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Reflections February 2018

Sam's Side

Stop the Roller Coaster, I Want to Get On

By Sam Beeson

During my teen years and young adulthood, the thrill of the amusement park never left me. Fortunately, my girlfriend who would later become my wife also enjoyed this obsession. After we were married and before our son was born, we would travel at least twice a year to Disneyland and feel ourselves transformed back to our childhood when it was all so new.

“Come on, old man.”

“I don’t know…”

“Come on. You used to…old man.”

Finally I had had enough. “Okay punk. You’re on.”

And with that, against my better judgement, I got in line to ride the roller coaster with my punk son.

I’ve always loved roller coasters, but my hesitancy stemmed from a recent track record of feelings of nausea after having ridden the last few. Way back when it was usually me trying to convince my family to climb on board some gut-wrenching instrument of terror some sadistic engineer somewhere dreamed up. (I have often thought that if aliens were to ever peek in on our civilization and just happen to look down on an amusement park, would they wonder what type of strange disciplinarian society would inflict such tortures on what had to be prisoners?) But this particular time, I was the one being talked into riding by my twice aforementioned punk son.

I hate to say it…but I think it was the “old man” that did it.

So with some degree of hesitancy, I find myself standing in line, easily the oldest person in it.

I am a theme park enthusiast. It started about 50 years ago when my parents first took me to Disneyland. I had never seen anything like it. I was instantly transferred toplaces and times that I had only read about. Whether it was an adventure with pirates on the high seas sacking a small seaport village, or exploring the creepy thrills in a hauntedhouse, Disneyland would take me from one thrilling adventure to another. Castles, rocket ships, a “shrinking machine,” jungle cruises and the old west were all right there. I was the first one up in the morning, chomping at the bit to get over to that magical place, and I was the last person in the evening to want to head back to our hotel room. Having now experienced this from a parent’s point of view, I have far more sympathy for my suffering parents now than I did then. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

During my teen years and young adulthood, the thrill of the amusement park never left me. Fortunately, my girlfriend who would later become my wife also enjoyed this obsession. After we were married and before our son was born, we would travel at least twice a year to Disneyland and feel ourselves transformed back to our childhood when it was all so new.

But nothing lasts forever. I remember one day when something seemed off. I was in Disneyland, but it was different. The child-like abandon that I used to feel was missing somehow. Things were starting to become routine. And then there was a concern that I had never had before. Money! This was getting expensive.

Fortunately, that sudden realization was short-lived as our son was born. In his eyes, I could relive the experiences and thrills that I once had. Only now, I found myself a spectator, watching my son do the same things that I did. A new type of thrill was born. The thrill of watching your child experience the same joy and wonder that I myself felt just a few short years ago. And to be honest, it was contagious. I began to feel like I had when I was his age. The cycle was beginning again.

But it was the roller coasters that really brought us together.

My son was always very brave with wanting to experience the thrills, but once on board, his face would belie a little fear. Frankly, I would have more fun watching his expressions change from thrill, to fear, to joy, to terror all within a few seconds dependent on the sudden drops in the track. But after the ride was over, with relief in his face, he would grin at me and say, “Let’s go again.”

This was the way of our theme park world for years. Then, one time, my wife suggested that she wouldn’t be riding one of the roller coasters with us. Come on, we begged. You’ve got to. Eventually she relented and boarded with us against her far better judgement. Wouldn’t you know it? As soon as the ride was over, she felt ill. “You guys go have fun. I’m going back to the room.”

My son and I looked sadly at each other. It was the beginning of the end, at least as far as roller coasters were concerned. But at least we had each other. This worked fine for a few more years. Then, one day at Knott’s Berry Farm, I rode a roller coaster that I should have figured was out of my league. Now maybe it was the avocado wrap with bacon that I had just eaten before riding, or maybe it was the loop-de-loop of the roller coaster track. But by the time the ride was over, I was sick. I spent the whole next day in the hotel room worried that I might die, and then afraid that I wasn’t going to.

Now I have been on a number of roller coasters since then, but that one signaled the eventual end for me. Pretty much every roller coaster I experienced from that point on saw me climbing out with one hand on my stomach and the other leaning on my wife or son for support.

Which brings me to the present. Circumstances took us to Minneapolis recently and no trip to that city is complete without a visit to The Mall of the Americas. Inside the mall, they have their own little amusement park. Of course there were roller coasters and my punk son wanted to ride one. He eventually convinced me (remember the “old man” comment?) and we boarded the most tepid of the roller coasters. Or so I thought.

The bad news is, after the ride was over, I felt that usual churning of nausea. But the good news is, I still saw that faint trace of fear in my son’s face as we hit the first major drop.

And for that look on his punk face, I will put up with a little nausea.

 

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