Monday, August 21, 2017

Ontology of Coaster Enthusiasm (As viewed through an Canadian credit whoring trip)

In the past, I've tried to provide some sort of review of concepts in the realm of theme park/amusement park fandom here at Parkscope. You can see variations on that here and here, for example. What is sometimes good is to extrapolate on ideas that are often thrown out as though everyone understands the terminology. Preaching to the choir is easy. It's everyone else that's the challenge. This past weekend, I took a trip that is extreme for most, and yet the sort of thing that is almost commonplace within the coaster enthusiast community, and beyond just offering a trip report, it is a good way to better describe that community to those in the theme park or non-theme park fan space who aren't familiar with it.

As detailed previously in "What is Theme Park Fandom?," coaster enthusiasts are a major sub grouping/umbrella term of theme park fans who emerged like the other tribes in the mid-1970s during the first great wave of modern American nostalgia movements. Coaster enthusiasts are generally, but not always, ride motivated rather than brand motivated. This doesn't mean that there isn't strong association with individual brands or companies, however the motivations behind those come from a different place. Disney is an all encompassing media corporation which is able to not only project the idealism of its founder through a vast number of channels, but also provide so many products (physical and content) for sale that one could spend their entire lives taking in nothing but fresh, new to them "Disney." Universal is similar.

However, for the regional park scene, this is not the case. Cedar Point cannot offer wall-to-wall Cedar Point; the park operates seasonally, and aside from the Peanuts characters which they have rights to, there is no never ending stream of external media to associate with. Smaller family run parks without any intellectual properties can offer even less. Their connections are still emotional, but stem primarily from things like geographic proximity and reactions to their attractions rather than the attractions' capability to act on their existing predilection to characters and stories. More simply put: fan communities like Cedar Point's are much more a result of how much people like the action of their roller coasters, not because the roller coaster is themed to Harry Potter.

No one understands this engagement more than coaster enthusiasts themselves. An exact number can only be guessed: millions watch videos on Coasterforce and Theme Park Review's Youtube channels, but only thousands join the official clubs such as American Coaster Enthusiasts, European Coaster Club, and Greater Ohio Coaster Club. Coaster enthusiasts still make up only a small fraction of the greater visitor base for theme parks, but they're often among its most vocal. Regional parks will often seek out feedback from coaster enthusiasts because of their large experience base of park going, and some individual enthusiasts become trusted advisers to manufacturers and park operators. Most enthusiasts are assumed to be comparatively casual: interested enough to pay money for publications or follow construction footage online, but not active in being regulars at coaster events or posting content. They are a sort of invisible mass known to be there and to occupy space at big coaster events, but unknown to the often insular worlds of the more hardcore in the scene.


Life is a series of risk/reward equations. Getting up in the morning, leaving the bed, taking a shower, going to work, what we choose to eat, the entertainment we decide to observe, so on, so forth; they are all risky to varying degrees. Some people spend little to no time thinking about this; others see their lives become almost impassably difficult as anxiety from decision making wracks their minds. For me to pull off and try to find the Bayfield Fair, advertised on various signage posted along my route in rural Southern Ontario, is not a great risk in the grand scheme of things. Ontario is not a terrifying place in my estimation, and while it increased the overall likelihood I might meet a deer with the front of my car later in the evening, there was a 0% chance of cool rides and roller coaster "credits" by not going to the Bayfield Fair, and a >0% chance of that if I did go.

Bayfield's fairgrounds is close to downtown area and central square, with plenty of free parking available on surrounding streets. As I wandered up to the gate, I was informed there would be a $5 CAD fee to enter. I looked past the woman requesting the money at the midway; several games booths, a Round Up (no more classic a ride than that), and the unmistakable light and vinyl pattern of a Wisdom Dragon Wagon sign. The ride itself was obscured by food trailers, but there was a real possibility of a coaster! I couldn't hand over the money fast enough. To my right, a tent offered the ability to partake in "RibFest" for $22 CAD - this well outside of the accepted BBQ zone as I recognize it, and while it was possibly very good, I calculated the odds of pleasure were maximized by just the entry and the potential of another ride for the count.


