Thursday, August 30, 2007

Des Moines, Part Three: Rocket Park

The beast minions had us surrounded. Everywhere we looked the snarling demons and their master, had closed in and were pounding on the outer hatch. Panic set in with my crew, instead of preparing for take-off, they had all started crying and yelling at the monsters. They answered back with snapping jaws and teeth, hungry for our flesh. The rocket began to rock as I made an attempt to start the engines. We all fell to the floor and the screaming came to a fever pitch. Suddenly, all of the sounds outside stopped, as did the rocking. A voice spoke from outside the hatch...

"My turn in the rocket, Cameron!"

"Self-destruct! Everybody down the escape slide!" I ordered.

"Whatever, punk." My brother said as we all evacuated the rocket, blasters in hand. Fighting our way through the hellish army, we looked back and saw my brother and his friends turning our rocket into a club. He yelled gambling and girls were now available at the top of the rocket. Everyone started running for the rocket. Maybe we can get off this planet on the merry-go-round, I thought.

Just another day at Rocket Park.

The actual name of the park is Union Park, but I always called it Rocket Park, because of the enormous rocket slide located at the entrance of the park. It had a long, loading ramp comprised of angled rope walls for climbing, mini-slides, and fenced in sides to prevent injury. However, it was the top of the ramp that was the real draw for all of us. The rocket. I loved that rocket. It was huge and had a blue and yellow top that everyone could see from anywhere in the park. The sides had iron bars and the sprial slide was made of steel, both were scorching hot during the summer. No one cared about that because the burns were a bagde of honor that we could play through pain. For a little while I could escape what awaited us at home and have fun. And pretend.

How many times did I save the Earth? How many times did I save the damsel in distress from the alien hordes led by my brother? How many planets did I explore?

Never enough.

The rocket wasn't the only draw. There was the food. Everyone went to Union Park to grill, meet family and friends, talk and laugh, play loud music and let their children play. It was wonderful, and I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life, as this was one of the few places you could escape the beast outside the park grounds.

I talked to my Mom about this, because I seem to recall having sack lunches there. She told me what I was remembering was the Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department setting up a daycare service at various parks that parents could use on certain days of the month; and they had sack lunches. Bologna sandwiches, a fruit, and a drink. Ice cream, on occasion. To this day, that service is still provided and it brings a grin to my face knowing that another child has this to look forward to. Mom would drop Joe and I off at Union when she had business to deal with. I don't want to know, but I can guess what said business was.

My niece and nephews tell me the rocket is still there in all its glory. Although, they never went to any planets while playing on it. I tell them that they were not playing and shake my head.

And this is a good memory of the town.




Carl V. said...

As I first started reading this I thought...wait...I thought the next post was supposed to be 'good' memories...

You didn't disappoint. Great job! As I read, not only could I picture your childhood adventures in the park, but, in rapid-fire style, a barrage of my own youthful memories ripped through my mind. It was very cool.

I'm curious, have you been back to see The Rocket as an adult? I remember this clothing store in Omaha, Nebraska that my parents would take us to on yearly shopping trips. It had this elephant and a couple of other animals inside in the kids section that were slides and things to climb on. I remember that elephant being HUGE. It was so scary to get out of its head, where you could slide down the trunk, and shimmy your way onto the top of the elephant. No store today would have such a potential insurance risk available for kids to abuse. I remember going back to that store as an older teenager and being nearly overwhelmed with sadness at how small that thing really was in compared to what it was like to me as a child. I was so devastated by the reality of that. It was a wild moment of depressing deja vu.

Just curious if you've had the same experience.

Carl V. said...

I am glad you has some happy memories of growing up in that area. I love your description of the rocket! It sounds like a kid’s dream slide. It made me think of the park my brother and I played in when we lived in Texas. I have these fun memories of my dad pushing us on the swing and “doing underdogs” where he would push really hard and run under our swing. I was in pre-K – 2nd grade there, so it all seemed like I was swinging higher than the trees.

Mary (Carl's wife)