The Devil and Great Adventure

Gold... power... smokin' hot stringed instrument competitions in two-part harmony with feelin': these are the things the Devil of American fable and song tends to lean toward for his bargaining chips.

But if he'd ever wanted to expand his repertoire a little, I'd say he'd have found himself a thriving new niche market courtesy of one school trip and the Looping Starship down at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey.

It was our junior year high school Physics Class. And the benefit of this class was not simply that we got to drop things that went "sploot" to see them plummet at 9.8 meters per second squared in the name of Science.

Although any 16 year old will tell you, that was pretty satisfying.

No, it was that every year, the junior class went on a field trip to Great Adventure amusement park.

Now this, too, was in the name of Science, and Education, and Big Whirly Things Demonstrating Physics in Action. We knew this, because we were sent with worksheets, where we were supposed to calculate these Real Life Examples scientifically. Y'know, in between applying sunscreen and smearing ourselves with day-glo liquid cheese.

We started out with the best of intentions. Why, we crowded into the Enterprise and understood just how it was that centripital force prevented Sally Rodriguez and Andy Goldberg from being pitched off into Long Island. Which was a disappointment to some because Andy Goldberg had really been holding our football team back this season.

We strapped ourselves into the Pitfall and worked out that yes, my inappropriately loose footwear had, in fact, dropped at 9.8 meters per second squared. And we calculated the distance it would take for me to hop to the nearest souvenir shop to purchase a pair of flip-flops.

We even managed to calculate the amount of force that was behind the lunchtime chili cheese dog, nachos and funnel cake Kelly O'Hara was reintroduced to on the pirate ship.

But when we buckled into the Looping Starship, our view of life was forever changed.

This ride was new at the time, a Space Shuttle-shaped contraption on a 360 degree arm. Having just seen the Challenger blow up in very recent memory, there was already an uneasy sense about the ride.

It would have been like folks in the early 20th century stepping onto a gondola ride named "The Titanic of Love." It sets a certain tone.

But, this ride had also been advertised on local radio and television for months now. Its reputation preceeded it to the point that it had become a thrill ride Collossus.

We were young and pepped up on sugar, and completely game for anything. And so was one of our math teachers. We'll call him Mr. Barnes, an eccentric man who looked a bit like actor Joel Grey with a mustache, and whose wardrobe choices involved glaring polyester primary colors which he would mix-and-match with joyful abandon.

Heretofore, Mr. Barnes had been treated with the bored tolerance you'd expect from teens. He was there to supervise, and nothing more. A kelly green pantsed and yellow shirted and red cardiganed prison guard we tried to block out which, given the color scheme, you can imagine wasn't terribly easy.

When the Starship first started its back-and-forth penduluming, we felt all the optimistic anticipation of youth.

Back and forth... back and forth... higher and higher the Starship it climbed.

Right... left.... backwards... forwards... we swung and rocked.

The harnesses over our heads pressed into our middles as our weight increased against them.

The harnsesses shimmied and wiggled against this pressure, as our view began to swing from sky to ground.

Until finally, finally, there! There, we were hanging like bats above the entire park. Our world turned completely on end. The time we hung there seemed interminably long. And that, my friends, that is when my classmates and I began to crack.

One girl began to laugh uncontrollably. Another was shrieking. And one of my friends began to speak in tongues.

No, wait, it wasn't in tongues. It was just the words she was saying before us were so foreign, so unbelievably impossible, the ears would not initially process it.

"Mr. Barnes, if you get me off of here, I promise, I'll really buckle down in math. I'll get As! I'll start a study group! Really, I will. Just get me offa this thing!"

And the trend began to catch on. As we swept back around the 360 for a second dangling upside down experience of seemingly infinite length, other kids began to make their bargains.

"Totally, Mr. Barnes! I'll do extra credit! I'll tutor other students! I'll clap the erasers without being asked! Just get us down from this thing!"

If Mr. Barnes had been wise, he would have gotten this all down in signed contracts. After all, we did have paper and pens with us.

Because as the Looping Starship finally made its slow, sweeping, careening descent back to Earth, those promises, they evaporated like the blue raspberry Icee stain on Patrick Kennedy's t-shirt.

"So about those A's... when do you want to start that study group?"

The memories of promises made vanished into the humid Jersey early summer air. Even our worksheets were forgotten. We had gotten on the Looping Starship and we survived.

The Devil wouldn't have let us off so easy.


Moooooog35 said...


But are you saying that instead of a height requirement, you have to be in High School?

Eh. I'm short. I could probably pass anyway.

Jenn Thorson said...

Moooog- Heh, I think you probably wouldn't have slipped from the harness to a gooey death or anything.

But how's your physics knowledge? :)

JD at I Do Things said...

Heh. Serves you bratty kids right. I bet Mr. Barnes was rather pleased with himself, if only for the duration of the ride.

Also, what is up with that creepy faux-futuristic music in the video? It reminds me of the music used on "Gumby" when Gumby went to the moon. Only there was less screaming.

"Gumby On the Moon":

Jenn Thorson said...

JD- Well, it was the 80s; we also sprayed our hair straight up and wore pants with multiple socks out over the bottoms. We wore shoelaces the thickness of large band-aids, but didn't tie our shoes...

Anything was possible. :)

Shawn said...

They have a similar ride at Busch Gardens in Tampa called The Phoenix. Last time I was on it (at the invincible age of 16), I spent the next ten minutes throwing up in the nearby bushes. Now I can't even walk past it without feeling a little queasy.

Jenn Thorson said...

Shawn- Oh, I hear you; it's that back-and-forth motion that does it. We have something at our Kennywood Park called "the 360" and I just laugh at it as I go by. I did the Looping Starship in my wide-eyed youth. I am not pressing my luck now in my old age.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like fun. All we had was the Senior Trip to Great Adventure (no science involved. But lots of liquid cheese. And popcorn) and when it was OUR year, the Board of Ed canceled it because it was right after the Haunted House had burned down.

ReformingGeek said...

Excuse me.


Ok. I'm back.

That was a tough read!

I never could handle anything that spins.

christina said...

i found your blog on blog catalog and your description (jedi stuff, zombie,etc) sounds like my husband in girl form so i had to read.
very cute blog you have, girl :)

Murr Brewster said...

Crap. Our science teacher just took us out in the parking lot to pour water over an inclined wall of soil and measure how much eroded out.

On the other hand, your ride reminds me of one my husband strapped me into in the seventies in which my greatest fear was that I'd barf on my own self by ralphing at the top end and catching it on the bottom.

How I ended up a science major after seventh grade science is beyond me. We'd learn a little about what happens during a nuclear strike, and then do drills about ducking under our formica tabletops and clasping our little finners behind our pencil necks.

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

I can't even imagine getting on a roller coaster now I've gotten so stodgy in my old age.

And "day-glo liquid cheese" sounds yummy!

Jenn Thorson said...

Sharon- Oh but the fear of nearly dying was a part of fun? Didn't they get that?

Reforming Geek- I should have put one of those safety warnings on the post. "WARNING: NOT FOR PREGNANT WOMAN, CAROL WHO GETS A LITTLE SEASICK AND YOU. OVER THERE. IN THE RED HAT. YES. YOU."

Christina- Heh, thank you. I try to write stuff guys won't want to flee reading. :)

Murr- I'm assuming you did make it through the ride ralph-free though? :)

Nanny- It's the best kind. It's simulated dairy!