Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Up, Up And Away At Canobie Lake

My grandmother was a roller-coaster fanatic. In fact, she took me on my very first roller-coaster ride at Pine Island Park in Manchester when I was about eight years old. From that day on, I was hooked. So much so, I became an even bigger roller-coaster fanatic than my grandmother. And to this day, my dream is to visit Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, which not only has 16 roller coasters, but reportedly also has the highest (420 feet) and fastest (120 mph) one in the known universe.

My husband, on the other hand, just looks at a roller coaster (even the ones in Kiddie Land) and turns the color of pea soup.

So it came as a pretty big shock last week when he asked me if I’d like to go to Canobie Lake Park and put an end to my years of suffering from roller-coaster withdrawal. Did I want to go? I slapped on a coat of lipstick and had my purse in my hand before he’d even finished asking the question.

During the drive to Canobie Lake, I acted and felt just like a little kid. “How much farther is it?” I kept asking my husband. “Are we almost there yet?”

After what seemed like ten hours (actually, is was 48.5 minutes), we finally pulled into the parking lot of the amusement park. The place was mobbed. “It’s a Monday night, for cryin’ out loud,” my husband said as he drove up and down each row, trying to find a parking spot. “It’s not supposed to be this crowded!”

“Well, maybe it’s crowded because everyone came here, just like us, thinking it wouldn’t be crowded!”

We finally parked the car and walked to the entrance. The admission price was $25 per person, but seeing we’d arrived after 5 p.m., it dropped to $16. We paid for our tickets, got our hands stamped and then entered the park.

Immediately, I was a kid again. I darted off, leaving my husband, who walks at a top speed of about one-eighth mile per hour, in the dust as I rushed from ride to ride, trying to decide which one I wanted to go on first. The park had added so many new ones since I’d last been there back in the early 1980s, I was awe-stricken.

“Well, you have fun,” my husband said between wheezes when he finally caught up with me. “I’m going to sit right here on this bench while you go on the rides. If you need me, this is where you’ll find me.”

I just stared at him. “You’re not going to go on even one ride?”

He shook his head. “Nope, my stomach can’t handle that stuff any more.”

“Not even the train or the Ferris wheel?” I asked, not really relishing the idea of having to be Sally Solo on all of the rides. “Those aren’t too vomitocious. Besides that, you didn’t pay $16 just to sit on a bench all night!”

Again, he shook his head. “Better get going. The place closes at ten.”

He didn’t have to tell me twice. I headed straight for the Yankee Cannonball, the big old wooden coaster that I’d missed so much over the years.

I arrived to find a line of people that rivaled the ones at Disney World. Determined, I took my place in line…and waited. Twenty minutes later, I still was waiting. By then, I’d made friends with the four boys from Michigan in front of me, and a lady and her daughter from Maine behind me.

One of the Michigan boys was wearing more necklaces than Mr. T, and told me how his jewelry had flown up and nearly knocked him unconscious when he’d gone on the Starblaster.

“It’s a ride that shoots you into the air just like you were in a rocket ship,” he explained. “Except you’re sitting in these chairs out in the open, with your feet dangling! One woman even lost her sandals during the blast! It was SO cool!”

Recalling that I was wearing a bra with stretch-straps, I made a mental note to chalk that ride off my to-do list.

Thirty-five minutes later, as I inched closer and closer to the coaster, my heart began to race and my hands felt clammy. What if, I wondered, my metabolism had changed since I last rode on a coaster and now I couldn’t stomach them? What if I ended up throwing up down the neck of the guy in front of me? Or what if I emerged with a severe case of whiplash because my over-the-hill neck bones had become too brittle?

By the time I took my seat in the last car of the Yankee Cannonball, I seriously was contemplating chickening out. “Fasten your seatbelts and then pull the bar down over you,” the attendant instructed. I fumbled with my seatbelt and couldn’t pull it far enough across my Titanic-sized hips to hook it. By then, everyone else already had fastened their belts and pulled down their bars. Not wanting to be a party pooper, I pulled down my bar. Two attendants then came by to check each one of us.

“Your seatbelt’s not fastened,” one of the attendants said to me, as if he were telling me something I didn’t already know. He leaned over and tried to adjust it. “I think it has a knot in it,” he said. He signaled to the guy at the controls, and everyone’s bars suddenly popped back up, giving him more room to work on unknotting my seatbelt. By then, I could hear impatient mutters from the other passengers. I wanted to slide down in my seat and disappear.

Finally, I was properly fastened and the ride was set to go. As the coaster inched up the first hill, I held my breath. The hill was a lot higher than I’d remembered it. In fact, it seemed to take forever to reach the top. I clenched the bar in anticipation of what was coming, and prayed that my neck wouldn’t snap like a twig and my lunch would stay where it belonged.

Whoosh! The rest of the ride was a blur of hills and curves and people screaming. By the time I realized that the ride had begun, it was over.

On shaky legs, I walked back to the bench where my husband was sitting. “You’ve been gone for ages!” he said. “How many rides have you been on?”

“One,” I said. “And I’m going to go on it again and really enjoy it this time…now that I know I can survive it!”

So I went on the coaster again, and the second ride was much better than the first. And after that, I got brave and rode on the park’s new corkscrew coaster…which turned out to be a big mistake.

I’ll tell you all about it next week.