Friday, June 30, 2017

Six Flags Time!

Last week I took a trip that I've been wanting to make for years now: Go to Six Flags Great Adventure in Jersey, but doing it solo. Sure, I've been to the park several times in the past 12 years, but I've never made the journey alone. If you remember my past trips to The Big Duck, the Montauk Point Lighthouse, and even to Boston, they were secretly training missions for enduring a solo car ride across state lines.

For years I've been putting off just spending one day going to the local Big Amusement Park. Nerves is what stopped me, I guess. I was going to NEW JERSEY. Alone. That's enough to make anyone a wreck with the anxiety. But having time off for the first time in months and drinking lots of Coke cans with the coupon on the side is what finally prompted me to try to pull this off.

So last Thursday, two and a half hours and a faulty GPS later, I had made it to what's pretty much the best amusement park in the Northeast.

Say it with me folks: We're parked in the Itchy Lot. Because I went in the middle of June, school was technically still in session and that meant barely any waiting for any of the rides. Everything I either got right on, or waited about 15 minutes max. For a park that sees hour-long lines enough to declare a War on Lines back in the 90s, being able to immediately hitch a ride on El Toro, my vote for the best coaster in the park, is what made this whole trip worth it to me. No line for the back row whatsoever, and being able to get right back on because no one else was waiting is nothing short of a miracle.

That's El Toro to the left, still as picturesque as it had been. Thanks to the magic of Facebook reminding you of stuff you did years ago, I made this trek exactly four years to the day of my last visit, which is pretty neat in and of itself. And as luck would have it, I also took a picture in pretty much the exact same spot.

That picture is honestly one of the best pictures I've ever taken. There's just so much going on. Really, the main difference between the two is that the 2017 picture above has Zumanjaro added on to Kingda Ka. It's an enormous drop tower that takes you to the top of the coaster, some 450 feet off the ground. I'll admit I chickened out on riding it a few times, but after pacing around for a bit, I said "to hell with it" and jumped right on. Again, there was no line but we had to wait our turn because Six Flags didn't think things through and couldn't run that and Kingda Ka at the same time. Damn you, physics.

My buddy Jay over at The Sexy Armpit says that roller coasters are a type of therapy to him, being able to strap yourself in to be tossed around through loops and whatnot puts a lot of problems in perspective, and I'm going to agree. After falling 450 feet at around 90 mph, my one thought was "I'm alive." Suddenly everything I was stressed out about had vanished for the day, and that I could conquer anything.

Like this bad beast, The Joker. One of those 4D coasters that's been getting put into other Six Flags parks. Up until a few years ago, one of the only coasters of its kind was X (now X2) at Magic Mountain in California.

Crazy, isn't it? Because it was the first of its kind, where the ride cars flipped you around while you were going around the track, it was plagued with its own set of problems for years. For the first few years of its life, it had to be closed on Wednesdays just for maintenance. These newer models seem to be much simpler in design, but downtime is still a problem. This thing's been open for what, a year or two and I had to wait for this to finish testing after working all day.

The coaster itself isn't all that intense, but those flips really take you by surprise, especially the first one; you can see it above. A few hours prior, I was riding this ride called El Diablo, which is a kind-of roller coaster that just spins in a loop and you just hang there at the top for a while.

Sitting in Rolling Thunder's old spot, to boot. Pic is from here.

I'm not a fan of those kinds of rides, but after riding stuff like El Toro and Bizarro (a floorless coaster, which is awesome), it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. But the kid next to me was NOT having it, freaking out and everything. All I could do was laugh and ensure the guy that it wasn't so scary as he was making it out to be. I'm still not going to go on one of those pirate ship rides anytime soon, though.

Well, on The Joker, I was in that role, and the little kid sitting next to ME had to reassure me that it wasn't as scary as we thought. Within those few minutes, we became fast buddies that just experienced a war. Like Jay said, it puts everything into perspective.

Speaking of the dearly departed Rolling Thunder, this is what's left of it. Once a pair of racing wooden coasters, it's been reduced to a dumb photo op. The rest of its cars are scattered around the park, and you can see most of them when you're on line for El Toro.


