Attempted Child Snatching Is An Amusement Park Safety Reminder

Eric.Parker, Flickr

Talk about getting too close for comfort. It turns out a man who was repeatedly getting within reach of a 2-year-old boy at an amusement park in Ohio may have been attempting to snatch the toddler. After he was arrested, police found toys and movies of children in his truck. Then, they came to find out he was secretly recording children all day with a hidden video camera in his sunglasses.

When it comes to kidnapping, amusement parks terrifyingly provide an environment ripe for the picking. But the truth is, there’s a much bigger chance families can get separated in crowded and chaotic parks. To avoid a potential horror story, consider these tips next time you spend a day at the park:

  • Establish A Meeting Place: Before you even set foot in the park, map out where you should meet if someone gets separated or in the event of another emergency.
  • Point Out Park Employees: Make sure your child understands what a uniformed park employee looks like. This way, if you do get separated, your child can find someone to help.
  • Have “The Talk”: Tell your kids about the importance of staying close. This doesn’t mean you need to barrage Junior with stories of kidnappings, but it couldn’t hurt to let them know how much you’d miss them if something happened.
  • Stay Alert: Everyone, including children, should should stay aware of their surroundings. This will not only help you stay together, but can keep kids away from running into obstacles like trash cans, barriers or other people.
  • Choose Bright Clothing: There’s no missing your child if he or she is wearing Dayglo orange (unless everyone else is, too).
  • Get Your Kid a Tattoo: Not a real one, silly. Companies now make temporary “safety” tattoos that allow you to put your telephone number on your child — and it won’t wash off in the wave pool like a marker does. This could also be good if your child has an allergy or medical condition.
  • Stick Together: Above all, don’t let your kids get lost in the crowd. This means staying by their side at every moment — from the concession stands to the restrooms.

French Vintage Carnival Rides Come To NYC

vintage carnival rides at Fete Paradiso
Courtesy Fete Paradiso

If you are a fan of carnival rides, history, or just good old-fashioned summer fun, take a ferry out to NYC’s Governor’s Island this summer for a festival of vintage Parisian rides and carousels. Billed as a museum meets amusement park, Fete Paradiso will open on July 13 and run until September 29, and feature 19th- and 20th-century attractions such as a pipe organ, flying swings and a bicycle carousel like the one featured in “Midnight in Paris.” To add to the vintage French feel, there will be food from bistro Le Gamin and a beer hall and event space converted from a 1900 bumper car pavilion, along with special events opening weekend for Bastille Day.

Admission to Fete Paradiso is free and rides are $3 a pop. The free ferry to Governor’s Island from Manhattan‘s Battery Maritime building or Brooklyn‘s Pier 6 runs half-hourly until 7 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. Learn more about Governor’s Island on their website, and follow the carnival set up on Instagram here.

A Family Night Out In Baghdad

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel
After a long road trip around Iraq, I find myself back in Baghdad. It’s our last night together as a group. For our final dinner we decide to eat a famous Baghdadi recipe at a famous landmark –mazgouf fish at Abu Nuwas Park.

Abu Nuwas park runs for one-and-a-half miles along the east bank of the Tigris in central Baghdad. It’s named after an early medieval poet who was half Arab and half Persian, and wrote poems in both languages. His poetry celebrated wine and sex and made fun of the Arab nostalgia for Bedouin life. This ensured trouble during his lifetime and fame after his death.

In keeping with the Abu Nuwas’ liberal tradition, the park that bears his name is a neutral ground for the city’s warring factions. Everyone comes here to relax, not fight. Of course there’s still the usual cordon of armed guards. Trust is in short supply in this country.

Once inside, though, it doesn’t feel like Baghdad at all. Families have picnics on blankets spread under trees. Kids do cartwheels on the grass. The Tigris glitters with reflected streetlights. A fountain at the edge of the riverbank shoots up water as colored lamps make the jets pulse red and purple. Music mixes with the calls of vendors selling nuts, candy, and Spongebob Squarepants balloons.

We’ve come to dine at one of the city’s most popular restaurants, Mazgouf, named after a large fish found in the Tigris that’s considered a delicacy. The fish is cut in half down its length and stuck on spike next to an open wood fire to slowly cook. When it’s done, it’s pulled off the spike and put on a plate. The scales and eyes on the outside are still preserved, making a sort of bowl from which to scoop out the goopy and incredibly rich insides. The restaurant at Abu Nuwas Park is said to be one of the best.

We find the restaurant and sit outside. As usual, the people at the next table come over and welcome us to Iraq. Mazgouf is made to order so there’s a long wait before we get our meal. Once it comes, everyone digs in with relish. I’m no expert on mazgouf but it’s the second-best meal I’ve had this entire trip. It’s so rich and heavy I can only finish half of it, although I’d love to eat the whole thing. The mood at the table is celebratory. We’ve made it through Iraq unscathed. Everyone is thinking of home but disappointed to be leaving.

While everyone else is leaving tomorrow morning and the guards will go off to other duties, my flight isn’t until the following morning, which means I get a whole day to myself in Baghdad. This worries me only slightly. My time in Iraq has taught me that the country is far safer than most people believe, and my hotel is in a good neighborhood. Besides, staying in the hotel all day simply isn’t an option. I just hope I don’t have any trouble when I go out alone.

