As a kid growing up in the Bronx, amusement park rides were a foreign concept.
The tram or the skyline ride at the Bronx Zoo or maybe the carousel at Central Park were the rides I was most familiar with.
Later, I was introduced to Rye Playland in Westchester County, N.Y. For me at the time, it was a wide-eyed wonderland of rides, attractions and carnival games.
The park, operated by the county, was relatively small and tame compared to its bigger competitors — the biggest of which for New Yorkers was Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J.
I recall well GA advertising on television to lure city residents to make the roughly three-hour trip.
The big attraction at the time was its sample essay topics for interview, in which you drove through a large enclosed route and wild animals would come right up to your car, and in some cases, sit on it. (The attraction, by the way, has been completely revamped.)
I’ve gone to this amusement park several times, mostly with OK experiences but the height of my misadventures at Great Adventure came in 2002. I was with my mother and sons, then 9 and 4.
We were driving through the safari, having a fine old time. The animals were close and fun to watch.
At the very end of the attraction, you had a choice to take a detour that would go around a section filled with baboons and lead you to the exit, or you could drive through the crowd of baboons.
Why the detour?
Because these cute adorable creatures could strip your car faster than a NASCAR pit crew. The open area they occupied was littered with car parts – hubcaps, windshield wipers, mirrors, etc.
They were nimble, intelligent and curious. And oh, yeah: strong.
Naturally, I was undeterred by all the warning signs about proceeding. My car then was a 10-year-old Ford Escort station wagon.
As the result of someone who had hit my parked car, one of my headlights and signal lamps was loose.
It was still operable but it was not installed correctly because, me being a guy, I had just hot-glued-gunned the piece into place and called it a day.
You can guess the rest.
Sure enough, the baboons swarmed my car. And at first it was cute.
But then one of them yanked that headlight out and held it like a trophy.
My kids’ laughing turned to stark terror crying because they feared what the baboons might do to the rest of the car. It was not quite as terrifying as the baboon scene from “The Omen” but close.
I was laughing because the outcome was so predictable and inevitable.
Best of all was my mother who took a photo of a baboon sucking on the light bulb it had plucked from the headlight.
When she sent me the photo, it included this modern-art-like caption in her handwriting on the back: “Baboon with car light bulb.”