Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Terror on American Thunder

Last Friday evening I reserved tickets for the whole family to attend Fright Fest at Six Flags here in St. Louis (all SIX of us!!!  The twins were both home for the weekend, and Fright Fest is for sure a Family Tradition...just - not usually one that I particularly enjoy partaking in, and usually, not one I even do partake in).  To say I am not a huge fan of this annual family event is notsomuch an understatement as much as it is, at least in this family, an Understood.  It's a: No Questions.  It's a: Don't Even Look This Way.  Don't Think About It.  Mom. Doesn't. Like. Roller. Coasters.  Or scary stuff.  Roller coasters themselves are frightening beasts of sadistic humor, but add chainsaws and gory monsters chasing you through man-made foggy mist of Six Flags during Fright Fest, and it's a shrill, "No Thank You" from Yours Truly.  

Indeed, most years for this "age-old family tradition," I have opted to stay in comfy pjs in front of a roaring gas fire place working on a Shutterfly photo album or watching a rom-com at home.  I much prefer the occasional updates from The Hubby via darkly lit photos and cheerful family texts rather than brave the see-your-breath cold weather, the shoulder-to-shoulder lines and crowds, and the Fright.  But this year? This year my twin babies - who both happen to adore roller coasters and amusement parks and especially Six Flags during Fright Fest - were home, and I didn't want to be That Mom (the one who sits on the sidelines in peaceful tranquility watching her Little Lovelies enjoy themselves but never crossing the threshold to join in their spirited, spooky fun).  

This year was different.  

In fact, I decided to be SO "not this year" Mom that, without telling my family...or even informing myself, honestly, I purposefully headed towards the line at American Thunder right along with them, the first roller coaster to the left inside the park.  Right past the 1900s cars (one of My Favorite Rides EV.ER.).  Now, you may not know it, but "American Thunder is a wooden roller coaster located in the 1904 World's Fair section of Six Flags St. Louis in Eureka, Missouri.  The coaster was originally named after and themed to the famous motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel.  It was renamed American Thunder for the 2011 season."  According to Google.  But, actually, as you navigate the winding twists and turns of The Wait to Ride this 30-second metal chamber of horrors, the history of roller coasters in general and American Thunder specifically is unveiled through a series of well-placed bill boards marking the path, keeping your mind off the wait and the Impending Doom in which you are about to partake.  I know, because I stood numbly with my family in line to ride this wooden death trap for the first time in my life.  My husband stood in shock and awe, a bolstery "I'm so proud of you!" emitted from his lips several times that I continually and deftly ignored.  After all, one time.  One. Time. I rode The Boss - another roller coaster in the middle of the park, further past the ice cream cones and the turkey legs, and the little kid Tweety Bird section (it had taken longer to convince me/myself to ride back then).  That day, at the incessant insisting of my husband when we were there together on a date, just the two of us, pre-children era, I rode The Boss, clinging to the bar across my lap with an eagle talon death grip, my eyes rammed shut against my cheek bones, my quivering lips on a repeat loop of something akin to a self-soothing, suck-your-thumb, rocking in the corner kind of verbal self-massage of "you are fine.  you are fine.  you are fine."  That day, I exited the ride and burst into hysterical sobs, and my husband left me alone from thence forward - for the most part - about riding roller coasters with him ever again.  But, on this day, fast forward, I skip-read the billboards, noting with fascination my utter numbness to the task I somehow seemed to have chosen to do.  I'm not even sure I drove to Six Flags thinking I would ride a roller coaster.  Yet, here I was, snaking my way closer and closer to the front.

I thought I was calm.  I now see the fear in my eyes.

We rock-paper-scissored who would sit by whom, 2 to a car, three cars' full.  Sweet Matthew, my 16 year-old giant man-child cut from a cloth of athleticism, sarcastic humor, intelligence, fashion, and good looks got the short straw.  (He actually volunteered to go with me.  Did I mention he has a kind heart and a gentle, tender, and loving soft spot for his mom?)  Suddenly, we were next.  The silver bar jettisoned open, beckoning me to enter the cart.  I continued to marvel at the truest feeling of Numb I had ever encountered within my core.  Certainly that was a good sign.  I couldn't feel anything, so I must have emotionally matured over the last twenty years and would find myself wholly capable of riding - if not enjoying - this little side attraction with my family at Six Flags!  The metal bar collapsed tightly over my lap.  The coaster lurched forward.  I will be fine, I began to recite.  I will be fine.  I will be fine.  I will be

Screaming.  A guttural, piercing, shrill, terrifying sound came from the utter bowels of my center, my core.  I had no control of it.  I began to scream, and I continued screaming for the entirety of the ride.  Through every twist, turn, drop, and pull.  In my ear, my son calmly cajoled, "here comes a big hill..." and other soothing sounds including, "it's OK Mom.  This isn't for everyone."  By the time the coaster came barreling to a stop moments later (years, really), I sobbed uncontrollably in a squishy wet puddle of trauma and embarrassment on the oil, dirt, and probably COVID-encrusted textured floor of the coaster cart.  Matthew took my arm, lifted, and escorted me from the barn, out into the dark, man-made foggy mist of the night.  We shared ice cream, searched the boardwalks for games to play, and then we drove the family home.

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