Tag Archives: reminiscing

stop four: cedar point

There was a summer, many years ago, when M and I were first dating. We met during our one and only overlapping semester in graduate school, but we opted not to date each other until we started living 560 miles apart. Those were long miles back then – on two lane roads for the most part. They’ve been widened and multiplied in the years since, but they used to take ten or more hours to traverse. Neither of us owned a cell phone yet. My father had one for work – a brick of a thing – and he would mail it to me just before a long trip home to visit. It’s funny to think of that now, because the cell coverage between my little studio apartment and my childhood home had very spotty service at best. The phone was for emergencies, but I suppose only for the emergencies that happened right near the center of the occasional towns my car would pass. There were no unlimited long distance plans then either, only the conversations that cost real money each minute, the kind that you held with one eye closed to make the voice on the other end seem closer…and one eye open, on the clock.

We wrote a lot of letters that year and the next one. And that summer, the one that I mentioned, we also drove a lot. Never together, but always towards one another. It was the summer of weddings. We were invited to eleven. We made it to nine. We would have done those other two, but three sets of friends chose the same Saturday, but not the same state. M was in many of those weddings, and many of those weddings were located in Iowa – small towns in every corner. He would print out road maps at work and highlight my route, and then mail them to me ahead of time. We would arrange a place to meet over the phone, and try to time our departures accordingly. Once we both left, there was no way to communicate until we arrived. 

I would head north along unfamiliar highways and roads. The first time I crossed into Iowa it was over a single lane bridge at dusk. The road tipped up for a mile or two, and then I passed through this tiny little town named Argyle, and the sun was setting on the left, and there were corn fields all around and a biplane was dipping in and out just above the road. It was like a postcard to the heartland – brave new territory.

Massive amounts of friends would descend upon the chosen town, the Super 8, the Perkins – and we’d watch rehearsals and then eat rehearsal dinners, and then we’d do it all again the next day, but for real,  and in fancier clothing. Occasionally in all the hubbub of that summer we’d catch some quiet time, and I remember watching a show on the Discovery Channel about extreme roller coasters – their design and engineering, and the crazy people that travel from one thrill ride to the next. The show was fascinating and we noticed that many of the top ten coasters in the world were located at Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH. We made a pact that once we were off the wedding party travel circuit we would visit.

The ironic thing was, the very event that got us to Cedar Point that first time was a wedding. A friend from graduate school was getting married in Cleveland on the weekend of our fifth anniversary. We headed east and stayed in a beautiful hotel downtown, ate great food, danced and celebrated with many friends we hadn’t seen in ages, and then we added on a couple of days to the trip. It was time for some coasters, and we had done our homework.

If you love roller coasters, then this is the park for you. It’s pristine, and located on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie. The views in every direction are beautiful. 

There’s this brief moment as the small train car you are strapped into starts to slowly mount that first steep hill when you look around you and marvel at just how gorgeous it is. And then you dig your fingernails into the bar in front of you as the scenery turns into a blur of steel and screams.
There are eighteen coasters on the property, despite the fact that the overall area of the park is fairly small. They wind in and out of one another, jockeying for space. We still love Millineum Force – considered by many to be the best coaster in the world. It’s located at the edge of the park, and the views from that first hill are amazing. And then you plummet over 200 feet at an angle so close to ninety that you can’t see the track in front of you, just the water. It’s amazing. The photo below is one I took through the sunroof of our car as we drove by on the narrow road between the water and the park, while a car was headed downward. 

That first visit in 2005 was so much fun. We ran from coaster to coaster, bypassing every other ride offered at the park. The only exception was for the Ferris Wheel that we rode right around sunset. Spectacular. When we got tired mid-afternoon, we headed out to the beach for an hour, and dozed on towels under the sun before riding more roller coasters long after the sun went down. We are lucky that E loves coasters as much as we do – she’s pretty fearless and always game for anything. Now that she’s tall enough to ride even the most intense ones, we knew it was time for another trip back.

