Thursday, March 26, 2009

In the Mirror Maze

Most of my childhood friends loved Disneyland. I did, too. But I preferred Pacific Ocean Park, a 26-acre playland built on a pier that stretched out into the cobalt sea. You bought your ticket --scarcely a few dollars compared to Disney's whopping entry fees--at the booth beneath a statuary of serpents and crusted seahorses, then entered through Neptune's Kingdom and took an elevator down into the depths of the tank that held giant octopi and sharks. You could descend in a leaky diving bell--thrust down into the sea by a piston engine--where you viewed a kelp forest and frolicking seals.

Sinbad's Flying Carpet soared on tracks through mysterious Baghdad with palaces encrusted in jewels, and an aerial skyway took you out over the ocean some 75 feet over the waves where you could gaze breathlessly across the expanse of coastline from Venice to Santa Monica, or you could ride the back of the Sea Serpent coaster, spinning dangerously close to the edge of the pier. It all had a grittiness, wrought with imperfectly functioning thrill rides that struggled against rust in the salty air. Add the aroma of saltwater taffy and spun sugar--the grains of sand that blew every way you turned--and it suited me fine compared with the perfect, goyishe sterility of Disney. And when you were done with all the rides and shows, you could head for the changing room and race down to the beach in your suit.

There were live shows in a tank, where dolphins arched wildly into the air in a blast of white spray. Or you could beat yourself senseless on the Sea Ram bumper cars. Matt loved the Whirl Pool, a wooden centrifuge that spun madly as the floor dropped out and the g-forces pinned your body to the wall. It only made me seasick for the entire day.

I loved Davy Jones Locker, a fun house with shifting walls, sudden slides, a moving sidewalk, and mirrors that made you look 15 feet tall or 10 feet wide. But my favorite attraction was the Mirror Maze, a convoluted house of glass that, once you entered, you could spend as much as a half an hour trying to thread your way back out to the world. You walked into small cubes, framed on three sides with mirrors, with only a single door leading out. To hold your hand in front of you was to cheat. Instead, you took your best guess and walked forward, often smacking yourself senseless against the glass.

There were times where I was frustrated to tears--and a bloody nose-- giving up and threading my way to freedom with my hands outstretched to prevent further injury. Since those days, I have seen halls of mirrors in traveling carnivals, but none were as large and complicated as P.O.P.'s. None had the distracting, dizzying lights that lent a sense of spaciousness and multiplied like a field of supernovas against the glass. Once inside, you banged endlessly against your likenesses, trapped in a world of a thousand yous!

Alas, in 1966 the park began to lose money and the rides fell into greater disrepair. By the following fall, it was closed forever. And today, the pier itself has broken up and descended in pieces beneath the sea. Davy Jones' Locker, the Flying Carpet, Neptune's Kingdom--gone the way of Atlantis.

However, I still have unlimited access to the Mirror Maze if I court despair. For many years I was trapped, banging into the image of myself wherever I turned, too proud to put out my hand for help, groping for the distant light that leads out to the salt-sea air, the sand between my toes, all that candy for the asking.


A Cuban In London said...

What beautiful memories, man! As a child I used to go to a place called 'Coniailand'. Years later I found out that that was our bastardisation of 'Coney Island'.

'Sinbad's Flying Carpet'. Are you sure Dubya never got on that, too and got funny ideas about Iraq after?

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.


unfortunately many things/places 've gone the way of Atlantis... Would love to experience mirror maze one day before they all go beneath the sea!
~Happy Spring 2U*