I recently had the opportunity to return the Six Flags Great America after a 20 year absence. At 41 and childless, going there never occurs to me. My friend Kara turned 35 this month and decided to make it her birthday event. Apparently adults “of a certain age” don’t so much go to this park sans kids because I was the only one who was willing – even her husband declined. Correction; I was more than willing, I was PUMPED. Do the kids say that?? Is it “stoked”? Whatever.
I expected to have a lot of bittersweet memories from my childhood because my family of five went at least once a year from the time of its opening as Marriott’s Great America in 1976. My family has changed quite a bit since then, and beyond just the usual aging thing.
I thought I’d remember the bridge where I begged for one of those giant lollipops that looked so pretty. I ended up eating 1/10th of it then let it “age” in my bedroom for over a year before finally throwing it away. When it gathered orange dust from the spray-on hair dye I used for my Cyndi Lauper Halloween costume, I had to let it go.
Great America was where I had my first kiss – just one – with a guy who I will refer to as “redheaded Budweiser button-down shirt guy with serious acne and a creepy grin” while his friend and mine never stopped kissing.
The summer of my sophomore year, I went with two friends. For some reason, I saw no problem with wearing shorts to the park while I had my period. Not just any shorts – white shorts. The boat ride was not ideal for the adhesive of a maxi-pad and the damn thing was barely hanging on to my granny panties. “Like, oh my god!”
I did not think of any of these memories when Kara and I went because the park looked completely different. I recognized nothing save the old carousel.
While we were waiting in line to enter, I asked, “How much were the tickets?”
“They were originally over 60 but I got a deal, so, 40 bucks,” said Kara.
“Oh wow, I’ll pay you back. God, I remember paying 25 dollars for a season pass!”
I nearly began that statement with an, “in my day,” but saved myself from Tragic Old People Speak just in time.
We entered through the metal detectors and then there was the bag search – both new developments.
“Okay, now go to the table, they’ll check your bag,” the guy who took my ticket said.
I walked right past the table. It was so crowded that no one stopped me. I wanted to smuggle in my “contraband” apple – outside food is not allowed. (Rebel!) If you do not want to eat crappy fried food, you will go hungry.
We walked fast. Kara and I had a mission; to ride as many rollercoasters as humanly possible. This was the sole reason for going, the little rides were a waste of time, we weren’t falling for that bullshit.
The size of the crowd was disheartening.
“Hopefully all the kids will go home when the sun goes down,” she said. The relaxed gait of the half dozen folks in front of us was not working for me.
“Let’s detour the slow people,” I said. She was right with me.
The “dream” is to be able to ride a rollercoaster, run back to the line and then ride again shortly thereafter. It’d been done, we both did it in the past. I remember my big brother and I running out after riding the American Eagle and, not wasting time to stop by the rest of our family, shouted, “we’re going again!” and ran back into the entrance. It was dusk and the line had shortened significantly at that point; the short line added to the excitement of anticipating the repeat ride that only grew throughout the mere 15 minutes we waited. This is the Great America DREAM.
There were no shortages of rollercoasters, they had significantly multiplied since I had been there. Our first was the Viper. After 75 minutes of waiting (passing two signs that read “30 minute wait”) we got to the front. An enjoyable ride. It exits directly into a souvenir shop. I couldn’t believe how many people leaving the ride were such easy prey; practically all of them stopped to look at the stupid crap they were selling. Smart marketing idea I suppose but it occurred to me as tacky. I then realized why wearing a Halloween costume for the current Frightfest is now not allowed, they sell them here. We squeezed through the instant shoppers to the real exit.
We stopped at a food and drink vendor to buy a pop. I simply wanted a Diet Coke.
“You can buy our souvenir cup for only 27 dollars and get free refills the rest of the day!” the young boy chirped.
“No thanks, I just want one,” I said.
“You can get a large size for just ten cents more!”
“Fine,” I said.
I was handed a paper cup full to the very top.
“Where are the lids?” I asked.
Oh, okay, really? So you spill it all over yourself – and indeed I did – forcing you to buy the stupid cup.
The next was the X-Flight. The line was long but we were willing. After a few minutes of waiting we heard an echo of “excuse me’s” coming up from behind us. About eight people came marching through and bypassed us, forcing us to press ourselves against the fence that enclosed the very narrow line.
“What the hell?” we looked at each other in disbelief. Were so many people so boldly line jumping all at once?
Before we could speak another three came along and did the same.
A teenaged girl in line in front of us said, “they have Flash Passes.” Shortly after, another 4 people followed suit.
Apparently, the Flash Pass was introduced to Six Flags parks beginning in the year 2007. This pass is in the form of a small oval device called a Q-bot that can fasten to your belt loop, similar to that Japanese toy pet beeping annoyance from years ago. If you shell out $50.00-$100.00 you can get one of these. This is over the regular price of admission which ranges from $40.00 – $61.99. There are levels of Flash Passes; the “Gold” goes for $70.00 and the “Platinum” Flash Pass is $100.00. Each comes with a higher level of privilege. The Platinum members can stay seated on a ride to go again forcing an anti-climactic sensation onto those slated for their seats.
As more and more people came trampling forward and up to the front of the line we became daunted.
“This is such bullshit!”
We both agreed it was indeed bullshit but hope lived.
“Maybe the kids will need to go home early and the lines won’t be so long.”
“Yeah, after sundown they’ll totally get tired…”
“And the teenagers…they probably have to leave at some point, right? Don’t they have school tomorrow?”
“So, okay, when the brats leave, we’ll be golden.”
Yeah, right, as if any teen has a curfew any more – but what do I know?
I looked around surveying the crowd.
“I think we are the only people over the age of 35 who are here without children. What’s that about? What losers. Wait, how old did you just turn?”
