Class Action Park

HBO Max trailer:

This is the second documentary on Action Park. I didn’t think I needed to see it, but waiting for Felice to come home I dove in.

Warning… This thing is made on the cheap, with commentary by comedians. But the truth is it’s a real life Jackass, where you don’t have “stars” like Johnny Knoxville doing it for the money, but regular people doing it for fun. You remember fun, don’t you?

Ever been to a water park? I guess at this point it’s like vaccination, either you’ve jumped right in or never will. But the truth is they’re damn fun. They started in the eighties. I remember driving into the heat to go to Raging Waters one night. The best time for amusement parks is always near closing time, the lines evaporate and you can go down your favorite ride ad infinitum. That’s how I got over my fear of inverted roller coasters, riding Magic Mountain’s Revolution three times in a row, it would have been more, but they threw us off to close the park.

Not that I’m into amusement parks these days. I can’t remember the last time I went to one. And today they’re mostly vomit wheels. Whether you get scared or not, your body is gonna take punishment.

But you can be scared by nature, kind of like how little kids like to play with cardboard boxes more than the toys they contain. Kind of like the twenty foot cliff at Action Park. Doesn’t look that high from below. But near the end of the show, they give the diver’s perspective, and unless you’re an Acapulco cliff diver, you’d think twice.

And the truth is at Action Park there was no supervision. No one to make sure you didn’t jump onto someone else in the water, and that always bugs me, water safety is paramount, but the attractions themselves? FASCINATING!

So the bottom line is the creator of Action Park, Gene Mulvihill, was a crook. Through and through. I’ve worked for one, a sociopath. They’re big dreamers, they don’t believe the rules apply to them and they run through employees because it’s hard to be loyal to someone who is insane.

The best part of the story is how Mulvihill deals with the law. He creates his own fake insurance company. He fights every lawsuit. And if he loses, good luck collecting. He was almost judgment proof in his own twisted way. And since the community was making so much money off of him, since he brought tourists to the area, they were loath to crack down.


I don’t know what it was like growing up elsewhere, but in the sixties New York radio stations would blast ads for amusement parks. They were never close. You’d have to get your parents to drive you, and my parents never would. Then again, when I was in grade school the day classes ended my mother and Ted the obstetrician took us all to Rye Beach, aka Playland Park. They had this circular ride, you stood against the wall, and then the floor dropped out, you were held up by centrifugal force. I was too scared to go on that, and the Wild Mouse…you know, where the car is attached to the track in the middle, so you think you’re going over the edge and at the very last minute you don’t.

I came to love the Wild Mouse at Lake Quassapaug, now called “Quassy,” when I went with the school summer playground group, you had to earn enough points, but I was much older then. Eleven and twelve.

So, there’s so much b.s. in the commentary, about this being the last time kids roamed free, but the truth is prior to the baby boomers’ kids, kids did run free. As long as you were home for dinner, it didn’t matter where you went. And it’s not like your parents quizzed you when you got home. And you always got injured, stitches were a regular feature of the summer. If you didn’t get stitches or break a bone you got no respect, you just weren’t putting it on the line enough, you weren’t engaged, and we all wanted to be engaged. Back when all the action was outside as opposed to inside, like it is today.

And if you have any money today, the summer is about enrichment. Your kids go to sleepaway camp at first, but when old enough they go save the whales in some faraway place or take computer classes at universities, it’s all about looking good on your college applications. But then there are those who work, or laze around, and those are the kids who populated Action Park. There wasn’t a single adult in evidence!

So it comes down to the rides. Ever been on an alpine slide? They’re very cool. The first one in America was at Bromley Mountain, in Vermont. They held distribution rights. And the game is to ride the whole thing without pulling on the brake. If you’re going fast enough you fly through the air. It’s quite a sensation.

But that paradigm has been killed, maybe because too many people were killed, or at least maimed. Flying off the track was a real possibility. Now they’ve got “mountain coasters.” Same concept, except now the sled is attached to the track and you can never break free. You can go fast, but your life is never in danger.

There were three alpine slides at Action Park.

