My heart sank faster than Amity 3 yesterday when I discovered that the JAWS ride—my childhood playground—will be officially closing forever on January 2nd of 2012. Throughout the day, I received text and Facebook messages from various people who felt the need to put me on suicide watch as a result of Universal Studios’ announcement. Some individuals I haven’t talked to in a few years, and they still managed to reach out to me, which tells me two things. One, I’m known for my obsession with the JAWS ride. And two, I’m known for my love of the JAWS ride. (They’re different. Just trust me.)
My fascination with Universal Studios Florida (USF) can be traced back to the early 90s when a cousin of mine came home from a trip to Orlando, telling me about the experience of “riding the movies,” the trademark phrase of USF. “Your tram is shaken by King Kong and you can only hope to Survive.” “E.T. begs that you take him home to the Green Planet, and he gives you the power to fly on a bicycle.” “You put these glasses on, and the Terminator is in your face—you’re in a battle across time.”
Of course, I made these quotations up. But I remember this cousin telling me about the theme park in great detail. To an eight-year-old who loved movies and dreamed of living them, this theme park seemed to be more of an alternate reality. However, one quote does stick out: “No, the shark is not real.”
I was in my grandmother’s house when he described JAWS: The Ride. He told me that while you wait, you see a man go down in his boat and blood gushes from below (I never saw this, though). He told me that the boat shakes and the shark is gigantic. Too, my cousin was a teenager who enjoyed film and the delight of suspense; he knew not to give too much away so that I could uncover excitement and the unexpected on my own for the first time.
So you can imagine my anticipation two years later during my first experience at USF in 1998. I’m ten. My sister is four. My parents take me to Walt Disney just one day prior to USF, and I dislike Magic Kingdom because of the monotonous waits, crowdedness, and less-than-desirable rides for a ten-year-old. But USF. This is right up my alley. Entering the park, my family makes a right, and I am introduced to Cyberdyne Sytems, where I meet a red-headed Kimbery Duncan, Director of Community Relations and Media Control. I fight the T-1000 and survive before taking pictures with Marilyn Monroe, visiting Doc at the Back-to-the-Future ride, and returning E.T. to the Green Planet. My sister wants to watch Barney (so we do). My sister wants to ride the Woody Woodpecker ride (so my mom rides with her, and I sit in the coaster behind pretending to be embarrassed but all the while loving it).
We continue to the newest ride at the time, Men In Black, and blast aliens, scoring points and racking up first-time family memories. Then, before my mom can even read the map, we are at Amity Island. The first item of interest to this ten-year-old just happens to be the shark hanging in front of Captain Jake’s Amity Boat Tours, which makes for a stellar photo.
Adrenaline surging through my veins, we wait in line, my eyes shimmying the waters for a guy in a boat as described by my cousin. I see no such thing. But I do scout tour boats with people wearing headsets, waving islanders off every other minute or two. Soon, my eyes are fixed on the front of the line. I see row 7. I make my way down toward the end. (Yes! I’m on the end!!!)
The ride begins boarding, and I see this person leading the ride dressed in a t-shirt, blue jean shorts, and tennis shoes. My mom tells me that this is our skipper. He tells us to stay seated and then waves us off before the audio cues, “This is base! You’re clear for departure, Amity Six. Have a good trip.”
Instantly, I’m in Awe. I feel like I’m in a movie. My mind races.
When am I going to see a shark? When am I going to see a shark? When am I going to see a shark? When am I going to see a shark? When am I going to see a shark?
“Mayday!” A shark fin. The skipper uses the grenade launcher and fails! We head into the boathouse. It’s spooky and dark, but we make it out. Then—the most memorable moment of my first JAWS ride—the gas dock shark appears on my left, just feet away from me. I’ll never forget that.
In fact, I don’t even remember my first ride experience after the gas dock shark (to those who even know the ride). I just remember thinking one thought: I want to be a JAWS skipper when I grow up.
“Mom, I want to live here and be a JAWS skipper.”
