(I thought about titling this post "The Seventh Circle of Hell," but when I revisited Dante's descriptions of the various circles, then that title seemed a bit harsh... so I toned it back a bit.)
Last weekend, we went to Kennywood. Most of you know that Kennywood is a Pittsburgh amusement park with a long, storied history. It's a great place, clean and well-kept, smartly laid out, with old favorites as well as re-designed new interpretations of now-defunct rides. I haven't been there very often, having grown up in a small town farther south of the 'Burgh. My first trip to Kennywood was a school field trip in 8th grade, and since then, I've been there perhaps five times. A couple of those times have been with my young son.
This most recent visit was an evening foray, and the place was packed beyond comfortable levels. Line waits lasted a minimum of 30 minutes, with some of the stands for edible favorites boasting hour-long waits. The food-service employees appeared to be working in slow motion, as did a few of the ride operators; I'm sure they were simply bushed. It was warm but not terribly hot, thank goodness. And everywhere I looked, I saw spoiled people—and incomplete families.
There were many spoiled children, whining or throwing tired fits, bolting away from parents, arguing incessantly on every point. Some of the spoiled people were grown-ups, waddling along and panting as they simultaneously stuffed their faces. A handful of folks were pretty foul-mouthed; some of the younger ones were hanging all over each other. They were, by and large, slobs, over-exposed and under-dressed—a pretty sorry-looking bunch overall. I was right in there with them, equally unimpressive, but I'm happy to report that I managed to refrain from spouting the F word repeatedly, baring my midriff, or eating more than I could lift at one time.
Many of the children came in packs—apparently big families are back "in" these days—but an alarming number of the little ones belonged to disheveled and often pregnant women with nary a wedding ring in sight. I'm hoping that the impending birth of yet another child might have caused swollen extremities that forced the temporary abandonment of tight-fitting jewelry, but I have my doubts in many cases. That's because I also overheard a couple of disturbing conversations about the various daddies of the children (one mom, indicating various heads in her pack, grumbled about one dad not paying, another not calling her back... and not a one of the children could have been over 6.
I hope I don't sound like a disapproving snob. I don't think I am, truly. I am just bothered more and more by the blasé way that our culture has ditched decency, discipline, self-restraint, and committed relationships between men and women, especially marriage. In truth, what I witnessed over and over at Kennywood was nothing new, really, and it wasn't limited to a certain type of people group or ethnicity. It's prevalent everywhere. And it becomes increasingly undeniable to me when I'm in a big crowd of people.
The sheer American-ness of Americans is overwhelming and often embarrassing to me. We seem to be leaving behind a legacy of poor health, overindulgence, and avoidance of responsibility and effort. I know I'm over-stating all this, and I also know that the abandonment of marriage is far from an American phenomenon, but I can't take any comfort from either of those facts right now.
Even if I loved big crowds of people, I think I would have been disturbed by this last Kennywood visit. I fear for America's future. Things are going terribly wrong in the country that I love. We've lost our way, our means, and our compass. And a second order of Potato Patch fries won't save us in the end.