Summer Fun: You Might Wanna Schlitt Down for This
Save for a few infrequent trips to Mustang Island, every summer like clockwork, our nuclear headed to Schlitterbahn for a day. When my brother and I were old enough to chaperone ourselves, the day went something like this: Mom and Dad would set up at a picnic table somewhere, happily applying a perforated wristband of “Splash Cash,” the coin of the Shlitter-realm (now doled out in credit card form). Then they just let us go forth, to tube to our hearts' content. We had to check in at the picnic table every three hours or so to ensure we weren't 1) dead 2) arrested, again, or 3) too badly sunburned … in that exact order. Sun-drunk and schlittfaced we'd ride home, and then head straight to bed.
I remember the world being a less exciting place on the days after a Schlitterbahn trip.
On a recent trip back, I was overwhelmed with a host of sense memories of the place.
Schlitterbahn was built piecemeal – it began in 1979 with what we regulars know as "the Bahn," the west end or old-school part of the park, later growing a few more sections to the east of New Braunfels' Landa Park – and so it needs to be admired for its nooks and crannies.
The place sprawls to such an extent that I'm still discovering unused architectural dead ends and corners of the old park. Disjunctive is a word: Here, a circa 1990s nod to Boogie-boarding where 'tweens and over-zealous adults (mostly male) can peacock their balancing ("surfing") skills on an eternal fake wave… There, a more recent (and borderline un-okay) attempt to incorporate animatronics into a Congo-themed river expedition replete with mask-wearing “natives.” (Who greenlit that?)
Teenagers rove in gangs and adults hold hands with their sweeties (heads lolled back and bodies splayed out meandering on one of the park's many lazy rivers like some precious sacrifice served up on an inner tube). Slides ramble through buildings creating echo chambers of rushing water and kidscream; they span the length of parks and get repainted only on occasion. Lifeguards – local high school and college kids – run the affective gamut from intensely bored to cheery and talkative. I feel for them: They're often stuck – literally, ass-in-water for hours – saving the tube-bound from inevitable whirlpools of stagnation, slaves to their rotation schedules craftily written on Popsicle sticks.
In the one of the kids' areas there's a beer-stein slide, a charming holdover from when the park was more explicitly Texas-Germanic themed. Those same stein-sliding kids line up jonesing for funnel cakes – tumbleweeds of fried dough whose crispy exteriors are all-too-often made soggy by still-wet fingers behaving more like vulture beaks than Homo sapiens' digits. Compellingly complementary smells: coconut-scented sunscreen and black rubber inner tubes. Take that to the bank, Yankee Candle Company, or, you know, not.
The sweet and cool Comal is the source feeding the vast and complicated waterworks of Schlitterbahn, and this waterpark owes this most special of rivers a great debt.
As in my childhood, coming back from Schlitterbahn I noticed three things: the light blistering on my feet from hot concrete, a persistent tiring ache shooting through my body, and an impending sense of fear of an inevitable hum-drum tomorrow.
Read more Summer Fun stories at austinchronicle.com/blogs. The Austin Chronicle’s Summer Fun issue is on stands Thursday, May 16.