This was the park's newest ride, Justice League: The Battle For Metropolis. It's a dark ride where you get to shoot things, not unlike Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin or Toy Story Mania at Disney World. But unlike those rides, you're wearing 3D glasses so you get to shoot at screens where various robots and baddies try to pop out and attack you. The story is that the Joker and Lex Luthor have kidnapped most of the major DC heroes, so the Justice Leagues recruits ordinary citizens to do their dirty work, and whoever gets the most points wins the war, I guess?

I was reading up on this, since it opened the week before I got there and heard nothing but rave reviews and lots of hype. Well, I'll tell you one thing, I think this ride delivers. Disney and Universal might be at the top when it comes to immersing yourself into the experience of the ride, but this does the immersion thing pretty damn well. The 4D effects are loads of fun, there's a few animatronics scattered about (including a sweet Joker one), and there were times where I totally forgot I was even on the ride, I was so focused on shooting things that a simulated loop caught me off guard.

The only problem is that it's really hard to tell your lasers apart from the five other people riding with you, so you don't know who really gets the kills until you see everyone's score at the end. Other than that, I give this a solid A. If the line wasn't nearly an hour long, I would've definitely gotten back on to try it again. That's the sign of a great ride, folks.

And of course I needed to see what this place looked like in Pokemon Go. There are Pokestops everywhere, and as luck would have it, the gyms came back online while I was there. Niantic finally got their act together when it came to gyms, and now you can access them like Pokestops, and doing so earns you its gym badge. They're nothing more than a picture of where the gym is in real life, but it's good enough for me. I'm actually sad that I only have four out of five badges that are in the park. Hey, it was late in the day and I was tired of walking, so sue me. It gives me an excuse to go back.

Bleh, no. I love tourist places, but I hate it when they try to cash in on the latest meme, one that's not even that good in the first place! There were also fidget spinners at just about every stand in the park, and even those were at inflated theme park prices at ten dollars a pop. Needless to say, I bet that their next ride will be built out of all the ones they weren't able to sell.

I didn't want to leave, really. But it was 8pm, and the Mass Exodus had everyone shuffling out of the park. But I was beat. A good kind of exhaustion, but it was exhaustion all the same. Seriously, I went last Thursday and my legs didn't stop hurting until yesterday.

But all in all, it was probably the best day I ever had at Great Adventure. Aside from Skull Mountain (closed) and Kingda Ka (didn't ride), I was able to hit up every coaster in the park. My top three: El Toro, Bizarro, and Nitro I was able to hit twice. I could've spent the entire day just getting back in line on any of those coasters, but I wanted to make the most out of my time, and I think I certainly did. Justice League was the longest ride I had to wait for, and that's because it was new. If a 50 minute wait was the norm for when this place was dead, I don't want to know how long it'll be in the middle of July. If anything, some of these lines were too short. Looney Tunes cartoons play on TVs while you're waiting and I had to miss a lot of them because I wasn't standing around.

Would this day had been better if someone else was with me? Absolutely. But going solo is its own experience, you get to make tons of new friends in line, and riding and you get to compare which coasters were better, or comparing stories at being at other places. And do not underestimate the value of being a single rider, you get to bypass a lot of the lines. And on crazy days, it's the best option to get the most out of your day.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Be A Good Neighbor

For the past two weeks and change, Twitch has been running a marathon of one of the greatest kid's shows of all time: Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

If you were a kid anytime between the seventies and the nineties, it's a good chance this show was a staple of childhood TV viewing on PBS. The show has a very simple premise: A kindly old(ish) man welcomes you into his home and teaches you important lessons how it's good to be yourself, to be a socially healthy person, to understand how things are made, how it's perfectly natural to have emotions, those sort of things. And at least once an episode, a trolley helps us travel to the Neighborhood of Make Believe, a town populated by humans and puppets where anything can happen because this is a TV show and it's all make believe. Those segments tend to follow a storyline over the course of a week, expanding on the lessons Mister Rogers was teaching earlier in the show.