Cedar Point has this amazing option called a parent pass. It doesn’t cost anything extra – you simply fill out a card when you enter in the morning, and it’s perfect for families that have some kids that can coaster surf, and some that can’t. This is how it worked for us: E and her dad would get in line for a roller coaster, while F and I rode some of the smaller rides around the area. I’d get a text from M as they got onto the train platform, where they would hand that card over to one of the attendants just before they boarded the train, and F and I would head over to the ride’s exit. We could walk right up to the platform exit, and I would state my name to the attendant in charge of the parent passes. Then F and her dad would head back out of the ride, while E and I were able to get on the very next train. It’s a brilliant plan, really. I can remember in the past seeing families all waiting in line together, even with little ones. They would get to the platform and then jockey around in places so that they could stagger rides and pass the little kids at some point over the track to the other parent. This keeps the little kids out of line and away from the tracks completely, while not completely blowing your whole day waiting double time to ride each coaster. It’s a very sweet deal for the older kid who gets to ride twice – once with each parent. It definitely keeps the younger ones happy too – and I’m sure it makes the park a lot more money (we bought a lot of ice cream while we waited!).

We opted to stay right on the peninsula, in one of the cottages along the shore of the lake. It was so much nicer than a hotel room – a little more room to spread out in, and a killer view from the front porch. The view from the back had the giant wooden coaster – the Mean Streak. Another benefit of staying on Cedar Point was getting to enter the park an hour earlier than the general public. They would start up five of the major coasters an hour early, and everyone lodging at Lighthouse Point would line up at the back entrance just before nine and then head out to get a couple of extreme rides in before the line waits got too long. Visiting on a Wednesday and Thursday in mid August was nice too – the crowds were low as many schools were already in session. Having a home to escape to for lunch or naps or bathing suit changes was really convenient. It was so much cleaner and quieter than I imagined it would be. Once we were on our porch, the hustle and bustle of the park seemed like it was miles away. The top half of the photo below shows our front porch view, the bottom half was the back view.

Ask the little one about her favorite parts, and she’ll tell you the Gemini Junior was a big hit, with the water slides and sand play coming in at a close second.

Ask E about her favorites, and she’ll list them all. The newest coaster – the Gate Keeper – was a popular hit, for sure.

Ask M yourself – because I’m not sure what he loved most. Probably all of it, the faster the better. Or ask him about these seventeen seconds of insanity. I didn’t even document that nonsense.

Ask me, and I’ll tell you I loved watching everyone else having so much fun. But most of all, I loved climbing those big hills with this girl by my side. 

It was a little bittersweet that I couldn’t ride any rides with M – like we did those many years ago. But there will be time to do that again, I know. For now, I’ll take the Parent Pass life, any day.

still climbing the hill

All details rendered below might be slightly off due to the age of the writer and her sometimes tenuous grasp on the act of recall.


I grew up in a small town, with limited retail options. There wasn’t a Walmart there until I was almost gone. If you needed a new school outfit then you went to this little shop named Sycamore where you tried to find an outfit that had that most elusive quality – simultaneously unique and indistinguishable from everyone else’s clothes. If you needed to rent a movie then you went to the hardware store – its name is escaping me at the moment.  This hardware store had everything – including a section devoted to kids’ bikes. The bikes were hanging from thick chains and hooks from the ceiling, suspended far above the more practical everyday items, and beyond any sort of reasonable child-touching distance. A retail store these days would never employ those tactics. The more little hands that touch it, the better chance some big hands will hand over money for it. But there was something so positively delightful about those out-of-touch, out-of reach bicycles up there. We were content to just stand there and stare, while our parents bought things like fertilizer and batteries. They eventually carved out a corner of the shop and added some narrow strip shelves to the wall to hold VCR tapes. We learned quickly to focus our attention on the correct half of the display, selecting Betamax flicks over VHS. If you were invited to a birthday party, and you happened to be a girl between the ages of, say, five and fourteen, then you went to the Hallmark store right next to the hardware store and selected a birthday present for the lucky girl. There were years when girls opened up a dozen packages full of miniature smurfs, and years when they opened up new puffy sticker books and Lisa Frank sticker packs. There was the year of the little click beads – tiny letters and objects that clicked into larger items like purple plastic heart shaped treasure boxes and pink plastic bracelets. You would carefully select the right number of letters – to spell a name, or initials, or clever words like LOVE or UNICORN, and you’d get your gift wrapped at the counter in the same paper that all the other girls’ presents were wrapped in. 