Surely, she must have nodded my affirmation off, suspending it as wasted air, but I knew that I was meant to be a skipper.
I’ve known it since my first ride at ten-years-old. I know it now at twenty-three-years old. Before I am an English teacher, I’m a JAWS skipper.
I even managed to incorporate the JAWS Ride into an 8th grade lesson plan when I taught the dramatic structure. First, we have the exposition during the opening of the ride when we learn that nobody has seen a shark “in these parts for about thirty-something years” and that, if we do see a shark, then we are protected by 40 mm grenade launchers. Rising action occurs during Amity 3’s sinking and the boathouse incident just before the climax when the shark chomps down on the high voltage barge. Falling action rests when the skipper cries, “Call off those marines! We’re coming home!” And, finally, the conclusion is realized when tourists exit the boat and are reminded to keep the shark episode a secret.
Additionally, the JAWS Ride is part of my colloquial language.
“Amity 6 to base” replaces interjections such as “Woops!” “Oh gosh!” “Sh*t!” “Ouch!” and “Whoa!”
If I am asked to wait outside of a doctor’s office, I might shout, “Ten Minutes! We’ll all be shark bait in ten minutes!”
Should a stop sign keep me while trying to cross over an intersection during rush hour in an effort to get to Starbucks, I may confess to bellowing, “THIS ISN’T FUNNY!”
Even when I aim for cats and crush them successfully in my Kia Koup I call at the top of my voice, “Man. That thing is DISGUSTING.”
Also, my room is themed after the aquatic. Seventy-five percent is due in large part to Dawson’s Creek. Twenty-five percent can be credited to JAWS: The Ride.
And that 25% is a lot.
So, yes, I’m disappointed and heartbroken because my childhood playground is being burned down. And I’m not alone.
I know hundreds of other people must be feeling the same way.
When I was a freshman in college, I saw a YouTube video that featured a guy my age giving JAWS rides out of his Jeep in Ohio. I phoned my friend Sarah and told her we needed to take a road trip. We did, and we managed to get a ride in the dark depths of Worthington, Ohio.
This guy knew and cherished the ride so much so that he would actually become a JAWS skipper. (Sarah and I later embarked on another road trip to Florida to board a true John Bernard tour.) The three of us posed with 40 mm grenade launchers, and I am still wholly thankful that I know a JAWS skipper in that six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon way.
You know: there are several things I would have rather heard than the JAWS ride closing down.
“Derek, you’re fired.”
“Derek, you’ve been denied rhionoplasty.”
“Derek, you failed Econ and have to take next semester over before graduating.”
“Derek, the liposuction didn’t take.”
“Derek, your body is allergic to merlot.”
“Derek, grandma’s been killed.”
Yeah, it’s selfish. I’m sorry, but it’s true.
I’m a kid that Holden Caulfield could not catch. I’m a kid who just fell over the cliff, and tumbled toward reality and adulthood yesterday.
Sure, It’s not that I didn’t see this day coming. The ride is costly because it burns fuel and requires routine maintenance (the boat house shark seems to stay under almost all the time). The sharks are completely fake. Unless you luck up on a sensational skipper, the ride is not worth the wait. I understand.
But that does not make the ouch hurt any less.
My dad and I built a playhouse together when I was six. Since the weathering and aging of the relic, I’ve always told myself that the real playhouse is in Orlando. And Orlando will always stand the test of time. That the JAWS ride will be the portal that takes me back to 1998, the channel that transports my soul to ten-years-old. I’ve recognized that permanence is not a given in real life, but I will always have the JAWS ride. Friends may come and go, but I’ve got Amity 6.
Now it doesn’t seem that way. And I’ve spent the last two days at Target folding clothes during my seasonal position wondering just how this came to be. My feelings are hurt. I go stoic. I’m feigning optimism. Taciturn.
You’re right. It’s a ride. But it’s my favorite ride, my favorite place, in the whole wide world.
“Derek, if you could travel anywhere, then where you would want to go?”
