Several years ago my daughter Mary, my wife Ann and I took a spring vacation. We traveled to Atlanta, spent several days at Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia, and finally wound up at Wild Adventures Theme Park in Valdosta, where I got to ride the Ferris Wheel, eat cotton candy, and watch my spouse projectile vomit into a McDonalds cup. Watching two Volkswagens mate was just "icing on the cake."
We arrived at Wild Adventures during the middle of the week and were blessed with a small crowd and excellent summer weather. My daughter, who was about 6 at the time, scampered ahead of us, excitedly laughing and pointing at the rides. Now, I've never been a big fan of amusement park rides, but Mary was so excited at this opportunity, and so obviously wanted to share it with me, that I couldn't resist riding some of these contraptions with her. The Ferris Wheel, the Merry-Go-Round, and similar activities didn't bother me at all. These are slow, non-threatening experiences that rarely alarm fat 40-somethings with poor balance, and I handled the experience with a fair amount of grace. All was well, and sometime during mid-morning we stopped and gulped down McDonald meals and rested in the shade from the hot Georgia sun.
Mary wanted to ride a contraption that looked like a giant starfish. At the end of each starfish arm was a small wire-cage compartment that spun round and round while the starfish itself rotated rapidly. Ann and I reluctantly agreed, and as we approached the ride, I noticed three teenagers sitting on a park bench nearby. A slender young girl was kneeling on the bench, draped over the back and vomiting into her long, dirty-blond hair. One of the two young guys, his face a volcano of erupting pimples and blackheads, was grinning like a possum eating wild grapes. The other guy just sat there all pasty-faced and sweaty like he wanted to heave also, but was trying to swallow it back. He leaned over, hawked and spat a blob of saliva on the ground between his feet. As he leaned back and tilted his face skyward, I could see his adams' apple bobbing as he tried to control his gag reflex. Looking back, I should have taken this as a warning sign.
We mounted up on the starfish, got buckled in by a tattooed, greasy-haired attendant who looked like Charles Manson, and started off. I noticed after a couple of minutes of going round and round that my stomach was feeling a little queasy. The starfish began to slow down just in time, as I could feel my Big Mac sitting like a lump of lead in the bottom of my stomach. Then Charles Manson speeded up the starfish and we were off again. My daughter was laughing delightedly, her hair swirling around her shoulders as we spun. I looked at Ann: she was pale, the corners of her mouth were down-turned, and her eyes were tightly shut. I closed my eyes and hung on for dear life, praying that I wouldn't puke in our cage. We swung around for several more minutes courtesy of Mr. Manson before we finally stopped and drunkenly disembarked. My stomach was heaving as I staggered away. Goodbye forever, starfish.
"Daddy! Let's ride the bumper-cars!", Mary said excitedly and pulled me forward. My feet were dragging a little, but I thought the bumper cars would be pretty sedate compared to what I had just experienced.
I looked back at Ann. "Do you want to ride the bumper cars, hon?"
Ann was leaned forward, head down, hair hanging in her face, her paper McDonalds coke cup on the ground, her hands on her knees. She shook her head. "You go ahead", she said in a low, quiet, conversational tone. "I'll sit on that bench over there for a while." Mary and I climbed into a dented blue bumper car and began riding. This was a more pleasant experience than being slung around in something that looks like a spinning animal cage. As we ambled along dodging other cars, I looked around for Ann. We drove close to the entrance of the bumper car ride, and as I looked out toward the park benches, I saw Ann lean over and vomit into the McDonalds cup she was holding with both hands. Her aim was good: from where I sat, it looked like almost everything landed in the cup. Suddenly her shoulders contracted, she leaned forward and a technicolor stream of vomit spewed into the green shrubs in front of her. Right then someone rammed our bumper car, we moved forward and a moment later Ann was out of sight. When we finished with the bumper cars, Mary and I hurried over to where Ann was supine on a park bench, eyes closed and breathing harshly.
"Are you ok, sweetie?" I asked.
"Do I look ok?" she asked as she threw an arm over her sweaty face.
"Mommy, are you sick?" Mary was worried and she walked over and stroked Ann's hair. No answer.
"Come on, baby", I said. "Let's go ride the bumper cars again. Momma's feeling a little sick after that last ride." We went back to the bumper-car ride, rode again, and when we returned Ann had more color to her face and was sitting up.
"You ok now?"
She nodded tiredly. "Yeah. I think so." She lay back, eyes closed, face drawn. "Ug. Remind me never to ride that damned thing again, ok?"
We sat there in the shade for a while as Ann laid on her stomach and belched wetly. The smell of vomit steaming in the Georgia heat had my own stomach lurching dangerously and I had to go stand in the shade away from the puked-over bushes while Mary sat in the shade humming and eating cotton candy. After 30 minutes Ann was able to stand without any discomfort, so we decided to forego the rides and do some site-seeing.
We drifted around for a while in the wildlife area, looking at emus, prairie dogs, vampire bats and giraffes. In the reptile section, we walked by an area that contained galapagos turtles. There were two turtles the size of a couple of Volkswagons in there frantically mating. As we hurried by, my daughter turned to me, her sweet innocent child's face shining with wonder and delight, and said "Look daddy! They're wrestling!"
I had to sit on the sidewalk holding my sides until my laughing fit passed, while Mary stood next to me wondering if daddy had gone completely nuts. "Hey Momma, check out the wrestling turtles!" I giggled. "Boy, they look mad, don't they?" Mary looked at me, head cocked over to one side. "Daddy, are you alright? Why are the wrestling turtles so funny?"
It's odd, the things we remember. Now, years later, my fondest memory of Wild Adventures Park isn't the animals, the rides, the vomit or the bad food. It's the amazing wrestling turtles and the question of an innocent child that I'll remember forever. These are the kind of moments that truly make life worth living.