On Saturday, I visited Paramount's Great America in scenic Santa Clara, California. I hadn't been to Great America since Gay & Lesbian Night, back in 2003, so I was eager to re-discover the wonders of roller coaster fun, and write down lots of observations in a yellow pocket-sized notebook. In summary: The park is pretty great, though becoming steadily less American.
The reason for this is the introduction of Boomerang Bay.
At Zembla, we've been staunch supporters of all things Australian, but is this really appropriate at Great America? It's not Great Treason or anything, but it's pretty far from Great Patriotism. I can't help but suspect that this is a symbol of the nefarious partnership between Australian PM John Howard and his BFF George W. Bush. David Hicks goes home, but is forced to agree to a one-year media ban. In return, Howard criticizes Democratic presidential candidates. And now, Great America has an entire Australian area. I don't have any proof, but I bet Paul Wolfowitz helped negotiate this expansion.
For the benefit of Zembla's Australian readers, here's a list of what's featured in Boomerang Bay (which is not, as far as I can tell, an actual body of water Down Under.) Aussies registered with TypeKey can let me know of any odd naming choices or discrepancies with authentic Australian culture.
Outback Shack: Serves freshly battered fish and shrimp, pizza, breadsticks, French fries, salads, soda and beer.
Mick's Crocodile Canteen: Pizza, hot dogs, salads, nachos, soda, beer.
Castaway Creek: Circular tube ride.
The Screamin' Wombat, Downunder Thunder, Didgeridoo Falls: Waterslides
Boomerang Lagoon: Swimming pool
Great Barrier Reef: Wave pool
Jackaroo Landing, Kookaburra Cay: Water play areas.
HMB Endeavor: Used to be called The Revolution, and informally known as "The Pirate Ship". It has now been re-named after the ship Captain Cook used on his first voyage of discovery to Australia and New Zealand, though Maori visitors might still consider it a pirate vessel.. Though the ship ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, the historical record does not show that it ever turned upside down in a terrifying manner, as Great America's HMB Endeavor does. Park officials have also Americanized the spelling of the ship's name. South of the Equator, this ride moves in the opposite direction.
Older roller coaster, but still great - mostly undervalued because there are newer attractions. So, lines are short, but payoff remains high. The Demon simply needs to bill itself as the second-wildest ride in the wilderness, and it'll be set.
The Demon was our first coaster of the day, and we later rode it four times in a row, due to the criminally short lines. Such repeated rides were previously only possible on the old Tidal Wave coaster (later re-branded as Greased Lightnin', and colloquially known as "This Not This", after its odd pictorial safety warning signs). Sadly, the Schwarzkopf shuttle loop coaster closed in 2002, after 25 years in the park.
The "devil's horns" gesture was popularized by Black Sabbath's Ronnie James Dio, though he claims the gesture both casts and protects against the Evil Eye. A few years ago, possibly due to the Evil Eye, Dio severed the tip of his thumb in an accident involving a garden gnome. Katie tells me that, in his current tour with Heaven and Hell (Black Sabbath, sans Ozzy), Dio has abandoned the devil's horns for a more conventional yet "creepier" thumbs-up, which may be a nod to his gnome accident.
The park tries to play up the demonic aspects of the coaster, with steam, colored lights, and a growling "demon" voice that says, "I am the Demon! Brah Groww Byarr Rah Rrroar!" as riders enter the first tunnel. Some might say that four consecutive rides were a sure sign of Demonic possession. However, some of the spookiness is undermined by the monotone safety announcement delivered by a clearly-bored seventeen-year-old. Watch out for demonic...liability issues! Brah Groww Byarr Rah Rrroar!
Invertigo: This ride broke down right before we reached the front of the line. A gate got stuck ,and passengers has to stay in their restraints for about ten minutes. Michele and I were behind the Most Excited Boy In Great America, a teenager in a Chris Pronger t-shirt who literally trembled with anticipation as the delay stretched on. I thought he would wear himself out, but he appeared to reach a new peak of excitement after the ride finally began working again.
If I were a more political man, I'd like to organize a protest called Subvertigo. We'd sit in the train, refusing to leave, shouting anti-capitalist slogans at the ride operators until they gave into our demands. Or just let us ride again without waiting, because this ride is really fun.