After dinner we stroll around the park. The mood is relaxed and festive. So is the dress code. A woman walks by in a skirt and I almost keel over. It’s the first bare female leg I’ve seen in more than two weeks. Young couples who may very well be unmarried walk hand in hand, whispering to each other. I’ve stepped into another world. It’s even more relaxed than Kurdistan. Flashing lights and squeals of laughter draw me down a path and to another gate.

%Gallery-172598%It’s an amusement park. Kids are zipping around on bumper cars in the middle of a pool, or shooting down a giant inflatable slide. Their big brothers and sisters play videos games in a nearby arcade.

Getting in requires going through another checkpoint. There’s a brief hassle as the park’s guards demand that our guards leave their guns behind. Captain Ali, the senior of our two guards, doesn’t like that idea. I’m not sure how it’s resolved but we eventually get through, only to be stopped again.

“What now?” someone in our group groans.

“Photo! Photo!” the park guards say.

“Oh, OK.”

We all line up and take each other’s photos. I still haven’t figured out why Iraqis all want their photo taken. Only one of them has asked for a copy, and he never emailed me so I could send it to him. Maybe they just want to be part of my holiday memories. That’s cool. Memory made.

As soon as we’re through I ditch my guards. I don’t think those kids on the Merry-go-Round are going to shoot me, and after more than two weeks of these guys dogging my movements I’m sick of them. I slip behind some spinning ride with flashing lights and I’m gone.

Swarms of laughing children zip past me as I wander among the rides. I shake my head in amazement. How is this possible? This country is torn apart by war and sectarian bitterness and here everything is just fine. These families are the Iraqi majority, the decent folks who want all the bullshit to stop so they can get some enjoyment out of life. It would be silly to think they’re “just like us”; they’re not. But they’re enough like us that when this whole mess sorts itself out, I know who I want to come out on top.

“Mr. Sean.”

I turned around. Aw crap, Captain Ali has found me.

“We need to go now,” he says.

“Yeah, yeah.”

I turn away and keep walking. He trots patiently behind. This is a game he knows he’ll win.

Families come up to me, asking that I photograph their children or forcing their kids into impromptu English lessons. The kids take it with good grace, as curious as their parents about this strange foreigner who’s wandered into their fun.

Well, almost all the kids take it with good grace. One man drags his toddler over and urges her, “Say hello. Say hello.” She bursts into tears.

“Tired?” I ask.

He smiles and nods.

“Yes, tired. Late night.”

We laugh, one father to another.

Another tug at my arm. It’s Captain Ali again. Go away.

“Mr. Sean, we need to go.”

He leads me off, holding my wrist like a naughty child. I could complain, but he’s the law and even though he still has a reserve of good humor, his patience is at an end. We head for the exit.

Three bombs exploded in Baghdad this morning. More than a dozen killed. The story is already being broadcast by all the major news channels, with the usual blaring headlines and snuff film visuals. I take a last look around at Abu Nuwas park, at the picnicking families and the laughing children and the guys selling balloons. There are no TV cameras here.

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “A Solo Stroll Through Baghdad!”

[Photos by Sean McLachlan]

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel

Photo Gallery: Abandoned Amusement Park

Is there anything more creepy than an abandoned amusement park? Because everything I find truly perverse and creepy pretty much goes hand in hand with abandoned amusement parks.

That’s why the below gallery by Kansas photographer Brandon Vogt is so powerful. Vogt visited Joyland (an oxymoron if ever there was one), a shuttered theme park in Wichita, KS, and shot a series of 33 haunting images. From the death’s head roller coaster to the abandoned log jam house, Vogt’s photos evoke a sense of nostalgia mixed with primal fear. At least, that’s my take. Impressive work.

For complete gallery, click here.

[All images by Brandon Vogt]

New York Ferris Wheel To Be Tallest In The World

New York is going after more tourist business in a big way, building the world’s tallest Ferris wheel along the waterfront in Staten Island. To be called the New York Wheel, at 625 feet it will be 5 feet taller than the planned High Roller wheel for the Las Vegas Strip, 84 feet taller than the Singapore Flyer and carry over 1400 passengers at a time.

“The New York Wheel and the retail outlet mall will attract millions of visitors from around the five boroughs and around the world, bringing jobs and private investment to Staten Island,” Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel said in a statement. “The New York Wheel will be the newest member of New York’s global tourist attractions.”

The New York Wheel will have 36 capsules, each able to carry up to 40 passengers. Expected to draw 30,000 riders a day during peak season, adding up to 4.5 million visitors per year. At the wheel’s base will be a 100,000-square-foot terminal building, which will house retail, restaurant and theater space, along with exhibitions about New York City history, alternative energy and environmental sustainability.Not far will be Harbor Commons, a 350,000-square-foot retail complex with outlet stores, restaurants and a 200-room hotel with views of the Manhattan skyline.

To be designed by some of the same people that worked on the London Eye, construction is expected to begin in early 2014, with the goal of opening by the end of 2015.

The New York Wheel may not be the tallest wheel in the world; the Singapore Flyer can whisk 1,260 passengers around hourly to see a panorama of three different countries below as we see in this video:




Flickr photo by pchgorman