There was a time, in the not too distant past, when a trip to Kings Island was pretty much the most magical way to spend a day.
When I was a kid, no summer was complete until all seven Fongs had piled into the family station wagon (which, by the way, had about three working seat belts), driven past the state correctional facility and arrived at Kings Island, where we showed up when the gates opened and stayed until the final fireworks had been fired into the night sky.
Four 12 hours, my four siblings and I would ride every roller coaster we could, literally sprinting from one line to another, lest we miss a single minute of coaster-riding time. Every few hours, my mom would try to throw food at us in hopes we would eat. More often than not, we could not be concerned with such things. We were there for the roller coasters and other thrill rides.
We never went to Disney World or Cedar Point when I was a kid — but so long as I had Kings Island, I never felt like I was missing out on much of anything. To me, Kings Island had The Beast, The Vortex and The Racers. To me, Kings Island was the ultimate roller coaster mecca.
These days, I kind of feel like Kings Island is a really amazing pizza place that just happens to be surrounded by a bunch of roller coasters.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I took Sophie and Max to Kings Island over Labor Day weekend to close out the summer. We actually hadn’t been in a few years thanks to other family vacations, so the kids were brimming with excitement at the prospect of riding all of the same roller coasters — and many that didn’t exist when I was younger — I had once enjoyed.
I, on the other hand, was looking forward to the La Rosa’s pizza and blue ice cream cones.
This, it seems, is what my life has become. I’ve tried to ride all of the same coasters I once loved in recent years, only to find that they have betrayed me. For starters, they made all of the seats on all of the coasters much smaller than they were when I was a teenager. I used to have plenty of room on all the coasters, but these days I’m finding the seats no longer have ample space for my posterior and the shoulder harnesses barely fit over my stomach.
I’ll assume there was some sort of engineering flaw when they redesigned the coasters at some point. I can’t think of any other possibly explanation.
In addition to the coasters no longer being big enough, they also are a lot more painful than I remember. I once rode The Vortex a dozen times in a row with no ill effects. These days, one ride on pretty much any of them makes my neck stiff, my head throb and my stomach queasy for the rest of the day.
So at this point in my life, I’ve conceded. I’ve throw in the towel. The roller coasters have won.
On our recent trip to Kings Island, I didn’t ride a single roller coaster. My wife rode a few of them, but she has given up on riding most of them as well. Otherwise, our battle plan consisted of this: putting our kids in line together, then walking around the park, people watching and feasting on La Rosa’s pizza and blue ice cream. After about an hour we’d head to the end of the ride to pick up our kids and escort them to the next ride.
I remember when I was a kid, my parents would use pretty much the same tactic at Kings Island. I always felt a little sad for them, knowing they weren’t going to ride any roller coasters that day. I felt grateful they were making the ultimate sacrifice by taking all of us to Kings Island and not getting on any of the thrill rides. I truly believed they must have been miserable.
Now that I’m on the other end, however, I know the truth. They were happy to see the looks of joy on their kids’ faces. They were probably glad to get some alone time with one another.
And I bet they ate a lot of La Rosa’s pizza, too.
David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong