It started off as we came into the parking lot. Now mind you, a lot of what I'm about to say is not fact but opinion. This water park is in Provo and I find it fascinating that as a very conservative town, they have a ton of regulation. One of the regulations I despise is the streets that surround the water park are a no parking zone. This pretty much forces you to park in the water park's parking lot. The cost to park there is $7. If you know me, you know I don't mind telling people my opinion. So as we pull up to the parking lot attendant's window, which just happens to be conveniently located in my side, I pay him the money. He says his thank you and then I say, "Thank you," and a medium pause and then burst out, "For ripping me off!" My sister, who is driving, puts the foot on the gas and zooms away while we are laughing out loud. I don't know if that was a good thing to teach my niblings and they probably think I'm crazy but the latter is very likely.
After entering the park, we find a little spot to lay are stuff. My sister is very pregnant so she won't be able to ride many rides. She will be spending a lot of time on a chair or in the wave pool. The kids will be running around with their crazy uncle, who will not be wearing prosthetics, and our first matter of business is renting tubes. This always introduces the question, where do we put the wrist band? I'm usually propping my leg up on the counter while suggesting they put it around the ankle. This time the band is too skinny but my niece suggests they put two bands on her arm. It works.
Our second mission, we decided to get wet in the wave pool. My sister joined us. I took my tube and was flipping, rolling and bouncing off it. At times, the tube was right side up and other times it was upside down. Suddenly I hear a whistle. The life guard is yelling at me to turn the tube so the handles are up. I asked, "Why?" He replied, "Because people drown when the handles are upside down." I can be a smart-aleck at times. This was one of those times. I replied, putting my arms in the air, "What does it matter? I can't grab the handles anyway! I got no hands!" He said, "Just flip the tube over." While giggling, I comply.
Provo is a very homogeneous town. Again, that's my opinion. To me, there aren't too many people who think outside of the box there. Or if they do they don't let it show and I believe it is because there is a fear of being different. From the 2010 census, the city is 84.8% Caucasian. A stat from the year 2000 taken by the Association of Religion Data Archives says Provo is 98% Latter Day Saint or "Mormon". Now, if you add in the fact that we are in an expensive water park, that makes it even more homogeneous considering that poverty rates of minorities are higher and they won't be as likely to be able to afford the water park.
At this point you may be wondering, "Now what in the world does all this have to do with being an amputee at the water park?" Ok, I'm getting to the point right now, LOL. I am a "Mormon" or a Latter Day Saint but other than that there isn't very much more that I have in common with the population inside the water park. In what seems like sea of blonde hair and blue eyed-people, a tall, tan guy with no hands is standing out like a sore thumb. Naturally people are staring, pointing and whispering at an alarming rate in my vicinity. I can imagine now how self-conscious an injured zebra might feel while surrounded by a pack of laughing hyena.
I really had never felt so self-conscious in my whole amputee life. Every other time where a normal person would have felt self-conscious, I have been able to block it out. Usually, a simple smile breaks the ice and everybody is chill but the smile wasn't working and I couldn't figure out why. Thinking back on it, I'm chalking it up to the homogeneity in handling a disfigured person. The worst way, to me, for people to handle it is for the kids to be told and signaled to, "shhhhhh and don't look." My problem with that is it takes away my secret weapon, my smile. To add to the conundrum, I'm not wearing prosthetics and the prosthetic arms generally brings the "cooooool" reaction from most little boys.
Our first ride we go on is a multi-lane race slide called, Avalanche Mat Racer. For the ride, one must retrieve a mat at the bottom of the ride and carry it up to the start. When on the ride, one must lay or sit on the mat while the descend in a race to the finish. Just our luck, there is no line for the mats. We go on the ride relatively fast and at the bottom, people are waiting in line for their turn with the mats. While walking to the people in line, I let the niblings know I beat them and ask if they want to go again. We all agree to go again.
As we approach the people waiting for a mat, I see people that had just slid with us just keep their mats and go ascend to the beginning of the ride. I consciously say to my niece and nephew in a bellowing voice, "Let's give our mats to the people waiting and get in the back of the line."
One thing I learned as a child was a thing called, "sharing". You may have heard of it and try to pass it on to my niblings. It goes along closely with respect and not thinking you are better or above anybody else. I remember when playing Nintendo with my siblings, we would give each other the controller after even one guy died or one guy passed a level. My father taught us that vocally and sometimes forcefully. When playing basketball or football, he taught us that almost subconsciously. He made a big deal about making sure everybody gets to score points or gets to touch the ball. I believe that to be a cultural thing. Samoans want everybody to join in on the fun.
