This is a long and much too involved take on my trip from Tulsa (Bells) to Celebration City. For the pure park details, pan on down and look for ***. Do so at your own risk however as what follows is a fairly entertaining description of one of the worst days of my life. It falls somewhere between a nasty urinary tract infection in 1999 and the recent complicated birth of my child (not funny) in which I was afraid I may lose my wife and become a single father. This is good reading for those 94%ers who hate my guts as my misery will not be understated!
Friday July 2nd got off to a rough start. There were some nasty thunderstorms the night before which kept the dog and child crying. We could not sleep at all. My wife’s grandfather called the motel room at 5:00 am (???---he is 93) to warn us NOT to meet him for breakfast as his road had flooded. We hit the road early and headed for St. Louis with a short stop planned in Joplin, Missouri to meet up with an old physical therapy school buddy and family. The rain was steady, but certainly not what it had been the night before.
I was going not one mile over 85 mph down the road when the nightmare began. WHOOOOMPH was the vibration that started a chain reaction I will never forget.
In order to get the full picture of events I have to take you back to 2 weeks before we set out across country. We have a Honda Pilot SUV that would seem to have enough space for a trip on the surface. However, when you factor that the dog got the whole back of the car except for a stroller strapped on its side, space became a premium. The kid gets the safety sit in the middle of the second row while the wife and I took turns sitting back there with him singing BINGO and ABCs. This basically left a ½ seat storage space next to the child seat and whatever we can fit in the passenger seat. There was only one solution---the car top carrier.
For some unknown reason, my maleness set in and I became obsessed with finding the perfect car top carrier. I did search after search on the internet and decided to go with the Yakima brand. The different names for each model escapes me now, but you should know that I made 3 different trips to the Sports Chalet and brought a different car top carrier home each time. I spent hours of effort in the Vegas heat lifting those things to the roof and connecting them to get the perfect fit, accessibility, and look. Some would not allow the rear hatch to lift fully and others were hard for me to get to. My wife wanted to go with the $90 Sears version, but this was just not good enough for me. “Yakima is the best out there” I sold to her. I eventually went with the $350-$400 super rocket box or something like that. Somehow she rolled her eyes and allowed me to purchase this box, but deep down I really wanted the $500 model that was bigger and better looking.
WHOOOOMPH! In a matter of seconds that took 5 minutes in my mind, my dreams were forever changed. I’m 65% sure that I heard 3 clicks for the locks as the Yakima instructions so clearly warned, but I told the wife I was 100% sure. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw another maroon SUV about 10 lengths back (though objects are closer than they appear). In the air was a paint can sized container filled with baby formula that was purchased in bulk at Costco so as to assure plenty of rations for the long trip. As luck would have it the formula made a perfect arch and hit this SUV right in the windshield. What happened next would have to be seen to be believed, but I’ll do my best to describe. Keep in mind that I was going not one mile per hour over 85.
As the can hits the windshield of the guy going 85 behind me it proceeds to explode and absolutely engulf the poor family in this SUV. For those that are not aware, baby formula has the consistency of powder sugar. For a brief fraction of a second the car disappeared under the cloud of destruction. To the right of this cloud in the mirror I catch glimpse of the second can of formula that that was insurance that we would not have to stop and reload for baby Colin the whole trip. It was rolling down the fast lane to a 3rd SUV that was innocently passing the cloud at 85 mph! This 3rd SUV hits the can and effectively completes a smoke screen that covers both lanes of the turnpike in my rear view mirror. Brakes are slammed by all involved. The poor guy in the 3rd SUV starts to fishtail on the wet pavement. I get my car over to the side of the road, but foolishly do not pull over too far from the driving lanes. I see both SUV’s regain control and fly by my left hand side with cakes of powder sugar on their paint jobs. I sit there with my wife crying, the baby screaming, and the dog still sleeping. Traffic was still coming and I was scared to go out the driver’s door to assess damage. I slip across the divide and step out the passenger side onto the wet mud that was prevalent from the thunderstorms the night before. I slide down the roadside incline in a trail of mud like an otter to the river. I slip and slide my mud caked body back up the hill to prepare for the inevitable confrontation with the drivers of the other two SUVs who I’m sure will want a piece of me after my wife is finished. Remarkably, I only see one of the SUVs pulled over about 200 yards ahead and they proceed to take off without coming back to break my neck. I’m waiting for an insurance claim in the mail, as I’m sure some damage had to be done.
On my roof was the wide-open Yakima $350 car carrier that I searched so hard and long to purchase. One of those 3 “clicking” locks had a broken joint sticking out of it. For 100 yards behind the vehicle there were assorted bags and a travel baby swing strewn throughout the travel lanes. I was scared to go back and get the bags, but quickly assessed that my chances for survival were better playing in the traffic than they were staying anywhere near the wife. I can’t be sure, but I’m quite sure that many of the travelers on the road thought they saw Bigfoot that day as some crazy specie with mud caked coating was dancing in and out of traffic on the turnpike.
