Austin County Fair, Astroworld

I was halfway home when Elise surprised me and picked me up on Friday. Yes, I’m still walking. She earned 30 minutes off by having perfect attendance so she was able to catch me before I reached the apartment.

We ran home, El changed, we both packed for the weekend and we headed off to the Austin County Fair. We cranked up the boom box that sits in the backseat and acts as our car stereo – powered by an AC/DC converter, and blared down Hwy 36.

We arrived at the fair at 9:30 p.m. or so. We ducked our heads so as not to be seen [not that we’re celebrities or anything… we wanted to check things out before we found ourselves stuck in conversation] and walked around the fair grounds. I bought my once a year smoked turkey leg, Elise had a paper boat of nachos.

We checked out most of the FFA show animals and the fabrication entries. We made a once around the carnival and dodged most carney haggling. Nothing has changed at the ACF. We made our way to the infamous beer barn and ran into some friends. After deciding that we didn’t want to hang out in front of the beer barn all night, we agreed that we should ride on some rides. Cheezy, Tracy, Jamie, Elise and your humble narrator made our way back to the carnival area.

One thing at the fair has changed – the ride prices. It cost me $8 in ride tickets for El and me to ride one windy windy swirly swoosh ride. The three girls and I piled into a three quarter pod, not unlike the infamous tea cups at Disney World and were spun into centrifugal hilarity. We all tried to take pictures with Jamie’s disposable camera. I’m curious as to how those turned out.

The girls decided they wanted to ride another ride. This next ride was also centrifugal in nature. This one was smaller in stature but larger in amusement. So large in fact that the heavy-set guy who rode with his wife was rushed out of the fair in an ambulance.

Cheezy and I stood behind the molded aluminum gate and watched the girls spin around and around. I noticed the heavy-set guy’s head lay back at the ride swooshed him and his wife around and around as well. After a while, I could barely hear his wife trying to yell “Stop the ride.” It took a few swooshes around before I realized that she was serious.

I told the carney that he should probably stop the ride. When he did, the heavy-set man didn’t get up. We all ran to where the paramedics usually hang out. Nobody was there. Elise ran to the entrance of the fairgrounds to find help. By the time she got back, EMS had arrived and loaded the man onto a stretcher. We watched.

An ambulance came and took the heavy-set man away. I hope he’s alright.

We all walked to a concession stand so I could get something to drink. This year, the 4H held a monopoly on Coca Cola sales. The 4H concession stand was clear across the fairgrounds. I didn’t feel like walking that far for sugar and carbonation. I settled for the concession stand at which I was standing and bought a cherry limeade that tasted exactly how I would imagine homemade hummingbird nectar would taste.

We congregated in front of the beer barn and all decided to go home early. El and I were tired and there wasn’t much excitement to keep us up much longer.

Elise and I woke up at 7 on Saturday morning. It was Astroworld day.

Diamond Shamrock gave us a ticket to Astroworld for choosing their gasoline. With Elise driving to Killeen everyday, it didn’t take long to rack up four fill-ups.

We arrived at Astroworld at approximately 11 a.m. A few small lines were already formed at the gates. I was happy because we arrived early and wouldn’t have to wait long for rides. After fifteen minutes of waiting in line, we made our way to the front. Texas Cyclone, here we come…

“I’m sowwy sur, yoo mobby deesh teckuts mow fo du gumpny binnick und the foody high fobble”. That’s what the ticket-taker told me. I turned to Elise and she told me that he said “The gates are open for company picnics, all others will have to wait for general admission at 12.”

We sat on the brick edge of the landscaped atrium just outside the gates of Astroworld. We people-watched and patiently waited for high noon as other patrons started piling in.

We found our place in line at a quarter till noon. I sold some stocks, relinquished our possession of our first born and signed a contract stating that I would clean the park’s bathrooms in a Yosemite Sam plush outfit and forked out two large dollar bills to purchase our second admission ticket. That just means that I think ticket prices have doubled since the last time I visited Astroworld.

We were little kids again. The first ride we rode was the Dungeon Drop. A little cart suspended 230 feet in the air with patron feet dangling beneath. A 62 mph drop – straight down. Elise was nervous. I told her to watch the penny.

I put a penny on my knee. This was a trick that I was taught when I was just a wee lad. The horn blew, the carts dropped and just as the imminent fear of gravity became reality, the penny gracefully and magically lifted from my knee and gently spun at chest level. It followed us all the way down until it took another path and clanked down behind one of the ride operators. We both laughed and rushed away so we wouldn’t get caught!

Next we rode The Serial Thriller. “Thrill seekers will find their feet dangling below and the track roaring above them as they rip through 5 inversions at speeds of up to 55 mph!” This ride was built in 1999. It felt really weird riding a roller coaster with your feet dangling down below you. We both wore flip-flops and opted to take them off before we rode. We zoomed at 55 mph, twisting and turning upside down. It was scary. I was really afraid that I was going to get my feet knocked off by support poles.

It was somewhere after 1 p.m. at this point. I was hungry. We walked around until Elise decided on what she wanted for lunch. We stopped for pizza. It was pretty gross. We’re finally learning to do that share-a-meal thing. We could have easily spent twice as much on lunch, but we decided on a single serving pizza and a side of two breadsticks.

