copyright Jay Ducharme 2013
weather was looking a bit threatening, but for the third summer my
friend Kosta from Arkansas and his son HJ swung through Massachusetts
for a visit. The last two times I had taken him to Lake
Compounce. This year, I wanted them to see beautiful Canobie Lake Park
in Salem, New Hampshire. The weather forecast for that area
wasn't promising: moderate to severe thunderstorms. But with just
that one day together (which happened to be my *gulp* 55th birthday) we decided to take a chance.
We started off at 10:00. The drive was a long one, and at the halfway point on route 495 there was an accident that brought traffic to a near standstill. That set us back about an hour and a half. By the time we reached the park, it was 2:00. But on the bright side (literally), the clouds weren't as thick as we were expecting. It was apparent that there had been some recent heavy rain. But at that point all seemed calm. There was a surprising number of cars for such an overcast day. Even so, we were able to park up near the front next to the lift hill of the flume.
Kosta wanted to pay for admission. Karen (who was in Ohio awaiting the arrival of her first grandchild) had given me some discount coupons she found. Kosta also got a senior discount. So the total cost was very reasonable, as much as some parks charge for a single admission.
I was glad to be back at Canobie. The band organ on the carousel off to the right was playing away merrily. Kosta was amused by the giant popcorn stand in front of us. He and HJ also noticed the large statue of Michael Jackson that advertised the park's popular show featuring celebrity impersonators.
There wasn't much of a line at the nearby Canobie 500 auto car ride, so I suggested we start there. Kosta at first thought the ride was relatively short; so little of it was visible from the queue line. In a short time he and HJ were seated in a bright orange car and off on their way. I followed behind. The trip was shady, lushly landscaped and relaxing. Kosta was surprised at how long it was.
I was a bit thirsty and wanted to head to the fresh-squeezed lemonade stand. Since we would be heading in that direction anyway, I suggested we take a walk though the Tiki Maze. HJ had never been through a mirror maze before. I was glad that there were few people at the ride; we had more time to wander and get lost in it. With many mirror mazes, a simple trick is to look at the floor and follow the worn path. One of the good things about the Tiki Maze is that the wooden floor looks evenly worn no matter where you go. So even though I've been through it a dozen times, I still have trouble finding my way out. It's too bad the park can't get the Tiki Maze to revolve again. That would add a whole new dimension of disorientation.
Across from the maze, next to the Dodgems, where there used to be the old Himalaya ride, was a new flat ride called Equinox. It was a modern brute-force spin-and-barf machine (generically known as a Tango) that would have looked right at home at a Six Flags park or Oktoberfest in Germany. It was really colorful but to me didn't seem to fit in with the rest of Canobie's more family-oriented rides. I also noticed that the beautiful old illuminated Dodgem's sign had been removed from the building and instead was placed on the inside back wall. It looked spectacular when lit, but was previously rarely seen that way. With it inside the building, it was lit all day. So I guess that was a good change.
We headed a little further down the midway to the lemonade stand. I told Kosta how good it was. I walked over to order a cup. Oddly, I didn't see any lemons, nor the lemon squeezer. The attendant poured a cup from a standard cooler. I asked him why it wasn't "fresh squeezed" anymore. The attendant was pleasant, but just shrugged and said they stopped serving fresh-squeezed lemonade last year. That was disappointing to hear. And the lemonade was disappointing to taste. The flavor was the same as any powdered mix. Kosta got a cup and also wasn't impressed, especially at $3.50 for such a small cup.
We were standing near the Yankee Cannonball, but I was a bit disoriented. The station had been modified. There was a long exit ramp that now headed down toward the row of games. The old exit ramp was still there, but fenced off. In front of the Cannonball was a huge pavilion. It was the little stage where various clowns and musical acts performed. That entire area was still covered by a huge striped tent, but for some reason it felt more claustrophobic this time, as if it was too big. There was too narrow a path between the tent and the Cannonball station. Kosta asked HJ if he wanted to go on the coaster. HJ shook his head. "Well, you think about it," Kosta said to him. "We'll come back to it later. We traveled 1000 miles, and we're going to ride a roller coaster!"
