Wild World, the $11 million, 280-acre playground that opened Saturday in Largo, may be the latest generation in American amusement parks. For one thing, it costs $9.50 per person to get in, and you are supposed to bring or wear your bathing suit.
But there is only one way to judge, and that is for the human generations to get in a car and ride out there along the summer roads, father and daughter.
She is 10, and does not know about the bathing suit. For information like that, you rely on your father--alleged veteran of many a centrifugal force, relentless scouter of ferris wheels, buff and duffer of long-gone thrills.
"Want to stop for a Coke?"
Olympic Park, in Irvington, N.J., was the only pre-Columbian amusement park in the New World. Even waiting in line for its roller coaster was terrifying, as flecks of white paint rained down from the wooden structure, dislodged by the rattling, yell-punctuated carriages roaring above. Under bare dangling bulbs a population of peg-trousered hoods, combs protruding from the hips, clambered into the first car. Fathers and others were left to the second. Then came the click of the steel restraining bar across a child's lap, the clack of the ratchets, the long climb upward.
At Palisades Park, Asbury Park, Seaside Heights, Olympic Park, Coney Island, Rye Beach, Far Rockaway--at a hundred August carnivals where the buzz of fireflies mixed with the smell of pizza, the world of 1953 turned upside down.
This is tobacco country, three miles east of Capital Centre on Route 214, and the scent is straw.
Nevertheless, you teach what you know.
Wild World is nothing like Coney Island. The rides encroach on farmland grazed over by bison and antelope. This amusement center is fertile and chlorinated. No rattle of machinery, no metallic ambiance of airborne subway cars, no calliope, no falling flecks of paint. It looks like the National Zoo.
Over the glades and stands of bamboo lies some form of thrilling chute. The child quickens her pace. Under the muted trees, from an as-yet-unseen source, comes the sound of water splashing, and beneath is long and delighted screams, perhaps even terrified long and delighted screams.
The child looks up.
That's more like it.
At Coney Island it always rained and the Parachute Jump was always too old for you, meaning, in adult logic of the day, that you were too young for it. Inside the Steeplechase arcade, which had a roof, was a long wooden slide. There was also a wooden cone which revolved, casting teen-agers down its flanks. The smell was of Camels and Luckies ground out on wooden floors.
Outside, at the Parachute Jump, real Army paratroopers would line up with girls in sundresses.
"How's it compare to the real thing?" some embarrassing father always asked.
"A lot worse, sir." .
This daughter, in the wisdom of 10, recognizes the idea of Wild World. No wonder everybody wore his bathing suit. She gazes up at the wonderment known as the Sun Streaker: a water slide that looms four stories high, from which twin chutes descend precipitously.
High at its top, like a ski jumper about to kick off, a figure releases itself. It is no child, but a 25-year sun king. He lies back, hands clasped behind his head, back pressed against the film of lubricating water, legs crossed in studied design.
"Can we go on that, daddy?"
The figure on the slide continues to accelerate, sending up a fine, high-velocity spray. He shoots feet first off the lip of the slide, skimming 20 feet in a shower of spray.
A child comes down the other lane, sitting up, flops delightedly into the pool.
There is a bathing suit concession. Men's, $8.95. Daughter's, $17.95.
"Do you take American Express?"
Slightly down the pretty hill is the Rainbow Zoom. It is another water slide, nearly half a mile of sluiceway through the treetops descending into another tumultuous pool. It is genuinely hot now, despite the glades of trees and the thousands of blooming flowers. Giggles from overhead. Wild World is nothing other than a giant waterworks. Salvation for the worst of August.
You'd have to be pretty dumb to forget your bathing suit.
Palisades Amusement park had one of the biggest swimming pools in the world, and the only swimming pool in the world that had its own wave-making apparatus. A movable bulkhead made miniature surf; it traversed the immersed millions; it broke upon its own amusement beach.
The pool was always full of kids, but one was not allowed in it.
This child will not know that. Some of what you know need not be taught. Besides, this child says "waater" and "y'all" and "craab." As they do at Wild World. Five hundred uniformed high school and college kids are employed all about, smiling at each other (summer romances will bloom here, as they did at Coney and Seaside and Asbury) and at their patrons. Girls on roller skates sweeping; lifeguard boys; stripe-shirted concessionaire kids, polite to the man.
Wild World, indeed, squeaky clean and brand new.
Youse should have seen Palisades Park in the old days.
The child, remote as children are when separated from friends and relegated to father and his wallet, exhibits a desire to play Skee-Ball.
Here is a game of old; nine wooden balls to be pitched up a felt alley toward concentric scoring rings--250 wins the small prize. There was Skee-Ball before there was Bruce Springsteen. She scores 260, is granted a straw-filled shark. No Kewpies. What's a Kewpie?
What the child would like is a hippopotamus somewhat larger than she is. This can be won by climbing a slightly inclined, bar-taut rope ladder 25 feet long erected three feet above the ground. It looks easy, but when boarded the ladder rotates upside down and the contestant falls off. This game costs 50 cents to try. The child tries it four times and falls off four times.
