Monday, September 26, 2011

Lakeside: Old School Amusement

Saturday night, Kirk and I walked - yes, walked! - from our house to Lakeside Amusement Park, a step back in time for sure. Since we live precisely on the grounds of old Elitch Gardens, we recently had visited the relocated-downtown Elitch Gardens and found it crowded, expensive, disorganized and pretty much soulless. Being so close to Lakeside, we felt obligated to visit this vintage gem on its' last weekend this year.

After walking through our beautiful neighborhood, we showed up around 6 p.m., just in time to catch an amazing sunset. Riding a crazy roller coaster and catching a gorgeous lakeside sunset is an experience I highly recommend.

After paying the outrageous entrance fee of $2.50 (!), we skipped the coupons-per-ride set up and got the ride-everything-anytime wrist bands for around $19 each. Compare this to the $43 ticket price at Elitch and it makes your head spin. (I believe Disneyland is up to $80...?)

Established in 1908, Lakeside is currently owned by Rhoda Krasner, a delightful old woman whose father, Ben, had purchased the park in 1930. Immediately, he began art deco facelift which remains to this day. Sure, the park could use some loving repairs and a few new light bulbs but in a way, the natural decay is part of Lakeside's charm.  A Yelp review from Kelly T. sums it up nicely:

"If Lakeside were a man, he would be one of those old guys that hangs out in Winchell's Donut Shop drinking 50 cent coffee and eating a bear claw while reminiscing about better times with his old poker buddies. He still smokes a cigar every day. He still believes that a martini with lunch is perfectly acceptable. And, goddammit, he WILL have butter on his potatoes, not some awful oily margarine." 

Our favorite ride was definitely the Cyclone roller coaster, a wooden ride that does not do anything fancy except go very, very fast. A real bone rattler. Second was the Lakeside Train that circles Lake Rhoda - so delightful! Especially after dark when all the neon reflects off the water.

Our least favorite was The Spider, which I'd convinced Kirk into trying and well, we both regretted it. Later, while visiting the bathroom, I helped a poor woman wipe barf off her pants from riding the same evil monster. Poor lady, I think she might have been on a date too.

When time came for dinner, we (okay, Kirk) paid $12 whole dollars, for both of us. (2 slices of pizza and 2 sodas.) I can't imagine getting away with that at Disneyland. Also, Lakeside allows, and even encourages, people to bring their own food and have a picnic there on-site. Can you imagine a Six Flags' letting people come in with coolers? With the economy in such turmoil, places like Lakeside make it possible for families to have fun without spending a fortune.

On top of this, every employee we spoke to was polite and charming even though one can assume they are not making high dollar. (Although Admissions Guy could probably use more focus but no harm done.)  Mostly teens, sure, but not surly - no eye-rolling or mumbling, which was nice.

And the kicker? I think the longest we waited in line was 5 minutes. Although, my stomach did get permanently flipped by this damn thing:

Kirk was smart and stayed off it. Wish I had too. Still, I managed to keep everything down and recovered on the ferris wheel. It was a beautiful night and I felt lucky to have this old beauty in my city and in my 'hood.

Long live Lakeside!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Primo Visits

This weekend, my travel buddy, Mat Small, trekked out to Denver for a visit. He's one of many who have made connections at DIA but never emerged from the terminal. At long last, he explored Denver with my help and an old friendship was re-strengthened.

Mat is my Primo, Portugese for "cousin." Years ago, as we traveled through Brazil together, we kept being mistaken for spouses or siblings - neither of which described our platonic relationship. We settled for cousins and forever being Primo & Prima to one another.

Aside from seeing Denver, Mat was on a mission: To convince me to join him next May on a 12- day journey to the country of Georgia, a small nation bordering Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Black Sea. He showed videos. He drew maps. He bragged about their wines and their status as the world's first Christian nation. He even cajoled my friend, Inna - who originally hails from Kazakhstan - to back him up. No luck there.

Still, I'm intrigued. Mostly due to the fact that Mat is a relentless researcher on exotic locals that bring the most bang for the buck. I tease him about his obsessions with world currencies but as his travel partner, it certainly pays off. In fact, Mat usually researches absolutely everything and I just show up. My part of the deal involves photographing the hell out of the entire experience. All in all, a fair exchange.

So come May, who knows? I may be slurping Georgian wine....