SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Here’s an obvious question: Why do people voluntarily get on roller coasters?
Peer pressure might account for it. Hitler never would have invaded Poland is Mussolini hadn’t dared him. There’s also that odd love of fear, that surge of adrenalin a person gets from doing things that make his mind scream no. It’s why we go to scary movies, bungee jump, and watch “The Biggest Loser”. More than one injury has resulted from ignoring fear and crying, “Hey, watch this!”
I drove two hours to the Indiana Beach amusement park, just to get scared.
That just doesn’t make any sense. I can stay home to get scared. A spider in the basement, balancing my checkbook, catching Nancy Pelosi on CNN – all terrifying experiences requiring no gasoline at all.
Still, I had another motive: I’m working on a novel set in a small amusement park just like Indiana Beach. It’s a bit of a thriller, although as any writer will tell you, the scariest part is trying to get it published.
Okay, so I’m doing research for a story. (Ha – tax deductible!) But I’ve been on most rides before – this was my fifth trip to Indiana Beach, and I’ve been to Cedar Point a few times, too. Why punish myself?
I had my girlfriend with me, that’s why. Throughout history, men have done stupid things to impress girls. Jumping, racing, fighting – Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait to impress wife #37.
Most women just roll their eyes as the stupidity before them. They’ll say it, too: “Don’t try to jump that police car with your skateboard; that’s stupid.”
The guys do it anyway. Because they’re stupid.
So I looked at the roller coast warning signs, which said, “Do not ride if you’ve had back or neck problems, are old enough to have a heart attack, are over 30, have ever had sinus problems, headaches, wisdom teeth, or owned a Ford sedan. Warning: not responsible for people who die on the rides. Or lost items.”
And I say, “Okay, let’s go!” Even though I don’t want to.
There’s an irony about fear, though: What some people don’t see as frightening scares the bejeebers out of other people. At Indiana Beach, there were bejeebers running all over the place. Little orange things with two legs, about the size of a large candy peanut.
Indiana Beach has a lift, pretty much the same as a ski lift, which takes you over the park from one end to the other. It’s not as high as the Ferris wheel or most of the roller coasters, but there’s a great view. Not only did riding it give me a chance to look over the whole park, but a critical scene in the novel takes place on a lift like that one.
Emily hesitated when I suggested going on it. She was scared; not a lot, but a little. Talk about irony; the lift is what I go on to catch my breath between the scary rides, while she thrives on the roller coasters and fast stuff but doesn’t like riding something that leaves her legs dangling in the air.
But my girlfriend’s a trooper – she’d have to be, to put up with me – and she rode it not once, but twice. To reciprocate, I rode … The Hawg.
The Hawg is Indiana Beach’s newest coaster, and the word “coaster” is particularly ironic, here. You can see it for miles away. I’m pretty sure you can see it from space. The Hawg is ten stories high.
It’s not the biggest roller coaster in the world but … well, let me describe The Hawg, which I can do easily by closing my eyes and reliving the experience.
First they take away not only any loose objects, but eyewear. This is warning in itself. Then they clamp you in more thoroughly than an astronaut hopping a ride to the ISS. Warning two. You’re on a coaster that only holds four passengers; this is in order to, if something goes wrong, save money on body bags.
Then it heads up. Ten stories.
You know how roller coasters are advertised these days as going straight down? Well, when you get to the very top of The Hawg and start down again, it goes more than straight down. It actually inverts a little as you go down for, oh, ten miles.
Or at least, it seems that far. When the coaster makes its first sharp curve, you’re still about eight stories above the ground, going at a bit under twice the speed of sound. Now, older coasters are turned in, so centrifugal force holds you to your seat. No need of that here, with newer technology, so it actually leans outward. Over eight stories of nothing.
Then you go upside down. Seven stories up.
Then you corkscrew, and stay upside down for awhile. It’s Indiana Beach’s method of keeping the cars clear of the aforementioned loose items, such as teeth or bejeebers. Believe me, they’re all gone by then.
Two seconds later, at the bottom of the ride, the car goes from 200 to 0 mph in less than an eighth of a second, giving the ride operators time to step out of the way in case of projectile vomiting.
When we got on the ride for the third time that day I told Emily, “We’re practically veterans now – at least we’re getting used to it.”
I don’t really have an answer for the question of why we embrace fear, but there you go. The Hawg, which was designed by some insane evil genius who ordinarily would be plotting world domination, never gets less scary.
I can only hope that novel is worth the trip. But just in case it isn’t, the scares totally are.