I could tell you that I was born and grew up in the time period between Smurf figurines and Trapper Keepers, owning one of the first Cabbage Patch Kids on the shelf but not a single Beanie Baby, and that every middle school slumber party included the obligatory screening of “Dirty Dancing” and you would know exactly how old I am.

I can remember the details of that Hallmark store more clearly than any other store from my childhood. I haven’t been in a Hallmark store in ages, but I’m imagining that it looks both the same and different. I remember where each section of greeting cards / trinkets / gift wrap were located. Some sections were there year round, some were seasonal. There was a big section for birthdays, for weddings, for anniversaries and new babies. The sympathy card section never moved. I remember shopping for graduation cards each May, and looking at the annual Christmas ornament display in late November. My best friend had a Christmas tree with entire collections of Hallmark ornaments which felt both extravagant and over-coordinated to me. I’m fairly certain the seasonal sections were pretty focused on Christian holidays and celebrations – I suppose Jewish families (if there were any in our town) shopped elsewhere for their greeting card needs. Heck, I only knew one Lutheran and no Catholics, so there probably wasn’t a First Communion section either.

Hallmark always had this overtone of pastel-ness in it. There was music playing from a speaker somewhere, and the floors were carpeted and quiet. It was sort of like a library – people standing in front of shelves, slowly picking up cards to read, and then return. You could orient yourself fairly easily to where you wanted to go from a quick front door scan of the long, narrow space – pink-and-blue-baby, hot-pink-and-purple-girls, satin-white-and-ivory-wedding. The sore thumb that always stuck out in the store was the Over the Hill section – predominantly black, and full of cards with questionable humor, and far more party supplies than the other sections. This was pre-Internet-pre-Pinterest era, where every single little life occasion was not celebrated in full-blown party style. Birthday parties were the most common form of crepe paper streamer and latex balloon festooned events. If you judged the importance of various milestone birthdays by the linear foot devoted space in Hallmark you’d be right to assume that forty was the most significant, far outweighing the sweet sixteen, the first birthday, the golden fifty or the non-existent twenty-first in this bible-belt border town. I can remember attending fortieth birthday parties that were hosted in the fellowship hall of our church, the lucky celebrant pushed over to the cake in a borrowed wheelchair. The balloons were black, the streamers were black, and sometimes the icing was black (blech) which always stained your mouth and lips an eerie purple. The imagery of a roller coaster plunging you headlong into death was rendered in cartoon bubbles across half the cards.  The other half of the cards had Far Side cartoons.

I’ve often marveled at the differences between then and now, particularly when it comes to age. When my parents and their friends started celebrating forty, well, they seemed so old. Old enough to have children graduating and going off to college, old enough to laugh at black-icing cakes and packages of Depends and Metamucil on the gift table. And now we meet forty with babies and toddlers (or no kids at all) and we would slap anyone that even tried to wheel us up to a cake that suggests it’s all down here from this point. There are still huge hills to climb, and we’re in better shape than we were ten years ago, smarter and hipper and more self-assured as well. We aren’t anticipating a decline in anything in the near or distant future, not while we’re still juggling crazy schedules and writing day care checks and working on the house and flying down roller coasters of our own choosing, not the cartoon variety on Hallmark cards.

M turned forty yesterday, and I can’t really speak to his own personal feelings about this particular milestone. But it feels a bit like a shared milestone to me, as he straddles the side of another decade that I haven’t quite reached. He didn’t get any Over the Hill cards last week, but most of the cards did subtly reference age that he shrugged off as insignificant. We celebrated Saturday by hanging out all day and evening together with the girls.  We ate out at good restaurants and rode water slides for the hours in between. Sunday was a low key day at home, capped off with a birthday dinner that might have been like any other dinner, minus the gigantic dessert in the middle of the table. The girls bickered, as usual, and E picked at everything green on her plate. There was a brief moment when I looked at the table and the counter top and sink full of dishes and the overtired girls and wished M and I had taken the party elsewhere, a fancy restaurant, adult conversation.

