The French word for remembrance. Makes perfect sense. I have an amusement park souvenir to share today.
I laugh when I remember the ridiculous “safety” precautions of roller coasters at the Adventureland and Riverview amusement parks in suburban Chicago back in the mid-60s. I was scared to death of coasters — always had been. But somehow I was talked into riding one on one of our trips. It was the last time I did so for several years.
It was called the Comet, and I don’t even remember who rode with me. The cars were shaped like mini rocket ships, or some kind of streamlined contraption, and all I remember was being thrown by G-force clean out of the miserable excuse for a safety restraint and landing — screaming bloody murder — on the floor in the front “cone” section of the car. The shape of that conveyance was, I’m sure, the reason I didn’t fly completely out. I remember being slightly airborne, then shrieking MOMMY!! over and over for what seemed like an eternity. What was I, seven/eight years old? I think so. Riverview closed in 1967, so it had to be then or before.
I didn’t ride a roller coaster for some years afterwards. Having just moved to Ohio and finally making some friends (it might surprise you to know that I was extremely quiet and reserved in school until I discovered musical theater), I went to the Cedar Point amusement park for the first time as an eighth grader in 1973. Upon entering the park and seeing what looked like a snarl of serpentine wooden evil, I experienced a minor flashback to my horrific coaster ride years ago. Then my friends said, “Hey, let’s get in line for the Blue Streak before everyone else does!”
Yikes. It was do-or-die time. Was I supposed to tell my new friends I was askeered of a stupid roller coaster? No way. So I swallowed my fear (and its accompanying bile) and queued up for my rematch with wheels on metal.
We rounded the initial curve and the chain grabbed and yanked us up the first hill. The downward thrust was kind of thrilling, and I thought Hmmm…I might make it through this. Then, on the second hill, we’d gotten up a head of steam beforehand, and as the train crested the top and started the hard pull into the descent, I will be shot, stabbed, hanged, beat up and buried alive if my little 4-foot-11, 95-lb. body didn’t come clean up out of the seat and over the safety bar, nearly sprawling over top of the people in the car in front of me. I am not kidding you: I dang near fell out. The horror.
It took me a long time to conquer that fear. I finally did, but not until I was well into my 30s. Crazy, eh?
And I won’t even go into the “Ghost Train” nightmare at Riverview, where the train ride stalls in a pitch-black tunnel and all manner of scary creatures — played by real people — emerge from the walls, reaching and grabbing. All this at seven years old…no wonder I’m a flippin nutcake.