Fresh Asphalt

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Six Flags Map from the Seventies
I’ve been delving into files on my old computer lately and have been finding a few things I wanted to post to the website, this one is from the July of 2002… About a week or so ago I turned my attention to a bookcase that houses all of my most important reference books, mostly science fiction & architecture. Mixed in amongst that stuff were some unexpected treasures….like a pristine fold-out map of Six Flags Over Georgia from 1981. [Want to see a bigger version? Check out the 12MB rough photo composite I’ve uploaded to my Flickr account!]

Six Flags Map from the Seventies

What a flood of memories this thing has unleashed!

Like the smell of fresh asphalt.

If you’re ever with me when the smell of fresh asphalt is hanging in the air you should move quickly to get a glimpse of my face….my eyes will be slightly out of focus and I may be grinning. You see, when I was a kid, the smell of Fresh Asphalt meant that you were at Six Flags back when it wasn’t all about fast rides and marketing tie-ins. It was about good old-fashioned red white & blue Yankee Doodle Dandy Bicentennial FUN. Every Spring they’d have repaired or expanded the old parking lot and the final anticipation of going to the amusement park was that tram ride across the black, black, black steaming hot asphalt of the parking lot.

Cruising toward the main gates you could hear the terrifying click-click-click of a rollercoaster grinding its way uphill…followed moments later by screams that came blazing out of the trees just as the main gates hove into view. The main gates were always a drag for us kids…that final bit of monetary bickering at the entrance seemed so petty when we were standing in the shadows of the entrance. I don’t mean for this to sound blasphemous, but I can’t help thinking that if ever I make it to Heaven I will somehow expect to see the Six Flags Main Entrance water fountain, complete with six giant columns and full of shiny pennies.

The first thing we’d always do would be to ride the Firestone Antique Cars. After all, kids driving cars…what could be better? We always discussed new theories on how to make the car jump the track so we could head out into the parking lot. We thought long and hard on this subject. We were idiots.

Me and my friend Danny Carter always liked seeing Buford Buzzard razz the crowd, and somehow it always turned out to be a bunch of people from Alabama that Buford would home in on with his insults. I’m pretty sure that they were stupid jokes he was making, but oh how we loved that buzzard’s wit.

He was our Shecky Greene, our George Carlin…he was the voice of a generation. And yes, we were easily amused by an insult flinging puppet. But let me make sure you understand, we were idiots….albeit happy idiots.

If the phrase “Don’t go in the swamp!” rings a bell with you it means that you remember my favorite ride, the Monster Plantation. Audio-animatronic monsters and catchy music made it fun, but the fact that you always managed to steer your boat into the creepy dark swamp made it irresistible. The cool air wafting off of the softly lapping, super-chlorinated water, the clunk and hiss of pneumatically activated creatures, the click and whir of happy monsters all combined to send us floating down something we knew had to be one of the absolute coolest places in the solar system. And we were, of course, totally correct. It was cool.

We always looked forward to riding a twisty, spinning ride called Mo-Mo The Monster, which has been relocated several times over the years. We’d also make it a point to go spinning in the Drunken Barrels near the Great American Scream Machine, but not if we’d eaten recently. That lesson had already been learned by each of us at some point. Later on, usually in the afternoon, we’d find ourselves pinned to the wall of a giant spinning room (what was that thing called?) that helped teach us the wonders of centrifugal…..or centripetal force….or whatever they want you to call it now. All we knew was that we were stuck to a wall just like Spider Man, if Spider Man could stick to walls with his butt….actually, I don’t think that’s one of his powers. Spinning rides were cool.

Casa Magnetica

This old map shows something called the “Casa Magnetica”?, and I’m thinking that this must be the same attraction that had me falling over like a drunken rodeo clown when me and my friend Daryl Mann decided to try it out one day. They’d built a Spanish style house, but nothing was plumb inside….and by “not plumb” I mean totally, insanely wacko crooked; entire rooms were pitched 15 degrees off level! BUT, the walkway leading through the building was perfectly level. The resulting visual presentation was incredibly disorienting. Imagine walking through a house behind a line of people who all look like they’re leaning over so far they should be falling…but they don’t. All it took was a willing suspension of disbelief on our part and the next thing we knew we were in a Warner Brothers cartoon. Up and down didn’t seem to work properly and our inner ears went ahead and checked out for an early lunch. Crazy staircases and singing chickens laying eggs that rolled uphill to the strains of foot-stomping Mexican music left us laughing hysterically by the time we managed to crawl out of that place. It was an early precursor to being drunk.

I remember on several occasions pretending that I was brave enough to ride the TALLEST of the two log flumes (the one where you went through a giant log with an equally giant lumberjack standing on top, chopping away) which WAS fun all the way up to the point where you got to the big giant rubber conveyor belt. Then it stopped being fun. It took me many years to interpret the sensation of plummeting down a steep incline with no visible means of stopping as “fun”.

