One of my Christmas gifts this year was a book about “Action Park.” People who lived in the New York-New Jersey metro area in the 1980s will remember the place, or at least the TV ads for it. “There’s Nothing In The World Like Action Park!” was their slogan. That might have been a bit hyperbolic – it’s a big world – but the place was certainly unusual.
Then the paramedics began running up the hill with stretchers and backboards. Still, no Cindy.
Action Park was an amusement park located at a ski resort in the hills of northern New Jersey. It was a way for the place to make money in the off season. It featured dangerous participatory rides and attractions designed by non-engineers and (ahem) “supervised” primarily by stoned teenagers. Injuries, some severe, were frequent. There were six known fatalities. The place earned itself nicknames like “Traction Park” and “Class Action Park.”
At Action Park you could be shot down a water slide that featured a 360 degree loop at the end; this would shred you against the abrasive fiberglass walls of the tube or jam you inside the loop, which of course immediately filled with water. Tamer water slides still dropped you into cardiac-arrestingly cold pools of mountain spring water, often onto the heads of other patrons. Or you could ride helmetless on 50 mph Go-karts around tracks that weren’t supposed to be demolition derbies, but hell, this was New freakin’ Jersey! And then there were the tanks whose guns fired tennis balls at 100 mph. At anyone the operator fancied looked like a target. Or the Alpine Slide that snaked down the mountain and was designed in such a way that it was quite easy to fly off the track at high speeds onto the rocks and trees, or just slam into a slower rider ahead. Multi-sled pileup carnage was frequent.
Being closer to New York City than Great Adventure, it was also a popular outing for rival gangs. Luckily, the 80s were far less firearm-saturated than is today, or bullet-dodging would have been an additional feature.
In the summer of 1981 or ’82 I took my girlfriend Cindy to Action Park. We were in our mid-twenties, not teenagers, but hey, we were from New freakin’ Jersey!
I don’t remember most of that day, except that it was hot and the very long lines kept us off of many of the rides. We did take a spin on the Go-karts and a dip in the wave pool. The last thing we did that day was try the Alpine Slide, which had actually been my main reason for wanting to go in the first place.
It only took me a few turns to realize that the thing was designed all wrong, and that coming out of the track onto the rocks was all too easy to do. I had skied on this mountain, but the control afforded by steel-edged skis on hard-packed snow was completely absent. On the Alpine Slide you were completely at the mercy of momentum, luck and other riders. It was absolutely terrifying.
The Slide had two parallel tracks, and Cindy had started in the other one. When I finally got to the bottom of the mountain, I expected her to be close behind me. She wasn’t. A few minutes passed; no Cindy. Then a few more. Then the paramedics began running up the hill with stretchers and backboards. Still, no Cindy.
Aside from being worried about Cindy, I was concerned about how her family would react if I brought her home in a cast. Although they were always polite, not openly hostile as Maria’s family had been, her Dad was large and had a temper, and they were not overly happy with Cindy being in what was becoming a serious relationship with a Gentile.
Finally I saw her, coming down the hill. Walking, thankfully, with no apparent limp or other obvious injuries. As she got closer, however, I saw that she was covered in blood.
None of the blood was Cindy’s. As she had been negotiating the track in her sled, one of those frequent pileups had occurred in front of her. She had been able to stop and get out of the danger zone before being slammed into from behind. She had stayed to render first aid to a badly lacerated teenager until the paramedics made it onto the scene.
Our luck held; we were able to sneak into her house unseen and get her cleaned up before anyone saw her. But we never had any desire to return to Action Park.
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.