R.I.P. Indiana Beach, 1926-2020

Indiana Beach!

The view from the Ferris wheel, once upon a time.

This week Hoosiers statewide were shocked to hear the news that Indiana Beach, our longest-lived amusement park, would be closing its gates forever. The news was especially surprising to the citizens of Monticello, IN, who had no idea it was in anything resembling dire straits. Situated along the shores of scenic Lake Shafer, it was a beloved vacation getaway whose TV ads featured a crow mascot proclaiming “There’s more than corn in Indiana!” during an era in which folks from other states wouldn’t shut up with their stupid jokes about Indiana’s ubiquitous corn.

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Our 2010 Road Trip, Part 4: The Land of Chocolate

Reesesman!

“They call me MISTER Cups!”

For the years when my son tagged along on our road trips, we tried to include a few kid-friendly stops for his sake — often an amusement park, or a zoo, or someplace loaded with sinfully sugary treats. We never expected to find a place that combined all three in some sort of animal snack funtime heaven.

Such was the magic we found in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

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Our 2008 Road Trip, Part 9: Busch-Whacked

Apollo's end!

When the roller coaster warning sign says “People with medical conditions should not ride,” it’s not a medical condition if it hasn’t been diagnosed by a trained professional yet, right? Asking for a friend.

With each respective chapter of all our annual road trips, I have memories remaining from every stop to varying degrees. We’ve completed so many and I’m so old that I can recall some in greater detail than others. Our 2008 visit to Busch Gardens is very nearly an exception. I’ve spent months straining to summon those images from the recesses of mental storage, but I remember virtually nothing. Not the rides, not the snacks, not the animals, and thankfully not the physical pains I brought with me. For reasons that’ll be apparent by the end of this chapter, that day is largely a blur.

I say “largely” because, as I worked through the “Historical Notes” section, a couple of repressed scenes came back to me. Now I wish they hadn’t.

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Our 2007 Road Trip, Part 6: The Universal Experience

Universal Studios!

From the mists of time, at the edge of the world, one man shall rise above the rest and go ride stuff hopefully without throwing up.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2007 we changed up our strategy a bit and designed an itinerary for what would prove our most kid-friendly outing ever. Granted, my son was now twelve years old and less kid-like than he used to be, but the idea was sound in principle.

Thus in this year of our Lord did we declare: the Goldens are going to Florida!

Obsessive readers should note the following entry was foreshadowed at the start of our 2003 road trip, the first time my son traveled with us after I assumed full-time custody. Also previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

The custodial transfer process was perfectly, divinely timed to coincide with Spring Break in his previous school system and Spring Break in our school system, two back-to-back weeks in which he stayed with his aunt while I got things sorted on my end. For half of that, he was treated to a road trip to Orlando, where he and his cousins enjoyed the heck out of Universal Studios and Walt Disney World. They also dutifully experienced EPCOT as they were told. (As of this writing, Anne and I still haven’t been to Disney World. Someday it’ll be our turn.)

We knew for our Orlando trip we had to do a theme park, but only had money and time enough for one. We left the decision to my son, the Orlando theme park veteran in our household. He declared Universal the best of the bunch, but he thought Disneyland was just-okay. When The Simpsons took its first jab at EPCOT (Homer: “Awwww, it’s even boring to fly over!”), he responded to the TV, “They’re right.”

Thus on his say-so did we declare: the Goldens are going to Universal Studios!

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Our 2004 Road Trip, Part 9 of 10: Canadian Critter Cavalcade

Killer Whale!

A much more charming killer whale encounter than when I saw Orca: The Killer Whale at the drive-in at age 5.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Once upon a time in 2004, Anne and I got married and had a honeymoon! A week later, we (and my son) embarked on our fifth annual road trip: a drive northeast from Indianapolis up to see the watery wonders of Niagara Falls and its adjacent tourist traps.

Before our return to America and the long drive home, we just had to hit one more large-scale attraction in Canada. Sure, we could’ve hiked a beautiful Canadian forest, found another river as inspiring as the Niagara, learned some Canadian history in a vintage mansion tour, or gone shopping at an authentic furrier. Instead we took my son’s preferences into consideration and came up with…a zoo.

But not just any old zoo, mind you.

I wish I meant that as more of a compliment.

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Our 2004 Road Trip, Part 7 of 10: Mandatory Amusement Park

Anne + Daffy!

