I went to the amusement park the same day my check bounced. Since the money was being refunded into my account, I figured I had a few days to spend it before my landlord noticed. I wasn’t planning on going, but it was Burger’s birthday, and I would have felt like shit if I bailed. I woke up that morning at around seven - seven thirty, threw on some of the clothes I found laying on my floor, and was ready to go by eight. Burger didn’t pick me up until nine. He was always doing stuff like that, telling people to be ready for something at a certain time and then showing up an hour later. Since we were already running late, I figured we'd be driving straight to the park, but Burger said we had to stop and get Chris first. I was starting to get frustrated because I took having fun pretty seriously, but it wasn't my birthday, so I just kept my mouth shut.
Chris was still asleep when we showed up at his house. We started banging on his window and stuff to wake him up, and when he finally pulled his blinds open, he looked pretty pissed. He said he wasn't mad about it or anything, but I dunno. Maybe that's just how he looks first thing in the morning. He stuck his pointer finger up to signify he needed a minute, so Burger and I walked around to the front and waited for him. He had these three little dogs that barked like crazy the whole time we were out there, so I just started rapping. I wasn’t serious about rap or anything, I just rapped about curse words to make Burger laugh. When Chris finally came out, he kept complaining about not having time to take a shower. We told him to shut up and then we made him drive. If the kid wanted to take a shower so bad he should have woken up sooner. I didn’t know what he was talking about anyway; the kid took baths.
Since we had already committed to being late, I guess, we stopped for breakfast and ate chicken biscuits. I wanted to stop and get fast food, but Chris never let anybody eat in his car. On the road, Burger and Chris talked mostly about the same old stuff they usually talked about; skateboarding and girls, heavy metal and girls - but mostly I just stared out the window and didn’t say much. I stared and wondered where everyone else was going. Everybody going in the same direction but ending up in different places, so wrapped up in their own lives they didn’t even realize anybody else was around them. All these strangers with all the same problems and they didn't even notice all the other people in the world, going in the same direction all the time and ending up somewhere else. I just wondered why nobody else ever though about this stuff, I guess.
When we finally show up, we parked in one of those parking garages that named every level after a funny cartoon character. The point was to help you remember where your car was parked or something. We jumped out and shuffled towards the park with our hands in our jacket pockets because it was so cold out, and at the top of the escalator Chris said, “hey guys, don’t forget we parked in E.T.” We just kept looking straight ahead with our hands in our pockets and said, yea yea yea, because we were all gonna forget anyway. We picked our tickets up at the will call booth and Burger paid for mine because I told him I didn’t have any money. He said, don't worry man, I’ll buy your ticket, you just gotta pay me back. I felt pretty shitty about him buying my ticket because it was his birthday and all, but I would have felt even worse if I didn’t go so I said, yea yea yea, I’ll pay you back.
Our first ride was the Free Fall of Doom. It's one of those rides that shoots you straight up and then drops you back down. It was always pretty fun, but it was even better this time because Chris was so afraid of those big drops. he got so scared he couldn’t even scream. He just made this gurgling noise, and when we shot up he shouted, “Oh no, I shit my pants!” Chris finally started letting loose and enjoying himself after about the third or fourth ride though, and by his fifth time on The Dragon - this coaster we kept riding over and over - he was just laughing his head off; it was hysterical.
When we rode the coasters we always sat in the back; we never bothered with that up front stuff. Nobody ever wanted to sit in the back, and because of this the line for the back row was always the shortest. I didn’t get it, because the back was the place to be. You just had to think about the physics behind it, I guess. I was surprised by how long the lines were, figuring it was too cold and shitty out to visit a theme park, but everybody else must have checked the weather or something, because around two o’ clock the clouds burned off and it got really nice out. I almost didn’t even need my jacket it got so warm. For lunch, we ate big giant turkey legs after riding a big green giant coaster, and then we waited in line for some mummy ride.
In line for the Mummy ride, there were these four girls behind us speaking Spanish; they were chattering up a storm and laughing like crazy. I’m pretty sure they were making fun of us too, at least I thought they were until they started talking to us. I didn’t really say too much at first, because my throat was still sticky from my lemon slushy and I didn't really speak any Spanish. The prettier girl in the group, this short one with blonde hair and blue eyes, tapped me on the shoulder and asked where I was from in broken English. I told her I lived in Jacksonville and that it was pretty all right, but nothing to get too excited about. Burger nudged me in the shoulder and said, no you don’t, you live in Saint Augustine.
"Oh yea," I said. "I forgot." I was still pretty new there.
Well anyways, this blonde girl with her hair in a pony tail kept smiling at me; nibbling at the fingernail on the thumb of her right hand, laughing at my expressions when I told a story, touching my arm when I shrugged because I didn't understand her. It was okay though because I don’t think she understood me very well either. There were times when she would laugh and say, “slower, slower!” because I talk pretty fast when I get excited. I was surprised to find out that she was fifteen, because she looked a lot older then she was. She told me that, in Argentina, it was a tradition to travel outside of the country when you turned fifteen. Most kids went to Europe apparently, but they all wanted to ride coasters, so they came to Florida. She didn’t actually say any of this to me; her friend translated for her. Between the four of them, only one of them really understood English. She was the tall one; frizzy hair, round face with big brown eyes, and soft looking skin. She had to take turns translating for all of us, but she didn’t seem to mind. I couldn’t help but wonder about what was lost in translation, as they laughed back and forth to each other in Spanish.
