Rollercoaster Of Love....
Nothing is stronger than young love, a first love. Many have said that love is like a roller coaster: it seems like an insane impulse to obey, to allow yourself to hurtle around, getting slammed against the bar, feeling your stomach ride up in your diaphragm like a mylar balloon, testing the limit of your constitution to stiff-arm the dizzyness as the adventure blasts by and often is all too quickly over. Some of us are brave enough to dare-- others of us resolutely remain on the ground at pedestrian pace preferring the predictability of the merry-go-round to the blast of hot, prairie-inflected wind in their hair. True, the thrill doesn't always provide happy results, particularly if you've indulged in that corndog with extra mustard ju-uust a leetle too soon before facing the precipice. But sometimes you coast into the station, heart-aflutter, only to have the attendant wave you on through for another go-'round. The ride seems to go on forever. Love can be like that.
"Why the waxing rhapsodical, Ms. Cornelius?" you may ask. Well, I'll tell you--the Nabobs of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority have pulled the plug on one of my first loves: Bell's Amusement Park. Its lease on the Tulsa Fairgrounds has not been renewed.
#$@*! (read "Gosh Darn Them All to Heck-- and let a 900-foot tall Jesus reappear to lead them there).
How much a part of my childhood was Bell's? Let's see: my dad's employer used to hold its family day there every year, and we would spend an entire September afternoon playing Skee-Ball and riding the Himalaya, the Log Flume, the Phantasmagoria (who could forget the sudden blare of a horn from the bus in the devil-darkness? Scared the crap out of you EVERY time.), the gondola ride across the fairgrounds, the antique car ride, and yes, even the merry-go-round. But the pinnacle achievement was Zingo, the wooden rollercoaster. Out you'd go from the station, waiting to hear that chain chirp and skitter "chunkachunkachunkachunkachunka" until-snap!-- it would catch the underside of the train and pull you up with your friends to the top for a leisurely pause until the real fun began. You could see all the way to Osage county-- if you kept your eyes open.
The people who ran Bell's also gave ride coupons at report-card time-- so many ride tickets for As, Bs, and so on, and this inspired many a young scholar whose family didn't have wads of cash to hit the books. Later they added other attractions like the Chili Pepper Drop, and took away other attractions, like the huge, corrugated, undulating yellow slide you could ride down on a gunny-sack, but there was always plenty to keep you occupied.
Even when the Fairgrounds was more than down at the heel, Bell's was always there as a place to have fun. I still remember the days when you stood a far greater likelihood of being brained by a piece of concrete-and-chickenwire falling off that urea-tinged, half-nekkid monstrosity known as the Golden Driller than you did of ever being hurt at Bell's. Please drink in that kitschy example of aesthetic tone-deafness to the right. (Also note the idiotic penguin statue at its feet, which was the Town Fathers' answer to Chicago's community art project called "Cows on Parade" awhile back. Why penguins? Damned if I know.)
I was even more impressed by the value of Bell's when I moved to a place that has a large amusement park that is one of those entertainment megachains. You know the kind of place: you wait in line for half a day to ride a ride that lasts thirty seconds, and they charge a family of five an amount equal to the cost of the monthly mortgage payment for the privilege. I took my kids there once, and I will never go back.
But for the last couple of summers we've taken the kids to Bell's when we were down visiting the parental units. At first, I was afraid that the eldest of my Beloved Offspring would view this little home-town amusement park with the jaded eyes of a child who's seen the Promised Land-- and it's peopled by gloved rodents and waterfowl that ain't wearin' britches.
But imagine my pleasure when she turned to me, dripping wet from going down the Chili Pepper Drop for about the fiftieth time, and said, "Oh wow, Mom, this is the coolest place EVER!" She understood a basic fact. You could ride your favorite rides dozens of times in a day at Bell's in the time it would take you to stand in line for one ride at those mega-parks. And since it cost a fraction of those other places, we could stay all day and even come back tomorrow. And then there was Zingo. Old-fashioned, gut-wrenching fun.
There's talk of pulling a Big Yellow Taxi* on the spot where Bell's now rises proudly to the tops of the cottonwoods. I hope we'll never be forced to sing, "They paved paradise, put up a parking lot/ with a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin' hot spot..."-- but I'm none too sanguine. Listen to me: you'll lose loads of money, people, and the occasional weekend Flea Market is not enough to make up the difference.
So right now it looks like change is on the horizon in Tulsa-- but you'll no longer be able to see it from atop the white wonder known as Zingo.