Once upon a time, a fake bomb in a crowded public area didn’t cause widespread panic.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Once upon a time in 2004, Anne and I got married and had a honeymoon! A week later, we (and my son) embarked on our fifth annual road trip: a drive northeast from Indianapolis up to see the watery wonders of Niagara Falls and its adjacent tourist traps.

If you followed along with our 2003 road trip, you’ll recall we spent one day that week escaping the traditional tourist attractions and historical significance of our nation’s capital to spend a day out of town at a Six Flags amusement park for my son’s sake. One year later, this is us repeating what worked pretty well the first time.

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Our 2003 Road Trip, Part 4 of 7: Mandatory Amusement Park

swings!

Yup, that’s me, back in the days when a guy could wear a backwards cap in public without onlookers casting aspersions on his character or anti-fashion sense.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: our fifth annual road trip became our first family road trip as we jettisoned our convention plans and took my son to scenic Washington DC to learn history and significance and architecture and so forth. We took a handful of photos using ye olde 35mm film when we weren’t busy corralling and entertaining the boy.

Day Four: Wednesday, July 9, 2003. Tuesday and Thursday were set aside for our official Washington DC tourism. We knew my son would need a break from history and learning to do something more overtly kid-like, more indulgent, and arguably more thrilling. The solution was a one-day intermission at Six Flags America, 20 miles east of town and not too far from Baltimore, home of Homicide and The Wire. It wasn’t the best amusement park ever. The security check-in at their front gate was sterner and more invasive than what we’d encountered at the Washington Monument or any other institution post-9/11. More rides were out-of-order than we would’ve preferred. And then there was the anxious moment when one guy got kicked off a ride and expressed his displeasure by tossing a basketball over a crowd’s heads and getting extremely lucky that it didn’t hit any of us.

But hey! Thrill rides on a sunny day!

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Planning the Perfect Joy-Killing Amusement Park for My Lazy Retirement Years

Hersheypark, PAThe amusement-park phase of my life has been slowly wrapping up over the past few years. My son has decided amusement parks no longer offer him sufficient intellectual incentive, and also they’re just not cool. My wife has never been a fan of any fun-time vehicle that exerts greater G-force than my interstate driving. My mother’s requests to visit such places have receded as she’s very, very slowly realizing that such devices will be the death of her.

In recent history I’ve been willing to handle death-defying contraptions as a Family Quality Time function under a few controlled circumstances. I haven’t minded the occasional steel roller coaster, remarkable when they achieve a proper balance of speed and smoothness, as long as I remember my Dramamine dosage and the coaster track contains not a single upside-down segment. I’m also still a fan of any construct that gently lifts me through the air to tremendous heights and returns me safely to the ground without a single rotation or revolution. Beyond that, any excitement and eagerness I ever had for this group-outing genre has faded nearly to black.

As my wife and I spent this afternoon at a location with a couple of low-impact thrill rides, not only did I feel zero temptation, I also felt relieved that no one expected me to climb aboard. The toll on my body, the disruption of my equilibrium, and the loss of general control may be part of the experience, but I’m no longer fond of the compromise. I might feel differently if I were allowed to steer the coaster, sit in more accommodating seats, or even control the brakes and accelerator. I haven’t found a theme park benevolent or magnificent enough to grant me that power or luxury yet.

Within another decade or two, I expect my tolerance to worsen and my stodginess to know fewer bounds. Should relatives or employers suggest another engagement at one of our local mechanized wonderlands such as Indiana Beach or Kings Island, I expect to be slow to consent and slower to avail myself of the ride options…unless, perhaps, they might be willing to accept some of my suggestions for new, calmer, gentler, barely mobile “thrill” rides tailored to meet the wishes and fussiness of those disinclined against disorientation. Examples in my new, personalized ride demographic could include:

* Gently rotating teacup ride, except with broken motor so there’s no actual rotating.

* Antique autos driven by chauffeurs and stocked with elegant snacks.

* Perfectly motionless lazy river, three inches deep and using state-of-the-art technology to prevent any kind of current or even the slightest Brownian motion.

* Sensory deprivation chamber, with inside walls lined with pictures of cute kittens. No lolcat captions, though. When they’re unfunny, they angry up the blood.

* Amazingly lifelike “Mattress Firm showroom” simulator.

* Out-of-order video games that require you to imagine you’re playing the game in your head.

