Monday, June 29, 2015

The Sandwich Fair, by Ellen Jensen Abbott

Growing up, I had an uncle who lived in Orlando, Florida and grandparents who lived in Anaheim, CA. I went to both Disneys—World and Land—a lot. Which you’d think would sour me on anything as pedestrian as the local county fair in Center Sandwich, NH, a tiny town by most standards, but it didn’t. The mystery, the wonder, the excitement of the Sandwich Fair still stays with me, 35 years since I was actually standing on the Midway.

We got the day off from school for the Sandwich Fair—or so I thought. In fact, the fair was always held Columbus Day weekend. But having the day off seemed like a recognition of just how important this fair was—far more important than some guy landing a boat on an island hundreds of years ago. And to the few thousand people living around Sandwich, it was. There were ox pulls, horse pulls, all kinds of farm animal shows, jams and jellies and cakes and pumpkins and squash waiting for blue ribbons. And then there was the midway with its flashy games and rides, the Ferris wheel presiding over the lot like a queen.

But the thing that I think made the fair so special for me was that I was independent. Even when I was as young as seven, my parents would give me money for the fair and turn me loose. I decided when to watch the oxen, when to play midway games, when to ride the Ferris Wheel. I ducked under the arms of adults and between couples, running from sight to sight, money burning a hole in my pocket, feeling like I was the master of my destiny.

The glory of the fair may have had something to do with my favorite book at the time, Charlotte’s Web. When Fern goes to the fair only part of her excitement is the ruse Wilbur, Charlotte, and Templeton are working on. In fact, the fair is the beginning of the end for Fern. She’s on the cusp of being a young adult and riding the Ferris wheel with a boy eclipses her beloved Wilbur’s situation.

And that may be why so many young adult authors separate their main characters from their parents. Independence is the drug. It’s heady and exciting and makes for memorable moments. As readers, kids want to know what it’s like to be on their own. In real life, the excitement of a small-town country fair might be enough. In fiction, it’s often the challenge of survival.

Amusement Park Highs and Lows, Brian Katcher

Last Night I Took a Walk in the Dark/ A Swingin' Place Called Palisades Park/ To Have Some Fun and See What I Could See/ That's Where the Girls Are

--Palisades Park

My parents took their honeymoon at Six Flags St. Louis. Dad says the whole day cost 'em thirty dollars. I've been enjoying them for nearly forty years. Here are my votes for the best and worst.

Best Roller Coaster:

Batman: The Ride, Six Flags Over St. Louis

 

Worst Roller Coaster: 

The Mamba, Worlds of Fun, Kansas City





Best Dark Ride: 

The Flooded Mine, Silver Dollar City, Branson, MO



Worst Dark Ride:

 Scooby Doo Ride, Six Flags Over St. Louis

(I like this one, but it terrified my daughter)



Best Ferris Wheel:

Navy Pier, Chicago

 

Worst Ferris Wheel:

Six Flags over Mexico City

(You could easily fall out of this thing)



Best Ride:

The Haunted Mansion, Disney World

 

Worst Ride:

Lilo and Stitch Ride, Disney World
 

Best Animatronics:

Hall of Presidents, Disney World



Worst Animatronics:  

Haunted Dungeon, Hamburg, Germany



Best Employees:

Silver Dollar City, Branson, MO

 

Worst Emplyees:

Disney World
 

 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Roller Coasters: Passing the Baton

I'm not big on roller coasters. I've given them a shot because I don't believe in disliking something you've never tried, but most haven't been for me. There were some I could tolerate better than others--the Log Flume, Splashdown Falls, and Runaway Train, for example. The first two are saved by the fact that they're partially water rides. The second was my compromise to my friends who love these crazy rides. The thing is I think there was a time I actually thought I liked these rides. Or, maybe, my fear of them wasn't big enough to cancel out the rewards. These days, though? I'm happy watching others enjoy the thrill.

