Monday, June 19, 2006

Roller Coasters

Reg and I went to Magic Mountain last Thursday, and we got to ride the latest thrill machine: Tatsu. A huge and innovative roller coaster where you lie on your stomach, the train hangs down from an overhead track, and you get the feeling of flying like superman. It’s also cool because you are able to do the type of loop where you start off straight, then pitch down all the way over like a somersault, completely opposite the way most roller coasters loop. It was awesome.

I've always loved roller coasters.

They have a quasi-special meaning for me. My dad grew up in the tiny city of Fillmore in Ventura County, and so my grandparents and cousins on my father's side always lived there. Growing up, about once a year or so, we would add a trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain to the end or beginning of a weekend Fillmore visit. When I was very young, it was mainly about bugs bunny world and cotton candy. But when I was about 8 years old (that's a guess), Dad suggested the idea of going on one of the "big roller coasters". At this time in history, the biggest of the "big roller coasters" was Colossus. A huge, beautiful dual-track white wooden roller coaster that stood as the boundary between the amusement park and the parking lot, challenging anyone to survive it. I was just tall enough for the top of my hair to reach the "riders must be this tall" line. I was a little nervous about it, but I wanted to be brave like Dad, so I said ok.

The line was long, and it was just after dusk. The boarding station was a good 100 ft or so from the start of the coaster structure itself, so one could easily see the train departing toward the structure with its intrepid warriors, and returning with frazzled, laughing passengers. I kept the knot in my stomach mostly under control as we finally climbed into the train seats. Then it was out, away from the din of hundreds of people conversing, away from the sticky ground and dirty hand rails and rushing teenagers and Warner Brothers costumes, and up, slowly, into the windy sky. At that time, the top of the first drop of Colossus, at a little over 100 feet, was the highest point in the park, aside from the sky tower elevator. We could see the whole park; yet for all the visual lights and liveliness, the only audible sounds were the KA-CHUK KA-CHUK of the chain and tracks beneath our feet, and the low whoosh of the breeze. Then it came: the drop. I had really never done anything like this in my young life. Space and Thunder mountain at Disneyland were fun, but they produced nowhere near this level of dread and thrill in me. My stomach seemed to vibrate and resonate with the feeling of weightlessness as we plummeted down amid the screams of the other passengers. It was an odd thing to be feeling a very intense sensation, and have absolutely no control over it. Then it was back up, around, and down again as we made our way through the labyrinthine structure. I didn't scream at first, mainly because I didn't really know what to do in this state of thrill and distress except grit my teeth and hang on. My dad yelled at me before the next drop: "Scream, David! Just let it out! WOOHOOO!". And I did. It let me loose to enjoy the rest of the ride. It wasn't about fear anymore, but gusto. The giant wooden Colossus had challenged me, and I was answering its challenge. As the train left the structure and slowed down, heading back to the boarding station, Dad told me he was proud of me for being so brave (though I hadn't felt very brave at all before he said it).

That ride was all I could talk about for weeks, and from then on I would never shy away from any ride at an amusement park. It may sound cheesy, but I think that first ride on Colossus with my dad helped me to adopt an adventurous attitude about life. What had seemed like a scary challenge proved instead to be a worthwhile and thrilling experience. I feel like I’ve applied that outlook to other thrills in life. Whether it was going skiing for the first time (spending most of that day alone, with my closest companion being the hard icy slopes that were more than happy to smack me in the face repeatedly), learning to SCUBA dive in college, going skydiving or bungee jumping. Something scary out there? Give it a shot! Embrace the challenges, be they physical or otherwise, as part of life. I don’t know what happens after I die, so I’d better pack all the fun things I can into this life.

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