Terror Bound

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Today the roller coaster enjoys a kind of pluralistic vitality, as the steel extravaganzas permute rides into ever more ecstatic geometries and the woodies bravely rattle on, thanks to a renaissance brought on in 1972 by John Alien’s Racer at King’s Island, Ohio. And though Americans now have a wide array of video and computer realities to plunder, they have yet to tire of the coaster experience. Indeed, the modern enthusiast comes in many varieties. Some take their families, some ride alone. There are marathon riders, and riders who never get past their first time. Then there are those who see in the sinuous curves of the roller coaster a deeper meaning, something irreducible about the life they lead . . .

I was thinking hard about the life I led as the Cyclone’s first rise opened onto a panoramic view of Coney, with its whirring, creaking machines and its wide expanse of sea. Then I received a direct confirmation that I was no longer involved in the writing of screenplays. Somewhere to my left Leslie was screaming, “I want a divorce!” and trying to screw my arm off. Seven punishing dips and rises later, we cruised back into the station, addled and thoroughly awake, to congratulations all around. We were married.

There isn’t much else to tell. While the others jockeyed for a seat on the next ride, Leslie and I took a leisurely promenade around the grounds. We paused at the Wonder Wheel and watched its great steel arc circle through the sky. At Dick Zigun’s sideshow I made sure I got a photograph of my wife kissing Michael Wilson, the “illustrated man,” right on the tattoos. Slowly making our way back to our car, we proceeded down a row of game booths, suffering the carnies to greet us like cadets in an unusual military review. We stopped at one, and I was instantly presented with a stuffed flannel pig, even though I missed the target by a mile.

There are those who see in the sinuous curves of the roller coaster a deeper meaning, something irreducible about the life they lead . . .

There are times when an object, no matter how inane, can bring reality into sharp focus. Presenting this one to Leslie, I thought of all the roller coasters that had ever been and of the insistent pull of the earth that, if triumphant in the end, must nevertheless take pause at our heroic strategies of delay.

No doubt about it. For that fleeting moment we were king and queen of gravity, pleasure, and everything between.

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