Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Must Be This Tall To Ride

I was thirteen the last time I threw up. It was another eighth grade morning in my one elective, the euphemistically named Gifted Class, which was a polite way of categorizing the uncoordinated, unathletic students like me who would staple our eyelids together in wood shop or slice open our jugular in a failed attempt at jumping rope.

Instead of sanding the IV pole I’d carved while recuperating from kickball injuries, I was tethered to a desk. The teacher, a fit woman with Mary Lou Retton’s calves and MacGyver’s haircut, was reading passages from Pudd’nhead Wilson when I started feeling extra-strength awful. The potential for spewing had introduced itself on the school bus, which wasn’t a new occurrence since most of my rides on Bus #246 ended with my neighbor cutting a wad of half-chewed Bubble Tape out of my spiral perm. Scrawny kids dressed in an unending rainbow of sharply creased Duckhead shorts didn’t have it easy.

Anyway, whether it was the repeated mentions of Pudd’n or the fact that my desk was practically on top of the radiator, I felt my Golden Grahams making for the exit and I did what anyone who wanted to earn the unshakeable nickname Barf Vader would do: I calmly opened my copy of Mark Twain’s slim novel and blanketed the pages with my breakfast.

That was almost sixteen years ago, I realized yesterday, right before I spent six hours trying to make myself hurl.

Over the weekend I had an intense craving for roller coasters because between the unemployment, my less-than-zero bank balance and unending singlehood, my life just wasn’t making me feel nauseous enough. After realizing that Virginia’s Busch Gardens was only a four hour drive away, I decided that was the perfect place to potentially die in a freak accident beside a Dippin Dots stand.

The trip was meticulously researched, which meant I Mapquested a set of directions and Googled “Severed Limbs + Busch Gardens” because my brain dredged up the memory of an Inside Edition piece about a girl whose feet were lopped off on an east coast roller coaster. After several articles reassured me that the severing in question occurred in Ohio, I bought my day pass.

I hit the road at the crack of What-the-Fuck? yesterday, armed with Water Babies oil-free sunscreen and a twelver of Diet Coke. My pre-dawn departure was met with surprise by my friends and family who knew that even when I had a job I could rarely be troubled to arrive at work before ten. I pointed out that maybe if any of those offices had Skee Ball and a petting zoo, I wouldn’t have been escorted out of the building with my belongings hastily stacked in borrowed cardboard boxes.

After a McGriddle stop at the Virginia state line, it was 9:45 when I dropped my car in a lot marked GERMANY and boarded the tram into the park. Much like Disney’s Epcot Center, Busch Gardens is divided into countries but B-to-the-G doesn’t have a rotating cast of good-natured characters ambling through the park waving, a difference that was noted when I complimented someone in Scotland on their costume and was rewarded with a gesture I typically save for people who won't let me merge into traffic.

I took a few minutes to study the map and immediately had a problem with their geography, which shouldn’t be surprising since the entire place is named after a brewery. Three bottles of Michelob Ultra and I'm unsure why I’m naked on a mini-golf course, let alone capable of remembering whether Italy dead-ends into Turkey or not. What I learned yesterday is that France recently annexed Ireland, that England has the cleanest bathrooms, and that Canada smells like grilled meat.

I stopped for a pee break in Ireland (which doesn’t believe in paper towels), then turned my attention toward the ‘coasters. The park had five trademarked thrill rides, each scattered in a different country bordered by a number of shops inexplicably selling Billabong tees and Rainbow flip flops, proving that Douche is the universal language.

After deciding to get the biggest and newest coaster out of the way first, I headed toward Griffon, a floorless metal suicide machine. There were zero people line, since everyone was still constructing their Bugaboo strollers in the Germany lot, so I scored a seat in the front row. “Hope you’re ready for this,” a nametag wearing teenager told me, tugging at my shoulder harness as I tried to forget that my life was in the hands of someone wearing a puka shell necklace.

Unmoving amusement parks where the rides are all secured in concrete make me feel thismuch safer than state fairs, if only because I assume that the employees go through a screening process that doesn’t involve questions like “When’s the last time you booted black tar heroin?” or that they aren’t mashing buttons as part of a lenient prison’s work-release program.

The Griffon slowly inched skyward before reaching the top of what would be a two-hundred foot drop. We soundlessly moved toward the edge and it cruelly left us dangling in midair, faces pointing toward the earth. Much like the Bond villain who outlines his entire plan before hooking your face to a car battery, it gave everyone time to comprehend how they were going to die. It was the kind of ride that makes you hope you’ve mentioned what song you’d like to have play at your funeral. For what seemed like several days I stared at the fake French village twenty stories below, debating between Robyn Hitchcock’s “Airscape” and The Facts of Life theme song.