See...I have this fear of heights. Well, maybe not heights themselves, but falling from them and dying. Heights are just fine from a distance. And people talk about this heart-pumping adrenaline thing, but I don't get that from coasters. I just get freaked. Spinny rides are far more my speed. Tilt-a-Whirl, Scrambler, Himalaya (well, this isn't spinny but it's fast and fun)--I'm there. Those high in the air swings? I've done them, but hate them. Too high.

For a while my son would get scared on even the smallest coasters. For him, the issue was the speed and big drops. He has no issue with the heights and loves rock climbing. I never pushed him and felt horribly when I thought a ride would be ok but turned out it wasn't. Last summer, though, there was a shift. We went to Great Escape in Lake George, and he dipped his toes into some rides he wouldn't have in the past. He was so proud of himself, and I was happy for him. Then, he said he's going to give smaller coasters a try too. And really fast and high and spinny ones. A few months ago, our town had a carnival and he did all kinds of rides I never thought he would, and he LOVED them.

In a year or two, I can see him doing the bigger coasters and my hubby finally having someone to do the rides with him. And I'll be cheering for them both. From the ground.

There was something so cool for me about this moment of my kid trying the rides. I guess it's the trying. He's like that. And if he doesn't like something, that's cool too. But I love that he's willing to give things a shot.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

On Dickens World and Historical Theme Parks (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

When I started publishing, I learned about all sorts of rights and contract terms I’d never thought about before.

Of these, the most unexpected was “theme park rights.” People negotiate those rights just in case, but most books will never become the basis for theme parks.

One author whose visions have made this rare leap is Charles Dickens. Dickens World, an attraction in Kent in England, “takes visitors back in time to the Victorian England that Charles Dickens knew and wrote about.” Apparently it is an interactive guided tour led by professional actors through a neighborhood from the Victorian Era.

Anyone who’s actually read Charles Dickens might hesitate at first to connect his world with any place that a family might want to visit voluntarily. Poisonous fogs, starving orphans, workhouses, debtor’s prison ... what’s the attraction?

But while some theme parks aim to transport you to an ideal world that’s more fabulous than your regular life, others just aim to transport you anywhere that’s different. A theme park is a three-dimensional escape: the chance to go on safari, or recreate part of history, or visit a world that never was. It's a vacation from ordinary life.

Most history-based exhibits remind us how small the lodgings were, how many years people lived without central heat or air conditioning (not to mention indoor plumbing), and how long it took to make a table or a blanket by hand. History looks gorgeous in period pieces on TV, but immersive exhibits remind us of the smells, the heat, the hard work.

The chance to experience another time with all five senses has its own appeal. Sometimes you want to know another place or time—whether perfect or not, it will at least be interesting. It’s a visit to another world—like reading, but live. And at the end, you can safely return to your own world.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Coaster Capital -- by Natalie D. Richards


THE COASTER CAPITAL
by Natalie D. Richards

I'm from Ohio, also known as the land of Cedar Point.  Cedar Point is no joke in the coaster community.  I mean, I don’t mean to brag, but it’s kind of a legend.  There are seventeen roller coasters in that park.  That’s right.  SEVENTEEN back-breaking, stomach churning, head spinning contraptions waiting to take you for the ride of your life.


Most of these are not your friendly neighborhood coasters either, folks.  These coasters are meant to turn you into a sniveling little baby.  They’ll put hair on your chest and fire in your veins and oh, I don’t know, insert your personal favorite turn of phrase that basically makes you think of a horror movie turned into a mountain of steel rails and scaffolding.  Because that’s what Cedar Point is about.  Scaring you half to death and charging you dearly to do it.
 
 

So, being a born-and-raised Buckeye girl, know how I feel about all those twisting towering masses of steel and waiting in long lines in ninety-plus degree heat so that my I can drop over a hill that will lodge my stomach in my heels and blow my eyelids off?

I’ll pass, thanks.