Somebody else's father tries it and succeeds, to mild applause. They have between three and 12 winners a day, the ladder-climb attendant says.
On the boardwalk at Seaside Heights there was a game comprising a miniature steam shovel located over a sea of prizes. For a nickel, you got control of the shovel. It was possible to pick up a large marble, a plastic whistle or a gumball, but for some reason the pearl-handled penknife could not be grasped.
Next to a saltwater taffy stand was a ring concession. You could buy a fake wedding ring, popular in those days; or a ruby ring, a signet ring and so on. But there was one ring that the proprietor, speaking from behind his cigar, would explain that he could not in good conscience let a boy buy. It was a ring in the shape of a wolf's head and snout, with tiny red eyes. The snout was pointed.
"You hit somebody with that, you'd make a mess of them for sure."
Because you couldn't get a penknife, you got a gumball; because you couldn't have a wolf's head ring, you suddenly had to have one.
"The only way I could sell you such a ring would be for use in self-defense," the proprietor would say.
The things you learn the hard way cannot be taught.
"Do you know any German?"
The child says nothing, holds on. Whirling by at ever-increasing speed is the stenciled inscription: Heinz Fahtz, Fahrzeug U. Maschinenbau, Weilburg, Telefon 06471/4766.
With a roar of diesels, the whole business hoists into the sky with a jerk, child and father drawing in their breath, pressed together by centrifugal force.
In the metal capsule just ahead a girl is hollering, laughing, wiggling her feet. Shoes fly off, one at a time. The landscape twirls.
The diesels labor again and the whole "Wild Fling" thrill ride heaves dramatically up, rising, falling, rising falling over the Maryland knolls below.
Three Air Force jets fly in formation on the horizon.
"Would you like to be a jet pilot some day?"
"I don't think so!"
As the ride stops she says, "Whoa, Jack." The father does not know any Jack. He does not think his daughter knows any Jack. Perhaps it is just an expression.
They walk unsteadily to the "Sky Escaper." This German vertigo machine has the advantage of sending its patrons upside down to apogee, thence groundward with memorable G-forces. This is the essential requirement of any class-A thrill ride.
When it is over, she says: "Whoa, Jack."
Pressed for further analysis, an amplification: "At first I thought I was going to vomit, but then I got used to it."
Wild World does not have a Dive Bomber, also known as a bullet, which is the best thrill ride in Christendom. The Dive Bomber has a bullet-like capsule at either tip of a gigantic propeller blade. Becuase it can carry only eight patrons--four in each bullet--the Dive Bomber is obsolete. What made the Dive Bomber fine was that the rider had control of the attitude of the bullet. He could start or stop its spin by pulling a control lever.
In this way, the plunge downward could be accomplished not only upside down, but in various rhythmically induced spinning modes. Under the Dive Bomber, waiting crowds were peppered with small change, pens and other detritus.
A few Pac-Man games later, they climb a pirate ship made of cargo nets. They stumble through a maze. They enter a chamber of thousands of six-inch-diameter balls named the Ball Bath. They go through the best hall of mirrors the father has ever seen. It is not possible to describe the effect of a good hall of mirrors on the human psyche. This one suggests not just Darwin, but the origin of the special effects in a horror movie named "The Howling."
All the rides at Wild World are free. But pretty soon the father is out of money anyhow, having only brought $32 cash. Games and lunch are not free.
He does not care, because this place is a water amusement park: a hymn to goofy, splashy fun. There is water everywhere, and where there is not water there is shade, and unstrident diversions and exotic animals. The scale is large, and at the moment the crowds are small.
The child has not complained once about the lack of bathing suits.
"You can go on the water rides in your clothes, if you want."
She comes skidding down the Rainbow Zoom, hoofing back up to try it again. Then on to the Sun Streaker--the champion ride--in the company of adults and peers.
Still that curious reserve. Fathers makes lousy playmates.
They tore Olympic Park down in the 1960s. A visitor to the demolition found the site to be immeasurably smaller than remembered. Just a few rundown acres in ordinary Jersey. Experience is memory. For memory, you must have experience.
You teach what you know. What is left of it.
On the way out, the child asks to try the ladder climb one more time. What's another 50 cents between father and daughter? He tries to remember the position of the gas gauge in the car. For memory, you must have experience; but to get home, you must have gas.
The attendant gives her some extra guidance, and she gets up one rung before spinning and spilling.
Time to head home, soaking-wet-but-with-an-explanation.
What's this? Her father is on the ropes! He takes his time. The ladder sways and shimmers, but he clings on. Slowly, steadily, he makes his way across the abyss! A cluster of parents cheers him on. He wiggles, he wangles, the change in his pockets jangles. He's almost to the line of hippos, pink and blue. His hand reaches out toward the winning bell! He's going to make it!
The bell rings, the ladder spins, and he falls headfirst into the hippos in a scatter of applause. Hits his head. Throws out his back.
The attendant asks her what color hippo she wants.
"It doesn't matter."
It doesn't MATTER?
Of course it doesn't.
What matters, if you go to Wild World, is that you remember your bathing suit.