When I first became a "coaster enthusiast" back in 1996 watching those old Discovery Channel specials, I didn't know anything about the scene, the mentality of the people doing it, the goals of the club, anything like that. In my first two years in the hobby, I approached it as though the only thing that mattered were the biggest rides. I wound up skipping parks and coasters I regretted missing because of that. I could have easily been on Screechin' Eagle, Americana Park's airtime filled wooden coaster back in 1997. Same with the Clementon Jack Rabbit in New Jersey, which came down after the 2002 season. I never rode what I considered to be "carnival coasters" - portable style smaller steel coasters like Dinosaur Beach's Spinning Mouse and Golden Nugget, or Morey's Zyklon. That all changed when I went to my first coaster event, ACE's Ultimate Preservation Conference way back in 1999.

Many coaster enthusiasts probably had, at some point, a mentality like mine at age 14. Ride the big stuff, don't care about the rest. But it isn't the late 1990s anymore. People who engage with the coaster enthusiast community directly have probably heard a whole host of terms created in the USENET era to describe what the most hardcore of the hobbyists do. Much like birders' life lists, many coaster enthusiasts keep what are most often referred to as "counts" or "track records". Coaster Counts consist not of coasters in the parlance, but "credits," and one can only obtain a "credit" by riding a roller coaster. Enthusiasts who choose to keep record of their coaster riding do so in a variety of fashions: my master list has been kept in a spreadsheet format, constantly updated, since 1999. Richard Bannister utilizes a database he built himself. Some people still use paper records. Others choose to use websites like Coaster-Count and Coastercounter.

Unlike birding life lists, "counting roller coasters" is not nearly as cut and dry. Birds are birds: Most people who bird are unlikely to discover entirely new species, so their lists are based off known species of birds, each counted precisely one time. On the other hand, the definition of what is or is not a roller coaster and what is or is not a different roller coaster differs from person to person. Most people agree that a "roller coaster" is a ride that operates on rails powered by gravity. However, within that space, there is a lot of wiggle room.

Mountain Coasters were and are still a controversial topic among those who count: They roll. They certainly coast. They often have both rider control braking mechanisms and gyroscopic braking to limit speeds. Space Mountain at Disneyland features two entries on Roller Coaster Database, as the ride was entirely replaced. Incredible Hulk at Islands of Adventure, meanwhile, only has one entry in spite of nearly all of its track (station excepted) being replaced along with the trains. Wooden coasters by their very nature have their track beds and supports changed frequently. The layouts of even the most well known antiques have seen drop and turn profile changes, with most of the knowledge of that having been lost to time as irrelevant prior to the internet. In 2002, I rode the Looping Star at Margate Dreamland. Since then, the ride has found two new homes, its most recent being in the nation of Croatia. Some people will count it at each place; others (myself being one of these) would frown at the notion.

Perhaps the most extreme example possible to show what challenges there are in discussing "coaster counting": Knott's Wacky Soap Box Racers opened as Cycle Chase in 1976, but the low capacity of the Steeplechase style vehicles led to them being replaced with the higher capacity Soap Box cars for the 1980 season. Each of the four tracks on the roller coaster was independent, meaning that it could theoretically be removed from the ride and operated as its own individual roller coaster. When Soap Box Derby Racers was removed in 1996, it was replaced with the Togo racing looper Windjammer Surf Racers for 1997. There were two individual tracks to the ride with different layouts and lengths. Depending on one's predilection, the same space at the same park with only two fully constructed attractions could be counted to be as many as 10 coasters due to the modifications in vehicles and the number of individual tracks.


Heading straight for the back of the midway, I wasn't accosted by a single games barker for a change. Perhaps that was Canadian good will, but I'm guessing the local authorities asked them not to yell at passersby they thought would be good marks for winning ring toss or roller bowler. It didn't take me long to arrive to the coaster, and, oh damn. Of course. The tell tale sign of the third rail. And there's the cord running from the train to the center, and yup, it's powered. The term "roller coaster" has two parts. The first, "roller," comes from the fact that the rides are supposed to roll over some sort of path or track. The second, "coaster," comes from the idea that once a roller coaster is released from either a launch or highest hill (aka the "lift hill), the ride is primarily powered by gravity until it hits the station brakes at the end of the ride. Powered coasters certainly roll on track, but they aren't powered primarily by gravity, but rather an electric (or occasionally, internal combustion) motor.

