An actual, serious, for real obtainable credit at last, you ask?
Looks like you’ll be waiting a little longer.
hahahaha, aren’t I just so full of the lolz?
The recipe for our evening arrival at Luna Park Sydney called for a heaping scoop of pre-planning, a pinch of serendipity, a few ingredient modifications, and a batch of soup dumplings.
The recipe for the closed coaster called for a heaping scoop of disagreeable maintenance scheduling, a pinch of bad luck, and a few ingredients that were both out of stock and unfortunately non-substitutional. Soup dumplings were optional.
Just like the Scoopon promotion I’d found for Adventure World, I struck gold with Luna Park Sydney when I happened upon a deal on their website called “Lunacy After 6 P.M.” where I could buy two unlimited ride passes for the price of one. The catch was that they could only be used Friday and Saturday evenings during school term, which was a blow to my inner goddess of frugality when I realized our itinerary had us at the park on Friday afternoon. Oh well, I’d thought. Perhaps this was payback for all the nasty things I’d said when I worked in retail about the extreme couponers who’d show up at my register five minutes before closing.
(PSA: Don’t be that asshole. You’re already enough of an asshole when you think you’re too special for closing times to apply to you, but if you pull that couponing shit at the same time and refuse to let me go home to feed my dogs just so you can haggle over 20 cents when I point out your coupon for paper plates expired two months ago, you’d better be glad that things like “death glares” or “murderous gazes” remain figurative expressions only. This has been a message from the Association of Every Cashier Ever.)
But then I remembered I’m dating someone who can have a full trip plan concocted within two hours of a “hey, wouldn’t it be fun if we went to [X]” (I’m serious. Parks, flights, hotels, car rentals—he’ll have it mapped and ready to go, even if it’s just a hypothetical trip idea, while there I am in the next room fretting all evening over an Oxford comma). Sure enough, Richard successfully finagled our schedule to accommodate the deal (hence our early start at TreeTop and then powering straight on through the four hour round trip to
Katoo Ka-TOOOOOM-ba) and, just to ensure we didn’t arrive that little bit too early, he put in a dinner stop at Din Tai Fung.
And so it was that we set off, full of soup dumplings, and proceeded to play a round of hide and seek with the correct turnoff to the car park…
…(which would have concluded much faster if Luna had put this sign on the roadway, which would have saved us from Karen’s relentless recalculating…recalculating…recalculating…)
…and eventually sidled up to a nightmare.
And no, I don’t mean the torment of traveling over 17,000 kilometers to learn that one of the world’s rarest coaster types closed only three days prior for its two month annual maintenance.
I mean this awful thing.
Luna Park Sydney, like its sister park in Melbourne, is famous for greeting and terrorizing guests with this grinning satanic monstrosity. It is known simply as the Face and, despite looking like one of those demonic ventriloquist dummies you see in horror films, it has been the park’s trademark since opening day in October 1935. Its inspiration was the equally horrifying Funny Face that menaced Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park with its freakishly distended dentures in the early 1900s. Why you’d pick an icon that looks like a Godzilla-sized Fats and pair it with your “Just for Fun” tagline is beyond me—personally I’d go for something a little less evocative of the whole creeper-luring-children-into-a-van-with-promises-of-candy-and-puppies thing—but somehow this obscene caricature has come to personify the heart and soul of this park.
In fact, the Face is now in its eighth generation, which is downright fucking incredible considering some of its previous incarnations:
- Jack Nicholson’s “Heeere’s Johnny” face (1968)
- A glowing, white-eyed alien demon like something that’s escaped from Midwich (1978)
- The simply dreadful and rather uncomfortably named Mr. Lips that dominated late ’90s American pumpkin carving (1935)
- Steve Buscemi’s eyes (1948)
- Beavis and Butthead laughing (1958)
- That guy in RoboCop who got drenched in nuclear waste and melted (also 1958)
- Jaden Smith (1958 was not a good year)
And even once you pass beneath these disturbingly detailed eyelashes that look like a nest of spider legs about to scrabble out of those crazed eye sockets…
…the Face never stops watching.
It’ll creep up on you in the most unlikely of places.
It’ll multiply, change form, and make you wonder just what kind of recreational items Luna had in mind for channeling all that fun.
It’ll attempt to metamorphose into a sun but instead wind up looking like an orange paper plate that could probably take out any closing time couponer, because if that’s not a bloodthirsty gaze bordering on the literal, I don’t know what is.
And it will intimidate the ever loving crap out of you.
“You will ride more rides just for fun. You will ride more rides just for fun. You will ride more rides just for fun.”
