Anyone who’s been to the amusement rides at Coney Island will say, “make sure you ride the Cyclone at Luna Park.” As I mentioned in my previous blog, the Cyclone is a historic 87-year old roller coaster ride. Thrill seekers and roller coaster aficionados will no doubt also explain the benefits of riding one of the fastest of these old-school, wooden roller coasters.
The “merits” range from: “you slide around more on the ride,” to “you feel every single screw in the track,” and even the slightly scary “you get loads of bruises because you are getting slammed around.” No matter what the rationale, or appeal is, everyone will end with “It’s awesome!”
But these were not really the words of inspiration I would use to describe how I felt when I was finally standing under the Cyclone. Based on my memory, as I approached the Cyclone, the sound and speed didn’t fill me with the same joy others conveyed. Not to over share, but I have a strange, irrational, uncontrollable, deep and horrible fear of falling. And dying. The two are inextricably linked in my mind, as it turns out.
I have no idea how I developed this fear. And let me be clear, it has nothing to do with heights. Heights don’t bother me. No. It’s the falling and dying thing. And for some reason, looking up was when I realized, you reach the tip of the roller coaster, and after the amazing view, your heart is about to disappear into your lungs, as you go careening down two thin, wooden rails.
It was the wisdom of the Yooner to decide that we would hit the Cyclone immediately after our water ride. But, as I mentioned I was already unnerved. Truth be told, if I took the time to recover (the Wild River was pretty scary, for me, as it turned out), there is no way…in heaven or hell, I could have walked myself to the Cyclone.
Lucky there wasn’t a line at the Cyclone, so although my mind was already racing, my brain didn’t have time to process what was happening. I was on autopilot.
Buy tickets. Hand personal items over that can’t be secured at check-in. Choose which rickety car to ride in. We chose one in the middle of the ride. I vaguely recall an attendant dropping a wooden “safety rail” across my lap. That’s when something besides the safety mechanism clicked… and then I started not feeling very good.
The blood was draining from my face. I know this happened because it was the same feeling that also made me want to vomit. My feelings were confirmed when suddenly the Yooner asked, “are you ok?”
You know, I said to my self, I’m not okay. There was only one thing to do. And just as I announced, “I need to get off,” the roller coaster ride blasted out of the gate.
Based on the Yooner’s face, I’m pretty sure my own face went from white to translucent. And then, I shifted from simply freaked out to full on panic attack.
That’s right: hyperventilating, sweaty hands, heart racing, seeing double even though my eyes were clamped shut, and then my head was keeled over onto my knees. My Dad once told me keeping your eyes focused on a place—like your feet—helps trick your brain into thinking it’s not being flung around the atmosphere for fun.
Yes, he was lucky person who took me on my first roller coaster. Yes, I also flipped my noodle on that one. So, why did I think this one would be different? Because I realized…or remembered just how bad that experience was moments before, when the safety bar clicked.
And of course, I had the Yooner hugging me, assuring me everything was okay. We would survive. We did. Eventually, but there were several seconds when I was sure she was lying.
At the end of, no joke, the longest two minutes of my life the rider behind us asked if that was my first roller coaster. I must have looked like I wanted to throw up on his shoes because the Yooner immediately said, “she’s a champ,” and quickly escorted me down the ramp and back on to solid ground. Or at least that’s what my mind remembers. The next fifteen minutes were a bit of a blur.
And that’s the thing. Only a true friend will stick with you in the middle of a real-life epic meltdown. Not only that, they will convince you that the mascara running down your face isn’t “that bad.” (Note: they acknowledge it’s there, but they don’t upset you more than you already are.)
As of today, everyone I know (besides Yooner) has laughed at my little episode. Fair enough, I admit to a melt down on the Cyclone. But, I’m not a wuss. I went. Few things in life are worse than regrets. I strive to have as few “what if I…” moments as possible. I was miserable for a short time, but my memory of getting on the Cyclone, and riding it to the end, that’s something I can laugh about from this point on.
Plus, the feeling of relief after it was all over? I haven’t slept like that in a long, long time.