If you missed this morning’s discussion about my day with my daughter at Six Flags Over Texas this past Tuesday, scroll down. You’ll find the audio included below.
But a few more specifics, if you will.
The last time I went to Six Flags, my daughter was about 7. It was for a late afternoon charity event, during the Autumn – so most of the major rides weren’t open. It was easy to convince a child that the Antique Cars and the Six Flags & Texas Railroad before heading off for dinner was a full experience of the park. Now she’s almost 12. That’s a whole new ballgame.
See, back then she didn’t know the truth. For years as we’ve driven past Six Flags, I’ve happily pointed at the big new scary rides and announced “Not in a million years”. From the backseat, complete agreement. I was safe. This was good. For you see, I was afraid.
I’ve just never been a big fan of rollercoasters. I mean, I’ve flown with the Blue Angels and fighter pilots, but that was for work. The reality is I am terrified of heights.
Airplanes I can handle, because I get fascinated by the earth below the higher I get. But if I’m standing on the 72nd floor of Bank of America Tower by the office window looking straight down, you may need to call the janitor. A precipice or any high place, and I may faint. All of which went right out the window when I realized that the 11-year-old I was with yesterday is now vastly different than that little 6-year-old girl from a few years ago. True, Fiona and I took her to Disneyland a few years ago – but the most daring thing we did was the Matterhorn. Other than that, it was Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Plus, we beat the lines.
Two months ago, she’d asked if I would be one of her school’s chaperones for the big class field trip. Tens of thousands of kids, eager for summer, converging on about 220 acres. Anytime a pre-teen asks you to do something two months out, it’s important. That was obvious. But even with all that lead time to think, it still didn’t hit me until we walked through the gates.
I wasn’t going to just be hanging out.
This one’s friends were riding. That meant mine had to ride. All of her friends’ dads were riding with their daughters, so that meant I had to ride with mine too. And that meant I had to ride the kind of rides that junior high school kids like to ride. And in case anyone has forgotten, junior high school kids are crazy. Madi’s friend had already ridden Mr. Freeze six times by the time we joined up and started taking in the park together. That meant we had to catch up. I was expected to ride. That had not been in my plan. I’d thought I’d be able to find a nice bench, maybe with the sun shining through the trees, glistening on the dyed-blue water, holding a backpack and a few bottles of Desani, waiting on a gaggle of middle school girls to finish El Sombrero so everybody could go get some Dippin’ Dots. That is not how things played out.
First, let me allow as to how this aversion to rollercoasters and thrill rides goes back a long way. That said, I faced them when the boys were younger. The Runaway Mine Train, Judge Roy Scream, Shock Wave – I’d tackled all those in high school. Usually to impress my girlfriend, who probably didn’t like heights any more than I did. Even that loopy-loop thing at the Stock Show, where you go up this side, then that side, picking up speed, and finally going all the way around, upside down. The human inner ear was not made for such things. This is what I was thinking as they strapped me into the F-18 that time. Under no circumstances did I want to see that day’s Burger King chicken sandwich again.
Yes, I know people have been hurt on these things – and some people have even died on amusement rides. It’s not risk free. Nothing is. But I’ve gone to Six Flags as long as I’ve been alive, and there’s a distinct increase in safety awareness there. In fact, I worked at Six Flags one summer as a teen, so count me very impressed. The New Texas Giant is just that – completely re-engineered, and was one of the smoothest rides I’ve ever been on. But, I digress. Six Flags isn’t the issue here. To borrow a phrase, the problem isn’t you, dear Six Flags. It’s me.
Like it or not, you reach a certain point in life where you wonder if any excess Gs might finally cause something somewhere to pop. It occurs to you; that’s all I’m saying. If you’re on a first-name basis with your chiropractor, you also then must act with caution. Just considerations, ya know? I was an inch shorter after that F-18 ride. It helped put Jim’s son through school. Then you look up at the big new safety signs they’ve put up at the entrance of a ride that seems to vanish into the clouds, noting the six things you really don’t want to be on these rides. Things such as drunk, hypertensive, or under 48″ tall. You look closely, and realize you’re batting .500. The little illustration of the stick-man clutching his head even looked like me. You mutter that at least you’re not pregnant. Because if your daughter’s friends are going, they’re watching to see if she goes. If they go, their dads go too – and mine is watching to see if I’ll be the wet blanket.
In other words, I was hosed.
Batman? Yup. I’d forgotten that your feet dangle off that one. Who was the maniac who came up with that idea? There are places where it goes so low to the ground I thought I was about to have to start running. That led us straight the aforementioned Giant, now known as the New Texas Giant – which is no longer the physical thrashing it used to be. If you love rollercoasters – a thought I’ll come back to in a bit – this one is awesome. I will also tell you that I completely closed my eyes when we started that first drop, and I do not mind saying so. Realistically, the only thing my mind could lock onto going up was “Oh, Lord don’t let this thing get stuck up here.” Then five seconds later, I was wishing it had. I sincerely do not recall the next 45 seconds, but the picture they take during the ride clearly shows a middle-aged dad regretting his decision.