* The Happy Fun Park Mascot Presents the Wonderful Wacky Padded Benches for Sitting and Watching Other People Ride Rides.

* TVs. Enormous ones everywhere, like up-close drive-in screens.

* The lines for the concession stands, but with extra neon lighting so they look more like rides than chores.

These could be great couch-potato-ey fun for the whole family. Or at least for me.

If I ever have grandchildren who want Grandpa to take them to Kings Island, I’m in deep trouble. If I’m lucky, they’ll be willing to settle for an hour’s drive at top speeds along the nearest interstate. I don’t expect to tire of that sort of action anytime soon.

“Revolution” 10/8/2012 (spoilers): Charlie vs. Old Man Witherby at the Abandoned Amusement Park

Billy Burke, Revolution, NBCViewers have had a week since last week’s episode of Revolution to write down their guesses as to which character would die tonight. Would it be Aaron, the softest of Our Heroes, whose death would take all sense of comic relief with him? Would it be Miles, the main character? Would it be Charlie, the character that the show keeps telling us is the main character? Would it be “Nate”, sacrificing himself to atone for his nebulous militia past? Would it be Neville, executed for the crime of being too interesting a villain?

Before that moment of tragedy, we saw at least one victory in tonight’s new episode, “The Plague Dogs”, named after the Richard Adams novel about a pair of lab-experiment dogs on the run, like our heroes except with stranger side effects. Our cast finally reunites in the ghost town of Lowell, Indiana, as previously promised, fifty miles south-by-southeast of Chicago. (One empty business sports a sign reading “G. Stein Furniture Company”, the name of a real business in North Carolina. But never mind that.) As they merge and move along, their old buddy “Nate” also stumbles out of the shadows and joins them as a willing prisoner. We’re told that his last encounter with Charlie from episode 2 (“Chained Heat”) happened someplace called Pontiac. Presumably this is Pontiac, Illinois, one hundred miles southwest of Chicago and less than thirty miles away from Chatsworth, the recently raided town that the Rebel Alliance name-checked last week. (Pontiac, Indiana, is even more out of the way, hours south of Lowell. Obviously the larger city of Pontiac, Michigan, also won’t do.)

Their objective is to catch up with Neville’s entourage, en route with Charlie’s brother Danny to Noblesville, Indiana, which is thirty miles from where I’m now sitting and typing. Lowell to Noblesville is 120+ miles beyond what they’ve already walked from Chicago to Lowell. The bulk of the episode detours them into an abandoned amusement park, which in our reality would most likely mean a ten-mile digression off I-65 to Indiana Beach in scenic Monticello. It’s not a ride-for-ride carbon copy, but the show captures the basic essence of roller coaster, water slide, Ferris wheel with extra-wide gondolas, and plastic beach chairs. The show version has more water towers, its 1950s diner looks more like a place I know at Ohio’s Kings Island, and the giant-size guitar in the background of one shot gives away its true identity as the Hard Rock Amusement Park in Myrtle Beach, SC. As a single-episode stand-in, I guess it’ll do.

Also different from Indiana Beach: the attack dogs and their unhinged master, who sics his minions on Our Heroes and then vows revenge when they kill one in self-defense. How dare they! His poor, innocent, feral dogs were minding their own business and just going about their bloodthirsty day, and then that happens! Clearly the humans are at fault and must pay. Instead of haunting them with a fake ghost like most amusement park caretakers would, this grizzled stalker attacks from the shadows and even designs a primitive deathtrap for Charlie. Luckily for her the fixtures are authentically rickety and her day is saved. Ah, if only everyone’s day could be saved…

Meanwhile on the road to Noblesville, Danny does his own bit of heroic lifesaving after finding himself trapped with Neville in a storm cellar during a genuine Indiana tornado. The twister seemingly passes; Neville shouts “Amen!”; and I couldn’t help laughing as the ceiling collapsed on him. That’s our unpredictable Indiana weather in a nutshell, folks. If nothing else, Revolution nailed that part. Alas, Danny and Neville re-enact the old fable about the scorpion and the fox, as Danny conscientiously saves Neville’s life, only to be stung by him in return. Points to Danny for moral superiority in the face of a CG storm, at least.

