The long line moved forward so terribly slowly. One shuffled plunge of bodies was followed by a long, tense wait before we all surged ahead again another few feet. The lucky ones made it to the swiftly arriving car and zoomed off towards a destination desired by each pair of tired limbs left behind. Echoing off the metal balustrades that kept us in line came the heightened cries of those already on the ride. Underlying those voices was the steady clack of the roller coasters wheels as the rolled through the grooved tracks.
I craned my head over the tall shoulder of the man in front of me in order to count. 15 could fit in each car. There were 16 in front of me. That meant I still had a chance. I bounced on my toes, too anxious and filled with excitement to be trapped in the confines of the winding rows of people. I had almost made it.
Another surge and I was hovering right on the other side of the gate. I could see the cab with its straps and bright colors. Freed from our tortuous line the newest passengers hurried in and settled down moments before the first jolt came from the cart as it began moving forward. Nervous cheers filled the air and grew dim as they raced off behind the departing coaster.
Three minutes seemed to stretch on like an eternity. I could sense the others behind me. They wanted the front seat too, but I wasn’t about to give up that prize. I hadn’t stood in line for nearly an hour to be looking at the back of someone else’s head the whole time.
When the coaster glided back into the station there was a surge behind me but the gate at my waist stayed closed. It didn’t unlock until the passengers with wobbly legs, frayed hair and stupefied grins had exited. I heard the click before it actually swung open. I stayed one step ahead of the herd.
With a dashing leap I clamored into the front leather seat and squirmed below the railings that were hovering, waiting to come down on my lap. My body was trembling so much I barely noticed the slightly sticky surface of the seats and the smell of old popcorn wafting up from where my bouncing feet were stowed. The cart rocked almost like a cradle as the other 13 people climbed on board. The chatter over who would have which seat dominated, but I didn’t care. Stretching out before me was open track. It led up steeply, maybe 75 maybe 80 degrees. At the peak were a bright blue sun and the hint of the drop that was to follow.
My heart thumped against my chest as if it wanted to jump out and take a seat.
The metal bar shuddered and a hiss was released from beneath the cart. It sank down into the grooved track. The security bars shuddered down and lay stiffly against my legs, pinning me to the soda and grease coated leather.
My mouth hung open in a broad grin that nearly matched how wide my eyes were. Even when the first jolt nearly bent me over the bar, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the assent.
There was no stutter of a chain pulling us up towards the peak. Not in this newest of designs. We glided forward with another soft hiss of released air and rumbled forward.
I imagined the gears straining as the coaster ladened with people clawed its way up the slope. As we neared the peak it slowed so much I thought it was going to stop. A pit of disappointment started to grow in my stomach. I wanted to reach out and pull us up and over that final curve.
But the coaster managed on its own.
For a brief second as it crested that first rise, I could only see sky. There were no tracks there was no descending slope. We were about to take flight.
Then gravity weighed in. My arms rose involuntarily over my head as we plunged down. The cart rattled through the first right hand bank that swooped into a u-turn that tried to throw my body out the side. By the time I realized I was still inside the coaster, we took a hard left and I felt as if I was going to fall through the floor. The sharp rise that followed spun us upside down and through a tight corkscrew that left me dizzy. Another bank to the right, up and left once more and a dozen other twists and turns followed. My arms thrashed with each twist. My stomach rose to my throat then dropped to my feet at each rise and fall.
The harnesses rattled around me as if about to shatter like glass. There were screams of glee and fear flowing like a train behind us. The bright colors of the carnival swirled in a muddy mix around the ride. The smell of stale and oily scents greeted each drop back down towards the ground and I was blinded by the bright sun and sky each time we spun away from the earth. The coasters ability to thumb its nose at vertigo had me spinning in my seat.
The gliding exit and slamming stop came all too soon. The momentum tossed me over the security bar like a wet rag. The bar stayed in place only long enough to let me catch my breath before it jolted upright. I stumbled from the cart like those passengers I had watched so enviously. I knew now why they were so wary of stable ground. It swam beneath my feet as if it too were a coaster ride. I exhilarated in the sensation and only hated the fact that I’d have to wait in line once more to claim the thrill again.