The Wrong Track | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Glorious Lakeside Amusement Park in Denver. For years, I'd heard about its Art Deco rides and neon lights. So on one of our crazy cross-country trips, when my family puts up with weeks of 400-mile days -- and, worse, taking that many photos each day -- we headed for Denver.

We endured a "check engine" light for a thousand miles and a hailstorm in Nebraska, but we made it on schedule. The park was everything friends had said. Most of all, we were glad to support family-owned Lakeside.

Lakeside has been in the same location since 1908, astride what is now Lake Rhoda. Online reviews were of the praise-but-forgive type: It might not be as fancy or well kept as a theme park, we were warned, but therein was its charm. Indeed, the place is beautiful, many rides are vintage, and no teen-age employees snap your picture as you enter. When we went looking for a gift shop, there was none; instead, we were directed to find the owner in a room behind a snack stand, where the lake's namesake -- Rhoda herself -- brought out half-century-old postcards and nice-looking shirts touting the Cyclone, the park's vintage coaster.

Some say this one was patterned after Coney Island's more famous Cyclone, which is known for its wild, twisting ride. But an overhead painting of the track layout, with sockets for bulbs at key points, looks just like one above the Blue Streak at Conneaut Lake Park. Turns out both coasters are by the same designer ... and if you've ridden the one at Conneaut, you know looping steel coasters have nothing on crazy old wooden designs.

I grew up in West Mifflin, riding Kennywood's wooden coasters, and always enjoy discovering others. So as I led my young son up the ramp to the Cyclone's loading platform, we laughed as people warned, "Watch out; it's rough." We chuckled as others called out, "Don't sit in the last seat; you'll pay for it."

"Hah," we scoffed, "we've ridden coasters like this all our lives." We didn't give it another thought as we climbed into the seat, barely burdened by restraints.

Is that enough foreshadowing?

At the bottom of the first hill, where the track makes a hard left, my son was flung against me, and I was flung against the side of the car. I heard a cracking sound, followed by searing pain in my ribcage. At least my son couldn't hear me swear over the roar of the wheels.

I managed to hobble through the rest of the evening. But back at the hotel, the injured parts stiffened and the consequence of what happened became apparent.

Do you know how hard it is to do anything with a cracked rib? Bending, turning, getting dressed, breathing? Your ribs are critical to all these simple tasks and more. Changing shoes and socks became impossible. These stabbing pains are on top of the throbbing that commences when you're simply at rest. And there we were, some 1,500 miles from home.

Next morning we pressed onward. A hospital visit may have been prudent, but there was a jackalope statue and Flintstones theme park to be seen before sundown ...

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