And if that’s not enough to mess with you, or at least make you question how in God’s name someone decided a wildly grinning sociopath made for a better mascot than even, say, a chimpanzee rubbing its testicles and occasionally flinging feces about, then the gift shop is replete with items guaranteed to traumatize you from head to foot.
(Not that the chimpanzees let such an oversight keep them from having fun, mind you.)
All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten your little toes after they’ve marinated in the foul stench of sweat, foot cheese and Kylie Jenner lips found in these slippers.
By the plushy toys at your thumbs, something wicked this way comes…if you dare snuggle in this unfettered lunacy of Luna Belles and Luna Bobs.
And if that’s still not enough to infiltrate even the sweetest dream, then just you wait until we get to Luna Park Melbourne.
But right now, we’re in Sydney, where the only thing more discomfiting than the Face was the closed attractions sign in the ticket window. Such signs are the bane of every enthusiast’s existence, the things we peer at with trepidation followed by either a sigh of relief or a groan in dismay. Now, I have to hand it to myself here. See, I’ve been very lucky these past few years. Besides kiddie coasters where I’m over the height limit, my major coaster misses have been rare. As a result, well, you could say I’m not always so great about handling closed credits (unless it’s a park where everything is just so generally terrible that it feels like somebody cast me in a sitcom without me realizing and then I can’t help but join in the studio audience laughter. Looking at you, Six Flags over Texas). To my credit, I’m much better at it than when I was younger. For example, I had no idea coasters had height requirements until age eight when my head was two inches beneath the dark blue line for Morey’s Great Nor’Easter. How did I react? I sat beneath the sign and cried. (Goodness, if only I’d known.) Three years later, I moped and sulked through my entire day at Kennywood because the Steel Phantom was down due to technical problems (dear God, if only I’d known!!!). And so, when Richard waved me over to get my wristband, I could have let myself get royally pissed off when he pointed to the sign and uttered a curt “bad news.” But I’m a big girl now, or at least I pretend to be sometimes, and I even surprised myself when my “oh no!” came out as chipper as a Poppin’ Fresh commercial. Annual maintenance, the ticket girl said. It would be down until April. A suboptimal situation to be sure, but what could we do? We’d already bought the tickets online. I can’t say it was with the greatest enthusiasm that I offered my arm to be wristbanded, and I admit I did indulge afterward with about seven minutes of silent self pity, but there was no sense in ruining the evening.
Let’s remember where we are, after all :)
And so, unable to ride the Wild Mouse, we did the next best thing:
We queued for the Ferris Wheel, obviously.
Obviously, because the wheel is necessary not only for getting a full overview of the coaster, but also for getting any decent view of it at all. There is no head-on shot of the coaster from the midway. The best you can get is something like this awkward rear angle, and even then, the buildings obscure too much.
Instead of being a focal point, the coaster is always huddling in the background like Aunt Sue trying to hide her chins in the annual family photo.
The only way to see it all is to go up.
Luna Sydney’s Wild Mouse is distinctive in that it’s one of only five wooden wild mice left in the world (the geographical distribution of these rides is also rather remarkable—there’s one at Blackpool, two in Australia, and then two in—of all places—Indonesia (though even these two started life in Australia)). This is another ride where I’m unsure of its opening year. It’s listed as 1959 on rcdb and Parkz, but according to the park history book I picked up in the gift shop (Luna Park: Just for Fun by Sam Marshall; although the text could have used a little help, it contains an unparalleled collection of photos and is well worth buying, certainly more so than those possessed plushies), it wasn’t until 1962 that park manager Ted Hopkins purchased the plans for the ride at the Seattle World Trade Fair and shipped home a car for local manufacturers to duplicate. Parkz words the history a bit differently, noting that Hopkins licensed the design from an unknown European manufacturer. Combining both sources, I get the impression that Hopkins licensed the plans before buying them. Given that he allegedly first saw the ride on a trip to the U.S. in 1958, it seems reasonable to conclude 1959 is the correct year.
The Wild Mouse has not been a permanent fixture since 1959, however. In 1970, it was replaced (but not demolished, thankfully) with a higher capacity Schwarzkopf Wildcat that ran until 1979, when the park closed following a devastating fire. I’m not sure when the Wild Mouse resumed operation at Luna Park, but it had an on/off attendance record even after it did, thanks to a supplementary gig at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. But it’s always come back, just like Luna Park has always come back.
