The Daily Plant : Thursday, August 12, 2004
SCREAMING IS BELIEVING
One warm summer night not too long ago, some friends lured me down to Coney Island to one of Parks & Recreation’s newer properties, Keyspan Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. For five dollars I got a seat in the bleachers, and although that put me much closer to the Parachute Jump than home plate, I enjoyed the roar of the Brooklyn crowd just as much as the game itself.
After the home team victory, we proceeded out of the ballpark, down the boardwalk, through the crowd gawking at the Friday night fireworks, and over to West 10th Street, to take a ride on the Cyclone. Two in my party were New York transplants, one from Pennsylvania and one from Arizona, and the other was a Manhattan native. I, of course, am a dyed-in-the-wool, third generation Brooklyn native. Naturally, they all assumed that I knew the joys and pains of the Cyclone.
All at once I came to grips with the reality that the word "know" has quite a broad meaning. Indeed, I knew the history of this most famous of amusement park rides. I had read the historical sign years before, which detailed the 85-foot drop and the 60-mile-per-hour top speed. I even knew, that unlike all the other landmark structures in New York, which cannot be altered in any way without the approval of the Landmark Commission, the Cyclone remains the special exception. Every day a worker walks the entire 3,000-foot-long track, tightening bolts along the way and hammering in boards that seem a little loose. On the one hand it’s comforting to know the work is done, but on the other, it’s frightening to know it’s necessary.
Ultimately, my book knowledge did little to put me at ease, and it did nothing to change the fact that, to my great embarrassment, this would be my first time riding the Cyclone. My balloon of Brooklyn boasting quickly deflated, as my three friends each demonstrated that they had been around the track a time or two before. Sensing my inexperience, they asked in wonder how a 25-year-old Brooklyn native could keep innocent so long. However sad, the fact of the matter was, although I had come close before, I had never taken the plunge.
So there I waited, on line under the great towering mass of steel, and I listened to the two trains barreling over the wooden tracks. Just then I noticed that, unlike modern rollercoasters, whose steel tubing and massive concrete stanchions keep giant, twisting, looping tracks from budging even the slightest fraction of an inch, the Cyclone’s simple girders seemed to sway quite a bit. In spite of my apprehension, I rationalized: well, people have been riding this thing for 77 years, and they all survived. But then, with splendidly bad timing, the other man in my party pointed out a painted sign with facts about the ride. What it said was not new to us, but what it omitted had harrowing implications. With a raised brow and a cynical sneer, my friend pronounced: "The sign at the Wonder Wheel says ‘no one ever died’." …. so now they tell me.
I thought of turning back, like the cowardly lion on his way down the hallway to see the wizard, but clearly the sign had been intentionally hung at a spot so advanced in the corralled line that only the most terrified reader could manage escape. I had passed the point of no return. We twisted through the line, and the track came into view. Evidently, my fear showed, and so my experienced friends offered this tip: "You’re going to be scared. Screaming really helps, especially on the first drop." They also insisted that I ride in the front so my first time would be special.
Locked firmly into position, we ratcheted up the track. I counted the stars in the night sky, while the lights of the amusement park grew distant. Along with the U.S. and Cyclone flags, the Parks & Recreation flag flies at the top of the tower, a reminder that this American classic stands on parkland. All too soon, we passed the flags and took the first drop. Awed beyond reason, I gasped involuntarily: unable to make a sound. Only after hitting the first turn did my higher brain functions return. I said to myself, "Now it’s time to scream."
Written by John MatteraQUOTATION FOR THE DAY
"In America, anybody can be president. That’s one of the risks you take."