SMACK! My head crashes into the bar, back and forth, back and forth. Up and down, side to side. I am the ball in the pinball machine taking one hit after the next. No time to take in the scenery from the top. Eyes pressed shut, arms braced, my mind drifts back to the Lamaze exercises I learned in birthing class so long ago. Go to your happy place. This too shall pass. Only the strong survive.
One moment it’s just a peaceful walk down the Santa Cruz beach with two of my best girlfriends. The sun is slipping towards the horizon, the gulls are out, and most of the beach-goers have gone home. Thoughtful conversation bounces back and forth like a Brahms lullaby, and I am happy and content. Just a few more steps and I’ll be back at the house, glass of wine in hand, firmly and finally planted in a lounge chair to watch the sunset. Sleepily, I move towards our peaceful haven.
Oh no. Not so fast. Here come girlfriends two and three, grins blazing, heading for the Boardwalk. Suddenly I’m climbing stairs, leaving my tranquil little happy zone to be slapped in the face by humanity. Blaring carny rides, flashing lights, and the succulent smells of potato on a stick instantly awaken my senses. And to my despair, tickets are waved in my face. Yep, the Giant Dipper and I are about to meet, whether I like it or not. There’s no turning back now.
We squish into line amongst the teenagers, twenty somethings – no ‘mature’ ladies in sight. My heart pounds as I consider what is before me. One of the oldest wooden rollercoasters in the west coast is about to do me in. And having just confessed my lack of fear to my girlfriends the night before, now is definitely not the time to run crying back to the shore. I’m in it. Televised images of those who have gone before taunt me. I can’t do this. I will die. Barf. Fall out. I’m only 5’2″-these things aren’t made for little people like me. 1/2 mile of track at 55 mph? I’m doomed.
Girlfriends two and three, obviously trying to relive some long dead teenage dreams, insist on the front cars. Really? Are you kidding me? Reluctantly I climb in and search for the seatbelt, the foot rest, the shoulder brace-anything to keep me inside this rickety structure for the next minutes of eternity.
Ugh! We jolt out of the gate with a start that would make any jockey lose their seating. Into the dark tunnel we spin. Ok. I can do this. Not so bad….here we go uppppppp-that means we are going to come down…this is the part where I defy the laws of gravity and fall out of my seat, right? This bar won’t hold me in…who the hell thinks this is fun anyways? AHHHHHHH!
Really? With one final grunt the car lurches to a stop. Dazed, I climb out of the car and trip to the walkway, realizing that I had been holding my breath for the last two minutes of terror. My ribs scream with pain as I make my way down and out like a drunken sailor. I keep going, one foot then another, until I spill back onto the strand. I’m in one piece. I made it.
Gratefully I reenter the sand, happy to leave the lights behind me. Suddenly I notice that the moon has risen, the tide has come in, and I breathe deeply. As I climb the hillside toward home, the carnival lights dim and flicker out. The Boardwalk has closed down, but I didn’t miss the ride.
Some say life is like a roller coaster, and today I would have to agree. We never know what is around the next bend, or over the next hill. But maybe really the question is are we just along for the ride? Do you pay your dues, take your ticket and get on thinking you know what to expect? Or do you hide at the entrance, sure you’re not strong enough, smart enough, or brave enough to take what’s thrown at you?
Now I know. I’m grabbing the next ticket, racing to the front, and climbing aboard. Only the strong survive, after all.