Thursday, April 30, 2015

Vacation 1984: Six Flags over Vacation

In 1984, on our last day of vacation before the long drive home, we went to Six Flags over Georgia in suburban Atlanta. If you count water parks, this would have been the fifth amusement park the Gillespie family visited on the trip. On paper, it sounds like a blast. In reality, there was a little amusement park fatigue. We may have just been tired from the long trip or had it with waiting in lines. But there was none of the excitement we should have been feeling to spend a whole day at a Six Flags.

Make no mistake: We had a lot of fun. My favorite ride was the wooden rollercoaster that reminded me a little of the Eagle at Great America. We went on a few rollercoasters that day and the first rapids ride we've ever experienced (Great America's similar ride didn't open until later that summer. We saw a live Shirt Tales show (remember the Shirt Tales from Saturday morning cartoon?) that Jenny liked. I missed going on a pirate ship ride after going to the restroom or something, which in retrospect, was a brilliant move -- I have come to hate swinging pirate ships. We saw this cool Olympic video experience in advance of the L.A. Games -- a bit of a portend to the Games that Atlanta would get. And I remember being in line for a rollercoaster and seeing a girl that looked like Brooke from "All My Children."

I think the day would have been more memorable if it had been in the middle of the trip. I've noticed that on our vacations back to the Midwest, the last couple days are mellow, a winding down. I can appreciate that we split the drive back into two parts and got to experience one more day of fun before it was over. It was just could what have been an awesome day was merely pretty good, through no fault of anyone's. We had simply expended all our vacation energy. It was time to go home.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Vacation 1984: The randomness

We did a lot less freelancing on our 1984 vacation than we did two years earlier. Less exploring, more structure. I'm not sure if we were on a tighter schedule or just planned it better. No matter, it was fun either way, but I'm having a more difficult time recollecting some of the little things. But I'll give it a try ...

-- My sisters had the entire back of the station wagon to themselves and had a lot of fun back there. They wrote a sign asking passing driver to honk, then held up another one saying "thank you" that always elicited a smile from the other car.

-- I played Astro Blaster at the hotel in Atlanta and Space Odyssey at the one in Orlando.

-- We went to what might have been an outlet mall one evening in Orlando. I bought a Steelers hat and found an old issue of Dragon on sale at a bookstore for $2.67. I even found a picture of it to add here. I also remember accidentally leaving a store and not looking and crossing right in front of a couple. I apologized, but they were still quite rude to me. Orlando away from the tourist spots isn't supposed to be that great a city -- or at least it wasn't back then and was a little crime-ridden. Maybe that explained the bad moods ...

-- After famously getting infuriated by someone trying to sell us a timeshare in our first vacation, my dad was much calmer when he told marketers on the Orlando strip to buzz off.

-- The hotel in Atlanta was hosting a prom, and I saw a live DeLoriean in the parking lot for maybe the only time in my life, driven by a teen in a way-too-white tux.

-- When we first arrived in Orlando, a gentlemen in the elevator commented about how he couldn't believe the weather, maybe because it was only in the high 50s. My mom said that we thought it was nice, because "we come from cold."

-- On the night we left, my dad asked the Indiana tollbooth worker if he ever got lonely working that late every night, when barely any cars were coming through. The worker was nice about it. I hope he eventually got a better shift.

-- Finally, I remember staying up to watch "Friday Night Videos" in Atlanta. It was a rerun (I watched this show a lot in eighth grade) and included "Radio Ga-Ga" by Queen. I hope I turned it off soon after; I'm sure everyone else was asleep and I just couldn't doze off. We would go to Six Flags the next day, then head home that Sunday, but that's for the last two posts in this series.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Vacation 1984: New Song

Music always has inspired powerful memories for me, especially during vacations. On our first trip to Florida in 1982, the song-driven memories are thick. In 1984, the music doesn't take me back so intensely. Maybe because the trip wasn't as wondrous as two years earlier. Maybe because I had brought so many tapes to listen on my Walkman that I didn't pay as much attention to the radio. And maybe because the songs just weren't as good.

This isn't to say the songs from April 1984 mean nothing. They do. I distinctly remember hearing "Automatic" by the Pointer Sisters as we neared the Illinois/Indiana border and my mom and sisters had already fallen asleep. Besides my Walkman, I also brought my boombox and plugged headphones into it to listen to the radio stations I wanted to. In Orlando, I bought a cheap three-pack of cassettes and taped songs off the radio on the boombox without anyone else knowing what I was doing. And those are the songs that stuck.

Probably no other song reminds me of this trip than Howard Jones' "New Song." The little synth keyboard tune was catchy, and it was just unassuming and fun.

There were plenty of other songs, and I guess they weren't all bad. But they don't make me want to cheer, and that is what distinguishes the music on this trip with the tunes from 1982, or other vacations where the music embedded into my head (1979 to the Dells, 1998 to Texas, a few trips to California this millennium).

This post wouldn't be compete without a playlist.

