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Hot Fun in the Etc

Wet and wild becomes wet and nauseous at Hurricane Harbor. Plus: Hey Cadets! out-debauches Buddy.

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By Wednesday I'd spent a week working myself into a frenzy over my first trip to Hurricane Harbor, the brand-new water park at Great America. I kept rereading the amusement park's Web site, which calls Hurricane Harbor "a Caribbean paradise boasting hundreds of wild and wet water activities and hours of fun for all ages." I like water, I love fun. What could go wrong?

That question was answered as soon as I arrived with my boyfriend and a couple of our friends. Hurricane Bay, the half-million-gallon wave pool, had just been evacuated: a 68-year-old man was standing in three feet of water when he gave someone the idea he might be having a heart attack. After lifeguards performed CPR, he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

When they finally let people back in half an hour later, I felt like I might have to join him. The place was so crowded you couldn't extend your arms, much less splash around. I could smell people's deodorant and hairspray. Swimming in dirty, freezing Lake Michigan would have been more pleasant.

We gave up and headed for the Superman: Ultimate Flight roller coaster, where they strap you into a device like an upside-down paramedic board. You're supposed to feel like a superhero, leaping and bounding and zipping through the air, but it feels more like you're a crazy person plummeting headfirst toward certain death.

Then came Batman: The Ride, where you head through a series of fake sewer tunnels and sit down in what looks like a ski lift, your legs dangling. After a succession of stomach-churning loops I didn't want to feel like a superhero anymore; when the ride finally stopped I was hallucinating pretty orbs of light. I went to the bathroom and made myself puke. The last time I tripped so hard I was on actual drugs.

We made our way to the Iron Wolf, a 100-foot-tall, 55-mile-an-hour stand-up roller coaster. As soon as I was strapped in I changed my mind and asked to be let out, lest I do permanent damage to my brain. I decided the baby rides were more my speed, so we headed to the Revolution, a big doughnut that swings gently back and forth on a pendulum.

It looked nice and relaxing, and it was, until it started spinning like a tornado while swooshing hither and thither, the arc growing with each swing, until we were nose-diving while twirling at breakneck speed. I held my head in my hands and moaned, trying not to puke again.

At 9 PM, an hour before closing time, all of Great America's plushie Looney Tunes took to a poorly lit stage in Hometown Square, near the park's exit. When we got there they were screaming, "Party all night!"--just that one phrase, over and over, which I thought was pretty weird considering they cater to an audience of bed wetters. Bugs Bunny followed with a rave-up techno track over which he just yelled, "Jump! Jump! Jump!" repeatedly, so I did. A woman holding a toddler glanced over at me and mouthed, "It's OK." I wasn't convinced.

Give me three things at a party--sweat, noise, and danger--and I'm happy, which is why I love Buddy so much. So when I found out the space had recently lost its lease and would be gone by the end of the month, I panicked.

Last Thursday my fears were put to rest. Hey Cadets!, a brand-new residence, gallery, and party space just a couple blocks down on Milwaukee, above the new Stop Smiling HQ and below housing for Austrian artists in an exchange program, makes Buddy look like an upright establishment.

Eight kids who met last year in the smoking lounge of a Columbia College dorm occupy the two-floor, 3,000-square-foot loft; about five others will pitch in with programming and organizing. A couple of the Cadets help run similar spaces in California and Ohio.

"We want to help other artists out," says film student Jon Rybicki, at 20 one of the oldest Cadets. "We're not into having art be a commodity that someone's making a lot of money or profit from."

To prepare for their first event they ripped out the old carpet and used remnants of the putrid foam padding for soundproofing, windows included. But they kept two windows exposed: one about the size of a bathroom window, and another that looks out onto the roof.

Partygoers crawled through the latter, banging up our shins on the sill on the way to the rooftop, where a crumbling ledge was the only thing keeping us from falling into the charred remains of a building next door. Cans of beer were scattered about like so many Easter eggs.

I toed my way around, avoiding gaping holes and soft, rotten spots, pocketing Old Styles.

An incredibly tall, narrow ladder was propped against a wall, reportedly left behind by a construction crew who'd done some work on the rooftop just above this one. I'm gonna kill someone, it said. What're you gonna do about it?

It attracted a crowd of kids who stared up at it in awe, none of them daring to take the first rung. "You have four kinds of desire," a skinny boy with a blond bowl cut said to his friend. "I want to know about number two." He scuttled up perilously fast, not giving himself time to think about what he was doing. The higher he got, the tinier and more vulnerable he looked, and the sicker I felt. The crowd started murmuring, worrying aloud. When he was about halfway up Rybicki finally yelled at him to get down, and he obliged, thank God.

Inside, the local group Bird Names was plunking out noisy ditties about Jesus and dinosaurs; the kid who'd climbed the ladder jumped onto his friend's back and rode him around like a bronco.

The cops showed up as the band beat the end of "Old Time Rock & Roll" to death. I wasn't ready to leave, so I clambered back onto the roof, where I hoped I could hide till the heat died down. A sweet-faced girl with platinum blond hair, a pierced septum, and an ape mask on top of her head followed me, yelling, "Party on the roof, dudes!" The kids poured through after her.

Back inside half an hour later, Green Milk From the Planet Orange, a Japanese garage-psych band, started their set. The Cadets corralled everyone in from the roof and shut the window, turning the place into a sweat lodge. Soon everyone was dancing wildly--one dude even crowd-surfed. Flushed from the heat and drenched in sweat, we looked like pink, slimy, squirmy things squeezed out of a hamster's vagina.

When I was on the verge of passing out I ran outside and lay on the sidewalk, arms and legs splayed, a goofy smile spreading over my face. I felt like I'd cheated death, and like even if I hadn't, this would've been a great place to take my last breath.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer.

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