Some people still count powered coasters like the ubiquitous Zamperla Dragon, and their logic isn't unsound. The rides are powered, but are still intended to run and be like a roller coaster in terms of what it actually does. There are also things which both roll and coast that are generally not considered roller coasters: Alpine Slides have a defined track, defined vehicle, roll, and coast, but are not listed on RCDB or any coaster counting website. Pretzel Amusement Company has two surviving gravity driven dark rides: Devil's Den at Conneaut Lake and Hawnted House at Camden Park which appear and generally ride like classic dark rides, but also have chain lifts and wild mouse qualities. More controversial yet: Dollywood's Blazing Fury and Silver Dollar City's Fire In The Hole have electric motors which power the rides, but also has periods with no third rail and power during several gravity driven coaster style drops. Those who count coasters all have their own personal rationale for what does or doesn't count: For me, "powereds" and "relocates" are an uncrossable, incontrovertible "no" when it comes to being counted as a coaster.

Defeated, I looked back at the Rib Fest. I had fucked up, and I knew it. I also felt as though leaving at that point after only moments inside the fair would be seen as an affront to the woman who took my money: I, interloper, rejecting her community swiftly not because they lacked a particular ride designed for small children, but because they had brought one incompatible with my absurd demands. Risk/reward was all inside of my head, but rather than create any potential by which I would be inside that one rural Ontarian's head for the rest of the weekend and perhaps days, weeks, and months afterward, I turned and went back towards the food vendors. $22 was too much for me to accept spending for a snack, as I wanted to go drinking later. But the potential of whatever the hell a peameal bacon sandwich was for $5.50 seemed a good compromise. I ate it, texted my wife, took some pictures with my phone, and then felt satisfied that I could leave without demeaning the people Bayfield, Ontario.


Coaster nerds are no different than other types of nerds. They too are obsessive to frightening degrees and willing to let abstract or meaningless concepts effectively ruin their lives in the search for meaning and acceptance. The act of counting invites activity that under no other conditions would be termed reasonable. I remember having a conversation with a coaster friend about traveling to Peru several years ago. I was interested in going, and they had been. Had they gone to Cuzco? Machu Picchu? No, they informed me. They had spent most of their time around Lima and been on every Wacky Worm in the country. This person is still very much in the hobby, and still going to very unexpected locales to find new coasters for their track record. In fact, she has the highest track record of any female in the world. She'll also tell you that it's very possible Dr. Lisa Scheinin has been on more than her; she just stopped recording her count (with a caveat: "Did you know she counted relocates?").

Anyone who is seriously into the coaster scene and tells you that when they first started there was no attraction to having a gaudy count number is lying. Everyone has their opinions, but the beefier the number, the more the experience, and the more the experience, the more merit that opinion often gets. Sure, there's the visual signalling via coaster t-shirts (like concert going, you never wear the shirt of the park you attend), patch jackets, signature lines, and Facebook avatars. But once you start actually interacting, the coaster count almost always seems to come out.


Saturday morning, I woke up reasonably refreshed from my bed in Walkteron, Ontario. I had a coffee maker in my room, but I also had neglected to get smaller change than a $5 for housekeeper tip, forcing me across the street to the Foodland for a Starbucks iced coffee. At least then I could leave a toonie for maid. She did a decent job with what she was given, and realistically, it was probably also the wife of the owner. I know how these operations work, and when you've got a whole 10-12 rooms in the middle of nowhere and you're charging $63 USD to stay, corners get cut. Like how my venetian blinds were duct taped in the center to prevent them from falling in front of the A/C window unit. Things like that.

Walkerton is within reasonable distance of Owen Sound, Ontario without actually being in Owen Sound and thus charging Owen Sound pricing. The city there reminds me a bit of Sydney, Nova Scotia or Oswego, NY: port towns that accidentally wind up with tourists around. For me, Owen Sound has a clear attraction, and that was Story Book Park. It's a family operated kids park running on the border of the Canadian frontier, and it follows in the grand tradition of 1950s era and after "story book parks". Idlewild, which actually started life as a trolley park at the turn of the 20th century, is probably the best overall known of the storybook parks out there, but there's many more throughout the nation which have either changed drastically (Great Escape in Lake George) or maintained their theme with only occasional updates (Storybook Land in New Jersey). In lieu of "riding the movies", one interacts with the trademark free stories of yore through dioramas, moving displays (often with home built attempts at constructing audio-animatronics), and attractions intended to resemble various things from children's stories. A lot of them have a castle facade: Story Book Park is no different. Petting zoos are also popular, and again, Story Book Park offers that too.

