May 172010

A few days ago I ran into a random mention of some place called “Westview.” My brain flipped back to when I was a little kid and my family would go to Westview Park on the north side of Pittsburgh. It was a little amusement park with old wooden roller coasters, a carousel, one of those sky lift rides where you ride way up high in a car hanging from a cable and your feet dangling out the front. I loved it there, especially the first little roller coasters I ever rode.

Westview Park closed when I was still a kid. I did a little digging and found out that the park closed in 1977 because it didn’t have land for expansion and Kennywood on the other side of town beat them out. The web tells me that the ballroom was a great attraction there. I recently read one of Bill Wyman’s memoirs in which he mentions a Rolling Stones gig at Westview on their first U.S. tour in 1964. I imagine an old-fashioned hardwood dance floor with the young long-hairs rocking and rolling for the local kids. I can picture lots of couples just dancing, chatting, joking, clapping along. It seems like it might have been a special, innocent, rebellious time in the early years of rock and roll music.

Digging around about Westview Park led me to the wacky state of things at Conneaut Lake Park, another amusement park from my childhood that closed and went bankrupt. Conneaut Lake Park was a small, old-fashioned spot with its own classic wooden relic coaster and its own ballroom. The difference is that somehow Conneaut Lake keeps coming back, and I think it is open again now, without the dancing of course. I only remember the rides and the junk food, but I’m sure there was a time when that dance floor had crowds of couples dipping and swirling around. I never saw anything like that in my life. I never went to school dances growing up because I was just terribly shy and quite the backwards misfit. But I know that those dances weren’t like the old-fashioned stuff. My generation didn’t have dancing as a social event like my parents and grandparents did. That’s how I see it anyway–something was lost after that first generation of rock and roll kids.

Then there was Idora Park over in Youngstown. I was only there one time; when I was sixteen I spent an entire day there by myself. The chattering old coasters, the junk food, the dance floor in the ballroom. It was another of those small parks that didn’t survive. Idora closed up in the eighties when a huge fire wrecked the place. Again, that romantic picture with crowds of couples in the dusk dancing to a big band or a rock and roll act. I did a lot of people watching that day at Idora. I remember some snooty girls who looked at me like I was a starving toad. I remember some twenty-something dudes who kept talking about all the action they were going to get. At one point I walked up to a slushy stand, and there was a cute girl with dirty blond hair about my age working there. I said, “Can I have a grape slushy please?” Our eyes met, and we both just stood there for a second or two. I was fascinated. She looked down and said, “Oh, sorry, what did you want?” I repeated it, and she got my slushy ready.

Yeah, I was born too late those innocent, romantic, early days of rock and roll rebellion with crowds of kids feeling free and fun. I think those were unique times, and I wasn’t in the right generation for that. It wasn’t all happy days and good times back then for sure, but that dancing stuff was totally different than anything I ever saw.

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