How was your Labor Day weekend? Did you eat well and exercise? More importantly, did you keep up with Keep it up, David? Of course you did. But in case you’re one of the few people that couldn’t break away from the pool/barbeque/parade/whatever, here are links to the two posts I published over the long weekend: one focuses on food, the other focuses on exercise. Now, on to today’s post!
I can’t wait! On Saturday, I’m heading back to Cedar Point, America’s Roller Coast. There’s no place on earth with a collection of roller coasters like the seventeen that are gathered at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. As their commercials from the ’80s proclaimed, Cedar Point is the cure for the summertime blues.
Cedar Point is about 3 hours away from where I grew up in suburban Detroit, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been there – I’ve gone with family, with friends, with church groups, on school outings… growing up, I went nearly every summer, and never tired of it.
My excitement always peaked for the first time each visit in the car. Cedar Point is on a peninsula that sticks out into Lake Erie, and a significant part of the causeway that gets you there is over water. I remember pressing my face to the window in the car, scanning the horizon, watching the peninsula get closer, waiting until the moment when I could see the tops of the roller coasters appear above the trees. I can see it! We’re here!
There was the excitement of trying to pick the shortest line to buy tickets and actually get in the park, and once you made it through the gate, the decision became Where do we go first? What do we ride before we ride anything else?
Cedar Point has a fantastic record of regularly building new roller coasters. The first new one that I can remember eagerly anticipating was Iron Dragon, which opened in 1987, when I was 8 years old. It’s a suspended coaster, which mean you sit in trains that hang from the track, and they swing back and forth around the curves. While the Iron Dragon is rather tame compared to the coasters they’ve built since, at the time it was terribly exciting, especially the end of the ride, where the track dove in and around itself in a final pretzel-like helix over a lagoon that was surrounded by the midway.
The rides that came after continually raised the bar and, consequently, made me more and more excited to return to the park each year:
- Magnum XL-200, which opened in 1989, was the first coaster in the world to be more than 200 feet tall, and it’s still an amazing ride: it has the clackety, anxiety-inducing lift hill (which takes nearly a minute to climb), great drops, hills that lift your butt from the seat, and tunnels.
- Mean Streak, the new coaster for 1991, broke records among wooden coasters when it first opened, and I loved that the long queue line for the ride was located in the middle of the ride, so I could watch the trains diving and turning all around me.
- In 1994, the new coaster was unlike any other in the park. Called Raptor, it’s like riding the topsy-turvy ski lift – the track is above you, and your legs and feet dangle freely. It goes upside-down 6 times, more than any other coaster in the park.
- 1996 saw Mantis, the park’s first stand-up roller coaster, which was so crazy and terrifying that rumors spread immediately about people losing consciousness on it.
- Then there’s Millenium Force, which, when it opened in 2000, helped Cedar Point shatter 13 world records, including roller coaster height (310 feet) and speed (93 mph). The anticipation for this ride, at the time, was astronomical, and it’s been named either the best or second-best steel roller coaster in the country every year since it opened.
The last time I went to Cedar Point was in the summer of 2001, when I was 22 and about to enter my final year in college. I was much, much heavier then, and it was… well, it was memorable, and not in a good way. I went with my friend Jim, and a couple buddies of his from high school. Because it was located near the entrance to the park, the first coaster we got in line for was Raptor. The wait was long – at least an hour – but finally it was our time to board the train and scream for a few exhilarating minutes.
I sat down, and brought the over-the-shoulder harness into place. As I remember it, the harness had to brought down far enough so it could lock into place, and a seat belt that came up from between your legs buckled into it. I couldn’t quite get the over-the-shoulder harness far enough down. I was too fat. A ride operator came by – a guy around my age and probably 150 pound lighter – and tried to push the harness the final inches so it could lock. He couldn’t do it, and then he sighed, loudly, and looked up at me.
I can still remember the look of contempt on his face, as if he’d spent all summer dealing with fatties who should know better than to try to get on roller coasters. “You need to leave the boarding platform,” he declared, squinting his eyes at me. “You can’t ride.” He had his arm fully extended, pointing at the exit, like a parent scolding a child and sending them off to their room.
