Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The 5 Worst Vacationland Destinations of 1972

With the exception of an ill-advised road trip to Florida in a VW Beetle during the summer of 1970, my family didn't take "traditional" vacations. Dad preferred to spend his hard-won time off on more practical pursuits like painting the house, putting on a new roof or building a garden shed. We did, however, take what would in the parlance of today be called "staycactions" or "day trips." Roughly every other week from the time school got out in mid-June until it started back up again in early September, my extended family -- which included my older sisters, sister-in-law, nephews and niece -- would pack up the station wagon and head to one or another of the local attractions. Some, like The Blue Hole, The Toledo Zoo, Cedar Point and Enchanted Forest, were annual events: Others, like Put-In-Bay and Sea World, were on a rotating schedule, while some -- I'm looking at you Sorrowful Mother Shrine and Lagoon Deer Park -- were one-and-done.

In general, my memories of these trips center around spending quality time with family and getting an ever-so-brief glance at the bigger world. But, of course, not all staycations are created equal, and some were markedly more fun than others. To kick off the summer vacation season, I offer a definitive listing of the sometimes schlocky tourist destinations of my "Vacationland" youth. To create this ranking, I am drawing upon my thoughts as a 10-year-old and not how I perceive those destinations today. For instance, at the time Put-In-Bay to me was a boring, nauseating boat ride followed by a day of doing basically nothing... in pouring rain. It would rank MUCH higher on my scale today. It is also worth noting that I am basing these rankings on what these places were like 40 years ago, and the ones that still exist may very well be nothing like that now, for better or worse. I'll list the bottom 5 today and the top 5 next week.

#10 Sorrowful Mother Shrine - Needless to say, this was something my mother wanted to do. SMS was (maybe still is?) in Bellevue, about 45 minutes from my hometown. It was intended to be a place of quiet prayer and reflection. I was 10. Need I say more?

#9 Lagoon Deer Park - I actually gave serious thought to dropping this ridiculous tourist trap below SMS, but at least you were allowed to talk out loud there. LDP was near a small town called Castalia on the other side of the Edison Bridge, and only a 15-20 minute drive from our house. To access it, you drove over a long gravel causeway across a swamp/corn field (the titular "lagoon," I guess, depending on how wet the summer was). It had the shabby look of a roadside attraction that might have been vaguely worthwhile sometime during the Eisenhower administration, but had fallen into serious disrepair since. The main feature was a "piano playing chicken." Essentially, this was a rooster in a cage with a toy piano. The idea was that you could buy overpriced chicken feed from a vending machine next to the exhibit, throw it to the chicken and it would then play the piano. Now, I wasn't hoping for the Moonlight Sonata, but there was an expectation that the bird might, you know, go somewhere near the piano.

#8 Mystery Hill/Prehistoric Forest - These were twin attractions just a few miles from home in the resort town of Lakeside. My mother had grown up in a house just a mile down the road and was skeptical of the legitimacy of the while affair; "well, water didn't flow uphill and there were no dinosaurs walking around when I was a kid." Thanks for that analysis, Mom.

#7 African Lion Safari - The closest attraction to our house, ALS was located on an epansive tract of land off a rural road on the way to Lakeside. It was, maybe still is, a commercial wildlife refuge that specialized in exotic African animals like zebras, giraffes and lions. There was a visitors' center with some cheesy educational exhibits, but the main event was a wildlife park that you drove through. The advertising showed a lion standing menacingly on the hood of a car! I distinctly recall my parents having a conversation about which car would be better to take, should we be forced to make a run for it.  That turned out to be a moot point, as the lions were only vaguely visible in the distance and were rather languid in their general disposition. I do recall, for an additional fee, getting to ride some sort of unusual animal, a llama maybe? So there was that.

#6 Put-In-Bay - Probably not giving PIB a fair shake in this ranking, but as a kid this just wasn't an enjoyable day. Every time we went, we seemed to get caught in torrential rain, and given that the Miller Ferry dropped off and picked up on the largely uninhabited side of the island and we had to ride our bikes a couple of miles into town, that was a problem. I guess I should explain that PIB is a a small town on an island in Lake Erie; think of it as a Midwestern Key West. As the crow flies, it was only 15 miles or so from our house, but 10 of those miles were water. I've been back as an adult and found it to be a rather engaging place, but the things that make it so -- drinking, music and general debauchery -- are not of much interest to a kid.

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