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At my age, ACE ride is wild enough
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I tried to remember my last visit to Great America.
I can tell you that the Demon was one of the new rollercoaster attractions as was the Tidal Wave at the Santa Clara theme park that was still part of Marriott’s.
So much had changed over the years.
Last week, I had the pleasure of serving as one of several chaperones for my son’s eighth-grade class trip to California Great America.
Our group of nearly 40 was made up of 24 students (one classmate opted not to attend the all-expense paid trip in order to spend that day at the skate park) along with parents and a few siblings boarding the Altamont Commuter Express train from Stockton. For many of us, this was our first-ever experience using the rail system linking the Central Valley to the Bay Area.
Riding ACE, in a way, was a nice warm-up to Great America. As one familiar with many of the roads in this neck of San Joaquin County, I enjoyed zipping past the former site of Manteca Waterslides at Oakwood Lake – the water park was one of the largest of its kind before closing in 2004 – now accommodating a few luxury homes.
Sitting on the second deck of the commuter train, we could actually see Deuel Vocational Institution from up close. Years ago, I was granted a tour of the Northern California correctional facility thanks to my longtime friend, Don Vasquez, who still works there as prison guard.
I also caught glimpses of neighborhood parks in Tracy, a BMX track next to Interstate 580 in Livermore, and picturesque scenery somewhere past Interstate 680 not to far from Highway 84 leading into Fremont.
For better or worse, the train ride was nearly two hours. I didn’t mind the leisurely pace especially since I was also enjoying a day off from work.
Now ACE was just one leg of the trip. The other part was the 20-minute hike from the Santa Clara platform to the amusement park. At least we had a chance to walk past the site – specifically, the overflow parking area for Great America – of the proposed football stadium for the San Francisco 49ers.
Once inside, I noticed that the familiar double-deck carousel was still there as was Demon and a few other attractions.
But gone was Tidal Wave, replaced by Survivor the Ride.
Most of the kids, however, jumped directly in line to ride Vortex, featuring a 91-foot lift hill, a 360-degree loop and plenty of twists and turns.
I was anxious to ride a rollercoaster even though my son balks at such thrill rides. Josh, instead, enjoys the dizzying type of rides as does his friend, David.
So we made our way to the Grizzly, a classic wooden coaster reminiscent of the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz and Magic Mountain’s Colossus, finding a place in line with fellow chaperone, Alex Leos, David’s older brother.
As we boarded the Grizzly, I confessed to Alex that it had been years since I last rode a coaster of any kind. “Hope you don’t mind my screaming,” I said.
I thoroughly enjoyed the ride along with the rest of Great America.
The best ride, however, was aboard the crowded ACE train on the way home. It sure was good just to sit back and relax after a long day.

To reach reporter Vince Rembulat, e-mail