Thrill Ride

Hey, it’s National Roller Coaster Day! Since I’m a big fan of arbitrary fake holidays, here’s my story “Thrill Ride,” which originally appeared in my newsletter.

“Thrill Ride”

This theme park near my house has the greatest ride in the world.

For the most part, it’s a pretty standard roller coaster, though each cart only seats one person. The first hill is about a hundred and eighty feet, which is a good drop but certainly not a record setter. Three loop-de-loops. Several sharp turns. One corkscrew turn. One part where it kind of looks like a tunnel is going to knock your head off, even though it’s higher than it looks and even freakishly tall people are in no danger.

What makes the RiskTaker 3000 so special is what happens once a day. Maybe it’s the first ride, maybe it’s the last ride, or maybe it’s one of the thousands of rides in between—you never know. But every day, during one ride, the cart flies off the track and into a pool filled with hungry sharks.

Is that amazing or what?

The odds are overwhelmingly against you being on the cart that goes into the shark pool. Less than a tenth of one percent. And from there, at least half of the people are able to swim to safety without so much as a bite. (It’s not a very big pool.) Those who do get attacked are pretty evenly divided between those who survive, perhaps with one fewer appendage, and those who die a horrible death in the bloody water.

So, yeah, when you ride the RiskTaker 3000 you will almost certainly be totally fine.

But I’ve got to tell you, that miniscule chance that you’re going to suffer a gruesome fate makes the ride infinitely more exciting. Your heart races like never before. You never knew you could scream so loud. Enough adrenaline pumps through your veins that you could probably lift an automobile to save a trapped child after you get off the ride.

It makes every other roller coaster in the world look tame. The GateKeeper at Cedar Point? El Toro at Six Flags? Kumba at Busch Gardens? Baby coasters. If you’re a serious roller coaster enthusiast, you know that RiskTaker 3000 is the best choice. The only choice.

Do the people who lose an arm regret the experience? Sure, probably. But it’s very, very, very unlikely that you’d be one of them. Everybody else staggers off the ride in a state of euphoria. Hell, some of them get right back in line!

[Disclaimer: Providers will not honor your life insurance policy if you die on the ride. It’s right there in the fine print under the wait time. I suppose that’s fair. Even though you’ll almost definitely survive the experience, you shouldn’t ride if your family can’t afford to bury you. Enjoy the thrill but be responsible.]

How many times have I ridden it? Well, let’s see. It’s been open for about two years. I’ve got annual passes, and I come about three or four times a week, and I ride it about three or four times a visit, so that’s, what? Fifty-two weeks times two is a hundred and four, times three-point-five is…hold on, let me check my calculator app. Okay, it’s one thousand, two hundred and seventy-four times, give or take.

No, wait, I’m overestimating. Though they keep running the ride on days where the coaster jumps the track early, I don’t bother to ride after that. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a fun ride, but there’s a reason the wait time drops from three hours to about ten minutes. It’s just not the same. If we count early shark death days, I’d estimate that I’ve been on it about a thousand times.

Does it get boring after a thousand rides? Not at all! I mean, yeah, I guess it loses a bit of its power to terrify. Once you start getting up into the triple digits, you get a little jaded. You stop thinking “What if my cart goes into the pool of sharks?” and start thinking “I’m sure my cart won’t go into the pool of sharks.”

Sometimes—and I’m only speaking for those like myself who’ve ridden it a thousand times—you need to spice it up.

When I rocket down that first hill, there’s only a one in six chance I’ll actually blow my brains out. Five in six chance that it’ll just be a click that I probably won’t even be able to hear over the roller coaster. Those are good odds. You’d bet a lot of money on those odds.

But that moment of excitement will be unparalleled.

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