After pizza, we walked over to Dreyer’s and bought a couple ice cream cones. I had strawberry, Elise had almond and caramel. We sat on a bench tried to avoid looking at the kids who were playing tonsil hockey two picnic tables over. We decided that kids really don’t have many other places to go to make out. It’s not like they have their own apartments or anything.

Without waiting for our dairy based midday meals to settle, we headed over to Greezed Lightin’. Luckily we never had to wait too long in line. Greezed Lightin’ was the classic rush I remembered it to be. 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. We rode in the first car and were shot out into one loop and up, slow stop at the top and then backwards to do it all again in reverse. Elise loved it. She wanted to turn around and get back in line to ride it again. I scooted us along so we would have a chance to ride all of the rides.

We decided to cool off and go for a relaxing ride. We road the Thunder River. That ride is always a blast because you never know who’s going to get drenched. For the first time ever, it was yours truly. The nice girl sitting next to me shared the water with me. We were soaked. It was hilarious.

We moved over to the next ride which was the Mayan Mindbender. This is a smaller version of Disney’s Space Mountain – inside and dark. We had fun – but it wasn’t the best. Plus my back was cold from all of the water that my shirt had soaked up.

Next we rode the Viper. Hmmm… the Viper. The rides are starting to blend together as I try to recollect. I remember the ride, but it’s hard to explain. Fast, a couple loopdy loops, some twists, some turns, two pair of bruised shoulders from being banged around in restraints.

We then rode Batman: The Escape. You have to stand up when you ride this one. More loops and twists and windies. “Riders experience the rush of standing up through a 66-foot-high, 360-degree vertical loop and a horizontal, 360-degree loop that suspends riders nearly parallel to the ground.” We rode in the first car on this ride as well. Riding in the front is the best. Traveling at 55 mph with nothing in front of you is pretty damn scary.

Then we rode the Ultra Twister. “Drops riders 9 stories, head first, virtually straight down. With their heads still spinning, riders shuttle through a circular steel structure rolling 360-degrees forwards – and then again – backwards!” Elise screamed like a… Well, I don’t know what she screamed like but it was funny – and loud!

We decided that our day should start coming to an end. Elise wanted to ride the Merry-go-round, so we did. We rode on the rabbits. I almost fell asleep. I should have had a balloon tied to my wrist, a sparkly unicorn painted on my cheek and some cotton candy caked onto my chin and it would have been picture perfect. We were both bushed.

Elise and I left Astroworld, hopped in the Trooper and headed up 610 to Northwest Mall. Our destination: Alice Cooper’s Nightmare. I’m a big Alice fan and had to pay homage.

We weren’t too excited about having to pay $15 a piece. It was worth it though. I can honestly say that I was scared. It’s hard for me to become scared by ghoulies and zombies. This after subjecting myself movies about the paranormal, supernatural and things that go bump in the night at a very early age.

The Alice Cooper team used effects that I had never experienced in a haunted house [stripped department store]. It seemed as if behind every corner was some hydraulic-driven skeleton or severed head that popped out to instigate the fight or flight reflex. Remote controls were used to maneuver disemboweled prosthetic human organs. The whole thing was awesome. As both sets of our palms were sweating, even a plain clothes character who jumped from out of a corner and yelled “Whooooo!” while clanking on the back of a skillet was scary.

And yes, there was even the proverbial chainsaw man at the end of the tour. Luckily he jumped out and chased the girls in front of us and saved us from embarrassment.

After all of the excitement of the day, we decided to go drive back to the Austin County Fair in Bellville and see the infamous hypnotist. My parents claim that this guy was hilarious. I wasn’t impressed. Maybe it was because I was tired, maybe it was because he sucked, maybe it was because the participants weren’t as involved as they should have been. There were a few parts where I laughed, but overall, I wasn’t amused.

After sitting though an hour of that junk, we headed to the beer barn to do our social part. We talked to a few people that I hadn’t seen or spoken to since I graduated from high school. It was interested to hear about what those people are doing.

It was brought to my attention that my ex-girlfriend was there. Not only was she there, but she was standing a few feet behind me. Luckily I was in the company of good friends who made sure that my back was turned the whole time. I hadn’t seen or heard of her in many years. I had always hoped it would stay that way. The notion of her being there passed very quickly and we had good conversations with old friends.

I also made peace with an old friend who I held a grudge against for many years. I’m a kind person by nature and hate having to avoid eye contact with anyone. It was nice to lay that distaste to rest. I wrote it off as water under the bridge and gave my old friend a hug. He showed me a picture of his newborn. That made me happy.

We left the fair at 2 a.m. or so. I can’t believe we stayed up that late in our old age. Because we neglected to eat dinner, we got back to my parents’ house and ate some clam chowder and went to bed.

I slept in until almost noon on Sunday. Elise did laundry. I ate breakfast and took a nap on the couch. Sleeping until noon and getting up to eat breakfast can really take it out of a guy.

Dad and I watched the Chargers beat the Chiefs. Elise and I left Mom and Dad’s at 7 p.m. We drove slowly and depressed-like back to bustling Temple.

We had a great weekend. It was one of those that we hoped would never end…

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