The Economist was in the center of the universe tonight. Not the magazine; I mean Steve Karlson, of course. He showed up as scheduled at Coney Island, at The Original Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs. Marie and I joined him shortly, we all had the original famous hot dogs, and we were off to Do the Cyclone, the biggest of their several roller coasters.
Don't ask me what I was doing there. I hate roller coasters. I hate the Cyclone in particular. It's made of wood. It's about 70 years old. It's very big. What was I doing within three miles of this terrifying structure?
The part where the car slowly chug-chugs up to the top of the hill is okay. The part where it reaches the crest, however, and then the world falls out from under you, and you're hurtling straight down, and hit bottom with a jolt that rattles your teeth and jangles the very bones of your skull, and then you're flung around some goddam hair-raising curve at 2 G's ... that part I have lived happily without for some decades. This horrifying sequence of hills and blood-curdling descents reoccurs several times, and then it ends.
At least it ended for me. Steve and Marie, who rode the whole way with big happy grins and their arms up in the air, were for some reason thrilled with this hellish experience, and stayed in their seats, opting to go around again. They actually paid additional money to do this. I decided to get out while I could and casually search the grounds for my stomach.
We strolled along the broad, mostly empty boardwalk (it was cloudy and had rained lightly earlier, and Coney was quiet), looking out at the Atlantic and back at Coney, where we saw another coaster--Steve can tell you its name, he knows 'em all intimately--that was partly black because at some point it had burned out. Burned out, that's another reason why I love roller coasters. You're hurtling along breathlessly in one of those cars and some demented young arsonist with a cute sense of humor comes along and decides to torch the thing, what fun.
That coaster was not without charm, though. Its tracks were not only blackened but a section of them had become overgrown with ivy, lending it a creepy, horror-movie aspect that could chill your spine. While I don't generally care for the idea of roller coasters as domestic pets, I wouldn't mind having that one in my back yard. I mean, if you're gonna have a scary roller coaster, do it right.
I would have been perfectly happy to head straight for a hospital bed at that point and convalesce for a week or two. But these two gluttons for punishment wanted more. Alas, some of the rides that attracted them most, which you couldn't have paid me to ride on, were closed. What a shame.
The bumper cars were open, though, and we went a coupla rounds in those. Bumper cars, that's my speed. And the kiddie section, where you ride gently around a little track in cars made up like big, cheerful Bumblebees, that would be fine for me. Wheee.
Then some sadist decided to open another one of those hairy-looking rides. Jumbo Jet? Super Jet? Something Jet. Also a roller coaster, but with skinny steel tracks. This instrument of torture looked even scarier to me than the Cyclone, since all you had was this structure of tracks, sort of suspended in midair. No comforting-looking framework that might stop your body when, as I always imagine it will, the car decides to leave the tracks and you find your body screaming out into space at 90 miles an hour. We went on it, once. Too tame for Steve and Marie, I'm sure, they didn't even kick and scream and demand to do it again. I of course smiled nonchalantly as I surreptitiously searched my pockets for Valium.
It was getting toward 8 p.m. I started muttering about how this had really been a lot of fun but I had to work the next day and it would take two hours to get home.
Then Marie spotted the Freak House. A house of human horrors, promising yet new frights--shrunken heads, unimaginable deformities, human monsters too loathsome to behold. She had to go in. I guess I was expecting two-headed bearded ladies trying to grab you from their cages or something. It turned out to be this sad little museum-like room, with glass display cages holding, indeed, a few pitiful shrunken heads, and a skull with something like a tentpeg stuck in it, and formaldehyde jars of poor deformed animals with one head and two bodies, and photos on the walls of every manner of freak. A lady with one boob pointing up and the other down (one of my personal favorites). If you didn't lose your dinner on the roller coaster, this would do it.
We headed for the subway. Marie got off in Brooklyn, and Steve and I continued on to 34th St. in Manhattan. Tomorrow he'd be going to Metuchen, N.J., for one of his model-train hobbyist things, an O-gauge swap meet. Trains, boats, roller coasters--I have to admit I like Steve's enthusiasms. He talks like a genius and enjoys himself like a kid.
"See you next week," he said. "Come to Kennywood!" Ah, Kennywood, the home of yet more roller coasters. Couldn't we do something easy, like sleep on a bed of nails? Get crushed in an Iron Maiden?
"I'll think about that," I said.
And I will.