Life in Existential Amusement Park - Kennywood
My cousin visited me from out-of-state the other week. It was my job to entertain her for the three days she was here. I have a lot of family that lives around Pittsburgh, so it wasn’t hard to find things to do. One thing we did was go to the institution of fun, the dreamland of happiness: Kennywood. The place is legitimately a nice amusement park and one that really sticks out to me. Great memories had been made there and I will always recommend.
I’ve only been there seven times in my life – I haven’t lived in the area for an extended period until this year – but I must say I am beginning to feel the amusement park taking on my personality. Waiting for the first seat for the Phantom with my cousin, I brought up the adage of “life is like a rollercoaster.” It made me really think. When was that phrase invented? Is it possible the word “rollercoaster” precedes the actual creation? It had us both thinking, so what if instead of the rollercoaster describing life, life describes a rollercoaster and possibly the entire amusement park? It has twists and turns, up and downs because it’s creator – Lamarcus Thompson by the way – was defining life in practical emotions? The more I thought about it, the more introspective I got.
10 Years Old
My parents grew up in Pittsburgh and they had gassed up Kennywood’s amusement – like that pun, it didn’t disappoint. We lived outside of the country at the time, but we decided to visit family we had stateside. Amusement parks from other countries weren’t much different, but being able to experience American fun for the first time was marvelous. Riding the Phantom and Thunderbolt were extremely memorable, every drop and turn showed me the way life should be -- nonstop action. Lines built up the suspense but each ride delivered the satisfaction. I met people, all different in appearance and all different in style but they all were fun, just like the rides we were waiting to cure our need for gratification.
I remember not getting on the Pitfall. It tried to scare people by saying it’s one of the tallest building in the city and it was successful in that. I never liked water rides, they always felt gimmicky and simplistic, so the Log Jammer was left off my itinerary. I did enjoy the bumper cars, I saw it as practice for what not to do six years down the line. Kennywood was the door to seeing what the future would be – complete excitement at every turn and dip. It was made to provide its visitors joy.
12 Years Old
We moved back into the US and were headed to South Dakota, but we spent two weeks with family. My time revisiting carried with me the memories of what Kennywood was like the first time. Instead of letting the parents decide where to go, it became a group decision. “The Jackrabbit or the Racers, which one first?” Making decisions for the collective was important. The feeling was the same as my maiden experience, but the memories exist in relative obscurity. I still dodged the Pitfall and the Log Jammer, but this time we tried something new – The Exterminator. This line is notoriously long all the time. Up to this point I had no idea a rollercoaster could be indoors. It defeated the purpose and I was left defeated when my enjoyment of the ride was nonexistent. It wasn’t dramatic enough, I wanted big drops and big turns, it was too compact.
Standing in line felt more mature. Instead of hoping I would pass the height bar test, I was sure I would for every ride. I was by no means “tall,” but “tall enough” now fit the description. The conversations I heard from the other kids were trendier. Instead of talking about the latest episode of “What’s New Scooby Doo” and “Shrek 2,” the conversations were about middle school drama from the last school year or getting ready for high school.
My views on the ups and downs, twists and turns remained to show me how fun the world is and will be, but I equally began thinking that maybe this “fun” is because my parents said so. These other kids didn’t seem to enjoy the park as much as I thought I should.
14 Years Old
Headed back out of the country, but we decided to make a quick visit to see the family before we departed. I was sporting my “moustache” that I “rocked” throughout 9th grade and wearing the latest gear from 3 years ago – but don’t tell me that. Swag was just coming up and bling-bling was just leaving, although I never heard anyone ever say that seriously anyway. This time, I was the decision-maker. An itinerary and map of the park was in my head. I knew the layout from my visit two years ago and I was ready to try everything out. Everything I did was because of me.
If I liked the Phantom, guess what? It was my idea to. Oh, you don’t want to be on Garfield’s Nightmare? Nope, I’m too old for those silly little kid rides. I personified the non-stop action I manifested four years prior. The height bar was almost silly at this time
There was one thing though. When I was 10 I was expecting so much more by my age of 14. I was in football in 8th grade but didn’t try for 9th grade -- which I slightly regret not doing – and I didn’t have the multitude of friends I was hoping for or expecting based on what I saw on tv shows and what I had known from my past. The friends I did have, which were a good amount, I turned into a sort of idol, following my opinions off their reactions. The twists and turns of the rides furthered my feeling of my own control but like that one turn on the Thunderbolt, I begun to slowly realize I didn’t have control of how life throws me around…only how to react to it.
