By David Brancaccio, 5/10/2002 (Originally aired 6/22/2001)
So, here's the bind: The Savvy Traveler gang offered to pay for two tickets to an amusement park called Six Flags Magic Mountain if I'd take my son on the roller coasters and report back. Thing is, I'd sooner swap out my own kidneys than ride one of those things -- but what kind of lame-ster says "No" in this situation? Then the newspaper arrived the Monday before our weekend adventure.
A 28-year-old woman had ridden Goliath, the very roller coaster we were set to confront, and died soon after. The coroner eventually backed off blaming the roller coaster, and the cause of death won't be determined for weeks. I needed more information.
Gallardo, a spokesman at Magic Mountain, a Time Warner company.
Now, I did find a piece in a medical journal about an apparent roller coasterr-induced brain injury in Japan. And Congressman Edward Markey of
Massachusetts' staff faxed some data suggesting that roller coasters
have a higher death rate than buses, airlines and trains, but lower
than cars. Markey wants the Feds to regulate thrill rides.
Our last consultation was with a Barry Glassner, a University of Southern California sociologist, who wrote The Culture of Fear. He says, while the woman's death was a terrible tragedy, there's a danger that dad, here, will draw the wrong lesson.
I put the research before my sixth grader for an opinion. The fellow had more Clarence Darrow in him then I anticipated.
See, all of this was all pre-ordained. Nick's saying this in a car already pointed toward Magic Mountain.
$105.98 for one 6' dad and one 4'10" kid to get in.
The first order of business, Gold Rusher, a weenie ride so ignominiously tame that -- unlike some of the other rides -- there's no warning to put away your hearing aids.
Hats still in place post-Gold Rusher, we set off for Colossus, one of the largest, traditional wooden roller coasters in the world. What it lacks in hair pin turns, it makes up for in drops.
Colossus now behind us, we pass Goliath, site of the fatality a week earlier. It's mercifully closed.
Nick has his sights set on a section of the park known as "Gotham City," home to a very nasty ride that involves 2 loops, 2 corkscrew spirals, and what's advertised as a "one-of-a-kind" zero-gravity spin.
I take this opportunity to reflect on the numbers, (as is my habit): typically 2 people die a year on theme park rides around the country; three dozen are hospitalized. Bad things can happen and, for someone like me with a well-developed imagination of disaster, the old thrill ride formula -- fear-death = fun -- doesn't compute. But for an eleven-year-old, whose sense of death is mercifully so abstract as to become inconsequential, it's a formula that works as surely as the laws of physics guiding our trajectory:
The sociologist had talked of the wisdom of letting young people take controlled risks. It's seen as a necessary stage for both adolescents -- and their parents. It's a step toward maturity, I suppose. We already knew he was demonstrably better than dad at digital animation and cartooning. Now it's clear he's braver, too.
Later, when I finally gain my freedom, and Nicholas sinks exhausted into the backseat of the car, he seems aware that there's a natural rhythm to the day's challenge:
Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita, Calif., I'm David
Brancaccio for The Savvy Traveler.
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