Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hershey: the scariest place on earth

So you may be wondering where Jackie has hibernated to, and that lucky place is the great city of Hershey. One sentence describes my entire experience here: I've seen things that will stick with me for the rest of my life. And at the top of that list is the singing cows at Chocolate World. During one weekend after a snowfall I decided to get out of the house and head over to the locally recommended hot spot, all the while operating on the assumption that it's one big candy shop. Heads up, it is not. It is so much terrifyingly more.

As I drive over on the overcast afternoon, I turn into the entrance to see massive empty parking lots covering acres of land and a vacated amusement park looking old and dingy in the poor light, and it honestly feels as if I'm passing through a bizarre ghost town. I park next to the main entrance, which brings the total car count in the lot to a dozen, and as I head toward the faded multi-colored entrance I realize I'm virtually alone.

I walk through the doors and past dimly lit doorway openings to the nearest signs of life, and I enter into the back way of the gift shop. So there I am stepping into this massive labyrinth of chocolate, whose walls consist of 10-16 feet high walls of Reece's and Hershey's milk bars and kisses, and at the top I can see giant pieces of candy fully equipped with eyes, legs and toothless smiles all staring down at me.

Opting to distance myself from the glare, I weave my way to the front where after 10 minutes have passed, I see my first human. The cashier. Wanting to make sure I just didn't fall down the rabbit hole, I ask about the empty place to find out that most things are closed, but that there is a indoor Hershey's ride still open for the day.

Well, not wanting the trip to be a total bust, I waltz my way over to the giant "Hershey's Great American Chocolate Tour" entrance where yet again I walk through to find myself alone. In a dimly lit hallway. Come on, I think to myself. side note to Hershey: has the economy hit you that hard that you're cutting back on lighting? Please.

You can tell these vacant hallways are meant for herding massive amounts of people, and each is peppered with TV sets playing a video on the process of cocoa bean harvesting. I pause a moment to watch, but again I start to notice the void of life made clear by the utter silence aside from the TVs. So I book it through hallway after hallway to find the entrance to the ride all the while thinking to myself that a few of the patients on my psych rotation would have lost it by now. As I reach the pinnacle I find a flight of stairs descending to a circular moving floor with the carpet in the design of a multi-colored brown pinwheel. And on the border of the wheel I see bucket seats in groups of three moving by the edge and then breaking off into the entrance of the ride. Two people were taking their time exiting the ride, so the worker directed me to sit in the second bucket. I climb in and cozy myself down, and after a moment my seat glides me into the opening, and it's obvious that there is no one joining me in my bucket. or my group of three. or the groups in front or behind me.

At this point I consider busting out a few lines of "All By Myself" when before I knew it someone beat me to the singing. Well, I should say something. Three cows, that it. Three massive cloth covered cow heads sticking out from a wall start to soulfully sing three words over and over again, that being "Hershey's milk chocolate!" Thinking that I want a better view, my bucket turns me toward the blasting music to face the cows head on (hardy har har).

My cart continues to carry me on to the next room, which is really a room starting the explanation of how chocolate is made. So from room to room my cart shifts me from left to right to stare at massive equipment used during each step of the chocolate making process (along with actual footage from the factory displayed on large TVs). And all the while a wanna-be spokesman for Rogain with background music from the Milk Chocolate song blasts me away. I went through many a room, and even through the inside of a massive heating oven to finally find myself in the last room. The best way to describe the room is one giant LCD screen with iconic images from cities around the US flashing before my eyes with jazzy music from the 1980s adding the finishing touches to the nightmare I'll be having later on that night. As I exit, a pubescent teen hands me two pieces of chocolate, and looking on the ground I notice carcasses of empty wrappers and even unopened pieces haphazardly tossed on the floor. I imagine that's the chocolate that was chucked away from patrons fleeing the scene.

You know, I completely understand now why small children spontaneously start screaming on amusement rides. I wondered if people who've been abducted would use this as an adequate description of their experience.