Like many parks which are unmoored from big urban areas and population centers, there are challenges to attraction acquisition. Most of the rides are used: some of the rides probably predate the park they're in by a solid 15-20 years, if not much more. The sole coaster at the park, Python Pit, hasn't even been renamed. The name is synonymous with the Jeepers chain of Family Entertainment Centers, many of which acquired identical Miler models. This one in particularly began its life in Greenbelt, Maryland inside the Beltway Plaza Mall. Now, long after that facility has closed, it appears here in the back of a kiddie park in the middle of nowhere, Canada. And for me, unfortunately, I'm waiting for it to open. Rains have swept through on and off throughout the morning, so things need to dry before I can get on.

Lucky for me, there's actually something else to check out at this park beyond the storybook scenes. Haunted House is a self guided walk-through scare house constructed by someone at some point. The most effective scares come from blasts of air triggered by individuals movements. There's a couple good size scenes to check out along the way, and an undulating floor was installed to give it a little more dimension at points. It's nothing so great as to demand intercontinental transit to see, but the kind of thing that I find all too cool about the hobby of going to parks.

Nothing had happened over at Python Pit when I got back. Inquiring with employees, they'd have it up in just a few minutes. 5 or so minutes later, the covers were pulled back, and the test runs started. As I and a bunch of age appropriate for the ride (read: 3-5 years old) boarded, I went through the process of lowering my own restraint mechanism and locking it. I, perhaps sadly, know way too much about what to do on these rides. Coaster #817 began chugging up the lift hill - a whopping 11.5 feet - as rain began to pour again. Like most of Miler's kiddie rides, this is inoffensive. A curving first drop leads to a hill and descending helix before a pair of small angled "bunny hop" hills as it returns to the station.

Usually, rides of this sort have operators run it endlessly: as an enthusiast, I need only one lap to count it, but usually get 5-8. The first one is amusing. The second gets a "Hey, whoda guessed we'd actually had done this stupid shit?" feeling. The third the smile starts to recede. By lap 5, there's a sense of inner shame and a desire that it end already. I got it. I did it. That was fun to say I did. But I have better things to do even if each individual lap takes but 20-30 seconds to complete. Python Pit at Story Book Park ended after one lap, with the train blowing halfway through the station and needing to be pulled back by reversing the lift motor. I was spared the embarrassment as well as the possibility my camera bag might be soaked being left out in the rain. I also nearly managed to fall on the exit ramp, which somehow would be sadder than being left to ride the kiddie coaster for 5 more hideous laps. Mission accomplished: it was time to move on.


For each people who have counted coasters, there are probably two who stopped. Most of those who stopped are the hobby's equivalent of lapsed Catholics; the people who believe in some sort of God and think the Pope is a good guy, but the idea of actually going to church every Sunday and putting money in the basket is something they no longer can connect with. They don't buy into the community aspect of it, they don't feel better about themselves from their communing with Christ on those terms, and they never feel the weight of their sins pass, no matter if they do the Hail Marys the priest prescribes in the confession booth or not. Religious fervor can be on their terms.

Why does the fervor leave? Enjoyment of roller coasters is replaced by many with enjoyment of the roller coaster community. The meritocracy of counting benefits those with many coasters, and thus it behooves one to ride many, many coasters. Most people new to the scene know about the big coasters and parks around them. Then they will go and seek out other big, gnarly rides wherever they can be found. Orlando and Los Angeles' metro areas are obviously popular places, but there are many, many other hubs of activity throughout the world when density of parks meets density of human beings. For all those bent on increasing their count, the balance of cost/benefit eventually begins to tilt. This is where one goes from the beginner/casual stage of enthusiasm into the intermediate/expert/"serious" zone.

