Monday, 08 April 2013 07:03

Cheap Thrills

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8th Grade and the Six Flags "Winner" 8th Grade and the Six Flags "Winner"

While I was in the 8th grade at Webster Jr. High, KXOK had a contest. The competition pitted schools across the St. Louis area against each other to gather the most signatures proclaiming the Top 40 icon as their favorite radio station. The winning school was awarded free passes for the entire student body to Six Flags. And so for a week or so during my math class, we signed hundreds of papers. Skipping algebra for a week, the students arranged the desks in a U shape and passed the sheets around until everyone's hand was sore. This wasn't a part of the regular curriculum, but who cared? We won and got our free day at the amusement park.

At "School Spirit Day" Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show played at The Old Glory Amphitheater. It was the first rock concert I attended and there are few memories besides the weepy song Sylvia's Mother and their big hit Cover of the Rolling Stone.  Being so young I was a little stunned to hear the one-eyed musician Ray Sawyer utter the word "Bullshit." Not sure what the reason was, but my tender ears weren't accustomed to those words amplified from a stage. It was an incredible day. The park was ours and we stayed until it got dark before boarding school buses for the ride home.

Within a few years I had grown a little and my attitude shifted. I wasn't getting the same thrill out of the rides. Some of my friends went onto experimenting with drugs.  While at the the amusement park one classmate took acid and later filled me in on the highlight of the day. "I watched a mailbox for a while. It appeared to be breathing," he said. I wasn't impressed. Although I was still a few years or so from taking my first drag off a joint, I thought he had gone off the deep end.

Fast forward a few more years and my brother and I went to the park and brought along a pinch hitter. Taking advantage of the gentle portion of the Log Flume, we snuck in a couple hits of weed. A few minutes later we made our ascent to the top of the ride and dropped into the big splash. At the time, the Sky-Way tram was still intact and while we rode it we stayed low and took a few quick tokes. Maybe we were a little paranoid but the atmosphere of Six Flags gave you the feeling you were being watched. That feeling was later confirmed after I worked with a guy who lived in Eureka, Missouri during the summer. Every day for three months he went to the park. He warned me that security watched the Sky-Way Tram and if they spotted kids smoking pot, they waited at the end of the ride to haul them in. My co-worker and his brother knew the park well. They bought one season pass and both managed to get in on that one pass any day they wanted. To pull it off, one of them went through the entrance with the pass. Then he turned around and exited, getting his hand stamped with florescent ink. Before the ink dried, he put his other hand over the stamp. After both of them met in the lot, he used his hand to imprint the stamp on the brother's hand. Anyone who knew that kind of stuff was an expert in my book.

 Around 1979, Six Flags was running a promotion offering double rides. Double rides! That made the long wait at any new ride worth it. As a bonus the park was open until midnight. The amusement park had a new roller coaster and after dark my brother and I headed over to the new ride featuring a corkscrew and a loop. Upon entering the waiting area, we found chaos underway. There was about three dozen kids in line as countless June bugs flew under the glow of the florescent lights. Girls were screaming and flailing about as the insects flew in all directions. The beetles bounced off faces and got tangled into the big hairstyles of the day. Within minutes the quantity of the little insects multiplied.  More girls screamed, some ran out of the building as my brother and I stood there laughing. Was it something Biblical? Naaa, we were just buzzed by cannabis and bugs. We couldn't walk without crunching their bodies into the wooden floor. The line disappeared as more patrons hit the exit. In no time we found ourselves seated in the roller coaster. Double rides, a short wait, what could be better? The coaster took off and along the way we realized that the bugs weren't just buzzing around the lights in the waiting area. They were everywhere. It was still difficult to keep from laughing, but we discovered the necessity to keep our mouths shut. As the coaster picked up speed and went through the loop and the corkscrew, the beetles pelted our faces. Girls still shrieked but I couldn't tell if it was 'cause of the bugs or the coaster. After we rocketed through the thrills we came to the end of the line. This wasn't the Screaming Eagle. It was like bam, here is the corkscrew, bam here is the loop, ride over. The attendant asked if anyone wanted to continue on for the second ride. A few got off. We stayed on and kept our mouth shut for another run, taking more bug juice as we turned upside down a few more times.

Five years after Dr. Hook played at Six Flags, Head East held a concert there. We attended that one too. A seven-mile traffic jam into the park set an attendance record. A mile away from our destination we left our car on the side of the road and walked the rest of the way. At the show we were far from the stage. People fired up joints but security was picking them off at the perimeter of the crowd. Times had changed. In a few short years I had transformed from a willing participant in a KXOK contest to plastering a KSHE bumper sticker featuring a pot-smoking pig on the bedroom door. Sure the rides at Six Flags gave me a thrill, but I was looking for something more. KSHE was there for the ride.

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