That’s me in the Sonic Youth tee, with my two younger siblings. Shortly after this picture was taken, I stopped going to theme parks with my family. I declared that theme parks were an artificial entertainment designed to distract the masses in a sort of replacement rush for the thrill of the violent olden days… or something like that. My mom told me I was being pretentious; I was. In all likelihood, I just didn’t want to hang out with my family anymore.
Before that acned stage, I loved theme parks: roller coasters, water slides, haunted houses, the rigged games, and the photo ops with the roving mascots with permanent smiles, as the workers within suffered through summer in a giant foam shell. More than Six Flags, more than Dorney Park, more than Disney World, even, I loved Hersheypark.
Nestled in the wilds of Pennsylvania, Hershey is a company town. Milton Hershey designed this little utopia in the early 20th century to surround the factory of his company- the first national, mass-produced chocolate brand. Hersheypark began as an actual municipal park for workers, featuring a baseball field and pond. Then, came the carousel (now purported to be haunted)! The rest is, dare I say it, hershstory.
In Hershey, all of the street lights are shaped like Hershey kisses. A proper visit includes a stop at the chocolate factory, where one consumes samples and observes the production of popular confections such as Kisses, Krackels, and Mr. Goodbars. Then, through the portal into an alternate world where what you just ate springs to life, human-sized.
The mascots all wear the same manic expression. It seems no one thought to differentiate their personalities (as opposed to the soap operatics of competitor M&M Mars’s candy-covered chocolates-but that’s for another blog post). The Hershey’s mascots all appear equally thrilled to be there with you.
This is an artificial land, as my teenaged self noted. But, in striving for maturity and authenticity, I was missing the obvious point: Hersheypark is fun! Who doesn’t want to visited a simulated world where candy comes to life, and not even for revenge? What these sweets want is for you to be happy, to remain in orderly lines, and to enjoy the entertainments. We all become the same, just like the eternally beaming mascots trotting the well-travelled lanes of the park.
If I bristled against being made into one of the masses in a crowded park of Americans, I was forgetting the thrill of being strapped into the rollercoaster as it ratchets up and up, stomach rising until the peak is reached. Then, curving over the hill, those few seconds of weightlessness as the whole car barrels down, everyone screaming together, lost in their own excitement.