The line for the Mummy ride was pretty long, so we all had a pretty good time getting to know each other. We taught them English curse words, they taught us Spanish ones. They taught how to say things like: nice to meet you (encantado de conocerle) and: I’m a champion (Yo soy un campeón). They told us their names, but I can’t remember any of them now because they were just about impossible to pronounce. After a couple of tries, I just nodded and said, sí sí sí, like I understood, even though I didn’t. The short blonde took to me pretty quick, and the more we tried to communicate the closer she got. She would lean in close to my face when we spoke, hold my arm so I couldn’t back away, and sneak a hug every time I made her laugh. After a while, she turned to her friend and said something in Spanish. They all started giggling and the frizzy haired girl turned to me and said, “She wants to know what you think of Argentinean women.” I just kind of blushed. I didn’t know what to say. “I think they’re very nice,” I nodded.
When we got to the end of the line, where people were being loaded into the cars, the blonde girl grabbed my arm and said, Estoy muy asustada. She looked up at me, and I smiled at her and shrugged my shoulders. She smiled back at me, and I noticed just how blue her eyes were. She said, “Scared! Scared!” So I put my arm around her and said, “No no no. Muy fun.” After the ride, we all made our way back to the street. We had a ticket for the other side of the park, and Burger wanted to check it out. "I guess we should be going,” I said, waving sheepishly to the girls we had only known for forty-five minutes. The blonde girl rushed up to me and turned her cheek, pointing her finger to it and raising her eyebrows. Oh no, I said waving my hands in protest. I didn’t think it was appropriate to kiss her, being four years older. She recoiled at this, as if I had slapped her face. "¿por qué no?" she asked. I just blushed and stuck out my hand.
"It was nice to meet you," I said. She glared at me, stung and rejected, before huffing away and walking in the opposite direction. One of the other girls ran after her shouting, ¡Espera! Espera!, while the other two just stood there, embarrassed. I stuck my hand back in my pocket. It was nice to meet you too, the girl with the frizzy hair said apologetically, and they turned and walked away. Later that afternoon, Chris told me he would have kissed her. “What about her age?” I asked. He just brushed it off and said, “I don’t care, I’m horny.”
The day waned, bled familiar hues of orange and pink into the sky, and the air was reflected to its appropriate chill. I was thankful I had kept my jacket on me. We began running from ride to ride, a desperate attempt to cling to our folly before the park closed, and I imagined that the cold was there to suffocate the youth inside our bones. Burger nudged me and asked why I was being so quiet.
“I think we should go back to the first park,” I said. “I want to ride the Rocket.” I hadn’t realized it before he tapped me, but I was thinking about the girl, and how I had insulted her. We rode the Free Fall of Doom one last time before sprinting to the adjacent park, dodging endless waves of people and running furiously to the coaster. Even at the end of the night, it would have the longest wait in the park. It had a seventeen-story drop, two loop de loops, two back-to-back spins, and it made your stomach drop ten times. Running, I kept my eyes open for the girl, weaving between endless drones of tourists and faces I did not recognize.
In line for the Rocket, Burger, Chris, and I talked about girls from school, the beastie boys, and skateboarding. We were the last group to make it through before the line closed. Once our straps were secured, we clinked up a ninety-degree angle before dropping straight down - seventeen stories. I closed my eyes and rode with my hands up, laughing while cold air bit my cheeks and dried my gums. After the coaster, Heart put on a concert in the middle of the park. We stood by the side of the stage and waited for them to play Barracuda, but our feet started hurting so we left. They played Crazy on You behind us as we walked to car. On the drive home, I stared out the window and didn’t even notice one of Chris’s tires exploding. While shuddering off the exit ramp, the whole car vibrating like a helicopter, I asked why we were pulling over. Burger turned around and stared at me in disbelief while Chris screamed, “Is he joking? Is he fucking joking?”
Burger and I changed the tire in about fifteen minutes; Chris just watched. I’m pretty sure he knew how to change a flat, I just think he felt justified making us do it because he drove. When we finished swapping it out, I flushed with anticipation. We had changed it too quickly. The Argentinean girl wouldn’t be able catch up with us now. The tire had been divine intervention; I was sure of it. She was on her way to meet us.
My brother called this, Walking Spanish.
“Walking Spanish?” I asked him, over the phone a few days later.
“Yep, she’s got you Walking Spanish all over the place.”
“Well, when I spent a semester in Argentina, my host family warned me about the seductive nature of these incredibly beautiful women. They said to me, Tenga cuidado, mi hijo, these women will leave you Walking Spanish for days and days. I feel something may have been lost in the translation though.”
“What do you think did?”
“The days and days part little brother. It’s been years and years. I still think about those women.”
“But she was just a girl,” I explained.
"She didn't seem to think so.”
A couple of weeks later, I found myself in the book store flipping through a Spanish to English dictionary. I memorized three words in Spanish before shutting the book, and reciting them over and over again in my head. I was going to visit Argentina someday to find this girl. When I did, I would pull her into my arms, look her in the eyes, say “Lo siento, Hermosa,”
and kiss her cheek.