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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

Goin’ to California: Part II

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Although the rest of our party were content to while away the hours on “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disneyland, or the “Calico Mine Ride” at Knott’s Berry Farm, Jim and I were determined to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain, because that’s where they had the most awesome and blood-curdling roller coasters. Nobody else wanted to go, but we were relentless. “Have you heard about the COLOSSUS?” we demanded, pupils dilated. “It’s the biggest wooden roller coaster on the West Coast!


It has one drop of 115 feet, and another drop of 105 feet!” we continued, nostrils flaring wildly. We eventually either convinced or exhausted my parents, and we found ourselves in the Magic Mountain parking lot on a stunningly beautiful day, prepared to experience the ultimate in spine-snapping roller coaster thrills! We purchased our ride tickets and designed a plan of attack, calculated to achieve the maximum ride-per-hour ratio. We absolutely had to go on the Thrill Shot, and of course the Free Fall. Oh, and the Buccaneer! The lines were long, so to avoid any possibility of missing out on our number one choice, we decided to get in line for the Colossus first. As we ran over to the Colossus County Fair section of the park, Jim noticed that a few small clouds had appeared in the sky.

Getting four kids and a baby out the door in the morning takes TIME, as any parent can tell you, and we had arrived at Magic Mountain well after the gates opened. By the time we got in line at the Colossus, there were several hundred people ahead of us. We tried to reassure each other. “This line is moving pretty fast.” “Yeah, I think they can fit, like, 30 people on each time, so that shouldn’t take very long.” “Cool. This is going to be so AWESOME!” “Was that thunder?” “No, I don’t think so. Wait. Okay, that was definitely thunder.”

The rain started when we had been in line for one hour. Park attendants in cheery uniforms reassured us that they NEVER closed the Colossus; it would not be affected by the rain. Half an hour later, they closed the ride. “Don’t worry,” the pimple-faced ride operator told us, “we’ll just close it for a few minutes until this little shower passes. Happens all the time.” We were doubtful, but fifteen minutes later, it appeared that he had been right – the sky cleared, and they re-opened the Colossus. Our hearts soared! Then the rain started again.

Should we abandon the Colossus and try for some other ride, one less prone to rain closure? Or should we stick it out? A brief break appeared in the clouds, the sun shone for a moment, and the park safety inspector gave the thumbs up. Yes! We would not be denied our moment of gut-churning roller coaster ecstasy! Twenty minutes later, lightning flashed, and they immediately closed the ride again. It continued like this all afternoon, and every time the ride closed, we would agonize over whether to stick it out or try our luck on the Thrill Shot… but then the sun would shine, and we would feel that our decision to stay had been vindicated. The line moved with excruciating slowness, the hours passed, and it became clear that by the time we got done with the Colossus, there would be no time to experience any other rides. Now there were only 70 people in front of us… now 40… At long last, we arrived at the absolute front of the line. We had positioned ourselves carefully, and would be in the much-coveted front seat of the front car on the next ride! We watched the cars zooming around the track, heard the passengers screaming in delighted terror, and my skin tingled with anticipation. The cars returned, the current passengers exited, and we boarded the Colossus. The lap belts were lowered, the public address system spat some fuzzy warnings at us, and Jim and I gave each other a high five.

Then the speakers crackled again.

“Folks, it looks like we’ve got an electrical storm coming in, so just sit tight for a minute…”

After sitting tight for about 10 minutes, we were informed that the Magic Mountain safety officer had officially closed the Colossus – and all other roller coasters – for the remainder of the day. As we trudged dejectedly out of the park, we passed a crowd of young people waiting to see a band named Oingo Boingo, scheduled to perform at the Looney Tunes Pavillion.

A pathetic-looking stuffed Tweety Bird was being kicked around and gradually ripped to pieces by the punkish-looking teenagers. On the drive back to the hotel, we were treated to a sermon by my father on the evils of “acid rock.”

So that sucked.

