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Worldwide Ace » A New Twist – Part I

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A New Twist – Part I

28 July, 2009 (14:21) | Growing Up

Elitch Gardens at night (2007).

My heart flutters. I’ve barely done anything but stand idly since exiting the car, but I can feel the tension running through my body. My stomach rumbles. It’s not due to hunger, as I finished breakfast less than an hour ago, and I’m far from stuffed thanks to a brief visit to the evacuation chamber. My mind races. It recounts the laws of physics and the basic principles of motion, all the while reminding me that I’m not going to die or even be at risk for injury, but that I’m almost certain what’s coming won’t be pleasant.

I sling jovial and halfhearted arguments, knowing that I’m too stubborn to back down now. No one has any serious rebuttals. Everyone simply brushes me off as a silly man whose irrationality is… well, irrational.

I watch as Mitch nearly falls making his ascent into our loosely rocking modern-day buggy. I try not to make the same mistake, firmly planting my left foot as I pull myself up and in. The hard plastic seat is cramped, my hips and shoulders wedged into the odd contraption. My neck cracks as I duck under the the padded yellow restraints that mark the point of no return.

“You’re going to love this, Ben,” one of my companions call to me. I don’t answer. I’m going to survive this, I think to myself, but love it? My stomach might decide that one for me.

The ride is called The Chaos. It’s a carousel of two-person cabins, facing outward. The entire carousel lifts up on a hydraulics and tilts to nearly 90 degrees. The cabins, which are speared perpendicular to the riders, can spin freely, toppling over and over vertically. Given the right weight balance, the centripetal force should maintain a heading without spin. A little rocking by the riders can easily change that, spinning the compartment head over heels as if it were in eternal free fall.

ElitchChaosThe attendant sleepily circumnavigates the ride. I can’t tell if he’s mentally handicapped or merely so lackluster at his job that he simply doesn’t care. He slaps lazily at the restraints, making sure each is tight. Given my size, I could be sickly thin and it would still be tight.

I listen hard to the squeaks and creaks of the machinery, wondering how well maintained everything is. How do they figure out there’s a problem, anyway? I wonder. When someone gets hurt?

SIDE NOTE: I remember playing Roller Coaster Tycoon and having to constantly stock up on engineers to make sure my rides were well-maintained. If someone died, it was because I felt like playing god and firing them off a loop de loop. But reality is a far harsher mistress. The girl who lost her feet on the Superman Tower of Power at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom was told the ride “malfunctioned” and that it was a “freak accident.” Between 1994 and 2004, there were 40 deaths in the US on roller coasters, and approximately 1 death happens in 150,000,000 rides, though roller coaster manufacturers say it’s only 1 in 500,000,000 in the US. According to the Annals of Emergency Medicine, 1 in 124,000 people are injured with 1 in 15,000,000 requiring serious medical attention. That’s not a huge percentage, and a lot of those injuries are due to kids too small to ride or people disregarding safety instructions, but it’s still statistically significant enough to cause worry.

“I’d rather not spin,” I say to Mitch.

“I want to see how much it rocks.”

“Rocking is fine, it’s the spinning I dread.”

The attendant mumbles into his microphone, his speech inaudible above the din of the park.

“I have no idea what he just said,” I say to Mitch. He laughs and repeats something equally as inaudible.

The ride jerks suddenly and begins to spin to life. I can feel the cabin sway slightly as we begin to rotate. I take a deep breath, reminding myself that the worst that happens is I throw up and that if I feel like throwing up, I need to face left so it doesn’t fly all over Mitch. We’re rotating around to the left, meaning any vomit will fly right back into my face. It’s not a reassuring thought.

We peak and I can see most of the park. Our gentle rocking comes to a sudden halt as the forces of physics begin to exert themselves. There’s laughter and shouting as people begin to rock and spin, the bestial machine flinging us like children on a glorified merry-go-round. Suddenly we’re upside down, rotating violently¬† I hold on for dear life, though I couldn’t wriggle free if I wanted to. On the downswing, we begin pirouetting, my weight and inertia sending us careening around our pivot.

SIDE NOTE: I’ve never understood the urge to scream and yell in scary situations. Letting out a yell of fright when something startles me might buy me a second or two to react, but in the case of an actual emergency, all yelling does is make it more likely that others will be uncomfortable and perhaps do something rash or stupid. When it comes to rides or movies or moments when tension is high but there’s no immediate danger, I’m more inclined to be prepared and wait it out. If something happens, I can yell, but there’s no use exacerbating things.

“Jesus Christ!” I yell. “I thought I said easy on the spinning!”

“It’s not me,” Mitch calls back.

“Fuck,” I mutter inaudibly, knowing that I’m just going to have to wait until it’s over.

The stoic in me rises quickly, my body relaxing and my mind slowing to a reasonable pace. I am, for all intents and purposes, sitting idyllically in an aware state of zen. I breathe in the moment, neither ruing it nor reveling in it. It’s merely there.

And just like that, we’re slowing down, our vertical toppling replaced once more by a gentle rocking. We jerk to a halt as the loudspeaker blares the staticky mutterings of the attendant once more.

My legs wobble slightly as I dismount and slide toward the exit.

“So Ben, what’d you think?” Annika asks me, collecting her shoes and bag alongside the rest of our little cadre of park-goers.

“Not bad,” I reply. It’s the only honest answer that comes to mind. “So what’s next?”

“The Mind Eraser,” she says with a wicked grin. Her finger points toward a towering twist of track full of screams zipping by in all their dopplered glory. My stomach suddenly feels far worse than it did on my exodus from the Chaos. “Come on,” I hear her call as she skips to catch up with the others. I turn back to the steel monstrosity, my pupils dilating at the bright sun above.

“Come on,” cry the others, staring at my flatfooted

With a deep breath, I start to follow after them.

To be Continued in
A New Twist – Part II