Dedicated to my husband on our twentieth wedding anniversary, August 5, 2020.
I met Dan in October of 1993. He was the most responsible, most hard-working grocery sacker at the Hen House Market in Lenexa, Kansas. Tall, skinny, kinda quiet, quick-witted, polite, the store manager’s golden boy, preppy haircut, hazel eyes, Tasmanian Devil tie, white short-sleeved dress shirt, green apron, khaki slacks, forearms tan from pushing in thousands of grocery carts, wise-cracking sixteen-year-old.
By April of 1994, I was the second-most responsible, hard-working grocery sacker at the Lenexa Hen House, and Dan was one of my best friends at work. My shift had just ended and I cornered him in the snack food aisle. I didn’t want to go to my school’s prom with the boy who was rumored to be thinking of asking me. Dan was aware of the situation, because I’d already whined to him about it as we’d cleaned and restocked checkstands earlier in the evening. I thought I’d better make other plans on the same day as prom so I’d have an honest excuse to not go.
Dan and I agreed that school dances sucked. We agreed on a lot of things. I knew he’d say yes when I asked him out, and he did.
He held a package of Oreos in his hand—one of the “go-backs” he was returning to the shelf—and smirked, switching from English to German to give me the last two digits of his home phone number: acht, sechs. (We were both high school juniors taking German at the time, so we often spoke broken German to each other, feeling incredibly clever and hilarious.)
While my Catholic school classmates prepared for prom, Dan and I had our first date at Worlds of Fun, Kansas City’s popular amusement park. I didn’t find out till later that Lutheran, public-school Dan had never been on a roller coaster before that day. He rode everything I wanted to ride, meaning we rode everything. If he was nervous, he never showed it.
First was my beloved, seatbelt-less Zambezi Zinger roller coaster, whipping us through the trees and dark tunnel at the end, leaving us breathless with euphoric giggles. Then came the taller, faster, loop-de-looping Orient Express. The Bamboozler, Fury of the Nile, Python Plunge, Zulu, the bone-jostling Timber Wolf, Flying Dutchman, the Autobahn bumper cars, Le Taxi Tour, Octopus, Scrambler, Finnish Fling (AKA “the barf barrel”), the Rockin’ Reeler. We chose bright, adjacent carousel horses.
(Fifteen years later, Dan and I would both start to lose our resilient inner ear equilibrium, but in ’94, we could twirl and plummet at high speeds, and twist and spin, over and over again, never feeling headachy or queasy afterward. Isn’t youth grand?)
We sprawled next to each other on the filthy carpeted floor inside the air-conditioned Incred-O-Dome, watching first-person views of helicopter, white-water rafting, and roller coaster rides projected on the massive screens enclosing us. My long hair was frizzy and windblown-wild. After multiple water rides, our T-shirts and shorts had that rough, slightly crispy feeling of cotton that had gone from wet to air-dried several times over. Our feet remained miraculously blister-free.
We ate dinner in the single “fancy” sit-down restaurant in Worlds of Fun, overlooking the screaming families splashing down at the end of the classic log flume ride, the Viking Voyager. I bit into my corn on the cob, squirting corn juice into Dan’s eye, and gasped, mortified. He laughed, wiping the buttery liquid away, and continued asking me questions about myself, sometimes lapsing into his trademark lousy German. He was adorable when he grinned, and he grinned a lot.
We rode the train and got ice cream afterward.
Waiting in line for the daunting Omegatron, listening to its suspended, shrieking, upside-down victims’ spare pennies and dimes raining onto the concrete far below them, Dan and I discussed our favorite bands—the most sacred of all teenage conversation topics. His: Alice in Chains; mine: Depeche Mode. We both loved Nirvana, of course, and lamented the shocking death of Kurt Cobain just a few weeks prior. Then we were caged, swung back and forth, around and around. As we hung upside-down, motionless for a heart-pounding five seconds, we screamed for mercy along with everyone else.
Hours later, sitting shotgun in my silver 1986 VW Jetta—not quite the death trap the Omegatron was, but close, due to my questionable driving skills—Dan reached over and punched my car horn repeatedly, obnoxiously, gleefully joining in the chorus of blaring horns as we waited in the long, slow-moving line to exit the Worlds of Fun parking lot at closing time. BEEEEEEEP! BEEP! BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP! We weren’t even in a hurry to go home. We talked and laughed and Dan kept abusing the damn horn, and I let him.
It was the best prom night, non-prom date I ever had. I could have stayed in that dark parking lot with Dan and the symphony of car horns forever, giggling in my seat beneath the ghostly silhouette of the Orient Express’ looping red steel tracks. BEEEEEEEEEP!
I love him.
For Kansas City locals who are feeling nostalgic now, check this out: “Worlds of Fun Gone But Not Forgotten: The Defunct Rides and Attractions.”
Photo credit: Angie at Pexels.com