Sweaty palms and a stomach in knots should have been my first warning that this decision might truly be the rashest one I had ever made in my 52 years on this earth. In fact, I might not survive to see my 53rd birthday in a mere six weeks! What was I thinkin’?
I closed my eyes in dread and my knees shook as I heard the screams of terror in the distance. People surrounded me on all sides, and I could see their mouths move, their open-mouthed smiles which should have brought the sounds of their laughter, but I heard none of their conversations, none of that laughter - only the terrorizing screams getting closer and closer.
I stood on the platform, unable to step away from the situation in which I now found myself. The rapid clack-clack-clack-clack of metal on metal began to slow and grow louder and louder until the open train of cars came to a complete rest in front of me. The cars emptied from the opposite side, and I wanted to follow that crowd right on out the other side, but was blocked from doing so by the people in front of me.
Over the loud speaker rang the voice of trepidation, directing us to climb into the nearest cars, and like lemmings to their deaths, I put one foot in front of the other, hearing nothing but the pounding of my heart, and followed the crowd. The day was cool, yet my shirt clung to my back, and my clammy hands gripped the hard metal bar in front of me. I felt it latch into place across my lap and took several deep breaths to calm my racing heart.
Slowly the train began to move out from under the protective overhang and into the warm sunshine. I looked to my side and could see midget-sized people far below me on the ground going about their ways, sometimes glancing up toward this train and pointing, as if in warning: we’ll never see those people again.
Clack-clack-clack-clack, faster and faster, higher. I could see the parking lot on the far side of the park and everything in between from here. The train track sprawled out in front of us, rolling gently to the side and circling lazily around this end of the park. Other tracks poked their steel beams up in the distance, and the tall skyscraper tower of the Fly Ride was just below us. This doesn’t look so bad, I thought. But now I was on my back, looking straight up at the cloudy sky, and the clack-clack-clack had slowed to a near stop.
With a death grip on the bar and my throat closing in near panic, my heart seemed to pick up speed with a rhythm equal to the quickening wheels on the track. Earlier, when viewing this track from a distance, this first drop had seemed the worst, so if I lived through it, surely I would enjoy the rest of this trip. With a sudden jolt, we were moving again, a dramatic drop so fast my stomach surfaced to near throat level and threatened to choke the very life out of me. Laughter and screams of joy and screams of panic filled the air. My car partner yelled something, throwing her hands into the air with an abandonment and sense of freedom elusive to me. My grip tightened on the bar as my throat tightened with anxiety.
No sooner had we reached the bottom of that first steep pitch and I mentally relaxed in the mistaken belief that first drop was the worst of the ride, when suddenly I found myself tilting sideways and speeding over the heads of onlookers far below at seventy-five miles per hour. This speed on a freeway seems benign, but in this open car on this metal track whizzing far above the ground, twisting and turning from left to right and then circling back again, I silently prayed for deliverance from this metallic deathtrap. With eyes tightly closed against the view speeding past with a velocity that defies human reason, I felt my jaw clenching as forcefully as my fingers, nor did they relax until the clack-clack-clack of the wheels became more pronounced with the slowing of the ride.
Finally, pulling into the station after what seemed an eternity but in actuality had lasted less than three minutes, I felt my stomach drop back to its normal position no longer choking my throat, my jaws unclench, and my body decompress. Climbing out of the seat and onto terra firma, I pushed toward the exit with my students close behind.
“Oh, that was awesome! We need to do that again!” said Stonie. “Mrs. Foster, you were funny. You screamed the whole way!”