Then we dropped, as did a section of my colon. Until you’re hurtling toward an unforgiving strip of asphalt at seventy miles per hour, you never know what kind of primal noises you’re capable of making. Mine sounded like Bj√∂rk songs. After what couldn’t have been more than two minutes, we were guided back into the station, the safety harnesses popped open and I stumbled toward the exit turnstile. The Griffon left me shaken, still clinching my inner thighs and checking to make sure I hadn’t bitten off my tongue. It also made me realize how long it’s been since I had sex.

So I rode it four more times.

From Griffon it was on to the Alpengeist, located in Virginia’s best imitation of Italy, which involved plastic snowbanks and another stand selling flip flops. “Alpengeist means 'Ghost of the Alps’,” the woman behind me told her son. “Alpen means Alps, and geist means Ghost. Alpengeist.”

“And poltergeist means Ghost of the Polters,” I said helpfully. Both of them ignored me, the woman turning around hard and fast enough to hip check me with an overstuffed fanny pack.

Alpengeist also means “Ghost of the Spinal Injury”. My fetus-sized skull didn’t fit securely in the headrest, so it smacked against the side of the car for a solid two minutes. I thought I tasted inner ear fluid as I staggered out to the pavement. Then I rode it again.

The park’s former signature roller coaster, The Big Bad Wolf, was decorated with a banner commemorating its 25th Birthday. The only other time I’d been to Busch Gardens was also in ‘84 and I threw a massive tantrum when I learned I couldn’t ride it. Since at the age of five I weighed less than an ironing board, I was stuck on slow moving rides shaped like hot air balloons and flying carpets and other impractical methods of transportation. “I’ve been waiting for you,” I said loudly enough for the family beside me to move their son to the side of the line farthest from my crazy.

“The Big Bad Wolf will propel you at the SPEED OF FRIGHT!” the recorded voiceover said as I waited for an empty car. That’s a phrase that’s open for interpretation, since anyone who ever rode with my great aunt knows that the speed of fright could be 10 to 15 miles per hour, depending on how crowded the sidewalk was.

Scotland’s representative in the roller coaster United Nations was the Loch Ness Monster, a ride that managed to look more entertaining on the map, although the harness did give me a complimentary mammogram. After considering whether Germany’s Der Marktplatz had a Pops-A-Dent that could un-invert my left breast, I took a break for lunch.

You wouldn’t expect France to be the purveyors of corn dogs. Or of churros. Or of an all-Asian waitstaff. But there the three of them were in a blue building hand-painted with the word patisserie, which is French for you paid $40 to get diarrhea. I took a deep fried mistake in each hand and sat in the shade behind the building. The Griffon whizzed by at regular shrieking intervals and I wondered what it would be like to work there, listening to people scream all day. At first, I imagine they would invade your dreams but eventually the shouts would seamlessly blend with the rest of the day’s soundtrack, proving no more invasive than someone in another cubicle who had a tendency to type too hard. And then you’d start smoking a lot of pot.

The last ‘coaster of the day was Apollo’s Chariot, a ride I’d hoped was named for Carl Weathers. Despite the late afternoon heat, the crowd had tripled in size and I shuffled through the line behind a woman who was tattooed from scalp to ankle, a look that says “I have a casual attitude toward hepatitis” and also “I enjoy working retail”.

There were a surprising number of inked people in the park and, as I gawked at their shoulder blades wondering why anyone would scar themselves with the Miami Dolphins logo, I was often met with angry stares. Look, if you don’t want me to eyeball you, then don’t decorate your back like a bridge overpass. I thought you’d be more offended if I didn’t look, considering that you spent more money on that full-color picture of your father than I did on my living room furniture. Oh, it’s your mother? I’m totally sorry. Are you going to finish that corn dog?

The line moved past several closed circuit TVs playing Busch Gardens proganda and after ten minutes it all started to blur together in my brain. Some distant piece of the park was described as a “high energy hands-on adventure zone” which is how I’ll be marketing my bedroom from now on. I’m pretty sure that both areas will offer the same high percentage of disappointment.

Finally I scored a seat on the Chariot and pulled the restraints into place. “All clear,” one of the kids in charge said before accidentally hitting the button that released the harnesses. “It’s OK, it’s OK,” he repeated, using the same tone I use when I tell the dog I’m getting ready to vacuum.

We were snapped back in, rechecked and--hopefully--spared from an undignified death in an artificially colored lake. The purple and yellow cars started climbing toward the sun, click-click-clicking toward the top of the hill. I looked down at the parking lots named for sovereign nations and the tiny dots scurrying in the direction of the log flume. The row ahead of me screamed as they tipped over the edge. “The Facts of Life theme song,” I said to myself before throwing my arms in the air. “I hope they’ll play The Facts of Life”.


lorisays said...

Thanks. Sis-in-law and I were discussing quick trip to ride new Manta coaster at Sea World. Now inspired & will be confirming plans. Let me know if I should pass along a puke-potential rating.

lacochran said...


