Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Superman, I'm Not

Post by Evan

On a recent trip to an amusement park, I got to experience a brand new type of feeling on a thrill ride. Panic! This is not a normal emotion for me. I truly love roller coasters and their kin (see previous post, Fear Factor). From my early days at Disneyland in Southern California rides like the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Space Mountain have always excited me.

I love to try new things in general (food, music, etc.), so when given the chance to try a new type of roller coaster in which you "fly" like Superman in a horizontal position with outstretched arms and nothing below you, I knew I wanted to go for it. (See image above for a depiction.)

Luckily I have a daughter who is fearless in this category as well. Since she was the only one of my three children tall enough to ride, I separated from the rest of the family to sneak away and enjoy it with her. We made our way over to the entrance where we saw no one in line. We ran up to the front only to find the ride was closed. (This should have been an omen in retrospect.) They said it would be open shortly so we walked over to another ride that had no line. Upon return, we were number three in line. Score!

As Sophia and I ran up to our moving car, we were required to jump up, climb a small ladder, grab some handholds, and situate our heads on a chin-rest. Once nestled in, the ride operators came in from behind and locked us down in an elongated clamshell to keep us in place. Now secured, we cruised forward along the track where a mechanical guide transitioned our cages from vertical to horizontal "flying" position.

Adrenaline began to flow as were pushed into the spiral elevator that takes you to the top. About twenty seconds later we reached the top where we saw a lot of open space below us in that split second before you launch. The downward plunge made my stomach give that traditional funny feeling you get when you're falling. We immediately went into a horizontal loop (which I had no idea was coming) and I was completely disoriented. A few more twists and turns brought us up to the secondary apex of the track where upon making the turn and orienting for the next drop, I heard a loud "clack" and felt a sharp pain in my chest.

I finally realized that the ride had literally "hit the brakes." We were completely stopped. In the process of that sudden stop all my body weight shifted forward and smashed against my hat and sunglasses that I had stashed there upon request of the ride operators. Ow! I assumed that there was a temporary delay and waited there for the ride to resume, taking in the limited view I had while hanging there.

After the passage of about 2 minutes, I got the feeling that were more than just delayed. I announced my suspicions to Sophia who seemed pretty amused by the whole thing. She pointed out the car below us that was further into the ride that had applied its "emergency" brakes on a 45-degree bank turn. It did look kind of funny to see others' legs hanging out from behind. I began to become a little annoyed at this point. I wondered how long we would have to be here. It was also at this point I started to become uncomfortable in the apparatus suspending me.

Had I not tried to adjust my position, I would have never realized that I was pinned from behind. But as soon as my butt and shoulders touched the cage that was keeping me in place, it was all over. The sheer panic of claustrophobia hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks! I took several deep breaths and tried to use logic to calm myself down, but about thirty seconds later I found found myself uncontrollably shouting for help.

This is where it all got fuzzy. The rational brain processes went out the window. I remember shouting something to the effect of "You don't understand! I have to get out of here!" and also a couple of choruses of "Help!" I vaguely remember them talking to me on a bullhorn and asking me if I was all right. I gave the thumbs down sign. They told me someone was coming to get me.

The last time I had a major claustrophobia attack was in an MRI machine which I'm told I almost broke as I clawed my way out. I hearkened back to that unfortunate event, and it amplified my feelings of being trapped. I didn't want to cry but the urge was definitely there. It was at this point I asked Sophia to hold my hand. I couldn't see her face, but I could see her arm. We linked fingers and I truly did feel better.

I watched yet another stranded car lower on the ride as the rescue crew climbed up to them. The engineers helped the passengers down to the platform below. I now felt hope, but I had wished they had gotten me first. About 8-10 minutes later, a man wearing a tie with a walkie-talkie clipped to his belt appeared in front of me. I had reached the point where I had calmed down, but was pretty ecstatic when he arrived. I couldn't see anything, but I felt him jump onto the carriage, heard a click then heard him directing Sophia how to crawl backward. Didn't they know I was the one who needed to get out?!

My turn arrived shortly after that. I climbed backward onto the horizontal ladder, the jumped down to the platform over which were were stranded. I was still pretty whacked but remember the chief engineer and an assistant trying to calm me down. The assistant climbed down onto the service ladder (the top of which can be seen attached the leftmost support beam surrounded by a cage). He told Sophia to follow him down.

After they were half way down, the main engineer asked me to follow him. The only thing I really remember about the climb was the 3-foot jump I had to make from the bottommost rung to the ground. (I vaguely remember babbling on the way down. I think I even apologized for inconveniencing them. Go figure.)

A park ranger and a police officer met me at the bottom. They made sure I was OK and walked me underneath the ride over to a service staircase where I found Sophia there waiting for me with a big smile. The park manager was there too, a kind-faced woman who made sure we weren't hurt, and later told us to follow another employee to Guest Services where I assumed they were going to debrief us.

Once we arrived there we just stood in front of the window. I then realized that Liz probably wondered where I was. I pulled out the cell phone and saw that I had all manner of missed calls, voicemails and texts. My battery was low so I thought a quick text would at least let her know we were OK. I then heard my name being called. She was about 30 feet away from me trying to get my attention as the park employee was guiding us to the window. Turns out they wanted to give us free passes and that was it. (Better than kick in the pants, right?)

I joined Liz and explained the whole thing. I'm sure I was visibly shaken and she was quite understanding. I realized then the amazing fortitude and emotional strength my daughter, Sophia, had shown during the crisis. She was a real star throughout the whole ordeal. She helped me get through my personal hell by keeping me talking while we were stuck. I owe her! Thank you, baby!

It looks like my adventure to fly like Superman was not meant to be in the end. I got a brief taste of soaring, but ultimately ended up getting a dose of Kryptonite instead. Life is like that sometimes. Will it deter me from trying it again? Probably not.