Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lagoon: Mecca of Wonder and Youth

It smells like hamburgers, cotton candy, and people.

And, when we were kids, it was like Wonderland and Willy Wonka's factory, rolled into one far away Mecca -- but not so far you couldn't get there. And most of us got there once a year...

On Stake Lagoon Day.

Lagoon is a fair sized amusement park, in Farmington Utah (just a stone's throw from my house now), that's been around since 1886 -- roughly the same amount of time as Coney Island. It's primarily a place to ride "thrill" rides, but in the sixties and seventies, it was also a major concert venue for the area. Everyone from the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, to Janis Joplin, The Monkees and Johnny Cash performed there. The Beach Boys even wrote a song called "Salt Lake City" which references Lagoon.

It's not their best song.

But, for us, Lagoon was a place, far to the north of Sandy, that called to us, and spoke of days of almost limitless fun.

I should back up a little, and give a quick glossary of terms.

Mormon: A nickname for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints.

Ward: A congregation of Mormons, and in Utah, because there are so many mormons, the congregations are geographically small -- usually four or five streets in a neighborhood.

Stake: A collection of wards -- usually five to seven wards make up a stake. And that geographic footprint -- at least for kids -- basically encompassed your whole world, and contained every person you knew.

Lagoon, owned by Mormons, offers each summer, to the various stakes in the region, a discounted rate on tickets (not all stakes go on the same day), which means that if you lived far away from Lagoon, as we did, the only chance you might get to go to Lagoon each year was on Stake Lagoon Day.

It also meant that there was a good chance that almost everyone you knew would be there that day too.

It was the opposite of school -- you and all of your friends, in one place that you all actually wanted to be.

Being turned loose in Lagoon, with the vague instruction from your parents, to meet at the Terror Ride at closing time, was a right of passage. It was an exhilarating liberation. It was like parents just vanished, and you were left to roam the park, running the midway, and riding thrill rides, and screaming out loud, and laughing at each other, and flirting with the girls, but even more, the ride attendants -- Lagoon hired a lot of pretty girls.

To this day, I have no idea where the parents went for six, seven...twelve hours. Logic tells me they must have still been in the park, but I swear we never saw them again. Maybe they liked it that way too -- maybe they were running and riding and screaming and laughing and flirting too? Lagoon was kind of magic that way.

Living close by these days, my family and I go to often to Lagoon. We went this afternoon.

As we rode the Sky Ride -- which stretches across the expanse of the park -- I laid my head back against the gondola, and closed my eyes, and it all came back.

I could hear the clickety clack of the Jet Star 2 track, and feel the wind in my face, and the g-force slamming me against the side of the car -- a car filled with buddies.

I could imagine the miniature golf course -- where each hole was inspired a different ride in the park. The golf course is no longer there. I often wish it were.

I could feel the nausea from the Tilt-A-Whirl, and the whiplash from the Boomerang bumper cars...and remember when those were enjoyable sensations.

As we approached the middle of the park, I opened my eyes and looked down on the Lagoon of my adolescence. It was that most magical time to be at any amusement park -- dusk. The sun has almost set over the Great Salt Lake, and the lights are coming up on the midway. I can hear the skee balls rolling and the milk bottles toppling. I can see that building of wonders, where we went to exchange the tickets that we won, for treasures. We agonized for what seemed forever over gum balls and erasers, and jump ropes, and plastic bugs, cheap stuffed animals, and a thousand other bits of junk, that were probably lost in the seats of the car on the drive home. We didn't care. We won them and they were ours.

That treasure trove is no longer there either.

To my left, I could see the Tidal Wave -- the great pirate ship! Back and forth, back and forth, on the bounding main. Kids yelling at each other:

"Tastes Great!"

"Less Filling!"

Yep, a bunch of non-drinking mormon kids screaming beer commercials at each other. Days never to be forgotten, indeed.

Next to Tidal Wave, was maybe my favorite ride -- Turn of the Century. This is an old fashioned swing ride, that was added in 1986, the year Lagoon turned 100. This ride had the prettiest girls, and the best music. Large speakers blasted some of the greatest music ever...Jack and Diane...Summer of '69...Livin' on a Prayer...the Final Countdown...Turn of the Century was as close as you got to flying. The swings would rise into the air and you were soaring.

Around and around.

The wind in your face.

Arms out.

Fingertips touching other fingertips.

Dusk darkening the perimeter, tungsten and neon light glowing in a whirl of frenzied, youthful joy.

As I approached the end of the Sky Ride, and came back to earth, off to my right were the big coasters -- the legendary White Roller Coaster. Not the biggest one in the park, but the oldest -- one of the oldest wooden coasters anywhere. It's a thrill, but the real thrill is wondering if it will hold together until the end of the ride.

Beyond that, the Wild Mouse -- the one that feels like you're going to fall off the track, and the Colossus -- the double looped, Fire Dragon -- the ride you went on for a dare.

I opened my eyes, and touched my feet to the cement, as the teenage attendant directed me where to go. That teenager used to look like me. Now he looks like my son.

And, as I walk along there, with my children, I can't help but wonder if they wish I would disappear for a while, and meet up with them, at the Terror Ride, at closing time...

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