“I turned 35,” she said and shrugged a little implying she wasn’t exactly overjoyed about it.
I replied in the standard Old People way: “Oh, you’re just a babyyy!”
Oops, did I just say that? I sound old.
I always thought it was a stupid thing for people to say when I heard and still hear it. It’s really all relative, isn’t it? To YOU I’m a “baby” but to me I’m older, you’ve already been this age, put a sock in it.
I didn’t stop there. “You will love your 40’s even better! It’s the decade when things come together, I think. For me it has been…”
I had been 41 for a whole week and a half at that point and felt entitled to spew sage wisdom.
Needless to say, we had lots of time to talk and peruse all the mysteries of the universe as we hadn’t moved an inch in 30 minutes. At times, some people sung the “excuse me” song walking out through the line, away from the ride.
“Why are they leaving?” Kara wondered.
“I think it’s the limb issue, too many amputees?” I joked.
The Rules sign had been a welcome distraction at the Viper. The first rule stating:
“Rider must be in possession of at least 3 extremities…”
When I downloaded the ride rules from the Six Flags website http://www.sixflags.com/greatAmerica/rides/AllRides.aspx I was pleased to discover the limb requirement varied from ride to ride. Some specified which missing limb was not okay, for instance, for the Daredevil Dive, one must have 2 arms. If you have one, you’re SOL.
While I do not think it at all funny for anyone to be missing a limb, the rule listing posed questions. When did this rule come about? Was there an irate customer who nearly fell from their seat due to a less-than-a-leg? What if you have a hook? What if you have a prosthetic? Is that valid? What if you have extra limbs, say, 5 arms? Then the total extremities amount would not apply and could result in tragedy. This rule list is clearly not covering all bases – a lawsuit is in their future.
We were becoming increasingly incensed by this Flash system.
“I hate those Flashy people, we’re never going to get on!”
“It wouldn’t piss me off so much if they didn’t all look so smug,” Kara said.
“Oh my god, they do. Rude fuckers, thinking they’re better than everyone else,”
“I’m gonna get one of the those and be all ‘you guys are such losers!’ to the regular people in line. And then, and THEN I will laugh and laugh and laugh!” I said maniacally and in jest.
I didn’t want to be one of those people.
The line ended up taking nearly 2 hours total and for less than 2 minutes of thrill, was it really worth it? We didn’t know but that’s what we were there for, so…
Our third choice was the Batman ride. The “Flashy People” were now a massive presence. We were not alone in our disgruntlement. Numerous times we overheard others say, “next year we are getting a Flash Pass! Screw this!”
Kara and I, so far, weren’t convinced. The system is skewed to favor those who can afford to spend over 100 dollars for a day at an amusement park. Of course, technically anybody can buy one, but everybody cannot afford to buy one for each family member and this is the point. It is handled like an elitist class system. They were the royalty pushing us out of the way to get to the front, like hundreds of little Justin Biebers’ running around doing whatever they want. A couple rides have a separate entrance for the Flash-fabulous and we could see them gloating and skipping down the path through the trees that divided us.
This was all designed to force riders to really want to buy a Flash Pass for their next visit. Who can stand a ride with a wait of over 2 hours? It created animosity between the have and the have nots. The enjoyment of the day was far less than it could have been if we all had been equal participants together at the park. It was frustrating and we and others around us became like disgruntled factory workers. “Let’s rise up and protest!” we joked in anger. This was a marketing scheme that was clearly stuffing their pockets exponentially.
Between the aforementioned food rule, the costume rule, the drink purchase, the strategically located ride exit shopping and this, it was clear that money, not the customer, is their #1 priority.
I do not begrudge Six Flags for their right to make money, but they are grossly unethical and have clearly forgotten whom they are serving; everybody. This means the average family, teens and young adults. The park is located in Gurnee, Illinois for God’s sake. This and the surrounding areas are not known to be high above the average in affluence. How many couples or single parents do you know with children actually have the money to shell out 500 bucks and more to take their family to a day at the amusement park? Not many, especially nowadays. Childless people like myself would be in a far better position to afford one but I am not the standard customer. I don’t want one, I don’t want to reinforce this ridiculous system that makes other attendees experience less enjoyable nor do I want to feel “icky” like I know I would.
I would not have minded waiting in line and not experiencing “the Dream” of repeat rollercoaster riding if all of the attendees were equal participants. “The Dream” is less fun if it can be bought. The new system of special privilege places not a subtle difference between the two types of attendees, it is showy and proud. It has a similar flavor to those absurd separate rows at the gate of an airplane entrance; one a blue carpet and one a red. “The Platinum members can now enter through the red-carpeted line.” The world is increasingly like this – a more defined separation between the wealthy and the middle class and poor. The wealthy seem to need this public recognition more than they ever have and companies are happy to give them the fanfare for their extra spent dollars. The red carpet treatment is expected now. Kara and I both knew we could expect to see more of this if, God forbid, the GOP takes over the Presidency.
After the sun started to go down further, it was clear to us that the crowds were not going to thin anytime soon. At the time we were only a few riders away from our 3rd Viper ride (the line that seemed the shortest, but who can tell?) and again discussing the annoying Flash Pass system. A man – white, middle-aged – in the line next to us was looking down at us, arms crossed high on his chest, seemingly listening to our conversation.
“You know,” he said to me, “if you go to college and get a good job, then you could afford to buy a Flash Pass too.”
He wasn’t joking.
“You’re right, I should really go to college,” I said flatly, nodding. Of course I have been to multiple schools and could be counted as one of the over-educated but I had no interest in sharing.
He turned to Kara and said, “and you can too.”
He was a Flash Pass holder.