Meanwhile down in Noblesville, now revealed as Monroe Militia HQ, Evil Dictator “Bass” Monroe continues holding Charlie’s mom Rachel captive, perpetuating what must be a years-long tradition of interrogating her unsuccessfully, even with sadistic lackey involvement. A flashback reveals that not only did Rachel turn herself in to save her family, but that her original captor…was Miles himself! DUN DUN DUUUUUN! I suppose this should be shocking, but it’s kind of not. Now that we know the Monroe Republic is half Monroe’s fault and half Miles’, I expect we’re in for a long parade of stunning revelations about the evil Miles committed before he realized what a series of grave mistakes he’d made, like My Name is Earl with more bloodletting.

To his credit, Miles corrects one important wrong in this episode. After two acts’ worth of wishy-washy quitter angst once again, he finally takes a leap of faith into the waiting arms of family commitment, officially deciding to stay with his niece and help see her quest through to the doubtlessly heroic end. The impetus that inspires this decision is tonight’s Shocking Character Death…which would be a lot more shocking if I hadn’t totally called it last week.

Alas, poor Maggie, we knew you slightly. Your flashbacks reveal a little more history, of your children separated from you in England, of your epic one-woman journey from Seattle to Buffalo, and of your unbelievable discovery that large boats capable of sailing to England are now extinct because of wars that demolished them all and, I suppose, resulted in the deaths of every boatwright and every boating company in America. Never mind that Christopher Columbus and several centuries of pirates managed just fine without today’s boat construction technology. Were all those Carnival Cruise liners drafted into the wars and sunk during fierce naval conflicts, too?

Sorry, where were we? Yes, Maggie, then — Charlie’s de facto stepmother passes away due to femoral artery damage from one vicious stab wound courtesy of the Phantom of Indiana Beach. A sad ending to her story, after being rescued from suicidal thoughts by Charlie’s dad Ben, made a part of the family, and now…this. In her final flashback, Maggie reads to her kids from yet another classic road-trip tale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a copy of which she leaves behind with Our Heroes, perhaps serving as a reminder to keep following that yellow brick road. Or a reminder of a more innocent time when adorable dogs like Toto were the norm and not the exception.

Threat Level Milquetoast: Visiting Indiana Beach Without Kids

Indiana has no Kings Island, no Six Flags, and no Disney theme park, but we have two independent amusement parks to call our own. Holiday World, located in southern Indiana in a town called Santa Claus, is a clean, calendar-themed entertainment machine whose most impressive feature to us Hoosiers is not their steel coasters or their massive water park; it’s the unlimited free soft drinks for all patrons. Yes, free. Drink stations are positioned all around the park with several varieties of Coke products and plenty of twelve-ounce cups. The stations are so plentiful that long drink lines are rarely a problem.

Their competition in the opposite half of the state, just north of Purdue University, is longtime family destination Indiana Beach, located in a town called Monticello — pronounced “monti-SELL-o”, not “monti-CHELL-o” like President Jefferson’s crib. The “beach” part is attached to Lake Shafer, a pretty body of water now surrounded on most sides by tourist havens and summer getaways. After decades of settling for being a mere beach, Indiana Beach began to build up an empire of machinery as the management has added rides one by one over the decades, slowly bringing more action to the area while leaving a little less beachfront.

I’d only been once before because beaches turn me crispy, swimsuits fail to flatter me, and the thought of trying it actually never occurred to me until a few years ago, when my wife floated the idea as a one-tank road trip. My second visit was made possible when my employer scheduled this year’s company picnic there. An excuse and discounted tickets were all the motivation I needed. My son, age 17, was permitted to opt out, leaving us adults to do whatever we wanted. As it turns out, we weren’t really in the mood for wild and crazy. In fact, nearly everything we rode was rated “Mild”, devices fit for AARP members and easily jostled agoraphobes.

The ride nearest the Indiana Beach entrance is the Steel Hawg, a wild ‘n’ twisty steel coaster that inverts and induces nausea. This is a prime example of what we fuddy-duddies merely gaze upon rather than experience for ourselves.

Steel Hawg @ Indiana Beach

The Ferris wheel is more our sad, sorry speed. The ambience at the top was breezy on a hot day and included a comprehensive vantage point above the modest park. The Hoosier Hurricane, their standard-issue wooden coaster, consumes most of the view.

Indiana Beach overhead shot

To our right: bucolic Lake Shafer.

