Top of the Rollercoaster

Top of the rollercoaster.

David Wilcox, a folk musician/singer-songwriter from Cleveland, Ohio, released a song in 1991 called Top of the Rollercoaster, a song about riding a rollercoaster on a 30th birthday as a metaphor for life. “It’s the moment of truth, the top of your youth…when you tip the top of the rollercoaster, look down the other side.” (To hear the song, click here.) Lucky for me, it came out several years before I turned 30, so I could listen to it on my 30th birthday and feel like it was written for me. However, unlike the song, which proclaims “it’s all downhill from here,” I didn’t look at turning 30 as the “top of my youth;” I looked at it as a new beginning. And honestly, my life got better after 30. But that’s not really what I want to discuss. I want to talk about rollercoasters, because at the age of 53, I still love them.

Don’t most of us remember our first rollercoaster ride? I don’t mean those little rollercoasters like Thunder Mountain at Disney. I don’t even mean rollercoasters like The Rock-n-Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios or Space Mountain at Disney. If those are the most exciting rollercoasters you’ve ridden, I hate to break it to you…they don’t even count. They’re not thrilling. Sure, they’re a little fun, but definitely aren’t thrilling. When I get off those rides, I don’t have the same “high” as I have when I step off the Intimidator or the Fury 325 at Carowinds…or even Goliath at Six Flags Over Georgia. So when I say we likely remember our first rollercoaster ride, I mean a ride on a real rollercoaster…a thrill ride.

The year was 1976. It was the year of America’s Bicentennial, and I had turned nine years old in May…just as school was getting out for summer. I had been to Six Flags Over Georgia countless times with my family, and since 1973, I had been watching people disembark from the Great American Scream Machine, which at the time was the longest (3800 ft), tallest (105 ft), fastest (57 mph) rollercoaster in the world. It was a giant wooden coaster, and for a long time, I was terrified of it. But that summer…the Bicentennial summer…I decided I could ride it. I was standing with my family, watching riders disembark when Daddy asked me if I wanted to try it. I answered, “Yes,” and we got in line. The line for the Scream Machine was always long in those days, and there were no fast passes, so we waited…and I’m sure I changed my mind a dozen times before we ever boarded the coaster, but when it was our turn, I followed Daddy right into that coaster seat.

If you’ve ever ridden a wooden coaster, you know it’s not as smooth as a steel coaster. The first hill seems “rickety,” with the noise of the chain pulling the train up, and the “clickety-clack” of the tracks as you wait to reach the top. I was terrified, but I was excited at the same time. Back then, though, safety mechanisms weren’t what they are now. In my memory, there was nothing tight around my waist to hold me firmly in my seat. I recall a loose chain across my lap and a metal bar that bounced with every bump. Just as we reached the peak of the first hill, the train lurched forward as it started its descent. I weighed less than 50 pounds, and I felt like I was going to fall out of the car. I yelled to Daddy, “Push the bar down!” But he just laughed as we continued the bumpy ride. Once I knew I had survived the first big hill, I knew I could survive the rest, but it was scary…and exhilarating.

The ride ended back at the station after an exhilarating two minutes and twenty seconds. I had survived. I had ridden my first major rollercoaster and lived to tell about it. I feel sure I was giggling as we got off the ride, and I probably talked about it on the walk back up to the top of the hill near the entrance, where my mother was waiting. And then, like any coaster enthusiast, I said, “Let’s do it again!” I’ve never looked back. What an adrenaline rush! And every time I ride a rollercoaster, I remember that day in the summer of ’76.