My favorite part:

But there the three of them were in a blue building hand-painted with the word patisserie, which is French for you paid $40 to get diarrhea.

Second favorite:
“It’s OK, it’s OK,” he repeated, using the same tone I use when I tell the dog I’m getting ready to vacuum.

Jaxie Fantastic said...

That was HILARIOUS!!! I need to learn not to read your blog at work because now I'm getting stared at.

flynnster said...

It's seriously been sixteen years since you puked? Well, then you clearly haven't checked out Disney's princess-inspired wedding gowns.

Steer clear of wedding planning if you value your lunch.

Lisa Page Rosenberg said...

Brilliant. So evocative I can smell the fried dough from here.

Daniel said...

I spent a very steamy day getting beaten by the best Worlds of Fun could throw at me a couple weeks ago. Now I want to go back. You absolutely slay me!

Michael said...


The fact that isn't nestled between covers and on sale at Borders is a violation of common sense and human decency.

"I'm unsure why I’m naked on a mini-golf course."

I, on the other hand, am always sure why I am naked on a minigolf course.

Ilana said...

"Over the weekend I had an intense craving for roller coasters because between the unemployment, my less-than-zero bank balance and unending singlehood, my life just wasn’t making me feel nauseous enough."

Um...hello...have you stolen my life? Not that I mind, cuz it's pretty sucky. No, that's ok, don't give it back. But thanks for making me laugh out loud. Repeatedly.

Luck o' the Irish said...

Holy crapola, that was so funny, I also should have not read it at work. You clearly rocked the Busch. Gardens, that is. I now have a craving for funnel cake and beer. Damn.

The Chapples said...


You don't know me but I've seen you at the Y for years - I'm a runner too. Holy hell, you're funny! I stumbled upon your blog and will definitely bookmark it. Thanks for the chuckles.


Ananda girl said...

Truly a very funny post! I am so glad that Michael sent me over here.
I like the way you see things, lady.

Tricia said...

Love it!

Going to Cedar Point in Ohio in a few weeks for a day while going to Hubby's 25th reunion.

And 16 years since you puked? Lucky - hasn't even been a week for me. UGH

*Akilah Sakai* said...

I read the whole thing out loud so others could enjoy your recap of Busch Gardens. Friggin' hilarious!

You should do your dolphin impersonation on rides. That'd be a VERY different sound for the ride workers.

rockabilleigh said...

I just don't know why anyone else writes blogs. They should all quit and bow down to you. I have tears in my eyes.

mehorsecrazy123 said...

You haven't thrown up in over 15 years?? I haven't in almost 9 and I thought I was doin good!

As Mike said in the 80s classic Say Anything:

"This is great. This gives me hope!"

Grace said...

BG had this horrible roller coaster named Drachenfire very briefly when I was around 12. While standing outside it I somehow managed to make my entire right leg bleed on the scale of Niagara Falls, and I swear, I never would have believed, until that moment, that "Germans" paid $5.15 an hour to wear borrowed lederhosen could move so fast or so furious. I had emergency personnel from all "nations" swarming me in 2.2 seconds. Coincidentally, they dismantled Drachenfire not long after that. Don't worry, you didn't miss anything.

Amy said...

We also have King's Dominion in Ashland (twenty miles north of Richmond). They have the Grizzly (all wood), the Rebel Yell (surely it will replace your current funeral song), the Anaconda, the Shock Wave, and the Hurler (Wayne's World area). I think there's another, but I can't remember the name.

Call Paul if you're interested in KD, or checking out Richmond.

Dan said...

and that Canada smells like grilled meat.

You must have gone on Canada Day. We had the barbeques out.

Abecedarius Rex said...

I haven't been to BG of VA since I was in eighth grade and had bipartisan hair.
And puking? Nice recount. My two major encounters with the esophagal geyser were
a. on an airplane coming home from my grandmother's Florida home. She hordes everything and I consumed that morning a bowl of cereal that probably dated back to the raising of the flag on Suribashi.
b. after an unfortunate tango with too much gin.

Thanks for the memories.

Nicole Seiffert said...

Reading your blog while drinking my morning coffee totally eliminated the need for a neti pot. You just saved me fifteen bucks!

I was delighted to hear that you had a goose-free ride on Apollo's Chariot.

JerseySjov said...

"ghost of the polter" killed me

i havent puked in about a week and a half and thought i was doing well.

The Imaginary Reviewer said...

Man, every post of yours I read, I'm in awe. You're just related something that happened the other day and I feel like I'm reading something that took days to write, edit, re-write and write again. Fantastic.

jjenni7 said...

Hilarious! Co-workers think I'm crazy.

Martin said...

I am sure you get sick of the flattery on here, but this one truly was brilliant.

jules said...

"Mine sounded like Bjork songs." HA HA HA HA HA HA.