For such a tiny strip of land—you’re looking at the bulk of it here—Luna Park Sydney has borne an inordinate amount of trouble throughout its history. Problems began even before it was built. After the Harbour Bridge was completed in 1932, the city council sought development proposals for the land along the northern shoreline. At the time, there was another Luna Park at Glenelg, a seaside suburb of Adelaide whose residents were having a jolly old time poo-pooing the things that made people jolly (these residents being, I presume, distant relatives of an ex-boyfriend who once told me flat out that going on holiday was for old people and that he would rather spend his days at work. Didn’t take long to slap the “ex” label on him after that). Fed up with these Negative Nancys, the entrepreneurs behind Luna Park Glenelg turned their eye to Sydney. They didn’t fare much better at first. Sydney had its own population of Gradgrinds whose disdain for anything not eminently practical was best exemplified by one Reverend Calder, who apparently considered merriment and debauchery as one and the same: “If a Luna Park of any description were erected here it might become a menace to the morals and well-being of the people of the district,” he complained. And the consequences of having a little fun?
“There would be nightly orgies there which could not be checked.”
But, despite such completely reasonable and totally rational fears (I mean who knows, maybe he’d been to Clementon), fun won. On October 4, 1935, Luna Park Sydney opened its gates.
And, for the next few decades, fun thrived. Luna Park Sydney was the happenin’ spot, especially during WWII when servicemen visited either with their girlfriends or with the intention of finding one. (Probably much to Reverend Calder’s dismay, this did not result in nightly orgies.) By all accounts, Luna was the epitome of the classic amusement park, representative of an era when brass bands and dancing were as much a draw as the rides; an era where an air gust from a funhouse floor had girls either blushing or pretending they were Marilyn Monroe; an era where dark rides meant a rare chance for illicit kisses and illicit other things because Netflix and chill wasn’t a thing yet (still no full blown orgies, though. Sorry to disappoint you, Calder); an era where people for some reason failed to notice that clowns are fucking terrifying.
(Then again, what are clowns when you have this thing staring you down?)
For the most part, Luna’s early years went swimmingly.
And then along came the screen.
Today, it’s smartphone and laptop screens that wrap us in an antisocial LCD glow of distraction and time wasting. In the 1950s and 1960s, the television first debuted to the world that hypnotizing allure of the screen. Screens joined forces with rising automobile ownership and created a formidable duo that demoted Luna Park’s stature in the local entertainment lineup. As its market fluctuated, so too did the park’s stability; when a fire in the Ghost Train claimed seven lives in 1979, the gates shut and the park crumpled. For the next few decades, Luna Park Sydney was the hapless ribbon on a tug of war rope, yanked and shoved between ownership changes, lease negotiations, grassroots preservationists, soulless idiots, and all kinds of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo. Amidst this kerfuffle was a bipolar track record that alternated between bad luck and good fortune; bulldozing and rebuilding; closures and reopenings.
In this constant game of red light, green light, the most recent light change was in 2004 when the Face finally yawned after eight years of hibernation. It hasn’t been a smooth ride since then, owing to some fools who complain about “noise pollution” despite the fact that they’re the ones who chose to live next to an amusement park, but Luna Sydney has nonetheless remained in continuous operation. (It’s worth noting that it’s also remained orgy-free.)
And, on the whole, I’d rather have a park with a closed coaster than no park at all.
There was no sense in brooding over a missed credit, anyway. Luna Park had strict rules about that sort of thing.
The only thing to do was enjoy the view, apparently in a friendly and extroverted fashion.
Hey! Hey, hi! Hi, Sydney! We hung out last night, remember? It was super fun! Wasn’t it super fun? Gosh, it was really super fun. I’ll send you a friend request! Okay? Hiiiiiiiiii!!!!
LOTS OF STUPID ASS HASHTAGS AND OTHER ATTENTION SEEKING BULLSHIT ABOUT BEING ARTSY AND DEEP NORTH FACE NAMASTE LEGGINGS PUMPKIN SPICE LATTES
Upon exiting the wheel, we made a mad dash to mop up any missed photo angles before daylight disappeared, which is to say Richard made a mad dash to mop up missed photo angles while I gazed contently across the harbour because we’d reached that level of daylight where my camera might as well have been aiming through a pair of drunk goggles.
And that was because his blood was all fire burn and cauldron bubble when he beheld this.
What I thought about Luna Park Sydney’s Carousel:
This is fine.
What Richard thought about Luna Park Sydney’s Carousel:
Out, damned ride! Out, I say!
Who doth commit this base atrocity?
‘Tis gone, that wondrous machine of days past!
‘Tis gone, the days of gall’ping hand carved steeds,
their graceful dance, their steam fueled prance, and oh!
That Gavioli organ, eight y’nine keys
of joy, of wonder, magic, song and light!
This new machine: ’tis cheap, ’tis nasty. Doth
modern’ty slash the beauty, wreck the charm,
and maim time’s elegance with evil scythe?
This Rundle ousts magnificence, supplants
sophistication, signifies an act—
An act of cult’ral vandalism! Lewd,
disgusting, tacky, fiberglass copout!