Fortunately, my own daughter is a rollercoaster enthusiast. When she was a little girl, she would cry, because she wasn’t tall enough to ride the coasters at our local amusement park, Carowinds, which was owned by Paramount at the time, and then purchased by Cedar Fair Parks. As soon as she was tall enough, we rode them all the time…for years. When the old log flume ride was removed from the park in 2010 to make way for the Intimidator, a rollercoaster with a height of 232 feet that goes 80 mph, we had to work up the nerve to ride it, but once we did, we never looked back. And then, five years later, the Fury 325 debuted. Reaching a maximum speed of 95 mph and with a height of 325 feet, it looked daunting. But the first time we rode it, we rode in the second seat. The next time? Front car with my friend, Angela, and her daughter, Hannah…and it was a big adrenaline rush! My daughter was 11, and Hannah was 13…and we loved the ride! In fact, every time I’ve ever ridden it, it has been a big adrenaline rush. I feel pretty sure that if I can ride that coaster, I can ride just about any coaster anywhere.

About 34 years after that Bicentennial summer and my first major coaster ride, I took my daughter to Six Flags Over Georgia. She was six. She wanted to ride the Great American Scream Machine as soon as she saw it. So while my friend, Wendy, and her daughter watched, we boarded the same rollercoaster that was my first major rollercoaster, and it became my daughter’s first major rollercoaster too. The ride was even more bumpy that I remembered, but she loved it. She was laughing when we got off the coaster and wanted to get back in line immediately…like mother, like daughter. Maybe one day, my daughter will have a daughter whose first coaster will be the Great American Scream Machine. A weird family tradition, for sure.

Going back to David Wilcox’s song, maybe when he said “it’s all downhill from here,” he didn’t mean it was all going to be bad. Maybe he meant it was all going to be fun…a rush…exhilarating. Now that I think about it, I prefer that version. Because honestly, I’ve done my best living after 30. Well…there were those four college years in the 80s, between the ages of 18 and 22…those were pretty awesome too. But there’s something special about being over 30. And if you haven’t turned 50 yet…just wait…it’s great too.

Are rollercoaster rides good metaphors for life? I don’t know. But I do know rollercoasters are fun, and they make me feel young! I’ll be glad when Carowinds is open again! Till then, maybe we’ll even make a trip down to the Atlanta area to visit Six Flags Over Georgia and ride the Great American Scream Machine again…they’re open on a “reservations only” basis! They’re even offering BACKWARD rides on the Scream Machine for a limited time!

We love rollercoasters!

If you’d like to virtually experience the Great American Scream Machine, click here.

Make Time

Busy, busy, busy…we all lead busy lives. Sometimes, we’re busy sitting on our butts watching TV, but we all claim to be busy all the time.

This morning, I took a break from busy. About a week ago, a friend I haven’t seen in a long time sent me a message asking me to meet for coffee. We checked our calendars and decided today would be the day. So at 9:15 this morning, I met a friend at Cafe Moka, a cute little coffee shop in the Waverly shopping center in South Charlotte. Apparently, I was the only person in Charlotte who didn’t know about it, because it was hoppin’! You can see the website here.

This particular friend is sweet and funny, so I was looking forward to seeing her. When I arrived and saw her smiling face waiting in a little nook of the coffee shop, I smiled. At that moment, I knew this was something I needed…to catch up with a friend I haven’t seen in a long time…really catch up without distractions, and it was great.

A few days ago, my husband was going through some old photos on his phone, and he came across some from summer of 2008. They were pictures of our daughter with her preschool friend…and there, in the third picture was the daughter of the friend I was meeting for coffee today! My husband texted the pics to me, so as soon as I arrived, I showed them to my friend. She enjoyed looking through them and then said, “I have no recollection of this!” The pictures were made at Carowinds, a local amusement park (see the website here). We ran into my friend and her daughter near an attraction that is no longer at Carowinds…small convertibles on rails that the kids believed they were really driving. Even though they weren’t really driving them, they were a vision of the future.

And now we are officially in the future. My friend’s daughter is now a senior in high school, driving a real car and preparing for college. My own daughter just got her driver’s license two weeks ago…driving herself to high school in a real car instead of waving as she drives past me in the cars on rails at Carowinds. Time flies. And that’s exactly why we need to stop and “smell the roses.”

