from Roller Coaster
written and illustrated by Marla Frazee
(accessed on YouTube 7/13/23)
For some people, summer means roller coasters. The clack and rumble of wheels on track, the uphill chug, the downhill screams all define fun for lots of people, kids and grown ups.
But not me.
Roller coasters are not my favorite things. I don’t like to be scared, so horror movies, fun houses, and pretty much everything else that jumps out and says “boo!” are off limits, too. It’s the surprise factor that gets me unnerved.
Feeling fear raises our levels of adrenaline. The classic fight or flight response is engaged when we feel threatened or know we are about to do something dangerous. If we put ourselves in a non-threatening environment like buckling the safety belt on a roller coaster, we expect all will end well. But I still don’t like it.
Instead of high-tailing it out of the queue and mowing over anyone in my path, roller coaster lovers hold their place in line, excitement pulsing, anticipation mounting, heart pounding. They (you?) experience a type of stress called eustress.
The word itself is formed by adding the Greek prefix eu (good) as in euphoric and utopia (with its English spelling variation) to stress to name the opposite of distress. So eustress is good stress. It’s anticipation. It’s motivation. It’s ambition.
It’s also invigorating and important. I first learned about eustress in my Sounds of Silence post on June 27, 2023, when I read about Imke Kirste’s work about the generation of new brain cells when we are silent.
Roller Coasters are probably the opposite of silence. Is their purpose to let us see how loud we can scream? All kidding aside, though, silence has its place. And so does cacophony, noise, and sound (loud and soft).
Roller Coasters descended from “Russian Mountains.” Built in the 17th century near St. Petersburg of specially constructed ice hills, they became a favorite of Catherine the Great as well as many others in Russia’s upper class.
Some believe when wheels were attached to carts at some point in Europe, most probably France, the coaster was born.
La Marcus Thompson built a switchback railway at Coney Island in 1884. But just because he built that one, it didn’t mean he invented roller coasters, per se. But he was the best at promoting and improving them. Thompson was granted thirty patents from 1884 to 1887. All of them lead to the advancement of the gravity ride earning him the title, “father of the roller coaster.”
The Guinness World Record for the fastest roller coaster is held by The Storm Coaster found in the Dubai Hills Mall.
The Kingda Ka is the fastest roller coaster in the United States. It’s at Six Flags in Jackson Township, NJ. After a 90° climb to the top, you’ll plummet right back down in a 270-degree spiral. The coaster travels from 0-128 mph in 3.5 seconds. It’s as high as a 40 story skyscraper, 456 feet. You’ll travel its 3118 feet in 50 seconds.
You can find all the fastest, longest, and highest roller coasters in the world today by clicking on CoasterForce.
National Roller Coaster Day is August 16 every year. According to Smithsonian Magazine, on August 16, 1898, Edwin Prescott was granted the first patent for the vertical loop, seen as a vast improvement for a Roller Coaster. Prescott’s Loop the Loop was disappointingly unsuccessful. Only one car holding four passengers could ride the coaster at a time. The wait-lines must have been extraordinarily long. The ride closed after nine years in operation.
So what about safety? Are my fears justified?
According to a report in USA Today, roller coasters, really all amusement park rides, are “incredibly safe.” IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) collects data from amusement parks and theme parks and reports back to the public. From their latest information, “There were an estimated 130 serious [fatal and non-fatal] ride-related injuries at North American theme parks in 2021.” The same article quotes Jim Seay, former chairman of a global committee that sets industry standards for attraction safety, and the IAAPA Global Safety Committee. "Incidences that are extremely severe are very rare in our industry," said Seay, adding that's why they draw attention – "because it is so rare.”
I don’t have the statistics for those county fair rides that are torn down, travel from place, and re-set, but they are inspected even more than the rides that are part of an established park. They must conform to safety rules for each state where they set-up, and must be inspected before they are allowed to receive passengers.
IAAPA estimates your chance of being injured or killed on a fixed amusement park ride is 1 in 15.5 million rides taken. (According to the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are less than one in a million.”)
Even so, in the unlikely event that I’m anywhere near an amusement park, you’ll find me enjoying the calliope on the merry-go-round.
Lies My Teacher Told Me (by James Loewen, correct spelling) has turned into a bit of a slog. I had to put it down to read Master Slave, Husband Wife by Ilyon Woo (Simon & Schuster, 2023) for a book club I’m in. It’s the true story of Ellen and William Craft who escaped slavery in 1848. Ellen disguised herself as a white man and William posed as “his” slave. Their daring “self-emancipation” took them over 1000 miles from Georgia to New England on many modes of transportation. They found themselves in constant danger of being discovered as they toured the speaking circuit with Frederick Douglass and other Abolitionists. Recommended.
Now…back to those Lies.
Be curious! (and enjoy the ride)