I was going to wear my Canobie hat to the park, but forgot it at home. The sun miraculously was starting to shine, so I suggested we head to the gift shop in the Olde Boston section. Along the way, Kosta was impressed with the large colorful kiddie ride area. As we arrived in Olde Boston, the great Boston Tea Party shoot-the-chutes ride plunged down the covered hill and sent a wall of water flying out onto the midway. Kosta and HJ marveled at the size of the splash from such a small ride. I went into the gift shop and got a hat, nearly identical to the one I already owned. But heck, I'm a man of many hats. I also picked up a poncho; I knew Kosta and HJ eventually were going to want to ride the Boston Tea Party.
We continued exploring the park. We walked toward the north end and could hear music coming out of the theater. We walked inside. A friendly usher, dressed to the hilt in a 1930s-style bellhop uniform, guided us to our seats. And there was Michael Jackson on stage performing Thriller. The sound was pumped up a bit too loud for the room, but it really did look just like Jackson. The performer had the voice and mannerisms down perfectly. Kosta and HJ enjoyed it. We then walked over to the train station. Along the way, I noticed that the park was offering "Smoking Stations," basically open-air gazebos where people could smoke. I'm not sure what the point was, since the gazebos weren't enclosed. It just concentrated the smoke in a few areas. The train wasn't due back for 20 minutes, so instead I suggested we take a trip on the Sky Ride while we waited. As with most other rides that day, the line was fairly short. The ride attendants were friendly and chatted casually with all the guests. In short order we were seated and soon high above the midway, Kosta and HJ first and I following behind. The first thing I noticed was that the big steel columns supporting the ride had been repainted to look like birch trees, matching the look of Untamed, the steel coaster across the midway. The old Caterpillar ride looked like it had been spruced up; its steel cables glinted in the sunlight, the cars were freshly painted and the canvas over the ride looked brand new. To the right, the big dome that once housed a Scrambler now had a kiddie ride inside. The stone fountain was down to a trickle and needed some TLC, but other than that it seemed like everywhere I looked, there were bright colorful rides beautiful landscaping.
After that relaxing trip, we walked over toward Untamed and watched it run its course. Kosta commented on the giant circular loop and how intense it looked. It was, and I had no desire to take a ride. Once a few years ago was enough for me. We then walked over to the gift shop next to Untamed. I lamented the loss of Hercules, the giant pinball machine that for years resided there. And then I noticed the train arriving at the station. So we made our was past DaVinci's Dream, the nicely themed swing ride, and boarded the Canobie Express for the south end of the park. As we neared the far turn, I noticed a big change in the Canobie Corkscrew, their venerable old yellow steel coaster -- it was now blue with white supports. I was surprised they hadn't painted those to look like birch trees too. The ride looked so drastically different, I kept staring at it to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. At the train's far turn where there was a grassy field, there was now an expansive vegetable garden, complete with a windmill, tractors and farm equipment. It was part of the park's annual Halloween Screamfest, a section called Terror of the Corn. (Perhaps the area was filled with really hokey comedians.)
As we left the train, HJ noticed the old nickelodeons in the station. They all still worked, but unfortunately none of us had a nickel to put in them. I next led Kosta and HJ through the shady old west section of the park and over to one of my favorite rides, The Mine of the Lost Souls. The building's roof had a different sign, a large 3D hooded figure with its arms wrapped around a mountain where a little mine car was emerging from a tunnel. Almost all of the effects inside were working perfectly. Kosta and HJ were suitably dazzled by the technology.
We then went for a ride on the nicely landscaped flume, the Policy Pond Sawmill. That ride normally had really long lines, but luckily for us it was almost a walk-on. HJ and Kosta sat in the front of the log. We slowly floated out of the station, rounded the corner and went up the first small lift hill. When we plunged down and hit the water, a wave came up, missed them and doused me. Throughout the ride there were other surprising splashes. Ironically, we didn't get to wet from the big 40-foot drop. As we floated into the station, HJ exclaimed, "Let's go again!" Kosta got a copy of our on-ride picture from the nearby booth.