15 Years Old
No big family visits because we were strictly here for business. No dad was in the picture this time because he had business to tend to in Afghanistan or Iraq or Qatar or somewhere, so it was just my mom and my sisters. We are all one year apart, but birthdays make me seem two years until October. Anyway, they were both going to college and this trip was setting up my older sister on the path of going to a university. This was the first time I saw a college campus and first time she had been to it also. It was quite an exciting experience I knew was in my soon-to-be future. I wanted that future soon, but was nervous if it would be too soon.
We took a trip to Pittsburgh and we had to experience Kennywood. Being the only “man” in the group, I made it my way to be the leader or walking but overall servant of decision. I did whatever they decided on, but did challenge if I felt it was decided too swiftly. Every ride was handled by me with upmost overdramatization.
I screamed even before the drops and threw my hands up at every turn to get the most satisfaction. I wanted to live my young life soaking in every joyful thing. In school year’s I was growing up as quick as the elevation to the peak of the Racers. Maybe I wasn’t sure about my true feelings of Kennywood now, but I decided to forget about it the only way I knew how – to have fun.
16 Years Old
My second sister was leaving the house too now. It will now be all on me. It became our last time experiencing Kennywood as a family. I planned on going to college the next year when I graduated, although this didn’t happen and I waited two years until I started that phase.
This time experience was a time for me to try everything. It was me and my older sister walking around the park trying to find the next ride to ride. I didn’t want to ride the Thunderbolt because I was tired of being thrown around and being reminded of how much smaller I was than everyone else. I stayed with the classic rides, but I also finally tried the Log Jammer. I was told how exciting it was by my cousins before, but it turned out to be just a trendy emotional tie with no actual emotional exertion. I found out I like the SwingShot. It was a low-key ride that matched the excitement levels I was looking for. Same with the Exterminator. I had enjoyed the mellow drops and quick decisions that ride offered me. There was a new ride, the Sky Rocket, but it was like the Log Jammer, trendy without the exertion. Although it made sense that there was a new ride, Kennywood just wanted to update its appearance, be the new Kennywood.
Rollercoasters began to fall out of favor with me, I began thinking about the “why.” Why did I want to put my self in the shoes of the popular just to be able to say I did it? The Phantom was fine, but just that. I was too old for experiencing life with these obvious twists and turns, it was time to experience something else. And forget the bumper cars, I began to think maybe I didn’t even want to drive. I finally decided it was time to experience the Pitfall. It was closed. Maybe the amusement is for the past and not the future, it was probably time to get serious.
18 Years Old
We moved to Pittsburgh, well Penn Hills to be specific. It was Fright Nights at Kennywood and I decided on going with my cousin and his two friends. It was packed, like it took forty minutes just to get our tickets checked. The darkness and new look were blatantly obvious as a theme for Halloween, which is a good thing. The change in look was artsy yet cultured. We rode three rides that night: Thunderbolt, the Black Widow and the Racers.
I wasn’t the one being thrown on that turn since the one friend was smaller than me, so the Thunderbolt wasn’t thaaaaat bad this time. The Black Widow was the kind of ride I like. It spun around and swung, feeling the motion that it was going somewhere but just stays in the same spot. I lost being a fan of the Racers this time. It just became a ride about challenging something that cannot be defeated, it just became chance. Like my second time at Kennywood, I asked myself why I still wanted to go. I did enjoy that time as a memory, but for the “fun” I questioned its artificial façade. It seemed like there were changes, but things really just remained the same.
22 Years Old
This past time with me going I discovered that my views of Kennywood changed too drastically. I originally saw it as a place to escape and a place that offered joy for the price of a ticket. My one cousin works there, and she was saying how no one likes their job and even called it, definitely not my words, Auschwitz. I looked around seeing people attend based on tradition or because it was summer and it was something to do. I became under the bed, a spot people look for something even though the dropped it on the other side of the room.
What was I really doing there? Entertaining my cousin in ways that is given rather than making my own entertainment. It became nonsense really. It wasn’t even me entertaining really. Nothing new. I began to see rollercoasters as metal that is designed for mass pleasure rather than defining each rider with their personal ideas and creations. An amusement park was a place of mass production that keeps us from knowing the truth. The twists and turns were to keep us from know which way is correct until we become familiar with the path drawn out for us, the path we subconsciously decide on.
It wasn’t long ago when I experienced Kennywood for that last time, but those feelings I had then do not manifest in me currently. As I thought back in my past and decided what an amusement park meant to me, I decided that it sparks positive or negative emotions depending on the individual. Real talk though, the analogy with a roller coaster and life is still a pretty good phrase. Whoever thought of it, I can imagine the reaction like “oh snap…yeah you’re so right.”
Learn more about Troy Lee and Kennywood below.
Discover a day of unforgettable fun at Kennywood, one of the oldest and most beloved amusement parks in America! From thrill seekers to tiny tots, Kennywood has 31 major rides that combine the best of old and new for a day of family fun.