But this is forty, this is where we are now. And it’s okay, in fact, it’s really good. I loved that twenty-five year old guy. A lot.  But I’ll take the forty year old one, hands down. 

sketches underfoot

This is not my first stress fracture.

My first fracture happened sometime during the fall of 1996, although it would be several more weeks before anyone used the words osso rotto with me. The pain was intermittent at first, and it only made me cry once.  Once just happened to be at night, at the base of the Eiffel Tower, after walking with increasing difficulty from the Arc de Triomphe.  There are extra bonus points for once‘s that cause any tears in that city. Sitting for an extra day or two in Paris is not a chore, nor is renting a car and driving through the Loire Valley, and then onto Basel and Weil am Rhein and Munich. I got smart with my walking, alternating between strenuous hikes in the Alps and long afternoons-turned-evenings at a table on a somewhere sidewalk with a sketchbook and good cider, a great deal of both.

And then I returned on the overnight train to the cobblestone roads of my home, with my notebook and my head and my stomach smarter, heavier, happier, but still the same cheap sandals on my feet.

Before Paris, my friends and I often spent the weekends just south of our home, hiking ribbon thin paths along the rocky edges of the Mediterranean. 
There were always six or eight of us in a line along those edges, and we’d stop for lunch in one town, and skip dinner in the next town, diving into the dark blue sea from tall, tall rocks instead. When the lights started coming on, we’d reluctantly dry off and venture onto a porch full of tables nearby and fill ours with orders that we almost always understood.  The surprises were always the best, which did not encourage proficiency in Italian among our tribe. Quale e’ la specialita’ della casa? That was the only phrase that really mattered, that, and the train schedule, although in a pinch the specialty of the house always won out over a ride home.

After Paris, I couldn’t imagine going here.

And that is what it will take to get a girl to venture into an Italian hospital and see a doctor.

I took our housekeeper with us because she spoke just enough English, and I spoke just enough Italian, that I figured I might be able to get my point across. Come to think of it, she really took me, since she had a car. (And crazy good parallel parking skills.)

It’s been seventeen years now, and I don’t have any photographs from the adventure – those were print film days, so why waste one of twenty-four exposures on a hospital – but a simple search for hospital options in Genoa brings up an image that is very familiar.

I remember feeling like I had stepped back in time when I entered, walking past a guard with a dog at his side. A dog in a hospital, how bizarre. I explained my symptoms as best I could, and then they led me into a room with a dated looking x-ray machine. The nurse pointed to the table and positioned my foot, and then walked over to the controls a few steps away.  I was without my translator at that point, and the next few moments were a hilarious mess as I tried to explain to the x-ray tech that I wanted a lead apron first.  I tried piombo, like with benzina – my best stab at lead was intertwined with the more familiar gasoline terminology. Grembiule got across apron, but the breakdown was with lead, and also with the fact that apparently neither the tech nor the patient typically request that sort of protection.  Finally a lightbulb went off, and the nurse left and returned with a heavy blanket that she sort of draped over me, toga-style.  I’m not sure if it was piombo, or just a decoy, but I felt better, and she snapped away, unprotected herself.

I saw the guard (and dog) stroll by my room a few times while I waited, and Andrina and I laughed about my shaky medical Italian. The doctor came in with a black and white image that he clipped to a yellowed light box before turning to me, confused.

When I asked you about you about your medical history, why did you not tell me about a previously broken bone? 

He pointed to a clear line on the bone in the center of my foot where the fracture had occurred and then healed. That explained the tears in Paris, and why a few days of sitting and sketching (not the cider) had made things feel better, at least until the next hike.

I left with crutches and instructions to stay off of it for a few days.  By the next weekend I was at it again – this time in sensible tennis shoes.  

I threw the sandals in the trash. I mailed the x-ray to my parents. I saw the rest of Italy on better feet, but with a new appreciation (and a lot of drawings) of the roads and paths that I was walking on.