In many places in our great nation this weekend, we celebrated Oktoberfest, a formerly German event that has been transformed — as most things often are in America — to an excuse to overpay for cheap beer, greasy meat, and to get conned out of our hard-earned dollars by devious carnies.
The Oktoberfest celebration at Oaks Park here in Portland, Oregon, was no exception. We had four free passes through my cousin’s work, which happily saved us the $5 entrance fee. Even better, an exiting couple happened to have four bracelets that granted the wearer free admission to every ride in the park, and we happily snatched them up. Fortune smiled on us that day, and we gleefully darted about the park, alternating between the beer tent and the various creaky, painful, disorienting carnival rides, feeling utterly superior to the morons who had to actually pay $10 to ride the stupid Ferris wheel.
But the one ride that caught my eye was called “Lewis and Clark’s Grand Adventure,” or something like that, and it was one of those “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”-type adventures, where you squeeze into a rickety cart on a single track and are dragged through a building filled with cartoon cardboard cut-outs that tell a story; in this instance, it was aiming to teach us about Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific. And oh BOY did it deliver on the insanity.
Feeling a twinge of local Northwest pride (but more probably just giving in to my overwhelming love of irony), we hopped in line and piled into our assigned cart.
Here is a chronicling of what we experienced within the ride:
- First, the cart barges through a pair of saloon-style swinging doors, on which is printed an excerpt from the diaries of Lewis and/or Clark. Something about crossing the Mississippi or whatever.
- Upon entering, you are greeted by a cutout depicting Lewis and Clark aboard a massive ship, beaming and looking towards the future, their smiling yellow labrador companion (?????) eagerly looking across the bow of the ship.
- Then there are some buffalo, because America.
- Coming around the corner, you suddenly enter a HORRIBLE NIGHTMARE. Towering (three-foot-tall) spruce trees create the illusion of a forest, while a cartoonish bald eagle hangs suspended from the ceiling. Inexplicably, the forest is lit by a DISORIENTING STROBE LIGHT, giving you a legitimate fear that this is actually a “Disney’s Haunted Mansion” horror ride, and someone is about to jump out of the forest and terrorize you. Nothing happens, and it is never explained what part of Lewis and Clark’s journey this was depicting (maybe their first time on peyote?).
- Next around the bend — WATCH OUT, IT’S A BEAR! An animatronic bear grimaces at you and raises its (frighteningly mangled) paws in an attempt to murder you. The robot breaks down halfway through raising its arms, and you spend the next minute watching it seize and convulse as if it’s trying to do the Thriller dance.
- Finally, we spot some natives! A spectacularly busty Sacagawea and her midget family members greet Lewis and Clark.
- We’re shuttled through a waterfall, signified by two painted waterfalls on either side of our cart that listlessly wobble. I am genuinely concerned one of the walls may fall and kill us.
- On the other side of the waterfall, Sacagawea shows Lewis and Clark a bit about Native American culture by gesturing at a tepee, beside which seats a robotic Native American, who appears to either be shaking some sort of instrument, or furiously masturbating.
- Back through another waterfall! Beware: This second waterfall signifies the point at which the ride designers discarded all logic and sanity.
- We come upon a peaceful, moonlit beach, upon which we see Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, and their trusty canine cartoon companion have ROPED A MASSIVE BLUE WHALE AND HAULED IT ASHORE. Just like they did in history! (This is where I begin to suspect Sarah Palin designed this ride.)
- Presumably having bonded over their shared whale-killing, Lewis, Clark, and Sagacawea smile and shake hands over a piece of paper that simply says “Peace Treaty.” Naturally, this is a VERY accurate and not at all offensive representation of early American/Native American relations.
- The final display is the piece de resistance: A small, three-foot-tall ASTRONAUT. Inexplicably shoved into the final corner of the ride, a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit climbs a ladder amongst a moonscape. What does this MEAN? Did Lewis and Clark fake the moon landing?
- As your cart approaches the exit, the final hallway is covered in drug-addled neon graffiti, highlighted by the blinding phrase, “WELCOME TO YOUR FUTURE,” which is surrounded by depictions of chemistry sets, ballet slippers, and “E=MC2.” And then, without warning, disoriented and baffled by the acid trip you were just plunged into, you burst back into the blinding lights and sounds of the outside carnival, and a sullen teenager shuffles you out of your cart, refusing to answer your desperate cries of, “But why was there an astronaut?!” as you’re shoved toward the exit.
God bless America.