New Song Howard Jones
They Don't Know Tracey Ullman
Girls Dwight Twilley
Got a Hold on Me Christine McVie
Show Me Pretenders
Footloose Kenny Loggins
Against All Odds Phil Collins
Runner Manfred Mann Band
It's a Fine Day Tony Carey
Leave It Yes
Time After Time Cyndi Lauper
The Authority Song John Mellencamp
Come Back and Stay Paul Young

A memory did just strike about "Leave It" -- I can remember it being on the radio as we were pulling into Orlando in the rain. And that makes me want to cheer a little.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Vacation 1984: The Epcot realization

Epcot opened at Disney World in October 1982 -- eight months after we visited on our first big vacation. I had taken a brochure about the new park on that trip and still possessed it two years later when we went back to Florida. I also had a bigger guidebook I'm guessing my dad ordered for free when getting info about or impending vacation. It was probably the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. The day after visiting the Magic Kingdom, we went to Epcot and it didn't disappoint.

I'm not sure what the park is like today with so much other stuff to do in Orlando, or if it seems dated the way Tomorrowland does at the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. In 1984, it seemed quite innovative. I remember a panoramic movie experience in which you stood in the middle of the theater, leaning against railings, and watched the film all around you.

There was an exhibit that had those needle features in which you pushed your hand underneath to see the needles create a three-dimensional image. I tried pushing just one needle up and ended up pricking my finger.

In the international area, we watched a street show with audience participation in which the performers asked for a young virgin. One of the troop picked out Jenny and got yelled at picking someone too young. He then picked out a senior, much to the laughter of the audience.

And on Spaceship Earth, the giant iconic globe that is a ride taking riders through the history and future of human development and communication, I had this unsettling epiphany that someday I was going to die. So much for the happiest place on Earth ...

Again, I was 13 and had kind of a rough, gloomy winter. There was about a two-year stretch when the Cold War was at its bleakest of any time of my life, and it just happened to coincide with hitting my teen years. So I guess I was kind of primed for this sort of anxiety at some point, the kind you feel and get over just by not thinking about it or realizing there's really nothing you can do, so why stress out? It just happened to occur on an Epcot ride.

The cars had stalled, actually, and we were stuck on the ride for a few minutes, which I wonder contributed to my brain taking this sharp turn (if we had kept going, would I have even gone there?). Maybe it was the knowledge that the people referenced in early human history were all gone -- and someday I would be too. Anyway, I don't remember much of the ride after that, only that I made an uneasy peace with myself by the end that it was how I lived my life, not the terminus. It was uneasy, to say the least -- I was still sort of in a daze when we went to Red Lobster for dinner afterward.

The anxiety aside, this might have been my favorite part of the trip. Looking back, I think my mom and sisters were bored -- after all, we left DisneyWorld to go to dinner. I kind of want to return to see what the park is like now, three decades later, and how it's reflected the technology and innovation that has emerged across the years. It might be a tall order -- even if we did go to Orlando, there's so much more the boys would want to do. And that's fine, because they should look forward to their own vacation memories. I drag them to enough of mine as it is.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Vacation 1984: The waterpark

In 1984, I was still water-resistant, avoiding pools and swimming out of fear and uncertainty that a 13-year-old shouldn't feel. Into this equation came another factor -- I was a teenager, with any resistance put up being more resolute, more independent. On our first vacation to Florida (not the greatest destination for someone with a fear of water), I at least tried going in a pool, even if I was just standing with my back against the side. This trip, I had no intention of even getting near the water.

Wet 'n' Wild was right across the street from my hotel, and River Country was DisneyWorld's sole waterpark in 1984. We couldn't spend every day at the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, and the waterparks were high on the list of things the girls wanted to do. I was content to stay at the hotel. Would I have wanted to do something else? Of course, but I wasn't willing to make a tradeoff if it meant I would have to endure the waterpark. So while my family went to Wet 'n' Wild, I stayed in the hotel. I watched "All My Children," read my book, and even designed an armored bus for the game Car Wars. Dad wondered why I was wasting my vacation with the bus, but I liked designing it (this was an slightly elaborate game). For me it was relaxing ... at least compared with the alternative.

At some point, my father was annoyed I wasn't joining the family on the family vacation and decided I'd be going with them to River Country. I didn't have to go in the water, but I still had to go with. I tried to explain to him that it was a waste of his money, but he wouldn't have any of that. So, against my wishes, I went to River Country.

The girls had a lot of fun, as did Dad. Mom mostly just lounged in the sun, watching the rest of the family. I brought my book and ... barely hung out anywhere near the water.  River Country had a short wooded nature trail that had benches where visitors could sit and relax. I found one, settled in with Isaac Asimov's "Foundation," listened to "Paradise Theater" on my Walkman over and over, and only checked in occasionally and to eat lunch. At one point -- and we have a picture of this somewhere -- I did sit and play chess with my dad on this little magnetic travel set I had brought with. And he was happy with that, too, that he got to do something with me that day. I was as well. But I never even took my socks off all day.

