Sunday, August 23, 2009


Sunset at Cedar Point. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

At some point in everybody’s life, they reach a point.

Maybe it’s a boiling point.  Or perhaps a point of no return. Or possibly just a starting point.

Whatever the point, it’s always there to remind us that up until that point, there was no point, and everything before and after that point was, well … pointless. 

Which brings me to my point.

At one point in my life I was reckless and adventuresome, with a real, devil-may-care attitude and a feeling of invincibility. I had wit and wisdom beyond my years. And even if I didn’t, I thought I did.

My eyes were sharp, my head was on straight and I bounced around with a cocky stride that seemed all-too-natural at the time. The world was my oyster and the only real challenge was how high, how fast and how far could I go to prove my point.

The only way to do this was to strap myself into any and every roller coaster I could find within driving distance of my hometown. What other way was there? It was, and still is, the redneck stamp of approval and I was, and still am, very much a redneck, albeit, one with a college education who never really developed a taste for NASCAR, Mountain Dew or Marlboro Lights. Still, despite my dislike of fast cars turning left, urine-colored rot gut and a pack of smokes, roller coasters were a different story.

Luckily I grew up on the doorstep of Cedar Point and there wasn’t a coaster in that park I hadn’t conquered.

The Mine Ride -  yawn. 

The Blue Streak – nothing to it. 

The Corkscrew – mere child’s play. 

The Gemini – are you serious?

It got to the point where I had to travel dang near all the way to Cincinnati just to ride The Beast at King’s Island. Then a funny thing happened – I grew up.

I started wearing t-shirts with sleeves. I started using silverware when I ate. I even started brushing my teeth. I was different now. I was what you might call ... sophisticated.

The thought of amusement parks and roller coasters never really crossed my mind again once I graduated from high school. Then, when I was 30, my niece Mairi, who was 14 at the time, asked my wife Julie and I if we could take her to Cedar Point. We had a great time that day and I realized I still had it, whatever it was.

The park had grown in many ways, but it also had shrunk. New roller coasters dotted the landscape making it even more a teenage thrill-seeking paradise and less a place for the really young or the really old. But I was 30, I was neither old nor young, and I could still tackle whatever coaster Cedar Point had to offer.

The coasters of my childhood still remained, but now there were serious new coasters to contend with. The Corkscrew, Gemini and Blue Streak had been relegated to kiddie-ride status with the addition of rides like The Raptor, The Magnum and The Mean Streak. I rode every one of them that day and I felt invincible once more, even if my shirt now had sleeves ... and a collar!

That day came and went, and much like after graduating from high school, I never so much as thought about another roller coaster for 14-years – that is until last month.

Last month I realized my three children had not only grown well past baby status, but also had gotten quite big and un-huggable as well. I’m pretty sure two of them may even have entered puberty. What kind of father would I be if I didn’t treat my three 48-inch-and-taller children to a fun-filled day of thrills, and potential motion-induced regurgitation, one can only find at a place like Cedar Point?

Not a very good one, that’s for sure.

So at the ripe, old age of 44, I headed south on US23 and east on Route 2 with my three kids in tow; bound for the land of my youthful glory - the glorious phallic-shaped peninsula on Lake Erie known as Cedar Point.

The kids were giddy with excitement. They'd spent most of the week going on the computer and watching point-of-view videos of every ride at “The Point.” I too, was excited, but a strange feeling began creeping into my gut along with the excitement. This wasn’t a feeling I’d ever felt before while heading to an amusement park. This was more akin to the feeling I’d often had on the first tee at a golf tournament – I was feeling nervous.

It had, after all, been 14-years since I’d last set foot in an amusement park. Plenty had changed in that time span. For starters, my sense of balance now was totally screwed. A bout of vertigo in my early 30’s left me unable to even swing on a swing set. If I couldn’t deal with something that gentle, how would I be able to handle the twisting, turning and upside-down-spinning on a roller coaster?

Certainly I couldn’t let on to the kids that I was nervous. I was their dad - their hero. The guy who had been there and done that a million times before. How would it look if I chickened out on them now?

As we crossed the Thomas Edison Bridge over Sandusky Bay, my nervousness grew when they spotted the Cedar Point skyline and nearly peed their pants with excitement. I’m pretty sure I did pee my pants once I saw the 450’ tall Top Thrill Dragster stretching a zillion miles above the horizon with its airplane warning lights blinking in the thin air high atop the ride’s massive hill.

