Why do we love roller coasters? There's some science behind it, apparently. Physically, our bodies experience sensations we don't find in other places. Psychologically, we relieve stress when we express ourselves with screams and flails and other behaviors considered inappropriate anywhere else. Socially, coasters provide an intense shared experience.
Before I opened the store, I was always looking for the next fun thing to do. If I heard about a carnival or festival, I was there, often dragging my brother Sean along. I might occasionally whack a mole or play some coin toss thing, but mostly it was all about the rides for me. I remember convincing my ex-husband to ride the Zipper, a tumbling oblong ferris wheel that looks innocent enough but feels like astronaut training, with me. He literally cried through the whole thing. Me, I lived for rides, especially roller coasters. I once drove straight through the night to get to Dollywood, Dolly Parton's amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. After I became a business owner, though, that all changed. It never seemed to make sense to be doing anything but working.
The old me, finding out I'm only seven miles from a park that has not one but three coasters (one of which is in the top 10 wooden coasters in the world), would not have hesitated. It would have been the very first thing I did, especially considering I'm trapped at this Motel 6 for a week. But these days, even though the store is closed and I've got nothing for sale online, I still prioritized "work" (this blog, for example) over the finding of that shared social experience, that psychological expression, that physical sensation. I'm trying to break that pattern. So this afternoon, I headed to Adventureland.
Wikipedia says that Disney folks may have provided some input in the early stages of development for this family owned park. It shows. My first thought upon arrival was that Adventureland is basically going for a junior Disneyland vibe, with a train station rising above the entry booths just like the one in California. And Main Street - though it's deserted at 5pm on a Friday, this one looks an awful lot like the other one. The similarity ends there, though: Adventureland doesn't have cute themed areas and all that. It's pretty much just got RIDES.
I went on a few, but it was all warm up until I got in line (a very short line by Disney standards, that's for sure) for The Monster, the newest coaster in the park, one with a straight up, straight down start and many loops throughout. The teen who was running it seemed surprised to see a woman with blue and white hair, old enough to be her granny, riding alone.
I can't begin to tell you how happy that coaster made me. I don't really know why: it's not like I ever experience intense excitement doing these kinds of things. I've often suspected I have some sort of adrenaline disorder, because things that raise the heart rates of other people don't seem to affect me much, things like jumping out of airplanes, riding rapids, and all that. But something about this big green coaster: it left me utterly elated.
When the ride came to a stop, and the young operator saw the goofy, childlike grin on my face, she said, "You liked it?" As if that were the most surprising thing in the world. "I loved it," I told her, and I meant it, too.
You know that feeling you get when you hang out with a friend you haven't seen in years, and it's exactly as warm and true as it aways was? Or when you arrive in a place and realize you'd forgotten how much you loved it there? That's what it felt like riding that coaster. I felt like the old me. I felt young.
That is, I did until I saw the picture. Like most parks, this one takes a snapshot of you at the most thrilling or harrowing part of the ride, and then displays it at the end hoping you'll buy a copy. When I saw myself in that picture, it almost put a pin in the whole experience. Riding, I had felt free, light, open. In the picture, I was old, heavy, and grey. That elated grin was there, for sure, but who was that woman wearing it?
I tried not to let the picture affect me, not to let that pinprick pop the whole balloon, but I couldn't shake it. I did go on the other coasters, the wooden Tornado and the 1990's loop coaster The Dragon, but they didn't help. All they did was remind me of my aches and pains. I think a better name for the Tornado might be The Chiropractor, and the Dragon could be The Neckbreaker. Both are old-school body slammers, lacking the grace of the newer Monster. It seems the technology of coasters has advanced miraculously. On the older coasters, you have to go through hell to get those desirable physical sensations - weightlessness, zero G's. I guess it was always like that, but I wasn't such a ball of arthritis then, so I suppose I didn't notice.
One more trip on The Monster finished off the evening. Attendance was low enough that I could have gone on it ten times if I'd wanted to, but I guess I no longer have so much to prove, and twice was enough for me. That, and the self-consciousness that came over me once I looked at my photo put a damper on the repeat ride urge.
Here's my favorite ride picture ever, from Space Mountain at the REAL Disneyland. Next to me is my friend Ariel, and behind us is my brother Sean. I'm not sure what's going on for Sean: he appears to be pondering an existential crisis. But check out the contrast between me and Ariel. This has become an iconic image for the two of us, one Facebook chooses to give one or the other of us as a memory at least once a year. It brings me back to the good old days, when riding on coasters was a priority. May I get there again: Adventureland was a step in that direction.