There are turbulent roller coasters and gentle spinning carousels, like this menagerie merry-go-round I’m riding in the photo. Unlike most summers where I’ve made a bee-line to the newest coaster when I enter the park, this summer has been marked by time on gentle rides like carousels, Ferris wheels, and leisurely boat rides. In fact, I was concerned that this summer might have marked the first time in recorded history that I have not ridden a roller coaster since I was five years old. Let me explain.
It was in early May I was driving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a family gathering followed by a sneak peak of Kennywood’s newest attraction, Thomas Town. Thomas the Tank Engine, along with his friends and favorite destinations from the Island of Sodor, was still under construction. When complete, Thomas Town featured four Zamperla rides, a train ride with Thomas, and other elements. But I never got there.
Coming into the city I was on cruise control, a steady 50 mph (80 kph) on the Interstate highway. There was a split in the road, and I glanced up at the overhead directional signs. It was at that moment the car ahead of me braked to a stop. I never saw it, and slammed into it at full speed causing a three car pile-up. My seat belt kept me in place as the rear end of the car in front of me ended up at my dashboard. I was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with nine broken ribs and a broken neck. Actually, it was only a hairline fracture of a disc in my neck, but broken neck sounds so much more dramatic.
Before the accident occurred I had scheduled a 16-day, 2,000 mile (3,219 km) tour of parks in the southeastern U.S, where, among other things, I planned to ride at least four aggressive new roller coasters. While in the hospital I began having second thoughts. I love the thrill of a coaster, but I didn’t think my ribs could handle the forces they deliver. So I re-imagined this trip, reduced it to seven days, and headed for the beach. I would visit nine parks, but just to ride carousels, dark rides, wheels, boats, and people watch. Under the circumstances, more my speed.
Time heals all, and I’m feeling much better these days, thankyewvurrymuch. In fact, eight weeks to the day of the accident I found myself at Walt Disney World’s new Toy Story Land, and they had what appeared to be a gentle yet entertaining new roller coaster, Slinky Dog Dash by Mack Rides. It was calling me, “Paul, oh, Paul.” I couldn’t resist the siren call of Slinky Dog Dash. The ribs were still a little tender, but Slinky Dog Dash was tender, too. I not only survived the ride, I loved it. The best thing is that summer was not over. I’m now back in the saddle and rode some of the other new coasters. It’s my job, after all.