Back at the car I assessed damage and formulated my plan. This went well since I had no cell phone signal. I attempted to flag help for about 30 minutes to no avail as apparently nobody really wants to help Bigfoot, even IF he has a wife and screaming child. I remembered that I had stuffed a bunch of bungee cords in the back that were left over after my expert securing of the stroller. I rigged the cords to shut the car top carrier and hit the open road at 60 mph. After 3 more unannounced Yakima openings and 2 lost bungee cords I settled in at 45 mph on the freeway as the only speed that would allow this box to stay shut and get me to Joplin. Truck drivers blew their horns and old ladies flipped off Bigfoot driving a SUV while the wife sang BINGO to keep the baby quiet. Boy was this fun.
In Joplin I met the old buddy and formulated a plan. I also took a shower and changed the clothes. I called Yakima who is the most professional company I have ever dealt with. The nearest dealer was in Springfield, MO and they did not have my model, but they DID have that $500 model I really wanted in the first place. The offered to give me the $500 model for my troubles and call it even. Some reinforcement rope from my friend’s garage allowed safe securing and off we went to Springfield to exchange car top carriers. “Ha”, I said to the wife. “You think Sears would be giving us a new defective product?” Hmmm! Heading to Springfield as a light goes off in my head. I was happy as could be, but my real reason had nothing to do with Yakima and a car top carrier.
It was only late morning by this time, but the wife and I had aged a couple years from the trip. We wanted to make St. Louis and stop for the night, but I was able to easily convince her that we should stop short of our goal for this day. We were in no mood to go much further by this time. As some of you may or may not know, Springfield is just down the road from Branson, MO, which of course is home to Celebration City. My original trip plans called for a stop here, but the wife had vetoed this option for a full day with her 93-year-old grandpa the day before. Realizing that he may not get too many chances to see the great grandson and that I wanted to stay married, I never put up much of a fight by telling her about the wonderful laterals my fellow CBers assured were on the Ozark Wildcat. I really wanted to, but I know my limits.
When life deals you lemons, you make lemonade my dad always said. After a quick and easy car top change we were back on the road. Of course we said, “screw it” to St. Louis and “yes” to Celebration City. We checked into the Days Inn within the hour. An additional hour later we were out the door and looking for some Ozark Wildcat action! It was about 4:00 pm 7/2/04 and our hotel was 1/4th a mile from some serious wood!
When we arrived at the gate I was impressed with the Main Street setting. The park was wonderfully landscaped and had an old southern village feel to it. It is pretty much what you would expect from a SDC owned property. The rides themselves were of the basic fairground variety (Scrambler, Tilt-a-Whirl, etc.) with a few temporary steel coasters and the "reason I was there".
The Ozark Wildcat is one beautiful pile of trees. It is easily seen from the road on the way in. I wanted to sprint to the back left corner of the park like it was 1983 at King’s Island with The Beast a calling. My wife went into granny mode. We slowly slumbered to the back corner without a park map, as I’m superior with the sense of direction. Who in the heck decided to hide this thing behind a non-descript building without signs to the ride?
After figuring out that we needed to go through a games building to find the Wildcat we reached the destination. My polite wife, who loves coasters herself, but is nowhere near the geek I am, offered to hold the baby while I took first shot. They were running one train and the rain was coming so I figured I would get as many rides as possible with the alternating pattern of me riding and then me holding the baby while the wife rides. She always stops after 1-2 rides so I figured I could get a good 10 rides in before rain shut us down. Please note that I later learned rain does not stop this baby, only storms will do it.
I hopped in the back car immediately. I always choose the back if available on my beloved woodies. What happened next is really impossible for me to describe. Needless to say the Wildcat is not a big coaster, but it is a twisted mess that offers laterals and airtime galore. Like any classic coaster, it does not slow down from the lift to the final brake run. The last half of the ride is a low to the ground spaghetti bowl of joy that leaves you with slobber on the cheeks as the ratcheting lap bars smash the gut and the brakes kick in. These stupid staple bars are the only negative to the ride. A goodie it is! Try any seat. It doesn't matter.
Those who know me know I love wood and I do not really rate coasters. Needless to say, Wildcat would have to be one of the 15-20 wooden coasters that I vaguely call my top 10! The lap bars suck, but there is not one thing I would change about the ride pacing and forces. It is a perfect little gem that every park should not have enough of. It thrills the whole age spectrum from the children to the hardcore enthusiast like myself. In my next leg of the trip I’ll talk about Raven and Legend, which we all know and love. I’ve got no problem speaking of Wildcat in the same sentence with Holiday World’s pride and joys.
I got about 5-6 rides on Wildcat. My wife ended up loving this thing and never wussed out early as is the norm and as I had planned. It was more than enough to wet my palate, and apparently hers too.
