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Magic Mountain's downhill slide

September 02, 2006|Adam Guren

MY VISIT to Six Flags Magic Mountain was only a few minutes old when I sighted them: the legendary "rowdy teenagers" who are endangering the future of the park. From a distance, I observed two teenage boys racing down a hill -- in wheelchairs. I suspected that they had feigned injuries so they could get wheelchairs and preferential treatment, a suspicion that was confirmed when I later spotted them pushing friends in wheelchairs to the front of a line.

Like many Southern California twentysomethings, I was saddened by the news of Magic Mountain's probable sale and possible closure. Though I rarely go anymore, I fondly remember visits as a kid. So I decided, as the summer neared its end, to make a pilgrimage to Valencia. I wanted to say goodbye to Magic Mountain, at least until next year, and to see for myself if the park is being ruined by unruly teenagers, as Six Flags' new management has claimed. (It wants its theme parks to be "family friendly.")

The hooligans in wheelchairs confirmed their diagnosis. But then I started to notice teens who weren't doing such obviously outrageous things. Sure, a group of shirtless, Mohawked and tattooed youths may have scared a few mothers. But they weren't rowdy; they waited patiently even when a ride broke down, kept mostly to themselves and were polite.

The problem isn't necessarily the teens in the park -- it's the park itself, which is rundown and expensive. It took forever for a tram to pick me up from the parking lot. Too many drinking fountains were broken. Too many bathrooms were dirty. Too much paint was peeling.

But beyond these details, Magic Mountain didn't feel like an amusement park, with entertainment at every turn and attractions for every demographic. It felt like a collection of roller coasters with a few other rides, concessions and relics scattered in between.

Whole areas of the park were all but abandoned. At game booths, employees tried to coax a trickle of passersby into playing. At Bugs Bunny World, the park's pathetic attempt at a children's area, a lone tyke rode a silent carousel while the ever-popular teacups sat motionless.

Where were all the people whose cars filled the parking lot? Waiting in two- to three-hour lines for the state-of-the-art roller coasters for which Six Flags is justly famous. In recent years, investment has almost exclusively focused on these steel behemoths. It's no wonder that the park attracts mostly thrill-seeking teens.

As for me, I wasted two hours in line for a new ride I didn't enjoy much. I found smaller lines at old favorites and had some fun. But I got on only six rides in as many hours, and that cost me $75.

My excursion was not the somber farewell I had been anticipating. When I visited, closure appeared imminent. Now it looks like Magic Mountain may survive; Six Flags wants to sell it in a package with five other parks, so maybe a real estate developer won't buy it. But without an infusion of money and care, I'm not sure the park is worth fighting for.

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