May 28

Boardwalk Thrill Ride

(An Odd Adventure with your Other Father, part 2)

[for part 1, click here]


Traffic continued at a crawl, all the way to the Bay Bridge and beyond.  The Bridge itself was a worry spot, a lengthy intersection of Jack’s dislike of water and his phobia for heights — which is how we first discovered his power to project disturbing images into my mind.

Surprisingly, the backed-up traffic actually worked to our advantage.  Instead of the leisurely drive extending Jack’s nervousness, the slow pace along the bridge span allowed Jack to adjust, to center himself with deep breaths and a calm focus straight ahead.

No worries this time about cables snapping, girders bending, the road cracking open and cars rolling through to plummet to the Bay waters beneath.

Even so, it would have been easier to let me drive for this portion of the journey.  But Jack never wanted to give up the wheel.

When we finally arrived at our hotel — overpriced for the season, naturally — we took our overnight bags to a small obstructed-view room with spartan furnishings, a few token seashells or starfish images on the walls in thin frames.  Essentially, it was similar to a college dorm room, and good practice for all the rinky-dink places we ended up staying in throughout the rest of our travels.

The smell of cotton candy and caramel popcorn wafted through an open, unscreened window.  Games of chance and pinball machines from the play area below pinged and dinged, and a tilt ride from the nearby arcade actually shook the room when it hit a certain arc in its circuit.

“Close to the beach,” I said, trying to stay positive about the room. A roll then clomp of skee balls from the arcade nearly drowned out my words.

“I didn’t bring my bathing suit,” Jack said.  “I’m happy we’re close to the boardwalk.”  He’d send me off alone to the beach during the day, while he ate junk food and added more entries in his journal — notes for the book he planned to write.

Some things we would do together.  Dinner that evening.  A stroll along the boardwalk, a night-time ride on the ferris wheel for the best view of lit-up attractions.

And the haunted house ride.

“Let’s do that now,” Jack said before he’d finished unpacking.

I told him I thought we should wait until dark.  After travel delays, there were only a few hours of prime sun for the beach, and I didn’t want to miss them.

“Oh, I want to go tonight, too,” Jack said.  “I’ll go by myself this time, and we’ll ride together after dinner.”

I sighed.  “Just gimme a minute to finish unpacking.”




The Haunted House was only a few blocks from our hotel overlooking the boardwalk.  As we passed different food vendors, I could see Jack doing mental calculations about which items to buy, and when.  Popcorn now, a pit-beef sandwich and Gnasher’s fries for lunch, funnel cake for an afternoon snack.  Italian ice this evening, and salt water taffy tomorrow morning before the drive home.

Jack was still in blue jeans and a T-shirt.  I’d already changed into my bathing suit and sandals, with an accompanying beach towel slung over my shoulder — this way, I could go directly to the beach after we finished the carnival ride.

Recorded organ music familiar from Phantom of the Opera carried over crowd and whack-a-mole noises, and the Haunted House ride loomed straight ahead.  From the front, it was about the size of a small drug store, but Jack told me it was a long ride, by carnival standards.  That meant the cars would twist and turn a lot, and the building containing the ride must stretch pretty far back from the boardwalk.

There was a long line stretching from the ticket booth.  The loudspeaker entertained us while we waited, a looped recording of a guy imitating Bela Lugosi’s accent, warning of the dangers ahead.

Laughable, really. All in fun.  We heard screams from inside, but when the coffin cars came through the exit, the people inside were always smiling.

But as the line moved forward slowly, more people piling into the rail cars and cracking through the double doors at the start of the ride, swallowed in strobing darkness, the recording looped around again and again, and the promised dangers seemed more likely with each repetition.

[…continued tomorrow…]