"Where are all the people?"
It was hot and humid. I had been up late waiting for the temperature to drop enough that I could actually sleep, and this caused me to sleep in. It was nearly 10am before I left home. By the time I reached Sandusky I was seriously thinking about lunch.
With some difficulty I pulled into the restaurant parking lot. On Perkins Ave., less than a block West of OH-4, in the shadow of the Sandusky High School stadium, is a very large diner. This is Berardi's Family Kitchen, and apparently it is the place to go for Sunday brunch in this part of town. If you are a student of Cedar Point history, then you might recognize the Berardi name. The Berardi family operated food joints at Cedar Point for decades until the late 1970's when the park bought out all of the concessionaires. In particular, the Berardis operated a stand selling lake perch sandwiches and French fries, until the demand for the fresh-cut fries became so great that all of the fryers had to be devoted to frying potatoes. The upshot of all this is that it was Berardi who supplied the 'famous' Cedar Point French fries, the sort that you get at the three fry joints (Mr. Potato, Hot Potato, and Happy Friar) inside the park. Today, Berardi's is a full-service family restaurant which is apparently very popular on Sunday mornings, and which closes right after lunch on Sunday afternoon.
Not wanting breakfast, I opted for the lake perch sandwich and side of French fries. Somehow it seemed to be the right thing to do. It wasn't anything spectacular, but it was good, the price was decent, and I wouldn't hesitate to go back there again. The biggest problem with the place is their operating schedule which kind of rules it out when you're looking for someplace to go after Cedar Point closes. But ten minutes from the Causeway, it's a place where one could duck out of the park for dinner (Mon-Sat). It's the kind of place Mark McKenzie would enjoy.
I proceeded to the park and...well, it's my fifth visit to the park this season, so I probably don't need to give a play-by-play at this point; that would be kind of boring for both of us for me to write that whole story again. I did notice that a few signs have been erected on the Big Grey Box™ indicating that indeed, it's a new attraction for next season. But inside the Box nothing seems to have changed...as I predicted back at the beginning of the season. The Gemini crew has gotten better at racing the trains although technical glitcches took one side or the other out of service for parts of the day. In fairly short order I managed to ride Magnum, Gemini, Woodstock, and Mine Ride. I went back to Mean Streak and got one of the absolute worst rides I have ever had on that thing The train was braked so hard on the first drop I was almost certain it wouldn't make the second hill. Going around the Summers Curve at the top of the second hill I felt like I was being unceremoniously dumped to the inside of the curve. I can't remember the ride ever running this slowly. Another "I Think I Can" moment happened as the train crawled to the top of the third hill. The train bounced, shuffled, moaned, squealed, and literally crawled through the course. This wasn't a mediocre ride, this was a terrible ride. Cedar Point should be embarassed to offer a ride like that. Mean Streak can be a whole lot better than that, but not running in this fashion! I get the distinct impression that Cedar Point is trying to slow Mean Streak down to the absolute slowest speed it can possibly have and still complete the circuit. The result is that the ride isn't merely boring, it feels like it is about to stall out at any moment!
One of the delights of Cedar Point is their frozen custard. Normally I would counsel that the best place to go for their frozen custard is the Fountain Custard stand on the main midway across from Raptor's vertical loop, Kiddy Kingdom, and the waterball fountain. I don't know why, but that location seems to have the best custard in the park. The custard itself is comparable to the stuff you can get at the Buffalo/Niagara parks (Seabreeze, Darien Lake). But while Fountain Custard may have the better custard, there is at least one compelling reason to get it from the Engine House custard stand in Frontiertown, across the Frontier Trail from the Wave Swinger, next door to Los Gatos Cafe [Footnote 1]. The reason comes in the form of a green apple.
You see, at that stand, for around $5, you can get one of the most decadent things served at Cedar Point. It's a green apple, cored, cut into sections, and dumped into a bowl. Frozen custard is served on top of the apple, and the whole thing is covered with hot caramel sauce. I think it is Cedar Point's answer to Kennywood's Belgian waffles. Even better, since you can easily look at the ingredients (fresh apple, egg, cream, sugar) and con yourself into thinking this caramel apple sundae is actually a healthy option!
I took a tour of the main midway, riding Iron Dragon, Wildcat, Raptor, and Blue Streak with minimal waits. A trip up the Space Spiral verified that the parking lot suggested a more-or-less normal crowd for a Sunday afternoon, but they were all hiding someplace. I guessed Soak City. Then I found out that a fair number of people were actually hiding out in the air-conditioned Disaster Transport queue. Between Wicked Twister and the queue makeover, Disaster Transport has longer lines this season than I have seen in ages. I do miss the "I'M LOSING CONTROL!!" guy, though. A lot of people have been complaining this year about the loss of some stupid autospiel on Millennium Force, but hardly anybody has taken any notice of the disappearance of "Eddie" [Footnote 2].
Speaking of recordings, by the time I got to Blue Streak things were so slow over there that they were running only one train, meaning slightly longer than usual waits on the platform. The ride is running very well this season, the crew is doing a credible job...but my God, that autospiel has GOT TO GO. It was added to the ride in 1994 along with a bunch of other changes, and while it is annoying and inaccurate, that isn't the real problem. The real problem is that it is broadcast to the station through a pair of awful horn speakers aimed directly at the ears of people waiting to ride, and it is so incredibly loud and shrill that it produces sound levels well beyond my pain threshhold. I swear they connected it to one of those amps that goes to "11" and cranked it up to nineteen. The live mic isn't nearly that loud. If I were a foot taller, and if I hadn't left my Leatherman™ in the trunk of the car I would have seriously considered putting that speaker out of my misery if I'd had to hear that thing again.
