by Rudolf Helder

Don’t underestimate little children. They keep track of everything. Today my five-year-old son Kaeo saved me some thirty-two dollars, making me aware that Golden Graham cereal carries a free ticket to “Six Flags over Texas” on their boxes.

“How did you know?” I inquired.
“You don’t watch the commercials!” was his almost accusatory answer.

The long-anticipated visit now within reach we move slowly down traffic on the North West Highway. Kaeo has just dozed off on the back seat when several cars next to us crash into one another. No one’s hurt. The driver of the second car, who caused the accident, looks as if in shock, cell phone at his ear, airbag slowly deflating. Around me other drivers are getting on their cell phones.
Only in Bangkok I may have seen more accidents than around Dallas. The alienating thought recurs that perhaps I am in the wrong place.

Forty-five minutes later Kaeo pulls me excitedly through the Six Flags front gate. Twenty minutes we had to stand in line in a singeing sun. Soon we find it takes at least a ten-minute wait to get into any one-minute ride. For me it’s a good opportunity to study Texas at leisure. Interesting, but not pretty.

Sharing a bench with a group of elderly who seem to have come only to quietly express their mortality I watch America’s cornerstones of society -- soda-guzzling moms and chain-smoking dads. Bored behind their shades, they make no effort to conceal their rampant physiques, having given up on themselves and on their already cracking-at-the-seams obnoxious offspring.

Esthetically, Six Flags is largely worn-out and run-down, but Kaeo doesn’t notice. His experience immediate, he hobbles by in the Sylvester trainride, elatedly waving at every round.
?Dada, Dada,? he yells joyfully, boating on Daffy Duck Lake. Then, around and around in the Road Runner Runaround, and up and down in the, the, what? No name thing. Next, he takes flight with the Tasmanian Devil Flying Aces. Cute as can be, and having the time of his life after months of anticipation. ?Ho-o-o,? he yells thinly, in the roller coaster, imitating the boisterous screaming behind us. I look at his face, contorted with fear, his eyes closed, intimidated by the gravity-challenging ride.

A day like this has to end on a high note, so, to immortalize our joy we’ll have our picture taken in a photo booth. Diligently Kaeo spins the seat to the right height. When minutes later he holds up the photos I not only notice how out of focus they are, but also how black his fingers. With disgust I discover that my pants are smeared with grease, and at once we go find a bathroom. After exiting I discreetly toil around in front of a souvenir shop, waiting for the sun to dry my water-soaked legs before re-entering the milling throngs.

By six o’clock everyone, us included, is about to collapse. Clutching super drinks, fathers take naps on benches. Moms sleep hunched over parked strollers. I see yawns. I hear snores. It’s time to go, but the kids are still running around, brimming with delight, tugging their zombie parents ever forward. They have been doing this for hours and have reached delirium. Nothing matters anymore, except how many rides they can do before closing time. They have assumed control, holding maps, conferring where to next.

Not only the adults are losing power fast, Kaeo has finally reached his quota. Exhausted I carry him on my shoulders to the gates. There, arms folded across his impressive chest, watchful of bean-counters and visitor statistics, a burly doorman barks that “The kid’s gotta come down and exit on his own.”

I look at him. I paid $65 to get in, another twenty five to stay alive in this trap. I muster a weary smile.
“Fuck you,” I say and step through the turnstiles.

“Dadaaa!” it sounds sleepily from above.

Parent at theme park
This picture has no significance whatsoever.
Kaeo an "Dada" at Six Flags
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