PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Of the sacred trilogy of amusement park rides, it was always the roller coaster that separated the fearless men from the whimpering boys, and I didn’t dare to ride one until I was shamed onto it by a girl. We had just finished 9th grade, had been dating for a month, and I was looking forward to the summer ahead. Rye's Dragon Coaster was famous, built in 1929 at the height of the Golden Age of roller coasters, but we were there with another couple and cared little for history.
Without anyone suggesting it, we were online to ride the Dragon, as if riding the Dragon was a thing assumed. Though nothing was said, she forced me onto the ride as surely as if I had been at knifepoint. As we inched toward the wooden turnstile and the man taking tickets, I saw a catastrophe waiting to happen. My friends were already talking about going back a second and third time and checking how many rides we had tickets for. How could I admit to being a roller-coaster virgin! I had long ago outgrown the height line, and there was no manly way to retreat from my dread. A moment before the man took my tickets I imagined the worst, and I realized that the option of not following my girlfriend through the turnstile was worse than getting on the coaster and puking all over her.
After that, I remember the clenching: Me clenching the restraining bar in front of us, and her clenching my forearm and then sliding over the top and into the first speeding dip where she pressed her cheek hard against the muscle in my arm, and I tried to hold the mass of our bodies down in the seat that was spinning us around the first turn. I won’t say what happened when we entered the dragon, nor could I explain the sensation of the slow final bend and rolling to a stop, except to say that I continued moving many minutes after.
I know the Dragon Coaster is nothing compared to thrill rides today. Still, at the end of the ride I stepped off shakily and managed not to pass out, and though I’ve been back again since, even again that evening, and I’ve bravely led my family onto a roller coaster at Disney World so they would never have to risk my humiliation, I’m happy to have reached an age when I need no longer ride the Dragon Coaster. It is a thrill accomplished.
NOTE: The photo shows the roller coaster at Wildwood, NJ.