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Too Short? Too Bad!
Having always been a bit of a roller-coaster addict, but (unfortunately), not always having been tall enough to ride them, I spent most of my early years devising ways to fool the ever-present Grumpy Gatekeeper Guy to let me on the ride. At the height—so to speak—of my carnival ride enthusiasm, I was about eight years old and four feet high, and consequently almost--but not quite--tall enough to ride on the really cool roller coasters, just the ones that went up and down in a little circle for about two minutes, then dumped you off. My dream was to be able to ride on a loop-de-loop roller coaster, a coaster that would actually tip you upside down. Alas, despite my efforts to wear my thickest-soled shoes and look as tall as possible, the Grumpy Gatekeeper Guy always said I was too short. But when I finally did get the opportunity, when my dream was realized, it was due to a mistake, and my resulting experience taught me something all young adventurists should learn: if you know you’re breaking a rule, don’t go, lest you put yourself in danger of becoming a grease spot in the middle of a roller coaster track.
My little eight year old self was at the Clark County Fair with my two brothers, my Gran, and my step-cousin Scooter. My brothers and I hadn’t seen him for years; consequently, we were all very awkward with each other, and didn’t know what to say, until we saw it: the Ring of Fire. It wasn’t a roller coaster in the classical sense, but it was close enough for my taste. Scooter suggested we go on it, but my brothers backed out pretty darn quick, leaving me. I wanted to go, of course, but I didn’t even know Scooter that well and no one else was going with me; and was I even tall enough? Who cared? I decided to go, of course, and Scooter and I were soon at the gate to go in.
At first I thought the Grumpy Gatekeeper Guy was going to tell me I was too short, like all his predecessors, but he was distracted with something else and he waved Scooter and me through. I knew my head wasn’t quite over the line, but I wasn’t going to ruin my chances. This was the Big One, and what did it matter if I wasn’t over the line? My head was touching it, or at least the bottom of it, and the Ring of Fire looked so awesome that I said nothing; I just giggled to myself.
The Ring of Fire, for those who have never ridden it, is one gigantic, gut-wrenching study in momentum. All it is is one monstrous ring with a track in the inside, and carts on the track all welded together. The operators start out slow, reeling you forward, letting you drop back, using the momentum to reel you a little higher, letting you drop back…and before you know it, you’re upside down, hanging in space, hopefully screaming in joy but more likely just screaming, and the world is coming to an end except for the fact that you’re dropping backwards again, and the world is right side up, and you’re laughing. And then they start to reel you upwards.
As Scooter and I waited in line, I gazed up in awe and nervousness at the sick-looking people screaming as they stared up at the ground. I was having second thoughts, but how would it look if I ditched Scooter and ran back to Gran? My brothers would never stop teasing me, and the general public would whisper, “Linnea Englund’s a coward!” and I would live to regret it forever and always. At least, that’s what I told myself as I tried to smother the guilt I felt from concealing the height mistake.
Soon, the carts settled to a stop at the bottom of the ring, and assistants started helping people off. Some were laughing, some weren’t, but they all looked pretty dazed. I couldn’t decide whether the feeling in the pit of my stomach—which I can now identify as common sense shouting at me—was apprehension or anticipation, but I put on a brave face and slid in next to Scooter, who was completely relaxed. As I pulled the foam-padded safety harness over my shoulders, I realized immediately that something wasn’t right: the harness didn’t even come close to touching my shoulders, and besides that, the bars were too widely spaced; I could have slipped between them easily.
Unfortunately, all the seats were filled and the carts had started rolling. Scooter seemed to be enjoying himself, but I knew somehow that this ride did not bode well for my health. We went higher, and higher, and gravity started to lift me from my seat a little. In a blind panic, I wedged my hands up under the shoulders of the stiff harness and used them to push myself down in my seat. The carts were nearly carrying us upside down now, but not quite. As we rolled skyward, my entire body was stiff and my teeth were on edge; I had not signed up for this.
Finally, we reached the top of the ring, and we were entirely upside-down. Under normal circumstances, I would have been laughing with joy and grinning hugely; now I was too tense with fear to be enjoying myself, and my small wrists were supporting my entire body weight. I glanced over at Scooter, who was no longer looking like he was enjoying himself, but still looking relaxed and calm. He was plenty tall, of course, so he had nothing to worry about. I, however, was not out of danger yet, so I turned my concentration back on keeping myself from becoming a fond memory in the minds of my family members.
Gradually the chain of carts started to slow. We were only making it half way up the ring…now a quarter of the way up…now an eighth…then, finally, the carts settled. Assistants in dark blue polo shirts started releasing shaking passengers from their seats, including Scooter and me. We made our way off of the platform, over to my brothers and Gran.
“How was it?” Gran asked.
“Great!” answered Scooter, enthusiastically.
“Great,” I said, less enthusiastically. I had just cheated death, after all. However, I didn’t want anyone to know, so I said nothing as I headed off to watch the pig races with the rest, trying to swing the stiffness out of my arms.
Ever since that experience, I have never enjoyed roller coasters as much as I did before. I now make sure I follow the rules—no running by the pool, no petting strange dogs, no shoving your fingers in the hinges of doors—because I have learned the hard way that those rules make good sense and probably keep many people from having to get stitches, have major surgery, or hire pallbearers. And since I want to do my civic duty and prevent young people from having the same scarring experiences I had, I implore all you devil-may-care thrill-seekers to always think twice, always stay safe, and always, always follow the rules.