What set this show apart from all other educational shows, even Sesame Street, was its warmth. Mister Rogers was always happy to see you and welcoming you into his TV set of a house. He never talked down to anyone, was always excited to show you new things, very earnest about learning things about anyone he met, and always reassuring us that we're perfectly fine just the way we are. Those are always important lessons to learn, how it's best to learn how to communicate with other by honestly talking to someone about your feelings, not holding anything in feeling safe and confident. You know, being a good neighbor.

He was also not shy to cover more serious issues, like death, divorce, even war. Seriously, there's a series of episodes where King Friday thinks the town of Southwood is building bombs and escalates a conflict.

Yeah...they don't show those anymore. And the marathon skipped that week, too.

My dad would tell me stories about how when I was younger, he'd watch the show to calm down after a busy day at work. I still think I got more out of that show than he did.

Now, it's been over fifteen years since I saw an episode, and I barely remember any storylines so this 24/7 marathon that's been running has been a total godsend. It's so interesting to see how the show started, how it evolved and became the show we know and love today.

Thanks to a site called the Neighborhood Archive, the most comprehensive site about this show I could find, you could look up almost everything about this show like specific episodes, cast members, even every time it was spoofed on TV. What I was most surprised to learn about this show was that the bulk of the 882(!) episodes were made between 1968 and 1976, producing 65 episodes a year, except for 1968 which had 130, and 1976 only having five. After a two year break, the show moved to roughly fifteen episodes a year until the end of the series in 2001 (that year only had five shows).

Those first 130 shows were in black and white, and it was pretty wild to watch. The 1968 shows were quite different than anything that came after it. For one, a good chunk of the familiar puppets, weren't around yet. The Platypus Family, seen here:

Would move into the neighborhood in 1969. In their place was the Frogg family.

Yeah, they were creepy as hell, so they had to go. People keep saying they were scared of Lady Elaine Fairchilde, but those folks had never met the Froggs. They're voices weren't friendly, either. They sounded like they were about to run out of breath, literally croak. Above we see Dr. Frogg's son Tad "sleeping." Sure doc, he's sleeping.

And there was a different song that closed out the episode, called "Tomorrow."

And before PBS, there was NET.

That building could still be seen in the later episodes, as that big red building the show always ends on.

I've been watching this show for years and it took me until yesterday to make the connection. My one regret during this marathon was that I didn't screencap more of the black & white episodes, just this one instance. Kids these days might not have the attention for it, but I was mesmerized an episode early on where Mister Rogers assembles and tries the play the clarinet. He made learning an instrument fun and showing that not everyone is immediately good at playing music right away.

Music was a big part of the show, and we see instruments of all types being shown and played.

Like, of course, an accordion. He drew along to the music, and wouldn't you know it, he points out that everyone would've drawn something different, in their own way.

One time he went to a factory that made mouth organs, er, harmonicas.

Mister Rogers even made the harp seem cool.

King Friday was known to play his Bass Vial (violin) every now and then.

One of my favorite instruments was a stalactite organ.

It was a weird instrument that pounded on the rocks in a cavern to play the tones. Neat, huh? And one episode devoted a good chunk of time to playing an ocarina.

Here we see Mister Rogers teaching Mr. McFeely how to summon Epona. The ocarina is apparently known as the Sweet Potato, so he tried to play it with an actual potato.

This is like some divide by zero stuff right there. And it's currently my twitter avatar, it's just so funky.

You might have noticed above that before his house was painted that familiar blue color, it was beige. And before that, an ugly shade of yellow.

That's the seventies for ya. Speaking of a bygone time, he loved touring factories, including everyone's favorite: the crayons!

I could watch Mister Rogers tour factories and other places for ages, and he was always happy to deliver. This was made in 1985 but I swore I watched that as a kid in the nineties. It just shows how timeless the show was. There was even a show where Mister Rogers visits an arcade and is shown Donkey Kong. Sadly, I don't have a picture of that one, it ran while I was asleep.

