Risks and Rollercoasters

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Myriad lights flash in and out of view. My ears fill with a smorgasbord of sounds, mechanical turning, screams of terror and delight, crying children, feet stomping over hot pavement. I inhale the scent of melting vanilla ice cream, salty sweet caramel corn, fruit flavored popsicles, hot dogs slathered in ketchup. As I look around, I can’t help but think, “The happiest place on earth sure is filled with a lot of rather unhappy looking children.”

Disneyland: all of the sights, sounds, and smells are overwhelming the first time, even for an eighteen-year old. Yes, my first trip ever to Disneyland occurred just this past summer, with some of my closest friends to celebrate the end of senior year. The whole vacation was incredibly enjoyable, and I am certain I will never forget it. Yet, one memory sticks out above the frenzy of posing with Disney princesses, putting on 3D glasses, zipping around corners shooting at dishes, and rushing through classic fairytale scenes.

It’s our last day at the park before heading home to hot, dry old Arizona. I have barely slept the whole trip. Nights watching late performances and super early mornings lining up at the entrance gate have left little time for sleep in between. We decide to finish up the rides in the California Adventures Park first. As we walk to the first ride of the day, the Tower of Terror, my mind flashes back to about a week prior. I was sitting at the dinner table talking to my family. “I looked at all of the rides online, and there is one ride I am absolutely never going on. The California Screaming roller-coaster with the giant loop-di-loop; I don’t do upside down,” I declared to everyone at the table. They just laughed. Returning to the present time, I nervously glance over at the smiling Mickey Mouse face positioned right in the center of that god-forsaken loop. His enormous grin stares back at me, mocking, and I can’t help sending him a scowl. Then my insides begin to bubble up, and I look away quickly. I am not going upside down.

I am not too keen on the Tower of Terror either. It’s not helping at all that my best friend is squealing with nervousness, asking me if she should ride it, asking me if I’m going to ride it, asking if anyone has ever died on this ride...At the foot of the ride, I dare to look up. It is tall…really tall. “We go all the way up to the top of that? And then we just drop?” I look at my boyfriend, hoping it isn’t true. He affirms my statement. Alas. I look up at the building and think about how much I hate the drops on roller coasters. In fact, I’m pretty sure Splash Mountain almost killed me. I get the feeling this is a terrible idea. But I tell myself I am at Disneyland, and I’m only allowing myself to chicken out on one ride: the loop-di-loop. Just in case, I turn to my boyfriend and ask him which one is worse. He tells me the Tower of Terror is nothing; his parents can handle it, but they can’t handle California Screaming. My mind is made up.

Forty-five minutes later, I step out of the Tower elevator. I am dizzy; my palms are sweating; my stomach is a volcano, ready to overflow at any second. I swallow hard, force the burn of acidic bile down. My hands and legs are shaking, and I feel incredibly light, as if I were floating. I did it. I was shot up, and then down, and then down again, and then up and then down so fast I flew out of my seat. It was not fun. It lived up to its name; it was terrifying. I think I prefer rides where I actually stay in my seat, thank you. I walk away as fast as possible, trying to breathe calmly as I go. As we continue walking, I calm down, begin focusing on the sights and sounds and less on my stomach. Then I realize what we are heading towards. Mickey Mouse’s overly enthusiastic giant grin looms giant overhead. Butterflies begin to flutter, and I find myself thinking, “Maybe I should go on this ride; maybe I should just do it. I did the other one, and I can’t imagine anything worse than that.” It turns out even my best friend who was too scared to go on the Tower of Terror with me is planning to ride this one. I don’t really want to sit all by myself and wait for everyone to go on the ride, but then again I don’t want to go upside down…

The click of sturdy metallic bars lifting over my head and shoulders and into lock-down position echoes throughout my skull. “I have made a terrible mistake; get me off now” is all I can think. We begin to roll slowly into position. My boyfriend turns to me and says, “Take in a big breath now because as soon as we blast off we will be going too fast to breathe, too fast to scream even.” Somehow, I doubt that last part. I take in the hugest gulp of air I have ever taken and hold it in my chest while saying Hail Mary’s in my head. Suddenly, I am out of air and hyperventilating. I hear the melodious countdown, but it sounds distant, as if I were floating at the bottom of my swimming pool and my mother were calling to me from above, “ 3… 2…1!”

I am screaming at the top of my lungs. Apparently nothing is too fast to hold my scream down. We hit the top, hover there for a moment. And then I am screaming all the way down. We go up and down, swerve around corners at top speed. I am a pilot for the Blue Angels, and it feels amazing. The drops down are terrifying, but they are always over fast and broken up by exhilarating turns and curves. We approach the loop-di-loop too fast for me to protest. We are going up, up, up, and I contemplate whether I should leave my eyes open. Then we are upside down and I can feel it in my head and my eyes are squeezed shut so tight all I see are blotches of color. Before I know it, we are screeching to a steady halt. I climb out of the cramped cart, stand up, and feel the wave of euphoria, the rushing wind of adrenaline. I gaze back at the cart and wonder what the workers would do if I tried to just slip into one of the carts preparing for lift off just across the platform. That has been the best ride so far.

Such is life, a giant amusement park bombarding all of your senses. Crowds of nameless faces, people who will never impact you at all. A few close friends, family and other loved ones. Teachers and other guides who help keep you on the right path just like the characters all done up wandering around the park are there to show you what the magic of Disney is all about. Most importantly though, there are the risks. To ride, or not to ride?
Risk taking is an important part of living. If we never took any risks, we would never achieve anything. However, we must also understand that not all of the risks we take will turn out great. Sometimes, we will take a chance, and end up feeling like I did getting off of the Tower of Terror, miserable. A boyfriend or girlfriend we dared to ask out will break up with us, a sports team we tried out for will reject us, the lead role in our high-school play will go to our nemesis, our top choice med-school will reject our application, or our first job out of college will turn us down. A number of things in life just go wrong. This doesn’t mean we just leave the park and decide to never ride any ride ever again. We have to be willing to take a few breaths, stretch out, and prepare ourselves for the next big adventure: the next blast off, the next plunge down, the next wild curve. There will be some risks we dread taking. We may be so afraid to go in for that first job interview or apply for that top tier grad-school or even to take that AP test in May that we feel like storming out the green gates. However, some of those risks that we dread the most could end up being the most rewarding. Once we conquer our dreaded loop-di-loop, we may find ourselves happier than ever before, loving the feeling of weightlessness.





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