Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dark Rides

When I was about three years old, my parents took me to Vincennes, Indiana, to meet my great-grandmother—my father's Grandma Bierhaus. Here's a picture from that visit...

Dad, Me, and Grandma Bierhaus

My father tells the story that, while we were in Vincennes, he took me to a "fun house" at a local fair. He thought it would be like the fun houses of his childhood, with slides, mirrors, and moving floors. Instead, it turned out to be a dark ride, with monsters and ghosts popping up to scare the bejeebers out of you. I don't remember anything about it, but according to my father, I was terrified. He said that, for a long time afterwards, if anyone said that something was "fun," I wanted nothing to do with it. He felt terrible about it, but I couldn't have been too traumatized. My father was with me, and I must have known that he would keep me safe. He's the strongest, bravest man I've ever known.

I soon grew to love dark rides, and I still do. My favorite is Disney's Haunted Mansion. I saw a preview of the attraction on Disney's Wonderful World of Color in the 1960's, shortly before it opened. I begged my parents to take me to Disneyland to see it, but it wasn't until Loretta and I moved to California seventeen years ago that I finally got the chance. Since then, I've ridden the "Doom Buggies" many times, and, on our recent trip to Florida, I was finally able to visit the Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion and compare it to the Disneyland version. Here's a picture of me with some old friends...

After our vacation in Florida, we took the Amtrak Silver Meteor from Orlando to Virginia to visit my folks for a few days. The train was supposed to leave Orlando at 1:30 pm on Saturday and arrive early Sunday morning in Richmond. From Richmond, we would take another train to Woodbridge, where my sister and brother-in-law live. The train was five hours late arriving in Orlando. We later learned from fellow passengers that a pickup truck had run into it. Shortly after we boarded, it made two unscheduled stops—one to switch engines and another because a car was supposedly stuck on the tracks somewhere in front of us. ("Ram it!" yelled an impatient passenger in the dining car when the announcement was made.) By the time we left Florida, we were six hours behind schedule, and most of our journey had been in the dark. It occurred to me that we were on another dark ride—albeit a very long and boring one.

Fortunately, we were not on a tight schedule. My sister and brother-in-law could pick us up whenever we arrived in Woodbridge, and, if we missed our connection, they could drive down to Richmond to get us. Many of our fellow passengers were not so lucky. One was a retired veteran who had served three tours in Iraq. His ex-wife was in jail in a remote town in Virginia, and he was on his way to retrieve his daughter from foster care. He had to catch another train and a bus to get there, and he had to be there in time for the custody hearing. I hope he made it.

Some rides are darker than others. Soon, my father will be taking the darkest ride of all. I wish I could ride with him and make sure he's safe, just like he did all those years ago in the fun house. But he'll be all right. As I said, he's the strongest, bravest man I've ever known.

I love you, Dad.

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