The smell of deep-fried funnel cake hangs in the breeze. The click-clack-click-clack in the distance is followed by a moment of silence and then a chorus of shrieks as a roller coaster screams down its first drop.
Belmont Park Boardwalk in San Diego is not unlike other boardwalks in the United States. I could be in Virginia Beach or on Coney Island. Dozens of t-shirts hang from a nearby stand with varying designs advertising the city. One that says “I heart San Diego” could just as easily say “I heart San Francisco.” Hanging among the shirts, a sign: Buy 2, Get 1 Free.
Carnival games are lined up, side by side by side. Bongo Beat invites players to wallop plastic critters as they pop out of play drums. Win a colorful, animated stuffed animal at One in Wins with only a single successful ball through the basketball hoop.
Red and yellow and blue light bulbs outline each ride and structure. Lit up at night, the round bulbs are dull and reminiscent of decades past during the day.
I wait for my husband on a deck at a table with a large umbrella. Around me, families snack on huge portions of greasy French fries and frozen lemonades. Kids laugh and shriek, hopped up on sugar. Parents let them run around while they chat with each other. Occasionally the adults pull out a small stack of tickets and tear them along the perforation, counting them and handing them out mindlessly.
Cory sets a pizza on the table—a six slice, thick-crusted cheese pizza for a mere $6.00. I pull a gooey slice from the pie and watch the scene around me. As the breeze changes, a new smell—this time the sweet scent of cotton candy—floats by.
The atmosphere of an American boardwalk is a strange microcosm of society. It’s a moment stuck in time, a scene of nostalgia, yet the epitome of overzealous Americanism. Expensive entertainment, nothing to show for the dollars spent. Loud kids who want, want, want. Fatty, unhealthy hot dogs topped with chili and top-heavy chocolate soft-served ice cream cones.
And yet, everyone is so happy and excited. The only priority is to have fun, to make the most of that single moment. The boardwalk embodies those moments in the past that we grasp and remember.
I bite down on the soft pizza, the cheese hot against the roof of my mouth. I mentally mark this one down as a good day.