The horses, all the same; identical
expressions twirling, making cheerless turns
’round kitsch; ’round tawdry website decals slapped
with neither taste nor tact, sans serif fonts
in chintzy advertisements taking pride
of place instead of Gavioli. Bland
recorded music pipes from speakers, tunes
now robbed of gusto, lacking spirit. Pah!
How, how dear Luna! How canst thou blaspheme
like this, despoiling beauty, razing grace?
Thou art a monster, blind and sinful! Fie!
O woe! O woe! ‘Tis hopeless! Fie upon’t, foe!
I mourn that carousel of old, I sigh.
‘Tis true thy whims shan’t change. Alas! Alas!
…which was a pretty reasonable reaction.*
Richard had quite the bee in his bonnet over this carousel. To me, it was nothing special, but nothing awful either—at least it had music, even if it was from a recording. Richard insisted, however, that it was “all sorts of crap” and what was there during his 2008 visit was leaps, bounds, and gallopings-to-an-89-key-organ better. With nothing to compare it to, the best I could do was humor him, which I did until I saw this video.
And, just, what.
Guys, Luna Park Sydney got rid of this hand carved carousel built in England circa 1900 that still had its original steam engine (okay, it wasn’t used anymore, but it was still there), and had an enormous organ mounted in its center.
Guys, Luna Park Sydney got rid of a hand carved carousel over one hundred years old with a real working organ and replaced it with a generic and charmless fiberglass production model.
Now, this carousel hadn’t been at Luna Park since 1900. It only came to Australia in the 1990s and I presume it was on hand when Luna Park reopened its gates in 2004—but that doesn’t diminish its value.
Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the Rundle model was just a stand-in while the original was out for a refurbishment. If it’s a permanent fixture, however, I need hardly offer more Shakespearean oaths* to convey such an abhorrent disappointment. Who gets rid of a treasure like that? I mean, unless there was a really, really good reason, say perhaps a spider living in it that necessitated torching the whole thing, which would then be totally understandable…but seriously, who actually does that?
*but I will anyway because it’s fun: Rundle, thou lump of foul deformity!
It’s almost as baffling as the twatwaffles who keep bitching about noise levels despite choosing to live next to an amusement park that was there first.
Meet their latest darling.
Hair Raiser was Luna Sydney’s 2013 addition. It’s one of those diabolical A.R.M./Larson Super Shot creations that dominates the drop tower class for three reasons. First, its vehicle has overhanging panels that obscure the tower from on-ride view, thereby making it impossible to gauge how much longer you’ll climb. Add to that the vehicle’s unnervingly slow ascent, then finish it all off with an exceptionally abrupt drop—the vehicle doesn’t pause for even a second at the top, and since you can’t see the tower anyway, there’s no warning whatsoever when the drop will come—and you have something truly wicked.
It’s a ride where people scream, people laugh, people whoop, people swear. It’s a ride where people have fun.
The problem is that some nearby residents frown upon people having fun. In fact, they are as grievously offended by fun as today’s militant feminists are by things like taking responsibility for their actions.
And also like today’s militant feminists, and indeed like many coddled millennials, who will desperately search for things to be offended by and even make stuff up to stroke their sense of self importance, these local residents went skylarking and pissing themselves in glee when it was discovered that Luna Park had built Hair Raiser without approval. What a boon—here was a new excuse to flap their lips, plump their feathers, and strut about in a melodramatic revelry of self-appointed victimization!
It wasn’t the first time these ass tubas dropped trou and shat out imbecilic condemnation on the park.
Prior to Hair Raiser, they ganged up like a bunch of catty teenaged girls to bully Luna Park over the Big Dipper, an Arrow looper that headlined the park’s 1995 resuscitation after several years of dormancy. The coaster was part of a smattering of new rides meant to modernize the park and revive business, but its role as a ride earned far less publicity than its role as whipping boy. Those who slung the mud whined about its noise levels, their ears apparently much more delicate than those of the people who lived within hearing range of the far noisier wooden coaster that stood on the same spot for over forty years. For months, the Big Dipper was embroiled in legal feuds. Local buzzkills invoked a slew of irascible allegations, faulting the park’s failure to implement enough noise reduction features and drawing all sorts of fancy statistical charts to back their claims, I guess the idea being that a snazzy pie graph would convince officials that being a Dementor was right as rain.
At the same time, the government was orchestrating some fiscal gymnastics that upset Luna’s financial solidarity. It also didn’t help that the weather that year was uncooperative and attendance suffered. Eventually all the negativity came to a head. The Panties in a Wad Coalition was all too happy to see not only the coaster close, but the entire park shut down, yet again, in February 1996 (luckily, the Big Dipper found a home at Dreamworld up the road in Coomera, where it still delivers that sweet, sweet Arrow lovin’ today).