I wandered over to Wicked Twister, where it looked to have about a half-hour wait. I hear that's not atypical for that ride for this season. What I noticed is that the train didn't seem to be getting nearly as high on the forward spike as I remembered from earlier in the season. Well, I guess it is worth something that they have the ride operating, but I get the distinct impression that all of the issues with the ride have not quite been sorted out yet. I opted to skip it in favor of another lap around the park.
By the time I got around to Millennium Force, they were billboarding a 45-minute wait. I looked at the queue, which barely filled the last block of the queue maze. I noted the time, and opted to take a ride. It took almost exactly 30 minutes from the time I entered the queue until I exited the ride. I admit the wait seemed a lot longer than that because the DJ in the queue was playing music that sounded more like rap backing tracks or something, highly repetitive junk, but not the kind of thing you could dance to. Well, maybe some people could, but I kept wondering if the needle was stuck. Clearly I fall well outside the intended demographic for this guy's playlist. On the other hand, his music choices meant I didn't have to hear either "YMCA" or "Love Shack" while I waited, and it wasn't the "$&?% your mother" music of Kentucky Kingdom either.
30 minutes, Millennium Force ridden. No Freeway stamp required. Life is good! I doubled back and cruised the back of the park again, then as I was coming up the Frontier Trail I learned that things had deteriorated a little. It seems a loaded Millennium Force train was sitting about 200' up the lift hill, and had been sitting there for a while. For a closer look I opted to take a train ride, but wouldn't you know it, they got it started again just before I managed to get aboard the train. All I know for certain is that the manual/backup controls for the lift system had been somehow been involved, along with guys with names like Fletcher. And that only because as the train went by I saw a door open to a maintenance control room and the aforementioned ride expert waiting to cross the railroad track. Millennium Force was up and running again. But as I boarded the train I heard another bit of news, so I figured from my perch on the train I might get to see Mean Streak valleyed. That usually happens in the high valley between the 3rd and 4th drops; that's the drop where you get your photo taken, and you can get a good view of it from the train.
Well, when the train got around to Frontiertown, Mean Streak was out of service and the railroad gate was down, blocking access to the ride. No coaster train in sight. As it turns out, the coaster valleyed on the first drop.
Somehow I knew this was going to happen. They finally slowed the train down so much on the first drop that it didn't make the second hill. Of course the park blames the fact that the train was empty, but an empty train ought to be able to make the second hill just as easily as a fully loaded one, particularly since the train had been operating all day long and should be fully warmed up!
Because the train was valleyed in the first drop, it was entirely invisible from the midway. I was determined to get a look. I went out the back gate and started reconnaisance. This would probably not be easy. You may recall the story of how, during the ACE Spring Con in '92 or '93 or whenever it was, Cedar Point gained the distinction of being lthe only amusement park I have ever been thrown into. It's true; you hear about people violating park rules and getting escorted out of the park by Security...a few of us had walked out along the no-pedestrian zone of Perimeter Road to shoot photos of Mean Streak, and a park security officer rounded us up and escorted us all back into the park. That was on a day when everything was going well, and I was accompanied by a half-dozen coaster nuts. The park would have good reason to be less nice about it on a day when their coaster had suffered a major malfunction. But I thought perhaps there was a way around that "NO PEDESTRIANS" rule, as the new Lighthouse Point campground extends around that part of the peninsula behind Mean Streak. I thought maybe I could walk through the campground and get some photos from there.
Lighthouse Point is located directly behind Mean Streak and Gemini. It's a quiet RV community, with kids running about and people enjoying their mobile vacation homes. It's like a little vacation subdivision, very nicely done and completely divorced from the noise and activity of the amusement park. This is due in no small part to the large earthen berm surrounding the development and separating it from the road. Not to mention depriving me of the view of Mean Streak that I wanted. This wasn't going to work. Still determined, I returned to my car and drove down Perimeter Road with the camera locked down and running. Well, that was slightly better. But Mean Streak's first drop comes down in the middle of a tangled structure, in the center of a triple-layer of tracks. Getting the train out of there has to be a pretty major undertaking. Maybe the park will learn its lesson from this incident and let the ride run just a little bit faster from now on.
Yeah, right. What am I thinking?
I returned to the park to finish up my day with a couple of rides on Magnum XL-200. It had been a kind of an odd visit to Cedar Point. Some unusual things had happened and I got a front row seat for most of them. I rode all the coasters I wanted to, and much to my surprise had only minimal waits. I suspect that it was just too darned hot for most people, and so they all went to Soak City, leaving me to contend with minimal lines in the park. I mean, from the Space Spiral it looked like an ordinary Sunday crowd, with the parking lot three-quarters full, but only a half-hour wait for Millennium Force and almost no wait for anything else. I took a last ride on Magnum and drove past the Summer Spectacular just as the show was getting started.
Maybe next time I'll have a chance to check out that new ice skating show.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: I'm not sure I want to know why the Mexican joint at Cedar Point is called, "The Cats"... [Return to text]
Footnote 2: Back when all the effects worked on Disaster Transport, I was certain that whoever created the characters, particularly FRANC, the repair bay foreman, had been inspired by the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. FRANC, for instance, had to be somehow related to Marvin...and so I have taken to referring to the Dispatch Master Transport Shipboard Computer as "Eddie," after the shipboard computer in HHGG. [Return to text]
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