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.

You can’t go home again (unless you promise to fix the computer)

Image by Danial*1977 via Flickr

We’re going to visit my parents in a couple weeks, and I already know what’s going to happen:

While Thing 1 is off reading and Thing 2 is wrestling Papaw, I’ll be fixing my parents’ computer.

I used to fix my in-laws computer, too, but they found “a guy.”

My parents don’t have “a guy.” They’ve got me, and I’m 7 hours away.

When something goes wrong, they’ll get by as best they can until we get there and I can take a look at it.

I try to offer them tech support over the phone, and Dad tries to follow, he really does, but it’s hopeless.

ME: OK, click “Start,” and then click “All Programs.”


ME: OK, now look for….

DAD: Wait. Where’s “Start”?

ME: It’s on your screen, bottom left. It’s not on the keyboard. It’s on your screen. It’s a big button that says, “Start.”

DAD: I don’t have that.

ME: You don’t have it?

DAD: No. Where is it?

In all fairness, my parents do a pretty good job of maintaining their machine — at least they have since I fixed it a couple years ago.

The problem then was malware. They’d let their anti-virus subscription lapse, and they were clicking every link their friends forwarded to them. That PC had more viruses than a kindergarten class in the middle of winter.

I spent several hours removing viruses and installing anti-virus updates, and when I’d finished, I called my parents into their home office (my old bedroom) and explained what I’d done and warned them against clicking strange links.

“Oh,” Mom said. “Well, we didn’t know. (Pause.) Hey, let me show you this website Polly sent me where you can play old songs from the ’50’s!”


I explained that was exactly the kind of no-name website I’d just warned them about, and I have to say, they listened. They’re getting their oldies these days from Pandora and their classic country from WSM in Nashville. That was 2 years ago, and until just recently, Dad would still make a point sometimes of telling me how well their computer was working.

Lately, though, it’s been acting up again. I did some troubleshooting over the phone over a period of several days, and it sounds like their hard drive is full — they’ve got a 30 GB hard drive and about 200 MB free, according to Dad — so that should be easy enough to fix.

I’ll sit with my parents and we’ll uninstall any unnecessary programs and delete old emails with big attachments — the same folks who like to forward links to suspicious websites like to forward pictures of their kids and grandkids, too — and we’ll probably go to Walmart to get a cheap external drive, for backup as well as extra storage.

With any luck, their machine will stay fixed — at least until we go up for Thanksgiving.

Life isn’t just a photo opportunity

Today was Parents Day at our daughter’s YMCA day camp. Usually, she takes the camp bus, but I drove her this morning, and we went canoeing.

The lake where we went canoeing (picture taken when we toured the camp in April).

It was a good morning — kind of overcast, but that was OK, because it kept things cool. The camp is next to a lake, and there were probably 100 other parents on the beach, noshing on bagels and pastries and waiting with their kids for a turn on the water. While we stood barefoot in the sand, my 10-year-old pointed out girls she knew (including “the mean one”) and, suddenly, I remembered:

I forgot my camera.

For someone who enjoys taking pictures as much as I do, that’s a bad feeling. I thought, here we are, my daughter and me, having this little adventure, and we won’t have any pictures.

Then, I remembered something I’d told my mom years ago, when our daughter was still a baby and Mom wouldn’t stop taking pictures of her:

This isn’t a photo op. Put down the camera and just enjoy yourself.

I treasure our family pictures. If the house was on fire, and I could save one thing, I’d save our pictures and videos. It’s easy to forget how fast our kids are growing up until I come across an old picture, or not even an old picture. Pictures remind me how much they’ve changed since last summer, since Christmas, even.

Still, I should remember to forget my camera more often and just enjoy myself.

Before we pushed out into the water, one of the camp counselors called out, “Smile!” and snapped our picture. (Do digital cameras snap?) The Y does a good job of posting pictures on the camp website. I told my wife. She’ll want to see it, because she couldn’t be there, but I was.