We did it. All of those involved somehow survived the 'lil guy's big day at Knoebels. We dragged this toddler out of bed at 5:30 AM, drove him halfway across the state, made him the center of attention for 13 hours without him having taken a nap, and none of us are any worse for wear after hitting the racks kinda early last night. The last I had heard, the folks that pray before the dopplar radar arrays were predicting things such as "70-something degrees, overcast, and a possibly of scattered thunder storms." What we were actually treated to were temperatures in the high eighties and some direct sunlight all day long. I myself could care less about the weather, but it did eventually wear down a few of the chickies and the numerous toddlers that were a part of our entourage. Once the afternoon faded away and the evening arrived, Gage was showing signs that he had had enough. His sister, Taylor Kate, being all of 14 months old was so well behaved all day long it was hard to believe. What an undersized trooper she was. His cuz, Zach, at 11 months old, was just as well behaved, if not even more. In that respect, I guess we really can't complain about the conditions.
We decided to celebrate Gage's birthday at Knoebels so as to make it as memorable as possible for him. His 2nd birthday bash was quite a gig, but we wanted to make his third an even more exciting event for him. I think we succeeded. On hand were wifey and I. Gage's mom and dad, Scott and Peace, and his 'sis, Taylor Kate. My son Marque, his girl Heather, and their beautiful son Zach. My daughter Ebon and her boyfriend, Jason. Cousin Antoinette. My "little" brother Ray, his wife Jennifer and his son, Mason. Also making the trek from Wilkes-Barre to Elysburg was Copper Dude, his pregnant wifey, and their kids, A.J. and Cindy. The advance elements of this group, including your's truly, arrived at Knoebels at 8:30 AM and we were able to park our vehicles three feet from the picnic tables. BANG! We inflated the helium balloons, unpacked the trunks and coolers, and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive and the park to open for business in earnest.
We could have made our way to Dorney Park, Hershey Park, Six Flags, or Wally World, as so many others frequently do in search of roller coasters that would cause most F/A-18 Hornet pilots to black out during the negative-G dives, but we prefer to not be surrounded by bussed-in throngs of big-city folks who carry themselves as if they think civility is the name of a dry county somewhere in Eastern Texas. Knoebels is a serene setting. It's much slower paced than your average amusement park. It's relatively inexspensive. In actuality, being as old as I am, I can attest to the fact that it's a throw-back to the much more numerous amusement parks that existed at one time in almost every small town in America. For me, spending a day at Knoebels is very reminiscent of spending a lazy summer day at Sandy Beach, or Hansen's with my beloved grandparents during the very late sixties. The Super Duper Loopers of the world may entice others to stand in long lines all day long, but we prefer the tranquility of the amusement park nestled in a nearby bucolic farm-belt and the mostly courteous folks that flock to it and staff it. Enjoy the negative-G dives if you must, I'll be at Knoebels.
Once some of us finally wandered into the park in an attempt to blow Gage's mind, he seemed almost bewildered by the multitude of kiddie rides that surrounded him. I thought he'd be ready to rock when he first spied this grand spectacle displayed neatly before him, but surprisingly, he seemed hesitant to dive in head first and we spent a bit of time trying to coerce him into letting loose and enjoying himself. We tried to convince him to follow Copper Dude's kids into one of those inflated thingies where kids mostly fall on their heads, but he just stood at the entrance and cried. After a few minutes, he finally entered the fall-fest and after falling on his face for five minutes, it was a chore to get him out of there. And then he relaxed a bit and went with the flow. You know, he had himself some fun.
He then rode ride after ride and it was getting well past lunchtime when we decided the cookout and official birthday celebration should begin. We then meandered our way back to the picnic tables and the waiting charcoal was treated to a match or two. We enjoyed some hoddogs, burgers, some strange-looking potato salad, and a few more condiments and prepared salads purchased right here at Oh Yes in good ole Nord End. Instead of the usual and expected birthday cake, Peace cooked cupcakes inside of ice cream cones and topped them with icing. And then we sang "Happy Birthday" to Gage Andrew.