The trip really began to go south, however, around the time I bought the giant Pooh Bear. See, I had to get a gift for my “girlfriend” Melanie, and I wanted it to be something, you know – special. In fact, I wanted it to be something OUTRAGEOUS, something that would show her what a unique, thoughtful, creative guy I was. I considered all kinds of things – a Peter Pan hat with her name embroidered on it, a full set of seven ceramic dwarfs – but nothing was quite right. Then, in Disneyland’s Character Shop, I saw the perfect thing: A mammoth stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh doll. I quickly checked my remaining gift budget, dropped three 20-dollar bills on the counter, and Pooh was mine. They had to search in the supply room for a bag that was large enough. “We hardly ever sell these giant-size dolls,” explained the saleswoman. “I guess they’re just too difficult to get home in the car.” “Heh heh… yes, I guess so,” I answered weakly.

I had arranged to meet my parents in the Blue Bayou restaurant overlooking the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. As I approached the table, their eyes drifted down to the large package I was dragging, and their smiles faded.

“Looks like you bought something there” was my dad’s opening gambit.

“Yeah… well, you know. I like stuffed animals.”

“So… it’s for you.”


My parents exchanged skeptical looks, then turned back to me.

“Jason, you’re 15 years old. I find it hard to believe that you bought a life-size Winnie-the-Pooh doll for your room. So how about you tell us the truth?”

“I JUST DID! JEEZ, you guys are always on my case!” I sputtered.

“Jason, there is NO NEED FOR PROFANITY. You bought that stuffed animal for a girl, didn’t you? Don’t lie to me.”

“So what if I did? Maybe I’m FORCED to lie because you don’t ever trust me! Didja ever think about THAT for a minute? No, of COURSE not! You’re too busy thinking about how immature I supposedly am, and you don’t know ANYTHING about me or my life! I’M WAY MORE MATURE THAN YOU THINK!!” I shrieked, and promptly burst into tears.

This was not going well. My mother shifted uneasily in her vinyl seat, and The Blue Bayou wait staff was starting to look at our table with concern.

By giving in to my hormonal outburst, I had allowed my father to gain the upper hand. He knew it, and masterfully slapped down the trump card. Eyes cast down, he shook his head sadly. “Boy oh boy…” he muttered bitterly, “you sure are a disappointment to me… and to Jehovah God.”

I screamed something like, “I’M a disappointment?? YOU’RE the disappointment! You’re the WORST FATHER IN THE WORLD!” From that point on, it was all downhill. Eventually, we were asked to leave the Blue Bayou, and continued our furious debate outside. Past the tranquil waters of the Rivers of America, past the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, past the Jungle Cruise, across Main Street U.S.A., and on to Tomorrowland, I battled loudly and tenaciously, dragging the ridiculous Winnie-the-Pooh behind me every inch of the way, like some monstrous physical manifestation of adolescent lust.

“Dating – no matter how innocent – is nothing but the first step down a road that leads DIRECTLY to sexual promiscuity, not to mention heartbreak!” boomed my father authoritatively.

“No it is NOT!” I shouted, by way of rebuttal.

Meanwhile, Jim had fallen in behind us, and was busily commiserating with my mom. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him, Patricia… he’s been acting really weird recently. I told him he was too young to be dating anyone, but he wouldn’t listen to me…”

Eventually, my father and I agreed to a sort of détente, at least until we got home, at which point we would sort out who was REALLY a disappointment. To show my father how serious I was about Melanie, I made it a point of personal integrity to sulk every single remaining second of the vacation.

Later that night, Jim and I had it out. “I can’t believe you would betray me like that when you KNOW how much I love her!” I pleaded emotionally.

At this point, I should interject that Melanie and I had, in actuality, done the following:

  1. Eaten lunch together twice at school
  2. Held hands three times
  3. Kissed once

A couple weeks after we returned from California, Melanie had some sort of nervous breakdown, reunited with a former boyfriend, and told me she could never speak to me again. I ended up giving the Pooh Bear to the younger sister of another friend, and she eventually donated it to Goodwill, because it was just too big to fit comfortably in a standard suburban bedroom.

Anyway, back to the confrontation with Jim. After my remonstration, he changed his tune. “Oh – well, why didn’t you tell me before, man? I didn’t know you really, you know, liked her. That’s different! In that case, I’m behind you 100 percent, man.”

Jim never specified exactly how he planned to demonstrate that support, but our friendship was repaired for the moment.