Oh, stop with the judgey eyes.  I tried, I really did.  I forced myself onto a few of the baby coasters like Iron Dragon and the Corkscrew and had a few laughs and bruises for the effort.  But since I can barely look at a merry go round without my stomach rolling over, I knew I’d never be a TRUE coaster girl.

Still, ride lover or not, I’ve spent a few long, sticky days at Cedar Point over the years, smelling cotton candy and caramel apples and watching riders laugh and hoot and, yes, barf their way out of the exit terminals.  Even as a girl who will never voluntarily strap herself into one of those sticky molded seats again, I still find a bit of charm to the amusement park experience.

So, ride on coaster lovers.  And for the rest of you?  Keep an eye out for me.  I'm probably holding someone's purse, too. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

New Jersey's Action Park is Reopening Old Wounds (by Patty Blount)

All this month, we Outsiders are blogging about theme parks.

The timing couldn't be better... as I recently learned New Jersey's (in)famous ACTION PARK is reopening.

For those of you not as old as I am, let me tell you a bit about Action Park. Deep in Vernon Township, Action Park was a favorite destination for teens in the 80's, like me. Part water-park, part amusement park, Action Park's claim to fame was you go to control the intensity of your fun -- and left with the injuries to prove it. Some of the attractions, like the rapids water slide, featured time limits. You could ride as often as you liked within a 15 or 20 minute span, so if you were fast enough to run up those hills, you could squeeze in more runs than someone who preferred to walk.

In addition to the rapids, there was a giant wave pool (which claimed several lives), and a famous Alpine Slide, which was a concrete track that resembled a chute on which a tiny sled rode. Picture a miniature bobsled track. You controlled the speed of the sled with a brake lever conveniently located between your legs. Access to the slide was via a ski lift-like ride. You reached the top and then chose one of several tracks to ride down. The first time we rode the ski lift, I asked if this was safe. Just as my husband -- who was my boyfriend at the time -- assured me it was, a rider came around a curve too fast and was flipped from his sled onto the concrete track, leaving a trail of skin and blood behind.

Action Park in the mid-80's became known more for its injuries than for its attractions. With nicknames like Class Action Park and Traction Park, I can attest it was easy to get hurt. On one of the water slides, you rode down on a giant tire tube. I got turned out of my tube just before a drop and ended up riding down a hill on my own skin.

There was another attraction that always reminded me of horse racing. About ten or twelve lanes were set up on a water slide that had several bumps. Depending on the size of the person, those 'bumps' could shoot the rider into the air, sending him or her crashing into the next lane. Lifeguards at the bottom of the run looped dozens of chains on their arm -- jewelery that had come off during the ride. (In the '80's, girls wore ankle bracelets around their necks and boys wore St. Christopher medals.)

Despite the risk and the danger, I was sad when the park closed in the early '90's but thrilled to hear it's reopening this season as "All of the thrills, none of the spills." A video of the revised Alpine Slide shows a larger sled with a high back rest and seat belt. The concrete track is gone, replaced by a metal one.

I can't help but think of Action Park in the '80's as the 'rough draft' and this re-opening as the revision.



Saturday, June 20, 2015

Tea Cups of Death


I ask you: Why do people like to be flung around by massive hunks of metal at crazy speeds?

For most of my childhood, I lived aboard a sailboat with my dad, sister, and our crew, Jim. On our way to Costa Rica from Mexico, a storm came up just before we reached port, driving us out to sea with 100 mph winds and waves over twenty feet tall. When a particularly enormous wave broke over the boat, shooting water through our main hatch, I panicked. My dad, who was on deck at the time, heard my screams, and came running to check on my sister and me. She told him that nothing had happened. We were fine. So he went back on deck. For the two days it took for the storm to blow itself out, he and Jim struggled to keep control of our boat. By the end, they were utterly exhausted. We came close to sinking to the bottom of the ocean, but we survived.



Nearly a year later, on my ninth birthday, we were living in a harbor in Key West. When a mobile carnival came into town, and I went to check it out with a friend from school. On the Twirly Tea Cup Ride, I panicked and screamed until the operator stopped the ride and let us off. Phew, that was a close one.



