Our four-hour journey was almost complete.
As our blue station wagon careened onto the midway, my heart raced like I had just run up a hill at maximum speed. I was a six-year-old, Ohio-born kid from Martins Ferry who was about to witness Christmas in July compliments of the two people in the front seat of the wagon: Mom and Dad.
"There it is," my brother screeched.
Like a coached-Pavlovian dog, I took a spot next to my brother and smeared my face against the cool glass of the backseat window. Although I received no dog treats for this feat - I did get utter satisfaction in what I saw.
Those were the only words I could utter. I resembled one of those cartoon characters –Tom, Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Homer Simpson - who went Ga-Ga when a pretty young women crossed their path - complete with mouth slamming to the ground and eyes popping out of their sockets.
Like a Lion hopping on a gazelle in the African outback - we gobbled up this vast wasteland of entertainment. Not with our teeth - but with our eyes. As we approached the park in our beat-up wagon, the big, green double-ferris wheel greeted us with a circular hello. Endless streams of metallic, roller coaster track was tossed across the peninsula like hot spaghetti on a plate.
"Could it be one roller coaster or five or six various coasters," my small mind attempted to calculate the odds to no avail. In the distance, there was a giant, white carousel complete with red, yellow, green and blue seats that arched above the clouds into the vast sky.
"This is Cedar Point kids?" Dad said from the driver’s seat. He seemed extremely relaxed like he’d been here before or something.
"SEE DER POINT," I mulled the words over in my head. You could have just called it heaven.
It was a giant among parks. It was the result of a thousand Belmont County fairs thrown into a blender and stirred ferociously. My mind could only conceive it as the biggest carnival in the history of the world. The only thing that could go through my six-year old mind was "How come I haven’t heard of this place before?"
Having known nothing of what it was like to French kiss a girl nor feel a girl’s breast over a cotton t-shirt on a warm, summer’s night - I could honestly say that this was going to be one of the best days of my life.
Then I saw the Point. The Needle - as I would come to know it in later trips – was the classic icon of the park. A small red, spinning cylinder slowly climbed the giant, white needle ever-so-slightly to the top. "I wonder if we can go up on that thing?"
I felt like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when he was messing with the mashed potatoes in front of his shocked family.
"This means something. This is important."
In a way, Cedar Point was my creative Statue of Liberty. Like many immigrants who witnessed one of the most important beacons of hope in the world, I was supposed to be here. I was destined to be here. This was important.
The park with all of its dazzling primary colors and that shining point was my welcome to a place that exceeded my imagination on so-many levels. I was arriving to my destination and my place in the world.
If the Cedar Point was my Statue of Liberty than the admission gate was my Ellis Island. As we approached the ticket booth, I heard the screams come from the blue roller coaster to my right.
It was the Blue Streak and - to my eyes – the biggest roller coaster in the world. The screams were earth-shattering. "Why are they yelling?" I’d think to myself and was convinced they were in some sort of pain and was a little scared that I may have to ‘actually’ ride that blue thing.
My father, complete with bushy hair and pork-chopped sideburns, bell-bottom pants and mustache glanced towards my mother and put out his hand. Dad – who after the Vietnam war worked his way up from washing UPS vans to a bonafide driver - was enjoying the most money he’s ever made on this Earth. But Mom - who with her long black hair, funky Elton John sunglasses, tight blue jeans and cool veneer – handled most of the ‘family finances’.
At the time, Mom was only one of a handful of women I knew, the others being my grandma, my aunt and our neighbors Cathy and Martha. The three men – my brother, my dad and myself - were happy to have her along on this glorious day of roller-coaster revelry.
Mom reached into her pockets, pulled out some of the green stuff and handed it to my Dad who ushered us through the ticket booth with a smile on his hairy face.
No doubt looking like rejects from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, my brother and I - decked in total 70’s garb complete with long pants, canvas tennis shoes and 100 percent polyester t-shirts - walked into the park hand-in-hand and smiles brimming ear-to-ear.
Then my nose kicked into gear.
If there’s one place in the world where you can get a ton of different aromas – some good, others not so good – its Cedar Point. From taffy, corndogs and the sweet doughnutty smell of fresh funnel cakes to body odor and burning fossil fuels from the old-time buggy rides – a pallette of aromas went Mike Tyson on my nose and made me drool – and sometime cringe - at every turn.
And the sounds. The glorious sounds.
People yelling. People screaming. Buzzers buzzing and bells ringing. From the shouts of glee when Midway prizes were won, to the laughs and guffaws of families, friends and lovers walking by. From the roars and creaks of the giant roller coasters to the clicks and clacks of the various rides whirring, purring and spouting fun, the symphony of new-found sounds clamored for control of my ears. It was - in a word - unbelievable.
"Well, what do you want to ride first?" my Dad asked after we secured a locker for our valuables. As I was mulling this decision next to my brother. There – less than a football field away – I saw it. Floating boats made out to look like logs. An actual ride that takes place on the water! My God, it was THE LOG RIDE.
"Do you want to go on that?" Mom asked us. My brother and I nodded furiously. She grabbed our hands and - as a family – trekked towards this beautiful feat of make-believe intertwined with nature.
The Log Ride was the first ride I’d ever ridden at Cedar Point. And the Baptismal water that covered me as we splashed touchdown into what seemed to be a huge abyss of water - would cement many years and many more memories with families, friends and lovers at this great fun park.
Decades later – 27 years to be exact – every time I visit Cedar Point I get that same giddy feeling like I was still that six-year old kid in his 100 percent polyester shirt running around with a big smile on my face.
Not a care in the world.