We would sometimes be forced to ride the old-fashioned steam train through the woods and wonder why our parents enjoyed that ride so much. Something about tired feet……obviously a ruse of some sort, we knew that your feet never hurt!

Oh, and I should never forget Jean Ribault’s Riverboat Ride, chock full of Indians on the warpath being shot at by settlers with guns. Or was it the other way around? The best part was the rubber hand forever twirling in a whirlpool of watery death. You hadn’t been to Six Flags if you hadn’t seen the hand spinning around and around.

The Dolphin Show! I’d forgotten all about that. I still remember how much fun we had watching the dolphins and the high dives. How could I have forgotten the dolphins…and The Castle! When I was young it was a haunted castle, later on it was something else….I can’t remember exactly WHAT. I still have a very early memory of about three scary monsters rising up from a watery pool. Maybe a flying bat. Maybe. That’s a memory from a really early visit.

The bumper cars were even better than the antique car ride up front, because we were REALLY STEERING! Sometimes I just wanted to drive around and enjoy the experience, but soon enough somebody would broadside me and the next thing I knew I was vengefully slamming away at people left and right. Man that was fun. As an adult I’ve been tempted to do it during rush hour, but I always stop myself in time (stupid car insurance!).

I’ll never forget being flabbergasted at having been talked into riding The Great Gasp. Hadn’t I promised myself not to endanger my own life? Wasn’t that my deal with myself? Didn’t anybody understand how far above the ground 200 feet was? That ride made me ask a lot of questions…and make a lot of deals with God. Funny how as I got older it seemed they’d lower it a bit every year…

I remember being bored silly during all that stupid singing and dancing they did at the Crystal Pistol…but boy did the grownups sure seem to love it. We’d have been happy if they’d left us at the Chevy Show all day long instead. We just knew that if they’d run a rollercoaster through the Crystal Pistol the singing and dancing would be so much more bearable.

Six Flags only had a few rollercoasters (the Scream Machine and the little Dahlonega Mine Train) for the longest time, but by the time of this map they’d added the Mindbender. Yet another rollercoaster that my friends had to talk me into riding. The Wheelie was a Big Deal back then, now I wonder if they still have it at the park. Nowadays, I understand that they have five or six rollercoasters and several other high-speed rides….rides which would suit me just fine now that I’m older and more foolhardy.

In fact, maybe I need to go to Six Flags this year….

Maybe it’s time to make some new Six Flags memories.

You know, I haven’t smelled fresh asphalt in ages….

Postscript: One of my friends, Alice Nisbet, remembered some other stuff about Six Flags…like how you’d develop a crush on people in those endlessly criss-crossing lines for all the rides, trading furtive glances every time you passed the person.

I remember my friend Daryl would wait until the line stopped moving then pull a mean (but funny) trick on one of us. After ten seconds or so of talking to whichever one of us was farthest along in line he’d shift his focus beyond us and take a step forward…the unspoken signal that the line has moved. The lead person would whirl around and plow right into the back of the stranger in front of them…..because the line hadn’t moved an inch. If you were the person who got tricked you were mad, but for everybody else it was a riot.

Also, Alice made me remember those weird popsicle things on the plastic sticks…didn’t they have collectibles at the tops…the part you had to eat the popsicle from? I think that they did.

13 thoughts on “Fresh Asphalt

  1. Paul

    Great memories! As a youngster, I spent quite a bit of time at Six Flags over Georgia…just a quick two-hour trip from Chattanooga. That map looks so familiar…it’s all coming back to me.

    My strongest memory isn’t a good one, or one that I’m proud of: as bratty nine-year-olds, my buddy and I were goofing around at an outside snack stand. On a dare, I stepped on a mustard packet as hard as I could, sending the contents what seemed like several hundred yards across the way. Turns out six or so feet was enough, striking a lady’s pants, and getting me a stern scolding from a stranger, AND a napkin dropped on my head as she and her family left the area.

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  2. Gary

    Yo, bro. Good memories. One thing though…on the Monster Plantation the phrase was “Don’t Go In The Marsh!!!!’

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  3. D'toaster

    But… now after reading this… if I went tp Six Flags, I wonder if the memories I’d bring home would be my own, or partly yours.
    Hmmmm…

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  4. Pj hvamstad

    This was wonderful. Although by the time I made it to Six Flags some of these things were gone. I made it in the late 80’S and I worked there! Man the memories of working there. I worked Thunder River and even then the smell of asphalt was in the air! Thank u for ur memories and sharing them with us. Brought a tear to my eyes. O and the wheelie was still there in 2002 but I haven’t been back to Atlanta since then I live in Anahuac Texas now. And when I went I got to make memories with my family and my best friend and her son. He LOVED the Wheelie it was the first ride we rode that day!

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  5. Terry

    I actually enjoyed the sky buckets that criss-crossed the park. You could get a great view of the whole park from the buckets. Part of the fun was also the games like skeeball – spent a lot of quarters on skeeball to get a handful of tickets to trade for some cheap stuff.
    In high school it was a great place to work in the 80s.