Fast forward to the present, and Hair Raiser has landed on the scene like an independent thinker in a TPR forum. The Panties in a Wad Coalition is at it again, mewling for attention with their gripes that the ride is too noisy, “visually offensive,” “visually intrusive,” “an ugly monstrosity” and cause for “headaches, lack of sleep and irritation.” It also seems our old pal Calder has some descendants living in the area: this “hoony” ride, claims one resident, causes “violence on the street and drunken behavior.”
Let me remind you that every single one of these complaints comes from someone who willingly chose to reside next to an amusement park.
It’s not like Luna Park is a new kid on the block. Even though it’s been closed for years at a time, the efforts of park preservationists and supporters have been so widely publicized that you’d have to be truly thick for the park’s reopening(s) to come as a shock, and thicker still to miss the fact that amusement parks tend to be vibrant, lively places.
Now, Luna Park is not entirely in the clear here. They should have gotten proper approval before constructing Hair Raiser. They should have had more sense than automatically assuming their existing planning regulations covered it, as they argued in their defense. They should have installed soundproofing devices on the ride, such as scream shields like those on the now defunct Maliboomer at Disney California Adventure. I can’t feign impartiality in matters concerning amusement parks, but even I must concede that Luna Park’s failure to do these things is a bit of a dick maneuver. I’m also suspicious about their claim that Hair Raiser fit into their existing planning scheme. For a park that’s always been under fire from its neighbors, I can’t help but wonder if they knew all along that Hair Raiser would raise some eyebrows and tempers as well, and so they built the ride without consulting the proper authorities in a deliberate move to evade the inevitable backlash that might have delayed or canceled construction altogether. After all, it’s much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, right?
However, even if it was an honest mistake, Luna Park still doesn’t emerge in a flattering light here. Besides the fact that it’s awfully careless and unprofessional to just automatically assume you were good to go build a 120 foot tower, the bigger problem here is that they didn’t even try—at least as far as I’m aware—to minimize the ride’s auditory impact on surrounding neighborhoods. It comes off as a big ‘ole Fuck You, and tempting as it is to side with this seemingly passive aggressive retaliation against those longtime whingers, there comes a point with a scream-producing ride like that where you must at least attempt to find a happy medium.
But then, it’s not like their cranky neighbors are any better on moderating this all-or-nothing mentality, either. With the Big Dipper, they made it clear they wouldn’t be happy until it was ripped out entirely. Even court-imposed restrictions on its operational hours weren’t good enough—it had to go, and that was all there was to it. The Hair Raiser issue illustrates that black and white thinking again. News of its unauthorized construction became a podium for disgruntled residents to air their woes to a large audience, and they seized upon it. Now, I must mention that not every resident is against Team Luna; there are some residents who don’t mind the drop tower in the slightest and who applaud it for spurring tourism in the area. The majority of resident voices featured in news articles, however, are staunchly anti-tower. No “I’m not pleased but I respect Luna Park’s right to build,” no “Yeah the screams are loud but that’s the price for living near an amusement park” sorts of opinions—just a very blatant, very stark “Tower=Bad” mindset. There are no ifs, ands or buts. There is no compromise. And it’s at that point that this isn’t about Hair Raiser anymore. It, like the Big Dipper, seems a symptom of a larger problem, and that problem is residents who would rather bitch and moan than face reality.
With the increase of apartments and condos around its borders in the last few decades, Luna Park Sydney is as acquainted with complaints and legal battles as a toddler’s hand is to stickiness and crumbs. And yet, why? Why should their petulant neighbors punish them for adding rides and essentially doing what amusement parks do—indeed, what any business does—to satisfy market demand and generate revenue? (Apart from that, Hair Raiser was Luna Sydney’s first new ride in over a decade, and I’ve heard that even ten-plus years of predictability wasn’t enough to shut up some of these people.) Ultimately, the crux of the problem is the neighbors creating the problem in the first place. They are the ones who chose to live nearby the park, and they are the ones who must deal with the consequences of that choice. As to their preferred method of throwing a tantrum, the fundamental question here is this: does it make any sense for these people to bitch and ballyhoo their playing the victim just because they evidently don’t want to admit responsibility for deciding to move within reach of an amusement park? Being that offended by your own choices but passing the blame onto someone else is beyond all reason.
Neighbors, Luna Park was there first.
Take your self-righteous wallowing to these helpful clowns and get over yourselves.
Besides, if you can fucking afford to live in Milsons Point, then you sure as hell can afford plenty of quieter places.
Luckily for these fools, however, Richard and I are not screamers on drop towers. No, my modus operandi on an A.R.M./Larson tower is holding my breath, gritting my teeth, and bracing for impact.