What about the kiddie coasters at the big parks? What about the kiddie coasters at the small parks? What about kiddie coasters at indoor family entertainment centers? What about carnivals? Tracking carnival coasters is tough, especially when you don't count relocates - they move around all the time. A ride owned by one company can show up at an independent midway one week and be at a different company's midway the next. It might be put on a trailer in winter quarters and not seen for 10-15-25 years before being brought back out after some sand blasting and electrical work gets done. You might do every permanent coaster in your state - how about transportable ones? How about every permanent and transportable coaster in every neighboring state and province? States can be big. You ever see how long of a drive it is from Kemah to Amarillo? It's far. Real far. But even that can be cheaper financially to add 3-5-7 coasters to a track record when your alternative is getting on an airplane and flying internationally because you've been to every Cedar Fair or Six Flags park already.


After making a quick phone call and making a switch on routing on my GPS, I wandered my way up to Blue Mountain, on the edge of the Georgian Bay. I've been to the region once before and went on the mountain coaster located at the local ski resort. However, that trip was in November, and by that time, Blue Mountain Go Karts has long since packed up for the season. This time, it was a Saturday in August, not one in the throes of winter. And while the rides are mentioned on their website, the woman who answered the phone assured me the coaster was available to ride. It's an Allan Herschell Company Little Dipper model coaster - RCDB notes it is of an older style for the ride with flatter curves. Rides like it are generally of a 1950s vintage, so who knows where it came from or how many owners had it before. It runs though, for sure- the skid brakes come in from the side and pinch the train through the station when its to be stopped using straight up wood as the friction material. The trains are original and still have the "AH" logo up front, and as far as sketchy Herschell coasters go, this is probably mid-pack in terms of fear that it would simply collapse under my weight. There's an urban legend in the hobby about it occurring to a train load of ACE members in 2008 at the now defunct Fun Spot in Indiana which was intentionally hushed up, but I can't confirm it.

This left me two hours of driving to my next destination with pretty tight windows to ensure that I'd be able to hit everything I wanted before I needed to be back in metro Toronto. I wound up eating a champion's lunch: bottled water, beef jerky, and an Oh Henry! bar. They're much more popular up north.


Before the internet had dominance over all information ever, us fogies had to get books and magazines to know where to find amusement parks at. Tim O'Brien's Amusement Park Guides (5 editions were made) were a major source of info and included both amusement parks with and without coasters. I still reference them now when it comes to historical documentation, and even today there's stuff he mentioned few people seem to realize never went out of business. But the tome of tomes, the bible of coaster enthusiasm, that was Guide to Ride.

Guide to Ride was published in 1991, and following the philosophy I mentioned I came into the hobby with, it detailed every unique and large non-production model roller coaster in the country at the time. A supplement was published a couple of years later with new rides, but demand still existed for both to continue warrant them being printed (even when way out of date) well into the 1990s. The ACE Publications committee then worked hard on producing the final version of it, a hard bound bible of coaster riding known as Guide to Ride 2000. It, like the original, offered phone numbers, addresses, and basic directions to get to the parks as well as photos and descriptions of the rides, but expanded the reach of the original to include every and all known roller coasters in the US and Canada. It sold out an eternity ago. I honestly can't believe ACE hasn't just removed the listing from their publications page. Like, c'mon, there's no reprinting it. Does anyone even still have the proofs?

Ultimately there was never a need for another book like it. Duane Marden's Roller Coaster Database became the source for any and all info regarding coasters. He welcomed submissions from every corner of the globe too, unlike ACE. And the unlimited capacity of the net meant he could also catalog every historic ride too. There are over 8000 recorded entries on RCDB of coasters throughout the world and time itself. Each submission has been vetted by the site's main man, Duane himself. The expansion of knowledge about just how many coasters there were between RCDB and Guide to Ride 2000 versus what was available before was enormous. That knowledge also fed into the growth of the coaster enthusiast community via the internet and the desire of those new members to inflate their personal track record by any means possible.