You might have also noticed that I've included the Twitch chat in all of the screencaps. Much like the Power Rangers marathon a few months back, it was great to watch a show in a virtual group. It's so weird to see a chat room stay mostly positive and loving. But then there's always people (everyone) trying to riff it, and it's not like it gave a treasure trove of material.

Not many people know Fred Rogers was the inspiration behind Max Headroom.

Hischer the ventriloquist dummy showed up at least three times so far, scaring the crap out of everyone.

Showing us how it worked did NOT help.

And then came clown masks. I'm not afraid of clowns, and Mister Rogers assures us that clowns are friendly, and that it's just a person in a mask.

Until an actual clown showed up in the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Chuckles here had to power to give people costumes.

Yeah, Lady Aberlin's a chicken now. And Chuckles was just so...happy.

Then there was an episode where an alien showed up, aping ET. That was a weird one.

One episode had Margaret Hamilton show up, dressing up like the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz. She assured us that she's a kindly old actor, but hearing her go all nuts as the witch? Awesome.

Then Big Bird visited the Neighborhood of Make Believe for a drawing contest. Did anyone else start smiling when he showed up? I did, I even revolved my Sunday around this episode, I wanted to see it that badly.

Why yes, that's a young Michael Keaton as an acrobat.

And yes, that's Keith David! The Electric Company may have had Morgan Freeman, but they didn't have the voice of Goliath from Gargoyles in their cast. Ming-Na Wen (Agent May from Agents of SHIELD) showed up in a few episodes too, but I didn't catch them.

And look, it's Tony Bennett! Did you know he loves drawing?

I always wanted those models as a kid. I wonder what ever became of them? Hopefully in a museum somewhere.

Don't ever talk to me or my son ever again.

And yes, Mister Rogers has gotten mad on occasion. Well, "mad" is too strong of a word here. More like "cross." That frown was as bad he ever got. He had ordered posters of nursery rhymes, but the posters didn't have any characters on them. Turns out you had to pay extra. Even in the pre-internet age, DLC was a bitch. He even sang a song about being angry, and yet it was the most calm song on Earth.

And now for my favorite running gag in the chat: feeding the fish.

About every three episodes or so, Mister Rogers would take a few seconds to feed the fish. Naturally, the chat started to act as the fish and celebrate whenever they were fed.

And when Mister Rogers passed by the tank without feeding them, they get mad.

Then there was an episode where he visited an aquarium and THOSE fish got fed, and the chat just went nuts.

I've seriously been having fun with this. There was even an episode where a Russian children's show host got to feed the fish and the chat was immediately won over.

Zoomed in.

That's how the iron curtain fell, folks. Not by economic collapse, not by David Hasselhoff singing. But when Mister Rogers let a Russian friend feed his fish.

The show also used to hold operas, usually mashing up whatever topics Mister Rogers and the gang were teaching that week into a coherent story. There was one where Daniel Striped Tiger gained a grandpa, that was a touching one. There was one where they're on a farm and a potato bug tries to invade it, one where two people fall in love due to a mutual love of tomatoes. And then my personal favorite, where Lady Elaine is a hummingbird trying to defend Bubbleland from a guy dressed as the North Wind.

Yes, that's all real, and a real story that happened and yes, that's a guy in a dolphin costume. It was amazing.

The marathon continues through Saturday and I urge you to watch at least one episode. It's kept my life calm and sane over the past two weeks, and I hope it helps you, too. We're almost near the end and I kind of don't want to see it end. Mister Rogers got wrinkles, went gray, dyed his hair, then went gray again, and Mr. McFeely aged into his makeup. The episodes with Arthur and Koko The Gorilla haven't run yet, and I'm dying to see them. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

I Got Some Stuff!

Well, we did it! We survived April! And it's once again that time of the month where I fill you all in on my goings-on in the past thirty or so days.

Since the weather started getting better, I decided to hit up my local flea market a few weeks back. I went too late in the day to find anything substantial, but I did pick up these buttons. I think I've said before that I'm more into enamel pins, but there was no way I was missing out on an old school Great Adventure employee button. I can finally tell people that Dave's not here.

