It’s summer—the time for county fairs, midways, and carnivals. As I kid, I always went for the tamer rides on the midway. Not for me the stomach-churning contraptions with names like “The Screaming Sidewinder” that hurl you through the air, fling you upside-down and inside-out, and finally spit you out with your knees wobbling and your face an interesting shade of green. No, the carousel and the Ferris wheel were about as adventurous as I ever cared to get.
My late husband, however, was much more of a risk-taker. No boring old Ferris wheels for him. He was a roller coaster kind of guy. Once we visited a resort in Nevada that had a roller coaster. This was no carnival roller-coaster wannabe to be hauled around on the back of a truck and set up in half an hour at the local fairgrounds. It was the real thing, installed around and above the hotel. It climbed almost straight up till it was higher than the building, then dropped straight down—and after that it got nasty.
Wayne, of course, wanted to go on this ride. And he wanted to share the experience with me. I told him thanks but no thanks, I didn’t like roller coasters.
“Have you ever ridden on one?” he asked.
Well, no, not really. Not actually. Never, in fact.
“So how do you know you don’t like them if you’ve never been on one?”
Well, I just knew, okay? At the same time, I pride myself on being a logical and fair-minded person, so I had to admit the validity of his argument.
Once I had gone that far, there was no way out. Which is why, a few minutes later, I found myself standing beside him in line, a ticket clutched in my sweaty fist. The name of the ride was printed on the ticket: “The Desperado.” It was not reassuring.
For once I didn’t mind standing in line, but unfortunately our turn came all too soon. We joined the rush of enthusiastic teenagers and small children and climbed into a car. Two slender preteen girls just ahead of us said that they had been on the roller coaster dozens of times over the past two days. “It’s a blast!”
The safety bar that snapped across my lap was so tight I was sure it would leave bruises. There wasn’t time to ask the attendant to loosen it before we took off. After the first few seconds, I was glad there hadn’t been. The car climbed slowly, ratcheting up the first steep grade. I knew we were going to drop abruptly sooner or later, so I hung on tightly, trying to prepare myself.
It didn’t do any good. Suddenly we were plummeting straight down, and it felt as if my head were going to fly off. I had been worried about getting sick to my stomach. Not a problem. I was too terrified to even remember I had a stomach. We screamed along the track at an angle that tipped us sideways, we whipped around sharp curves, we rippled up and down steep little backbreaking hills. We didn’t go upside-down. If I hadn’t been so scared, I might have been grateful for at least that one small concession.
At first Wayne kept telling me, “Relax! Just relax!” He finally must have decided that particular piece of advice was pointless, because he switched to, “Breathe! Just breathe!”
Meanwhile, the two girls in front of us were screaming and waving their arms in the air and having a wonderful time. They kept glancing back, though, obviously getting a bit worried about me. Finally, after the longest two and a half minutes of my life, one of them shouted, “It’s okay; it’s almost over.”
Mercifully, it was. We slowed down, went through a short tunnel, and rumbled to a stop. The attendant released the safety bar, and I pried my stiff fingers from around it, leaving fingernail marks in the steel.
I managed to climb out of the car and walk away on legs that just barely held me up. My neck hurt, my knees were shaking, and I felt a strong urge to sit down in the nearest dark corner and cry.
Wayne grinned heartlessly at me. “Well, you made it,” he said. “Are you glad you went?”
“I knew I didn’t like roller coasters,” I said.
“But how can you be so sure?” he argued. “You’ve only ridden once. You can’t decide for sure till you’ve been on at least a couple of rides.”
Oh, yes I could. I had.
If you see me at the fair this year, you may recognize me. I’ll be the one waiting in line for the merry-go-round.