Click…..click…..click…..warm breeze, lots of sunshine, great view from up here….click….click….click…looking forward to those hot dogs and fries…..look you can see Manhattan from here……click…..click….click….and on I chattered, talking about anything but the fact that we were almost at the top of one of the most frightening Roller Coasters in the world.
We were at Coney Island and this was The Cyclone.
Built in 1927, originally part of the Astroland Theme Park, it sat and still does, on the corner of Surf Avenue and West 10th Street. It has a drop of 85 feet and an angle of 58.1 degrees and it hits in excess of 60 miles an hour. It takes less than two minutes to complete but those two minutes will scare the crap out of you. It is the only survivor of the three mighty Roller Coasters that lived at the park, the other two being The Thunderbolt and The Tornado. In 1977 the Tornado was already gone, but the Thunderbolt still stood right next to the Cyclone, and in 1977 my friends and I would go to Coney Island once a week in the Summertime to get the crap scared out of us.
And we loved it.
As a young man, a trip to Coney Island was a perfect way to spend a day with a young girl; everything was affordable, you could swim in the ocean, work on your tan laying on the hot sand, and eat frankfurters, french fries, and fresh clams all day long.
But back to the Cyclone.
So I am sitting in the front car, that Holy Grail for Roller Coaster lovers, and next to me is a girl I am out with for the very first time. I guess it was a date, but as a group of us always went together, it was hard to define it as such. Heck, I wasn’t sure this girl even liked me. But it was a beautiful day, she was pretty, and we were young and mostly carefree. So even if this was the last time I would see her, all was good.
The only thing I had to make sure of was that I remained my usual cool and collected self on that first monster drop. Now I was a veteran rider of the Cyclone and this was her first time. I had to, just had to impress her with my utter confidence and courage as we plunged 85 feet at an angle so steep, you couldn’t see the bottom of the track from the top, as it seemed to curved underneath you, providing all the terror you would need on an average sunny afternoon.
As we neared the top, truth be told, I felt the familiar butterflies in my stomach, anticipating that final click, which signaled that you had reached the apex; all would be still for a moment, and then all hell would break loose. I continued my mindless chatter and it occurred to me that because I had been on the ride so many times, I knew it was something to be reckoned with, while my companion having never experienced it, didn’t know enough to fear anything. Well, I wasn’t too sure I liked that revelation. She politely smiled at my chatter, which started to slow down as my mouth started to go dry, and those butterflies flittered from side to side of my innards.
We were almost at the top, now above the noise of the park, the only sound that of the breeze and the seagulls flying by our side…..and the clicking of the cars on the track.
Steady…..steady….click…..click….click….almost there…..no talking now.
I felt her soft hand fold into mine, searching for reassurance? Or was she just declaring her feelings for me? Whatever it meant, it didn’t matter in the next second when I heard the final click.
We had reached the top. It was all down from here. Down Fast. Down Scary. I looked at her; she glanced back and smiled and squeezed my hand.
And then we fell.
Gravity took over, and our chain of cars, with us out in front, plummeted down into the abyss of colors, sounds and smells of a Coney Island that was coming up fast to greet us. Really fast.
I thought I had it together; thought I was in control. But this was the mighty Cyclone and it laughed at man’s bravado. My courage fell apart like a cheap suit in a heavy rain. My stomach was left up at the top while the rest of me shot downward. And before I knew what I was doing, I was like:
Forget holding hands; I threw hers aside and grasped the safety bar white-knuckled. Who cared about Romance? We were all going to die!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!
Well, two minutes goes by fast on a Roller Coaster, even faster on the Cyclone, and before I knew it the train of cars was slowing down, pulling into the boarding area. Oh sure there had been two or three other smaller drops during the ride, but after that first one, you were already dead by then anyway. I was drenched in sweat, shaking all over, whimpering like a scalded dog, vaguely hearing :
“Exit to your left folks and come back again soon!”
I stumbled out of the car, weak-kneed. The Monster had done it again.
There was no ride like it.
Our group gathered outside the exit, looking at each other smiling vacant smiles like soldiers who had just survived a blast to their foxhole. I tried lighting a cigarette but couldn’t keep a match lit.
And then I remembered her. Where was she? How bad had it been??
Well friends, let’s say it must have been pretty bad because I spotted her stalking away, disappearing into the crowd heading back to the D train.
“Way to go,” I said to myself, not blaming the girl one bit.
If it had been the Tilt-a-Whirl or even the Hell Hole, I would have felt embarrassed and ashamed. But looking up at the mighty timber and steel above me, I felt neither. This, after all, was The Cyclone, the most frightening ride in New York (besides the subway at the time), and once again though shaken, I had survived it.
And that felt good.
So good in fact that with a nod, I turned from my friends and got back into line to ride it again. And they all followed. Only the girl had had enough.
As we climbed up the track again I thought: ah well, I guess she didn’t understand that for certain things in life, once is never enough. You just have to………….