A few weeks before our trip to Montana this summer, my mom called to suggest that I order a Groupon-type deal from the Billings Gazette. It was a coupon for cheap mini golf and rides at a local amusement park/drive-in movie theater. She didn’t know anything about the park but the deal looked good so my siblings and I all jumped on it. For nine dollars per family, we would each get an afternoon of fun. We thought.
The problems started when we arrived in Billings and called to find out the park hours. The answering machine message was vague, not listing hours. In fact, the only thing it said very definitively was not to leave any messages after the beep because they would not be returned. BEEP! We checked the website but frivolous details like hours of operation were not listed.
After calling at various times for a few days, we ended up driving out to the location several miles away, only to find that the new and incomplete amusement park was sort of an afterthought to the drive-in. We couldn’t see the mini golf from the ticket booth and were told that it was only open for less than two hours immediately preceding the movie. In fact, it opened after all our kids were normally in bed.
Since it was vacation, and since we are oh-so-very cheap and wanted get our nine bucks-worth if it killed us, we decided to keep the kids up and give it a try. Setting the expectations very low, I told the kids it wouldn’t be much, gave them each a box of crackerjacks and some glow bracelets to distract them and we were on our way.
Parking behind the movie screen next to an abandoned school bus with broken windows, the other adults and I looked around with wide eyes. Accustomed to mini golf courses with water features and elaborate animatronics, we were a little underwhelmed by the nine flat, simple holes scattered on the gravel pad below the screen. We picked out our own putters from a storage area where they were hidden beneath a motorcycle helmet and behind a pressure washer.
The kids’ eyes were ablaze with the excitement of it all. A baby bunny even hopped across one of the holes as we were putting. Best. Day. Ever.
Then there were the rides! Old school carnival rides coaxed gently back to life. We’ve been on more exciting rides at our local petting zoo. The rollercoaster went in an oval around the screen with a couple of small hills. No loops. No drops. No passengers over the age of tiny allowed.
“Wow! This place is kind of like Disneyland!” I said to Magoo, but mostly to the other adults in our party, with a little laugh. His eyes were growing huge as he looked around him.
“Yeah!” He gasped, “It really IS!”
His older cousins agreed. They giggled and squealed, shrieked and cheered as they rode down the giant slide, traveled less than one mile an hour on the microscopic Ferris wheel, and went around and around and around on the rollercoaster that at first glance looked like its track was constructed out of PVC pipe. My brother-in-law nicknamed the place One Flag Montasneyland and a treasured family legend was born.
I’ve rarely seen my kids have that much fun and it was delightful and humbling. I was more than a little embarrassed that I’d initially turned my nose up at the whole experience. There’s something refreshing about seeing the world through the eyes of a child, something that makes you grateful and fills you with wonder at the littlest things.
What it does not make you do is take the kids to the big $40/person amusement park in Utah the following week when you go to visit the other grandparents. As Dan so wisely said, “If they thought ‘One Flag Montasneyland’ was the best thing ever, why waste the money just to show them what else is out there?” He’s a wise man.