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When I was a kid one of our favorite places to go was Canobie Lake Park. It’s a little amusement park in Salem NH. Disney would crush this place under Mickey’s giant foot. By the time I arrived at the gate we’d been going there for three generations. My grandparents hopped the trolley from Haverhill or stopped in on the way to camp at Sunset Lake in Hampstead. My Mom went there to the Dancehall theater to see the likes of Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra. One of my grandfather’s favorite stories was how Joe almost got off the Ferris wheel and was only grabbed at the last second. Hey I wanted to see our car, no fear of heights at six. We didn’t care much about the history or whether it was Sonny & Cher or Aerosmith playing. We wanted to go to the bumper cars, or the rollercoaster, or the antique car ride, or the funhouse. Bang! We hit the gates, got our tickets and were gone. This was the days before you put tracking devices on your kids that went off if they got more than five feet away.
I even had my first kiss there. Back before I was a sophisticated man of the world (translation I was scared of girls) I went into the glass maze one warm summer night. This place irritated the hell out of me. There was always someone blazing through and standing outside laughing at you as you bumped into yet another plexi-glass partition. I don’t think there was a single time I went in there that there wasn’t a screaming little kid in there that had to be rescued by the attendant. There was a cheat code. All you had to do is look up and there were arrows on the ceiling but I didn’t discover that till much later.
So I’m banging my way through the maze getting irritated as usual and there’s some older kids playing a game in there. It was some kind of variation on spin the bottle. You chased the girl or vice versa and if you caught someone you had to give them a kiss. The arrows on the ceiling didn’t help you much when the fox was laughing at you from some cul-de-sac she’d found. The only problem is I’m not a sophisticated man of the world yet. I’m not playing the game. I’m lost in the stupid maze.
What happened? Get to the good stuff Joe! Well I stumbled into the foxes hiding place and she kissed me. It wasn’t an earth shattering event. It was more like a peck and run. She had long blond hair and a pink shirt on. Her soft lips tasted like bubblegum and cotton candy. This is more than thirty years ago and I can still taste that and picture her in my mind. Who knew women came in flavors? I finally got out of the maze walking on a fluffy cloud and spent the entire rest of the evening looking for her but she’d vanished into the bustle and noise. I’d been instantly imprinted. If only all the sophisticated ladies I’ve dated since knew that all they had to do was find some bubble gum and cotton candy they’d have saved a fortune on clothes and things.
Canobie Lake was the first for another thing too. Can you remember when you couldn’t drive? Every kid with a yen to get behind the wheel went straight for the Antique Car ride. They had a lawnmower engine and there was a rail to keep you from going off the path but if you steered that thing without bumping into the rail my dad would say: “Good Job!” Sometimes when I’m roaring down the highway I think of those little put-put cars and smile remembering how exciting it was to drive for the first time. It was certainly easier than when my dad put me into the truck and expected me to drive a stick shift without telling me how to clutch properly.
Anyone that knows me can tell you I’m a big fan of space and space exploration. They had a ride at Canobie Lake where you could get into a rocket and watch a movie of stimulated space travel while the thing inclined. It was crude and cheesy but I went on it every time we went.
Then there was the stupid fishing pond where you tried to hook the little metal fishes. My brother always had to do that one. Man the ignominy of having to help him with that and go on the kiddie rides with him. There were pictures of me sitting on the little boat ride with Jim looking like a thundercloud was over my head. Boy did I get in trouble smashing him with my dodgem car later on.
Then there were the rides that scared the hell out of me. The rollercoaster was from the 1930’s and build completely from wood. Coaster aficionados from all over the world still come to Canobie Lake to ride this old school monster. This is how it went for me: “Me: Dad I wanna go on the rollercoaster. Dad: Well give me your glasses then or you’ll lose them. Me: But Dad I can’t see anything that way. Mom: Melvin that rollercoaster at Salisbury Beach jumped off the tracks and killed someone. Dad: *oblivious* Ok I’ve got your glasses go get in line. Then you’d get on the thing and it would do it’s clack clack clacking climb and then the plummet where you’d think “Oh shit mom was right I’m gonna die” and you’d be zooming around corners with your neck snapping wildly. I’ve heard they have headrests now. Everything has been nerfed today. It’s no wonder kids are into bungee jumping and other extreme sports. They never got off the Yankee Cannonball with their head at an odd angle thanking god that the car didn’t come off the tracks.
There was a dark ride too. Of course by the time I’d gotten there it wasn’t so dark anymore. Teenagers had figured out they could jump off the ride in the middle and they’d be in there goofing around while the attendant turned on all the lights and made sure that one of em hadn’t been run over by the six hundred pound cabs. There was one of those drum things too where the drum spins and the riders are pinned to the wall by the centrifugal force. I never went on that one. I had visions of being the only one that didn’t stick to the wall when the floor fell away.
You know Canobie Lake is still there. I’d take kids there before I took them to Disney or Six Flags. I went to the big Six Flags Over Texas when I was visiting friends with kids in Dallas. Yee-haw there were some of the tallest, wildest, gut-wrenchingest rides in the country. Record breaking rollercoasters! Hey we had fun but I was sure we’d have had more fun at Canobie Lake Park.