Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Photographing The Physically Fit

In July, I landed a magazine assignment to write about and photograph the fitness course at Bear Brook State Park.

The course is over a mile long and located deep in the woods adjacent to the public beach at the park. It has 20 exercise stations, each one with a sign showing a stick figure demonstrating the exercise that should be done at that particular station. If done in the proper sequence, the exercises are supposed to provide a proper warm-up, workout and cool-down. Some of the stations even have equipment, such as pull-up bars, slant boards, a balance beam and monkey bars.

With a pen and notebook in one hand, and my camera in the other, I set out on a hot, humid day to walk the length of the course and take notes for my article. At first, I was determined to follow the instructions on the signs and actually do the exercises, but I quickly changed my mind when all of the grunting and noises I made while trying to do them began to attract wild animals that thought they were mating calls.

The magazine editor had suggested that I take photos of physically-fit-looking people using the course, but I didn’t see a soul out there. I even hung around the course for over an hour, waiting, but aside from a squirrel and 11,000 mosquitoes and deer flies, I saw no other forms of life. Finally, I headed down to the public beach to try to recruit some fit-looking people to pose for me.

Optimistic person that I was, I thought it was going to be a snap.

I walked the length of the beach three times. I saw plenty of beer bellies and cellulite. I saw pale, scrawny guys with bony knees. I saw two very pregnant women. I saw people waving with arms that looked as if they had flesh-colored bat wings attached to them. I wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger and Suzanne Somers. Unfortunately, the majority of the people there resembled…me.

Then I spotted, on the grass adjacent to the beach, a group of people who appeared to be in their early 20s, playing badminton. I rushed over to them.

“Excuse me,” I said to one of the players, a young man with strong-looking arms and a flat stomach. He smiled and took a step toward me. “Would you like to pose for some physical-fitness photos for a magazine?”

He just stood there, continuing to smile. I repeated my question. Still, he didn’t respond. Finally, one of his pals asked him something…in a language I didn’t recognize. The guy shrugged and answered him in the same language. No one in the group spoke English (either that, or they just wanted to get rid of me).

Sighing, I walked off. That’s when I spotted a shapely woman in a bikini and a long-haired, Fabio sort of guy approaching a picnic table. I made a beeline toward them, explained what I was doing and asked if they’d like to pose for some photos for a magazine.

Their first response was to burst out laughing. When they finally stopped, they fired a bunch of questions at me: “Where is this fitness course? How come we’ve never heard of it? Will we be on the cover of the magazine? How do we know you’re legitimate? Do you have any identification? Will we have the final say on which photos you use?”

Twenty minutes of questions later, the guy asked, “And how much will we get paid for doing this?”

“Um…nothing,” I answered.

“Bye,” they said in unison.

Defeated, I plunked down on the stone wall that lined the beach and sulked. About 15 minutes later, I happened to glance toward the parking lot and spotted, off in the distance, two very fit-looking guys unloading bicycles from a bike rack on a car. Both of them were wearing snug, form-fitting bicycle shorts and tops. I dashed over to them before they could get away.

Gasping for breath, I pointed at the woods behind them, where the fitness course was located, and blurted out, “Would you two guys like to go into the woods with me and pose for some pictures?”

They jumped onto their bikes and took off so fast, they left skid marks.

Two hours passed before I finally convinced a woman, her teenaged daughter and her daughter’s friend to be my victims. They couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating as they followed me along the winding trail through the woods. I made them dangle from monkey bars, lie on the ground and do push-ups, and balance on vertical posts near a swamp where the bugs thought we’d just rung the dinner bell.

At the end of the photo shoot, I thanked my three models over and over again, and told them to be sure to look for themselves in the magazine. Then I headed straight for the nearest pharmacy, had the photos developed, wrote the article and sent off everything to the magazine editor.

“Loved the article,” the editor wrote back, “but with the bright sunlight filtering through the trees in the photos, everyone looks spotted and blotchy. Can you take some new shots, preferably on an overcast day or using a fill flash?”

I’m still waiting for Arnold Schwarzenegger to return my call.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Sally Seeking Redemption

I was searching for something in one of the kitchen cabinets the other night when I came across a jar that was stuffed with prize tickets from an arcade called Joe’s Playland at Salisbury Beach.

I sat down and counted the tickets. There were 5,581 of them. Immediately, visions of all the great prizes I could redeem them for ran through my mind.

