Hi, Kennywood. Let's Talk.
Monday, July 15, 2019

I'm as surprised as anybody that I'm about to say this, but I think maybe Kennywood is starting to get their act together. I mean, parking is still a disaster, there are still rides that aren't open, and there's definitely lots of room for continued improvement, but we spent an entire day there this weekend and it wasn't awful.

That's a HUGE improvement over even just a few weeks ago.

The biggest jump in the right direction is that in 8 hours at the park, I don't think I ran into a single miserable employee. That's new! For the past few years, it has seemed like EVERY employee there is completely miserable and poorly trained and generally in a bad place. Extra special shout out to Sam who was working The Whip at around 6:00pm on Sunday. Not only was he not miserable, he was straight-up HAVING FUN. CAN YOU IMAGINE! He was talking over the loudspeaker the whole time, encouraging riders to cheer and get rowdy while putting their arms up and all of that. He did a fantastic job, to the point that as Mila and I were getting off the ride, she turned to me and said, "He's really fun!"

I don't remember Mila EVER commenting that a worker at Kennywood was fun. Ever. In her entire five years. And she goes to Kennywood a lot. So, thanks Sam. You made the day a little bit better for a very enthusiastic five-year old.

The other big improvement was that rides are starting to reopen. Sky Rocket has (finally) returned, Skycoaster was back in business, and the Paddle Boats were up and running. All good things, obviously, and I think that just leaves Black Widow to get back to its true glory. It's amazing how having a few more rides open can make the crowds spread out. Seriously.

Oh, and of course, Steel Curtain was open.

Which is EXACTLY where there is still a huge opportunity for improvement.

Before I get to that, though, let me just say Steel Curtain is fun. It is worthy of they hype. On Sunday, the lines weren't really terrible. We waited 1.5 hours one time and 1.75 hours the other, which is a long time, but not awful, considering it was only the second full day of operations. I've certainly waited longer for rides at Cedar Point. It was worth the wait.

But I can say that because I got to ride it.

There's a thing that I saw happen a total of three times in the moments that I spent in line and waiting for others who were in line. Three people ... THREE ... stood in line with their family and friends, felt that moment of excitement that comes as it's finally your turn to ride a brand new thrill ride, and then felt the crushing embarrassment that comes as an employee tries several times to force the lap bar down, but then declares you "too big" for the ride. Three people endured those moments that probably felt like years as the entire ride was held up as a stranger looked them up and down, judged their body, and then asked them to get off the ride.

The third one was a woman who would have been seated directly in front of us. She was there with her son, a fact I know because they smiled and chatted within earshot the entire time Alexis and I were in line. She and her 10 or 11-year old son were ALL OF THE EXCITED about the ride. Frankly, I would never have guessed that she wouldn't be able to safely ride Steel Curtain. She wasn't what I would consider to be all that big - I suspect it was far more of a shape thing than a size thing. She was probably a size 2X? Maybe? She had a slender waist and gorgeous curves for miles, which was likely the problem. Her legs and the awesome junk in her trunk didn't allow for the form-fitted seat and lap bar to come together the way they need to for a person to safely ride.

Which, I get it. Safety is the top priority. It should be. Always.

But that moment when it became clear that she wouldn't be allowed to ride will stick with me for a very long time. She mustered all of her Good Mom Powers to glue a smile on her face as she excitedly told her son to stay on the ride and she would cheer from the side, but those Good Mom Powers couldn't make her eyes match the show. She fought tears back with all of her might.

The woman waited nearly two hours for a ride, then spent three minutes being humiliated by Kennywood employees. I know they were doing their jobs, but the words they chose in those moments, the actions as they played out ... they made it worse. The phrase, "You're too big to ride safely" is just ... ouch.

I tweeted Kennywood during this whole thing and they did assure me that they are installing test seats at the ride entrance. That will go a long way in helping people know if they're good to go before they stand in that line. It's a definite improvement, and hopefully those seats show up quickly and can get installed immediately.

But right now, today, Kennywood absolutely needs to train its staff on how to handle that moment. They words they use in those moments have the power to ruin someone's entire day, so they need to choose those words with as much empathy and compassion as is humanly possible. Find better words, hang signs all over the place so people have warning before and while standing in line, and just make it better. And not just with Steel Curtain.

Do better, Kennywood. You've proven you can improve, so improve this one thing.

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