These towers already have that agonizing climb and thunderclap drop going for them, and those alone are enough to leave me shrugging apologetically at an Intamin Giant Drop. But a good A.R.M./Larson, a really, really good one, adds one more ingredient to the pot, and it’s the most deliciously wicked of them all: aggressive, vicious, ass-blastingly violent airtime.
The A.R.M./Larson at Luna Park Sydney was a really, really good one.
Hair Raiser, like its Super Shot brethren, is not tall. Larson’s website gives a max height of 140 feet for these things. There’s a distinct difference, however, between the actual height of the tower and what the actual height of the tower feels like. The latter correlates directly with how long—and how high—your ass is off the seat.
When Hair Raiser dropped, the first thing I did was bid adieu to my stomach, for it would be staying behind as I journeyed downward. It was kind enough to honor me with a proper sendoff, complete with burning streamers of adrenaline and confetti pops of butterflies.
The second thing I did was note the disparity between where the seat was and where my ass was.
The third thing I did was compute the following equation based on the input from steps one and two:
(Sudden drop + there are several inches between my ass and the seat thanks to these restraints + this burning meteor tail stretching from me to my lost stomach makes me feel funny + brakes there are brakes soon fuck where are the brakes)Pretty sure I‘ve been airborne longer than the first Wright Brothers flight = This Is Not Going To End Well.
And then CRASH. The brakes engaged and gravity served my ass a sound walloping with the seat. If that sounds jarring and unpleasant, it was. But it was also the full stop (…yeah, okay, pun sort of intended) on why the A.R.M./Larson Super Shot is the best drop tower out there: its psychological impact sets it as far above its competitors as its physical stature sets it beneath them. The instantaneous switch from ascent to descent, the abrupt ejection from the seat, the realization of just how high you’re floating above it, the knowledge that the brakes will kick in just as suddenly as the drop, the tensing and bracing because you know a crash landing is inevitable—all of it seems to make time stand still, which makes the drop seem that much longer.
Well, now that we’ve started, I wonder how many other bruises we can accumulate this evening?
Let’s find out.
Welcome to Coney Island Funny Land, the fun park within a fun park that’s the real superstar at this Luna Park. That’s right. The wooden wild mouse doesn’t wear the big cheese crown here. The building behind it does.
Coney Island Funny Land is a play on words: it is the Coney Island at a Luna Park that took inspiration from a Luna Park at Coney Island. It is also one of the only 1930s funhouses left in the world, and with that distinction emerges another flip flop: in an age where frivolous lawsuits are as prevalent as painstakingly effected political correctness, Coney Island Funny Land harks back to an era where political incorrectness wasn’t taken so seriously and could be as easily brushed aside as grit from a scraped knee or elbow.
Along the walls are tokens that we used to live in a world where something like this could exist as the joke it’s meant to be instead of a stimulant for the easily offended to take to their keyboards and waste an evening bellyaching on a Buzzfeed comment section.
It was a time when domestic violence could be droll…
…and voyeurism whimsical…
…and both were perfectly suitable decorations in a place that was barrels of fun.
And what other life lessons could be learned within these walls?
All the practical knowledge a kid could ever want.
Indelicacy, however, is only part of its appeal. Coney Island Funny Land is to funhouses what Oral B’s Satin Tape is to dental floss: unparalleled, top tier, and goddamn glorious. One fondles your gums with such silky, swanky satisfaction that you feel like motherfucking royalty; the other is a palace of sensory opulence rich in old school pride and charm…
…from the original murals of the late artist Arthur Barton, who worked at the park from 1935 to 1970…
…to the wooden penny arcade games…
(I’m not sure if these still work, but they are just so cool nonetheless)…
…to the memory of five year old me begging and begging my mom to buy a can of spinach so I could be strong like Popeye, then taking one look at the green sludge within and promptly granting Mom one of her proudest “I told you so” moments of my childhood.
Most funhouses today are walk-through affairs where you’re ever aware of people behind you and always moving quickly so you’re not That Person who holds up everyone else.
But not here.
Once you pass the obstacles in the entry corridor…
…and the giant, if somewhat phallic-thumbed hands inviting you in…
…the playground unveils itself before you in all its mirthful glory and it’s a free for all—stay as long as you want, partake in as many activities as you want as many times as you want—the floor is yours.
And as for those activities?
Well, there’s the Find Your Way Out Using Finger Prints and Forehead Grease mirror maze.
And the Ye Olde Here’s How Silly You Look When You Walk In Stilettos adventure.
Of course, these are just the milder offerings. After all, we know the best funhouse entertainment comes from activities that carry a high likelihood of hilarious injury.
