|Photo credit: Ralph Crane for LIFE magazine - Seattle World's Fair, 1962|
Roller coasters. Those two words usually either:
1.) Strike fear into the heart of the hearer
2.) Make them very excited.
Until a couple summers ago, I was operating under the great misconception that I had ridden real, honest-to-goodness roller coasters. When I was little I would go to this cute little amusement park near our house that had a selection of rides that I deemed quite marvelous. So when I flew out of state to visit a friend and one of the most popular attractions in her city was an enormous amusement park, naturally we had to go. I love roller coasters, I assured her confidently. And I did...at least what I thought were roller coasters.
The morning of the trip dawned sunny, bright and hot. I had been having a bit of a sick stomach from flying and possibly poisonous airport food, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from having a new adventure. I had dry toast and tea for breakfast as a precaution and we set off.
We arrived at the park to see great crowds of people already milling around the park and staff hustling around busily. Since my friend had already been there countless times, she knew where all the best rides were and she picked our first one. We entered the waiting line and I gazed with growing apprehension at the monstrous, neon-colored track looming above me. My eyes followed the roller coaster in its circuit and the screams of the passengers echoed in the air. The sun beat down on me and I have to admit, I was starting to have second thoughts.
After what seemed like forever, we finally reached the front of the line and found seats. The countdown began and, in a feeble attempt to seem calm and cool, I whipped out my phone and snapped a picture of us "before our first ride."
Nothing could have prepared me for that first downgrade. As the coaster crested the first towering slope, the metal restraint in my lap suddenly seemed alarmingly slippery and I made a fruitless attempt to get a more stable grip. We passed the point of no return and picked up speed in a extremely unsettling manner. My stomach dropped, my head floated away, and an involuntary scream ripped from my throat. I believe it was simply a primal reaction to the simulation of being in physical danger- i.e., falling to your death.
All rational thoughts were wiped from my brain as we shot down the track and around countless hair-pin turns, the wind roaring in my ears. I occupied myself with the difficult task of forcing oxygen into my lungs after each consecutive scream.
The roller coaster finally slowed came to a stop. My friend looked at me concernedly. "Are you okay?" I was a mess. My hands were glued to the safety bar and my lips were stuck to my teeth from my mouth being opened in a perpetual dying scream. Also, my eyes were probably bulging out of my head and my hair was all fabulous and wind-blown. "That was so fun," I rasped. And I meant it too.
I rode many other roller coasters that day, but that first one was my favorite. The second time I rode it, my friend and I couldn't get seats next to each other so I was sandwiched between two strangers. On my left was a huge, well-muscled individual covered in tattoos and wearing a magnificent kerchief on his head. On my right was a middle-aged man who looked rather apprehensive. As I secured the safety restraint, Biker Dude proceeded to give me some advice about the best way to sit for stability and the optimum riding experience. He was apparently a veteran at this sort of thing. I thanked him and apologized in advance for screaming in his ear. (Apprehensive Man said nothing.)
The second ride was way more fun than the first. As I had almost total assurance that I was not going to die, I could actually just sit back and enjoy the ride. Biker Dude and I whooped with pure joy and probably put our hands up and looked amazing. Apprehensive Man did rather well for his first time. He white-knuckled the restraint with that familiar bug-eyed look and swore bravely at the extra scary parts.
After that experience, when I go to amusement parks I critically gaze at the roller coasters and mentally compare them to that amazing bright yellow one that will forever live in my memory. They never measure up, but I love them all anyway.
How do you feel about roller coasters?