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  6. Jeff H

    Great writing ! I remember the smell of the seal coating that they used to coat all the walkways in the park. I worked at Six Flags for 3 summers and I knew every inch of the park including all the “back lot” areas. If only there were a way to go back for a month…(sigh), or even one magical day! Thanks for the flash back… the memory of flying quietly over the Crystal Pistol (wasnt that the name …errr getting old).. in the sky bucket will have to last me a lifetime… that was great.

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  7. Jeff G

    Well Done! As soon as I read the title “Fresh Asphalt”, it was apparent this was about Six Flags. More powerful than a song is a scent, and like yourself, the scent of fresh asphalt always takes me back.
    The giant spinner that pinned you to the wall was called the Spindle Top, and it was removed by the time I was ten. It was most likely in the French Section, maybe where Boom Ball was in the eighties. I remember pine trees around it, and that is the only section of the park that has them in the open.

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  8. Magic

    The Spindle Top…. A round room with padded walls that spun fast enough to pin you to the wall JUST when the floor dropped out (only about 6 inches).

    Here it is, four years after this original post and I’m reading it for the first time. Someone sent a link through Facebook… which didn’t really exist when this was posted.

    I worked there from ’84-’90. Great friends. Great place.

    Years later it DID turn into a dive. Six Flags Corp. was bought out; the parks changed hands; management was bad. The culture we had as hosts and hostesses was high spirited and proud. We picked up cigarette butts no matter what our jobs were in the park. The GM, Spurgeon Richardson, was well known for doing the same, even as he walked the park in his suit and tie. It was still possible to do that because there weren’t many on the ground to start with. More recently, it would be impossible to actually get to work on time if you stopped to pick up every one of them.

    I HAVEN’T CHEWED GUM EVER SINCE! If you worked there… I know you get it.

    The smell of the asphalt….Isn’t it amazing how strongly we associate memories with certain smells? Is this universal for those who frequented this park?

    The Crystal Pistol… some of the very best talent I’ve ever seen. Even the cheesy ’80’s cover bands on small stages in the park were amazing…. perhaps it’s because they performed EVERY DAY, sometimes for 3 or 4 people, sometimes for 3 or 4 hundred.

    I was Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn; I was the guy who made your pizza at the Lighthouse Restaurant in Jolly Roger’s Island. I was your friendly train conductor, and later a fireman on what was then a real steam engine. I was the guy who checked your lap bar at the Mindbender; I loaded you into the Sky Buckets and laughed with you about …. whatever!

    We had not one, but TWO fully functional, not priceless but certainly RARE, replicas of two famous Civil War steam engines. Later, management gutted them…. turned them into bastardized shells of what they once were. From a historical point of view, it was a huge loss. The same company that built them, also built the ones at Disney in Florida. Thankfully, the good folks at Disney have the sense not only to preserve them but to keep them staffed by salt-of-the-earth railroad vets… BTW, we had one or two of those as well. We only had one engine in service at a time, but I polished the brass EVERY SINGLE MORNING. I’m surprised I don’t still have Brasso under my finger nails. The first run of the train wasn’t until after 10 a.m., but we started firing her up at 7 a.m. sharp. It takes time to wake a sleeping dragon.

    It wasn’t all fun and games. Big nights were often scary ones. The crowd was so unruly the night of the “New Edition” concert, that nearly every attraction was forced to close early. Very light but occasional gang activity, fights in cue lines, hostile guests when a ride failed and had to be closed. Why didn’t they get it? Did they really want us to put there little darling 9 year olds on a ride we KNEW was broken?!

    Big concerts too…. There was no Lakewood Amphitheater. The Six Flags Amphitheater was the destination of choice for big time ’80s bands. Jimmy Buffett, Billy Idol, New Kids on the Block , Duran Duran, Jefferson Starship, Cheap Trick… etc., etc.

    Atlanta radio stations did live broadcasts when the park opened a new ride. It was a big deal. 96 Rock spent the entire day (or two, maybe) in front of the Looping Starship in 1985. I can’t remember how many times I saw Back to the Future for free as a result of the leftover tickets they didn’t give away.

    At the end of the day…. Fireworks, patriotic music, and goosebumps.

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  9. jillmelancon

    i worked there for 3 summers from 1982-1984…excellent memories. i went back last year, and the wheelie was still there in the french section. sad to be there, though…not the same at all. i remembered how excellent the food was in the employee canteen–spaghetti especially. the people (i’m sorry, “guests”) who came up to me while i was in full-on polyester uniform glory with name tag and asked “do you work here?” my favorite pasttime (actually there were two) was chasing down kids who through stuff out of the sky buckets and scaring the crap out of them. also, when i worked in a store whose back room had a hole in the wall that led INTO the monster plantation. we’d crawl in and watch people make out in the boats and sometimes try to scare them. employee nights when you could ride the rides over and over again. good times.

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  10. Jeff H

    Spindle Top was in “Lick Skillet”.. I worked at the second shooting place (cant remember the name if it even had one) for awhile that was pretty much right across from it.

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