Saturday, March 19, 2011

It Has a Brochure

In our final installment detailing the Penwasser family's Vacation from Hell, the kids have just been denied the chance to wash off chicken butt grease and crumbs in the motel's petri dish of a pool.  Apparently, father Mal didn't want his kids cavorting with randy truckers.  Some parents....

    Bitterly disappointed that we wouldn't be allowed to swim in algae, we backed away from the door.  We consoled ourselves that we at least had television.  Which, unlike the black and white set  at home, would let us actually watch Disney’s Wonderful World of Color IN color.
    Using Gary as a remote control, we settled in to watch the latest Disney flick starring Angela Lansbury.  Engrossed in the antics of flying bedknobs and broomsticks, we were oblivious to the stack of brochures stacked in front of our parents.
    During my favorite public service announcement-I LOVE that crying Indian!-we asked when we could go swimming the next day.  Imagine our disappointment when told there’d be no pool in the morning.  What kind of crummy vacation did you take us on, we whined.
    As strident as our protests were, they were immediately squelched by what is commonly known as an empty parental threat.  Provided to new parents in delivery rooms throughout the nation, these vacuous warnings ran the gamut from “Don’t make me come back there!” to the equally ineffective “I’ll stop this car right now!”  Or, as my father now scolded, “If you don’t like it, we’ll just go home.”
    Never realizing our father had as much intention of going home as tongue-kissing the motel clerk, we piped down.  There was no way we wanted to endanger our vacation.  Besides, we held out a slim hope that maybe there was a good reason why we wouldn’t be able to swim tomorrow.
    Waving one of the brochures like a flag, our mother announced that we’d be going to an amusement park in the morning.  That was why, she explained, there’d be no pool.
    Our despair instantly vanished as we realized that we’d be going to one of the few places that was actually better than a pool in a motel parking lot.  Oh, sweet joy-an amusement park! 
Nope. Didn't go here.
    Rides!  Conspiring which one we’d go on first, our heads swirled with the possibilities.  Roller coasters, bumper cars, spook houses, and all manner of conveyances to flip our stomachs on end awaited us.  To say nothing of the massive amounts of hideously UNhealthy junk food which beckoned like a siren of malnutrition.
    Television permanently forgotten, we chose up sides for which of the two beds (we didn’t count the rickety rollaway-that was reserved for Gary) we’d have for the night.  The way we figured it, the sooner we got to sleep, the sooner we’d wake up and get to ride the rides.
    Is there anything besides Christmas Eve that positively guarantees sleepless nights for children than the promise of an amusement park in the morning?  A form of child abuse, you may as well give your kids “No-Doze” IV drips than promise them a chance to run like mental cases through one of the happiest places on Earth.
    The names of these meccas of family fun were remarkably similar.  They were invariably called “Land of Make-Believe,”  “Funtown,” “Funtown USA” (“Funtown Hanoi” never caught on), “The Enchanted Forest,” “The Enchanted Trailer Park” (never very popular, it was wiped out by a tornado), “Never-Never Land,” “OK, Almost Never Land,” “Story Town,” “Story Ville,” “Story Land,” or the aptly named “Playland.”
    For our vacation hysterics, though, our parents chose Deutsch Wunderville.  Modeled after those legendary party animals, the Amish, Deutsch Wunderville promised to thrill us with a dizzying array of attractions.
    Or so we thought.
    As we entered the park following a sleepless night, livened only by a rip-snorting farting contest (much to the disgust of Kathy), we happily piled into the Ford for the short trip to the happiest place in Lancaster County.  Used to the “Funtowns” we’d been to in the past, we were confident this one would be no different.  We were sure that some madly spinning ride would have us throwing up breakfast by lunch.
    Imagine our bewilderment, then, when the very first park employee we encountered was some weird dude all dressed in black who identified himself as “Ezekiel.”  Adopting a grimly serious expression, he cautioned against “eating too much shoo-fly pie lest ye take ill on our most popular attraction:  Brother Hezekiah’s Wild Buggy Ride.”
    OK, we reasoned, so “Ezekiel” was just some freak out to scare tourists.  Surely there must be more to this place than funnel cake booths and somber employees with beards (and those were the women).  After all, it had its very own brochure.  
    As we further explored Deutsch Wunderville, though, our worst fears were realized.  Instead of a wooden roller coaster sure to cause whiplash, the most fearsome ride was the Flying Butter Churns (which never left the ground).  Rather than a Spook House, it had Sister Rebecca’s House of 1,000 Quilts
Yep. I'm the fat one. I got better.
.    Shoot, even the merry-go-round had just cows and, instead of a brass ring, riders were encouraged to grasp a wooden pretzel as they flew past at a death defying one mile an hour.
    Looking in vain for at least a freak show, all we managed to find was a papier maché diorama of an armless farmer milking a cow with his feet.  
    Ignoring our whiny protests and a barely audible complaint of “This place sucks” from Phil, my parents put on happy faces, insisting that Deutsch Wunderville was a perfect vacation spot.  Why, look at all the happy people strolling around the park, they gushed.  Surely, they were having a good time.
    Frankly, I think the shoo-fly pie was drugged.
    This charade went on until lunchtime.  Finally, after reluctantly giving up our search for a truly thrilling ride, we decided to head to the Plain and Fancy Festhaus and Cowpie Pavilion.  At least we could probably get something good to eat there.
    Ten minutes later, we were jammed into our station wagon, speeding out of Deutsch Wunderville’s parking lot.
    Apparently, Dad didn’t like the fact you couldn’t get a beer in the “whole friggin” place.”  With a desperate optimism fueled by an alcohol “low light,” he hoped to find one at our next stop: the guided tour of the Northeastern Brick Factory in Conewago.
    As we writhed in agony over the prospect of watching some mouth-breather in bib overalls convert mud, straw, and dirty water into barely discernible lumps of building material, my mother turned around and cheerfully reassured us.
    “Hey, how bad could it be?  It has a brochure.”