I was in high school when I first started saving prize tickets from the Midway Arcade and Joe’s Playland. Back then, 500 tickets could be redeemed for a nice prize, like a portable radio or a microscope. But I wanted to save for something even bigger and better, like a portable TV or a stereo. So I never redeemed any of my tickets. Then, I guess I just forgot about them.

I won most of my tickets playing skeeball. Later, I graduated to a rather primitive poker-game machine. The object of the game was to roll five balls into holes that had pictures of cards on them to determine the poker hand. Usually, I was pretty lucky, but one day, I couldn’t win a hand no matter how hard I tried. Determined, I kept stuffing money into the machine.

“Uh, how long have you been playing with only four balls?” I heard a voice behind me ask. I turned around to see one of the arcade’s attendants standing there. He checked the machine and found the fifth ball stuck up inside. I was so embarrassed for being too dumb to realize it, my face nearly burst into flames.

Fortunately, the guy took pity on me and let me play a bunch of games at no
charge to make up for my stupidity and his crummy machine. I won about 200 tickets that day alone.

Later, the arcade installed real slot machines, which paid off in prize tokens that could be redeemed for tickets. I played those for hours, mainly because they required no skill whatsoever and therefore, spared me from any further humiliation.

The other night, as I was sitting at the kitchen table and carefully stacking my tickets, my husband walked in and asked what I was doing.

“I have 5,581 tickets from Joe’s Playland at Salisbury Beach!” I said. “Do you think we can take a ride there this week so I can turn them in for a prize?”

“I don’t think Joe’s Playland is even in business any more,” he said.

The man sure knew how to burst my bubble.

So last Tuesday, we headed to Salisbury Beach to find out. During the entire ride, all I could think about was what I wanted to get for my prize tickets. “I think I’m going to get a DVD player,” I finally said to my husband. “Everyone has one and I want one, too.”

“If that old arcade is still there,” he said, “the prizes probably are so old, you’ll be able to redeem your tickets for a nice butter churn…or a manual typewriter!”

I laughed, but to be honest, he was worrying me. If Joe’s Playland had indeed gone to that big arcade in the sky, then I had spent over 40 years collecting tickets for absolutely nothing.

We finally turned onto the main drag through Salisbury Beach. My heart sank. The place looked like a ghost town. Gone were the amusements, the acres of game booths and even the landmark Surf Club and its huge ballroom. In their place were empty lots. Never had I been able to see so much of the ocean from the street.

But there, near a small pizza joint and a discount souvenir shop stood Joe’s Playland, its doors open and its colorful lights beckoning from inside. I allowed myself to exhale.

We found a parking spot directly in front of the arcade and I bolted inside, heading straight for the prize counter. By the time my husband caught up with me, I was smiling with satisfaction. “There it is,” I said, pointing to a really sharp-looking DVD player in a case behind the counter. “There’s my prize!”

A young employee approached and asked if he could help us with anything. “Yes!” I said as I dug into my purse and pulled out the big wad of tickets. “How many tickets is that DVD player?”

“It’s 28,000,” he said.

My husband, sympathetic soul that he was, burst out laughing.

Did I cash in my tickets for a prize I could afford, like a crock-pot or a salad-bowl set? No, I was too upset. I brought the tickets back home and stuffed them into the jar where I’d found them.

I figure if I keep them long enough, they’ll become antiques and I can sell them on Ebay.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Riding The Roller Coasters At Canobie

Two weeks ago, after riding twice on the Yankee Cannonball roller coaster at Canobie Lake Park and discovering that all of my rickety old body parts still were intact, I decided to be brave and go on another coaster there, the Canobie Corkscrew.

The Corkscrew was a new addition since I’d last been to the park, so I wasn’t familiar with it or how it operated. Unlike most of the other rides, however, there was no long line of people waiting to board it on the night we were there. In retrospect, that probably should have been a warning to me.

I rushed up the ramp and jumped right into one of the seats on the Corkscrew. An attendant came by and pulled down a padded harness-like bar over my head and locked it into place. I thought I heard her mention something about removing my earrings, which were thick hoops with posts, but I figured I must have misunderstood. I mean, I honestly couldn’t think of one good reason why I’d have to take off my earrings just to ride on a roller coaster. If anything, I thought, the earrings would be a lot safer attached to my ears than they would if they were floating around loose in my pocket somewhere.

As the ride kicked into gear and the car began to make its way up the first hill, I looked down and for the first time, caught a glimpse of the rest of the track. I suddenly understood why it was called the Corkscrew. It made two twisting loops…steep, twisting, nose-diving loops. Believe me, if there’s anything that terrifies me, it’s being on a ride where I look up and see the ground instead of the sky.