Time passes so quickly that we often forget to stop and spend some time with the people we care about. Sometimes, I look at my calendar and see the things I need to do instead of the things I want to do. In reality, we need to put forth the effort to do some of the things we want to do and spend time with some of the people we want to see.

But today, I put forth the effort. Today, I enjoyed a little time over coffee with a friend. And it put a smile on my face for the rest of the day…just what the doctor ordered!

 

 

 

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Were You Afraid of Santa?

When I was a little girl in Brewton, Alabama, I sat on Santa’s lap…once.

I was a fan of Santa, but I preferred to write him letters. I preferred not to sit on his lap. I was not a fan of strangers. Plus, I was stubborn. The more folks pushed me to talk with him, the more I resisted. There were lots of times I wondered, “Can’t I just write him a letter?” I never cried, though.

Ahhh…how many kids have pictures of themselves screaming in Santa’s lap?

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, folks loved to ask kids if they had sat on Santa’s lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas…even implying that if they didn’t sit on Santa’s lap, they’d wake up on Christmas morning to nothing.

My brother didn’t mind visiting with Santa. His whole life, he has had no fear. I guess I got all the fear, and he got none. And I’m sure my brother wanted Santa to know exactly what to bring…Tonka trucks (the real metal kind), Evel Kneivel Stunt Cycle, Evel Knievel Canyon Sky Cycle (you know, the toy version of the one he used in his attempt to jump Snake River Canyon), GI Joe stuff, football jerseys, and yes, BB guns…typical rough neck little boy stuff. Unlike Ralphie on A Christmas Story, though, he never even almost “put his eye out” with a BB gun, but a boy down the street did.

As for Santa, I only remember sitting on his lap once…on the bench outside The Fair Store in downtown Brewton. I wasn’t the kid who screamed and ran from Santa. I just quietly refused to sit in his lap. But that day, I not only sat on his lap, I actually conversed with him. I don’t remember the conversation, but I do remember sitting there talking.

On that day, I made the decision to talk to him. No one tried to push me into it. I think they had given up on me at that point. That, plus they knew if they pushed, I would just dig in my heels. I remember walking out of the store, seeing Santa on the bench, and walking over to him without even discussing it with my mother. She just stood there, smiling and waiting.

I don’t remember what I asked him to bring me…Baby Alive? A treehouse? A Miss American bicycle? Ventriloquist dolls? Easy Bake Oven? Fisher Price Little People house…the one with a real doorbell that rings? Probably all of the above, but I was completely and utterly obsessed with the Fisher Price Little People house with a doorbell that really rings.

Later, when I was 10 or 11, I would sit on Santa’s lap just for the pictures with my friends, but by then, I knew Santa wasn’t real.

Fortunately, my daughter never feared him. She went for her first visit with Santa in November after she turned one in October. I sat her on his lap, and she didn’t fuss at all…whew! When she was two, she wanted to visit with him every chance she got, so we spent many afternoons at Southpark Mall, visiting Santa. When we went to Winterfest at Carowinds that year, she talked with Santa so long that the folks in line got antsy. Santa didn’t care…she was his favorite visitor that night, because she talked and talked. It’s a great memory, because she had to walk up some steps to get to him. She climbed the steps and climbed up into his lap in a sleigh. When she was finished talking, he motioned for me to come up and get her, and he went on and on about how he’d never had a two year old talk so much to him. And the people in line got more antsy.

She doesn’t remember the Santa from Winterfest. She remembers a few later visits with Santa at Southpark Mall and at some local restaurants. But she knows she had some fun times at Christmas every year. We’ll have some more fun times this holiday season, but they’ll be different. We’ll go out to dinner with friends and still drive around looking at lights. I’ll even force her to go to Winterfest at Carowinds, but she’ll take a friend, because when you’re 15, nothing’s fun without friends. And that’s OK, because we’ll still be making memories together.

I wonder if I can get them to get a picture with Santa?

 

 

 

 

 

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