Friday, July 27, 2012

Roller Coaster Arabesque

A rare re-posting in honor of a recent family day trip. Gotta love roller coasters!

Yes, it's true. Even in an amusement park, atop the crest of a roller coaster pre-drop, I'm thinking metaphors. For instance: roller coasters, themselves, as examples of the way people seem to look at life, at least in terms of what is interesting to them.

I like roller coasters. Always have. But there have always been some that I had no interest in riding because, it seems to me, there is a fine line between being scared in a fun way and being scared in a losing control of one's bowels way.

For instance, on a family outing to a mega amusement park the other day, we rode a wooden roller coaster called El Toro. We also rode Kingda Ka. (The latter's very name annoys the crap out of me. I don't know why -- it just angers me to say it.) Kingda Ka is a metal spike up into the sky which shoots straight up, drops straight down, once, and reaches ridiculous speeds of somewhere around 130 miles per hour.

I have always avoided going on rides like this, if only because it seems absurd to wait in line for an hour for a ride that takes three seconds. Still, my sons an wife wanted to go on it, so, I figured, if we were all going to go on to join the choir invisible, we might as well go together.

If scary is what you're going for, you get you money's worth, for sure. You come off of it with a heat-miser hairdo, G-force stretched lips an a little extra weight in the old caboose. I mean, kudos to the designers. If their goal was to make a grown man clench his teeth until they crack into powder, goal achieved. My jaw is still sore, two days later.

Then, there was El Toro. This is no wussy-coaster, let me tell you. Its first drop is as steep as any you will see. It hits 70 MPH. Scary -- but, as with other wooden coasters I have been on, it is a poetic kind of scary.

The traditional coasters, to me, always seem as if they have real design -- design beyond how fast they can go without flying off of the track. They sort of develop a theme built upon unexpected turns (literally) and upon an orchestration of sequences that seduce a frightened laughter out of the rider. But there is the key: laughter. There is a joy in the adventure of riding a coaster like that.

The fear difference? If Kingda Ka is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then El Toro is The Sixth Sense: a compelling, fun kind of scary that works best the first time but still gives joy when the twists and turns are discovered.

In the park, there are those who prefer Kingda Ka just as, in life, there are those who equate living with danger to living fully; who appreciate intensity over experience -- a kind of intensity that blanks out the experience itself by producing reaction in the reptilian brain. A kind of experience not unlike drinking one's self in to such oblivion that the night before is forgotten.

Not me. I'll trade the trim, streamlined metal coaster for the impossibly busy, Escheresque collection of cedar beams making curves out of straight lines, criss-crossing in a shifting pattern of angles that break the sunlight into triangular patches. I'll take the melodic rising and falling of the track and the classically balanced left and right curves that come after a tremolo climb to the first rise.

I don't want to be just shot into the sky. I want to dance between Heaven and Earth in an arabesque that makes me more aware of each than a crash landing ever could. And I want to remember.


  1. This is a rare 'I agree' with no 'but' appended. I hate those modern rides that are all about how fast they go, with whatever gimcrack novelty is included (standing up! upside down! going backwards!). Wooden coasters are the best.

    1. And the wooden ones are so much cooler to look at! We rode "The Wildcat" at Hershey this weekend -- the patterns of the beams are mesmerizing. There's real beauty in the construction. Somehow, I feel like I can understand engineering I'm incapable of understanding, if you follow...