Which is why there are not one, but two revolving barrels for when you do that thing where you pretend to be a starfish but wind up toppling over and flailing about like an upturned turtle instead.
But even barrels are mild when your funhouse dates from an era when people weren’t afraid of clowns, had better things to do than sue over a paper cut and had to walk fifteen miles to school barefoot and uphill both ways. People back then were tough. I mean, they probably wouldn’t have even been offended by plain red cups at Starbucks during Christmas. They were tough, I tell you.
And so here is the Joy Wheel. The object: seat a bunch of people on a hard wooden disc; spin it really, really fast; and watch as they scrabble about helplessly before centrifugal force lobs them off into the wall.
Some great contusive fun for sure, but we passed in favor of not being the two awkward adults rolling around with children we didn’t know. Instead, I chose a different artist to tattoo my appendages with bruises:
These devil chutes.
Polished wooden ramps glistening white in the overhead lights, they were so tall the ceiling had to be raised to accommodate them and so steep they reminded me why I’ve yet to muster the nerve to try a trap door water slide. Those slippery slopes insinuated disaster. Cataclysmic airtime. Fierce wipeouts. Abundant swearing. Possibly the donation of a few layers of skin.
They were everything a respectable slide should be.
We gathered the straw mats that would be our vehicles of doom and started for the stairs. I had visions of the time I saw a little girl hit the back of her head on the near-vertical slide at Oakwood…er, that is to say the time I heard a little girl hit the back of her head on the near-vertical slide at Oakwood. I’d been waiting on the stairs when there came a thunderous THUNCK, like a hammer whacked against a hollow wall. In seconds a man was at the foot of the slide, soothing his wailing little girl and gently rubbing the crown of her head.
To my left, I watched as a few riders tipped over the ledge and sank like anchors, often with a streak of panicked gibberish (and sometimes very articulate expletives) echoing from their straw mats. I stepped aside as a father holding his son’s hand made a chicken exit.
“Let’s do the smaller slides first,” I suggested. Surely a few runs at a shallower angle would be a good warmup before taking on the beast. That wasn’t wimpy, was it? It was perfectly reasonable, right?
There were three sets of smaller slides, though only one was open, which was the wavy pair on the far left. Indeed, a go on these did shake out some of the jitters—skipping down a series of airtime humps could do no less. I picked up some pretty good speed on the way down and consequently went full sail ahead over the largest hill, which was strategically placed at the very bottom of the slide for maximum wipeout potential.
In what might be the only time in my life I’ll ever say this, I was unfortunately too light. My ass veered to the side a bit, but I didn’t have enough weight behind my momentum to give a dignity-destroying show to onlookers.
Richard, on the other hand, handsome and strapping fellow that he is, found his ass subjected to such a staccato beating as he bumped and bounced over each hill that he opted out of slides the rest of the evening.
Which meant I was facing this bad boy alone.
No matter how many times I reminded myself how much I enjoyed the Oakwood slide, how this one wasn’t as steep as the Oakwood slide (at least I don’t think it was), how if I managed to survive that traumatizing incident in the summer of 2006 when I accidentally swallowed a mouthful of aspartame flavored petrol (you might know it by its other name, Diet Pepsi) then for goodness sake, I could handle a damn slide—I couldn’t avoid that oh shit moment when I sat atop the ledge and peeked at the sheer drop beneath me.
It fell off like a cliff. It seemed impossible to slide down something that steep without falling forward and toppling headfirst into the annals of Embarrassing Memories that Keep Me Awake at Night. I had to wait for the previous rider to clear, during which time the adrenaline butterflies I’d left behind at Hair Raiser caught up with me and ingratiated themselves with about as much success as Ted Cruz attempting to look human. The previous rider stumbled out of their straw mat and exited. I thought of the little girl at Oakwood again. Head forward, head forward, head forward, I reminded myself. My fingers tightened around the straw mat’s handles. I pretended my heart wasn’t pounding and waited for the slide attendant to give the okay.
“I like your shoes,” she said.
“Oh! Thank you,” I replied, now adding “being totally nonchalant about discussing the merits of my shoes as I sit on the cusp of imminent catastrophe” to my list of things I was pretending.
“Yeah, they’re really nice! What brand are they?”
“New Balance,” I said with an exaggerated smile—you know, the kind of “everything is just dandy!” smile that you do to cover up the fact that everything is most definitely not dandy; the kind of smile you supplement with chirpy babbling because what better way to convince everyone that yup, everything’s totally fine! than by blathering like a loon? “I like the pink in them,” I continued. “That’s why I got them in the first place. I mean, like, I’ve had them a while now and they have holes in them but I don’t care; I like their neutral gray with the hint of color much more than those garish neon sneakers that are so popular these days!” Then a new wave of dread hit me and I stole a glance at the attendant’s sneakers. They were black. Not a garish neon stitch in sight. My face resumed its ridiculous grinning.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” the attendant laughed. “The pink on your shoes is subtle; it’s not overpowering. I like it!”
