Thursday 31 July 2008

For Your Amusement

My Lovely Wife and I once competed to see who could come up with the least appropriate store for Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. What retail establishment would be most out of place among the crush of shell shops, henna tattoo joints and beachware emporia selling T-shirts emblazoned with "MILF in Training" and "I'm not as think as you drunk I am"? I won with a bookshop selling rare first editions of Melville and Hawthorne.

This is not to say that Myrtle Beach is the tackiest place in America or even that I dislike the city. I worked there the summer between high school and college, at a joint called Polack Pete's that sold Polish sausages late into the night. Every summer my family spends a week about 25 miles south of Myrtle, at a relatively unspoiled place called Pawleys Island, where there isn't much to do besides collect shells, swim, tan and read. Day trips to Myrtle Beach remind us why we like Pawleys so much.

The newest attraction in M.B. is Hard Rock Park, an amusement park that's an offshoot of the Hard Rock Cafe empire. We're not theme park junkies, or the sort of people who have to ride the latest roller coasters. But I like amusement parks and I love rock and roll and was curious about the union of the two.

I think they did a pretty good job. It's a clean, well-run park (which isn't very rock and roll), with a sly, slightly anarchic sense of humor (which is). The Nights in White Satin ride, for example, is an update of the old funhouse ride arranged around the Moody Blues hit. And when I say "hit" I mean hit of acid, since the basic aim seems to be to recreate an LSD experience without drugs. Three-D glasses give the Day-Glo setting a wavery, edge-of-consciousness look, with patterns swimming around you as you creep ahead in your little car. When you're finished with the ride--after being assaulted from all directions by that overwrought song--you're deposited in the gift shop, where the candy section has a huge sign reading "Got the Munchies?"

There's a great live-action show that celebrates the lowly roadie, turning the laughable unwashed stereotype into a pumped-up hero. The "plot" centers around a fellow named Nigel and whether he will be able to cut it as a roadie. (Spoiler alert: He is.) There's lots of bouncing off trampolines, flying from wires, tumbling across the stage and setting off of pyrotechnics. A beach music-themed show is similarly energetic, with high dives and hijinks.

The rides probably wouldn't satisfy hardcore fans but they were good enough for me. I find that rides fit into two categories: the ones that make you sick and the ones that make you think you'll die. I actually prefer the latter, since I'm not afraid of death. But I really hate feeling like I'm going to throw up, even more than actually throwing up. Thus, I was not a fan of these tiny London taxis that spun around while wobbling up and down. I emerged with that sort of brow sweat that precedes a big upchuck, probably not helped by the Philly cheesesteak I had consumed earlier.

The most extreme death ride is a roller coaster called Led Zeppelin. It features six "inversions." I always wonder about the warnings you pass as you creep along in the line: No pregnant women. No one with back problems. No one of a nervous disposition. No one with a heart condition. I have a heart condition and I sometimes worry that the old ticker will self-destruct somewhere near the third inversion. But we mustn't live our lives in fear, so after viewing the video instructions about how to board the ride (you'd think we were going on the space shuttle) and watching a five-minute documentary on Led Zeppelin, the band (theme park operators are masters now at occupying you during your wait), I strapped myself in.

All the roller coasters at Hard Rock Park feature floor-mounted speakers that ensure your screams will be nearly masked by high-fidelity music. On Led Zeppelin, they played "Afternoon Delight" by the Starland Vocal Band. Just kidding. They played "Whole Lotta Love," a song which, "Clockwork Orange"-fashion, I now associate with having to clench my teeth to keep my spleen from landing in the lap of the person behind me. In other words, the ride rawks! I bought both the photograph of our ride and the DVD, which the helpful park attendant told me I owned the rights to, allowing me to stick it on YouTube. Somewhere, Tim Berners-Lee is weeping.