New terms became en vogue among enthusiasts. "Credit runs," most often associated with the Jersey Shore and its enormous number of rides in a small geographical area, became common place. Rather than go to a park and ride the same coaster 10 times, there was increased cache in going to 10 parks and ride each coaster once regardless of what the coaster was. Credit runs would become ever more complex: single day turnarounds from flights, epic drives, oodles of kiddie coasters at arcades. The need to obtain this social cache expanded endlessly. When amusement parks would attempt to limit access to kiddie coasters by requiring adults to have a child with them to ride, coaster enthusiasts would beg parents for the opportunity to take their kids with them for the purpose of obtaining the nebulous credit. At coaster events, obtaining access to kiddie coasters (Rye's being most difficult) was often a major selling point for attendees. Barring that, those enthusiasts who had actually managed to produce offspring often watched as their kid rode the same ride 20 times in a row for the benefit of their fellow enthusiast.

This led to a pejorative term of endearment for enthusiasts who would partake in this behavior: "credit whores"(sometimes shortened to CreHo, one of many innovations from the late Matt "Mamoosh" Sullivan). Those willing to do whatever to get the credit; whether it was bribing ride operators, bribing their managers, begging, borrowing children, etc. ultimately wound up with the title. "Credit whoring" was totally ridiculous, but also generally a lot of fun. At least, it's generally a lot of fun at first. It also tends to be physically and mentally grinding to do for long periods of time. As one exists within the hobby long enough, their social connections build up regardless of their willingness to expend money and time on riding coasters, and the value of telling people they've been on 20 new coasters this month (none of which were objectively good) drops precipitously. If no one you know cares if you've been on every Vekoma Boomerang in existence, and you don't actually like Vekoma Boomerangs, why keep seeking them out?


By 1:45 PM, I had arrived at my third and priciest stop of the day: Santa's Village, Bracebridge, Ontario. Opened in 1955, it is one of a great many storybook style parks (like the one I'd been to earlier) but with an overarching Santa theme. Santa themes are prevalent throughout the industry because, well, he's a beloved character that the rights to cost $0. There are Santa's Villages in Illinois, New Hampshire, and California, not to mention the Santa's Workshops parks in New York and Colorado, and Santa's Land (bigger than a Village) in the mountains of North Carolina. When Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana references that they're the first theme park in the world, they do so on the claim of having opened as Santa Claus Land in 1946 and expanding into "Holiday World" by adding the 4th of July to the mix in the 1980s. Santa is and will always be big business for the little guy.

This park in particular has a few different sections; there's Sportsland, which has go karts and zip lines, as well as a campground. Story Book Park had a campground too, I guess making it so both had "on property" accommodations for whatever that's worth. Santa's Village though is a much higher level overall operation than the Owen Sound park, and that's reflected in the existence of a brand new ride. Peppermint Penguin Spinning Coaster is a pretty ridiculous name, but they've built a huge Penguin statue out in front of it, and it is a factory fresh roller coaster from SBF. Fifty-three SBF spinning coasters have been sold the theme parks and many more to carnivals since the model was introduced in 2014, so they're probably not the most expensive rides to procure, but I'm almost certain they still price out to a higher level than a larger used Zyklon. The spinning is not extreme, and the layout doesn't necessarily feature any kind of abrupt directional changes that would send cars twirling like tops. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and kids raced back into line after going on. Also: lots of kiddie coasters are embarrassing to ride, and these aren't. They feel...okay. Their lift hills are tire driven however, and that means that rain is their enemy. As I was loaded into my car, misting rain started to fall. The operators looked at their manager, who shrugged. We went around and did our two laps. That's all I needed.

The park had more than just the coaster this time: Hey look, a powered coaster! I don't typically bother with these because, well, I don't count them, but Santa's Roller Coaster is an exception in that it is a customized Zamperla Dragon with an extended layout and good interaction with the trees lining the park's boundaries as well as a great sense of height due to the placement on the side of a hill. Rain started to come down much more prodigiously as we pulled into the station, and the longest wait in the park only wound up getting longer, as they were told it couldn't operate until it cleared. My time crunch meant that a trip on the Summer Sleigh, a jet boat tour of the Muskoka River, was a nonstarter, but I did get a trip on their surprisingly long train ride. The park features a lot of really nice tree growth and shaded space. I'd love something like a wood coaster here to really take it to a different level, but there seem to be some pretty serious space considerations, not to mention the distance that it has from any big towns (Barrie and its 185Kish residents is an hour south; Toronto is more than two hours away by car). One can dream, though. 45 minutes was sufficient, though I suppose with the boat ride that easily could have become nearly two hours.