Finally, it was time to head for home. Picture this, if you will: Our VW Bus contained the following:

  1. My Dad
  2. My Mom
  3. My sister Amber
  4. My sister Jessica
  5. My cousin Erik
  6. Jim
  7. Me
  8. Our luggage, food, blankets, pillows, diapers, and…

I was in the doghouse for buying the stupid thing, and was ordered to “keep it out of everyone’s way.” Since Pooh was not allowed to occupy any additional floorspace, it had to be either on top of me or underneath me at all times for the 24-hour drive from Anaheim to Seattle. If that were the only source of potential conflict in the bus, we might have been okay. But it wasn’t.

Just before we left Anaheim, my dad insisted that we eat at this great restaurant he heard about: “The guy at the hotel desk says they have excellent chili.” Okay, for one thing, they did not have excellent chili – it was horrid. But more importantly – WHAT WERE WE THINKING? We all had chili except Jim, because he was determined to eat the same thing at every meal: strawberry pancakes, french fries, and 7-Up (it was a dare or something). But the important thing to note here is this: Just before embarking on a 24-hour drive in a cramped and overheated vehicle, EVERYONE ELSE ATE THE CHILI. And to exacerbate the potentially combustible atmosphere, we were not allowed to roll down the windows, because Amber had a cold. I don’t know if it was a symptom of her cold or what, but Amber produced a truly vile-smelling diaper load approximately once per mile all the way from Los Angeles to Lynnwood.

Probably 30% of the conversation on the way home consisted of the following:

JESSICA: “Oh man – who farted?”

DAD: “I TOLD you not to use that kind of language!”

JESSICA: “Well, anyway, who did? It REEKS in here!”

JASON: “Can we PLEASE roll down the windows? I swear to God I’m SUFFOCATING!” (followed by belabored gasping and gagging sounds)

DAD: “JASON! We do not ‘swear to God’ and you know we can’t roll down the windows! Do you want your sister Amber to DIE?”

JASON: “No, but I wish I was dead! Then I wouldn’t have to deal with your OPPRESSION!”

My cousin Erik was a good kid, but definitely a little troublemaker with a smart mouth. On a good day, Jim would have been tempted to smack Erik around. In the testy, smelly, tinderbox of the bus, Jim and Erik were at each other around the clock.

ERIK: “Jim is a fatty! Jim is a fatty! Jim is a fa – OOF! UNCLE PAT! JIM KICKED ME!”

DAD: “Jim! Stop picking on Erik!”

JIM: “I didn’t start it! He was calling me a fatty!”

DAD: “I don’t care who called who a fatty, or anything else, both of you knock it off, or I’m pulling this bus over!”

ERIK: (quieter this time) “Jim is a fatty… Jim is a fatty… Jim is – OW! UNCLE PAT!”

And so forth…

Jim and I kept asking to use the headphones, so we could listen to Rush, but it just didn’t happen. To use the headphones, we either had to sit in the back with the thick spiral headphone cords draped over Amber in the front seat, or Jim and I had to sit in the front. If we sat in the front, however, Mom would have to sit in the back, and that made her nauseous. Needless to say, very little Rush was enjoyed. We did, however, hear every single song on “The Best of Roger Whittaker.” Several times.

We had removed the middle set of seats in the bus, and covered the floor with foam pads, sleeping bags, and pillows. With Dad hunched bleary-eyed over the steering wheel, the bus sped on through the night, and the rest of us tried to get some rest. Strangely, although it was sweltering in that bus during the day, it got surprisingly chilly at night, which made it difficult to sleep. I, of course, had a giant stuffed animal to keep me warm, but Jessica and Erik kept complaining that they were “freezing to death,” so my dad turned up the heat higher and higher. We could hear the fan blowing the heat somewhere, but the air remained stubbornly frigid. After about an hour with the heat and fan jammed up to the maximum setting, an acrid smell began emanating from our sleeping area. Soon after, Erik screamed and tore off the covers.


A brief investigation revealed the source of the trouble. The VW Bus was designed with only one heating vent in the back area: a small round hole in the middle of the floor, directly beneath Erik’s sleeping bag. The upside to this episode was that the smell of smoldering cloth and burnt human flesh effectively masked the dirty diaper / unwashed teenager / flatulence smell that had previously seemed so egregious.

“I could have told you that would happen,” I said petulantly, “but I assumed that you ADULTS wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say, seeing as how I’m so IMMATURE.”

My Dad gripped the steering wheel so tightly I thought his knuckles would split.

There was also the unpleasant and never-to-be-forgotten “blue feet” episode.

