It’s only a roller coaster.
Before there was a Disneyland in Anaheim and before Magic Mountain was created in Southern California, there was “The Pike” in Long Beach at the water’s edge. A place most often visited by restless and sometimes rowdy sailors from the nearby Long Beach Navy station. An amusement park suited for the reckless spending sailor on shore leave and his quest to experience and find his basic needs and wants. Tattoo parlors, bars, girly shows, freak shows, and more. All down the Pike’s main midway
However, the Pike was also visited by locals in the Los Angeles area. Local families and their children off in a separate zone just for families. Families frequently coming for a day’s fun and amusement rides. Looking for cotton candy and a hot dog or two. There also were bumper cars, merry-go-rounds, kiddie rides, fun houses, adult rides and the most talked about and rode in ride, the Cyclone Racer. Never mind the house of mirrors and its maze. One could easily bang his or her face making the wrong turn and bumping into yet another mirror. Even the diving bell going under water to observe Pacific sea life couldn’t equal the excitement of the Cyclone Racer.
The Cyclone Racer came with legend and lore. What we are talking about is a very tall white wooden framed roller coaster. At the time the tallest roller coaster west of the Mississippi. The main drop well over ten stories high. The coaster extended out over the ocean’s edge to add to the thrilling ride. And as legend has it, according to my older brother, “not too long ago one or two coaster cars flew off the track with its screaming riders and plunged in to the waters depth. Since that day long ago the screaming riders were never found or the coaster cars recovered. All according to my brothers prattlings. Never mind it would have dropped into only ten feet of tide water. Which after some careful thought a few years later, I wisely conjectured the ‘lore’ was fake. A freaking fake story promulgated by my mischievous older teenage brother.
But being the wise grade schooler I decided back then to never ever ride the Cyclone Racer. No! Never. Not me. Until my brother challenged me to ride the freaking thing. I shouted no and I don’t have the fifty-cents to ride in the dumb thing anyway. No matter what I said to him he still called me chicken and said he would pay for the ticket for me to ride. Plus he said he would sit in the same car with me. “Come on chicken, he spoke directly in my face. I thought to myself I’m only eleven years old and too young to die. But for some dumb reason I shouted yes back at him. I wasn’t going to let my stupid freckle faced brother call me chicken.
When you come into the Pike from the main gate and parking lot certainly you see the coaster running up and down and all around. It’s the most dominant thing on the horizon. Huge, noisy, filled with screaming kids, and slowly click-clacking up the first rise. What I didn’t understand is why when the coaster reaches the summit everybody aboard the roller coaster held their hands high in the air. What is that about? But when the string of cars was in its downward trajectory, traveling about 65-MPH screaming had grown more intensity and volume. Plus most hands were still held in the air. That was absolutely nuts. Crazy! Then when the coaster was about to hit its low point most hands were tightly clinging on the metal lap bar. Then the coaster would hit bottom and shoot back upwards and take a sharp right turn and disappear into a maze of twists and turns while pounding heads on the high padded backs and sides. And yet screaming still being heard clear across the amusement park. All the while I’m thinking, “Is this fun?” Really. Is this supposed to be fun?
But anyway, my thrill-seeking teen brother and I finally stepped down into the padded coaster car and the metal lap bar was locked in place.
Then we began to move. The coaster started upward. Slowly. One click clack at a time. Slowly headed towards the summit. You could look down and all around at people on the ground. Like multicolored bugs looking skyward at us as if viewing a public execution. The coaster car in front of us was beginning to level off. My hands had a death hold on the metal lap bar in case we flew out into the ocean. My brother shouted to let go and put your hands in the sky. You be chicken if you don’t. I chose chicken over sudden death with my hands with a white knuckle grip on the bar. Then it happened. We shot down a gazillion miles per hour straight down and seeing the track go straight up again.
Forcing me downward with a thousand G force. At that point my stomach was in my throat. My head suddenly had no neck. We shot back upward and made several sharp right then left then right turns and banking at least a 45-degree bank. All the while bouncing my head against the tall padded back and side. Coaster then turns sharply an almost at a 90-degree turn. Then this torture repeated over several times. Then the coaster looped out over the water somehow and miraculously didn’t fly off the track. Then after making a few more sharp turns and dives we cruised in slowly to the boarding platform. Before I knew it, my brother jumped out of the coaster car and merged into the crowd of people exiting the roller coaster ride. Had he stayed put I would have choked him.
Back in 1968 the Cyclone Racer roller coaster was dismantled and sent to a theme park in Ohio. About ten-years before that the Navy base closed down causing the Pike to lose business and close. But now there is Magic Mountain with its multiple roller coasters just off the 5 freeway in the foothills north of Los Angeles.
It’s just a roller coaster ride. Hang on. Don’t be a chicken. Yeah right!