Rollercoasters and Rhymes: A Journey through “Thrill Park” and “Liquid Courage”
Short story about a wild trip to an amusement park and a poem about humanity’s love-hate relationship with alcohol and other intoxicating substances.
Magellan’s Voyage was the tallest and faster coaster in the world. When people thought of Thrill Park, this was the coaster that came to mind! Its tallest drop was 460 feet, and it reached speeds of up to 155 miles per hour! Earlier in the day my friends and I tried another major attraction- Fight or Flight- a virtual reality simulation designed to (supposedly) gauge your darkest fears. You enter this auditorium that looks like a human brain- one elevated off the ground by a network of interweaving stairwells. Each gyrus is a winding hallway leading to a pitch-black auditorium. Then you put on one of those gyroscopic, “DeadMaus” helmets, and an interactive video begins. After a 10-second montage of crocodiles, spiders and demons, the ride is over. What a joke!
My friends had no interest in Magellan’s Voyage, but I couldn’t leave this park until I rode it. After waiting for half an hour in a clogged, meandering line behind an enormous man who reeked of body odor and tobacco, I finally reached the platform. The train pulled into the station, and I knew there was no turning back. The air gates flung open, the guests exited their seats, and we began boarding. The coaster was inverted, with cars that resembled chairlifts at a ski resort. Each car had four seats. I chose one on the outer left edge of the very first row and nestled in comfortably. After yanking down on my shoulder harness and ratcheting it into place, the ride attendant— a sullen 16-year-old (Dylan, as his name tag read) with shaggy black hair, brown eyes, and oily skin—made his way across our row and pushed down on our restraints. He did this all while texting with his other hand, jamming out to his air pods, and wolfing down a turkey sub. He then returned to his operation panel and pressed a few switches. “Surely, we are all going to die!” I thought to myself. Then I tugged on my harness. It was as tight as could be. What did I have to worry about?!
The aluminum platform lowered. The station gates swung closed. The train eagerly pushed forward. The chain-dog clung to the roof of the train and the ominous prelude began. Clack-Clack-Clack. The mounting anticipation rose as the train ascended its first lift hill. I squinted helplessly as the hot sun glared down upon me. I swiveled my head back & forth and from side to side to avoid its rays. A sense of palpable fear grew stronger by the second. Here I was, barred and buckled in, steadily climbing towards the summit. Fettered by the harness draped over me, I sat on pins and needles, waiting for the inevitable drop to take place.
Aboard this great serpentine railway…this colossal ribbon of steel…this capricious celestial circuit, I’d soon plummet to the earth and rise to the heavens, repeatedly. I’d soon twist and twirl, spiral and swirl, and, for a few fleeting moments, gaze down upon the clouds below me. The fertile imagination of the human mind and the adamantine laws of physics would unite perfectly in a marriage as contentious as it is creative, transforming the ancient laws of terror into a modern, wholesome form of leisure.
The train then eased over its first hump. I surveyed the panoramic world below. The view was sublime: a vast canvas of meandering highways, Aurelian pastures, cerulean skies, and greenery as far as the eye can see. Then, suddenly, WHOOSH!! Down we all went! A great rush of adrenaline took hold. Riding a roller coaster is like being yanked to the bottom of the ocean by a sea serpent. My stomach clung to my spine. My heart raced. My head throttled. My eyes glazed over. I clenched my jaw and fiercely gripped the handles of my shoulder harness. The earth raced towards me, and everyone, as you could expect, screamed. I did as well. It was great!!
The train then climbed its second feature- a perfectly arched hill. As it did, though, a genuine fear from earlier resurfaced: what if this ride wasn’t as safe as I thought it was? In fact, what if it wasn’t safe at all? I had to immediately check myself. How could I be so ridiculous? The odds of dying on a commercial flight are 1 in 11 million. The odds of dying on a roller coaster are 1 in 300 million. There was nothing to worry about.
The ride continued its journey. As the train zoomed through an underground tunnel and the pitch-black atmosphere enshrouded us, I tugged on my harness one more time to put this ludicrous fear to rest. It was as though a steaming geyser had ruptured every vein in my body. The harness…had…come…LOOSE!!
How could this possibly have happened?!?! Maybe I WAS that one in 300 million! After all, someone had to be. Or maybe one of the ratchets had broken off, or the whole system had malfunctioned, or it was Dylan’s fault! I had never experienced a greater sense of terror. Had, at that moment, a cannonball been fired through my torso and shattered my ribcage, I wouldn’t have even felt it. It was as though a hundred million steel chords tightened around my chest. I couldn’t breathe. Cortisol flushed through my veins. My face turned crimson. My vision narrowed. The world felt separate, as though I were viewing it through a glass bowl. I sweated so greatly you would think I had just visited Niagara Falls’ Maid of the Mist. My thoughts raced incoherently. My only instinct was to grip both shoulder harnesses’ metal handles, and I did so with such great force I almost crushed my finger bones.