Erik was always in need of clothing, and he frequently received our castoffs, or else we would take him to K-Mart and buy him something cheap. While we were in Anaheim, Erik’s shoes disintegrated, so my mom bought him some tennis shoes off a clearance rack in a drugstore. They looked nice enough, blue and shiny with stylish stitching on the side. We wondered how they could sell such high-quality shoes for three dollars a pair.

In the drugstore parking lot, Erik proudly put on his new shoes and tested them by standing in a deep puddle.

“ERIK!” shrieked my mom in horror. “I TOLD you not to get those wet! Please, try not to get that mud on the sleeping bags!”

Erik said he was sorry, and promised to be careful, climbed in the bus, and left muddy footprints on every available surface. Later that night, I noticed that Erik was sleeping with the sopping wet shoes still on his feet, a circle of dampness marking the spot through his sleeping bag.

The next morning, Erik finally took the shoes off.

“Whoa! Check it out, Jessica – my feet are totally BLUE!”

Indeed, his damp, wrinkled feet were now uniformly colored a rich azure.

“I can’t believe it,” Erik marveled. “The dye must have come off those shoes. Aunt Patricia, look! My feet are blue!” He held up his foot six inches from her face for inspection and continued. “It’s like the ink or whatever just came right off because of the water. It’s… oh, no. Now it’s on my hands! Maybe I can just wipe it off over – ”

“Erik! NO!”

“Oh, man… now it’s on the wall! And it won’t come off!”


Before we could corral Erik, he had smeared the indelible blue ink on his pants, his shirt, his face, Jessica’s hands and face, the back of the passenger seat, and two of Amber’s clean diapers.

“Well,” I observed, “I guess that’s what happens when somebody IMMATURE – ”

“JASON! Don’t even START!”

Cautiously, my mother made a suggestion.

“Pat, we need to pull over. This blue ink is on everything, Amber needs to be changed, I’m feeling nauseous – ”

“I told you already – we are not stopping for another FOUR HOURS!”

What should have been a joyous, fun-filled family vacation had now become a grueling death trip. Dad was on this “I’m not stopping until I see our garage door” thing and meanwhile the levels of airborne toxins inside the bus were building to truly lethal concentrations. Every surface in the bus was befouled with blue dye, we all had the runs, Erik was whining, Jim was punching Erik repeatedly, Amber was crying, I was pretending I didn’t really MIND sleeping under a five-foot-tall stuffed animal, and the sleeping bags were spontaneously combusting. My mom was yelling tearfully, and my dad was getting this scary glazed expression. Adding insult to injury, the heat and emotional upset and general uncleanness was giving me a nasty outbreak of itchy eczema.

At some point, I fell into a groggy, fitful sleep. When I awoke, we were just pulling out of a rest area.

“Hey! Stop the bus! I need to get out!”

When my dad failed to immediately stop the bus on my command, I opened the door of the moving vehicle and jumped out in my underwear. I ran to the rest area bathroom and splashed cold water from the sink all over my body, then tried to dry myself under a malfunctioning air vent. It was refreshing, sort of.

Somewhere in Oregon, either my dad came to his senses, or the chili finally started to work on him. We pulled in at some kind of truck stop at 4AM, and all of us except Dad jumped out in our pajamas before the bus had even come to a complete stop.

When I came out of the bathroom, Jim was already seated at the counter, and the waitress was taking his order.

“Sorry, sugar, we don’t crank up the fry vat until 6AM, so we don’t have any French fries. But I’ll be right back with your 7-Up and strawberry pancakes!”


In 1983, one year after our disastrous trip, National Lampoon’s “Vacation” starring Chevy Chase was released in U.S. theaters. I’ve seen the film many times, but never noticed until recently that the final scenes, when the Griswold clan break into WalleyWorld, were filmed at Magic Mountain. In fact, when Chevy Chase holds a gun on the hapless security guard played by John Candy, and demands that he take them on “the big rides,” their first stop is a familiar wooden rollercoaster. In the movie, they call it by another name, but it is indisputably THE COLOSSUS.

Most exciting to me is the fact that you can see the ACTUAL SPOT where we stood in line for so many hours:

This is exactly what it looked like when WE took our seats, awaiting the spectacular thrills of THE COLOSSUS:

Of course, the electrical storm prevented us from experiencing THIS:

Come to think of it, Anthony Michael Hall kinda looks like me at that age…

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