Panicking, I shouted, “I’ve changed my mind! I want to get off!”

Everyone else on the ride, thinking I was joking, began to laugh. The trouble was, I was serious.

I honestly don’t remember much about the ride other than it really was rough…and painful. As the car slammed me from side to side, the padded harness that came down on both sides of my head whacked against my ears and drove my earring posts like rivets into my skin. Had the ride lasted any longer, I’d have been able to wear my earrings in my neck.

“No way did you go on that thing!” my husband said when I walked back over to the bench in Kiddie Land where he had planted himself for the evening. “I thought you hated rides that turn you upside down!”

“Still do,” I said, rubbing my earlobes. “In fact, even more now.”

My husband then mentioned that he was so hungry, his stomach thought his throat had been cut, so I told him to stay put and I’d go find some burgers. In the time it would have taken him, alias “Snail Man,” to walk to a concession stand, I could have ordered a three-course meal, eaten it and taken a nap.

I found a burger place on the other side of Kiddie Land and ordered three cheeseburgers, a small order of fries, and two small sodas. “That’ll be $21.50,” the employee said after he rang up my tray of food.

I just stared at him, my mouth falling open. “Are you serious?”

He nodded.

Thinking of my starving husband, I paid the man.

“These are like those burgers we used to get at the drive-in movies,” my husband said as he bit into one. “You know, the kind that used to sit in those foil bags under a light bulb all night and get all dried out and chewy. How much did they soak you for all of this anyway?”

“Twelve bucks,” I lied.

“Boy, they really saw you coming!”

We finished our food in a few gulps because we wanted to head over to the Dance Hall Theater, where a band that was advertised as looking and sounding exactly like the Beatles was going to be performing in ten minutes. One of my earliest childhood crushes, Bozo the Clown, also was supposed to be appearing somewhere in the park that night, but I figured I’d look for him later.

Musically, the Beatles impersonators were good, but they sounded more like a band playing Beatles’ songs rather than like the Beatles themselves. They also were so loud, my already abused ears began to hurt again.

Visually, the band members looked nothing like the Beatles…not in height nor weight, and especially not in the bad wigs a couple of them were wearing. The guy who was supposed to be George had Ringo’s nose, and the guy who was supposed to be Paul was wearing so much makeup, his eyebrows looked like black versions of McDonald’s golden arches, and his cheeks like two big red sunsets.

“I think the guy who’s portraying Paul also doubles as Bozo to save the park some money,” my husband whispered to me, making me dissolve into giggles and causing the woman in front of me to turn around and glare at me.

By the time the concert ended, my husband was ready to head home. “But I’ve been on only two rides!” I protested. “Let me go on just one more, okay?”

He nodded, found another bench and plopped down on it. I bolted off to the log flume ride. I stood and watched it for a few minutes so I could judge exactly where to sit so I wouldn’t be drowned when the log-car splashed into the water, then I headed up the ramp and waited in line.

The log-cars were in constant motion, so passengers had to board them by hopping into them as they floated past. There was no time to select a seat, so I just jumped in and sat down…right in a big puddle of cold water.

The feeling of icy water being absorbed into my underwear on a chilly night had a way of taking some of the joy out of the ride. And having more water splash into the car and soak my hair and the entire front of my jeans didn’t help much either. When I, my hair limp and soggy and my jeans drenched, walked back to my husband’s bench, he laughed and said, “Having fun, dear?”

“I think I’m ready to leave now,” I said, shivering.

By the time we got home, I was chilled to the bone, my ears were sore and my stomach was feeling the effects of that prime-rib-priced burger.

It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I can’t wait to go back again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Up, Up And Away At Canobie Lake

My grandmother was a roller-coaster fanatic. In fact, she took me on my very first roller-coaster ride at Pine Island Park in Manchester when I was about eight years old. From that day on, I was hooked. So much so, I became an even bigger roller-coaster fanatic than my grandmother. And to this day, my dream is to visit Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, which not only has 16 roller coasters, but reportedly also has the highest (420 feet) and fastest (120 mph) one in the known universe.

My husband, on the other hand, just looks at a roller coaster (even the ones in Kiddie Land) and turns the color of pea soup.

So it came as a pretty big shock last week when he asked me if I’d like to go to Canobie Lake Park and put an end to my years of suffering from roller-coaster withdrawal. Did I want to go? I slapped on a coat of lipstick and had my purse in my hand before he’d even finished asking the question.