The darkness slowly faded as sunlight permeated through the tunnel. The exit looked like a tiny camera aperture that kept rapidly dilating. Time appeared to drag on forever. The train shot out of the ride’s tunnel like a bullet from a gun barrel and abruptly rotated right, inverting laterally. My harness flew against the rear of my seat, and I was immediately ejected. Everything was a blur. The world below was nothing other than chunks of color and light that smeared past me. My palms became so sweaty I had to dig my fingers into them to maintain my grip on the handles. I felt as though my arm was being ripped out of its socket. The ride thrashed me about with such force it was a miracle I didn’t crush every bone in my chest when I slammed against the side of the car. As it finished its second roll, the train then flung me dozens of feet above and away from the tracks. I lobbed through the air; my arms flailing, my body twisting, turning, and spinning from end to end. Faint glimpses of the world below me appeared: Ferris wheels, water slides, walkways, park benches, balloons, bushes, trees, and people. I stretched out my arms helplessly, like a scared infant reaching for its mother. I could only hope my hands would reach something…ANYTHING! I strained every muscle in my body, inching as far forward as I could. Just as gravity’s unforgiving clutch took hold, my hands fell upon a tubular rail. I hung onto the peak of a 70-foot-high vertical loop. I swung back and forth; my hold quickly slipping. The tracks had been sitting in the open sun, and so my clutch felt like gripping a frying pan on an open stove. Just imagine millions of needles penetrating the palms of your hands.
Hyperventilating, I screamed wildly at the top of my lungs: “PLEASE, SOMEBODY, HELP ME!!” I was oblivious to the crowd of guests down below. Tens, if not hundreds, of them swarmed about the ride’s perimeter like bumblebees next to a hive. Many stood frozen- eyes wide, mouths agape, necks craned upward- absorbing the whole scene like spectators at an ancient gladiatorial fight. Some even captured the spectacle on their cell phones, while others, sensing my imminent plunge, averted their gaze.
Fiery jolts radiated through the back of my neck. I could barely hold my head up. My sight was so stiff I felt as though someone had tightened my eyes into their sockets with a wrench. Still, my vision fell upon the terrain below. When it did, terror penetrated through me like a dagger to the chest. I could hear an ominous rumble. Peering down I saw it: the train thundering its way along the tracks. Death was soon upon me if I didn’t act. The train would crush my fingers and I would plunge to the earth. My panic accelerated with such force it was like passing the entire Pacific through the Hoover Dam.
Then, suddenly, an eerie calm overwhelmed me! The train appeared to slow down— crawling along the tracks like a caterpillar upon a log. I looked ahead of me, resigned. I felt nothing. No noise. No thoughts. No sense of urgency or even time. It was like I was an actor on a movie set and thus had nothing real to fear. My whole body loosened. My heart rate slowed down and the pressure in my veins subsided.
Then I saw it. About fifteen feet ahead of me was a log flume ride. Its watertight, trough-like channel was the width of a sidewalk and the depth of a dunk tank. The “logs” that carried guests streamed forth every few moments and could easily have clobbered me, but these few feet of water were the only option I had. My attention reverted to the train. It was barreling up the first arc of this loop, moving towards me as though it had singled me out…like a python racing up a tree after its prey.
With all the waning strength left in my arms, I swung myself forward. The guests down below reacted with terror. Some shrieked and looked away. Others fainted. My legs were straight, and my arms stretched outwards. I barely made the channel by a foot. I hit the water, though. It was like crashing into a brick wall, and, as I fell, my legs slammed against the channel’s outer rim. I tumbled lifelessly into the icy water and disappeared below its surface. Everything went black.
I opened my eyes. An attendant came over and removed my helmet. The theater lights turned on. I arose from my seat and all the guests scrambled towards the door. A voice boomed through the speakers: “Thank you for joining us on Fight or Flight, Thrill Park’s newest and most immersive experience. We hope you enjoy the rest of your day. Please exit right.”
Intoxication: the paper-thin blanket of warmth and love…the false aura of crystalline purity and grace…the cauldron of disastrous passions, the corrupt magistrate and the buffoon…the devious middle-man between body and soul…the iconoclast…the sophomoric visionary…the anarchist…the loose cannon. Sometimes that which we consume with joy we emit with disgust.
Poor, withering souls: never let the travails of famine, pestilence, injury, or wariness encumber you. Never let death frighten you. When love disappoints or boredom pervades, the nefarious antidote is never too far away, but you must always resist! Or must you? The urge to dance…to make love…to be free; what wickedness could possibly lie therein?
The seeds of monstrosity are suspended inside every drop, producing great, furious, entropic storms of sentiment! Fermented dreams and distilled memories become the desperate yearnings that, like gaseous bubbles, swell to the rim and fulminate…foaming up and overflowing. The human mind is a reservoir; consciousness–an ocean. Who will encumber its arbitrary and elastic will? Mild ripples to monstrous undulations, the spirit surges, stretches, and strains against the heavens, rises and recedes, crashes, clashes, smothers, devours itself, and evaporates. With each swig the ocean proves a stiffer shield against the scorching sun and polluted skies, but not without plunging further into the black depths. What hideous Leviathans lurk in the dark?