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Enjoying The Ride: An Enthusiast’s Perspective

Opinion

Thanks to a very patient mother, much of my childhood was spent at theme parks. I remember walking through a rather barren Magic Mountain during its premier season, young enough to be awed by the Gold Rusher mine train coaster; visiting Knott’s Berry Farm (for the umpteenth time) to ride the Corkscrew, the first modern coaster with inversions; dragging every out-of-town guest to Disneyland to ride the Matterhorn Bobsleds, and the Submarines, and the Mighty Microscope, and Mission to Mars, and Peter Pan’s Flight, and on and on.

When I wasn’t visiting the parks, I was eager to learn more about them. I bought every book on the topic I could find. I wrote to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions and asked to receive their monthly newsletter, a request they very kindly granted. I subscribed to Amusement Business. I interviewed Randal Duell and Ira West of R. Duell and Associates, the trend-setting theme park developers. After my family moved to New York in the mid-70s, I joined a small group of like-minded folks who had just started a club called the American Coaster Enthusiasts. For my high school senior year project, I designed a theme park called “Atlantis.” And for one glorious summer, between my freshman and sophomore year in college, I worked for WED Imagineering in the electrical engineering department as the company was feverishly prepping both Florida’s EPCOT Center, and Tokyo Disneyland.

Though my professional career as a graphic designer has taken me in different directions, I have indulged my passion for this world by writing about it, through my “ThrillRide!” website, and the book that it spawned, “Roller Coasters – A Thrill Seeker’s Guide to the Ultimate Scream Machines.” And I hope I’m able to offer some relevant and/or entertaining comments here as well.

On that note: I recently attended the media debut of Universal Studios Hollywood’s “The Simpsons Ride, ” the simulator attraction that replaced the legendary “Back to the Future – The Ride” (at both the Hollywood and Florida parks). Without a doubt, it’s a winner. Anyone who enjoys the humor of the series is in for a great time, from the preshow all the way through the ride itself. It’s manic, silly, and loaded with some very disorienting thrills.

In hindsight, it’s clear that the visceral, immersive punch of  live-action footage – as was employed for “Back to the Future” – will always be greater than anything attainable with cartoonish animation, 3-D or otherwise.  So on that level, TSR doesn’t quite deliver the “Wow!” factor that BTTR-TR did. But that’s a minor quibble.

Before I sign off for now, I’d like to share something I discovered rereading an old book called “Fun Land U.S.A.” This paperback, written by Tim Onosko and published in 1978, offered a rundown of all the major amusement parks in the country. During Onosko’s description of what was then California’s “Marriott’s Great America, ” there is this editorial remark: “Opened during Great America’s 1977 season… was the Intamin Shuttle Loop…It’s mentioned here because it may very well be the limit of thrill riding.”

It pleases me to no end that not too long ago, a roller coaster with a top speed under 60 MPH and a single vertical inversion (navigated both forward and backward, granted) could be considered near “the limit of thrill riding.”

Can’t wait to try out Six Flags Magic Mountain’s X2.

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