After that came Titan. I was going to go step-for-step with that pre-teen even if I blew an aneurism. For those who’ve only glanced over in horror while trucking down the ol’ Turnpike, that’s the really, really tall orange one. Once again, eyes closed as we went over the top. Sorry. I’m a wuss. But I can assure you they popped right open at the bottom of that drop, thanks only to what can only be described as a sensation close to what it would feel like if you gave birth to a piano. It was simply a matter of pressure. For a scant second, everything in you weighs a measured four and one-half times what it ordinarily does when your body is at rest. And it all feels like it’s about fall right out.
Yes, this is fun. Sure, honey. Which ride you want to do next? Aggggggh.
And a word on feminine persuasiveness here. I have noticed that girls learn early. When a guy is debating whether he should do something, a female will get him to do it by softly suggesting things like “Why, sure. It’s up to you. Whatever you feel is best.” This is clearly subtle coercion. At that point male pride kicks in, and we pick up the gauntlet. “Oh, so you think I’m not up to shooting down a pair of rails upside down at 80 mph, do you?? Well, just watch ol’ Dad show you! Ha-ha!” Suddenly you’re Jason Bourne.
At some point in this process, I gave forth with what can only be classified as a viking war scream. Don’t get me wrong. This was not Leonidas at Thermopylae. This was Oh-holy-Lord-what-have-I-gotten-myself-intoooaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrg! The woman in front of me even turned around to see if I was having a medical situation. Every turn, every dip, every drop – from then on out. I was charging the field at Bannockburn in the face of overwhelming odds.
Then, finally, the coup d’ grace. It didn’t dawn on me until later that not counting the log flume – God bless that wonderful old, lazy, slow thing’s sweet soul – we really only rode four attractions. Just four. It’s that the four we did choose each counted for seven in dog years.
There are people who actually count themselves as fans of this sort of this thing, and they have my respect. Some of them actually travel from park to park, often around the world, just to test and enjoy the latest thrill rides. They are made from sterner stuff that I, and it was our final stop that proved the point.
The Texas SkyScreamer.
This is that really tall tower on the edge of the park that makes the Oil Derrick look like a tinker toy. 400 feet up they haul you, in a big golden circle of little tiny swings suspended by itty bitty silver chains smaller than the ones you can get at Ace Hardware. Lots of them, to be sure – but I immediately started looking to see if there was a posted weight limit. And after that oddly steampunk looking contraption from which you’re hanging crawls up the tower, it starts to rotate. A football field’s length and a third above terra firma. Now, just as centrifugal force starts moving you horizontally to the traffic below, the most unsettling thing of all unfolds. The chair you’re sitting in is also designed to twist, adding the feeling paratroopers must get just as they get tangled in their chute. This is when the crying began.
Turning to Madi as the machine mercifully started it’s descent, I just started babbling. “Honey, I love you. Daddy loves you. I really, really love you.” It just came pouring out. “I really, really love you. But you know the only thing I love more that you right now??”, I effused. “The ground!!”
By this time of course, she was laughing hysterically. Partly at her own relief, I think – but mostly in amusement at this grown man next to her coming unhinged. “Dad, look down there! It’s headed down!”, she giggled. “It’s okay!”
“Down there??”, I pleaded. “I am not about to look down anywhere. ‘Down there’ is where I’m about to make a big golden circle on the concrete!!”
Shockingly, a day later my neck and shoulders haven’t started aching yet – but that may be thanks to the fact that I still haven’t unclenched. Twenty-four hours later and my knuckles are still white. As always, everyone at Six Flags was just wonderful as could be – including the young man at the photo stand who started snickering when my pic came up on the video screen. It’s such a fantastic place, and holds so many wonderful memories. Several times I pointed to spots along the walk ways, and named everyone who was standing there on our class day – forty-five years ago. In fact, I could still see them there.
But of course, the best part was my daughter’s laughter. In truth, I think I only embarrassed her a couple of times – but you could see it pleased her no end that dad hadn’t begged off to go sit under a hackberry. And although part of me would have been fine had she mentioned it as an option, I have to confess: as I was standing at the foot of these things not believing I was about to actually get on them, I was surprised.
One, by the fact that I actually had the gumption to get on them. Two, by how much just being there can mean to a child.
Not long ago, Madi and I were discussing life’s hard choices – and I asked her what she thought I’d say if she made a decision of which I didn’t approve. “I love you?”, she replied. “More than that”, I answered. “I would say, ‘Then I will go with you'”.
Maybe these roller coasters were just practice for the bigger ones later on.
By the way – Six Flags cut the ribbon on its brand new thrill ride on Tuesday. The Joker opens to the public Saturday, May 20th. They showed it off to the media while were there. It looks fantastic.
And you will never get me on that thing.