The JAWS RIDE.
And, last week at work, “Derek, what do you want for Christmas?”
I answered, “A day on the JAWS ride.”
Of course, my team members looked at me like I’m crazy or weird. I’ll take it. It’s the truth. I’m being honest—no place has offered me so much at once. The JAWS Ride embraces reality and fantasy at once, and I’m free to play make believe even in my twenties.
The last time I went to Universal was in September. I went with Amanda, who knew my passion for Captain Jake’s and those skipper scallywags. We met with a friend who appreciates the JAWS ride as much as I do. Together, we toured Amity Island, singing back to the skipper all the lines to the five and a half minute show. We were chanting along to our favorite movie of a ride.
We were sharing the JAWS ride together. Not very many people I know get it. (And that’s okay.)
Alas! JAWS: The Ride will shut down on January 2nd 2012, and I will drive down to Florida to experience the final curtain call.
Last week, I envisioned myself as a father to a son named Braylen, to teach nouns from verbs, to curl his lashes, and to imbue a passion for the JAWS ride (and the film), to shape a boy who might grow up to be a renaissance man. But now I can say that I’m okay with adopting an Alaskan Klee Kai and raising a Bengal cat. I’m fine with goldfish and coyotes howling in the backyard.
I’m content with trading in my green tights in Neverland for a hook and a ship. All children, except one, grow up. And I’m not the exception. Let my five o’clock shadow seep in and don’t mind the crows feet.
The JAWS Ride will carry on with the YouTube videos.
The JAWS Ride will exist as a relic when I walk around Amity Island in 2014 when it’s christened as something else, something I suspect might be Harry Potter.
The JAWS ride will survive in my teaching.
Because if there is one thing people can take away from the JAWS Ride, then it’s the experience of sharing an event with a friend. And “amity, after all, means friendship.”
Lester Burnham: [narrating] I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time… For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars… And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street… Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper… And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird… And Janie… And Janie… And… Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.
You can walk into my room and know exactly who I am. Walls painted green take cover beneath the aquatic décor, books, DVDs, clothes, pictures, and remnants of friends. A piano that bears markings of the summer of 2005—my favorite summer—rests next to thirteen freshwater wardens, my fish (six tetras, a cherry barb, four GloFish, a snail, and fiddler crab), and beside them a nightstand plays the venue for my favored fragrances. Thirteen scents carry reminders of old pals, lovers, my former and current self.
I sleep on a twin size bed that seems so fitting, the one that is fixed between the nightstand and my desk which boasts my favorite things—candles, fountain pens, propped-up mixed CDs from my 17th year and my grandmother’s schoolbooks lined one by one by one. An unopened action figure of Oscar Wilde is pinned to the wall above my desk hutch, reminding me that life is far too important to be taken seriously, that memory is the diary we all take with us, and that one’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead.
Shirts suspended from a poll fastened to the ceiling stand still in midair outside of my closet I use to hang jeans, store shoes, and bury old notebooks from school. Polos to button-ups to t-shirts to cardigans and ties, the tops sway over a filing cabinet and English textbooks (ones I might one day put to use when teaching). Four feet of a long strand of rope lights are burned out just above the shirts. But the rest of the lights run around my entire room. I prefer them to my three track lights, you should know.
You should also know that my door is my own Wordsworth Tintern Abbey poem. A myriad of signatures and messages graffiti what was once a barren, listless thing. Colors bolded in Sharpies overlap one another, acting as evidence both for and against me. Oftentimes, I’ll place clothes on the door, leave them there for several weeks, and finally muster the motivation to wash, iron, and put them in their proper place. It’s when I do this that I see the door in its entirety and think all kinds of “wow,” “how,” and “damn it!”
