When reflecting on the Halloween season, the act of simply stepping outside and taking in a breath of fresh air could bring a flood of fall memories to rushing back into your mind.
One memory that came to my mind was the time I headed down to Great Adventure during Fright Fest when I first got my license. I was actually still on my learner’s permit (shhh, don’t tell anyone). It was probably the first trip I ever took there on my own, so I felt pretty badass. Well, I wasn’t really on my own. I took my girlfriend at the time, Beth. At least, she was the equivalent of what teenagers considered a girlfriend at the time. We went to the mall and kissed in public. We thought we were cool. Taking her to Fright Fest though – that was the shit. If you asked me at the time, going there was my ultimate date night. Let’s pretend you’re Chuck Woolery and I’m the contestant on Love Connection. Here’s how the date went.
On the way down the New Jersey Turnpike I had the windows cracked and I remember there being a nice October chill in the air. Just cool enough for a light jacket, but still mild enough not to freeze our asses off. It was the mid ’90s, (I know, I’m old – fuck off) and the only entertainment in my car back then was the radio and a cassette player. Naturally, some people had CD players, but they were lucky bastards. Dopey teenagers hopped up on young love and Mountain Dew didn’t have the means for a CD player in the car, unless they were savvy enough to hook up a DiscMan to their car stereo, an enhancement that was still another year down the road for me. The stations get a little fuzzy as we get further south, so the only thing we had to listen to aside from the drone of the LeBaron and the awkward moments of silence on the 40 minute drive down was the cassette player.
If Beth had it her way she wanted to listen to Hot 97 the whole way down. To appease her and show her that I’m open to all kinds of music, including blazing hip-hop and R&B, we listened to it until Exit 9 and then I was called upon by the Gods of Rock themselves. There was no choice in the matter. It was time for the Holy Grail of mixtapes. THE ULTIMATE KISS MIXTAPE. Sure, back then it was fun to listen to The Misfits, Alice Cooper and White Zombie during October, but there was always something just as fitting about listening to KISS during Halloween time too.
At the time, Beth had absolutely zero clue who KISS was. What was even funnier was that she had less of a clue that the title of one of their biggest songs bared her name. She didn’t care either. She really, really, really didn’t care. Every girl I seemed to like had no interest in the music that I listened to, which made my heart sink to the depth of the murky Arthur Kill. As I shoved the tape into the deck, I vividly remember the tape started playing in the middle of “Got To Choose” from Hotter Than Hell. I can hear that grungy riff and that funky bassline in my mind right now. In fact I’m going to pull it up on my iTunes right now. It’s amazing, this whole technology thing, isn’t it? Ha. You should put it on too (if you have it), to get the full effect of this story!
To a non-KISS fan not only was “Got To Choose” one of the least interesting tracks on my mix tape, but to make matters worse, side one of the cassette always cut off about three quarters into it. Just as soon as my mind is rocking out and vibing to the tune, it clicked off and the awkward silence returned. I knew she wanted Hot 97 on, but I didn’t care. I was being selfish, I felt like it was my turn to really enjoy this drive. It was a cool October night, my favorite time of the year, and we were racing down to Six Flags for one of the most fun things to do in Jersey during Halloween. I was feeling pretty awesome needless to say. I turned the cassette over and popped it back in. “Beth I hear you callin’…”
BLANK. _______. Beth was completely blank when I told her about the KISS song that was playing called, “Beth.” In the back of my mind I thought “Didn’t your father or your uncle tell you about this?” I was shocked that another person wasn’t as obsessed with KISS as I was. I had a hard time remembering that this was the mid-90s, not 1977 mind you.
As we got closer and closer to Exit 7, our conversation began to pick up and I lowered the volume to a reasonable level (except when “Parasite” came on, of course).
On a normal basis she pretty much laughed at everything I said, which gave me a little boost, but truthfully, she just laughed at everything that was remotely amusing in general. I could act like an obnoxious ass and she would just eat it up. I appreciated it because she genuinely found me funny. From there, we started trading anecdotes about our favorite rides in the park. Although both of us had been going down to Great Adventure since we were kids, we both felt the level of excitement building up. We were getting a rush before we even went on any rides.
Our time was running out. By the time we arrived, found parking, walked a mile to the ticket booth, and then bought tickets, we had about 2 hours in the park if we were lucky. And as I said, I didn’t have a CD player in my car so I wasn’t necessarily the luckiest guy in the world. This lack of time definitely weighed on my mind because when it comes to theme parks and vacations I’m like Clark Griswold, always trying to maximize the fun.
Our spirits were so uplifted, among other things, that our dumbasses wasted even more time before actually heading into the park. After the long trek from the car to the entrance, we stopped at one of the planters and parked half of our butts for a minute to take in the night…and of course make out. So dumb, so simple, soo had nothing to do with romance. This was about HALLOWEEN. I wanted the bejesus scared out of me and my endorphins were runnin’ wild. Like I said, high spirits, otherwise HOT 97 and KISS MIXTAPE wouldn’t have been lip locked to each other the whole night as if we were the only two people left on the planet.
What was the attraction with Beth? I wondered to myself as I stood staring a hole through a nearby tree shedding frail pale orange leaves. She was a natural blonde, she had a cute smile with dimples, and had big boobs. At the time, coincidentally, as stereotypical as it sounds, that was all I wanted out of life. What can I say? I was a product of the times. Baywatch was a highly rated show, OK? So, back at Six Flags, Beth and I managed to detach our mouths from each others and we walked briskly inside with a little bounce in our step.
It was dark, breezy, the trees were bare, and Fright Fest was in full effect. Zombies and ghastly characters roamed about trying to scare us. Beth genuinely got scared a few times and grabbed a hold of me, then we just got overly hysterical about it as if we just heard the funniest joke of all time delivered by the most smart mouthed comedian of all time. Despite what many people might think of the lines, the atmosphere takes center stage and it’s easy to forget the rest.
The macabre elements such as the fog, the bloody fountain, and the costumed actors jumping out at you when you least expect it, help to far outweigh any of the typical theme park complaints. Being there is the fun. In fact, Fright Fest is such a part of my Halloween celebration every year that it actually makes me get that nostalgic fuzzy feeling. I didn’t get paid for that so let me get back to my story.
Beth and I went on every ride we possibly could, stopping at any chance we could to hug, hold hands, or take part in some other cheesy public display of affection. It was the spirit of the season that was getting us all charged up. And yes, we even went on the freakin’ ferris wheel. Remember when Mikey from The Goonies said ‘It’s our time down here!” well October is our time and I’ve always felt that way. Just hearing the Misfits lyric “Bonfires Burning Bright, Pumpkin Faces in the Night, I remember Halloween,” DUH, of course I remember! I remember Halloween and all the memories come rushing back every time I walk outside and breath in the fall air or gaze into the colorful fall foliage.
Halloween moments are the most memorable ones in my life. I can’t help but think that each of those moments wouldn’t still resonate today if they took place during any other time of the year. Intertwined in the calm and colorful fall backdrop are so many memories waiting to be conjured up. Be inspired. Go outside, close your eyes, and let yourself recall all that is spooky and sentimental to you.