Here I was, in a situation where my excessive size caused a problem, and yet, I’d had never felt so small. There’s noise in a roller coaster station – the chattering of excited riders, the hissing of hydraulics – but it seemed to all go quiet, and the eyes of everyone in line behind me, staring at the situation unfolding before them, made my skin burn. “Let’s try one more time,” I stammered. “I’ll take a deep breath.” Please oh please let this harness lock into place I don’t want to be humiliated I really wanna go on Raptor it’ll be so embarrassing if I get kicked off.
The ride operator took a step closer to me, his eyes narrowing even further. He got so close I could feel his breath, and his tone, in an instant, turned angry and combative. “Look,” he shouted, “you can’t ride, and if you have a problem with that, you need to take it up in the main office located next to the park entrance. Right now, I. Need. You. To. LEAVE.” He grabbed the harness and yanked it up off over my shoulders, and pointed again at the exit. I looked at Jim, who seemed startled, looked back at the ride operator, whose nostrils were flaring, and climbed out of the seat. My eyes welled up, but I wouldn’t let myself cry in front of all those people. I avoided eye contact with anyone as I made my way to the swinging gate, and called out, over my shoulder, “I’ll wait for you at the exit!” I tried to sound cheerful. I felt anything but.
When I got to the midway, I found a bench, sunk my head into my hands, and wiped away some tears. I could hear the train that Jim was on climbing the lift hill, but I refused to watch. I pulled myself together – I wasn’t going to look defeated when Jim and the others found me in just a few short minutes.
I stood when I saw Jim come out of the exit. “How was it?” I asked, fulling knowing the answer: It’s awesome. Jim didn’t answer the question, but rather, he made an observation. “That guy was a jerk. He could have let you leave with your dignity.”
For the next few hours, I did consider going to the main office. I had no intention of demanding a chance to ride Raptor – I understood why I was kicked off. But I did consider filing a complaint against the ride operator, who handled the situation so poorly and rudely. I never made it to the main office, though, because as the day progressed, I learned there were other coasters that I could fit into (barely) – the ones without over-the-shoulder harnesses – plus, complaining would require me to relive the whole scenario again, and I didn’t want to do that.
I haven’t been back to Cedar Point since that day, 10 years ago, and as I plan for this Saturday’s trip, I feel a certain detachment to that memory. It’s still painful, but now I feel removed from it. It was a different me that suffered the shame of being booted off a roller coaster. I’m not that guy anymore.
When I return to Cedar Point this weekend, I’ll enter the park having lost 168 pounds in the past 20 months and having gained the freedom to go any death-defying contraption I want (and I want to go on everything!). There will be no ride operators looking me up and down, squeezing me into restraints, ordering me to wait for my party on the midway.
More than anything else (including the three coasters they’ve built since my last visit), I especially look forward to riding Raptor, and treasuring every moment: the anticipation of riding, the boarding process, hearing the harness click into place, ascending the lift hill, whirling down nearly 4,000 feet of track at 57 mph, coming to a stop as the ride concludes.
I need a new Raptor memory to replace the one that’s seared in my brain.
This weekend, I’m going to get it.
Unless, of course, it rains, and the park shuts the coasters down. It’s true. Ten years of waiting to go back to Cedar Point, and I ended up scheduling a day that has a 40% chance of rain. See for yourself – this is what I saw last night on The Weather Channel’s website:
If you know any anti-rain dances or have an ‘in’ with Mother Nature, can you please see what you can do to keep us dry on Saturday? I’d really appreciate it! I’m going to continue what I’ve been doing for the past two months, which is to think positive thoughts and picture seat belts easily buckling into place, then getting double-checked by ride operators who will never know that these moments would never have happened for me as recently as two years ago. I can’t wait to smile at them, then look ahead, and gear up for the click-click-clack of the lift hill chain that will take me up, up, up into the sky.
Keep it up, David!
Want to read more about my theme park adventures? Check out my posts about visiting Six Flags Magic Mountain last September, and Knott’s Berry Farm in February. Also, check out what it’s like to ride Top Thrill Dragster, Cedar Point’s tallest and fastest roller coaster – you can find the video here.