Around the Bend: Overcoming fears of a wild ride
I love amusement parks. And since the one thing missing from my summer thus far was a chance to spend a great deal of money while standing in line most of the day — interrupted every half hour or so by a minute of sheer terror — I insisted we take a family day trip to the Great Escape last weekend.
I’ve always said there is nothing as thrilling as a good amusement park ride, but over the years my tastes have changed. I no longer care for the rides that involve heights, turning upside down, sudden elevation changes, high speeds, or spinning of any kind. That ruled out pretty much all the attractions except the Storytown Scenic Choo-Choo. And the ladies’ room.
No problem. I figured while the family gave themselves whiplash and vertigo I would wander the park and maybe take in a cultural event or two.
I don’t know what I was expecting — Shakespeare under the rumble of the roller coaster, perhaps — but the only thing I found was a guy in a sasquatch getup scaring the daylights out of confused toddlers, much to the delight of their parents. (And I’d call that less of a cultural event than a sociological experiment, though I’d have to speak to the toddlers’ therapists down the road to know just how much lasting emotional damage they suffered.)
But even watching small children experience their worst nightmares in real life gets old after a while. And as far as I could tell, there was nothing else to do.
My husband, Mark, disagreed, saying that we were at an amusement park. In his view, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to try some of the amusements.
“Did you not see that 2-year-old freaking out when the sasquatch growled at him?” I said. “That was amusing.”
He ignored me and sighed.
“If only I had someone who would be willing to free-fall 192 feet with me,” he said, craning his neck to look at a group of doomed riders suspended from the top of a tower reaching into the clouds.
“If only,” I said, unable to look up that high without fainting.
It’s not that I don’t like to have fun. It’s just that over the years I’ve grown more sensitive. I used to love the rush of spinning and swinging and feeling my stomach drop on fast rides. Now I get woozy at the supermarket when I turn my shopping cart too quickly. And I don’t get why anyone would want to simulate the physical sensations you should avoid at all costs, such as falling to your death.
“These rides fly in the face of self-preservation,” I explained to my family.
“Chicken,” they replied.
If it makes me a chicken to never want to move faster than a brisk walk and never get more than 8 inches off the ground, then, fine, I’m a chicken. But with the teenagers off on their own, Mark was left without ride partner. Out of spousal guilt I agreed to stifle my inner chicken and join him on one ride.
Right from the get-go, I knew I had made a mistake. As the attendant loaded us into our seats, I broke into a sweat. Children in front of and behind us giggled and chatted, oblivious to the nightmare that was about to come.
“Do you think this is safe?” I asked Mark. “What if we fall out? Will they make us sign a waiver? Do you think anyone has ever died on this ride?”
He rolled his eyes as the attendant secured a metal bar over our laps. “That’s all we get, a little bar?” I said. “What if it unlocks during the ride? What if it’s not tight enough? Is it supposed to be this loose?”
Mark closed his eyes. Clearly, he was as nervous as I was.
Then, before I was mentally resigned to it, the ride started with a lurch. I squinched up my eyes and clung to that measly little lap bar. And off we went.
The whole thing lasted only a few minutes but it felt like forever. When it was over, I was hoarse from screaming and my heart was pounding — but I had to admit I felt exhilarated.
“Phew,” I said, exiting the ride on wobbly legs. I laughed with a mixture of relief and giddiness.
“You know,” I said, “I hate to admit it, but that actually was pretty fun.”
“What’s the matter? Too scary for you?”
“Not exactly,” he said. “It was just the gondola.”
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