Posted by Jenn Thorson at 7:31 AM Labels: bargains with the devil, being a kid in the 80s, childhood fear, great adventure, looping starship, new jersey
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.