I know what you’re thinking. The items on my failure list typically get one of three responses:
1. “That’s not really a failure.”
2. “Oh, that’s okay. Not everyone does that anyway.”
3. “You haven’t done _____?! Everybody’s done that!”
Your incredulity over my failure to ride a proper roller coaster is not without merit. I’ve had countless opportunities. My boyfriend was a member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts (which is not, as you might first imagine, an organization against condensation rings on the coffee table). I lived mere steps from an amusement park with a giant roller coaster. I can offer only one solid reason for my failure: I am a weenie.
By nature, I am not a thrill seeker. Given the option of bungee jumping (remember when people did that? good times.) or watching Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey on cable, I’m going to pick the dumb movie on cable every time. But then, even the mundane things can give me pause. Escalators, for example. Until I was 16 I had no idea that escalators could terrify me. Then I met the one in the CNN building—steep, multi-storied, and chock-a-block full of people. So steep you couldn’t see the top. And the handrail was out of sync with the steps, so my arm kept creeping up to my neighbour in front of me. I would later learn that Atlanta is full of long, steep escalators. This is not a fact they advertise on their postcards.
I am not afraid of heights. I have an irrational fear of being some distance above ground and then being dropped from that distance. I love playground swings but even then, I don’t want to get swinging too high. And, of course, if I do relent and go on a Ferris wheel or gondola, the other people in my party like to make me squirm by rocking our vehicle as if to show me that we’re in a sturdy piece of machinery and we’re not going to plummet to our deaths on a silly amusement park ride. This method of reassurance might have worked some 20-odd years ago. But we’re living in a different time. A time where things are not well made and people don’t take as much pride in their work. I’m not saying all roller coasters are shoddily made or unkempt. I’m saying you don’t need to be a jerk in the face of someone’s fear, however convoluted and irrational.
As a kid, I went with various groups of people to the state fair. My participation at the state fair was limited to playing carnival games and eating carnival food. No rides—except for a couple of dinky “baby” rides—and no scary things. In those days, I was also forbidden to eat hard candy or popcorn for fear that I’d choke (or actually enjoy childhood). Irrational fears are hereditary, apparently. The fair is a magical place—bright lights illuminating the normally vacant fairgrounds, the air thick with cheap cigarette smoke and manure. It’s a place where even your dreams can be deep fried! Who needs a roller coaster when there are caged monkeys demanding you roll grapes down their PVC pipes? Wait…I’m not sure the state fair had a roller coaster.
“But Katharine,” I hear you saying, “you lived in Orlando for six years. How could you resist the siren song of the many roller coasters surrounding you?” Just lucky, I guess. Well, luck and my discovery of another irrational intolerance—theme park lines. Bless the brave souls who can stand around in the Florida heat in former swampland amongst other sweaty souls of varying girth and odors. Godspeed to the ones willing to withstand whiny brats and their cranky parents, oblivious teenagers, and bitter Florida residents. If you can survive two hours of all that, you deserve much more than seven minutes of a cheesy amusement park ride.
I understand the appeal of riding a roller coaster—the anticipation as you creak up the hill quickly followed by the exhilaration of whooshing down the other side, the wind pulling at your face as you fwish around the corners and thwipp down another quick hill. I’ve seen those first person POV videos. The whole experience looks a bit cathartic. A former theme park employee friend of mine would often ride a coaster at the end of his shift so he could scream out the frustrations of the day. Imagine a whole train full of people riding the Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster just to release tension, shrieking and screaming away the stress and anxiety of life. That’s kind of poetic. And kind of creepy. But also kind of apt for the kind of mass-individualized culture we live in these days. I prefer my stress and anxiety to be gently prodded away by the hands of a skilled masseur.
It is doubtful that I will ever find the courage to ride a coaster, to feel the wind in my eyes (drying out my contact lenses) and hair (not my own) in my mouth. I do work everyday to overcome my apprehension on escalators—I’ve stopped bursting into tears whenever a heavyset person is in front of me. And, if you promise not to be a jerk and rock the car, I might go on the Ferris wheel with you. I’ll buy the deep fried cotton candy.