As with a lot of seasonal service jobs down here, the park is staffed largely by Eastern Europeans. How odd that their first, perhaps only, experience with America is at a southern amusement park. Or is that the perfect introduction?

Here's me with two bear skin-hatted beauties in the park's "British Invasion" section:

And here I am with the Banana Splits:

We really haven't heard a lot from the Banana Splits since their acrimonious breakup more than 30 years ago. (As you recall, Fleegle was dating "H.R. Pufnstuf's" Witchiepoo and her presence in the studio during the ill-fated "Let It Split" sessions alienated the rest of the band.) But I was chatting with the group's handler and he said they're demoing some new material and are poised for a comeback. You read it here first.


Suburban Correspondent said...

It takes a crack investigative reporter to get to the bottom of whatever happened to the Banana Splits!

Mike Milligan said...

I think Fleegle has lost weight.

Lyle Hopwood said...

Funny, John - I almost lost it at "Somewhere Tim Berners-Lee is weeping". The weird thing is Plant and Page were allegedly consulted on their ride, so they are presumably weeping in a bank-oriented ambulatory action.

(I got here because your blog's been quoted by some guy who's post linking you is coming up on a Led Zeppelin Google Newsalert. Perhaps that will cheer Timmy up a bit.)

John Kelly said...

@SC: The story just fell in my lap. I was walking through the park and saw the Furry Four. Their "performance" had been canceled by a thunderstorm but their "manager" (picture a younger, goateed Ruben Kincaid) was kind enough to chat with me.

@MM: Gastric bypass maybe?

@Peromyscus: It's actually a great ride. It doesn't have the clanking, wrenching quality that so many older roller coasters have (and which some devotees love). Rather, it's very smooth, but fast and furious. I'm not up on Zep's cosmology (I'm a relatively late convert) but there's nothing for them to be ashamed of. And there are worse things to hear as you're hurtling through space than "Whole Lotta Love."

Anonymous said...

that pic with the bearskin babes has just derailed any future Presidential bid. Glorious, really glorious.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, suburbancorres- pondent, I think its more like a reporter on crack:->

John, I always suspected that Witchypoo was the cause of that breakup.

So what's the blog gonna be called?

AEZ said...

I bet the real people behind those Banana Split customs are: 1) Your Lovely Wife, 2) Sarmila, 3) Yao and 4) Bill Clinton.

Anonymous said...

Well, at last you appear again. I was getting worried. No gargoyles at MB,I guess. Miss 'em.

Dominique Jackson said...

JK I bet you're glad you had your time in good old Blighty so that you could immediately identify the cultural resonances of the bear-skinned beauties? BTW - I'm with markfromalex - wot about the blog?
Was going to offer "Capitol Letter(s)" - Sorry! But it was the best I could do with only a measly pork pie on offer... Bestest from cross the Pond - Dominique

Anonymous said...

We went back in June, a couple of months after it opened. My thirteen year old son does not like roller coasters. However, as a huge Zeppelin fan, he worked up his courage and loved it (after he got through the first drop). Loved seeing his expression on the DVD of total "I'm about to die" to exhiliration! The timing of Whole Lotta Love and the drops/loops was perfect. Everytime I hear that song, I'm going to think of that drop!

Did you go on the Maximum RPM mini-car ride and stand in the "karaoke queue" with one of the Spice Girls? The ride had just opened two days before we arrived, so they were still working out the kinks. We stood in line for an hour & a half, for a 30-second ride (that almost got stuck at the top).

Missed the Banana Splits, but had our photo taken in front of the Abbey Road mural.

All in all, a good time. You can only go to Broadway at the Beach so many times. Glad they had something new this time.

Looking forward to your column/blog in the Post.

Annapolis, MD

Anonymous said...

I just read - on the BBC, so it must be true - that the Banana Splits are indeed making a comeback. This I learned from the BBC online article "The Banana Splits to make Comeback". Never, ever again will I doubt anything John says. Ever....about ANYTHING.