Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Closing of AstroWorld hurts many

By Deana Nall
Baytown Sun

Published September 14, 2005

Nothing lasts forever. Not even AstroWorld.

The Houston area has lost landmarks before. The place near the Houston Zoo where I grew up riding ponies. It’s gone now. That cheesy aquarium in Galveston called “Sea Arama.” It’s gone, too. Things change. That’s part of life. I’m OK with that.

But this business of AstroWorld closing really caught me off-guard. I thought Astroworld was here to stay. To me, it was kind of like church. Your church never closes down on you. And neither should the theme park you grew up going to.

The thing is that I didn’t actually grow up in Houston. Until seventh grade, we lived in a tiny town in New Mexico. Going to Dairy Queen after church on Sunday nights was about the most fun we ever had.

So when we came to Houston in the summers to visit grandparents and got to go to AstroWorld, it was unprecedented fun. And for me, AstroWorld lasted longer than the one day we spent there. Back home in New Mexico, I dreamed about it at night. My brother and I played AstroWorld by fashioning roller coaster tracks out of his orange plastic Hot Wheels tracks. In our plastic wading pool, I recreated AstroWorld’s dolphin show — featuring my naked Barbies.

(They lived in a camper in my closet and couldn’t afford swimsuits.)

Then we moved down here, and I got to go to AstroWorld all through junior high and high school. And since 2001, we’ve been taking our church youth group every summer.

When the news of AstroWorld’s closing broke on Monday, I began wondering what’s going to happen to the Texas Cyclone. When it opened in 1976, it was rated one of the best roller coasters in the world. And the Ultra Twister, the only pipeline-barrel roll roller coaster in North America. And Greezed Lightnin’, which has been taking roller coaster fans from 0-60 miles per hour in less than six seconds since 1978.

And even better than the coasters is what I consider to be AstroWorld's treasure. Tucked away toward the back of the park is a beautiful old Dentzel Carousel. Its 52 wooden animals were hand-carved in 1895. The carousel has been in continuous operation since 1907, and it moved to AstroWorld when the park opened in 1968. What’s going to happen to it?

I know Six Flags, Inc. is $2 billion in the hole. From a business perspective, closing a park is probably a pretty good idea for them right now.

But from a human perspective, I’m not sure it’s a good idea for us. With terrorist attacks and unfathomable natural disasters, our world has become a place that’s not so comfortable to live in anymore. I don’t know how wise it is to take some of our fun away.

Just over a month ago, on the night of Aug. 6, my 6-year-old and I stood at the base of the loop on Greezed Lightnin’ and laughed at the looks on riders’ faces as they turned upside down. Julia isn’t ready to ride the big rides yet, but I told her that when she was, I would bring her back and ride them with her. I wanted her to have the same memories I made growing up.

Now we’ll have to make them elsewhere. I know change is part of growing up and moving on. I guess I wasn’t ready to do that just yet.


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