When I lived in Phoenix in the late ‘70s, there was this local second-rate amusement park called “Legend City.” The tired-looking park was totally themed on the clichéd Old West where cowboys, saloons, mines, and Miss Kitty were the artifacts of the genre, and our anchors to a specific history of the American West.
On hot summer southern Arizona nights, Legend City was my Gateway to Escapism during that fragile and naïve period of my teenage years. One might even venture that the park was the Zeitgeist of a certain time when there were no cell phones or Internets. Instead, you had a “family” phone with a 10-foot coiled cord you might stretch to twenty feet if that was necessary to obtain some privacy.
In contrast, Legend City offered freedom. The freedom of jumping aboard the Sky Ride’s open cars that traveled high above the action in the park below you or of yelling on the Log Jammer.
To walk the midway with its smells and the heat of summer and the smiling girls you’d make eyes with.
Back then, we flocked to Legend City to ride the rides and chomp down slick Bar-S hot dogs and slam back wax cups of iced-cold Coca Cola—all the stuff I couldn’t do at home! As I would wander Legend City, I would wonder if Lana was there on any given weekend night because she told me in school during fifth period that she “might just be there with her big sister,” and, if we met up, there was the promise of playing a game of miniature golf or going on the Superstition Mountain Mine ride, which was scary, but that might have necessitated sitting close to each other and, perchance, clumsily holding hands, if only for a brief moment.
I never saw Lana. Not even a glimpse.
Moreover, the cruel reality was that I mostly went to Legend City in the company of Matt, my best friend. To say Matt was mischievous is a total understatement. When we were on the Sky Ride high above the park, Matt would pour out his Coca Cola from the cup, thereby showering the crowd below, which would require us to take off running as soon as the Sky Ride arrived at the other end of Legend City, least we get our asses royally kicked by the cola-covered mob that had been furiously running on the ground below us to keep pace with the Sky Ride. Or, when we rode on the Antique Car Ride, which was basically, old-looking miniature vintage cars (think Model T) powered by lawn mower engines on a fixed cement track, and Matt knew how to override the engine’s governor such that we’d rapidly accelerate on the back part of the track, a shower of sparks emanating from under the car caused by either the stressed engine or the runners on the metal center of the track, or both. Or he would simply jump off the car and run back “to go exploring” in the employee-only parts of the park.
One Legend City night, however, is cast firmly in my memory similar to when you eat a rancid corndog and never, ever want to eat one again, and even the sight of one makes you retch. You must first understand that, in general, I’ve never really enjoyed going on amusement park rides. Back then, I had this irrational fear that the primary bolt that holds the whole shebang together would fail due to metal fatigue and send me careening out over the park, my last glimpse of life being Lana holding hands with David Green (who always was better than me in Mister Hopkin’s Geometry class) as the two of them rode the Legend City Railroad and shared a pink cotton candy, and, maybe, even a non-French kiss.
With that framework in mind, it is inconceivable how, on that fateful night, Matt completely talked me into going on the park’s newest attraction: The Zipper (check Wikipedia if you’ve never experienced this man-made terror).
Basically, The Zipper’s cars are made of uber-reinforced chicken wire, and you lay supine in the car’s lounge chair-like seat. When the carney shuts the door, you’re locked in with the metal grate of the door that is like inches from you. It’s akin to transparent claustrophobia, which is bad. In any event, I got in this thing and, once it was fully loaded up with people, the carney set The Zipper into motion.
I’d never been so terrified in my life. We also rode this monstrosity at night, which only raised the terror level an additional notch because you have no reference point, and the lights that you did see seemingly flashed by you.
As we spun around, and were subjected to G forces beyond all know limits, I suddenly heard, even above the din of the ride and the screams of the riders, a young person’s voice, to wit:
“Dad! My stomach hurts! I think I’m going to…”
Then, all went quiet and seemed to be in slow motion as Matt yelled: “NOOOOO!”
We experienced what I can only call a high-velocity vomit shower. The car we rode in passed right through this upchuck contrail at speed, similarly as the Earth moves through the remnants of Halley’s Comet.
I even got some in my mouth because I’d been screaming.
When we finally got off of the ride, we were covered in the cold filth of it. Needless to say, this kind of put a damper on the evening’s activities. We saw the kid, too, who still didn’t look too well. Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry for that Bar-S hot dog anymore. We licked our wounds (that’s totally a metaphor, B.T.W.) and left the park, only to be told by Matt’s Dad when he picked us up how much we “stank’d” and “to sit on that damn blanket!”
Tis a night I’ll always keep near and dear. Alas, however, I’ve recently read that Legend City was razed decades ago. It’s now nothing but a memory. Maybe that’s a good thing. I do wish, however, that I had found Lana there at least once, if only to hold hands and walk the Lost Dutchman Mine together. And maybe even share a pink cotton candy.
And that the Legend City management had equipped their rides with a supply of Handi Wipes.