"Letís stop at Magic Mountain, letís stop at Magic Mountain!!!!"
     The cries came from the back seat of my car as we were driving down Interstate 5 a couple of weeks ago on our way to a Spring Break vacation in the desert. It was late in the day, and the whining, pleading and begging was working wonders.
    "All right, all right," responded my 18-year-old son, who happened to be driving. "Weíll stop, but you have to promise to be good."
    "I promise," I replied as I tousled the hair of his 16-year-old brother, who was in the passenger seat and then playfully elbowed their best friend, who was sitting next to me. "You guys are the best."
    My wife and daughters were somewhere above us, speeding by in an airplane on their way to the desert. This was a boyís road trip, and since amusement parks have no allure for those snobby girls, this was our chance to stop at Six Flags Magic Mountain, just north of Los Angeles.
    We pulled into the parking lot at 7:00 in the evening, knowing the park closed at 10:00. That left us three hours to do it all. Since I hadnít been to an amusement park in about 10 years, that seemed like plenty of time. And surely we would qualify for the night rate discount.
      "Iím sorry, we donít have a night rate," said the woman in the window. "Itís $59.95 per person, no matter what time you come in."
      "However," she added, "we have a special going on where you can buy a season pass for $59.95."
     That was interesting. I had a choice. I could pay $59.95 for three hours, or pay $59.95 for, letís see, about 210 days. I peered through the gates and noticed a line snaking outside of a fast food place and stretching another 30 feet.
    "What are those people waiting in line for?" I asked the ticket seller.
    "Funnel cakes."
    "Weíll take the one-day pass, please."
     "Are you sure?" she asked, convinced I was lacking the financial acumen to analyze the savings. "It only requires taking a photo."
     A very large woman walked by with a funnel cake topped with the most amazing concoction of garbage Iíd ever seen. "Iím sure," I said.
    We entered the gates and I instructed the boys to take off, knowing they had only 3 hours to amortize their $59.95 per person investment. Iíd catch up with them later, once they got their thrill from the thrill rides.
    I simply wandered around, fascinated by the amusement park world. It is the ultimate in people-watching. The carnival crowd is alive and well, and apparently thriving. Itís a slice of Americana, and if they sold beer (which they donít) I would have had one to celebrate diversity.
    Then thereís the lines. I have a problem with the lines, but the carnival crowd apparently doesnít. One of the newer thrill rides had a line that stretched hundreds of feet. No one was moving. It looked like the Night of the Living Dead. I walked up to the exit of the ride and asked a beaming, tank-topped, gap-toothed older woman and her daughter how long they had waited.
    "About two hours," she replied, beaming. "But honey, it was sooooo worth it. That ride was awesome!!"
    Later, I learned from an attendant that on busy days (apparently this was a slow day) the waits for the popular rides are about four hours. For a ride that lasts approximately two minutes.
    I ran into the boys at around 9:00. They had amortized well, finding a couple of less-popular rides where the wait was only 30 minutes. But their work wasnít doneóthey were determined to put me on a roller coaster.
    Rumor had it that the "Goliath" didnít have a line, so we headed over there. I was hoping for a four hour wait, but we walked right up to it. One look at the way everyone was strapped in, their feet dangling, and I opted out. I was called a wimp, a sissy, a babyóall kinds of things. And that was by the 10-year-old girl behind me in the short line. The boys were much tougher on me. I had to do something.
    "You want death-defying," I announced as I headed for the exit. "Iíll show you death-defying."
    "Where are you going?"
     I gave them a casual toss of the head. "Iím going to buy one of those funnel cakes, with all the toppings."
     Now thatís scary.

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