I want to talk about something that changed my life, something that made me appreciate terra firma. I want to talk about a mean little thrill ride called the Swingshot.
When the Swingshot was the new ride for summer ’06 at Kennywood, no one would ride it with me. I stood near a bench one evening, watching with sad clown eyes (and flicking my switchblade) as groups of riders screamed their lucky little heads off. How blessed they were to have friends who were daring enough to ride with them. I hoped they’d end the evening by walking into the web of a serial killer.
Later that fall, I made plans to go back to Kennywood for their annual Halloween makeover. In making these plans with my friend Kara through email, she expressed great interest in wanting to ride the Swingshot. She would sling enthusiastic confirmations at me, like “I would cut off my left leg with an apple peeler for the chance to ride the Swingshot with you, Erin!” and “Sitting upon the Swingshot is what God molded me to do. The Bible told me so. I am so glad that you have extended to me such an amazing opportunity!” I ran around the house in delight; my dream was going to come true.
First, we rode other ridiculously gut-churning rides, risking whiplash and lost keys but loving every second of it. I think I even scared a little boy sitting across from me on the Aero 360, which made for a knee-slapping good time.
I noticed during the course of the night that Kara seemed to be stalling.
“Let’s go through one of the haunted houses,” she would suspiciously suggest every time we neared the quadrant of the Swingshot.
“Oh, look, it doesn’t appear to be running!” she deduced at one point when we weren’t even close enough for her to make such an assumption. Not one to be deterred, I suggested that we walk closer to its proximity so I could see for myself.
IT WAS RUNNING. I pulled Kara into line with me and she tried to act hard core, like riding the Swingshot was nothing more than a trip down a playground slide for her. But as time went on, I noticed that Kara’s exterior was starting to come undone; she was wringing her hands and fidgeting with the drawstrings of her hoodie. I caught her watching the ride with saucer-wide eyes, but she quickly explained that she was just trying to figure out how it worked.
Well, I didn’t buy it.
The line was long, but we were distracted for a few minutes by a group of boys on the other side of the railing who decided it would be fun to tap me on the shoulder and tell me that their friend in the striped shirt liked me. I’m sure he really did, too, because I hear that girls with chin curtains and a veritable intertube of post-pregnancy fat around their waists is the new Hot of October ’06. I’m a real dish these days. Kara took it upon herself to inquire their ages, and they very proudly announced that they were NINETEEN. There was a man behind us with his Banana Republic billboard of a girlfriend, who jumped into the action by asking us how old we were. Then he noticed Kara was wearing a Pitt sweatshirt and started firing off a barrage of questions about her major and where she works and if she knows all these random people and then he asked, “Where do you guys live?” all the while his stiff-lipped girlfriend stood rigidly by his side, with her hands folded primly. I took this as my cue to turn around and not answer because he was quickly turning into a creepshow. Kara kept answering his questions and I silently wished she would stop before she found him crawling into her bedroom window later that night.
Kara finally turned her back on him and he went back to not talking to his cardboard girlfriend. We watched the ride swing back and forth some more, and my hands started to feel a little clammy. Kara pointed to one girl who had her arms splayed out to the sides and was screaming in a volume of anguish generally reserved for child birth. And then Kara laughed at her. And then I laughed at her, too. No ride is that scary.
But soon it was our turn. We chose two seats together and after I lowered the bar across my lap, I instinctively reached up for the safety thing that goes over your shoulders, but there wasn’t one. I thought maybe my seat was defective until I looked around and saw that no one had one. Then I put my hands out to grip something around me for comfort, but there was nothing to hold onto. Nothing but the small plastic mound that rose up between our legs like a tiny phallic mountain.
And then the ride started. It made a whooshing sound as it propelled us into the air. Imagine if you will the sound of the apocalypse being announced. Lots of bolts clanking, gears grinding, the shrill siren of a billion pounds of air blowing the flesh from your bones? That’s the Swingshot’s soundtrack, my friends.
Kara said she expected a dragon to come out of the darkness and engulf us.
Once we started descending, I knew this ride wasn’t made of little girl giggles and cotton tail surprises; more like crack pipes, shivs, and jizz of a trillion serial rapists. The arm of the Swingshot brought us crashing back to the ground only to whisk us back up in the opposite direction, this time leaving us suspended in the air, facing straight down into the cemented land below. Immediately, my arms flew up to grasp the imaginary shoulder harness and my legs scrambled for a way to brace the rest of me. There was nothing for them do but stick out in paralyzed shock.
I think this is totally how I would feel if ever in that pivotal position where I fall face-first while being chased through the woods of Camp Crystal Lake by Jason Voorhees, flipping myself over just in time for him to gouge my chest with his whirring chainsaw.
Before I knew it, I was crying. Real, live, wimp-flavored tears. I had no fire left inside of me to stop it from happening; my entire being had reduced to a large package of sniveling lily-livered pansiness. I have never, ever cried on a ride at an amusement park. OK, fine, I’m a liar. There was a fun house that my aunt and I were trapped inside of in Paris one year, but that was only because the ride operator knew we were tourists and I can still hear her cackling as she made the hamster wheel speed up every time we tried to cross through it. We ended up jumping a gate to escape, and I brought home bruise- and scrape-covered flesh as a souvenir. That was not a good time.
While hostage on the Swingshot, I shrieked every combination of obscenities that my scrambling mind could think of. All inhibitions were gone and I could have shit my pants and not gave a damn what the guy next to me thought. I just wanted off that motherfucker of a ride.
I could detect a slight acrid odor wafting around my face and I realized that it was the scent of fear oozing from my pores. Or maybe my deodorant just isn’t tuff enuff to do its job when facing death.
They say that when you’re near-death, your life flashes before your eyes. I saw Christmases back when they were good and I got lots of presents because my family’s hatred for me was still recessive. I saw myself on a stage in Switzerland, blowing into a Ricola horn. I saw my five-year-old brother slamming a car door upon my ten-year-old head. I saw myself meeting the Cure and stuttering in front of Robert Smith. I saw myself in the hospital after having a baby and being entertained by a singing telegram sent by Janna. Oh wait, that didn’t happen because Janna is a shitty friend who doesn’t care enough to send a fucking singing telegram. Janna, you asshole. I saw myself punching Jimmy McConaghy in the stomach on the playground in fifth grade, and if I knew then what I know now I would have iced the cake by calling him a douchebag. I saw myself five minutes ago, standing in line and lamenting the fact that “this ride doesn’t look like it lasts very long” and if I had control over my motor skills while being suspended face down, 65 feet in the air, I would have punched myself in the stomach.
I think I now know what it might feel like to be in a plane crash. That was seriously the most unnecessary level of fear I’ve ever willingly subjected myself to. I hope that by the time my kid is old enough to realize that Oh my god Mom, you have to ride this with me!, it will have already been packed up and shipped off to Holland.
Creepy Inquisitor and his Cardboard Girlfriend ended up sitting next to us on the ride and Kara said they didn’t scream or anything which leads me to believe that they’re robots.
Fifteen minutes later, our legs still possessed a slight quake as we passed by the Swingshot on our way to safer steel contraptions meant to make riders wet their pants. I slowed my pace, called it an asshole and flipped it off. Then we realized that it had been temporarily shut down. That did wonders for my newfound appreciation of life.