A after that, my dad, sister, and I (without crew) sailed across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Brazil. It took 33 days. Jody and I took watch together every night. One day lightning crashed all around us. On another, a squall took us by surprise and laid the boat on its side. I remember once when I was steering as the wind picked up and the waves grew steeper. The boat was rolling so violently that I had to wedge myself in and push against the tiller with my legs to maintain our course. I didn’t scream.


Since then, I’ve been on some rides at Disney Land and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. They’re fun, but I don’t seek them out. Here’s my theory about amusement parks. Getting hurtled towards the sky or the ground simulates a near death experience without the risk, and that makes you feel more alive. But I don’t need that. I’m already permanently grateful not to be dead.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Warning: May Cause Dizziness or Nausea (Laurie Boyle Crompton)

Sometimes I think a career in publishing should come with those entryway warnings they post for most major thrill rides. Except ours would say things like:





Riding the ups and downs of book contracts and reviews can be a sometimes-thrilling, sometimes-scary experience. It is not for the faint of heart (or those with heart conditions!). I have certainly experienced the loop-de-loop of changing titles and covers, along with the free-falling feeling of opening an editorial letter. And let's not forget long moments of calling out that you want to ride 'Again! Again!' but must wait on line... forever.

There are plenty of nausea-inducing moments along the way, but my very favorite part? The beginning. That time when you are being lifted slowly, *click* *click* *click* higher and higher, to the top of that first hill. The first hill that will give you all the momentum for the whole crazy ride. That giddy-anticipation-hands-in-the-air part.

I'm at that part right now. Here's the announcement:

*WHEEEEE!!!!* (also *Aaaaahhhhh!*)


Folklore Outside the Lines - Guest Post by Kate Ristau

One of the great things about folklore is that it is always evolving, adapting, and changing — it never stays inside the lines. Stories that your grandmother told you about fairies, ghosts, and graveyards might make their way into your favorite television show. That’s what I love about folklore, and that’s why I am became a folklorist. I loved how I could be reading a young adult book, and come across a story I read in a 12th century text. 
It’s happened more times than I can count. Take Mailnda Lo’s recent novel, Ash. In Lo’s beautiful, somber novel, we read about Ash, a girl whose father dies. She is abused by her wicked stepmother, and locked away. Sound familiar? It is the tale of Cinderella. But what makes Lo’s telling unique is how she approaches the story. Ash longs to be rescued by the fairies — to escape the world of princes and castles. The twists and turns of Lo’s story resonate with earlier tellings, but each time she takes a step deeper into fairyland, we are forced to reconcile our idea of what the story is and what the story could be. 
Stories like Cinderella continually re-enter our collective imagination. We’ve even seen Snow White make a resurgence, next to several other Disney characters in recent movies and TV series. But Disney does not own the rights to these narratives. The stories have been around for centuries. Some were captured by the Grimm brothers in the 19th century, while others are even older.
What makes these stories last so long? They each, in their own way, appeal to something deep inside each of us. The stories and folktales that linger are the ones that show us who we were, who we are, and who we could be. In Cinderella, we see the horrible nature of the world, but we also see the possibility and the power of one woman who fights against injustice. 
What do we see in Snow White, then? Well, Snow White shows us even more about whom we are. You see, folktales and stories are often adapted to meet the changing needs and understandings of the current century. When Kristen Stewart took up Snow White’s fading flower crown in 2012, we saw a girl who was gentle and kind: in touch with nature, but also a powerful warrior. This matches up closely with our current expectations and changing representation of women, and clearly contrasts the Disney version of Snow White (1937), who sings a song to the wishing well: “I’m wishing for the one I love to find me…” The warrior is not part of this version of the princess. With Kristen Stewart at the helm, the tale has changed once again.
And so it is that old stories never die. Folklore never disappears. We see old stories, old characters, old ideas in the strangest, most unexpected places — teen novels, billboards, and car commercials. And that couldn’t make me happier. Every time I see a familiar piece of folklore, it’s like meeting an old friend; a friend who is constantly adapting, changing, and blurring the lines. 
BIO: 

Kate Ristau is an author and folklorist. She writes young adult and middle grade fiction, along with grammar primers that won’t make you cringe. In her ideal world, magic and myth combine to create memorable stories with unforgettable characters. Until she finds that world, she'll live in Portland, Oregon with her husband, her son, and her dog. If you can’t find her there, you can find her at kateristau.com.