Drop Zone: I rode this one twice, once while others were rattling their skulls on The Grizzly. It's appropriate that the Grizzly is a wooden roller coaster, because those who choose to ride it over Drop Zone have received the short end of the stick. Drop Zone illustrates the bizarre branding that resulted from Paramount's acquisition of the park. There's constant inspirational theme music from Paramount films playing, though mostly in the most boring parts of the park, along with randomly-chosen movie memorabilia. This ride has very little to do with the Wesley Snipes action movie of the same name. Here's Tom Neff's plot summary:
A team of skydiving crooks led by DEA-agent-turned-bad Busey specialize in landing on police roofs and breaking in so their evil computer nerd can steal undercover agents' files and sell them to drug lords. Federal Marshal Snipes lost a brother to this crew and learns skydiving with the help of tough-but-lovable instructor Butler so he can track them down. DIE HARD meets PASSENGER 57 meets CLIFFHANGER.
What are we to conclude from this? Always bet on black!
Survivor: The Ride: Outside this ride, a sign advises you to Outwit/Outplay/Outlast. It's a basic spinny fair ride, only way more tribal. Plus, the weakest member of your group gets voted out of the park, which is why I advise going on Survivor: The Ride later in the day. Actually, I am totally in favor of the immediate expulsion of anyone who follows along with the chant and dance led by former Survivors Ethan and Jenna, who are both trying to Outlast their fifteen minutes of fame.
Ethan tells us, "Your challenge is to make as much noise as possible", though most people barely realize that they're in separate tribes to begin with. I think the losing tribe is supposed to get wetter, except there's very little water on the ride to begin with. Mainly, what we learn is that, while Ethan and Jenna both won a million dollars on the show, that is not enough money to purchase dignity. A more appropriate Survivor homage might be a gross-food-eating, for which there are no lack of options in the park.
Gene spent his time in line scowling at the video and analyzing the ride for weaknesses. He concluded that if he can escape his restraints and pull a knob at the center of the ride, everyone's harness and crotch restraints will release. Which means we all would lose immunity. Fire represents life on Survivor, but at Great America, crotch restraints = life.
The Orbit: Along with Rip Roaring Rapids, The Orbit was closed. Seeing those rides were closed, it felt like a part of me had died. The rest of me was a great deal drier. The Orbit used to be known as "Orleans Orbit", so I wonder if the new name is a result of post-Katrina rebranding. Perhaps they felt it was inappropriate for the New Orleans ride to be directly next to the most elaborate water ride in the park.
Logger's Run: Along with Drop Zone, this is the only ride in the park to have a fatality. A kid jumped out of his log and got crushed between two other logs. I thought of this when I saw a ten-year-old Asian kid defy the operators and ride down backwards. He was fine, and I obtained this exclusive post-flume interview:
Q: Did you go backward the whole way?
Q: How was it?
Later, the ride broke down. Watching safely from the ground, Adam astutely diagnosed the problem as a "log jam". Eventually, park staff evacuated the trapped patrons from the top of the ride, a task complicated by their need to keep arms and legs inside the log at all times.
Bikinis under clothes: A very popular look at the park on Saturday. These girls were ready for a water ride, or simply preparing for a commercial about magical beer.
Amazing Al: For five dollars, Amazing Al will guess:
1) Your age, within two years
2) Your weight, within two pounds, or
3) Your birth month, within two months
If he fails, you win a Care Bear. We devoted a great deal of time to devising ways to thwart Al, including:
- drinking a gallon of water before stepping on the scale (at park prices, that amount of bottled water would cost approximately $19.14)
- finding someone with a prosthetic limb and/or withered baby arm
- enlisting the oldest person possible
- enlisting the fattest person possible
- enlisting the person with the most deceptive birthday possible
- hide food inside your mouth
- join the Navy with knowledge gained from new, extra-militaristic incarnation of the Top Gun ride, lose a limb in combat, return to Great America with prosthetic, bring $5, and then win a Care Bear
- buy a Care Bear at a toy store.
Vortex: The tangential velocity of your head varies inversely as the distance from the center of rotation, so the angular momentum of your head banging against the pads is constant; the vorticity is zero everywhere (except for a singularity at the corkscrew). This roller coaster hurts your head. Also you stand up.
Delirium: This ride is a great deal of fun. Gene thought his massive, troll-like thighs would again prevent him from enjoying Delirium, but I am happy to report that he fit in his seat just fine this year. It didn't help him from audibly admiring Adam's thighs earlier in the day.
Eagle's Flight/Delta Flyer: There is no reason this gondola ride should have two separate names. It's the same sky buckets both ways! Come on!
Carousel: Dianna got to ride on a giraffe, and Michele got to ride on a cat. Two lifelong dreams realized on one extremely crappy ride.
Exodus: As closing time neared, patriotic music blared from the loudspeakers, effectively driving us from the park. It was "America the Beautiful", or perhaps "Great America the Beautiful":
O beautiful for its short lines,
For cars that loop the loop,
For apple fries and funnel cakes
Covered with cream and goop!
Great America! Great America!
God bless your coaster fun
And crown thy hills with chills and thrills
From the Demon to Top Gun!