I had the opportunity yesterday to spend most of a day at Kennywood Park, a traditional amusement park in West Mifflin, a suburb of Pittsburgh. It was an interesting experience that merits sharing.
First, as we creep up in age, we begin to encounter issues that formerly would have escaped us. As i waited in line for the Jackrabbit, one of Kennywood’s classic coasters, I spoke to a couple who expressed to me how pleased they were at being able to get into the park for a discounted Senior rate, and at the nice young age of 55.
I hadn’t paid attention to that, but in thinking about it, it helped explain the preponderance of both old and young at Kennywood. This generous policy made sense to me particularly halfway through the day as I realized that despite being in reasonable physical condition I was unable to tolerate the heat, crowds, and lines, without a child or loved one to distract me. I also think that I misjudged certain rides in terms of their capacity to throw off my equilibrium. Once the stomach turns and the dizziness sets in, it is difficult to recover quickly. Of course, I was there for 8 1/2 hours, so I had some stamina.
Also of interest was the reaction of both middle-aged men and women to Kennywood, particularly from an ethnic perspective. Some folks set great store by Italian day, German day, Croatian day, etc., which is something foreign to me, as I have never participated in such. Nonetheless these individuals were waxing nostalgically about it, bringing up all these memories, so it obviously was very meaningful for them. It was as if they were momentarily returning to their childhood.
I decided to approach Kennywood a bit differently. First, by focusing on its location, and the splendid views it affords. I went on the train several times just to take in the river scene, with the locks and dams and Pittsburgh’s last remaining steel mill. When I went on the rides that go high in the air, I enjoyed the view, as well as the sensation.
I didn’t have the patience to wait in line at the Potato Patch for Kennywood’s renowned fries, but a lot of other folks did.
I am not an amusement park lover, and my ability to tolerate them gradually recedes year after year, a product of aging no doubt, but it was fun to people-watch and strike up conversations. Kids with their faces painted were a hoot, and at least one adult gave it a try — not me!
For folks who are not from Pittsburgh, Kennywood is a must, simply because of its uniqueness. It is truly a taste of Pittsburgh, in many different ways. Its size is manageable, and the lines are tolerable, at least in my experience. Some visitors from Ohio were telling me of the lengthy lines at Cedar Point, and how little they minded the minor delays at Kennywood.
I noticed that people let their guard down a bit at Kennywood, and perhaps most amusement parks. They wave to strangers while on a ride, and let go momentarily of inhibitions.
Kennywood has a lot of history, but it is its local flavor and manageability that I most appreciate. You can walk it without getting exhausted: believe me, it was the heat, and not the hoofing, that got to me. I actually saw a couple people with maps of the place, and I had to laugh, because most of the people didn’t seem to need one. Many told me they make an annual trek to Kennywood, but I didn’t talk to anyone who had an annual pass. The kids might love it, but I am not so sure about adults. Some years ago, I learned that i was moving into young adulthood in part when I could no longer take the swings, and found myself nauseous and dizzy in an unanticipated way.
Perhaps my most pleasant stop was at the fudge shop that greets visitors to Kennywood. A chocolate lover’s delight. The aroma there was a great offset to the heat. Too bad I couldn’t escape the guilt over the calories.
Park employees were ready with a smile, and about the only thing I had trouble finding out was the schedule for whatever PAT bus route services Kennywood. Most of the college age kids I asked had no idea, and understandably. Eventually I got my information.
So, I had a relaxing, nostalgic, and fun time, but the coup de grace was a local Pizza shop that I visited down the street, Latina’s Pizzeria. Family owned since 1957, the pizza was phenomenal, and the proprietor entertaining and helpful. The juke box had records from the late 1970s disco era, but sadly was no longer functioning. Just to see the records and the titles made me smile, and continued my nostalgic journey. The square Sicilian pizza tasted like a family recipe, and was quite affordable. I savored the experience, because in a few years such independent pizza shops are likely to be increasingly rare.
Kennywood can be reached at (412) 461-0500, or kennywood.com. Latina’s Pizza, located at 4426 Kennywood Boulevard, can be contacted at (412) 461-4278.