So the family went to King’s Dominion the other weekend. As a teen, between 1975 and 1979 my friends and I went once or ten times every summer. Roller coasters, flume rides, hideously overpriced food (we thought at the time – how little we knew). It was fun. But that was before EMS.
Now-me arrives with the family, and the first ride I get on is the Drop Tower. Sit in your chair, which raises you to almost 300 feet. Nice view. Then it drops you.
During the second or two I fell, I thought, “Well, this is fun.” But afterwards? Meh.
The roller coasters teen-me had loved were worse. Whether it started with a slow climb or shot like a bullet down a barrel, the initial “Whee!” was followed immediately by a feeling of inconvenience as the coaster turned, swiveled, looped and banked. Each bump, jerk, twist, and abrupt change in direction, which used to elicit a “Wow!’, now annoyed me. Like a scene in a movie where the main character is not enjoying a show, but is being constantly prodded and bumped by the popcorn eating fat man beside him who points and laughs and can’t get enough. No, I’m not enjoying it, and you can’t make me. When will it be over?
I reacted thus to every ride, when suddenly I had the terrifying suspicion that I might be getting old. Isn’t this how old people react to these rides? This is terrible. I don’t want to get old. Old people take cruises, and leave the ship to visit shoreline gift shops.
The more I considered this dire prospect, however, the more it became clear to me that while my body might be aging, it was not “getting old” that did in these rides for me. It was physics, law, and mostly EMS.
In my uninformed teen years, when I last enjoyed this sort of thing, it was because I suspected there was an element of danger. After all, the TV ads played up the speed, the screaming, the terror. That’s dangerous, right? Dangerous and exciting, and fun. One expected reporters and cameramen at the end of each ride. “My God, he made it!” “Welcome back!” “How did it feel?” “Were you ever afraid?” A teenage male steps from a roller coaster as a warrior steps from a longboat to the shores of a conquered nation. Plant that flag and on to the next.
The truth was always there, but we chose to ignore it or, more correctly, were in ignorance of it – it’s all physics. This weight going this fast exerts this force in this direction, plan accordingly.
This visit there was a particular roller coaster which was completely indoors, and mostly dark. Flight of Fear. Just ahead of me, a determined ride attendant was bravely trying to secure a lap bar onto a woman who hasn’t had a lap in probably 20 years. While the occupants of the cars around her ratcheted down their restraints with a satisfying tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick, the attendant grunted and shifted and struggled. Finally, a single “tick” was produced, and he pronounced her good to go.
It occurred to me that the system *must* be designed so that the weight of the cars made the additional weight of the passengers negligible in the calculations. The only way to make a ride safe is to factor in, say, a 10% margin of error and make sure that a 500 lb person is only 5% of the car weight – or whatever numbers the engineers used. That, or these poor fools were doomed. (They made it).
I vaguely recall that as a teen, the signs around a ride did nothing more than identify it: “Rebel Yell”, for instance. Oh boy, here’s the roller coaster, Rebel Yell.
Now, there are multiple signs at each ride, giving one something to read while waiting in line. Some of these signs I think are there for marketing purposes – there’s some sort of rating system such as ski trails use, the “black diamond” marking this as an Advanced Level Ride or some such. Following this is another sign warning the usual suspects – the pregnant, heart patients and such – about possible injury. “May cause dizziness”.
Standard fare, and I’ll be very surprised if sometime soon there isn’t a touch-screen with a camera that requires one to tap “I agree” and takes your photo doing so, to eliminate all liability to the park. While you’re at it add a little note to the bottom showing calories burned on the ride, and remember to send me my royalty check for the ideas.
Still, where every convenience store aisle is now marked with a “Piso mojado” pylon, or else lawsuit, it is actually the lack of signs which nail home the lack of danger. Everyone is quick to put up “Caution!”, “Warning!”, “Do Not Enter!” signs for the most trivial reasons. Non-trivial, but let’s be realistic here, hospitals put “Caution!” signs on the doors of patients who have minor coughs. It’s a hospital, I expect there to be sick people here, but thank you.
Now, to be scary all one has to do is remind people of their mortality. I have heard that in the early days of air travel the larger airports had notary-publics available to sell you life insurance and notarize a quick last will and testament before boarding. Add that, and I’ll take it seriously again.
Or not. When the carnival comes to town, we have a team of inspectors trained to verify the safety of the rides – ferris wheels and teacup rides for the most part – but considering they’re assembled and disassembled every couple of weeks, I appreciate this. How much safer a standing attraction?
The price of my adrenaline seems to have gone up. A roller coaster used to afford me a big vicious jolt of epi that had me grinning and shaking for the next twenty minutes. That same coaster now only buys a moment’s worth of anxiety – is my cell phone safe in its case, or will it go flying off? – before seeing me back to my natural, mellow state.
What I saw as a teen: Accept the Challenge, Traverse the Danger, Exit Victorious and Immortal.
What I see now: Wait in Line, Get Tossed About, Get Out.
I explained this to She Who Must Be Obeyed. “I get tossed around in rides every day, but there’s no guarantee that it’s safe. I guess my adrenaline has a higher standard now.” Come to think of it, when I was being tossed around on the first roller coaster of the day, my absolute first instinct was to turn to the right and tell the driver to take it easy – which would have been the correct orientation for a medic on the bench seat.
To underscore this, on returning home, I checked the news as I sometimes do and found that Rescue responded to another park that very day. Even in failure the ride went from an entertainment to a mere inconvenience. Every one of those passengers owes a debt to the engineers who designed that ride so well that it could completely fail and STILL not kill them.
In contrast, only a couple of days later we had a unit totalled as it was t-boned, responding through an intersection. The AIC was injured (we would classify it as minor, but tell that to her) and the driver and patient were for the most part uninjured, thanks in great part to engineering.
That is the sort of ride that might get a little adrenaline flowing, certainly.
I suppose what I learned, at the theme park that day, was that for me, now, Adrenaline =/= Fun. It’s something I suppress so it doesn’t get in the way of my thinking, and of my job.
Fortunately for me I don’t need to get amped up to have fun.
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