Abandoned Roller Coasters and Alligators: When Research Goes Sideways
I wanted to end 2019 with a memorable moment. I wanted to see an alligator in the wild. Not in the zoo, more like in a parking lot drainage ditch. A trip last year to Orlando, Florida yielded nada in the gator count.
“Why do you want to see an alligator?” my kids asked as we hurled down the Louisiana Highway on our way to our Cajun Encounters Honey Swamp Tour.
“You know that feeling you have when you’re on a roller coast, a little scared, but you know you’ll be okay? Fun scare.”
“You hate roller coasters, you get full-on motion sickness for hours.”
“Exactly, that’s why I want to (safely) see an alligator.”
Gators were not the whole reason for our recent trip to the Big Easy. It was a family holiday getaway that also did double duty as research for a NYC-graffiti-voodoo-inspired story kicking around in my head.
Alfred, our bus driver, provided us with a steady banter of the surrounding countryside as we drove to the swamp. He pointed to the extensive damage still gripping the area 14-years post Hurricane Katrina. It was startling to see the abandoned buildings, repaired buildings on high platforms, and new highway bridges. The enormity of the area flooded in the storm loomed large. His perspective was that of a local, somber, head shaking, yet accepting. Louisiana is flat and the storm flattened it further.
“To my right, you’ll see the abandoned ruins of Six Flags Over New Orleans. The park was originally called Jazzland.” What?!
Scraping the overcast sky, visible above the tree line, were the skeletal remains of two of the parks largest coasters. The dark, inky lines in the distance were haunting more than any other ruin in the area. The storm completely submerged the entire park and the Six Flags organization abandoned the property. The marshy, swamp land is reclaiming it. The area is over run with wildlife – gators – and vegetation. Several movies have been shot there and plans have been bandied about, but nothing has been done. It’s too far from the tourist areas of the city, too dangerous, and just too much to consider.
The swamp tour was fun, and we did see a small gator, (see insert photo above, it's not a log!) Late December is not gator season. I learned from Captain John, the boat captain, they hide and sleep in the colder water. My snapping jaws and beady eye scary thrills fantasy would have to wait.
I’m now fascinated by an abandoned amusement park. YouTube and drones have provided an inside view of the park. It’s a picture of post apocalypse planetary reclamation. Not the story I was searching for, but something different. A lesson in history, climate change, failed government policy, and oh yes – gators in the parking lots.