I love rollercoasters. Not everyone in my family shares this passion.
So when I decided to spend this year’s birthday at an amusement park, I left my family in peace and conscripted two friends to spend the day having their bodies thrown wildly through the air at breakneck speeds. One of the friends (Rhonda) is a fellow coaster fan, and the other (Andrea) was excited at the prospect of the day’s adventures, citing that she hadn’t visited our chosen amusement park since high school.
What I discovered on our ride to the park was that Andrea had not been to ANY amusement park since high school. While Rhonda and I were concerned we might not be as comfortable on rollercoasters after shying away from germ-ridden rides for the past couple years, Andrea was facing a thirty-year drought.
When we got our first glimpse of the park’s pièce de résistance, The Fury – a 325-foot steel coaster with an 81-degree drop and speeds up to 95 miles per hour – a nervous laugh sounded from the car’s back seat. Andrea told us she’d texted a photo of the coaster to her husband, and he’d replied: You’re a brave bird! She went on to explain that their friends own a parrot who was terrified of grocery bags until the friends taught it to say, “I’m a brave bird!” whenever it saw one. Andrea and her husband then adopted the phrase as something to bolster their spirits when they feel anxious. As we walked under The Fury on our way to the park’s entrance and a train of shrieking riders passed overhead, Andrea looked up and softly stated, “I’m a brave bird.”
Upon arrival, we marched right to The Fury, skipped to the front of the line (we had passes allowing us to do so ~ I didn’t just yell, “It’s my birthday, losers!” and charge past everyone), and got in the first car. The next thing we knew, we were hurled straight off a cliff and into oblivion.
(Andrea referred to this process as “ripping off the band-aid.”)
At the end of the ride, Andrea declared: “That. Was. Terrifying!!” – a callback to what my poor nephew had cried after we kind of accidentally (or at least thoughtlessly) took him on one of the fastest wooden rollercoasters in the world as his inaugural coaster experience. 😬 (Please refer back to that first photo.) Andrea was a bit shaken but admitted the ride was fun, while simultaneously being kind of awful.
We left The Fury and headed off to check out others coasters, informing Andrea we’d only be going on rides rated at a Thrill Level of “Aggressive” (a decision she graciously, at least by outward appearances, accepted). Eventually, we headed back to The Fury for a second go. Before riding this time, we made a couple changes. I tucked in my shirt (you can see in the first photo how the ride tried to disrobe me) and tightened the straps on Andrea’s tank top (same thing happened to her. Cheeky ride!). Rhonda and I, who’d gotten our coaster legs back by then, committed to putting our arms up for the first big drop. Hearing our plan, Andrea just gave us the side eye, as if to say, I promise nothing. And away we went!
After that ride, all three of us declared The Fury as the best ride in the park. We spent the next few hours riding more Thrill Level: Aggressive coasters and trying not to pass out in the 100 degree heat. At the end of the day, on our way towards the exit, we hit The Fury one more time. By that point, Andrea had become the Coaster Queen.
All in all, we did 14 rides in 6 hours. The next day, while I attempted to facilitate a Governance Board meeting and couldn’t seem to find my words, I realized I might have a mild concussion. But whatever. Brains heal, right? And it’s not every day you get to watch a friend transform into the bravest bird ever to rock a rollercoaster.