Lake Shafer

You can view Lake Shafer from afar, snuggle up close to it in the water-park section, or — if you jog over to the Honey Creek Bay section — you can now zip-line across it. When Indianapolis hosted Super Bowl XLVI last winter, one of the most prominent and coveted features of its downtown Super Bowl Village was a zip-line along several blocks of Capitol Avenue. Tickets were sold out days in advance. Now every event organizer in Indiana wants one installed, whether temporary or permanent. They’re in danger of becoming this decade’s answer to bungee-jumping.

Zipline @ Indiana Beach

For an even better view, you can ride the two-way Skylift across the park, peering down at the other rides, treetops, and roofs. But don’t forget, unlike these former occupants: the safety bars are there for a reason.

Skylift @ Indiana Beach

This enormous water slide wrapped around a steel coaster is no doubt a consequence of overcrowding, but would be the greatest ride of all time if you could somehow combine the two. That inventor shall be anointed as Emperor Genius of Amusementia.

Water Slide Around Coaster @ Indiana Beach

Or there’s the polar opposite of rollercoasters: the Wabash Cannonball kiddie train, which provides a tortoise-level mass-transit connection between the kiddie rides in the middle of the park and what used to be a miniature golf course on the far end. Sometime after my previous visit that mini-golf course was dismantled and replaced with a couple of benches and a fountain. This substitution doesn’t sound like an exchange that would result from consumer demand.

Wabash Cannonball @ Indiana Beach

If the ironically named Cannonball seems too breakneck, the antique-auto track travels at speeds up to almost 1 MPH, and has the advantage of allowing riders to steer the vehicle themselves and determine their own destiny within the narrow confines of the strict, uncool guide-rail. In case this sounds too exciting for the faintest of heart, an auto with a flat tire is stationed nearby as a demotivational reminder to cocky braggarts that accidents can happen even at 1 MPH.

Antique autos @ Indiana Beach

Our company-picnic passes allowed us dual admission to either the normal Boardwalk rides or the water-park rides. One unexplained exception: the Carousel. When we tried to board, we were rebuked and denied by a ringer for Old Man Witherby who insisted our all-access armbands weren’t all-access enough for the Carousel. I’m not sure what makes the Carousel such a hoity-toity upper-crust dreamlike experience that an additional charge for kiddie-ride passes is required. Maybe it only looks normal from the outside, but on the inside turns into an evil whirlwind like the one from Something Wicked This Way Comes. That would be worth an extra buck or two.

Carousel @ Indiana Beach

We declined to stage a protest, mostly because this random white tiger wouldn’t stop giving us such a piercing, vulturous glare. I imagine spooky kiddie-ride totems are more cost-effective than paid security guards.

White Tiger guards rides @ Indiana Beach

Also on guard: a faux Moai fountain. Because of the similarities between Indiana and Easter Island.

Moai Fountain @ Indiana Beach

When the time came to report to our assigned picnic shelter to commence with the company picnicking, we found our hosts running behind schedule and still carting our foodstuffs out from an unseen kitchen. Despite the unceremonious containers and the “Shelter Chicken” label that makes it sound like an imported shipment from the Wheeler Mission, the fried chicken was surprisingly fresh, warm, and delectable.

Food arrives!

As my son has aged beyond theme parks and our nieces and nephews have their own agendas and parents, I fear my time for this kind of experience is drawing to a close. I still enjoy the food, the company, and the occasional arcade game, but the physical stress and motion sickness aren’t as endurable as they used to be, nor am I enamored anymore of walking long distances through water parks barefoot, topless, and nearly blind without my glasses.

Despite our limitations (some admittedly self-imposed), the good parts of Indiana Beach still kept us going for quite a few hours before we departed around 5-ish when the remains of our energy evaporated. Options still abound under those circumstances, such as a few video arcades that offer old-school coin-op fun, especially a long row of those great Data East licensed-character pinball machines that I could keep playing forever if I were insensitive about how that would bore my wife to sleep standing up. If you don’t mind paying extra, the Shafer Queen ferry can spirit you across the waters and allow you to see vacationing jet-skiers and well-heeled boaters up close in their natural habitat.

In addition to the company-picnic meal, their concession-stand food is also top-notch for its category. Three scoops of vanilla ice cream atop a large elephant ear certainly made my day, and helped me let go of my bitterness at Old Man Witherby and the Forbidden Carousel, which would make a great title for a Scooby-Doo episode.

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