Monday, February 11, 2008

The Rocket

I’ve been a roller coaster nut ever since I was five years old and saw my first coaster.

Playland Park was an old-fashioned amusement park near downtown San Antonio, Texas, where we were often taken as kids on weekends. At the end of the midway was the crown jewel of Playland Park: A wooden roller coaster named “The Rocket.”

The Rocket had been built in 1947 and stood about 80 feet tall; not a huge coaster by today’s standards, but it was definitely the main feature of the park. My dad had ridden it many times as a teenager and obviously had fond memories of it. I remember being about five years old when he took me around to the back of it where we could stand close to the first drop. A train of riders came clink-clink-clinking over the lift which seemed enormously high to me at the time. Then, whoooosh! It sped down the hill with everyone screaming and coasted up to the next. I stood there transfixed, in amazement. My dad then explained how the train gathered just enough speed from the first drop to make it to the top of the next hill; my first lesson in inertia. We stood there watching train after train speed around the wooden track.

I was hooked.

Of course, Dad asked if I wanted to ride it.

“Are you kidding me?” I thought. It looked absolutely terrifying. The ride seemed full of Big Kids; teenagers and the like. It was obviously too intense for the likes of a little kid like me. I'd ride the carousel, the little Ferris wheel and other kiddie rides, but the roller coaster was for Big Kids.

In my mind, nine years old seemed like a Big Kid, so I promised my dad I would ride it when I was nine.

Nine years old came and went. I was still too chicken to ride it then even though my dad reminded me that I’d promised to tackle it at that age.

When I was in the eighth grade, my mom took me and some friends for a day at Playland Park. Again, I was still too intimidated to ride the Rocket with all my friends. I remained watching them ride it over and over, seated on the same park bench where my dad and I had sat many years earlier.

However, I asked my best friend, Tim, if he’d take my little pocket camera and snap a photo from the front seat of the ride. It still have that photo to this day:

When I saw this terrifying sight, I knew I’d never ride The Rocket.

No way!

Flash forward to my junior year in college. . . .

I’d been visiting some friends in San Antonio for the weekend. That Saturday afternoon, we drove by Playland Park and just for fun, I suggested we head in for a while.

There it was. The Rocket. It didn’t look as big as when I was a little kid or in the eighth grade.

I was definitely a Big Kid now. . .

I bought a ticket and climbed on. . . .

That ride on the old, rickety roller coaster was one of the happiest, most exhilarating experiences I’d ever had. I remember cresting the top of the lift hill and looking down at that same park bench where I’d spent so many hours watching everyone else ride it.

It turned out that that summer was the last season for Playland Park. It closed just a couple of months after I’d finally conquered my beloved Rocket. The park was abandoned but the Rocket stood there for several years after that, silent and falling apart among the weeds.

I’d never get to ride it again. I’m so glad I finally did that one summer day in 1980.

Here are some pics of Playland Park having been abandoned many years ago: And the remnants of the carousel I rode as a little kid:

It turns out that The Rocket was quite a popular coaster. In 1985, a small amusement park in Pennsylvania bought The Rocket, moved it piece by piece, re-assembled it, and re-named it “The Phoenix.”

The Rocket lives! It’s been thrilling riders ever since and, from what I hear, runs faster than ever.

If I ever make it to Pennsylvania, I’ll be sure to ride it. I’ll be the one waving to the little kid on the park bench; the one too afraid to ride.

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At 8:14 AM , Blogger Citymouse said...

wooden coaster rule!


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