On the same side as my door is my 42-inch portal to my favorite type of texts: movies. Behind the TV are six of my first-rate possessions. A signed Dawson’s Creek poster shares a space with a large, laminated poster I created for a dance program when I was a Resident Assistant in college. A SCREAM mask is attached just next to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask, as well as a treasured portrait of Tod and Copper of Disney’s The Fox & The Hound. And, finally, mounted to the top of my DVD shelf is a box set of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (circa 1993) in mint condition. That’s right. All five of them (even though the Black ranger is listed as a “BONUS” figurine, albeit he was one of the originals).
A Batman coin bank sits next to a brunette wig on top of the printer. Universal Studios postcards of JAWS, Terminator, and ET swing on a crab net, dangling next to the vent from the ceiling above my dartboard. Posters of Britney Spears and Celine Dion distract me from the New York City subway map draped next to one of my two windows. Two Starbucks aprons—one red, one green—hang next to a boat that contains dearest relics like movie tickets, notes, and a bunch of “my firsts.” Thumb tacked to the ceiling is a door decoration from my year in residence life in 2008. Right next to it is an Abercrombie poster that overstates the Don Marquis quote, “A fierce unrest seethes at the core. It was the eager wish to soar.”
Above my desk the ship’s steering wheel clocks 3:28 am five minutes too fast, and I’m content. I love my room. I liked it when it didn’t have the hardwood floors, the clothes, books, films, and tangible things that could burn up tomorrow. I loved it when I was eight because it was mine. A prison of freedom, my room is the one place where I’m entirely capable, independent, and free from the shackles of 1988’s reality. It has always been mine; it’s the place where I know entirely who I am.
“I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there.”
“We had been idiosyncratic, leaderless band in the summer, undirected except by the eccentric notions of Phineas. Now the official class leasers and politicians could be seen taking charge, assuming as a matter of course their control of these walks and fields which had belonged only to us.”
““I was beginning to see that Phineas could get away with anything. I couldn’t help envying him that a little, which was perfectly normal. There was no harm in envying even your best friend a little.”
“Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person “the world today” or “life” or “reality” he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past. The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinted itself upon him, and he carries the stamp of that passing moment forever.”
“Sarcasm… the protest of those who are weak.”
“This was the tree, and it seemed to me standing there to resemble those men, the giants of your childhood, whom you encounter years later and find that they are not merely smaller in relation to your growth, but they are absolutely smaller, shrunken by age. In this double demotion the old giants have become pygmies while you were looking the other way.”
“The love that dare not speak its name” in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as the “Love that dare not speak its name,” and on account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so the world does not understand. The world mocks it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.
One-hundred albums. 1,890 photos tagged on Facebook. Five years captured in stills. I’m left wondering what happened to my camera. Sure, it goes with me—I keep it in my car—but I’ve stopped taking photos. My camera was an extra appendage throughout high school and the first three years of college. I can trace the origins of my teenage narcissus back to eleventh grade, when I read The Picture of Dorian Gray for the first time. I had gotten my digital camera, my first, a Sony Cybershot 3.2 megapixel for Christmas, for the Christmas of my sophomore year. I used it some, but didn’t entirely put it to use until I got my laptop a few months later. MySpace came around and I started snapping anytime I got the chance. The classroom. The car. The playground. The band practices. The first time I was pulled over. The graduation. The first night I stayed in my new bedroom in college. It seemed like I could capture the highs and prime of my youth just as I was living them. I didn’t have to look happy in the pictures; I just was.
What I cannot pinpoint, however, is the origin of when I stopped using my camera. I know it has to be sometime before I moved out of my apartment and back home.
The memory card reads that I took two pictures at the Cartersville Christmas parade in 2010. Before that, I have pictures of my sister at Cass High’s homecoming. Before that, I have pictures of friends at my old apartment.
The irony is that I bought my first SLR camera in January, and rarely do I use it. I think my student teaching sidetracked me. Initially, I bought the Canon T2i to capture HD video in an effort to begin recording a documentary.
I don’t know why I never started. But I’ve organized and started something. And it begins in 21 days.
(These are two of the earliest pictures I uploaded to MySpace in 2005.)
(And here is my latest picture taken with my friend Amanda making Britney Spears “Now watch me” moose antlers.)