First Pony Ride, 8 Dollars
Solemn carousel enthusiast rides actual living horse for exactly two minutes
A few weeks back, we planned a secret trip to a pumpkin patch with Kina’s friend Niki, a friend who has spent more or less his whole life with Kina, and who moved out east during the pandemic. Despite this untimely move, we try to stay in touch and take periodic trips east and west across the glacial moraine of Long Island, traversing beaches and hills formed eons ago by the slow procession of ice in order to keep two very recently-born children familiar with each other.
And what geologic formation could be more notable and child-friendly at this time of year than an authentic pumpkin patch? What a vision I had—of twisted vines and varied gourds, of parents carrying hacksaws, of upturned earth. How poetic! I have never actually seen a pumpkin patch, and so my most relevant point of reference is It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, whose hero, Linus, is famous for his solemn recitation of the film’s core plot premise:
Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He's gotta pick this one. He's got to. I don't see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there's not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.
What is the barest modicum of sincerity one can expect from a pumpkin patch? That it is a patch, and that one picks pumpkins from it.
As it turns out, Charlie Brown is a poor reference for real life. It is possible for a pumpkin patch of questionable sincerity to be a vast, mown lawn arrayed with entertainments for children, around which diesel tractors pull hayrides that would seem vestigial if the pumpkins were not placed, for no discernible reason, at a great distance from the gate. Placed, here, is the operative word, because the pumpkins one picks at the pumpkin patch are unloaded from huge cardboard crates and lined up according to size in neat rows at the far end of a grassy field.
At the near end of the field is a wagon rental concern, at which you pay five dollars and leave your driver’s license in order to borrow a little red wagon to fill with children and pumpkins. You are then urged, after forking over the five bucks, to place your wagon on the hayride with your children and let the diesel do the work of carrying you to hundreds of arbitrarily-distant pumpkins. You begin to question your decision.
Conveniently, alongside the pumpkins at the other end of the field, where you have been towed and abandoned by a tractor, is an extremely distracting petting zoo. Entry costs another five dollars per person, and cups of food are one dollar. You will eventually purchase the entrance and the food, but you are first derailed, dear reader, by the secret premier attraction of this petting zoo—an actual pony ride.
Inside a fenced enclosure of this pony ride are two beleaguered ponies and three enthusiastic teenagers. The first of the three teenagers welcomes your excited daughter—who has all sorts of ideas about ponies that she has learned from movies—and then immediately turns to you and quietly demands eight dollars. You pay the pony tax and surrender the safety of your child to the second and third teenagers, as you are ushered out of the pony departure zone and twenty feet back into the pony arrival zone.
You watch, with actual sentimental glee, your serious little daughter being escorted on her pony around this enclosure, which measures roughly forty feet by eighty. The pony marches slowly, but the ring is small, and it becomes apparent two minutes later that the pony and its teenagers intend to make but a single circuit on this tour. He has marched two hundred and twenty feet, which would have been two hundred and forty, had you not been moved twenty feet back to the pony arrival zone.
You cannot take pictures except at the pony arrival zone, where your daughter’s two teenaged escorts dip down hilariously and ineffectually to allow you to capture the heroic image of a four-year-old on the back of a little horse with whom she is only passingly familiar. The horse’s name, you learn, is Bentley. Your child receives a pony sticker, which she proudly affixes to the frilly skirt of her Elsa costume. As she walks with you away from the pony enclosure, she asks you why the pony didn’t gallop as she had expected it to, and you have to explain how horse riding works.
After the pony and the goats in pajamas and the cups of food and the sun inching higher in the sky, your child and her oldest friend will wander the ranks of pre-cut pumpkins in the grass and select two nondescript pumpkins. They will place them into the wagon and smoosh themselves into the remaining space. The children weigh, by your estimation, a combined ninety pounds. The pumpkins, you will later learn, when you are shuffled into the cashier’s gauntlet, weigh thirty pounds. You drag these one hundred and twenty pounds of cuteness across a lush field in a little red wagon, skeptical of the carbon footprint of the hayride and desperate for a sense of having somehow worked for this.
The walk to the cashier across the vast entertainment meadow is three hundred feet—eighty feet longer than the ride your child took on a pony named Bentley. This ride, however, is free of charge, and the conversation is better. The children are pleased, the wagon is returned, the field is two pumpkins lighter, and the ponies continue to march in slow ellipses, presumably day and night, for all eternity, until the glaciers come again.
Today’s Parade was dictated to Laurea by Kina. It is a night sky filled with stars, in which a pumpkin is dreaming of a witch. I don’t know why it’s balanced so far to the right of the page, but I’m not the art director here.