Taking pictures of the kids when they’re not looking

I take a lot of pictures of the kids, too many, probably, but most of them aren’t anything special. One or both of them is standing there, standing still, posing, or they’re making a funny face or giving each other rabbit ears, or they’re holding up a hand to block the lens, like they’re a movie star and I’m a paparazzo.

That’s why I like this picture of Thing 2, who’s 6.

We were on vacation, and at that moment, his mind was someplace else. He wasn’t posing. He wasn’t being silly. He was just being himself. I noticed the moment, leaned over the rail and took a picture. Once he realized I was there, he posed for a proper picture, but it wasn’t the same. He wasn’t being himself. 

Of the hundreds of pictures I have of him at 6, this crooked, slightly out-of-focus snapshot may be the best.



Someone, please build this: the zero-gravity roller coaster

There’s a point on all roller coasters when you crest a hill and, for a heartbeat, you’re weightless. It’s the reason we ride coasters.

Well, I saw a story the other day in Popular Science about a new kind of coaster where you’d be weightless for eight seconds.

Count it out: one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi….

Eight seconds of weightless would last forever.

Right now, the zero-gravity coaster exists only on paper, but according to Popular Science, there’s a company in Southern California called BRC Imagination Arts that’s ready to build it. Cut them a check today, the story says, and you’ll have your coaster by next Christmas.

BRC isn’t some fly-by-night outfit. When I worked in newspapers, I covered the theme-park industry, and I met BRC’s founder, Bob Rogers, a few times. He’s whip-smart and really clever. BRC’s worked on everything from the Test Track pavilion at Epcot to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. These guys know what they’re doing, and if Bob Rogers says he can build a coaster where you’re weightless for eight seconds, I believe him.

Here’s what he told Popular Science about the proposed coaster:

You’d sit in a capsule rather than an open car, so there’d be no wind and no visual cues telling you you’re moving. You’d be strapped in, but loosely.

The track would be shaped like a giant letter “L.” You’d rocket along the track then curve straight up, like the Superman coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

You’d climb at about 100 m.p.h., and as you neared the top, the capsule would slightly but suddenly decelerate. You’d be thrown out of your seat, like a stone from a slingshot, but the capsule would instantly match your speed.

You would, in effect, be floating inside the capsule.

After a moment, you’d begin to fall, but so would the capsule, matching your speed on the way down and eventually slowing so that you settled back in your cushioned seat.

By the time the coaster came to a stop, you would have experienced weightlessness for eight long seconds.

If you were to fly NASA’s “Vomit Comet,” the plane the space agency uses to train astronauts, you would experience weightlessness for 25 seconds.

Popular Science says ordinary coasters cost about $30 million but BRC’s zero-gravity coaster would cost $50 million, which sounds like a lot — heck, that is a lot — but Disney spent a reported $100 million to build Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom a few years ago. Fifty million dollars to a theme-park developer is nothing.

I have no idea whether when or whether anyone will actually build BRC’s zero-gravity coaster. I have no idea whether it’s a smart for untrained civilians to be subjected to eight seconds of weightlessness.

But if someone builds it, I’ll volunteer to test the thing, as many times as it takes.

You gotta love old amusement parks

Every summer, when we visit my parents in eastern Kentucky, we take the kids to Camden Park.

Camden Park’s a neat old amusement park in Huntington, West Virginia,  a few miles from the Kentucky line and across the river from Ohio.

It started as a trolley park over 100 years ago, a picnic area along the Camden Interstate Railway. Some of its rides have been around since the Eisenhower administration and look it, too, but that’s part of what makes it great.

Out of habit, my wife calls it a theme park (we used to live in Orlando), but there’s a big difference between a theme park and a place like Camden Park.

For starters, there’s no theme, nothing tying the place together, no attempt at storytelling.

Camden Park’s roller coaster is just a coaster. It isn’t a rocket ship or a fighter jet.

Camden Park’s coaster, the Big Dipper, is made of wood, not steel, and it’s scary enough without a back story — not because it’s especially fast (because it isn’t), but because it opened in 1958 and looks like it could collapse at any moment.

Of course, that’s how it looked when I was a kid, and it’s still standing. It’s a lot sturdier than it looks.

You don’t have to stand in long lines to ride the rides at Camden Park, either.

Lord knows how long you’d have to wait to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Islands of Adventure, but you’ll wait 5, maybe 10 minutes to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl at Camden Park. The line would be even shorter if the operator didn’t give everyone a good, long ride.

Something else I love about old amusement parks is that the rides are simple.

Disney’s Haunted Mansion is this elaborate special effects show, but Camden Park’s Haunted House is a twisty little ride powered by gravity, black lights and what could be props from the Halloween store in the old strip mall.

Everything about Camden Park’s Haunted House is low tech, including the brakes. When the ride’s over and you turn that final corner and come outside, your car, which probably weighs 500, 600 pounds, is stopped by hand.