It was official. I had reached a point - my point. The point where I no longer was a teenage, or even a 30-year-old, thrill-seeking, semi-immortal, man of cool. I had crossed that point on the way to “The Point.” Now I was a scaredy cat; a chicken shit - a middle-aged, quivering coward wearing pee-stained underwear.

I wondered to myself if my kids would be brave enough to ride that thing. I secretly hoped the answer would be no. It wouldn’t be long, 20 minutes or so, and we’d be at the park to find out. My mission now simply was to get through the day with enough courage to not let my kids down, hopefully with enough balance to walk a straight line without listing too strongly in one direction.

Smartly, I’d packed myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to take into the park on the off chance I might hurl mid-ride at some point during the day. It’s a common courtesy I extend to my fellow coaster riders after I suffered an unfortunate incident on the Viking Fury at King’s Island in 1983.

On that hot August day, a young boy sitting directly behind me nearly gave me whiplash when he projectile-vomited pepperoni and mushroom pizza upside the back of my head. He blasted me so hard it left a perfect, puke-framed outline of my head on the seat in front of me. Trust me when I tell you, nothing smells worse than recycled pepperoni and mushroom pizza dripping from your hair on a hot August day at an amusement park.

I shuddered at the memory as I pulled up to an ATM machine to drain my bank account. Giving your kids the opportunity to see their dad become violently ill, or shudder with fear while balled up in the fetal position, doesn’t come cheap. Now I only wished I’d stuffed a clean pair of undies into my fanny pack along with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Luckily for me, an amazing thing happened when we arrived at the park - heredity kicked in. Once my kids got an up-close look at The Top Thrill Dragster, their knees turned to goo and they huddled close to their old man like three little ducklings. Either they hadn’t yet reached the point in their life where they felt invincible, or they were just as chicken shit as me.

“Dad, are we gonna ride that?” My 9-year-old son asked, squeezing my fingers hard with his sweaty little hand.

“Sure,” I said, trying to sound brave, “but only if you want to.”

“We can skip it, it’s no big deal.” My 12-year-old daughter said, trying to sound nonchalant about the whole thing, but secretly feeling relieved.

For the next seven hours we had a magical time at the park. The weather was perfect, the lines were short and my kids worked up enough courage to go on most every coaster at the park. I found I still enjoy the thrill of a roller coaster ride as much as ever - as long as the coaster stays upright. I also was pleasantly surprised by my kid’s kindness as they helped steady me while I walked down the midway the five minutes or so it took for my balance to return to normal after being Corkscrewed, Mavericked or Raptored into submission.

By mid-afternoon I was extremely tired and sore.  The coasters had beaten me to a pulp and I'm pretty sure I was bleeding internally somewhere. At 44, I was nowhere near as resilient as I was at 17, or even 30. But I never lost my lunch on any ride, in fact, I even bravely downed by peanut butter and jelly sandwich while waiting in line to ride the Mantis. Even though my cell phone had been systematically destroyed after a complete dousing on Snake River Falls and a total ejection on Maverick, I still had a great time.

At the end of the day, my kids decided to pass on The Magnum and Millennium Force as well as The Top Thrill Dragster, but that was okay. They had more than surpassed my expectations for their bravado by riding the amount of coasters they had, and they impressed me even more by enjoying the quiet, little rides at Cedar Point, like the Cadillac cars.

A beautiful sunset began to engulf the twisted metal madness stretching up in the skyline behind us as we left the park. Cedar Point, it turns out, was a turning point for my kids and me. The torch had been passed. They now were the official thrill seekers in the family - the rightful owners of all that was cool and hip.

And I?  I was just the owner of a sore hip … a hip pointer, to be exact.


  1. Very good and touching story. I call my 'point' the 'PNR', the point of no return, of when I decided to leave things that I felt too adult for behind. At 42, I think that there are other mountains for me to climb, that are as challenging TO ME as the Magnum, even if it is only a Corkscrew!

  2. Adder - a bit of advice, I would kill the ads, it will keep people from following you.

  3. Lon,

    Glad to see that "Reflections" lives, even it can't be in

    I'm with you on the corkscrews. I took Elspeth to Busch Gardens and had to quit after the third ride - a corkscrew. It made me nauseous for two hours.

  4. Keep the ads! I know how long it takes to edit and select a photo and write the copy. Readers are more likely to click an ad link than make a contribution to offset the cost of your time. Passion can only carry one so far.