Written by: Jeremy Baumhower
In honor of my fortieth birthday, indeed I said forty– we packed up the ol’ family truckster and headed to the local Wally World… I mean Cedar Point.
My parents wanted to take my family on a mini-vacation. My mom chose the destination and length of time: Cedar Point and three days.
It was the first time, we, the Baumhowers, had ever spent the night in Sandusky, Ohio. West Toledoans typically make the drive back and forth.
Throughout my childhood, the annual Cedar Point trips were only day-long adventures and are some of my favorite moments with my family, memories I still vividly recall.
My younger three children are just now hitting that magical age, where they are tall enough to ride everything, and roller coasters like Millennium Force, and the Top Thrill Dragster are personal challenges of courage.
My kids are incredibly blessed because they have never waited more than 15 minutes to ride any coaster. No, we are not the “Fast Pass” family, who wave their first-class park status in the faces of others. I am the person, who knows what days and times to go to help eliminate the complete lack of patience my kids (on occasion) can display. They have no idea what two-hours in the blistering sun, waiting for a 40-second ride feels like. I’ve likely ruined them for life.
Last week featured the perfect three days to go; it was colder than normal July, sometimes rainy and were mid-week. This is the trifecta formula when wanting to eliminate all wait times at ‘The Roller Coaster Capital of the World’. Our hotel room at the Breakers, allowed us to come and go, in-and-out of the rain.
I have no idea the amount of money my parents would budget for those childhood trips. My dad who’s an aficionado of Cedar Point’s hand-dipped corn dogs, and a fan of the over-sized stuffed animal, never said “no” to a game we wanted to play or food we wanted to taste. My father spent most of my younger years working 7-days a week to finance these memory-making moments. Money well spent.
Every year, our trip ended the same way– watching my dad, a semi-professional skee ball player, dump quarter-after quarter, rolling small wooden balls… chasing the red ticket. He had learned that a simple bank shot increased your skill and score. My younger sister, with her big blue eyes and blonde hair, would simply point to the obnoxiously bigger prize she wanted and he was off. Without fail, my dad had that annual hero-moment of handing of that desired prize to his baby girl.
I estimate that some of the stuffed animals cost him upwards of fifty dollars, and a sore arm. Two prices he never once complained about.
With the legend of Papa Dave’s skee balling abilities, and my mom’s love of every crane game–my kids were excited to visit the arcade.
My son’s ‘gifted’ brain has given him an unusual talent– perfect timing. Brady is a master of the newer flashing-light games; the ones where you stack the moving digital box or hit the button as the light moves from bulb-to-bulb in the circular motion. These games often have a “Jackpot” that grow with every failed attempt.
Brady is my “ticket earner”, where he plays for his siblings to make sure they have a budget when it comes to cashing out. He has also been raised not to abuse his gift.
I had no idea, but this time he was playing for someone else.
Our first night, Brady talked his Grandma Sue (my mom), into taking him to the arcade. She told me upon their return, that he was playing like a “mad-man”, and generated almost 800 tickets in one hour. She also mentioned that he was playing for a specific-prize, but because I was overwhelmed from the day… her words never registered.
The second night we went as a family to the arcade. As I watched my two younger girls disappear with their grandma, my dad left in search of the skee-ball– I decided to have some one-on-one time with my son. During his impromptu and unsolicited tour of a place I’ve been numerous times…he showed me the machine that he won the jackpot from the night previous. I then proceeded to watch him play numerous times trying to replicate the win, with a reminiscent passion that my father once displayed.
After watching him play one of those timing light-up games, I decided to give it a shot. I dumped a single quarter into the machine, watched a line move up and down, hit a button a couple of times and BINGO, I hit the jackpot.
Brady and I were both shocked as we watched 782 red tickets come flying out of the arcade game.
He immediately asked… “Dad, can I have your tickets?”. I didn’t care, I was more impressed with the amount of paper spewing out of the now noisy machine–so I replied without second thought… “sure”.
Then Brady did something he had only done a handful of times before– he hugged me. This simple gesture stopped the busiest and loudest room in Northwest Ohio. He had my attention.
This was the sixth time in his life, where he initiated the hug. The other occasions were at my recent wedding, after he pitched and won his first high-school baseball game, him learning that I lost a childhood friend, the moment I told him that his Papa Bob had died and the Christmas where he received a PS4.
This is the part of the story where I tell you that my son has a special young lady in his life. I don’t want to label it, but he refers to her as his “girlfriend”. They are “dating”, and she has been a big part of his evolution and growth.
As soon as he hugged me, I knew something was different. It seems he had been playing with such drive because he’d spotted the perfect gift for his girlfriend. It was hanging on the prize wall; it was an over-sized and incredibly soft… owl. The price tag was 1500 tickets and my recent windfall put him over that magical amount.
Brady immediately put the newly won tickets into one of the various counting machines called a “ticket eater”, which was subsequently located under the hanging stuffed owl. We took the printed receipt, accompanied with similar other sheets of paper and then proceeded to wait in line at the ticket counter. In an unusual chain-of-events, we witnessed the person in front of us request and point to the very owl. The employee disappeared in the back, he returned with not the stuffed prize but rather, a ladder.
My son watched in horror as the Cedar Point employee placed the ladder in front of the ticket-eaters, climb rung-by-rung and slowly remove the stuffed feathered furry friend.
The lucky recipient was a dad, who had won it for his little girl. As she hugged the owl for the first time, I immediately remembered that face. It was the same expression of happiness my sister had shown my father, decades before.
As we were called next, Brady learned the recently removed owl was the last in the arcade’s inventory.
I tried to encourage him to select another prize, but he was dead-set on that bird. He informed me “The owl is (girlfriend)’s favorite animal”. Enough said, every man has been there.
As we left and moved toward the front of the park, my wife, Shannon, immediately pointed out the same exact animal, hanging with numerous replicas. This time it was the BIG trophy at one of the three dollars-a-throw games. I watched Brady pull out his wallet, a site almost as rare as the hug, and reach for his own stash of money. Twenty dollars gone, numerous balls thrown in seconds and still no bird in hand. The worst part is the game involved throwing a baseball. My son had struck out.
I tried to, without having the slightest clue, encourage my son’s hope. I told him we would come back the following day and see if it was restocked overnight. We did.. it wasn’t.
Somehow, the amazing staff at Cedar Point’s media department learned of Brady’s quest for this golden owl. I received a text message from Samantha Pelham, who works with the amusement park’s marketing department. Samantha asked of our location.
As we were wrapping up our three-day holiday at the all-you-can-eat Midway Market, time was ticking. My kids were told we were departing at 2 PM, it was almost one o’clock when Samantha walked in. She tried to hide the bagged owl behind her… but it was too big. Not the bird, but her smile.
Ms. Pelham received her first hug from my son. I made sure she received the tickets as well.
The owl was delivered safely hours later. I’m sure another hug happened.
Thank you to my parents and to the fine staff at Cedar Point for giving my family three days of memories.