 
 
 
BLURB: 

Áine lives in the light, but she is haunted by darkness, and when her fey powers blaze out of control, she escapes into the Shadowlands. But she cannot outrun her past. Fire fey and a rising darkness threaten the light, burning a path across the veil. Her fiery dreams come to life, and with the help of Hennessy, an uninhibited Irish girl, Áine dives into the flames to discover who she truly is. Her mother burned to keep her secret safe, and now Áine wields the deadly Eta. She must learn to fight in the shadows — or die in the flames. This is not a fairy tale.

Buy Link:


Author webpage: 



Thursday, June 18, 2015

How Amusement Parks are Like Cilantro (Alissa Grosso)

When, the amusement park theme was chosen for this month, I got a little bit scared. Just the words "amusement park" strike fear into my heart. Well, fear and nausea. In this case, the reason was that I had no idea what I was going to write about. I haven't been to an amusement park, in a very long time, and the reason is that I'm a grown up, and the nice thing about being a grown up is that you don't have to do things that you don't want to do.

I think they call this ride the swings, but wheel-of-barf seems more accurate.

I hunted through my memories searching for interesting amusement park anecdotes, but nothing was coming to mind. The fact is that most of my amusement park memories are of trying not to puke, and in my later years when I finally realized that amusement rides did not agree with me, sitting on benches while others rode the barf-inducing machines. Naturally, I thought these people were crazy. (FYI, I was often related to these people.)

Then a friend of mine, fellow YA author Gae Polisner, posted something on Facebook about cilantro and you should have seen the crazy comment war that ensued. There are a lot of people out there who have strong opinions about cilantro. As in, they absolutely, resolutely hate the stuff. Cilantro!
The spice that launched a Facebook comment war.


I was flabbergasted. How could anyone hate cilantro? I mean, I am a picky eater and I am well aware of the fact that there are a whole lot of foods out there that are deserving of hate: coconut, cinnamon raisin bagels and sweet potatoes all come immediately to mind, but cilantro? I mean, I don't think there's any spice that I truly abhor, but if I was going to pick a spice to hate, it certainly wouldn't be something as mild and innocuous as cilantro. Thyme, maybe or sage, seem like better candidates.

Well, thankfully someone else pointed out that cilantro-hatred might have it's roots in genetics. That is, that there are some people who taste something completely different than what the rest of us taste when they eat foods containing cilantro. I think, it's similar to (and I'm not sure but it may even be the same people) folks who can't stand the taste of perfectly delicious vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts because of some quirk in their DNA. Anyway, when I read that comment it all clicked.

Cilantro-haters seem to be under the impression that the rest of the world is crazy for liking what to them is a disgusting spice, not unlike the fact that someone who can't handle any ride more daring than a Merry-Go-Round because her particular biology means that she'll end up feeling sick to her stomach, thinks that people who pay money and wait on line to ride such dreadful things are complete lunatics.

It's a good reminder whether we're creating characters in a novel or having a conversation with someone whose opinions seem incomprehensible to us. There are so many different factors that go into shaping a person's opinion of something, opinions that might seem unfathomable to others whose experiences or biology have led to the forming of a completely different opinion. It's also something that we should keep in mind during online or offline discourse, though being a grown up, I know better than to hold my breath waiting for this to actually happen.
Why?