  1. Oh my God, The Land of Makebelieve, The North Pole, The Enchanted Forest, I've been to all of those and more. The Jersey shore with Wildwood Amusement Pier. Great memories. Thanks for bringing them back to me. Can't wait for more!

  2. Actually, so have I, including the pier at Wildwood (also Ocean City). In fact, the picture of us on the merry-go-round was taken in the 'Land of Make Believe' (my brother-Phil-is on the horse just in front and slightly to the right of me and I think my sister-Kathy-is right behind me). Since I didn't get to the Jersey Shore until I was an adult, I didn't include it.
    Al Penwasser: His stories are historically accurate! (kinda). If it takes place in 1972, I don't talk about events that didn't happen until the 1990s.

  3. Oh, for you sharp-eyed readers: Even though we did go there, Deutsch Wunderville is not its real name. See if you can figure it out. Although, it's not NEARLY as bad as I make it. Truthfully, it's a sweet place to take little kids.

  4. My first trip to an amusement park was after highschool, when mom and dad finally figured they could afford Disneyland. I wandered off a lot by myself, and it was a fun time. Love your're an excellent writer of your past experiences.

  5. Thanks very much. I hope you'll like my take on the Playland experience. I remember when we brought our kids to Disney World, the "Most Magical Place in the World Where It's Difficult to Find a Beer."
    As we spent our fifth hour waiting in line for the frikkin' Flying Dumbo ride (NOTE: Slight exaggeration), my kids (very young at the time) wanted to know when we would next be coming.
    Flustered as I was by my third day in the "Magic Kingdom" (they NEVER let us out! OK, I'm really exaggerating here), I said, "We'll come back when you're wearing a bra and you're shaving!" (Did I mention I have a son and a daughter?)
    Fast forward twelve years........................
    Call me a welcher, but they'll be lucky if we go to Dairy Queen.
    I may be paranoid, but I may eventually see stories starring me in the role of "Dad."

  6. I live about a half mile from Funtown, USA, and 3 miles from Palace Playland!

  7. Just so you know......when I wrote about "Funtown USA" in the story, I was thinking about the one in Maine. We took my little nieces there before my own kids were born (many years ago).
    I remember my brother and I tricking one of my nieces onto the Pirate Ship, Battering Ram (whatever they called it). She screamed the entire time. I think my brother and I damaged her psychologically that day.
    Plus, I remember how her younger sister was absolutely petrified when she was on the little train.
    Good times, good times.

  8. 1. Your pic on the toilet is now in my Top 10 of all time ;)
    2. Family trips are never truly a success without some turmoil and annoyances.
    3. Everything is better with a brochure.


  9. I love empty parental threats, like "don't make me drag you behind this car!" or "I WILL put your face on this belt sander!" We just laugh and laugh about that now, or cry, whatever.

  10. @LadyE: It mortifies my daughter (which is why I removed it as my Facebook profile picture), but, every time I passed a toilet which someone was throwing away, I wanted to take a picture like it. Luckily, some friends were throwing theirs away.
    @Dr.Heckle: the sad thing is that I've actually said similar things myself. One of the favorites that we use when a family member is getting ready to drive away: "Drive fast and take unnecessary risks!"

  11. This is a fun series, Al. The only thing that might've made this post a bit more exciting is if your pops did tongue kiss the hotel clerk. She/he wasn't hot, huh?

  12. Sounds like my youth trips to the local Mcdonalds play lands.

  13. Love the photos!
    I so remember those park adventures- a highlight of our family outings. No beer would of sent my father packing too.
    Isn't it funny how having a brochure back in the day gave everything such legitimacy? These days, maybe not so much.
    I'm sorry, I can't comment any longer- I need to go work on my brochure.

    Wonderful story Al. MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE!!!

  14. I don't think I've seen "legendary party animals" and "Amish" in the same sentence before.

  15. I actually googled Deutsch Wunderville and your blog came up as the first option to click!

  16. i've been to some seriously crappy amusement parks around the country, much like the one you describe here. and i didn't get to go back to disneyworld til i was in a bra either. the employees said i was dangerously floppy without one & not safe for rides around children.