There are so many things I want to tell you. But somehow, I don't think I'll ever get the chance. So every now and again, because I suspect you're here, and you're listening, you might get one of these, just for you. I want you to know them not because they are important, but they are little things that make me who I am. And I want you to love who I am even when you stop loving me.
When I was seven I went on what I remember to be my very first vacation with anyone in my family. We went to St. Louis, Mo. No, its not very far away from home, but when you consider it was farther than I had ever been before, it was like I was in the car for a lifetime rather than two hours. (yeah, that was back before the speed limit was 70. It took ages to get anywhere. I still calculate my travel time by those speeds, for some reason. Maybe its all the road work I run into when I go there now.)
I remember we stayed at the Ramada right next to Six Flags St. Louis. I don't know if its still a Ramada, but if you drive by it now you'd know which one I am talking about. It looks like a big brown would-be lodge. You can walk a little pathway right up to the entrance at Six Flags. It had an indoor swimming pool, which I had never seen before. It seemed really fancy to me. It also had a restaurant inside. I liked that a lot too, because I could get food and take it to the pool. Trust me, even though I didn't become a proficient swimmer until I was in my teens, I still loved to splash around in the shallow end or take my flotation device or life jacket to the deep end and pretend I was a dolphin. Stop laughing. I still do sometimes. Although, really, I'd rather be a mermaid if we're pretending. Its a little more glamourous, isn't it?
I went with my mom and my brother, my cousin who was a little over a year younger than me, and my three aunts that still lived at home. If I did the math I could tell you how old they were. I know they were in my teens, though. My Grandma was the one who took us. We had several hotel rooms. I don't know if I told you, but growing up, my family didn't have a ton of money. It was a really big deal to me. This was seriously fancy. Our hotel room had a balcony. I liked to sit on it. I remember that. I also remember one night, when it had cooled off, we went out on the balcony and you could see that big ferris wheel, Collosus, lit up. There were different patterns in the spokes, and you could hear music coming from the park. My hair was really long then, a little longer than it is now, if I remember right. One of my aunts sat on the balcony with me and french braided my hair. Thinking about it now, I'm pretty sure there was a concert at the park, and she wasn't old enough to go.
I remember that weekend I got a couple quarters from my grandma and I went to one of those crane machines in the pool area. I won a stuffed mouse that had a pink skirt and an orange bow. It was hideous. I remember this because it is the only time in my life I've ever won something from one of those stupid machines. Believe me when I say I've tried. I kept that stupid mouse until I was 18. In a fit of anti-nostalgia, I threw it away. Don't do things like that now. Of all the things I've thrown out over the years, I wish I'd kept that mouse. I'm not sure why.
We also went to a St. Louis Cardinals game. I remember there was a heat advisory, it was hot like it is today. When the game started it was something like a hundred and four without the heat index. There was a player they had, you wouldn't remember him probably, Willie McGee. We went to watch him play. I know we didn't stay for the whole game, probably only three or four innings, honestly. It was hot enough we couldn't breathe. I do remember my grandma had a beer, and she gave me a handful of tootsie rolls, but they melted in my hand. I can still feel them in my mouth, I can still taste them.
We went to the St. Louis Zoo for the first time too. Maybe this is where my love of zoos comes from. I'll never know. But I do remember that it was huge to me. I remember the ape house, and how funny I thought they looked. I remember looking at the big cats and thinking of how I wanted one. At the time I had what my doctors termed as a "severe feline allergy" and I didn't get my first cat until a few years later. I suppose you've figured out, I outgrew that allergy. But at the time, I thought they were the coolest things in the world. i thought the zoo was a maze, and fun, and I didn't mind how hot it was. I got a cherry snowcone. I still like to get them when I go to the zoo. Tell you the truth, I still think the zoo is a maze. I've been to a ton of zoos, and I think that one is still the most confusing one I've ever been to.
This was, of course, a long time ago. It was before there was a penguin and puffin exhibit. The train was tiny and old. The aviary was still the coolest thing there, structurally. (Did you know it was built for the 1921 World's Fair?) If you wander through the zoo today, you'll see some of those abandoned buildings and exhibits. I remember when there were still animals in those. I remember, before there was all the concern from PETA and animals rights groups, how you could watch them feed the polar bears and how they would dance for fish. I remember how tiny some of the exhibits were. Even to me, when I was a child, they seemed small.
Do you know what my favorite exhibit is now? Its not the big cats, although you know how much I love them. I do, there's something in them that seems to be a part of me. But the one thing I love at that zoo, more than anything...the silverback gorillas. Never saw that coming, did you? I think they're a beautiful and strange animal. I remember, when I was eighteen, there was a new male baby released into their pod. I drove up specially to watch that day. You probably wouldn't know this, but when you release a new male into an existing pod, there's this ritual the rest of the gorillas go through. They mark their territory and they do what almost looks like a dance. I stood there in the sun and got burnt (it was worth it!) all day long. It was fascinating. I drove up by myself, I never really talked to anyone. I was there just to watch. I remember after they had finished I walked through the aviary. It felt so cool and relaxing after the sun.
Anyway, that's my first vacation. Or parts of it. I rode the ferris wheel even though I am terrified of heights. I still am, you know, even though I rock climb, repel and ride roller coasters. No never mind I had a job for two years where my job description included me climbing up rickety ladders along the sides of four story concrete cylanders and take pictures of the insides. With no safety belts. I still hate heights. I think that it shows progress on my part, overcoming my fears and all that.
I was too little to ride the roller coasters. I saved that for when I was a teenager. (The Ninja- or is it the Orient Express? They're the same damn coaster, made by the same company- point is, the one at Six Flags was my first coaster ever. And Batman is still my favorite ride of all time)
I remember being scared witless of a giant Yosemite Sam. That was the vacation I discovered those pirate ship rides cause me to hyperventilate and pass out. (I still do, yeah. I know) There was this kiddie area where you could play games to win stuffed toys and basketballs. At the time the Chicago Bulls were the big thing. I don't know who is now, to tell you the truth. Is it the Heat? Isn't that who that gangly white guy who got the ESPY plays for? Anyway. My brother won one and pissed off my aunts by bouncing it all over the park.
There's this ride, I've always called it the octopus, I don't know if that's what its called, but it looks like one, and it takes you up and down rather like a tilt-a-whirl on arms. I loved it. I remember we'd just ridden some water ride and the wind felt nice in my hair and my aunt I was riding with almost got sick because the ride guy let it go on forever for some reason. I still like that ride, in fact, if they have it at the fair this year, I'm totally going to ride it, even if I have to by myself. I loved it.
So there, you see, something about me you didn't know before. I wanted to tell you all about it, for no good reason at all. It was just simply something I wanted you to know. I hope you find some clarity in who I am, or something special about me in it. It may not be important to you, but it was someting important and significant to me.