During the drive to Canobie Lake, I acted and felt just like a little kid. “How much farther is it?” I kept asking my husband. “Are we almost there yet?”

After what seemed like ten hours (actually, is was 48.5 minutes), we finally pulled into the parking lot of the amusement park. The place was mobbed. “It’s a Monday night, for cryin’ out loud,” my husband said as he drove up and down each row, trying to find a parking spot. “It’s not supposed to be this crowded!”

“Well, maybe it’s crowded because everyone came here, just like us, thinking it wouldn’t be crowded!”

We finally parked the car and walked to the entrance. The admission price was $25 per person, but seeing we’d arrived after 5 p.m., it dropped to $16. We paid for our tickets, got our hands stamped and then entered the park.

Immediately, I was a kid again. I darted off, leaving my husband, who walks at a top speed of about one-eighth mile per hour, in the dust as I rushed from ride to ride, trying to decide which one I wanted to go on first. The park had added so many new ones since I’d last been there back in the early 1980s, I was awe-stricken.

“Well, you have fun,” my husband said between wheezes when he finally caught up with me. “I’m going to sit right here on this bench while you go on the rides. If you need me, this is where you’ll find me.”

I just stared at him. “You’re not going to go on even one ride?”

He shook his head. “Nope, my stomach can’t handle that stuff any more.”

“Not even the train or the Ferris wheel?” I asked, not really relishing the idea of having to be Sally Solo on all of the rides. “Those aren’t too vomitocious. Besides that, you didn’t pay $16 just to sit on a bench all night!”

Again, he shook his head. “Better get going. The place closes at ten.”

He didn’t have to tell me twice. I headed straight for the Yankee Cannonball, the big old wooden coaster that I’d missed so much over the years.

I arrived to find a line of people that rivaled the ones at Disney World. Determined, I took my place in line…and waited. Twenty minutes later, I still was waiting. By then, I’d made friends with the four boys from Michigan in front of me, and a lady and her daughter from Maine behind me.

One of the Michigan boys was wearing more necklaces than Mr. T, and told me how his jewelry had flown up and nearly knocked him unconscious when he’d gone on the Starblaster.

“It’s a ride that shoots you into the air just like you were in a rocket ship,” he explained. “Except you’re sitting in these chairs out in the open, with your feet dangling! One woman even lost her sandals during the blast! It was SO cool!”

Recalling that I was wearing a bra with stretch-straps, I made a mental note to chalk that ride off my to-do list.

Thirty-five minutes later, as I inched closer and closer to the coaster, my heart began to race and my hands felt clammy. What if, I wondered, my metabolism had changed since I last rode on a coaster and now I couldn’t stomach them? What if I ended up throwing up down the neck of the guy in front of me? Or what if I emerged with a severe case of whiplash because my over-the-hill neck bones had become too brittle?

By the time I took my seat in the last car of the Yankee Cannonball, I seriously was contemplating chickening out. “Fasten your seatbelts and then pull the bar down over you,” the attendant instructed. I fumbled with my seatbelt and couldn’t pull it far enough across my Titanic-sized hips to hook it. By then, everyone else already had fastened their belts and pulled down their bars. Not wanting to be a party pooper, I pulled down my bar. Two attendants then came by to check each one of us.

“Your seatbelt’s not fastened,” one of the attendants said to me, as if he were telling me something I didn’t already know. He leaned over and tried to adjust it. “I think it has a knot in it,” he said. He signaled to the guy at the controls, and everyone’s bars suddenly popped back up, giving him more room to work on unknotting my seatbelt. By then, I could hear impatient mutters from the other passengers. I wanted to slide down in my seat and disappear.

Finally, I was properly fastened and the ride was set to go. As the coaster inched up the first hill, I held my breath. The hill was a lot higher than I’d remembered it. In fact, it seemed to take forever to reach the top. I clenched the bar in anticipation of what was coming, and prayed that my neck wouldn’t snap like a twig and my lunch would stay where it belonged.

Whoosh! The rest of the ride was a blur of hills and curves and people screaming. By the time I realized that the ride had begun, it was over.

On shaky legs, I walked back to the bench where my husband was sitting. “You’ve been gone for ages!” he said. “How many rides have you been on?”

“One,” I said. “And I’m going to go on it again and really enjoy it this time…now that I know I can survive it!”

So I went on the coaster again, and the second ride was much better than the first. And after that, I got brave and rode on the park’s new corkscrew coaster…which turned out to be a big mistake.

I’ll tell you all about it next week.