A true story by Craig Mitchell
I grew up in Eureka, Missouri but don’t feel sorry for me. Believe it or not, it was a really diverse, healthy place to grow up. As I’ve said before about it: on one hand you had complete hoosiers, pickup trucks, Waylon Jennings and Skoal chewing tobacco. And on the other hand, the city is quite the tourist trap. We had Six Flags over Mid America, Hidden Valley Ski Lodge…. And Walmart.
Now with Six Flags so close every kid in the neighborhood had a season pass. You were lame if you didn’t. Sound like paradise? You bet. We were there 4 days out of the week during those slow summer weeks. And what did we do with this awesome all-access pass to fun you ask? Mostly we hung around Six Flag’s game rooms and played tons of video games.
The video games were great — but I have to admit, they weren’t the main attraction. We spent a majority of our time trying to pick up the tons of tourist girls. Mostly this took place at Six Flags, but occasionally when things were slow at the Flags we strayed over to the Ramada Inn that ajoined Six Flags. They had a game room too, and a pool.
We turned meeting tourist girls into a pretty lucrative practice. It was easy. The whole family is on vacation. Everyone is on the trip except Spots, who’s lingering in some hell hole of a kennel back home. Six Flags is a big park. What to ride? What to see? The kids want to ride Tom’s Twister. The parents, on the other hand, want to go see Miss Kitty’s Wild Saloon Extravaganza – “a special show the whole family will enjoy.” But the kids don’t want to go for obvious reasons. So the parents give the kids twenty bucks, come up with a meeting point for later in the day, and emergency plans in case they get lost.
The kids are left to their better judgement, left free to roam the park. So what do they do? Ride a ride? Buy a souvenir? Nope. They make it about as far as the closest gameroom where the lure of Breakdance music or Men at Work blaring from a jukebox and the beeping sounds of Ms. Pacman and Tron video games is too enticing to pass up.
This is where teen hormones, Madonna’s “Crazy for you,” video games, and tourist girls met in a head-on collision.
You have it easy as a teen guy in this situation. Conversation starter: help her play Ms. Pacman. Pretend to find the game interesting. Make sheepish teen introductions to your friends, and some dumb jokes.
Here are some things I learned about teen girls at the time: They always travel with a friend or a sister. With the friend, I think parents allowed that to placate their girl on the trip. So where picking up girls was concerned, competition among my friends was fairly low. There was always the possibility of a double date with the sister or best friend. Another thing to note, get two teen girls together and all they focus on is “boys.” God forbid they should actually meet some. What would they do then? Well luckily the teen boys knew exactly what to do. We had a gameplan. We had season passes and we knew the rides to ride. The plan went like this: the Log Flume is always a good start as long as the line isn’t too long.
There are some very practical reasons for this.
1. The way they pack people into the “logs,” you almost always have to put your arms around the person in front of you to get comfortable. Or anyway, you have to do something with your hands.
2. It’s a water ride, and maybe they’re wearing a white T-Shirt? (Hey, I warned you about the cheap teen thrills in the introduction.)
3. You don’t want to give away your ultimate goal. The goal is another ride. The one you can’t help but walk past after exiting the Log Flume.
The Time Tunnel.
I won’t get into too much history here. But the Time Tunnel was one of those slow, indoor tunnel rides where you hop in a boat with 3 other people and are “transported through time.” But remember, this is Six Flags, not Disney. So mostly you’re transported through a bunch of really lame air-powered mannequins and dinosaurs that are supposed to give the effect of past, present and future cultures.
The ride was cheesy from day one. You see, to build the Time Tunnel, they had converted an earlier ride called “Injun Joe’s Cave.” * Some of the elements of the earlier ride were retrofitted for the new theme. The result: old scrappy looking air-driven mannequins that looked ragged, dusty and shitty even at a distance. The water, of course, was complete death. Weird blackish-green muck that couldn’t be dyed blue anymore because it was so screwed up.
And the atmosphere and illusion you were floating in a boat through time? No way.
So anyway, you hopped into the boat with 3 other people. (Perfect double date cruise) or you very subtly appealed to one of the guys who were running the place that you needed your own boat. The male employees usually winked, knowing exactly what we were up to, “Message received kid. Get her home at a decent hour.”
The boat lurched forward into the darkness of the Time Tunnel. Notice I said darkness? With the exception of a couple of annoying scenes, the entire ride was dark. That’s right, if you were lucky you weren’t even past the Prehistoric age when man was first discovering fire by the time you had talked the girl into turning around on the bench seat, and you were both going at it.
They even spaced the boats in such a way that you were virtually alone. (Who the hell designed this ride? Was that the motive? So people could make out? You gotta wonder.)
Some pretty wild things happened in those boats. I won’t weird you out with exact details. But suffice it to say I learned quite a bit on that ride, often from out of town girls with big city ways. I can even say I met my first real girlfriend at Six Flags and took her on the Time Tunnel. Imagine my surprise when I realized I had met a local!
She was from Chesterfield, Missouri and her name was Heather. She was pretty cool and had huge breasts for a 15-year-old girl. I must admit, my 14-year-old hormones were popping out of my ears from the minute I met her. And yes, in between the Prehistoric age where cavemen were still learning to use stone tools and the Ice age where the abominable snowman threatened passerby, I managed to get my hands underneath her pink Izod shirt. Or was it the pirate scene? I’m not sure but I remember this distinctly. She was soft and she smelled like Gloria Vanderbilt perfume. Like lilacs.
