So this is what it’s come to: grown-ups beating up attendants at children’s amusement parks.
A duo of coronavirus mask resisters gave a teenage Sesame Place worker a busted jaw at Captain Cookie’s High C’s Adventure ride this past weekend. The man and woman, in their 30s, were in a party of seven that included four children. No matter. They still pummeled a 17-year-old and left him lying on the ground with an injury that would require surgery.
Police said they had identified two suspects from New York City and hoped to make an arrest on at least one felony charge within the week. Their victim, a Philadelphian highly regarded by Sesame Place coworkers, was attacked for trying to enforce a mask-wearing mandate.
Five months into this pandemic, we’ve seen bad behavior only get worse: unmasked men waltzing into big box stores and yelling about liberty, as though having to wear a mask while shopping for beef jerky is akin to being stabbed in the chest with a giant totalitarian sword. Now we’ve got parents acting like toddlers at places that by definition are refuges for childhood joy.
It’s the amusement park equivalent of finding an oasis in the desert and using it as a toilet.
People! Get yourselves together! You will not survive if you let your anger win.
“You shake your head when you hear this story,” Middletown Township Police Lt. Steve Forman said as we talked Tuesday about his investigation.
It would be great if the Sesame Place punch-out was an outlier. In terms of sheer brutality, it may be. But just a day before that assault near Langhorne, I was at a South Jersey amusement park geared toward very young kids and heard that pandemic patience was in short supply even there.
My kids and I were in line Saturday at Storybook Land in Egg Harbor Township. Other than a few day trips to the Shore, this was it for the boys, ages 7 and 6: a glimmer of the fun and sun that had vanished with the shutdown of schools in March. We were waiting to order soft serve after two hours roaming the nearly 25-acre family-run park on the Black Horse Pike near Atlantic City.
Though it had reopened only a few weeks earlier and was operating well below a half-capacity cap, the park was wonderful even with pandemic restrictions: a wonderland designed for children under 8 with adorable rides, arresting landscaping, and a dragon roller coaster that blows bubbles onto the passing kiddie cars. Masks were required, and attendants religiously sprayed every seat on every ride with disinfectant between every use.
“Mommy,” my 7-year-old said after a few hours of hitting the tea cups, the coaster, and adult-size fountain Pepsi treats, “this has been the greatest day since COVID started.”
My mask was drenching in sweat as he said this. But if you still have expectations or entitlement after five months of being body-slammed day after day by this pandemic, something is wrong with your mental wiring. You will not survive this. The pandemic’s pressure will not just crack you, it may shatter you.
“Thank you so much for your patience,” a Storybook Land employee said as I finally reached the front of the ice cream line, where she was marshaling bodies with good humor.
“Aren’t we all used to this by now?” I replied with a smile hidden by my enormous mask. “Being patient?”
“You’d be surprised,” she replied behind her own mask. “Some people, it’s gone the opposite way.”
To the uninitiated, Storybook Land is a place where it seems metaphysically impossible to be angry. Ever.
Pretty flowers in small pots are arranged in mid-air in such a way that they resemble gumdrops. There are more than 1,000 flowers and plants, plus nearly 400 hanging baskets — “to give everything color and a relaxing feel,” in the words of park manager JJ Fricano when we talked Tuesday morning.
And the bathrooms? They are so clean that, even in a pandemic, I’d consider eating off of them.
“You feel like you’re walking through almost an enchanted woods or forest. And it kind of gets you out of reality,” he said. “It’s like you’re almost in a totally different world.”
Staff there have found themselves managing the tricky business of dealing with tempers and mask enforcement, which, in New Jersey as in Pennsylvania, is now mandated by the governor. Most people are grateful. But a few are gripey. It’s hard on the staff.
One case, he said, “was a very minor kerfuffle between two parents where their children were too close to each other and one maybe didn’t have his mask on right and one parent was upset with another parent. Myself and one of my other supervisors mediated it, and it was over in a few minutes and then everybody went their own way.
“Nothing escalated like what happened at Sesame Place,” he added. “I’m very thankful for that.”