Contrast that with what I learned, as an eight-year-old, at a sleepover at my elementary school friend Andy Brimhall. We were playing Mike Tyson's Punch Out on his Nintendo. He takes a turn and gets his character knocked out on the game. To my utter disbelief, he keeps the controller. "Ok, that's fine. Maybe they will just play their three guys and then let the others have a turn in a fair and systematic fashion," is what I'm thinking. Well, I was wrong. After he got all his guys knocked out, he just said, "I want to try again." Somehow the way these guys were raised up is that the more assertive you are the better. Well, I wasn't raised that way and so my passive self got to play one time that day and my turn only lasted until my guy got one TKO.
Fast forward back to the water park as an adult amputee. My niblings and I are waiting at the back of the line for mats. Three young men, just finished with the ride, decide they are taking their mats and skipping the people waiting for a mat to go back on the ride. I was angered by this but held it in. The man in front of the mat line says, "Hey, bring those mats over here." The boys come over and one starts complaining, "Oh so it doesn't matter that we had to wait ten minutes for these."
For me, it's one thing to have been caught red handed and sheepishly give up your mat with a laugh but to complain like it's your right to keep the mat because you had to wait before, that just sets my temper aflame. Plus, the fact that these younger guys were talking back to a father who was trying to get his kids a mat to slide on didn't help my temper either. As a young child we were thought to respect our elders.
"What did you say?", I bellowed. I already knew what they said. They started to speak and I said at a higher than normal volume, "I don't care if you had to wait ten minutes for your tubes! Haven't you ever read the Book of Mormon where King Benjamin said to treat everybody fair!" Always grasping for something familiar in this teaching moment, I took a highly educated assumption that they were Mormon. Well what do you know, one of the young men's says the most aggravating words one can say to me when I'm angry, "calm down."
I think I've written about my father's angry eyes but just in case I haven't, my dad had one key indicator that something you may have done has gotten you into the no turn back zone of his ire, his eyes. If any cartoon could describe it, it would be the one where the pupils of the angry eyes become a nuclear explosion! As my brother attests to, I had the highest rate of talking back to my father of all my siblings. When I got in the ire zone, that was when I knew I was getting the belt, a broom, or anything he could get his hands on. Upon retrospect, that was partially where I learned respect but also I learned something bad. I learned, subconsciously, respect by physical or vocal force was normal procedure.
Combine this force with an irritation with unfairness and you get me before the accident. After the accident, I became more likely to tell people about my feelings. Unfortunately for a while it was always in a more aggressive and hostile voice. I've been working with my psychologist on being more assertive than aggressive but in this occasion I was more aggressive.
In a Stone Cold Steve Austin voice, I said, "WHAT!" He replies, "Ok, Ok. Calm down." I told him, as I walked within striking distance, which happens to be very, very close when I'm not wearing my prosthetics, "I'm not going to calm down. You want me to elbow you in your head?" Of course you might be able to guess what he said, "Calm down." Luckily, I was able to regain control of my anger and get my mat and walk away.
While in the line with my niblings, I had feelings of regret and sorrow for the explosion of anger. I also feel shame for being a bad example for my niblings. One thing I've learned to do though, is let that sorrow help me to think about and see what I can do better in that situation. Then I've learned not to let that sorrow drag me into depression. So while in line I mentioned to one of the passing lifeguards that they definitely should have a lifeguard watching the line making sure that everybody shared their mats. He didn't do anything about it. At that point I just could either let it go or go talk to the managers. I decided to let it go and like most things when I let it go people around me, this time my niblings, let it go.
Now, my family and I had to get to the business of rides. I had gone to the water park in 2014 but just rode all the rides without actually looking at the rules. A year later and a little more conscious of the "rules" against amputees, I began to read the "rules." Many of the rules state if you are a using a prosthetic device, you will not be allowed on the ride. I feel bad for those using prosthetic legs because they are often not allowed on many rides because if they took off their prosthetics they would have to hop up stairs on one leg. At the same time I'm mindful that a lot of people working at these places, aren't educated or familiar with amputees and might be confused on the difference between no prosthetics allowed on the ride and no amputees on the ride. Most amusement parks I have to be ready to get to the front of a line and not be allowed on the ride or have an explanation of the difference between using a prosthetic device and just being an amputee. After all the anxiousness of thinking about what to say if questioned or stopped and sent back, I was let on the Cave-In ride with no questions asked.