And we forced him to settle down a tad and open the pile of gifts all involved had brought for him. Much like last year's party, as soon as he opened the set of over-sized Matchbox police vehicles, he lost all interest in opening any more and he wanted to play cops and robbers. No matter how much pressure we brought to bare upon him, he wanted nothing more than playing with his new police helicopter. He got some really smart-looking clothing, and a bunch of Shrep stuff from the popular movie, but he barely noticed after the police vehicles were unveiled.
So, it was time that we lowered the boom on him. I was going to buy him a two-wheeler for his birthday. As it turned out, his parents had planned to do the same. But Uncle Marque beat us all to the punch. Marque coerced Gage into accompanying him to find out what was hidden in the rear of his Cherokee, and after the tailgate finally came up, Gage responded with a throaty "Wow!" Mission accomplished. The 'lil guy was finally amazed.
And Pop Pop bought him his very own padded bicycling gloves. And he then proceeded to motor along like a pint-sized Pop Pop. Sooner or later, I will have a steady riding partner.
After we were treated to A.J.'s fastball and Gage's preoccupation with the aforementioned Copper Dude paraphenalia, it was decided that the remainder of the day would be devoted to wandering aimlessly through the park. And wander we did.
Copper Dude decided that three-year old A.J. would accompany him on the "Sklooosh." In all honestly, I thought he was nuts. I thought that after the wall of water larger than the one that capsized the Poseidon had finally sudsided, A.J. would be screaming and begging to be returned to much, much safer confines. Much to my surprise, after their boat hit the water and caused a near seismic shift, A.J. was laughing harder than a druggie with a long rap sheet that had just beaten the charges brought against him on a technicality. Crazy little bugger.
And then the kids traveling with us, the ones taller than three feet decided that it was their turn to a cause a ripple in the time/space continuum. And so it was done. And as they turned and headed back to their launch point, they were laughing harder than I can remember seeing them do.
And then it was decided that Gage's Dad would take him onto this ride. I knew he was way overdue for a nap, so I was fully expecting to see Gage gagging, crying and trying to climb out of this death trap posing as a water ride as soon as the spray cleared. So...up they went and down they came.
And much to my surprise, while some federally-subsidized folks at some remote geological institute were scrambling to figure out why their sensors had just gone off scale, Gage and his Dad emerged from the tidal wave and Gage was grinning ear-to-ear while spitting water out of his mouth. And it was then that I realized that this birthday adventure was a resounding success. Sure, we all want better for our kids than we grew up with, and sure, we want nothing but the best for their kids. And while Knoebels may not be sexier than some of the other glitzy parks with the high-tech gizmos and the roller coasters that cause strokes, it capably provides what thrilled the generations that grew-up before the muckity-muck loopers were introduced. It's slow, it's fun, it's clean, it's courteous, and in the right hands, it can provide memories that will last a lifetime. And while Gage may be a bit young yet, that's all I was hoping for. I vividly remember the days when my grandparents and I frittered the hours away enjoying the simplest of pleasures. And I hope that he'll one day look back on his days spent at Knoebels with his grandparents as fondly as I look back on my Sandy Beach days.
I spent 24 bucks on a ride pass and did not ride a single ride. Wifey bought one too and rode one ride. And after it was all said and done, we were glad we did. We weren't necessarily looking to have the time of our lives, we were there hoping that our kids and their kids would.
Once those rodents passing as grandchildren get a bit older, this Knoebels thing that we hope to make a family tradition will be more and more described as a good time. The day may come when Gage, Taylor and Zach will be much more enthralled by the parks possessing rides that grace outer space, but I'll be content knowing that I tried to provide them with a taste of what the simpler, slower, kinder times were like.
For me, Knoebels is no Sandy Beach. There's no drive-in screen with Buddy Hackett yelling at Sid Caeser, or a dance hall with Eddy Day & The Nighttimers blaring some Turtles tunes, but in this day and age-It's as close as I can get to the good ole days.
Thanks Al. I felt bad about splitting before saying goodbye to your growing and upstanding family, but Gage was dog-tired and it was quickly becoming obvious to us that this happy day had in fact run it's course.
That's it. Gage's 3rd birthday. I can't wait for the next installment.