Original painting of roller coaster, park burrito in foreground.

Free-Form Roller Coaster with Burrito. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn DImmick.

Yesterday my best friend and I made an impromptu excursion to the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom amusement park in Vallejo. I have loved roller coasters since my introduction to them at Bay Fair mall at age four: as soon as the ride finished, I apparently looked at my mother, eyes shining, and said “Can we go again?” Better than a merry-go-round, better than a see-saw. My daredevil brother and I would ride anything that moved at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and I have fantasized about making a roller coaster tour of the United States (Shoulda done it when I was younger though — those wooden coasters really shake up the neck these days).

Anyway, just for the record, I rode the Roar (old, wooden, jolting and large), The Boomerang (modern, turns loops, goes forward and backwards), The Medusa (pure fun: classic slope-climbing, twisting, turning, presents illusions of imminent crashes into cross-beams) and Superman, the new coaster. Superman deserves a sentence of its own: its wheels run on the outside of narrow metal tracks, allowing for straight vertical drops, twisting, turning upside down, reversing direction — it does all that at a higher speed than the other coasters, the cars roaring into and off the loading platform. Suzanne joined me on the Roar and the Boomerang. We also road water rides, The Ark, and a 48-year-old elephant. Elephant rides are a lot less smooth than horseback rides because the elephant is so wide: you lurch with each step, listing to one side, feeling the elephant muscles sliding out from under you. IΒ  also rode something called the Voodoo, some rocking, swinging, flipping, scary thing. Not too scary — I like these kinds of rides.

For a speed-loving, gravity-defying adult (The Ark operator broke into a chorus of “When I’m Sixty-Four” when Suzanne and I got into our seats, being the poor judge of age most twenty-somethings are), the challenge of amusement park outings is not the rides or lines, but the food. Six Flags parks have a policy forbidding “outside food.” You cannot even bring in a bottle of water. What this means is that you can stash a picnic lunch in your car all day, get your hand stamped and walk half a mile to retrieve it when you get hungry, or you can bring a twenty-dollar bill and take your chances with park food.

Suzanne did food reconnaissance between rides. She settled on a Panda Express meal of Kung Pao Chicken, Broccoli Beef and noodles — she said she was trying to calculate the most vegetables per meal. I have eaten Panda Express meals at airports and, if you choose carefully, you can get something tasty and a fair amount of vegetable matter, but it will have more sugar, salt and fat than I normally eat in a given day.

I opted for the chicken burrito at Machos Nachos, hoping that I could customize it. While I stood in the long line I noted that the “lime cilantro rice” was white rice with a few green shreds in it and that the cheese was some indeterminate, bland, pale blend. I made my plan, which was to ask for a grilled chicken burrito with pinto beans, shredded lettuce, sour cream and salsa, skipping the rice and cheese. I spied some chocolate milk as I reached the service counter and nabbed it, so as not to pay $3.79 for a bottle of water or to ingest any high fructose corn syrup (aka soft drinks).

The servers accommodated my requests cheerfully, pausing only to attempt to sell me a $14.99 refillable plastic drink cup. At the last minute, I spied some pickled jalapenos and asked that the server add some. That cost me an extra dollar, even though I had forgone the cheese and rice.Β  My lunch was served in a cardboard carton with a plastic cup of salsa. The burrito was cut in half and wrapped in foil.Β  Lunch set me back $15.15, for which I could easily get two super-sized burritos and a drink at any respectable taqueria.

How did it taste? It was fine, except for the fact that the grilled chicken was cold — that was a nasty shock: warm beans, cold grilled chicken. Is there some health regulation involved here? The chocolate milk (Berkeley Farms) was sweeter and less-chocolaty than I like, but it did not have corn syrup in it, for which I am grateful.

Let me just say that California is a major agricultural state — it used to provide one-fifth of the produce consumed in the United States when I was a child — and summer crops are in full swing. Suzanne and I saw a stand for fresh roasted corn, but we did not investigate it, having had enough carbs in our lunch already. It cannot be too hard to bring in fresh, seasonal tomatoes and cucumbers for salads, to make fresh fruit cups, to offer slices of watermelon to park visitors, but, of course, it is easier to open cans of nacho cheese sauce, flip pre-made burgers served with mustard and ketchup packets. It doesn’t seem to beyond the scope of food service to operate deep-fryers, producing onion rings and French fries, but God forbid that someone would have to slice lettuce and tomatoes.

Alright. So you don’t go for the food. But you do have to eat while you are there and my days of living on SnoCones, cotton candy and pink popcorn are long over. My favorite amusement park treat is soft serve ice cream made with dried milk or frozen yogurt, but I didn’t see any — it has been replaced by the reprehensible fake food called “Dippin’ Dots,” by Dove Bar stands, and by Coldstone Creamery outlets. I would be interested to hear how any of you other roller coaster aficionados handle amusement park meals — I ate a healthy oatmeal breakfast and said to myself, “It’s just one day.”

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