Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Picture Says a Thousand Words...

On an episode of the Coaster podcast called "Ten Things I Hate About You," we made a rather general statement.

We said that one of the things we hated most about visiting a theme park were the hordes of teenagers there.

We lamented about how you couldn't walk ten feet at your local park without having an annoying teen scream in your ear or bounce a basketball across your path. We complained about teenagers showing no modesty in the way they dressed and no morality in the way they casually sucked face in the lines.

I have to admit, that we played up our hatred of teens for entertainment value. The show was called "Ten Things I HATE About You," so we were expected to spit out some venomous comments towards the kids. But as we went through the show, we found out that most of the major annoyances experienced during a day at the park could be directly traced back to teenagers and their unruly behavior.

That show was recorded in summer of 2006 and ever since that time, I've had the attitude that teens are a major downer when it comes to my theme park fun.

But let's fast-forward to the summer of 2009, because I had an experience that changed my mind and more importantly, my attitude towards teenagers in the parks.

I was spending a day at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim. I was alone at the park because my wife Molly was taking some summer classes at a university. So since I had a day to myself, I decided to head out to the park.

I don't know about you, but when I'm at a theme park by myself, I always try to ride things that might not exactly be popular when you're there with a group.

I got in line for Grizzly River Run, a highly-themed rapids rides at the center of the park. I had never ridden it before because the groups I've been with have never wanted to get wet.

So as I was in line, I noticed that there was a group of seven kids behind me, probably 15 or 16 years old. The guys all wore bandannas. The girls wore trendy t-shirts. They were excited, loud and were bouncing around with boundless energy.

"PERFECT," I thought, as my annoyance level began to rise. "Now I have to listen to these stupid kids talk about the lame-ass Jonas Brothers during the whole wait."

Luckily, the line moved quickly and before I knew it, I was at the loading area.

The cast member asked me how many people were in my group and I sheepishly said "one". As fun and liberating as it can be to go the park by yourself, it can also be a little weird and intimidating to ride alone.

The line wasn't long, so I thought I might get to ride alone. But if you look at that picture of the Grizzly Rapids Run rafts over there, you'll see that each raft holds eight people. So you can imagine my reaction when I saw that group of seven teenagers walking towards my raft.

Amazingly though, my reaction wasn't one of annoyance but more of embarrassment. I sort of felt like I was in middle school or high school again. I didn't want this group of kids to see me as a geek because I was alone. Even worse, I didn't want them to see me as a creepy "old dude" with who they were forced to ride.

So as they climbed in the raft, I offered an admittedly lame... "Hi guys, I'm Mike."

I was waiting for the eye-rolling and mean-spirited laughing to begin. But to my surprise, the "kids" turned out to be some of the nicest "people" I have ever met. They didn't care who I was. They didn't care how old I was either.

For the 15-minutes that we rode Grizzly River Rapids, I was an honorary part of their group.

We laughed as one of the dudes who looked like Zach Efron got totally drenched by a wall of water. We were amazed by the quick reflexes of the girl sitting next to me who caught my sunglasses before they fell in the water when our raft hit a big wave. We took bets on which section of the raft was going to plunge over the waterfall first. (I lost the bet and got pretty wet.)

During the quiet sections of the ride, we talked about our trips and what rides we had been on. None of the kids had ever heard of Disney's FastPass, so I filled them in on how to use it during the rest of their day.

But the best part about riding with these kids is that they were having fun... and it was contagious.

I think as adults, we sometimes get bummed out by the hot weather, the long lines, the expensive food and the need to do it all. Because of these things, we forget to have fun.

But my 15-minutes with these kids reminded me that when we visit the parks, it's a chance to become 16 again... even if it's only for a day.

So going forward, that's my plan.

I'm not going to scream for the sake of sceaming and I'm not going to bounce the basketball that I won across the midway.... but I am going to experience all of my future trips as if I were one of those kids.

Thanks for the reminder guys.

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