A delayed Christmas present for our three grandchildren was the promise of a trip to a place called Hinkle’s Family Center in Albuquerque. Replete with bumper cars, bungee jumping, bumper boats, a racetrack and video games, Hinkle’s must have hosted all of the Duke City on Sunday.
We took Carly, Celina and my namesake, Arthur, our son Ben and his wife, Heather, to Hinkle’s, where, after an invigorating game of Laser Tag, the group settled for an afternoon of playing Ski-Bowl and shooting hoops. Ski-Bowl is like bowling, its object being to toss a wooden ball down a lane into various holes that award points according to the degree of difficulty.
The hoops competition involves tossing regulation basketballs through a hoop that moves sideways. That, too, spewed out tickets. We made out like bandits. After a few hours, we’d amassed about 4,000 tickets, which we were able to trade in for valuable goods.
My first suggestion was simple: “Let’s pool all our tickets, and when we get to 2,500, we might trade them in for a Hershey Bar.” And as we discussed my suggestion, we looked over the array of items for redemption. For 50 tickets, we would get a plastic bus with nothing but the frame: no wheels, no steering wheel, and no windows. And for 850 points, we could thrill people with one of those coiled, rubber snakes.
There were other toys, like the ‘70s-era lava lamps, stuffed bears, fake mustaches and plastic penguins bearing parachutes. These, understandably, require considerably more tickets than, say, the miniature Tootsie Roll, but none of us was able to count that high.
Naturally, all those crowds, that noise and excitement helped me remember back in the days when circuses and carnivals came to town regularly. They’d usually set up in a vacant lot near the Independence Avenue bridge. The cost to get in, as I recall, was $2, regardless of age, and we needed to save up. Some of my more enterprising buddies, two Freds, Leroy and Scott, often found their own way of avoiding the stiff tariff, even if it meant getting a bit of the Gallinas River on their clothes.
Carnivals and circuses in those days were simply what the whole town did. Somehow, to members of my circle, hamburgers tasted better at the amusement park. There was usually that tinny, calliope-sound to the tune of “When you’re in love, it’s the loveliest night of the year.” We ran into friends and often invited them to join us on the rides and attractions.
One classmate, whom we all called “Ese,” somehow made it into the grounds unchecked. He said he didn’t have a cent on him, but he’d still like to hang out with us.
That meant that out of charity, we sprang for his rides, the whole evening. It gets expensive.
Then, we heard him bragging at school the next day that he’d had money but conned us (he used a slightly stronger verb) out of our money to pay for his rides. That was upsetting, but how’s one to know?
Today, decades later, I’m still a softie. I take my worries to bed with me and toss and turn until I’m convinced that the person I lent a dollar to was indeed on the verge of starvation.
There was a ride I remember as the Loop-O-Plane, which looked like two fat cigars at the end of a Popsicle stick that spun around. The daredevils who chose this ride were not only spinning forward and backward, but also in horizontal circles.
The amusing part was the blast of air girls received on exiting. Already dazed and giddy after their ride, the girls apparently didn’t immediately realize that one of the operators had activated a switch that sent a strong blast of air that raised their skirts, much in the fashion of Marilyn Monroe’s pose when she stood over a subway grate in New York City.
Of course, even some of us pre-pubescent boys enjoyed the show. Two of the Freds and I stayed around, ostensibly to see whether such an act would be repeated. And indeed it was. True, the machine operator repeated the air blast trick, but we noticed that the girls who exited the ride earlier and whose limbs were exposed for a second — much to the delight of the gawking men — went back for seconds.
Once again, the operator complied, the free-show was on, and the two girls feigned the same kind of alarm and umbrage. We didn’t stick around to see if the nubile young women would actually stick around for thirds. We surmised the boyfriend of one of the girls must have had a chat with the ride operator about the gratuitous air blasts.
Noting that things taste better at the amusement park, I recall another case in which three of us decided to buy a hamburger at the then-outrageous price of 30 cents. We agreed that we’d each pay for our own food, except for “Ese,” the one who was broke.
A dollar was precious in those days.
When I handed the burger-flipper a dollar, all I got back was a dime. I did some quick calculations and figured the seller must have assumed I was paying for my own sandwich and treating my two friends.
One of the Freds did the same thing and also received a dime in change. The logic again was that Fred was treating the gang. But, perfect gentlemen that we were, we were too polite to mention the short-changing. I figured, as Fred must have, that the other person would pay for the treats the next go-round.
Of course, the seller of the burgers knew exactly what he was doing.
Back at the Albuquerque fun center, Ben, Heather and I spent most of the afternoon easily beating the shooting accuracy of Shaquille O’Neil, each round of the basketball toss requiring possibly 50 throws.
And today we three wonder why our arms are so sore.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.