Since we were a little wet, we decided we might as well get really wet. We went back to Olde Boston. At my suggestion, Kosta and HJ got themselves ponchos. Together in our striking yellow outfits, we walked through the wet empty queue line. The ride attendants greeted us cheerily. We sat down in the soggy front seat. A group of kids followed behind us. We had a brief stunning panorama of the lake from the top of the lift. Then we turned the corner and dove down through the tunneled drop. I pulled the hood of my poncho down over my face as the wall of water shot up in front of us and then cascaded down. Kosta had forgotten to put his hood on, but he was laughing, and so was HJ. He couldn't believe how much water came down. He was really glad he had the poncho, though, because overall he was pretty dry. I had both of them pause for a photo op at the stocks in front of the ride.
It was about 4:00, so we headed over to Portofino's for dinner. The food was always good there. We each got a slice of pizza. Kosta and I also got salads and garlic bread. We relaxed in the quiet restaurant overlooking the lake. I noticed some ominous dark clouds moving in. After we finished eating, we headed back out onto the midway. The wind was picking up. There was definitely a storm moving in. I suggested that if they wanted to ride the Yankee Cannonball, it was now or never. The station was nearly empty, so we headed for it. As we neared the queue, a group of kids ran in front of us. Even though there was a new exit ramp, the coaster still loaded the same way: a ride attendant allowed just 18 guests at a time into a "corral" behind a gate. When the train returned to the station and unloaded, the gate was opened and those guests were allowed to rush to whatever seat they wanted. So it was tough to get the front seat.
I had Kosta and HJ get in front of me. As it turned out, they just made it on before the train filled up. The got the front seat of the last car. There were two seats with just one person each, but both were in the last seat of each car -- right over the wheels. The ride attendant tried to coax me into them, but I told her I couldn't because of my back. Instead, two people behind me gladly filled in the seats. And there I was in line for the front seat for the first time since Karen and I went to the park together nearly two decades earlier!
Kosta's train left the station. The wind started gusting stronger and the skies darkened. I watched the train go over the lift and a minute later I heard the rumbling of its return. The train glided into the long curving brake run. Kosta and HJ looked exhausted. They got up out of their seats and I took my place in the front. In a few minutes, I too was cresting the lift, the unique L-shaped layout stretched before me. The train flew down the first drop and bottomed out heavily. It rose up into the second hill with a big pop of airtime. But the train was hunting a lot, shimmying from side to side. It flew down the second hill, rose up into the third and hit the sharp 90-degree turn right into the dogleg. The ride seemed to get rougher as it went on. The turnaround with the signature pine tree in the center had gotten some new lumber, but that didn't seem to help. The train followed the bunny hops over to the left-hand dogleg and then back to the station. It was the roughest ride I could remember on that coaster.
Kosta met me at the exit. "Did you know I have never screamed like that on a roller coaster?" He was laughing. "I didn't know where the heck I was going!" He pointed to his son. "And he was screaming his lungs out, and I couldn't do anything 'cause I was hanging on for dear life!"
"Can we go again?" HJ pleaded. I told them we probably ought to head back to the car to beat the storm. Kosta stopped into the gift shop on the way out and picked up some t-shirts and a Yankee Cannonball pin. As we walked out past the entrance, the skies opened up. Luckily we had parked close by and made it into the car before we got drenched. We left the park only about four hours after we had arrived. It took longer to drive to the park and back than the time we actually spent there. But Kosta and HJ were really glad we went, and so was I.
The park had some uncharacteristic changes. The giant tent next to the Cannonball seemed too big. Canobie usually showed more care with their midway arrangements. The lemonade was a disappointment, and made little sense. I didn't know if it was the cost of real lemons that made them switch to a mix or whether it was too messy or some other reason. But it just didn't taste as good. And I hoped that the addition of Equinox was not the start of a trend toward more high-thrill rides. There were a few other thrill rides that had been added over the past several years, such as the Frisbee and the Skater. But those were relatively mild compared with Equinox. Perhaps that's what the guests said they wanted. But I hope Canobie remembers guests other than teens and keeps its focus on family fun and visual beauty, which have always been the park's strongest suit.
Return to Karen and Jay's Excursions