I leave you with this startling fact, there are people out there who enjoy eating coconut and cinnamon raisin bagels, and I know this because I'm actually related to some of them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Before The Loop Was Lame by Jody Casella

The Loop, we called it. 

That's all it was. Not a roller coaster. Just one loop. A platform at the top (you had to climb six flights of stairs to reach the "beginning" of the ride). A steep hill straight down. A burst around the loop. A climb up the other side. 

I don't think there was anything mechanically controlled about the ride. Something that reminded me of a slingshot drew back (can this be right?) hit the train of cars so that they pushed forward--hopefully with enough momentum to make it around the loop and up the hill on the other side. 
The Loop at Riverside Park in Agawam, Massachusetts, later
renamed Black Widow


A ten second pause, another sling shot and the cars sped backward around the loop and up to the platform where they'd started. The End.

Ride over. 

The entire experience lasted less than two minutes. 

The first time I rode The Loop, I was twelve and freaked out just looking at the thing from the safety of the ground. A friend and I talked each other into doing it. We moved with the snaking line up the six flights of stairs, not knowing if we wanted the people ahead of us to move faster or slower.

We had no idea what the hell was really going on up there until we were next in line. 

It looked safe enough. People latched into seats. Shoulder harnesses clamping them in. We watched that group speed away. We heard the screams of terror. We waited 30 seconds and the screams began again. A few seconds more and there they were, the loop riders, panting and laughing. 

See? That wasn't so bad. 

Anyway, it's not like we could refuse to ride at this point. 

If we chickened out, everyone would know. The only way to exit was to cut across the train of cars to the other side of the platform and climb down a different set of stairs. 

Group peer pressure, basically. 

I let myself be latched into my seat. I pushed the shoulder harness as hard as I possibly could, testing it for safety. I had a brief moment of terror to find that I could lift it up an inch. Maybe it was supposed to be that way? Oh please, make it supposed to be that way.

Another moment of terror: What if the cars didn't have enough momentum to surge around the loop? (It wasn't a stupid fear. It happened occasionally. We'd see the train of cars stuck at the bottom of the loop, the riders latched into their seats and baking in the heat, sunburned and, horrifyingly, bored.)

Ah well. Too late now. We were off, moving too fast to see much. Flashes of metal track. Our hands clenched to the shoulder harness. 

Sky. 

Ground. 

Sky. 

Whew. 

We were on the other side, clawing hair out of our eyes. Breathlessly anticipating the second push. 

Backwards was scarier. We couldn't see the hill until we were falling. A squeak and the ride stopped and we were the ones laughing and panting, the objects of curiosity and admiration for those next in line. 

Dizzy and wobbily, we climbed out of our cars. We lurched down the six flights of stairs. 

We got in line to ride again. 

The Loop was awesome. And then, all at once, it wasn't. 

The next few years the park opened new rides. A roller coaster with a loop. A roller coaster with more than one loop. A roller coaster with cork screws and multiple loops. A roller coaster in total darkness. 

One summer we returned to find The Loop gone. 

We only missed it a little. 





Monday, June 15, 2015

The Roller Coaster or the Merry-Go-Round?

"See that tower?" my husband asks as we drive into town. "The one with the spike on the top? That's called the Stratosphere and on top of that spike is a roller coaster that shoots you straight up."

We're in town for a conference. Well, he's going to the conference. The kids and I are having a bit of fun. I've never been to Vegas with kids before, and I'm trying to figure out how to see things without...seeing things, if you catch my drift. As soon as my husband points out the Stratosphere, I think, Please oh please oh please don't want to go on roller coasters.

The last roller coaster I was on was just a few months ago at Disneyland. Space Mountain. But in my mind that doesn't really count as a roller coaster. Maybe because it's dark, and there's a theme and because I like to pretend I actually am on a rocket zooming through space. But when you turn on the lights, there's miles of track, just like every other roller coaster.

I used to be crazy about roller coasters. In high school, the marching band (yes, I was a band geek) would take trips to Six Flags over Magic Mountain and my friends and I would ride the biggest, scariest rides over and over again.

