Roller Coaster of Emotions

This issue of Pittsburgh Magazine recognizes the role colleges and universities play in our region. Amanda Reed took a serious look at the state of mental health counseling on local college campuses. It’s an even more compelling subject as the impact of the pandemic on academic and personal lives has left students reeling. And Deborah Todd introduces us to two emerging leaders who are improving Pittsburgh’s Black community and by extension, the community at large. It’s an inspiring story about the power of a single person to make a difference and how our college students have a real stake in what happens here.

They are important stories, and I strongly encourage you to read and share them. But I would be remiss if I didn’t also call your attention to Sean Collier’s story about the Old Mill at Kennywood and how it got new life by returning to its roots.

That story resonates with me, as it might for many other longtime Pittsburghers. When I was a kid, I went every year to the iconic amusement park for Monongahela Community Day. It was always the first Wednesday of August and it wasn’t an exaggeration to say that it was greeted with the same enthusiasm as Christmas and my birthday. To prepare, we got our discounted books of tickets and a “Kennywood outfit.” It was like getting new clothes for Easter but better coordinated to match the rest of your family.

In a twist, I didn’t go to Kennywood with my Mom and Dad. I went with my Aunt Margie and cousin Larry, who wasn’t really my cousin but a kid my age who lived with my aunt. My parents took my younger brother and sister. They are fraternal twins, which is about as good as it gets when looking for a guaranteed riding partner.

Going to Kennywood with Aunt Margie made this middle child feel as special as it got. We would leave extra early to arrive when the park opened. My parents and siblings were still getting the car packed when I was already looking out the car windows to see if I could “spot Kennywood first.” Once we arrived, Aunt Margie would dole out tickets books and we were off. She would patiently follow along, serving as chaperone and chief financial officer.

At some point, after riding for hours, we would take a break and meet my parents at the pre-appointed time at the picnic table we ALWAYS got in the shelter next to the Jack Rabbit. Nothing beat eating as we watched the coaster carrying screaming people down the hill beside us. As lunch wrapped up, we made plans to reconvene later. In the days before cell phones, a carefully coordinated Kennywood agenda was crucial. You did not want to be kept waiting and miss out on valuable ride time.

Eventually, my parents would head home with my siblings but I would be at the park until after the lights came on. It was a magical moment for a kid to see. When it got late enough and poor Aunt Margie had enough, we left the park. But the fun wasn’t over.

We would stop at Johnny’s Drive-in in West Elizabeth for Monster Burgers, onion rings and milkshakes. The waitress would bring the tray full of food and hook it onto the car window. Somehow that made everything taste even better. When our stomachs were full, we would call it a day and on the drive back home talk about the highlights.

My Aunt Margie passed away many years ago, as have my parents, but the Kennywood memories she gave me will be with me forever.

Brian can be reached at

Categories: Editor