“Thanks!” I said again, continuing to smile way more broadly than the situation required.
“You’re good to go now,” she said, and so I switched off my brain, scooted forward, and went for it. That’s the only way to approach these things, really. When you get the go-ahead, you just have to react. If you think about it, you hesitate. Fear exploits hesitation. And of course, my trepidation was for naught. The whole thing was over so fast I barely processed what was happening until I came to a smooth stop at the bottom. There was no toppling forward or head thumping or even an epidermal donation—just one swift whoosh that I was all too happy to repeat until the humidity in the building had me dripping so much sweat I decided to abort for the benefit of anyone caught sliding downwind after me. Perhaps this was overly self conscious. After all, I did overhear a dude saying to his friends that “I have to ride this slide in order to maintain my level of manliness!” By that logic, my multiple rides should have left me reeking of supreme manly manliness, and if deodorant ads have taught me anything, it’s that manliness smells like glaciers, bears, and the word BLACK written in capital letters. Nonetheless, I was pleased. If Coney Island Funny Land was an amusement park within an amusement park, then this slide was the star attraction within the star attraction.
Our last ride of the evening was the Tumblebug, a Troika notable for the fact that it’s on a roof…
…and whose means of access is the Big Dipper‘s old entrance building—or, rather, I should say the old entrance building for both Big Dippers. The doomed Arrow looper was built on the spot of a wooden Big Dipper that operated from 1935-1979. It was actually a transplanted ride, having been moved piece by piece from the failed Luna Park in Glenelg. By all accounts it was a pretty rad coaster—it could make enough on a Saturday night to cover the running cost of all the other rides in the park for the rest of the week—but alas, it was demolished in 1981.
Fortunately for me, I love love love HUSS’s Troika Troika Troika, and I was happy to take it as a consolation prize.
Unfortunately for Richard, this Tumblebug tumbled the contents of his stomach a little too energetically for his liking.
And so, sympathetic girlfriend that I am, I decided to get in the spirit of things by eating a toffee caramel waffle cone while gazing at the rides that would make quick work in transforming it into a pavement milkshake because my inner ear decided a couple years ago to substitute its longstanding and perfectly functional “I dare you to do your worst, German fair rides” protocol for a “Just because your face still looks like the Before image in a Clean & Clear commercial doesn’t mean you get to enjoy the other benefits of being young” bitch slap.
For those of you whose eyes and inner ears can still tango without tripping up your stomach, Luna invites you to the dance floor on the Tango Train.
Or you can opt for breakdancing, arachnid style, on the Spider.
HUSS has also got your inverting banana needs met with Moon Ranger.
And then, of course, there is the mother of all things evil…
…where you can stand on the viewing deck above…
…and mourn for the days when this was you…
…before remembering that old fartliness has its own rewards, like ensuring you keep well and clear of the, er, splash zone.
It also reminds you that you have another early start the next morning and had best get going.
So, in the end, the night didn’t go as planned. I hate to miss a credit, especially one so far away, but such is the gamble we enthusiasts take on these trips. It wasn’t a completely wasted evening, though. Luna Park’s bridgeside setting has stuck with me ever since Christmas Day 1995 when “World’s Greatest Roller Coaster Thrills in 3D” became a near permanent resident in our family VCR. I didn’t know then that the Luna footage was from the feeble splutter that was the ill-fated 1995 season, that the park just happened to be caught during a brief resuscitation before it slipped into another long coma. I just thought it was a really cool location for a park and I wanted to visit it someday.
And now, my someday had come, but it never would have come at all if it hadn’t been for the perseverance and tenacity of those dedicated Sydneysiders who never gave up fighting for their little gem’s rightful place next to the bridge. Of course, to them Luna Park was more than its location. It was a Sydney cultural institution. It was childhood. It was magic, whimsy, and the joy of play.
It was just for fun.
Now that my someday had come, I could begin to appreciate all of that, too.
The only thing was my timing wasn’t quite right.
But that’s okay. It means I have a new someday waiting out there. That’s not such a bad thing for a place exuding so much charm, friendliness, and the kind of old school class that’s becoming ever rarer these days. Maybe I’ll even have a new pair of shoes to model on the slides, too. Until then, though, all I can do is wait and dream about it…
…(but there’s no guarantee they’ll be pleasant or sweet dreams.)
* * *
Okay! OKAY! Yes, yes, I’m getting on with it! Who is ready for an actual, serious, and for real really truly really I promise this time obtainable credit?