But something happened somewhere along the line. I lost my love for roller coasters.

Maybe it was having children that changed me. Maybe maternal instinct warns me away from strapping my body into a small car and hurtling it along a track at break-neck speeds. Or maybe it's just that I'm older and my body doesn't take the blows as easily as it once did. Whatever the reason, when my husband pointed out the Stratosphere, my reaction was dread. Ugh. The kids are going to want to do all the coasters and I'll have to do them with them and ugh, just ugh.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the kids' reaction was, "No! We are not going on that!"

Which was followed by a sense of...disappointment. I mean, roller coasters are fun. And kids should experience that kind of fun, right? If not when you're a kid, then when? Part of me felt like I should just declare, "We are going on one!" and make them.

Back at Disneyland, we had to coax both kids onto Space Mountain. They were so scared. Big, worried eyes. Hands nervous fidgeting. "Trust me," I'd say. "You're going to love it."

And they did.

But...I don't know. Space Mountain is one thing. Being shot into the sky atop a super tall building is quite another. In my mind, at least.

It makes me think of a video I saw the other day of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner making a near-vertical take off. Here it is in case you haven't seen it:


Yeah. I feel the same about flying as I do about roller coasters. Watching this video made me queasy--like the thought of riding a roller coaster makes me queasy--but I also can't help but think, Dang, that looks like fun.

There's a lesson in here, for them and for me. Maybe for you. Something having to do with the fragility and unpredictability of life. The ups and downs, the twists and turns. About deciding between the safe road and the adventurous one. Maybe even something about the ride being more fun when you can't see the track ahead. It reminds me of that scene from the movie Parenthood, where the grandmother tells her roller coaster story. 





I definitely think I'm more of a roller coaster person than a merry-go-round person, though. How about you?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Rollercoasters: A Rite of Passage (Stephanie Kuehnert)

The traditional end-of-the-school-year eighth grade trip at our junior high was to Six Flags Great America. Everyone was so excited about it. It felt like it was all anyone talked about during the last month of school. (Okay, maybe not, there was also the graduation dance, and yanno, high school.) For years, we'd been going to the lame class picnic or maybe the pool, but This. Was. Huge.

It was particularly huge and secretly intimidating to me because unlike EVERYBODY ELSE IN THE ENTIRE SCHOOL (at least, so it seemed). I'd never been to Great America, only Kiddieland, which was a lot closer to home and a lot cheaper. I still thought it was pretty fun--in fact I'd had my last birthday party there--but the overwhelming majority opinion on it was that it was for little kids. "Kiddie" was in the name after all and the big roller coaster there was "The Little Dipper." Not exactly a thrill ride by most people's standards:


I still thought it was pretty fun, though. Also I'd only braved Kiddieland's big swinging pirate ship last summer and I'd heard that the one at Great America went all the way around. Like upside down. This sounded terrifying to me. In fact, my big secret at the end of eighth grade was that dread actually eclipsed excitement for me when it came to the Great America trip. In fact, I was straight-up resentful of it because like my lack of cable TV in grade school and the absence of boobs and a boyfriend in junior high, it symbolized yet another thing I felt socially behind on and I was pretty sure my lack of experience would end in my humiliation. I mean, at least unlike my mom I hadn't puked after riding Space Mountain when my family had finally gone to Disney World over spring break. But I knew that the Great America rides would be a lot more intense--they all had loops that actually took you upside down, which was something I'd never experienced before--and I had inherited Mom's nervous stomach so the likelihood of my puking in front of or possibly even on my eighth grade crush seemed dangerously high.

As the Great America trip approached, my classmates became OBSESSED with the weather because it did not look like it was going to be in our favor. The idea of the trip being canceled was DEVASTATING to them. I had mixed feelings. I wanted to go. I'd been wanting to go for a couple of summers but I'd always gotten the "too expensive" line (which may have been partially true, partially a way for my mom to avoid what had ended up happening to her at Disney World). But if we didn't go as a school, maybe my first time could be with a select group of friends who would not make fun of me if I chickened out of Batman or Shockwave, or worse, puked.

