I used to be afraid of heights. No, that’s not entirely accurate. I am STILL afraid of heights, an immovable fact that I faced at Sentinel Dome at Yosemite this past May. That last, bald, steep approach to the top had me on all fours, frozen with terror, quaking in my li’l Bean hiking booties and bleating/weeping/borderline puking I CAN’T DO IT I CAN’T DO IT I CAN’T DO IT while all three children and a kind young man advised me otherwise. “Yes, you can,” he said. “Just stand up. It’s not that steep.”
He was right. It wasn’t. My fear had the better of me. That happens, sometimes, with heights. So it’s a little weird to admit it, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE roller coasters, the old wooden ones especially, the Comet at Great Escape most of all. I did not always love them. I used to freeze and quake and bleat and weep and borderline puke just at the thought. But 12 or 13 years ago, as I was staring 40 in the face, I decided I didn’t want to shut down and turn all old-biddy-cautious as I got older. I decided I wanted to BE BOLD AND STRONG AND HOWL AT THE MOON, or at least ride on roller coasters occasionally.
The next time we visited the Great Escape as a family, I observed the masses of people who rode the Comet. They stood in line, some of them looking a little nervous; they climbed into the cars; the attendant lowered bars across their laps; they fastened their seat belts; they rode the Comet screaming, laughing and raising their hands; and they returned with their structural integrity intact, most of them looking happy, some of them looking sick, none of them looking dead. This was my key observation: NO ONE DIED. Even the people who had looked a little nervous at the outset didn’t die! And wouldn’t they be the first to, you know, fall off? I would be.
I then observed people riding the two newer coasters with loop-de-loops, the Boomerang and Steamin’ Demon. Same deal. No one died. Given that those amusements actually flip people upside down, freeing them of their loose change and dental work, you’d think there might be a greater chance of fatal outcomes. But nope. None that I observed. NO BLOODY CORPSES ANYWHERE.
This is when it hit me: Most people riding roller coasters don’t die. Granted, some do; I know that tragedy strikes on occasion. One or two people expire per year in coaster accidents nationwide. But millions more don’t. And those millions climb on and buckle up precisely because they know they have a good chance of not-dying. This confidence in not-dying emboldens them. They ENJOY THEIR FEAR. They laugh in the face of death, because, you know, it probably won’t happen! Probably! I love that word! Yes!
Once I realized this, I laughed, too. I, too, felt emboldened. I could ride the roller coaster and be scared bloody freaking shitless, but that wasn’t a bad thing. That was a FUN THING! I could scream my until my face turned blue and distended to blimp-like proportions, hitting high E’s unreachable by earthbound larynges (and yes, I looked it up, that’s the plural for larynx)! Best of all: I could embarrass my children! Hurray!
Okay, so I had brainwashed myself into doing something not-so-wise. But what the hell. Don’t you get tired of being wise, sometimes? And isn’t laughing in the face of death what all of us are forced to do every day, all day long, ANYWAY?
It’s not as though This Life Thing we’re engaged in has any other, better outcome. We’re sort of toast. According to the latest statistics, each of us has a 100 percent chance of dying. I awake each morning and thank God for another day, and I go to bed each night thanking God I made it. The bar is low: if I’m alive, and my loved ones are, too, and I didn’t hurt or kill someone accidentally or on purpose in the preceding hours, coolness. Mission accomplished, baby.
So why not take the ride? Why not say: Okay, right, I probably won’t die today? Though of course it could happen. I could die sitting at home and getting clocked in the head by a dislodged window A/C. Instead, I’ll climb onto this barf-inducing coaster of life. I’ll get nervous going up and howl going down, turning fear into laughter and death into a fine excuse for living. I don’t know what else to do with it. You got any better ideas, call me.
Finally, I append a photo I snapped from my most recent visit to the Great Escape with a combo of offspring. It’s only from the Flying Trapeze, a pretty tame swing ride, but even I’m not stupid enough to whip out my iPhone on the Comet.