Somewhere inside this 31-year-old dad lives a teenage boy — the one who stayed up all night watching cult classics after prom, the one who drove a ratty volvo 240 wagon to the Frisbee field every day after school instead of studying, the one who would drink three Awful Awfuls (a Rhode Island delicacy for those unfortunate enough not to know) in a row.
This is the same teenage boy who would gladly shovel over a week’s busboy wages in singles for an admission ticket to the amusement park, and who would make the most of every second there, running from ride to ride, launching out of a coaster’s exit gate and beelining back to the entrance for another go-around, and of course outlasting the departure of the dinner crowd and reveling in the glory of the nearly-vacant park until the gates were officially closed.
I have always loved roller coasters, and the opportunity ride again — this time visiting two faraway parks in the span of a weekend — brought the inner teen teeming to life, veins coursing with a cocktail of testosterone and adrenaline.
Fast-forward to day two. The carnival du jour is called Carowinds, sitting on the border between the Carolinas. The park is blanketed by no less than thirteen coasters. It s Sunday, 10 AM, and my friends and I are certain that the park will be filling with patrons soon.
So we speed-walk to the empty queue lines of the park’s famed rides: The Intimidator, the Nighthawk, The Afterburner. The park is in fact so empty that the operators do not even ask the riders to depart the rides. “If no one is in your row’s queue, you may stay on board.”
How often have you ever heard that? The inner teen gladly obliges.
Somewhere around ride number seventeen — still only 11:30 AM or so — the 31-year-old part of me starts to feel a little lightheaded. “It’s nothing,” inner-teen declares, “Keep going, fool!”
As most bullied beings under the duress of peer-pressure would, I thumb my nose at rationality and make the decision I will ultimately regret.
Each ride thereafter knocks the 31-year-old’s equilibrium a little more off-balance. “But dude, you paid thirty bucks for admission, nevermind all you spent on gas to get here,” reckless teen pleads.
We weave through the vacant queue of the Hurler, Carowinds’ famed ‘woody’, known the world-wide-web over for being one of the joltiest, whiplash-inducing, and vomitous rides in the park. Still seeing stars from the Afterburner, I slide into the narrow vinyl seat, clip the orange safety clip into the buckle, and lower the padded lap bar — seven clicks brings it to a rest atop my thighs.
As the wooden cars writhe in the track grooves and clickety-clack up the incline toward the first descent, the 31-year-old looks the teenager square in the face and flips him the bird.
Though the inner teen loves to giggle at bathroom humor, I will spare the gory details and simply say that the Hurler lives all the way up to its name. Our 31-year-old hero is now cradling a public bowl of porcelain, white as a sheet and dropping bombs of cold sweat from his chin toward the floor. He announces feebly, “I am getting too old for this crap.”
Aging is tough. Though our exteriors are wasting away, we must continue to find ways to renew ourselves internally, day after day. Logging hundreds of highway miles to zip around on insane throw-up rides had me cursing the inner teen that dizzying day. But I love that guy, and I am looking forward to taking him on the road again, hopefully someday soon.