And then they had the Colorado Rapids ride. When you grow up you always want to ride the rapids, especially if you live in the metropolis, far from any raging water. But instead of making it a float trip, Mulvihill made it an actual rapids ride, with all the attendant risks. In addition it was crowded, and you could be bumped off your raft or get into fights… Put a bunch of teenagers together and you’re always gonna have fights.

A water tube that shoots you out ten feet in the air? I’m ready to go on that right now!

Jumping into the water from a swinging rope? We dreamed of living that rural life!

But it wasn’t only water. There were also autos. But unlike at Disneyland, there was no rail keeping you from driving off course. That was a thing back then, they had a Grand Prix track in the Valley, then again it was never cheap and I never went, but I wish I had.

And then a speedboat ride, where you piloted your own vessel! I mean they’re really cooking, with only the banks keeping you in place.

In other words, Action Park was a THRILL PARK! It was far beyond amusement. It required judgment, because you could get hurt, and many people did!

That’s the big story. As well as the loop which you see and want to ride, but are too scared to. It’s a deal you make with yourself, you go to the theme park and if a ride is scary, you convince yourself it was designed by engineers, licensed by the state, there’s no way it could fail. But not at Action Park…

So the amazing thing is all this happened thirty five years ago. Seems like yesterday to me, but it’s not. Pre-cellphone, pre-internet was truly a different generation. There was so much less SUPERVISION! You can’t even commit petty crime anymore, there are cameras EVERYWHERE! That was a big thing as a youth, stealing and breaking minor things. I’d like to tell you otherwise, but I’d be lying.

And not only is Rikki Rachtman representing MTV at the park, on either side of him are members of Alice In Chains. Jerry Cantrell is still around, Layne Staley O.D.’ed over two decades ago! But here Layne just looks like a suburban doofus out for fun in the sun.

I knew the story, from the previous documentary, I’d seen the rides, but I still kept watching. Because of the freedom, of the rides. And the truth is the older you get, the more prone to injury you become, and it takes longer than ever to recover. But if you’re young, bruises are a fact of life. You get banged up and get up. The hurt lasts a couple of days at most.

So the truth is Action Park wasn’t much wilder than so much of America’s entertainment facilities, it’s just that the rides were dangerous and it was close to New York City, millions of people, so many went there and experienced it.

And the truth is Gene Mulvihill was ahead of his time. He bought the Great Gorge and Vernon Valley ski areas and created Action Park for summer revenue. Ergo those mountain coasters now populating ever more ski areas. And they all have zip lines. And none of this is cheap. And some mountains make more in the summer than they do in the winter!

But this is not a business story so much as an emotional story. You know the commentary is overblown, but you’re taken back to a different time, which is so appealing. When risk was part of life. And I’m talking physical, not viruses on your devices. Your parents insisted you leave the house during the summer, you couldn’t stay inside. And you had an endless tan and were like a fish in water and you lived for envelope-pushing activities.

Hell, maybe that’s why I’m a skier. The thrill, the excitement, the riding of the edge, knowing that you could get hurt at any time.

But really it’s the freedom. No one is in control but you.

By time Action Park opened I’d already moved out west. So I never went. And I never went to Lion Country Safari before that, another advertised “mecca.” Why they were all in New Jersey… Bon Jovi legitimized the state but you’ve got to know, if you live in New England, New York, you look down on New Jersey. Don’t shoot the messenger, but it’s true.

So if you’re still a child at heart, if you still like to be exhilarated, feel alive, you’ll be titillated by Class Action Park. I wouldn’t quite say engrossed, but it’s hard to turn off. Doesn’t matter if you ever went there. It’s evidence of a bygone time.

Something is lost in every great leap forward. And with technology it’s a sense of freedom, privacy. Not only were your parents clueless, you could move across the country and no one had any idea what you were up to, everybody you ever knew was not just a click away. The world was bigger, there were more holes to fall in. And in truth I like the new world better, but I’m fully aware of what has been sacrificed. And a lot of it is evidenced in “Class Action Park.”

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