MILK and I were born five days (and 2 years) apart, in the dead of winter. This is fine now, but when we were kids, it definitely affected our birthday party options. Or should have. Since she’s the little sister, MILK got dragged along on whatever terrible plan I pushed through each year for our double birthday.
For a few years there, it was just a group of friends in the backyard with balloons and a cake that was half-cowboy, half- ballerina. Then mom switched us to the really nice day care and I became best friends with a kid named Ben. Ben had a summer birthday and rich, still-married parents, so his birthday parties were mind-blowing. It usually involved his parents taking everybody to Great America Amusement Park or Marine World Africa USA. The party favors one year were full sized Transformers. In our house, Optimus Prime would be the big gift for the lucky boy, not a frigging party favor!
There was no way I could compete, but I was too young to fully understand the breadth of our economic divide. I just wanted to show him that my family was awesome too. We might not have a vintage car collection or a pool or “servant’s quarters,” but we could still swing an amazing birthday party with roller coasters. After all, it wasn’t just for ME. This was a double birthday. MILK’s happiness was at stake.
In some cruel scheme designed to make my life miserable, nearly every amusement park closed for the winter because, well, because it gets cold and rains and they don’t make any money, apparently.
So what did that leave me? By the time February rolled around, I was burned out on other kids parties at Chuck E Cheese, or the roller rink. Like an ugly girl at prom, I felt a crushing need to compete that drove me beyond the bounds of logic. The first year, I decided we were going to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! The Boardwalk is located right on the Pacific Ocean, which really warms things up in winter.
We drove to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in a light drizzle ready to have so much fun they would have to sand the smiles off our faces! The Giant Dipper, The Tsunami, The Roundup! Lets just say parking was not a problem. Neither were lines. And ride selection was easy because it was February, so only three rides were open. Some tattooed bikers and the usual “fringe-of-society” crowd from the beach flats were our only company. For some reason, the only fun ride that was open was the log ride – a water ride – so we went on it twice. Soaked and freezing, we ended up spending most of the day hiding in the arcade trying to dry off.
I vowed to do better.
The following year, where do I demand we go for my best birthday ever? Manteca Water Slides… in February… In Manteca. For some reason, the lunatics that ran this place used to keep it open year round. So why did I pick it? I was trying to show up the rich kid and Manteca Water Slides was the only other thing open in February. Besides, I’d seen enough movies to know the universe comes out on the side of the poor kid trying to make good. The sun would shine. It would be unseasonably warm. It would go down in history as the best idea ever.
Our dad tried to reason with me, he tried to explain about hypothermia. I would have none of it, and I must have put together a real propaganda campaign (we had a lot of parental guilt to work with) to make this one a reality. I prayed for the sudden warm snap that never came.
We all piled into the family car, a diesel VW Rabbit with four kids in the back, our step-mom and dad in the front, and a Samoyed stuffed in there somewhere. As we took the long drive out (2 hours) to the water park, I began to suspect what everyone else knew, the misery ahead, but giving in would be to admit defeat so, like General Custer, I stayed the course.
My dad tried to give me an out, “it’s a little cold you sure you wouldn’t rather go play mini golf?”
“It’s warming up,” I said through clenched teeth. I don’t listen to reason well; Dr Wife calls it a character flaw, but I prefer to think of it as grit.
MILK, Smokey, and Ben looked at me like I was an out of control captain on a doomed voyage. They probably should have mutinied. I stared out the window at the bare trees and brown fields passing by. We were headed inland. It was always warmer inland.
It was not warmer inland.
I remember standing at the top of the start tower, shaking with cold, clutching a damp neoprene mat. Colorful flags snapped in the air. The ride attendant was in a fleece lifeguard hoody, huddled in a chair with a blanket on her legs. She didn’t even look up to acknowledge us, because she would let the wind in if she tilted her head. My sister, brother, and best friend glared at me. At least, I think they were glaring, it was hard to tell they since we were shaking and I could see their breath.
“This is g-g-g-g-g-great, huh g-g-guys!” I exclaimed as I began sliding away on the neoprene mat. “N-n-no lines!” I yelled as I shot into a blue fiberglass tube. The landing in a wind chilled pool was refreshing. My dad and step mom watched from a picnic bench with a thermos of Irish coffee.
We rode home with the heat blasting and the blue tinge to our lips slowly receding. The next year we had our birthdays at Malibu Grand Prix and played mini golf. MILK almost brained me with a putter. I suspect it was a long due revenge attempt.
NOTE: Nearly all of the places mentioned in this story are now closed and demolished. With the exception of Great America and The Boardwalk. Marine World Africa USA moved to Vallejo, anything remaining of Manteca Water Slides is under the lake now, Malibu Grand Prix shut down pretty recently, and even the damned Chuck E Cheese is no more. So I guess my kids will be spared listening to dad reminiscing while they are dragged on a tour of my childhood. My advice is to soak up all the fun before the real estate bastards decide it needs condos.