Looking back, the River Country day is just a sad memory of the most regrettable fear of my childhood that I was still a few years from trying to overcome. When I got into my 20s and started liking waterparks, I realized how much fun I would had that day if we took the trip just three years later. I'll never get a chance again, either -- River Country has been abandoned in favor of the more modern Disney waterparks. (If you want to see what happened to River Country, check out this website; it's pretty haunting.)

Secondly, and maybe Dad might not think this, but 31 years later, I still believe it -- I would have had a more enjoyable vacation day if I had stayed at the hotel. It was a waste of money. And I could have designed another armored bus!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Let the fun begin

Tonight brings to a close the last calm day before spring goes crazy on us like it does every year. In the morning, Michael has a soccer game and Ben has a soccer and a baseball game. I'm just coaching Ben's soccer team this spring and not helping with baseball (and I wasn't coaching Michael's soccer team this season anyway). They both swim two days a week, and Michael's spring basketball season resumes (he had a game two weeks ago, followed by two byes) next weekend. They will have a sport every day of the week except Sunday.

Every spring has been like this. I love helping coach baseball, but by about mid-May, I'm tired out -- it's such a long season (and here in Utah, the season barely reaches into summer, unlike my youth when we played into July) that I'm ready for it to be over. Same with spring soccer.

I sometimes worry maybe it's too much sports for these two months, but I would have loved to have something every day of the week when I was a kid. It would be different if we were taking them away from homework or play time with friends, but mostly, they have been watching Cartoon Network every day after school, so I don't exactly feel bad shuttling them to sports they love to play.

This spring might be a little mellower with me simply watching baseball instead of being in the dugout. I've been taking my laptop along to practices to work while I watch and the boys play. And the weather is improving. I love spring; I don't want to make it seem like I'm complaining. But wow, it's going to be crazy. And busy. And fun.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Vacation 1984: Return to Disney

As our first vacation, Disney World was our ultimate destination in our 1984 trip. We actually spent more days there than two years earlier: One day at the Magic Kingdom, one at Epcot, and one at River Country. Though we weren't staying at the resort (we were at the same Orlando hotel we stayed at in 1982), we were getting as full a Disney experience as possible 31 years ago -- before more areas such as Disney Studios or Blizzard Beach opened.

The funny thing is, at least with the Magic Kingdom, I don't remember as much from this visit as I did from the first trip. As I'm thinking about the vacation for this series of posts, my memory is a little cloudier despite the fact I was older. I barely remember any of the dinners we had, or highlights from the drive beyond Indiana, or much of what we did when we weren't at an amusement park. The same applies to Magic Kingdom, which was so new in 1982 and sort of boring in 1984. Maybe because I had become a sullen 13-year-old, maybe because it wasn't as new, or maybe I'm just cramming every memory into the first trip, even if they didn't occur then.

Here's what I do remember: In the midst of what might have been my first surge of teenage testosterone, I started rating every girl my age or older I saw that day from 1 to 10. It sounds kind of lecherous now, but for 13, it seemed logical, particularly if I felt bored that day.

Sometime in the late afternoon, the skies opened up with a deluge that chased most people from the park. We had reserved a table for dinner at Cinderella's castle and made it there before the downpour really got bad. Families were trudging in soaked, and I remember seeing a girl my age wearing flip-flops, shorts, and a plastic garbage bag in lieu of a raincoat (I gave her a rating when I saw her). We ate dinner and enjoyed the rest of our time at the park, after the rain had ended.

I distinctly remember the other parks we went to in Disney on this trip (for future posts). Strange for the Magic Kingdom, the memories just aren't there for 1984. I know I had fun -- we must have went on the roller coasters and Pirates of the Caribbean. But I do remember the rain. And the numbers ...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Vacation 1984: The beginning

We took two major vacations in my childhood, both driving trips, both to Florida. The first was in 1982, which I blogged extensively about a few years ago. Here is my first installment of the second, from April 1984. I meant to do this last year but never got around to it, so here it is a year later. Or more exactly, 31 years later.

We left in the evening, with the idea we would drive through the night. Our family car was a Oldsmobile diesel station wagon -- huge, with a roof carrier on the top, almost like the Griswolds in "Vacation." I had the whole back seat to myself, while the girls camped out in the back; with the rear-facing seat down, there was enough room for both of them to comfortably sleep. We departed, leaving Pepper behind with my Aunt JoAnn, who was house sitting for us. I stayed awake through the city and the south side, and the first toll in Indiana when my dad asked the worker if she ever got lonely that late at night. I eventually fell asleep.

Two hours later, I woke up and couldn't doze back off in the middle of the night. I stayed awake with Dad as he drove through Indianapolis. He found a soft rock station, and it and I were keeping him focused through the quiet, dark night. Indy was almost empty overnight, with the flashing light from the tallest building in town blinking quietly as a reminder that it was keeping watch on all driving through. I didn't fall asleep again until the sun came up.

We arrived in Atlanta late afternoon, and either found a hotel or my dad reserved it ahead of time (a Marriott). This trip seemed much less improvised than our first one. The girls and Dad swam in the hotel pool that was both indoor and outdoor. I played Astro Blaster in the adjacent arcade. The next morning, we completed the journey to Orlando, where the fun really began.