Lapsed "crehos" typically wind up on one side or the other of the hobby depending on how their friendships in it went. Those who's social circles didn't completely collapse under the weight of the inevitable adult drama and nonsense will likely stick around in a lesser, but more sustainable capacity. Those who saw more dramatic changes in their cohort will find new things to obsess unhealthily over, repeating the same cycle as before. But what about people who don't lapse? What about the people who keep at it year after year after year?

The attraction to enter coaster enthusiasm is self evident: roller coasters. When socialization and friendships supplant the coasters rather than complement them, the obsession is no longer about theme parks and instead is about the people around theme parks. Those that don't leave then are people for whom the interpersonal relationships are good - great even! But they didn't come to the dance to posture in the corner for their friends. They came to the dance for the dancing. None of them are under the illusion that the Wacky Worms and Python Pits mean anything great, but they're an effective excuse to travel the world and go places sometimes few global tourists see. If you really, really love going to amusement and theme parks, its a great reason to go to new and different places than just the same 2 big corporate names most commonly associated with theme park going.


In 2015, Neb's Funworld finally opened the Sparetime Express. Another Python Pit from a Maryland Jeepers location, they had acquired it years earlier and started construction on it in 2009. I checked into Neb's around 4:30 with a bogey time of 30 minutes to get in, piss, ride the thing, and bounce so that I could make my 6PM "date" with the Airbnb guy and check in out in Brampton on time. Neb's is a bowling alley with some sort of indoor extension which this is a part of that is the size of some hockey rinks. The coaster sits on a metal floor elevated above their electric go kart track. It is surrounded by tall metal fencing resembling a steel cage. I handed my ticket to the operator and went inside after he unlocked the door. Unlike the seemingly identical ride at Story Book Park, this has newer style Miler trains with individual lap bars that are released by a pneumatic system of some sort. Otherwise, the action is the same, just in a vastly different environment.

As I headed out, I also noted they had a Moser Spring which was indoors with lighting effects. Who knew you could do such fantastic things with that in a bowling alley? I wound up arriving at 5:59 PM; yes, I'm patting myself on the back for telling the Airbnb host that I'd arrive within one minute of that 3 days prior. I can do those things. That evening I spent quality time in the Powerade Centre at a boxing match and later at a brewery in the High Park - Swansea neighborhood of Toronto. You probably don't care about those things. If you do, and you were hoping for more, I'm sorry. This is a theme park blog.


What all coaster enthusiasts like, whether casual or hardcore, are big roller coasters. Really big ones. But this too leads to some separation: many enthusiasts will commit first and foremost to big rides, whereas others want their big rides with something else. Jeff Putz of Coasterbuzz, often a "big rides first" guy, created the annual April Fool's Day gag of Charmland updates, a theme park with no coasters but lots of trees. Amusingly, Jeff had never considered that Charmland was actually a real place: Charmland is basically every city, state, county, and national park. People don't hate Grant Park for not having coasters, they like it. They actually really like it. They like Central Park in New York City too, and even now that Brooklyn is generally accepted as a "safe-for-whitey" zone again, they still like it more than Coney Island. People actually like to just be able to relax too, which is generally why the parks that serious enthusiasts wind up pumping up are parks that have big rides and a chill factor too: Dollywood, Knoebel's, Silver Dollar City, Lagoon, Knott's, and Kennywood, just to name a few.

Even Cedar Point with its mass of coasters has a swimming beach, a marina, jet ski rentals, fishing charters, parasailing, a petting zoo, pony rides, a museum (Town Hall), static exhibits like the Mill, glass blowing classes, and one of the largest classic arcades in the world, just to name a some of the things not necessarily associated with it being home to some of the most famous and enormous rides on earth. Kings Dominion doesn't have many of these, and even though it has a 300 foot coaster, it doesn't get the same play from super fans. Sorry, KD.


