Note: Just for grins, here’s a chapter from one of my books. Although there are a few references to other bits in the book, I think this excerpt manages to stand on its own, snapshots from two different times in the same place. Enjoy.
Chapter 9: Kodachrome
So we’re headed west on I-30, which will take us from Dallas to Arlington, the burgh where Six Flags is actually located. Terry and his posse have already vanished over the horizon, because he drives with much more exuberance than I do. I rarely drive more than a few miles over the speed limit. Yes, I’m one of those people. I just think that you should respect your fellow man by driving safely, even if said fellow man would happily run you off the road if it meant they could get to Starbucks one minute earlier.
Of course, this means that, every day of my life on the roadways, dreams of human decency are shattered, because most people suck when it comes to the friendly-driving thing. People don’t care. They. Do. NOT. Care. Vehicles all around me are engaging in suicidal maneuvers, with no regard for consequences or responsibility. (There are some people on the roads who have never, EVER, used a turn signal in their entire lives. That right there is one of the fundamental explanations for the cultural divide in this country.)
Naturally, my refusal to drive like a maniac because I value the lives of others, even if they don’t value mine, can lead to some uncomfortable in-car discussions with the family that supposedly loves me but doesn’t hesitate to point out my shortcomings. Mom: “I could run faster than this. And I’ve got a bad hip.” Over-excited nieces, yearning for us to reach our destination: “Uncle Brian, why is everybody passing us? Is there something wrong with your car?”
Sigh. Even the little people don’t understand. I may have to re-think having special dances with them. Why should I gyrate if you don’t respect me?
Anyway, we eventually make it to Arlington, and the thrill factor in my SUV reaches supersonic levels. As you approach the area of town where Six Flags is located, you can actually see some of the bigger rides, the roller coasters and such, from some distance away. As each of these structures pops into view, the anticipation in the car ratchets up even more. The nieces are hyperventilating and fighting against their seat restraints to get a better view.
And I know that anticipation well. The rides have changed over the years, but the thrilling approach to the park is still the same. Suddenly, I’m whizzing back 35 or so years to the first time I caught a view of Six Flags.
It’s 1974. (The only reason I know the year is because of a movie that came out at the same time. Details to follow.) This was in the delicate period after my parents’ divorce when they were still bitter and trying to prove who loved us kids more. Daddy, trying to do a one-up in this intricate dance, decided to take me (age 9) and my sister (age 6) to Six Flags Over Texas, way down yonder in Dallas, miles away from our home base in Tulsa.
Daddy just wasn’t a giver back in that day. I’m sure he had good intentions, from time to time, but quality follow-through requires loving attention to detail, and he hadn’t really mastered that art. He had some very interesting ingredients in his personal recipe. Number one, he never spent a penny that he didn’t have to spend. Two, he seemed to be irritated that his offspring weren’t completely self-sufficient the day after they were brought home from the hospital And three, we were scared of him. He was a violent, angry man who didn’t understand that children didn’t understand.
The mere fact that he wanted to take us somewhere far away had my sister and I bamboozled. Why does he want to do this? Have we done something wrong? Will we ever see Mommy again? That sort of thing. On the flip side, our vague understanding of this “Six Flags” concept gave the impression that there were amazing rides which would transport us into another realm of joy and transcendence. This had a certain appeal, despite the disconcerting factor that our Dad wanted to spend time with us.
Now that I think about it, I’m a little surprised that Mom signed off on the concept of Dad being allowed to take us across state borders. She didn’t trust him, we didn’t trust him, and the courts had decreed that Dawn and I should remain with Mom if we had any hope of being productive members of society. Then again, I was 9 years old. I looked for universal truths in the ink-smeared pages of comic books. (I so wanted to be Richie Rich.) I’m sure there were many things happening in the adult world around me that wouldn’t make sense until I was in a court proceeding of my own.
So we packed up our miniature suitcases and jumped in Daddy’s truck. Right away, my never-ending suspicion that Daddy liked my sister more was reinforced. I was instructed to ride in the bed of the truck, hunkered down and clutching my Aqua-Man sleeping bag, while sister Dawn got to ride in the cab. Daddy made some excuse about me being bigger and therefore had a better chance of survival in the open air.
I didn’t really buy it. We were both still little kids. Either one of us could get sucked into the automotive jet-stream and never be seen again. Oh, but I forgot. I was the chunky one, weighing more than I should for my age. So Daddy was saying that I was too fat to fit into the cab with the slender people. Great.
But riding in the back of the truck, staring up at the lazy clouds in the sky, provided me a bit of solitude, something I’ve always cherished. I’m not sure where this came from, the need for isolation, the absence of dealing with other people, but it’s there. I don’t really consider myself anti-social, I can chat it up with strangers if that’s required, but a big part of me longs for silence, and personal reflections, and the ability to breathe on my own terms.
Anyway, we drove from Oklahoma to Texas, with me in the truck bed, baking away because it was freaking July and it ain’t nothin’ but hot in either state at that time of year. Meanwhile, Daddy and Dawn are in the air-conditioned cab, swapping war stories and sipping on mint juleps. No wonder I have family issues to this day.
