Every time I look out my bedroom window, I see the gracefully twisting metal tracks of Six Flags Magic Mountain ten miles across the valley.
I wanted to go to the theme park in Valencia, California since I saw it in the film KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park when I was in high school. As a proud lieutenant in the KISS Army at the time, stationed in faraway corn-country Indiana, I wanted to be where Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter once strutted. (I liked the film then, but seeing it again late at night a few years later furthered me along the path of becoming an ex-KISS fan.)
I used to be fairly fearless getting on amusement park rides. Nothing the ride creators ever came up with seemed to overly impress me, and I would exit the latest superlative-laced thrill ride thinking “is that the best you’ve got?”
But something happened about a decade ago when I went on GOLIATH at Magic Mountain. I got scared. I mean REALLY scared.
That first drop did me damage – not physically (I hope) – but psychologically. It reminded me immediately of what I had learned two decades earlier during a dare-induced single skydive session and then somehow forgot – I really don’t like to fall.
GOLIATH’s towering first drop of 255’ at 85 miles per hour (at that time the highest and fastest in the world) cured me of my previous love of thrill rides. I swore I would never ride it again. And I never did. Had been, had done.
That was years before moving to our current home with the unobstructed view of GOLIATH.
If I’m guilty of avoiding certain things, it’s usually because of disinterest or lack of time, rarely out of fear. GOLIATH was an exception. Normally it wouldn’t have mattered much, but because of our location, every trip to the back yard forced me to face my steel-tracked demon head on. It was like being deathly afraid of spiders yet being forced to camp out on the set of Arachnophobia.
So, how exactly did I find myself strapped into the second car of the GOLIATH ride last weekend?
My stepson worked the past few months selling concessions at the park. He had to put in his notice to attend camp this summer, so before he lost his free access, he took me to Magic Mountain for a day of pseudo-pop/stepson bonding.
I decided the first thing I would do entering the park would be to man up and ride GOLIATH, knowing that if I failed to face the towering orange dragon right away, its proximity would cast an ominous shadow over our whole day.
So there we were.
The line was mercifully short (which was both good and bad). Ahead of us, a little girl who was celebrating her sixth birthday got on smiling ear-to-ear. That only made me feel worse.
I was doing okay until the bar came down. I experienced what I can only call a mini-panic attack and tried to get someone’s attention to let me off. But it was too late. That train had (literally) left the station and we were soon chugging up the incline to the top of the first hill. The HILL.
Actually, the real reason he took me was to get the pleasure of hearing me scream like a little girl. I didn’t disappoint. When we topped the incline and began our gravity-induced fall to earth, I screamed like an entire kindergarten of little girls.
But I lived. I almost hyperventilated, but I lived. And you know what? I loved it! (Enough to ride it a second time at the end of our incredible day.)
My day at Magic Mountain reminded me of something that I know intellectually, but sometimes fail to practice – that our fears will inevitably grow to irrational proportions if not dealt with directly.
I also learned from the way I involuntarily behaved at the start of the ride that I would never act nobly if I were ever lined up in front of a firing squad.
Not only would I demand a blindfold, but also a large sedative as a last meal.
(Six Flags Magic Mountain just celebrated its 40th anniversary over the Memorial Day weekend. At the end of this month Green Lantern will debut, giving the park its 18th roller coaster, more coasters than anywhere else on earth.)