I don't have a lot of skills or sell-able talents, but dependability and sturdiness are two of them.  Yeah, I was out until past 1AM, but screw it, there's rides to go on. First up: Canada's Wonderland. I've gone there many times before, so I know how things work. Early entry started at 9AM as it does on every Sunday, and this week I could choose from Behemoth and 3 other rides that weren't Behemoth to ride. Behemoth is a hypercoaster - 200+ feet tall - from the good folks at B&M. It's maybe not the best of its kind, but it is a really good ride with stout throughput that kept the wait to no more than a single train. I didn't get there at 9AM because, seriously, it's a miracle I didn't have a hangover of any kind, but I did get my fill of rides in. By the time 10AM hit and the park opened to the public, I dawdled too much. Should have gone straight to Wonder Mountain Guardian (their dark ride coaster hybrid from 2015), but instead just slowly paced to Leviathan and found a big ol' line waiting. Leviathan is good, but it's a ride I've been on before, and I was looking for fresh and new. There wasn't even a line to exit when I got back to the gate, so I kinda forced my way through going the "wrong way".

35 minutes later I was on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto paying $15 CAD for parking and jumping on a water taxi to Toronto Island. The island is basically Toronto's Central Park, except it's an island. So it's more like Detroit's Belle Isle, except most people reading this have no clue what that means. Well, unlike both, it also has a metro airport that's mighty convenient for those taking intra-canadian flights, as you can walk from the city center into the terminal. But I'm not there for that, I'm there for the amusement park. And its been a rough year for Centreville Amusement Park.

It isn't that the crowds don't accept it or like it, it's that funky things are happening with our world. Lake Huron's levels were so high this year the park was flooded out until the month of August. Clean up has taken place and while most attractions are open, the park's zoo, train, and mini golf probably won't see the bell in 2017. Water taxi revenue is down this summer 90-95%, but at least weekends like this one show there's plenty of demand. I might have been lucky with timing when it came to the water taxis, but when I got back on shore, there was a line hundreds deep to get on. The ferries, which hold literally thousands, were looking at hour line queues. Hey, they need it here.

Since I'd last been to the island, Centreville obtained a replacement for their Zamperla Dragon in the form of - what else? - a Miler kiddie coaster. Unlike the Python Pits I had hit the day prior, this was a larger 15 ft tall model with an extended layout. It has the individual lap bars like Sparetime Express, and I guess it is moderately better, but being on a concrete slab makes it about the least interesting ride in the park. And yeah, the park has some interesting rides. There's a great windmill themed Eli Wheel, multiple car rides, a train that's impressively long when it runs, really solid kiddie attractions, a decent log flume, and much more.

I bought a bunch of tickets, so I was doing "a bunch more". That "bunch more" included the sky ride, which is a replacement of their previously existing chair lift attraction and actually brand spankin' new. It's about a 15 minute scenic ride that takes you over a boat channel on the island between the marina and beach area as well as the petting zoo. Then there's a great old school dark ride called the Haunted Barrel Works. It's still a bit of a hidden gen in dark ride circles, as even though its in a big city, it's in an out of the way location for most park enthusiasts rushing through. The stunts were all in working order and have been placed behind plexiglass rather than mesh to prevent vandalism. And finally, the Dentzel carousel. This is the final year it will run here - the flooding was such a huge loss to the company running the rides that the carousel had to be sold off in order to cover costs. Luckily, they demanded it be sold as a whole machine, and Carmel, Indiana has taken it in with the intent of making it the centerpiece of an urban renewal project. It's a lovely machine that moves at a solid rate of speed and has excellently carved/painted pieces. It's a real shame for Canada to lose this, especially at a community park like Centreville. I did feel much better seeing the crowds coming, however. Torontonians love this place, and for good reason. Huge green spaces, restaurants, cafes, food stands, rides, beaches, and amazing views of the city.


In summary, coaster enthusiasts, like any big umbrella group, aren't a monolithic subculture. Some obsess over riding everything, some only love that which is familiar. Some are restrained by geography, and some will ignore the warnings of the US State Department. Some love wood coasters, others steel. Some purely want to be thrilled, and others can't enjoy those thrills without the hope of quality time in a rocking chair afterward. What do they all agree on? That they love rides, and above all, they like the one type of ride that is the centerpiece and main drawing card in the past, present, and of the future for the amusement and theme park industry: the roller coaster.

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