The second coaster I road was a simple looking compact steel called Thunderbolt. It should be noted that the rest of this park is basically wonderfully landscaped and certainly primed for a good time, but the rides are off the shelf varieties that all seem easily portable. Celebration City has just taken the time, effort, and paint needed to spruce these things up and make it look fresh. Thunderbolt has fancy signage and landscaping to fit the park. The first thing I saw on Thunderbolt was the dreaded OTRS. What the heck does a compact mouse need OTRS for? I immediately had a bad attitude, but certainly could not skip it, as I’m a closet credit whore. Aren’t you all overly impressed with my superior track record? There were two 2-car trains running. A quick ride on Thunderbolt lets you know why OTRS’s are needed. There is a crazy drop somewhere in the middle of this mess that NEVER should have been built. I want you guys to think of one of those head banging over banked Flashback drops. However this little down and to the right 360-degree headache is done with plenty of speed as you enter the drop and proceed in a much tighter radius than Flashback specs would ever allow. I was scared for a second like I was on the William’s Grove Cyclone. My body clearly wanted to go straight but the train dropped rapidly without warning to the right with only my ears as the contact point to keep me from impending death. I had a bit of a headache as it slammed into the brakes. I got off the ride and warned my wife to skip this one. I immediately got back in line and rode it again just to make sure that drop was as ridiculous as it had been seconds before. The rest of the ride is unremarkable. However, I’ll never forget the mean drop. May I suggest everybody try this one with defensive posturing so as to avoid injury? I do not imagine it will be there long. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
The 3rd caster at the park is marketed as a family coaster. It has cute little 3-4 car trains and runs on an exaggerated/spread out mouse-like trackage. They called it Jack Rabbit, but it should be called Piece o Crap. Can you all tell that I’m not up on my portable steel coaster manufactures? They are all mouses to me when they have a small footprints and look portable. Find a super geek to tell you exactly what these are. Needless to say, this was the longest line in the park. I waited about 25 minutes and got the back seat. It starts with a neat left banked/curved drop off of the lift and turns into a nightmare that makes you wish you were back at Thunderbolt. There is ZERO banking on tight curves that are navigated at 25-35 mph. I mean TIGHT! The tightest curves I’ve ever done. There are no OTRS’s on this one but I managed a nice lump and corresponding bruise on the left elbow that lasted the rest of the trip.
As bad as the steel compacts were, I still love Celebration City. Main Street is on par with PKI quality and Wildcat is as good as any ride at fanboy favorite CP! They have a Chaos and a ride called Fireball that was a great flat. I know my flats like I know my mice. If it is not a Zipper, Tilt-a Whirl, Scrambler, Spider or Witches Wheel, then I call it a spin and puke! This is one of those spinning/feet dangling/facing the inside/rocking like a pirate ship on steroids ride! I LOVE these things. KBF just put one in, but Celebration City has a better program. This is the second best ride in the park.
As for food I can tell you to avoid the all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet that they do in the evening unless you like to eat spiced fat. I say this as a carnivore that loves the fat part of the steak best. They do have some neat NASCAR themed racing games for the children that are fun to watch while you eat, but the problem is that you have to eat. For the adults, they have a remote controlled car racing game. I won my heat! :-) May I suggest you try the Giant chocolate chip cookies at the old-fashioned ice cream parlor that is at the end of Main Street to the right and on the corner? I’ve never met a chocolate chip cookie I didn’t like, but these are exceptional chocolate chip cookies! Trust me on this one. You can think my attitude is lousy, my politics extreme, my love of wood over steel crazy, my knowledge of flat rides weak, my trip reports way too wordy, BUT NEVER DOUBT my ability to lead you to the promised land of chocolate chip cookies. Just as you follow Jeff’s lead on anything CP and KMFDM’s (or whatever his name is) lead on KW without question, you can blindly drink my kool-aide when it comes to chocolate chip cookies.
All in all it was a tragic day turned wonderful by the joy of wood and chocolate chips. Of course thunderstorms as bad as the night before hit the park and ruined all chances for my planned nighttime Wildcat action. We had to kayak the stroller out of Main Street to the car at about 9:00 pm after waiting an hour or so on a bench for the rain to stop. I was like that guy on that golf commercial who was sure the rain was letting up when it was obvious this rain was NEVER letting up. My wife was not amused, but she did not want to brave the monsoon, so she tolerated my assurances that nighttime laterals and air would be just a little better than a few hours earlier. Sadly, it was not to be. Of course, I was never supposed to be there in the first place. No need to complain.
Please anticipate part III of my summer vacation, which ends at Mecca for wood lovers. Holiday World is where I meet up with the parents and brother’s family who are visiting for the first time. Along the way we stop at a drive-through-zoo and hit a 4th of July fair under the arch in St. Louis. Although, nothing can be as entertaining as turnpike smokescreens and Bigfoot sightings, I might just have a few more interesting stories to tell. Until then, your assignment is to tell me what the heck that cool spinning ride I like so much is called! I'd like to drop the shelf name into conversations like I can with the Zipper!
I disagree with your politics, and do think your attitude can be lousy sometimes, but man, I gotta thank you for giving me a good laugh.
Was the rest of the trip this eventful? ;)
KMFDM’s (or whatever his name is)
Where you got that one is beyond me, too funny :). Is there someone on CB with that screen name?
Scott [who is more than stoked for the best double bill he will have seen in awhile, Ministry w/ My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult]
There have been transmissions going out on those and the Acura MDX's since they are both virtually the same vehicle, so Honda has put out a recall to replace it.
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