The sweet Hamburglar and Ducktales buttons were part of this much larger assortment. I'm still kicking myself for passing up the Spy Hard one, but I have a feeling that it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

And I went to a small convention a week or so ago and met the guy who "played" Cousin Itt on the original Addams Family show. Really cool guy by the name of Felix Silla. I didn't get a picture of him but he seriously looked like the real-life version of Hans Moleman. Trust me on this one.

I liberated this old pack of Tiny Toons trading cards from a vending machine at my job. I miss that era when every aspect of pop culture had a set of trading cards for it. Like most things, I think it peaked when Beanie Babies did it.

It only cost a quarter, and those five cards were pictures of scenes from the episode Citizen Max, their spoof of Citizen Kane. Spoiler alert: Max wasn't screaming "ACME" as a spoof of "Rosebud," but rather "Acne." The show has not aged well.

This was a crossover you never knew you wanted. DC has been sticking its Hanna-Barbera properties with its DC comics with varying degrees of success. Batman with Top Cat, Booster Gold with the Flinstones, the like. This was one of the weirder ones: Suicide Squad & The Banana Splits. For the most part, the story is about the Banana Splits (now drawn as creepy realistic anthropomorphic animals) getting tossed in jail and then being sent by Amanda Waller to rescue the Suicide Squad from whatever mission they were on. Then they reinvent their band by becoming gangsta rappers with street cred. Seriously. The Banana Splits is one of my favorite Hanna-Barbera shows ever, but even I think this was to weird for me.

Also, the comic featured a preview of their new Snagglepuss series, where he's reimagined as a Truman Capote-esque playwright in 1950s America. The story opens with him testifying in front of the House of UnAmerican Activities. It's falling under that "why would they do this but I want to see more" category.

Peridot is my favorite character on Steven Universe, and I managed to pick up versions from Funko's Mystery Minis (left) and  Pint Sized Heroes (right) series. I plucked the PSH out of a bag that I was given for Christmas, while the Mystery Mini I had to buy off of eBay. Both of these come in the "blind bag/box" variety with the Mystery Mini having 1/36 odds of getting one. Since Peridot is such a popular character and that her figure is designed so well, it's the most expensive one in the whole set. I manged to snag mine for roughly $20, but it goes for more than that.

I'm waiting on the Pop, and it should be showing up on shelves any day now.

It's been my most sought after Pop ever since Funko announced their Steven Universe series, and it's the only one I haven't seen yet.

See? I've seen all the other ones, but not Peridot. And I'm not going the eBay route again. And speaking of Steven Universe...

Funko held a contest to receive a free Pint Sized Heroes prototype and I ended up winning one! It's kind of hard to tell, but that's of Steven's dad, Greg.

I was hoping for Peridot's (naturally), but I'm still happy I got one.

Also I went to the park down the street from my house and saw the Quaker Parrots. Yeah, my part of Long Island has a ton of them, said to be descendents of some parrots that arrived in New York City but escaped from the shipment they were on.

You can see it best in the first pic, but they're kinda small for parrots but so fucking cute. And noisy. But cute. Am I the only one that thinks those birds are cute? I see them all over instagram being adorable, so it can't be just me.

Finally, I managed to snag New York Comic Con tickets once again!

Yesterday was when presale tickets went live for those of us who went last year. It was 48 hours of anxiety, wondering if I'd miss out on anything...and then snagged them in 15 minutes. For a con as big as NYCC, you can't just waltz up and buy tickets. Not anymore. They make you wait in a virtual queue line, and the last few years has been horrific. Last year I waited 45 minutes, and the year before was an hour and a half with buggy servers. But this time it went smoothly, mostly because of factors like better servers, only open to people who had "fan verification" profiles from last year, and that getting rid of multi-day passes pissed off a LOT of people (me included).

Not many conventions sell out five months in advance, but NYCC isn't an average convention. And it costs $215 to go this year, which is highway robbery. But worth it.

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