Over the next 2 years, Heather and I traded “I love you’s,” Mizpah necklaces and went on those teen dates. The ones your parents have to drive you to. In retrospect, I don’t think either of us had any idea what love was about. But we had fun. We even had our own song, Journey’s “Open Arms.”
But the downside if there was one, was that due to my 14-year-old’s sense of girlfriend loyalty, meeting Heather was effectively the end of the Time Tunnel fun. Or was it….
The Time Tunnel popped up again two years later when I accepted my very first job. You guessed it. I worked at Six Flags — as did everyone else I knew in Eureka. Once again, you were lame if you didn’t. I didn’t run the Time Tunnel, but wow, that sure would have been poetic had it been the case. Instead, I worked in the Games department.
Games. You get off the Screaming Eagle or Thunder River and they purposely redirect you through two miles of games where for the price of 2 dollars, you stand a chance to win a gigantic Styrofoam stuffed, piece of crap cartoon character that will end up sitting around in someone’s basement, probably yours, for the next century? You say you have one? Did you have to strap it to the top of your car to get it home?
Before you ask, the games weren’t rigged. They were just near to impossible. We practiced quite a bit and I have no doubt if I went back today I could win a bunch of crappy stuffed animals. That was the whole scam. You spend $50 bucks trying to win a piece of junk manufactured in Taiwan for 10 cents.
Anyway, it was a great first job. I soon learned that “Games,” as the department was called, was the best, coolest department to be in at the Flags. There were parties and things to do nearly every other night on some weeks. Over the 3 summers I spent there, I learned how to drink. Our department knew of a backwoods area called the “Boat Docks” where the cops never bothered to go, much less bust underage drinkers. Being youngsters, we drank mostly Wine Coolers of the California Coolers, Sun Country ( 2 liters) and Bartles & James variety. Sometimes beer when the “of age people” buying were feeling particularly cruel. Anyway, suffice it to say that working at Six Flags was an instant social life — the same thing most people experience when going off to college.
Ok, so I said the Time Tunnel would re-enter the story. Here it is.
Two of my best friends, Nick and Dan worked at Six Flags with me in Games. I went to high school with them and we were pretty darn good friends. But anyway, one day Nick was working in a games section down near the Time Tunnel. Actually, it was on the other side of the Time Tunnel across from Kiddieland. Dan and I worked just off of the Screaming Eagle and had run down to Nick’s area to save him from “The dart frog water balloon game.” Our intention was to cart his ass off to lunch at Grandma’s, the shitty overpriced employee cafeteria but it didn’t work out that way.
So we were hanging out in the backroom area waiting for him to sign out when I caught a whiff of a very familiar smell.
Time Tunnel water.
The smell was wafting in through a hole in the wall. Upon closer inspection, we noticed a trapdoor — or rather a crude piece of the wall that had been cut away and then replaced. You know, “Escape from Alcatraz” style? I pried it away, and there was a catwalk leading into the Time Tunnel. The place smelled of dust, cotton candy and once again, Time Tunnel water. A truly unique smell.
It took us about 5 minutes to decide to crawl in there. I grabbed a tourists’ cheap-O camera from the lost & found. Nick was quick to point out it had been sitting there unclaimed for months.
Once inside, we sat on a crosswalk over the water for awhile waiting to see if we would see any good make-out action. Unfortunately, it was a slow day at the park that day and many of the boats were coming through empty.
So we soon got bored and started roaming around the Time Tunnel. Someone came up with the bright idea that we would act like we were part of the ride. We stood next to the cheesy air-driven mannequins in our bright uniforms and trademark Six Flags knickers and did our best to fit in. We made whooshing sounds as we mimicked the air-driven dummies, moving in a mechanical manner back and forth.
This of course didn’t work. We were assailed by many shouts from the folks going by in boats. “Hey!! We know youz guyz are real!”
But we had some fun anyway. We posed with Aztec warriors carrying a high priestess and pretended to help carry the headressed figure while Dan and I alternated taking pictures.
Dan and Nick crawled into the Ice Age and posed with the Abominable Snow man.
My friend Dan and I posed with a giant mastodon. (Look closely in the Lower right hand corner of this photo. You can see an actual boat with tourists coming through the tunnel. Likewise, you can see the engineers’ chalk diagrams and arrows scribbled on the walls. They spared no expense on this place.)
After we had been in there for about 20 minutes we realized we were probably in danger of being discovered by the ride staff or security and getting fired. Why this didn’t occur to us earlier? I dunno, but we exited the trapdoor and resealed it.
Funny thing is, we were stupid enough to return for future lunches. Anytime one of us was working that section of the park and no managers were around, we slipped into the Time Tunnel for lunch on a catwalk.
We ate burritos, hotdogs, natchos and other theme park crap, told jokes, laughed and watched the locals score on the tourists in the darkness of the time tunnel.
Those were the salad days. And in retrospect, it probably would have bummed me out to get caught and fired — but it would have made no difference in the long run.
Employers don’t ask me about my employment with Six Flags in interviews. (In fact, I’d be a complete nut to still have it on my resume.) And if they did, well… then I’d just have to tell them the story of the Time Tunnel.
(* Thanks to Rich who wrote in to remind me of what the Time Tunnel was originally called.)