The forecast didn't get any clearer the day of the trip. There were possibilities of sun, rain, and... tornadoes. In other words, it was typical Midwestern June weather and in typical Midwestern style, the school decided, "Eh, possible tornadoes? Whatever. Let's take these kids to the amusement park before they riot." After inspecting everyone to make sure no one was sporting gang colors, they let us on the bus and we headed off into the sunshine.

Of course when we got to the park an hour later, the clouds rushed in and burst. Everyone was devastated, but I was secretly relieved. That was short-lived. Since there was no lightning, the park was still open. Fortunately, I still got a short reprieve because my friends decided that since we were going to get soaked, we might as well go on the water rides. Yes! Water I could do. I loved water. I could swim. I'd even been to a few water parks. The trip was off to a great start. If only I could convince everyone that they just wanted to stay on the water rides all day...

But as soon as the sun came out and quickly dried us, everyone else was ready for the roller coasters. After some line length to thrill ratios were calculated, they decided that our first one would be Iron Wolf, which at the time, was the fastest stand-up roller coaster in the world, and until the year before it had also been the tallest. And did you notice that word stand-up. Yeah, I'd never done a major drop or a vertical loop on a roller coaster and I was going to do it standing up.

"Sweet! They are running it backwards today!" One of my friends declared.

Shit, scratch that. I am going to do my first major roller coaster standing up AND backwards.

So I stood in line, watching all of the kids before me eagerly do this:


I really felt like I was going to puke. Or pee. Or cry. Possibly all of those things. The line kept moving. My mom had told me, "You know if you get up there and you're too scared, you can just walk on through to the other side where people get off." And my best friend had assured me, "People do that all the time." I didn't see anyone do that though. I didn't want to do that.

So when it was my turn, I stepped on to the ride, knees shaking, feeling like I was going to pass out. Before I could, the attendant secured my harness. I took a deep breath, fairly certain that in the next two minutes, I would either die or lose all control of my bodily functions. I honestly hoped that it was the former. And then it started....

I screamed at the top of my lungs.

But in a good away.

It was the most exhilarating experience of my entire life!

I went on it again before we left the park. I also went on Batman, the American Eagle, and Shockwave. The only I didn't like was Shockwave because it banged my head back and forth against the restraints the entire time causing a massive headache. But overall, I was as pumped as my classmates on that ride home. Hail pounded against the bus--it would leave dents on the hood of the car I'd basically take over inherit from my parents when I was sixteen and I'd run my fingers over them fondly from time to time, remembering both the thrill of the rides that day and of facing and conquering a risk.

For better or worse, this was pretty much how I approached all of the other teenage rites of passage that I would encounter over the next few years. I got in line, often feeling like I was in way over my head, but once I was there I was determined to ride the ride whether it was cigarettes, alcohol, pot, ditching class, sex... Sometimes there were regrets, but at the time usually the thrill superseded everything else. I think that one of the main reasons I write YA is because it allows me to revisit that moment again and again--putting my characters in line for the ride, letting them decide if they are going to take it (they usually do), and then feeling every twist, turn and upside down loop with them, seeing if they come out like I did after Iron Wolf or after Shockwave, seeing if they'll decide like I ultimately did, that I really like Kiddieland better than Great America. (Or I did. May Kiddieland rest in peace. Sniff.)

Another funny thing about me and roller coasters is that I still got the same feeling of anticipation every time I went to an amusement park. Even though I handled it last time, I have my doubts about this time and this ride and I seriously consider just walking right through to the other side (and I consider that a lot more seriously now that I am older and don't give a shit what people might think if I do chicken out). That is EXACTLY how I feel every time I start a new book, too. But I hope I'll have a stomach for writing much longer than I think I will for amusement parks. I'm pretty sure my mom's grown-up weak stomach is in my very near future!