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What writing’s really all about

August 6, 2013

When I was a kid, every year it seemed like we went one of two places for our yearly field trip: Storytown or Howe’s Caverns. Of the two, Storytown was cooler, mostly because it had rides and stuff. It stayed cool enough long enough that we went there the day after my prom.

I don’t remember much about being in Storytown as a kid, except that it was the holy grail of kiddom, a place about which we rhapsodized in a voice that rivaled Ralphie’s on A Christmas Story. If you took heaven and Friendly’s Ice Cream and threw in a dash of that toy place by my aunt’s house with the toys stacked to the ceiling*, you would approach the magnificence of Storytown. (* — That toy place, it turns out was Toys R Us, which they got in upstate New York after I was old enough to benefit.)

There’s the signpost up ahead. You are now entering YOUR FIELD TRIP!

It’s hokey now, but one of the highlights was the wild west show of Marhsal Wild Windy Bill McKay. Every kid in the park was there as Wild Windy Bill showed off some western trick, but–darn the luck–someone would try to rob the bank during the show. It being the old west, Wild Windy needed help to capture the bushwhackers, so every one of us got deputized to help. The bad guys always hid in the same spot, but we helped catch them and got red and yellow honorary marshal badges. I remember valuing that badge as much as anything I owned back in the day.


It wasn’t just that it was a field trip because I didn’t really mind school at that point. It was about promise. The field trip meant school was almost over and it was time for summertime fun!

So, when I went to community college in Glens Falls and decided to stay there for the summer, working at Storytown–or the Great Escape, as it was then known, was a natural.

It’s been said that if you want to be more confident in God, the last thing you should do is work at a church. And if you want your visions of childhood bliss tempered, work at the amusement park you thought was heaven. Storytown–The Great Escape, by the time I worked there–was a small business. And in many cases, you don’t get to have a successful small business without a chief SOB in charge–and for me, that’s what it seemed like the owner was.

I started off working on the flume. But I was 18 at the time and as teenage boys are wont to do, I was an idiot. I told one of the riders on the flume to splash the costumed guy at the landing one day and got in trouble for that, and then did something else the next day, and then wound up getting yelled at for not wearing socks. I was soon relocated to the Turnpike, the worse ride in the park.

The roller coaster wasn’t there when I got fired off this ride.

Mostly, it was because the Sea Dragon, a giant swing, was next door. So people would ride that ride, then come get in line for a calmer ride and promptly puke in our line. It was a lot more fun, though because we interacted with the other ride operators (amusement device operations engineers, as I called us).

Jane Lundgren, a girl I had a crush on, worked there at the time and I think she worked at the Magical Mystery Tour, which was an Egg Beater in a dome with strobe lights. It was safely psychedelic. And she looked nice in the Burger King knock offs we wore for a uniform.

That was one of the best summers of my life. I didn’t accomplish a damned thing, except stay up late at a bar in Hudson Falls called Bruso’s and go to work with very little sleep.

The Great Escape is now part of Six Flags and it’s a coaster haven that probably costs a fortune to get into and has corporate logos all over the place. When I went there it was heaven, and when I worked there, it was easily as clean as Disney. Somehow, given my age, it seems better then.

Why am I imposing a blog post full of personal memories, especially when those memories have nothing to do with anyone outside upstate New York? Because I stumbled upon a blog devoted to Storytown while looking for something else. And I devoted an hour of well-spent time meandering down memory lane. The pictures and words took me mentally back to a different time and gave me great pleasure.

Sometimes when we put words down, we don’t have to perfect the craft. Sometimes you can just tell a story, and that’s enough.

  1. August 8, 2013 2:19 am

    I loved the post, but I have to disagree with the last two lines. I think your story is a good example of what (as your title pointed out) writing is all about: communication.

    I have never been to Storytown, and since it’s gone, I’ll never get the chance. But because of the way you focused on your details and your feelings, I could identify with that period of life.

  2. Chris Hamilton permalink
    August 8, 2013 6:35 am

    But the blog that triggered my walk down memory lane wasn’t a highly crafted literary work, and that was the point. The person who started the blog communicated, too. The blog told me a story.

    • August 8, 2013 11:21 pm

      The blog probably gave you those flashbacks because you had an actual shared experiences with the blog’s creator (there’s a similar thing here in Southern California with Marineland, which used to be in Palos Verdes — my husband just has to hear someone else who grew up here in So Cal mention “Marineland,” and he’s on memory lane.

      The difference here is that I didn’t share your experience, and aren’t even able to see enthusiasm in your face or hear it in your voice as you describe it — but because of the details you selected, etc. I could nonetheless connect to it. I think the ability to evoke that reaction is in fact an expression of craft and skill.

      There are lots of people who can tell write events without getting that reactions out of readers (alas). There’s telling a story, and writing a story, two different things.

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