rotating on stage in staggered one-hour shifts and pounding away at the keyboards of two grand pianos. They took “suggestions” (song requests unaccompanied by money) and “requests” (song requests submitted with moolah) — guess which ones were going to get played, and which would get crumpled up and tossed? — and they played everything from vintage Jerry Lee Lewis to country to ’80s MTV staples to last year’s hip hop hits. And there’s a lot of audience participation, both through singing along and through birthday and anniversary celebrants and bachelorette parties going up on stage to dance and perform.

It makes for a rollicking time and it’s obviously popular, because the place was packed — as crowded a venue as I’ve seen in years, in fact. If you reserve a table, as we did, expect to feel a bit like a sardine, because they really pack people in. It’s a young crowd, too; we were the oldest attendees by far. And the amount of alcohol consumed by the patrons — the better to lubricate the vocal cords and loosen up lascivious onstage dance moves, I guess — was colossal. This was a crowd that was ready to rock out and fight the mid-winter blahs with some liquid-fueled entertainment.

Dueling Pianos isn’t something I’d do every weekend, but it’s a nice entertainment option to have on a cold winter night.

Red Herring

Last night, Kish and I joined Dr. Science and the GV Jogger for a night at the theater.  We ventured out into the ongoing snowstorm — without water, mind you — to head over to Franklinton for dinner and then a play presented by Red Herring Productions at the Franklinton Playhouse.

Red Herring Productions is a little theater company with big ambitions.  It seeks to add a significant local resident professional theater company to the mix of Columbus art and entertainment options, and its efforts toward reaching that goal are equally ambitious:  for its 2019 season it is putting on 10 plays at the Franklinton Playhouse.  The Playhouse is located on Rich Street a few blocks west of the Scioto River, in the heart of the renovation and building efforts that are changing the face of Franklinton.  The Playhouse looks to be a commercial building with large, high-ceilinged interior spaces that has been refurbished to serve as a theater.  It’s a small venue — as configured for the play last night, I’d guess it could seat about 40 or 50 people on three sides of the stage — and it provides a very intimate theater experience.  The photo of the set accompanying this post was taken from our seats, which were directly next to the stage, so close that the actors brushed past our crossed legs during their performance.

The play we attended last night, The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, & Count Leo Tolstoy:  Discord, by Scott Carter, was the first play in the 2019 series.  In the performance, Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy each go through a door immediately after their deaths, and find themselves in a spartan, gray room, equipped only with a metal table and three metal chairs.  They arrive within instants of each other, even though their deaths were almost 100 years apart.  After trying unsuccessfully to leave, they have to figure out who they are and why they are in the room together.  Eventually they realize that during their lives they each developed their own version of the Christian gospels, and in the play the characters, guided by a drawer in the table that mysteriously opens and closes, debate their significantly differing views on who Jesus was and what his actual message and teachings.  I won’t spoil the play for those who might be going, but let’s just say the discussion, and their ultimate confessions about how they didn’t live up to the ideals their different gospels espoused, is related to their ability to finally leave the room and presumably get on with their after lives.

It was an interesting play, with lots of laughs as well as thought-provoking discussion, and was well performed by the actors who played the three characters.  (We particularly liked David Allen Vargo, who portrayed a very flamboyant and conceited Charles Dickens.)  And sitting within inches of the stage gives an immediacy and decided punch to the experience.  As anyone who has seen ancient Greek and Roman theaters knows, you don’t need lots of gilt and fancy trappings — just a few seats, a few actors, and an interesting story will do just fine.

We enjoyed our snowy exposure to Red Herring Productions, and a look at the 2019 season shows there are some other intriguing offerings coming up.  We’ll be back.

 

Living In A Van (But Not Down By The River)

The Hollywood Reporter has an interesting story about people living in vans in the Los Angeles area.  Unlike Chris Farley’s Matt Foley character, they aren’t motivational speakers — they’re just everyday entertainment workers who happen to live in their cars.

thr_mobile_la_thr_joe_4547_hirez_splashAccording to the article, the number of Angelenos who live in their vehicles has spiked.  In 2017, 600 vehicles were being used as homes; now the number is up to 9,117.  There’s even an organization called Safe Parking L.A. that operates secret, guarded lots where people living in cars can sleep with some security.

Why do so many people in southern California live in their vehicles?  The high cost of housing factors into the decision-making of virtually everyone interviewed in the article.  Some people simply can’t pay the exorbitant rents; others could afford the cost but object to doing so and live in their cars because it allows them to move more quickly toward their financial goals.  But living in your car obviously comes at a cost, too.  You have to strip down your possessions to a minimum and configure your vehicle to allow it, you need to develop a strategy for taking care of basic bodily functions, you’ve got to figure out where to park your car at night, and there are obvious, ongoing security concerns — which is why an organization like Safe Parking L.A. exists.

And there are other issues that people who don’t make their vehicle their home would never consider — like the need to drive very carefully through those crowded southern California highways and byways, because if you get into an accident and your car goes into the shop, you’ve just lost your housing until the repairs are completed.

Humans are highly adaptable creatures, and you have to admire the grit of people who have figured out how to live in vans.  But I also wonder:  is living in L.A. and being part of the entertainment industry really worth it if it means living in a van?

At The Blue Hill Fair

Yesterday we ventured over to the Blue Hill Fair in Blue Hill, Maine.  It’s a big deal locally, and we paid a visit to get our taste of small town America.  The Blue Hill Fair has everything you’d expect to see in a local fair, from livestock and quilting and produce contests — like the impressive array of bright green vegetables shown above — as well as the kind of vomit-inducing rides that you remember from the fairs you went to in your childhood.  Who doesn’t recall their first ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl?  (And for that matter, isn’t it hard to believe that Tilt-A-Whirls are still out there, motoring away and causing people to go careening from one side of the ride to the other?)  The Scrambler was there, too, but no sign of the notorious Rotor.

We also watched a fine performance by the Red Trouser Show, put on by two long-time friends who now make their living traveling the circuit and performing at fairs and functions across the globe.  These guys were great, both in terms of their juggling, tumbling, and acrobatic efforts and in their witty banter and ability to get the crowd into the show.  It was a great reminder of America’s vaudeville past and how a simple performance by two people equipped with flaming torches and a ladder can create a memorable experience.

In addition to the elements of your basic small town fair, however, the Blue Hill Fair has something extra.  Because author E.B. White spent a lot of time in this part of Maine, the local lore is that the fair that is a key part of the story of Wilbur the pig in Charlotte’s Web is based on the Blue Hill Fair.  As a result, near the livestock exhibitions you can find a little pen with a dozing pig — two of them, in fact — sporting a blue ribbon because they are “some pig.”  No sign of Charlotte or her web, however.

And those of you who remember the story in Charlotte’s Web will recall that the wily Charlotte enticed Templeton, the rat, to accompany Charlotte and Wilbur to the fair by promising him gluttony beyond compare due to the food available along the midway.  If Templeton had been at this year’s Blue Hill Fair, he would have been a happy camper — you could find every imaginable kind of fair food there, from fried dough to funnel cakes to cotton candy, caramel apples, and bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

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