by John McInally
It is always dark under there, old and strange, somehow feeling in itself like a living thing. The pilings are like an ancient forest breathing and moaning. Even a good distance from the shore the wet spray fills the air. The scariest parts of being under there are the people, the so called bums, winos, and hoboes that reside under there. In some places down there we saw areas that were totally furnished with carpets, a bed, pictures hanging on a piling, Home sweet home? Some of these guys we knew, many were unfriendly, and especially to us kids and we had to be careful to keep our distance from most of them. However in the day time they were usually out scavenging for thrown out treasure’s or pan handling for wine money, so then we would have an uninterrupted path to the catwalk, which leads to the secret opening.
I always hated the catwalk even more than the ride we have to enter, once we get in, because on the other side the hatch opens into one of those spinning rides, you know, round and round and round, ad nauseam. Anyway, as we walk along the narrow shaky boards the catwalk rises higher and higher above the sea. Roaring waves below crash into broken pilings with ferocity. The catwalk was so old and rickety. Every time we did this I felt like I would fall right through one of those broken down boards that were holding us up. As we shuffled along, way up high and far from the shore in a place not many ever see. I wondered; “Is this worth it?”
Finally, there it was the secret doorway to the top side of the huge pier. We crawl through the little hatch above us to the back end of that amusement park ride. As we crawled through we jump behind a group of tourist who had just given their tickets to the attendant out front. Following this crowd we enter a large round room with all the other folks. The room begins to spin around slowly. Then faster and faster, like some kind of endurance test for astronauts. As we stick to the wall the floor lowers until we are all up in the air. Not my favorite park ride, but it is the one we had to go through in order to get into the amusement park.
Today is no different than any other day walking out of that spinning room, I head to a trash can because I’m about to get sick. The reward for all this; we are in the middle of Pacific Ocean Park! The bright sunlight and laughter, fun rides, the smell of hot dogs and caramel corn is the exact opposite of where we just came from, the dark underbelly of the gigantic pier, a very different kind of amusement park below. But for us kids, both were free!