The next ride we decided to try was the Vortex, a ride some people call the toilet bowl. We trade in our single tubes for a triple tube and head over. While walking over to the ride, I explain to my niblings that they may not let me on the ride. We jump in line to the ride, the lifeguard approaches us. My heart rate rises. He says, "You can't ride the Vortex with a triple." With I sigh with relief, I suggest we go on the ride next to the Vortex, the Boomerang. They agree.
Again waiting in a long line to get turned back can be disappointing but the alternate, warning management that you are an amputee that is coming to the park, can create problems too. Calling ahead, can get you disqualified for most rides before you even start. The infamous rule is three points of contact. I have had the best success rates of getting on rides has been the element of surprise. I know a lot of amputees who aren't allowed on rides but in my opinion this shouldn't be a question of how to restrict adults from rides. It should be to find out ways to help amputee adults ride safely. Also, I wouldn't mind signing a waiver to ride rides that I deem safe. The only exception would be if I was going to hurt someone.
My niblings and I make it to the front of the line and we decide I should be on the front of the triple tube because I'm the heaviest. The attendent let us ride, no questions asked. My niblings probably didn't know how steep that ride was going to be. At the end of the day, my niece said that was her favorite ride.
Now we take our triple tube and head to the ride called Shotgun Falls. As we approach the front of the line, I start reading the rules. A couple of them catch my attention. One falls under, "The following persons may not ride this ride:
*Guests whose health or physical condition could be affected by this ride
*Guests with braces, casts, or prosthetic limbs
Add that to the rule, "Hold onto the handles at all times." I was really concerned about this ride. To my surprise, no questions were asked and the lady even said have a good ride.
In our triple tube, we descended quickly. At the bottom of the ride is a long runway with deeper water to slow down the tube. Now here's where that rule of holding on to the handle all times comes into play. A short lesson in physics should demonstrate what happens next. Newton's first law of motion says, "An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force."
During the ride, the tube and the riders are the objects in motion. The water at the bottom Provides the unbalanced force, in this case friction. I was not holding onto the tube so I was disconnected from the mass that was being acted upon. While the tube stopped underneath me, my mass continued to be an object in motion. I went forward about two feet, while the forces that slowed me down were gravity and then friction.
It would have been more dangerous if I was on the back because I would have smacked into my niblings. At the same time, it was a blast. I was laughing and telling and listening to stories with my niblings the whole way to the tube exchange.
We exchanged our triple tube for one double tube for the niblings and a single tube for me. The Vortex, had a surprise waiting for us in the line and his name was Joseph. Now Joseph was the little boy just ahead of us in line. He was very talkative to the red-headed girl he was with, who I assume was a relative. I initiated a conversation with him by asking, "You ready for the ride?" Joseph began telling me all the intricacies of the ride. He wanted to come out of the Vortex facing the front.
When he saw my residual limbs with missing hands, our conversation stopped. Joseph went up to the red-headed girl. I could see him point and whisper, "That guy has no hands." At that moment, I changed the subject by pointing at a pigeon, and speaking aloud, "Look that pigeon is gonna poop!" Hahahaha the old change the subject technique, which I have become a master of, worked again. Joseph started yelling at his mom, "Look mom a pigeon!" Then the pigeon flew away.
We began our conversation again when I asked, "Is that your mom?" I found out he was from England but he had lost his accent. I asked him to check my British accent if it's correct. As I attempted to a British accent, it kept coming out Australian. He advised me that I should have his mom check my British impersonation. The wait on the line went by fast during our time consuming conversation.
Soon, Joseph was loading up on his tube for the ride but before he left, he said, "OK Sam I'm going to wait for you down at the bottom." A good feeling came over me. My niblings went first. Sure enough, Joseph was down there waiting for me to come out the Vortex. He was very impressed that I came out forward, LOL. We exchanged pleasantries and I gave him my version of the high-five, the high elbow bash.
That was the end of our rides. My sister didn't want to stay long. We did hit the wave pool one more time and try out my waterproof Galaxy S5.
I hope that by reading this blog, people can learn about some struggles an amputee may go through at an amusement park. Also, I hope my niblings learned a little bit of good things from me. I hope they may have learned that although I lost control of my anger, it's good to stand up for fairness. It would also be great if they have learned to make new friends or at least be cordial to people. Another thing they might benefit from is learning to forgive yourself after making a mistake. Most of all I hope they learned to smile and have fun in any situation!