My roller coaster days may be over

By John Toth

At the age of 56, my roller coaster riding days may be over.
If that should be the case, what better way to go out than by riding one of the wilder coasters of them all – the Iron Shark at Galveston Island’s Historic Pleasure Pier.
It doesn’t seem like it’s “all that” at first. It doesn’t take up very much space, but this one is wild. The ride is short and tumbling, and when it’s over, it’s a good thing.
Before I proceed, let me tell you that I have not seen a roller coaster that I have not ridden.
I rode the Coney Island roller coaster in the late 1960s before they shut it down because its wooden structure was rotting. I was 11 years old, and my mother of 41 years dared to ride with me.
I can’t say it was comfortable, but the thrill was amazing. Wooden roller coasters knock you around a lot more than those smooth metal ones.
I like the falling feeling on that first drop, when my stomach is telling me that I should not be doing this, and my mind is saying “do it again.” The stomach often wins, since it has the ultimate power of physical retaliation. It’s a nice, scary feeling, because in a few seconds, it’s over.
The only thing I really hate about roller coasters is that in peak season, you have to wait an hour or longer to get on a 50-second ride. Every now and then, especially if it’s rainy, I have hit it lucky and was able to get on a few with no line at all. Then I’d ride it four or five times consecutively.
After the second time, though, it stopped being all that special. The falling thrill was gone. I knew what was coming. I could anticipate the drops and turns, and the stomach was getting used to it as well. When the stomach doesn’t mind, the thrill is over.
I’m not one of those people who go on roller coaster vacations, but when I am in the vicinity of one, I’ll get on it.
But, I am usually the oldest one in line. Many of the other riders could be my grandkids. I feel a little out of place.
If I do retire from roller coasters, the last ride will have been on the Iron Shark.
It began with a 100-foot vertical lift and continued with a beyond-vertical drop that sent me and a friend on a 52 MPH glide over the 1,246-foot coaster track, highlighted by a diving loop and four full inversions.
The ride was incredible. But when it was over, it was enough. My friend, a 27-year-old freelance writer who sat next to me, thought the same.
On the way to the top, I told her that I have never ridden one of these coasters. She got a little nervous.
“I thought you said you did.”
I have ridden coasters, but not one like this.
When it was over, she thanked me for going along with her. She thought the old man would chicken out.
She agreed to go on the Star Flyer swing with me if I went on the coaster with her.
The Star Flyer is the tallest swing ride in Texas, a towering swing that suspends riders more than 230 feet above sea level while rotating them through the sky. The 90-foot swing arc affords spectacular panoramic views of the Pier and Gulf of Mexico. The roller coaster and swing are two of 16 rides on the pier.
Again, I was the oldest person on the ride, but I had to try it.
So, the old man (in roller coaster years) may be retiring from the thrill of the wild rides, and let those who are much younger take my place.
But, if I ever land again in New York, though, it will be really hard to resist returning to my first roller coaster ride, the Coney Island Cyclone. That wooden monster is still going strong after all these years. It opened in 1927 and was built for $175,000. It’s been refurbished a few times. I looked it up.
Yes, that’s probably going to lure me out of retirement. So, I guess I am semi-retired, as long as nobody in line calls me grandpa, except for my own grandchildren, of course.