We finally get to Dallas, a magical land where people could stretch single syllables into triples and the women had hairdos that could transport livestock. It’s somewhat late in the day, but not so late that we can just go to bed and traipse to Six Flags in the morning. More importantly, we’ve got to eat. Granted, we’ve had some nibble bits on the way down, sandwiches and such prepared by Daddy’s latest girlfriend. And although these offerings were appreciated, there was just something amiss about them even though the basics were there. It’s a child thing. (No, I don’t want a glass of water from the bathroom. I want a glass of water from the kitchen.)
Side note: On the way down, the sandwich that was granted to me, the porky one in the back of the truck, did not have a significant lifespan. I had taken a few bites, when I suddenly decided to test the impact of wind velocity on meat shoved between slices of bread. (I was a born scientist, but this calling was sadly mixed in with a sometimes negligent attitude about cause and effect.) I thrust the sandwich into the air, just to see, and I was quickly left with nothing much. Presumably, the occupants of a car from Ohio were startled to encounter a bird smacking the window, a bird composed of ham, cheese, and a smear of mayo.
End result, airborne sandwiches and otherwise, Daddy had to find us some nourishment. We checked into our hotel, most likely the cheapest accommodations in the entire state, because that’s how he rolls, and a place that did NOT have an on-site restaurant, room service, or running water. I don’t remember where we went to actually eat, but I do remember this: We were not allowed to order anything on the menu.
No, if anything involving cost was going to occur, he would be the sole decider. Children had no right to make financial decisions, otherwise you eventually end up with people like Henry the Eighth founding new religions. Or women getting equal pay in the workplace, something horribly anarchic like that. This was to be avoided at all costs. I’m sure he ordered us a bowl of gruel and promised that we would clean the kitchen afterwards, although I don’t have any snapshots to prove it.
Once we had been provided with mal-nourishment, we still had some time to kill, so Daddy took us to a drive-in movie theater. (Side note 1: Notice the dichotomy with Daddy and his spending habits. He can’t spring for cheese on a burger, but he’ll take us to see a movie that we can probably see on TV in a few years. Side note 2: Some of you youngsters may have to google what a “drive-in theater” might be. I’m sorry for your loss. I really miss those things.)
So what did we see? “Blazing Saddles.” I can enjoy it now, and Madeline Kahn was a goddess, forever and ever Amen. But at the confusing age of 9? I didn’t know what the hell was going on. All I know is that Daddy busted a gut over the famous “campfire scene”, where beans did indeed prove to be the musical fruit. I did not find the humor in this moment of digestive disarray, but Daddy wept tears of flatulent joy. Suffice it to say that we had different interests.
After a quick breakfast the next morning, where my sister and I were reminded that ordering anything fancy on the menu would bring unsavory retribution, we headed to the fancy amusement park. The first thing we noticed, naturally, is that 7 billion other people on the planet had the same destination in mind. Of course this was the case. It was summer. Families were on vacation. And there were only so many over-priced venues wherein a family could spend a fortune with no hope for a realistic return on the investment.
Amazingly, Daddy remained calm during this horrendous traffic quagmire. Normally, especially at that time when he had no control over his instant rage whatsoever, he would have turned around and driven straight back to Tulsa, blaming his offspring for the difficulties in his life. Instead, he navigated the minefield and got us parked. Granted, the parking slot was basically in New Mexico, but a helpful tram soon arrived to whisk us to the front gates.
Now we just had to get through the massive lines and gain access to the inner sanctum of Six Flags, that intoxicating, over-hyped realm of pleasure. Once again, I was surprised that Daddy didn’t rupture his spleen when the bored, juvenile attendant announced the total cost of our entrance fees, a figure that was startling even to a youngster like myself who had yet to grasp most financial matters. But he paid the money and we were soon through the gates.
Almost immediately, we were accosted by one of those camera people who snap shots of your startled family and then taunt you with a souvenir photo. Back in that day and time, things were a bit primitive. You didn’t get an instant picture to cherish forever, you had to wait for a development process to take place. They gave you a special number, and as you exited the park you could check out the results.
And the format of that picture depended on the latest trends. In 1974, that format was in the guise of a tiny picture they inserted into this miniscule viewer thing you could attach to your keychain. When we finally left the park, Daddy surprised us again by actually purchasing the key-bob. In the photo, all of us looked genuinely happy. A brief escape from the mental tumult that was reality. I have no idea what eventually happened to that thing, but I remember staring at it for hours, sitting on my bed in my room filled with books about dreams, enraptured by the way it made us look so normal, without the confusion and invalidation that were the hallmarks of my early childhood.
But it also hurt me that the picture was a lie, and I probably let it go in the proverbial wind, much like the ham sandwich, smacking into the windshield of a family from Ohio, one that could laugh about such things and not worry about the prices on a menu or why some people couldn’t show love.
One of the nieces tugged on my elbow and brought me back to the present day. “Uncle Brian, are you sad? Why do you look that way?”
“I’m not sad, sweetie. I was just… thinking about something.”
“Well, can you think a little FASTER? I want to get on the rides!”
Story behind the photo: A random shot of trees near one of the escapist cabins we frequent near Broken Bow, Oklahoma. I like how the sunlight is both distorted yet also distorts the image, especially that slash of rainbow. It’s not a great picture, but it will have to work, a concept the young me would have appreciated in the back of a pickup truck in 1974…
Categories: The Journey